Thank You Letter to You, Mommy

Dear Mommy,

I’m thinking of you today because of what I wrote about yesterday. When I was surrounded by loving children praying for me, tears weren’t the only things streaming. If someone could have done a live stream of my thoughts during those moments, you would have been there right in the middle of them.

In those moments I was thanking God for you.

I know your days are long with little ones slobbering, tugging, spitting up and crawling on you. You can’t talk on the phone, eat, pee or check your email without someone asking you if bees have eyelids or tattling on a sibling. You count the minutes till nap time, but moments after you settle down exhausted for a catnap (because someone had nightmares or wet the bed or threw up last night) you get that weird feeling that you’re being watched and open your eyes to find a little face just inches from your own. And when Daddy finally comes home after you’ve been eager for adult company, one of you pushes a button in the other that sparks a conflict that makes tears pop into your own eyes, but you just can’t go there until stomachs are full and baths are over. By then you’re just too tired to get into it with your husband so you retreat to folding laundry that is now too wrinkled…so back in the dryer it goes because you certainly don’t have time to iron anything except those infrequent special-occasion clothes.

And if you’re a single mom there’s a whole bunch of unique challenges that those of us with husbands only experience when they’re out of town on business for a few days (how much does our whining bother you…really?).

But then the next day your little one wakes up with those sweet I-love-Mommy eyes and your heart melts like it does most mornings and you know you were made for this.

Yeah, right

Yeah, right

You were. You were made to wipe bottoms, address heart issues rather than the quicker option of wanting them to just obey!, and coverup nicks and crayon marks on your dining room table with tablecloths because you either can’t afford to replace it yet or can’t bear to refinish it. You were made to endure restless nights because a baby needs to be fed, a toddler fell out of bed again or God knows your sleep patterns need preparation for the teen years when they won’t start talking till 11 PM and you’re still awake praying after the conversation ends.

And you were made to get up most Sunday mornings to search for missing shoes and hope you won’t be late again and get ready to miss some of the worship at church because someone wet their pants or freaked out because you forgot the Cheerios.

Why? Because a hurting grandmother who raises her hand for prayer needs them.

But mostly she needs you.

She needs you to keep going when you wonder if your efforts are producing anything good. When you and your husband haven’t had a night out in weeks or months because, unlike that friend or two (that you’re jealous of, if you’re honest) you don’t have family nearby to help regularly with babysitting (and when did babysitters start charging more than they make working part time at the mall anyway???). When you feel your needs are going unmet because everyone else’s needs are more important.

Here’s my burden for you, young mother. You don’t know how much your church needs you. They need you to persevere — and ask for support and help when you can’t — because the simple act of getting there Sunday after Sunday unless God has plans otherwise means they’ll be there when it suddenly hits them: this isn’t just Mom or Dad’s church, this is my church. My church to help usher or greet newcomers. My church to serve in children’s ministry; help set up chairs; arrange cookies on a platter even though an adult could do it quicker; and, yes, notice an old lady raising her hands for prayer.

madamememoire.com

madamememoire.com

What you do day in and day out, week after week, year after year behind the closed doors of your home; while grocery shopping with cranky kids; during “family devotions” when no one is paying attention to the story because they want to play with your phone and you want to give up; and on Sundays when everything in you wants pull the covers over your head and pretend it’s not really morning already, is making an investment not just into the future but also into the present. When they see you stopping to pray for a passing ambulance or happen upon you reading the Bible during nap time because morning devotions just don’t get done much or remind them that you understand why it’s hard to be kind to their sibling because you aren’t kind sometimes, too — well, you’re doing your part to “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Ps 78:4).

I know it doesn’t feel like that but it’s true. “Telling” your kids things isn’t just about the words that come out of your mouth but also the message your life speaks to them every day as you lay down your life for them again and again.

Keep it up. You and your church will enjoy the fruit someday, I promise.

And so might a teary grandmother whose life will be touched because day after day you do what’s hard — including finding that missing shoe on Sunday morning because it’s where you and they need to be.

Love,

Been There

P.S. This post is especially dedicated to Jaime.  I love and respect you so much….and in a year or two Caroline will join your other four to pray for Granma.

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Anticipating Mother’s Day…but Not This One

festivalchaska.blogspot.com

festivalchaska.blogspot.com

Anticipating Mother’s Day can produce differing reactions in the hearts of women.

  • The infertile woman faces yet another year with no baby. Watching mothers receive refrigerator-bound drawings with cute stick figures with arms coming out of heads or hearing what the hubs did to honor her friends for being such a great mom reminds her that her arms remain empty. She’s still waiting for someone to make this day special for her, too.
  • The mom who battles guilt over never being “enough” for her kids finds it hard to accept their childlike appreciation. “If they only knew how often I look forward to the empty nest,” she chides herself. “They deserve a much better mom.”
  • The sorrowful mom who crawls into bed each Mother’s Day night battling disappointment over the seemingly dutiful — rather than heartfelt — thanks she received from kids who were prompted by their dad or spouse or older siblings to do something. 
  • The mom whose husband starts planning Mother’s Day far in advance; delivers breakfast in bed with giddy toddlers; saved to purchase a special gift she admired months ago while they were at the mall; and made reservations at her favorite dinner restaurant…with a table by the window.
  • The mom whose kids are away or she aches over an estranged relationship with them is reminded of how much she misses the years when they were all underfoot and smothered her with sticky kisses…and thought she was one great mom.
  • And then there’s the mom who planned the day herself because her husband or ex-husband or kids never think to. She’s grateful to have the day with those she loves, but avoids facebook because she can’t bear to see how other moms were doted on for the day.

What are you hoping will happen or not happen on Mother’s Day?

You see, no amount of gratitude or gifts will be enough. Why? Because the sacrifices of motherhood are just too many. Who can adequately thank someone for giving up your life, your body, your time, your career advancement, your sleep, your food and your very self for little ones who took your breath away when you held them for the first time and have required all your attention since? Kept you awake at night feeding…then worrying…then praying night after restless night? Made you realize you were made “for this” — which helped you persevere through all kinds of tough stuff because they needed you? Rushed into your heart and life — and, before you knew it, left you with an eerily quiet house.

Homemade cards and sticky kisses are treasures. Teen gratitude expressed in any form is heartwarming. Young adult thanks, educated by their own parenting sacrifices, are…well…really special.

But there’s only One who knows and sees all. He paid the ultimate sacrifice of His very life to empower us to give of ourselves till it hurts, and then keep giving.

No matter which category you relate to most above, please hear this: Your life is making a difference. Whether you are single or married, have one child or many, will be doted on this weekend or virtually overlooked, God knows and cares. He is watching and He is pleased. Yes, we are flawed. Yes, we fail and make mistakes. Yes, we get tired and want to give up. But we don’t. We keep wiping. Soothing. Rocking. Training. Reminding. Congratulating. Disciplining. Feeding. Clothing.

And then they grow up and the sacrifices continue into a new generation that takes our breath away all over again.

We are Mom. Momma. Mother. Mommy. But we are also daughter to a Father whose favor is ours even when we mess up, fail or sin against our kids. Because of the cross, we who know Him are the recipients of His love, strength and grace on our good and bad mothering days. Only He truly recognizes and values what we do day in and day out, year after wonderful, wearisome year. And there will be a Day when He says, “Well done.”

What a Mother’s Day that will be!

30 Years Ago Yesterday

Aside

Not everyone likes a gushing mom so I know some of my readers will probably skip today’s post. But I just can’t help but introduce you to my son, Jesse.

Yesterday was his 30th birthday.

Jesse and his wife, Rebekah

Jesse and his wife, Rebekah

I won’t go into the details that only Mom, maybe a couple of patient sisters or a wife would actually care about. But I want you to know that whenever I’m discouraged and wondering if the future will be brighter than the present I often think of Jesse.

You see, Jesse came into our lives after two “easy” kids. We never said it out loud but Benny and I thought we were pretty good parents with Josh and Jaime. They were compliant, pleasant and did what they were asked without much fuss. Other than Josh giving his little sister a bath with toilet water (it was clean, thankfully), the two of them “cleaning” the living room furniture with baby powder and then “cleaning” the fireplace by making sure all the soot got onto themselves we had a pretty easy time parenting them.

Jesse's firstborn, Sam, recently showing off his missing tooth

Jesse’s firstborn, Sam, recently showing off his missing tooth

Then came Jesse. Before he turned two he was throwing violent temper tantrums that left us crying (literally!) out to God for wisdom to help him. God was good to give us this little guy who fell onto the floor screaming in public to deal with any vestiges of good-parent- thinking and left us full of compassion for parents whose kids acted out in public.

One day I was in tears on the side of the road, feeling desperate and alone as a mother. I had no more solutions. No more strength. No more hope. The tantrums had been continuing for nearly two years and I was exhausted. Plus, we already had another son and had just found out I was pregnant again. Five kids in 11 years was about to become the end of me.

But hope came. WIth tears streaming down my face in the van that day I sensed the still, small voice of God’s comfort in my head assuring me that He was at work in my son’s heart and that someday I would see the fruit of all He was doing.

And I have and do.

Issac (yes, it's spelled right) is Jesse's second and is Daddy's mini-me

Issac (yes, it’s spelled right) is Jesse’s second and is Daddy’s mini-me

By God’s grace, Jesse is a trophy of His faithfulness. He is a faithful husband and loving father to three adorable boys. Through family trials and wrestlings with the Lord, God grew him; protected him; gifted him; and saved him. He grew in self-control and learned to depend on God to change his heart from one of anger to gentleness. God gave him a heart to honor his parents after years of kicking, biting and resisting us. He has brought this mom joy by filling our home with music and embracing a call to preach. He works hard to support his family as an IT guy and I can depend on a warm hug whenever he sees me.

If you have children about whom you are concerned, pour out your heart to God. He hears. He answers. He is faithful. He takes the wandering heart and turns it toward Himself. He transforms anger and disrespect into tenderness and honor. He brings joy following sadness, replaces fear with faith and fulfills His promises even when it takes longer than we hoped.

Jesse's youngest, Josiah

Jesse’s youngest, Josiah

Happy Birthday, son. I loved you when you bit and fought me. When you’d come into our room at night and talk about your struggles and temptations and accomplishments. When you came home and played “My Cheeseburger” on the piano at midnight. When you hit that last second shot and made Cindy and I jump up and down for joy on the bleachers. When you told me you were in love and when we shared the dance at your wedding. When you cried at The Columbia when we told you about the PC and when God brought you back to Orlando to live closeby. I love you for giving me three grandsons and for working hard to train them in godliness.

But I mostly love you for teaching me that while good parenting is important, the One who is most responsible for growing a kids heart and character is God. You’ve taught me humility both when you threw a fit in the floor at Toys R Us as a toddler and when you shared your heart with me as a teen.

I love to watch you love your wife and sons. I learn from your preaching. I value your counsel. And I’m grateful that you’re not nearly as impressed with yourself as I thought you might be. Thirty years from now I will most likely be gone. But every year I get to watch you grow, admit your flaws and failures, love your family and serve God’s people will be a joy.

I’m glad God gave you to me, son. And I pray that your life will continue to be an example to me and others that the story is still being written. God completes what He begins…always.

My son and his sons

My son and his sons

The Ultimate Blog Challenge: Day Nine

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Did I Really Just Say That?

Yesterday I talked about the common challenge of being sometimes lost as a mother. The pressure to feel we have to always know what to do and then do it right plaques many mothers, including me. After all, if we get directions and plan things well, all should go smoothly, right?

sharonctdailyphoto.blogspot.com

sharonctdailyphoto.blogspot.com

But what about those moments for which you can’t prepare? Even if we could do it all right in the normal tasks of caring for, feeding, cleaning up after, training and teaching our kids, at points along the way things are going to take us off guard and we’ll be lost for how to respond. We (hopefully) aren’t surprised when our babies throw food out of the highchair, toddlers hit other kids or teens lie about getting homework done. But do we somehow expect that if we do all the “right” things along the way and make every imaginable sacrifice for our kids that they won’t make really bad decisions that leave us awake at night crying?  If we teach them not to throw food or hit others — and lovingly talk to them about our own temptations to lie so they won’t feel we don’t understand, while stressing the importance of honesty — are we thus protecting ourselves from the really hard things?

My oldest is about to turn 35. (I won’t bore you with the “how in the heck did that happen” comments.) But I encountered something recently I hadn’t experienced in all those years….

My husband is a pastor. Gratefully, while some of my kids went through tough spiritual seasons and made bad choices, they always willingly attended church on Sunday mornings with us. I’m sure there were times when they may have rather slept in. But unless they were sick or out of town we were together worshiping on Sundays.

A few months back I went to wake up one of our remaining at-home kids to hear they were too tired to go. Honestly, I didn’t know what was “right” to say. Some of my friends whose kids are uninvolved in a church have taken the road of not wanting to force their kids to go. Others take the “as long as you’re in this house you’ll go to church” posture and fight with their kids to comply because that’s what they think is best.

That morning I was stumped. How do I respond? I was surprised at the words that came out of my mouth.

“Hmm…well, honey, that might actually work out good. We still have a lot of packing to get done [we were moving soon] so let’s see…I’ll give you another 30 minutes and then you can get up and help me get started.”

“Huh? What? Mom, you’re not staying home.”

“Actually, yes I am.  If you stay home then I’ll stay home, too, and we’ll get a lot done together. See ya in a few minutes.”

I left the room wondering what in the world I had just done! A pastor’s wife (of a brand new and small church where everyone knows who is/isn’t there, mind you) just told her teenaged child we would both skip church to pack boxes? Was I letting my child manipulate me? While I hadn’t anticipated facing this specific parenting issue, if I had I certainly wouldn’t have come up with that response!

While back in by bedroom grabbing grubby clothes to change into I experienced the peace of God. I realized in that moment that my child knowing I wouldn’t react angrily or selfishly to them not wanting to go to church was important to me. And that prizing my relationship with them over forcing “church” (even their father’s church) down their throat was a genuine priority.

In that moment — a moment I hadn’t planned for — what needed to be said was “there.” Maybe it’s not what you would have said. And perhaps I’ll realize years from now that it really wasn’t the right thing to say.

But as I started to change my clothes I heard my kid’s shower start up….

As we drove away they told me I wouldn’t have really stayed home.

“Yes, I would. And I will stay home next week and the week after and the week after that if that’s what you decide.  I love you, and showing you that what we do we do together is more important than forcing you to get up and go to church.”

We’ve been going every Sunday since.

Maybe you wish your “I didn’t prepare for this moment” was a child not wanting to get out of bed for church. Perhaps your moment was finding a journal entry that talked about suicide or discovering internet porn on your teen’s computer or leaving a doctor’s visit reeling from bad news.

I’ve had similar moments, too. But I’ve found that trusting God to help me in the non-crisis moments prepares me for the big ones.

Desperate mothers, which is what this series is about, are desperate enough to believe that still, small voice that guides us. Sometimes what’s best for our kid isn’t what’s best for someone else’s. Often the wisdom we need is found in biblical principles rather than being spelled out in the black and white pages of the Bible.

And sometimes we even surprise ourselves.

P.S.  I’m participating in 30 days of blogging…this is day three.

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Lost and Scared: And No GPS

It was after midnight and I was lost. There was nothing in sight — and this was before cell phones or even pagers. I was on my way to a church youth retreat in rural Maryland with three teens. When I saw the Welcome to Pennsylvania sign I wanted to cry. Where was I and how in the world was I going to find an out-of-the-way retreat center that wasn’t even visible from the dark, country road leading to it? How did I get all the way to Pennsylvania from Virginia on my way to Maryland? And why hadn’t I packed some snacks for always-hungry teenagers?

It’s funny. I don’t even remember how I found it. I just remember my husband, Benny, pacing outdoors after 1 AM when I finally drove up. He’d been trying to find a way to call the police but the office was locked and he didn’t know how to locate the onsite tenant. The look on his face as he searched the darkness with my car headlights blinding him made me realize how frightened he had been.

Thank God for whoever invented GPS’s.

As a mother I have felt lost more times than I can count. Whether you are carrying your first child or have seven young adult children (like me) the desperation of motherhood has likely visited you on numerous occasions. Feeling lost is scary when you’re trying to find a retreat center in the dark, but not nearly as fretful as wondering if your kids are getting all they need to feel loved and well prepared to take their place in a sometimes dark world when they’re big.

I wasn’t supposed to get lost that night with three teens in my car. I should have made sure I was paying better attention as I searched for State Road whatever it was. And when the first stirrings of uncertainty bubbled into my mind I should have stopped to ask for help. Well, that is, if I could have found a gas station or a house that didn’t look haunted.

Likewise, aren’t mothers supposed to do what’s right every time? Aren’t we supposed to know what to do and when to do it? Good mothers don’t get distracted and lose their way, right? They think things through and prepare for the unexpected and don’t take wrong turns and always have a backup plan.

Typing that sounds as foolish to me as it probably does to you. When we’re sitting on the couch thinking rationally every mother knows she has and will make mistakes. Just like her mother and her mother before her. But when desperate motherhood strikes and life smacks us in the face in the form of a seriously ill or chronically moody or immoral or withdrawn child we too often rush to, “What did I miss and how did we get here?”

We do miss things. And sometimes negative patterns in our children point us to areas in which we need to change by providing more effective or focused encouragement, training, affection, discipline or instruction. I’ve had those times when God has used a child’s repeated misbehavior or failure to teach me about mothering deficiencies. But if having flawed children who make foolish, sinful or sometimes dangerous choices automatically points to mothering failures, then when a kid remains basically compliant, cooperative and respectful all the way to adulthood then do we also get to give ourselves self-congratulatory pats on the back?

Wise mothers don’t take the blame or the credit.

Yes, what we do matters. We are responsible to the God who loaned us our children to raise for His glory in desperate hope that they will take what they learned into the next generation. Our flaws — especially in the form of consistent anger, neglect or lack of biblical love — will likely leave our kids with adult issues to face in the future. Yet the One who is most responsible for and capable of making our kids who we long for them to be is the God who gave them to us in the first place.

And unlike Benny all those years ago, He’s not pacing and wondering if we’re okay. Rather, He “neither slumbers or sleeps” as He wisely, faithfully and tenderly watches and guides and protects us and our children from anything — even hard stuff — that won’t be used for good in our lives and theirs.

No mother is perfect. But because “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” to die for us (John 3:16) we have hope that if the death of the innocent Christ was used for the greatest good ever, making a way for us to be reconciled to God, then He can be trusted to use all for good for kids who grow up with imperfect mothers.

One of the coolest and most helpful things that happened to me some years ago was admitting when I got lost as a mom. Doing so made moms around me feel safe admitting they missed a turn or two as well. And some of us soon felt understood enough to start admitting that what scared us most was not stuff with our kids but our own recurring anger and impatience. Selfishness and laziness. Putting on a good face when others were around and being the “real” us behind the closed doors of our homes. Harshness. Jealousy of other mothers. Desires to impress rather than commitment to keep it real. Feelings of failure. Exhaustion. Favoring the easy child over the challenging one.

Being lost in the hopelessness that we’re stuck in our own unhealthy patterns is the worst kind of lostness of all.

Have you felt lost as a mother? Are there times when mental hand wringing leaves you feeling desperate and inadequate? Do you sometimes look at your kids and wish there was someone who could help you figure out how to do this motherhood thing better?

I have good news.

There is Someone. He has helped me more times than I can count. And He has used every single mistake and missed turn on my part for good in my kid’s lives. He’s not a far off God but is named Emmanuel — God with us.

Being lost is scary, I know. But those times make the times when things are bright and the path seems clear really special.

More on that tomorrow.

Day Two

Day Two

God is His Own Interpreter

Today I’m thinking of all of you moms who are weary and wondering if your efforts are going to produce the fruit for which you long.

Are questions like these swirling in your heart?

  • Will my sacrifices ever be noticed and appreciated?
  • If God is sovereign and in control of everything, why pray or keep working so hard to invest my life into them?
  • When will they understand that my correction of them is deeply rooted in love?
  • On what roads might they be willing to walk before Christ becomes their all in all?

Please remind yourself today that your efforts do matter. Your sacrifices will not be in vain. Even when you are unappreciated or misunderstood by the people you love most in the world, you are not alone and your hard work is noticed. Valued. Applauded.

By the only One that truly matters.

Last night I heard a message by Ligon Duncan for pastors and their wives battling discouragement in the ministry.  Using the lives of three men in scripture, including Paul, he exhorted us to resist the temptation to feel alone. From some of Paul’s final inspired words recorded in scripture we learn that everyone deserted him in his final days — “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:17).

The Lord is with you. The Lord is strengthening you. Even when it seems like your investment isn’t yielding the fruit for which you have prayed and longed, God is faithful. God is near. God will give you strength to keep honoring Him with your life.

And whatever you are walking through as a parent, there is One who has experienced every heartache; every perplexity; every sorrow; every awareness of being rejected by those you love.

You are being like Him. And He is praying for and helping you even though you feel weak and tired. He knows just what you are walking through and is seated at the right hand of God seeing all the good that will come from your faith-inspired, God-empowered efforts.

I pray these words from William Cowper will encourage your soul today.

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs, And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,the clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err, And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.

Oh, God, we trust in You.

parenting.alone.

They had recently purchased their first single family home in a tidy neighborhood. A sign hung in their new kitchen: The best thing a parent can do for their kids is to love their spouse. My newly married heart squeezed whenever I saw it.

images.google.com

But soon he left her with eight and eleven-year-old kids — and before long his new wife was pregnant. Bren was devastated, but she had an inner resolve to not make a horrible situation worse by giving in to bitterness. Oh, she had bouts with understandable anger and temptations to deeply resent the man she had married at age 19 when he decided that pursuing someone else eight years younger (“and almost as pretty” as the mother of their children) was more important than keeping their family together. But Bren knew the last thing her kids needed was to hear ugly, hateful things about the daddy they loved — which meant she had to cry out to God regularly to guard her own heart. The truth is, though we talked regularly and she was pretty open about her struggles, I never heard hateful, vengeful words about him.

As a young woman in my early 20’s I was introduced to the common heartaches of single motherhood. Some moms become single by choice or experience relief when a bad marriage ends. Yet in my years of knowing and loving numerous single moms, the vast majority have something in common: they never planned to parent alone.

Bren was no exception. Watching her over the years following the divorce brought me both joy and heartache. Our close relationship gave me a front row seat to the unfolding drama that became her daily life. I watched her try to figure out how to effectively parent kids with an absent but involved father whose priority was building a new family. I saw the mixture of faith and uncertainty as she cried out to God for grocery money or school supplies for the kids.  I wondered how she coped when there was no one to wrap his arms around her to offer comfort when she was tired or discouraged. Her kids spent many afternoons at my house so I saw the fatigue when she picked them up — knowing she was now headed home to start dinner and use whatever energy she had to make her way through laundry or dirty dishes.

I was too young and immature to ask how she did it. How she dealt with desires to have a husband. What kept her going when she had to pray that gas would last longer than it should. Who she confided in. How she found the strength to juggle being mom, provider, daughter, friend, sister and ex. How it felt when she still had to write his last name next to hers knowing another woman was doing the same.

During this series I’ve been doing for moms of young children I have often thought of single moms. Motherhood is hard enough when you have someone with whom to share the load. When you don’t, the challenges are harder and the decisions are weightier — even if you find yourself glad that you don’t live with him anymore and especially if you wish you still did.

I’m purposefully writing to single moms because I know most of my readers are women. Whether you’re a single mom or dad I want to share something with you: single parenthood is God’s plan for you and your children right nowI’ve never been a single parent. I don’t know what it’s like to fall into bed at night alone and wonder what my kids say when people ask where their daddy is. I’ve never spent Christmas without my kids because it was his turn to have them. And I don’t know how it feels to take my kids to church alone and longingly notice godly fathers holding their kids with one arm during worship while the other rests gently on the shoulder of the wife beside them.

No matter why you’re parenting alone, God is with you and you becoming a single mother didn’t take Him off guard. Whether death, premarital sex, adultery, needed separation to protect yourself or your kids, or divorce has left you raising a family alone, you and your kids aren’t disqualified from being the object of God’s nearness, comfort, provision, wisdom and help. Perhaps your children lost their dad to a new family; to death (oh, how I hated to type that); to work or money or pleasure or “freedom.” Or maybe you made the choice to leave and you deal with the guilt of wondering if it was the right thing to do after all. Whatever the reason, kids suffer when dad doesn’t come home anymore.

But please hear this: whether kids have one at-home parent or two, stuff happens. Kids suffer at the hands of flawed and weak parents, whether they live with one or both. As I mentioned in a previous post about my friend, Diane, we can’t protect our kids from all suffering. Being raised by a single mom — with or without the involvement of their dad — doesn’t mean they can’t have a wonderful life. Yes, they will miss having both parents in their lives on a daily basis but you are the one God has chosen to nurture and raise your children for now. You are the one who has been called and graced by Him to provide the encouragement, mentoring, correction, teaching and affection they need most. So you are the recipient of the outpouring of grace needed to do what is being required of you.

Single motherhood doesn’t mean your kids are getting only half of what they need. God is their heavenly Father and He is fully able and eager to make sure they are cared for — inside and out.

Bren taught me that single motherhood can produce glorious fruit. Today her two children have given her a combined total of nine grandchildren. She lives with her daughter and son-in-law, along with their five children. The deep dependence on God that got her through those hard years of single motherhood is still sustaining her as she approaches age 70. She has battled loneliness and endured tough times. But all who know her are struck by her robust faith and seemingly endless supply of strength to serve others with joy.

You see, Bren (not her real name) is my sister. During her years of single motherhood she also became the “go to” person in our large extended family whenever anyone has a need. She has lived a life poured out for the sake of others. Single motherhood taught her that God is always faithful, never lets a need go unmet and is perpetually near. And it taught her that giving your life away day after courageous day brings fulfillment and meaning that keeps you going even after your nest becomes empty.

Bren’s children are godly parents who are raising their kids to know and love their Savior. I’m sure they would say they wish Dad and Mom had stayed together. Yet, if you could sit down over coffee (or a Jimmy John’s sub in my nephews case) to talk to them you would hear a glorious testimony about how God has “caused all things to work together for good” in their lives. What if they are better parents today than they would have otherwise been if the hardships of growing up in a single parent home hadn’t forged into their hearts the desire to do whatever it takes to be there for their kids?

So it’s not just your kids that will be the beneficiaries of God’s work-it-all-for- good commitment. Think about it: little ones not yet born will also reap the benefits of the sacrifices you are making today to keep loving and serving and training your children alone. Just like Bren’s grandchildren are.

I hope this post doesn’t seem preachy. That’s not my desire. Rather, the longing of my heart is to see you gain faith (if needed) that parenting alone can be the path to greater growth and joy than you can imagine, for yourself and your kids. Through the loneliness and fatigue and working to forgive and resist bitterness, something beautiful is being forged in you. You probably don’t see it now but I bet others who know you do. They see Christ in you, the One who sacrificed all for you — His child — so you could sacrifice all for yours.

Here she is — my big sis with the children who convinced me I wanted to be a mom.

For over three decades I’ve watched God’s faithfulness on display in my sister’s life. My niece and nephew are trophies to His grace. Everything they walked through together has been used by God to produce a legacy of godliness that is now benefiting another generation.

All because God’s plans for her kids and your will happen. Period.Those who call you Mom won’t needlessly suffer because Dad isn’t there. And the One who gave them to you, knowing you would end up in this place, has promised everything you to do for them what you can only do with His help.

Thank you, Bren, for showing me by your life and example that single motherhood, while hard, is met with supernatural strength to those who trust God. Thank you for raising your kids to follow and love Him. Thank you for protecting their relationship with their dad by guarding your heart and tongue, and for putting their desire to love him over your desire to vent. But, mostly, thank you for persevering through it all; for continuing to give your life away when you needed others to serve you; for growing in faith and joy in the midst of sacrifice and suffering.

Because of God’s faithfulness in your life I have been able to comfort and encourage many single moms over the years.

And if you’re a single mom reading this post, the same God who sustained Bren and her children is helping you and yours. He won’t let your family go without anything you need, including His help and grace.

I know it feels at times that you’re doing this alone. But if you are a Christian, He promised He would “never leave or forsake you.”

You are not alone.

“Our bad things turn out for good. Our good things can never be lost. And the best things are yet to come.” (Tim Keller)

Then and Now: Some Things Will Never Change

Having babies and toddlers was exhausting. Sometimes I trudged through the day thinking it was Friday — only to hear Benny make a comment soon before bed about a meeting he had “tomorrow.”

“I didn’t know you had a Saturday meeting this week? With who?”

“Saturday? No, honey, tomorrow is Friday,” he would respond as my heart sank. How could it be only Thursday? I was looking forward to him being home tomorrow. We were taking the kids to Burke Lake to play football and feed the ducks. And he mentioned his willingness to get up with them so I could sleep in some.

Now all that was another 24 hours away!  That meant another morning of school; diaper changes; sweeping up stray Cheerios; refereeing; wiping; reminding; correcting; and dealing with dirty clothes and dishes…by myself. (How many times did I silently salute the heroic sacrifices of single moms on those days?)

As I closed my eyes to sleep the nights when busyness deceived me into thinking there was one less day till the weekend, I realized how exhausting motherhood is. I looked forward to the day when the kids were old enough to get their own breakfast, throw up in the toilet and do their own laundry. Older women I knew never had stained clothes and were able to worship undistracted through every single song! Someday…

Nobody told me this so I want to tell you: the life of sacrifice is for good and is met with all the grace you’ll need.  

When I was a young mom the physical and mental weariness was taxing. In just seconds I was answering the phone (that was attached to the wall with a cord…imagine that!), giving a toddler a drink, mouthing “Stop it!” to the child whose cue to misbehave was seeing Mom on the phone, and stretching the cord as far as possible to grab the baby an older sibling abandoned on the couch before he tumbled off onto the floor.

I’m hear to tell you that my kids starting throwing up in the toilet but the sacrifices continued.

I started spending hours driving them to practices, rehearsals, youth meetings and parties. Benny’s and my late-night conversations were no longer about my sadness over tomorrow not being Saturday, but about whether our teens were being open with us about their temptations. The physical stresses of mothering little ones was replaced by the emotional fatigue of parenting adolescents.

Then they started thinking about dating and marriage (a topic for it’s own blog posts!) and late-night conversations became the norm. Just when I had become used to more sleep they starting “coming alive” at 10 PM. Benny and I decided that connecting with our young adults was more important than sleep, so we said goodbye to the house getting quiet by 8 PM.

A new problem ensued. After many of those late conversations with them about pondering this or that guy; confessions of temptation or sin; discussing heart issues about conflicts with friends or spiritual drift in their hearts; or having to bring up to them concerns we had about character issues in their lives they went to bed.  And went to sleep.

Not me.

Benny could fall asleep quickly while I fretted, prayed or sulked. One night I woke him up and said, “Remember those nights when I talked about being so tired after long days of homeschooling and laundry? I want those days back.”

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My heart had become consumed with concern for things that were much more weighty than making it through another day of teaching phonics and refereeing sibling bickering. I was worried about whether one was being honest with us — or is he covering deeper feelings about that girll? Is our daughter becoming bitter toward us for not giving in to her requests to wear things we don’t think are modest and appropriate? Oh, Lord, was that child’s childhood prayer to become a Christian genuine or was she just being a “good” pastor’s daughter by asking Christ to forgive her sins? Am I being too strict? Not strict enough? Overly concerned? Gullible? Discerning…or critical?

Well — here’s the good news. I survived and you will, too.  If you have young children, the same grace that is carrying you through the physical weariness now will carry you through the emotional fatigue to come.

Remember when having a newborn left you so sleep deprived and fuzzy brained that you went robotically through day after day until you were suddenly planning their first birthday? What got you through was grace. That grace will be there for every season; every challenge; every fear; every disappointment; every moment when you don’t know what to do.

God is faithful. He gave you each of your children. He ordained everything about them: gender; birth order; spacing; personality; gifts; limitations; quirks; appearance. When you look into the eyes of one and see Daddy and notice another has feet shaped just like Mommy’s — that was God’s idea! His signature is on each of their lives and His sovereign plan for them will not be thwarted by anything or anyone. He loves them far more than you do; enough to die so they could know Him.

Now you have grace to rock a gassy baby or a fevered toddler; then you will have grace to comfort a brokenhearted teen or just-moved college student. Now God gives on-the-spot wisdom to govern sibling arguments over toys and food and video game time; then God will do the same to walk them through adolescent jealousy, lust and inferiority. Now you pray they will sleep through the night so you won’t be exhausted tomorrow; then you’ll want to sleep because it’s so much better than lying awake fretful as the minutes click by.

It’s still a joy (and a challenge at times) to lay down my life for them. But there’s nothing I would rather do with my life –then or now. (Mother’s Day 2012)

Believe me: this post isn’t meant to discourage you. But I want to be honest. Being a mother is a lifetime of laying down your own life for the sake of your children. Mommy may turn to Mom but sacrificing whatever it takes to be there for them won’t change. Why? Because Jesus Christ set the example by laying down His life for us. He has given we moms the awesome privilege of being like Him by pouring out our lives for our kids. Week after week. Year after year. Decade after decade.

My older, stain-free, worshiping friends had adult kids. As I got to know them better I learned that they, too, were still sacrificing time, sleep and money — sometimes a lot of each! — in ways that weren’t visible on Sunday morning or at church picnics. And while I was envying them they were envying me.

I want to encourage you to avoid the trap of thinking another season of motherhood is better or easier than the one you’re in. Every season has both joys and challenges. Enjoy this season and don’t be afraid of the ones to come. God will be with you…and even if you’re too tired or busy to notice, He’s giving you the strength every day to do what you do and that won’t change.

Certain things about mothering seasons change but there are two things that will remain throughout your years on this earth: sacrifice will always be required and grace will always be there to give you all the strength and wisdom you need.

Jesus lived this way. Why shouldn’t we?

Pardon the Interruption…A Guy is in the House

Mom was brave enough to ask me to jump into her series directed to young moms. I feel like I imagine someone would if they jumped into a blog series on flying being written by Peter Pan. Yet I think I have a couple things to say from a different perspective, which will hopefully do what Mom has been trying to accomplish – encourage all you hard working moms.

This post will be a little long but I don’t know when she’ll ask me to do this again so thanks in advance for your patience. I realize you may have to read this in spurts as you deal with the interruptions that keep moms from being able to finish anything in a normal amount of time.

The wisdom that comes from someone who has already walked through something you are experiencing is absolutely invaluable. That’s what Mom is providing on this blog. My perspective is different — and it isn’t wisdom that I’m offering. I just want to share the perspective of a son who was raised by a mom who cared about raising kids who hungered for God more than she cared about anything (except loving and serving her husband). I’m also the husband of a woman who has an extraordinary desire to do whatever it takes to raise her daughter in way that glorifies God.

From the example of these two women there are two things I want to share that will hopefully encourage young moms. (By the way, drawing attention to her wasn’t what Mom asked me to do but I’m doing it anyway.) Keeping with Mom’s “things she wishes someone had told her when she had young kids” theme, here’s my burden from the cheap seats: motherhood is a life of endurance.

The first thing I want to pass along is this: scripture teaches that endurance produces character and character produces hope. This is the story of Mom’s life and that of many of you who read this blog. If one thing is required of moms it is sweat-producing endurance. It would be pretty rare to have a child or 7 and not have your endurance tested. Mom says I was one of those kids who seemed to come out eager to please his parents but I know I tried their patience.

At this point you may be saying to yourself, Great, a blog post on endurance…I am discouraged already and I have read like 14 words. If so, I understand. There is something scary about the topic of endurance. Probably because the very idea behind it implies things aren’t going to get easier anytime soon. Endurance is needed because fatigue tempts us all to want an easy life.

Here is the thing, though. Endurance, depressing an idea as it may be, always glorifies God and always produces character. Remember what Mom was saying about “more is caught then taught?” Kids can be really dense at times, but when it comes to perceiving when a parent’s teaching doesn’t line up with the way they live…every child is a sudden savant. Personal character is essential to good parenting, which comes through endurance and is proven by endurance (see Romans 5: 3-5).

I remember sitting on the back porch with Mom and Dad as they were trying to work through a sin issue in my life. The problem was I was stubbornly refusing to see what they were accurately seeing as heart issues I needed to deal with. They were being patient but firm. I remember being both extremely irritated and begrudgingly admiring of the fact that here I was in my early 20’s and they still wanted to stay up till all hours of the night to help me. I was irritated because I wanted to be left comfortably alone to make bad decisions by myself, yet admiring because of their patience and perseverance. Their endurance and character had left me no choice but to respect them even when I didn’t want to hear from them.

This is the foundation you are building right now. When you are tempted to give up, even just for a little while, recall Scripture’s encouragement to endure. Your sacrifice will have a lasting impact both on your relationship with your child and how they live their life.

The second thing I want to share with you is something from the second part of the Romans passage. Endurance produces character which produces hope.

In my humble opinion there are few jobs more difficult than raising kids. From the actual giving birth, to the months/years of not sleeping much, to the day-to-day work that goes into raising a child and the weight of responsibility involved…I could go on. Obviously this is not just a mother’s job but it’s the mother’s part that I am talking about…and it blows most everything else out of the water it terms of degree of difficulty (to do it well.) Raising a daughter with my wife has given me an appreciation for this in ways being a son simply couldn’t.

I’m not just saying this because it seems to be the thing to say in a blog series on motherhood. As I have watched my wife diligently love, care for, and nurture Amelia for nearly 600 days in a row it has become clear to me that Mother’s Day is a joke of a holiday. American workers fight for no more than 40 hours a week, paid days off for 5 different holidays, sick time, comp time and vacation days (which are never as many as they “deserve”). Moms get 24 hours off a year. Oh, and by the “day off” we mean we guys will take you out to dinner or cook and clean for lunch. Congrats, we love you.

Seriously, though, sometimes my wife feels like a not-good-enough mom when she struggles with the daily grind of motherhood. When the house isn’t clean or Amelia is still in her PJ’s at lunch, Lauren can feel like a failure. I want to tell her that it’s not supposed to be easy. I don’t mean that in the why don’t you understand and stop overreacting sense. I mean it like lawyers don’t expect to win every case; doctors don’t expect to get every diagnoses right the first time; and athletes don’t beat themselves up after every loss.

Some jobs are just plain hard and getting everything perfect just isn’t going to happen. Lauren and I will make mistakes, probably some big ones, in how we raise Amelia. Our home isn’t going to be spotless all the time. But that isn’t a reason to despair. It’s a reason to endure. And don’t believe me; believe God. Your endurance will lead to character, which will lead to hope. As moms you can take heart in the fact that Jesus, while not a mother, knew what it meant to have to endure. He endured the cross. As you endure the difficulties of raising sinful children, take encouragement from that fact that Jesus endured their sins and yours because of the promise of joy when His endurance paid off. You can endure now knowing that there is going to be victory in the Lord for you as well.

Me and my girls.

I’m a husband and son who is grateful for the chance to encourage you to endure. Endurance can sound like a bad word…and not very encouraging. But really, it should be really encouraging. Why? Because it means progress, growth and you becoming more like Jesus. If the thought of enduring as a mom is discouraging to you then perhaps you have an expectation that everything should be perfect now. That’s not what Jesus expects; it’s not what your husband expects; and it’s not what your kids will expect. What Jesus, your husband, and your kids will all love is a mother who endures through the ups and downs with character that produces hope. That is a legacy that will last.

As much as I feel like I couldn’t enjoy anything more than watching my wife be an absolutely phenomenal mother right now, I know I will only grow in respect and love for her as we walk through the trials that are coming – trials that will try her endurance and produce even more character than she already has.

Back to someone who knows about mothering tomorrow.

Diane’s Lesson

Over the past two weeks I’ve done a series for young moms. I started by saying I wish I could do a beach retreat with each of you to share some things I wish someone had told me when I had several small children under foot. The response has been encouraging; thanks to each of you who have commented on Facebook, through email or here on the blog. Your humbling encouragement to continue the series was heard…

On Friday I told you my son, Joey, would do a guest post today. Due to a really full weekend we postponed his post till tomorrow.  You won’t want to miss it!

I have a new friend whose recent struggles as a mom reminded me of the next lesson I want to pass on to those of you with young children: you can’t protect your kids from suffering. 

Diane (not her real name) was sharing with our church’s small group the sadness and tinges of guilt she feels about how their children have been affected by their recent move to Orlando. While they have moved around quite a bit over the years, they left a comfortable home and church family hundreds of miles away. Extended family was within a few hours drive and the kids each had friends with whom they enjoyed close relationships. A job change for John required the move late last spring. The change and upheaval, including temporary housing before they found a rental home, is taking its toll. Additionally, schooling arrangements that had been a wonderful fit for their family weren’t workable in Orlando, so on top of all of her own adjustments and homesickness, Diane is back to homeschooling five children under age 12.

As our group gently asked Diane questions it became clear that this loving and devoted mom is carrying a weight of anxiety about her children. She tearfully communicated how badly she feels when one after another mention friends they miss.

It was easy for me to empathize with her struggles.

As mothers, we find joy in fulfilling our nurturing role. We are wired by God to protect our children and sometimes this protective instinct seems to conflict with providential things that happen in our lives — like moving. This conflict is disorienting because good moms don’t let sad, hurtful things happen to her kids, right? And when parental choice is involved, it seems all the more wrong!

I was able to commend Diane for her loving heart toward her sons and daughters. Her tears were an evidence of a strong desire to protect and care for them. But I was also able to gently share that it’s impossible for her to protect them from suffering. We live in a fallen world. Dads get new jobs that require moving.  Friends reject, tease and say mean things. Teachers don’t always grade fairly and coaches put other kids in the game more. Sickness happens. Moms sin. Siblings taunt, hit, belittle and don’t share. There will always be someone smarter or more popular; better looking or more talented; thinner or more muscular to whom they will be tempted to compare themselves. And the enemy within — their own sinful hearts — along with their limitations, flaws and weaknesses will all combine to result in hard stuff happening.

The last thing we want to see happen to our children is suffering. Every instinct in every cell of our body urges us to protect our kids from pain. Even when the pain is the result of their own doing, we sometimes want to shield them from the consequences because…honestly…we’re protecting ourselves, too. Their tears, disappointment, rejection, inferiority and pain become our own and the way to protect our hearts is to shield theirs.

Please hear these words from an older mother who has watched her children go through many things I would have never chosen for them: the trials and hardships from which we would most want to protect our kids often end up being agents of their greatest good.

I felt badly for my son when acne made his teen years tougher than normal. I hated seeing the disappointment in my daughter’s eyes when she was excluded from yet another outing with friends. Like Diane, I watched two of our children struggle after our own move to Orlando when they were young teens, which made my sadness and homesickness all the more keen. And watching a couple of my young adults endure the consequences of sinful choices I did everything to teach them to avoid has wrenched my mother’s heart to pieces at times.

I’m here to tell you that God really does “cause all things to work together for good” (Romans 8:28) in our children’s lives. And while it’s the hardest thing ever to watch happen, they will suffer. They’ll suffer because of their sins or the sins of others (including Mom’s!) — and they’ll suffer because life in a fallen world just happens.

When they aren’t picked for the team; don’t get invited to the birthday party; feel unattractive; are the only ones they know not allowed to go to a certain movie or listen to a questionable band; get corrected for hitting back; or can’t go somewhere because they didn’t finish their schoolwork, there are two things you can do that will help them. First, empathize…and, second, move on. Even as an adult you know how it feels to be overlooked, jealous, inferior and sad. Your compassion will mean a lot to your child.

But don’t stop there. Teach your little ones that God is always with them. He is in control even when bad things happen. Their example and ours is Jesus, who had a lot of bad things happen, including having to die on the cross because of our sins against Him. Did he sin back? No. And the worst thing that happened to Him was all for good. His suffering produced our salvation, demonstrating once and for all that every wrong, hurtful, hard, painful, disappointing thing that comes into their lives is no match for God’s promise of good.

The cross proves to us and our children that God brings good out of the worst things that happen.

When I look at my young adult children today I see Romans 8:28 all over them. Please help your little ones to see the good even in the bad. It takes faith in a good, wise, sovereign and loving God to impart this to your little ones.

A mom who has faith in God during her own seasons of suffering is able to come alongside her children when they are hurting. Rather than join her children in angry resentment toward a coach, teacher, relative or friend that is mistreating them the wise mother reaches for God’s faithfulness to bring good out her own disappointments and conflicts to compassionately point her child to a Savior who is there to help them.

Yes, the maternal urge to protect our kids is there. But time and again they will suffer and experience pain — and it will all be used for their good.

And ours.