You’re Really Not Alone, Mom

Over the past two days my daughter, Jaime, has shared how God has used motherhood to remind her of her desperate need for Him. I pray her experiences have encouraged you as mothering challenges are common — as is the grace to meet and grow from them!

Tomorrow and next week you will hear from three other moms whose stories will touch your heart.

Do you have a story of how God has used hard times as a mom to grow, strengthen and help you? If so, I would love to hear about it (see below). Because here’s the thing: we moms are tempted to think we’re alone in our struggles.

  • Battles with anger
  • Worries about our kids spiritual condition
  • Panic when signs of worldliness in them are exposed because we wonder where their temptations will lead
  • Fatigue
  • Tension in the marriage due to parenting demands
  • Financial strain
  • Unplanned — and perhaps unwanted — pregnancy
  • Guilt over feeling weak and needy
  • Envy of moms who seems to have it all together
  • Self-righteous pride when moms don’t have it all together — or at least lack self-discipline and falter when being a mom is just hard work, right?

The list goes on!

One of the primary reasons I started this blog over a year ago was to demonstrate and communicate that:

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear….” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

We too often feel alone in our struggles, temptations and even our sins. Just last night at my Community Group a mom was sharing her battle with fear over losing her unborn baby; a pregnancy that followed quickly on the heels of a miscarriage. She was lamenting the fact that she wants to trust God and enjoy every day of the pregnancy, even if it ends prematurely. She referred to herself as “faithless.”  One by one everyone in the room assured her that her anxieties were understandable and common. It was heartwarming to watch the group warmly remind her that we, too, struggle with fear and that her eagerness to fight for trust in God during this hard time is both inspiring and God-pleasing.

“And please remember,” one man said, “Jesus fought for faith, too. In the garden He begged God for the cup of His impending death to pass. In His humanity He didn’t want to suffer and die. He wanted to avoid death and sweat blood over the agony of it. So your fear of losing another baby is perfectly understandable and we all understand.”

Peace came. Hope rose. Knowing we’re not alone in our struggles as people identify and empathize with us is comforting. But immeasurably more helpful is knowing Jesus Himself understands. Benny ended the meeting last night reading this passage:

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God,let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Are you struggling as a mom today? As you read through the list above did something inside you think, “Yes, that’s me and I’m so glad someone understands enough to include my struggle in that list!”? Do you feel desperate for God’s help?

Jesus knows just what you are experiencing. Obviously He was never a mom. But He was tempted with fear, anger, worry, pride, envy. He had challenging relationships and battled weariness. He wasn’t stoic and happily willing to do everything God required of Him without question or temptation.

So run to the throne of God’s grace when you’re tempted. The same grace Jesus Christ received from His father is mine and yours to also receive from Him. God didn’t scorn His son for being tempted and He won’t turn us away either.

P.S. And if you’d like to see if your story will encourage and help others let me know. I would love to consider sharing it. Just leave a brief description of how God has met you in the comment section and I will be in touch.

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Randy and the Laughing Box

Today I’m starting a series on people whose lives have most inspired me. I’m excited to share their stories with you.

I have a new favorite verse:  “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

As I approach age sixty, I’m finding that things are falling apart. The most recent issue is foot pain that has required lots of physician attention with little progress. But the good news is that a recent visit to Disney World resulted in Benny pushing me around in a wheel chair. I’ve never come home after a long day at a theme park with so much energy! (Poor Benny; I can’t say the same for him.)

As the day progressed, however, I found myself feeling self-conscious. People were extra nice. We were bumped to the front of some lines while others waited patiently for much longer. And we were able to effortlessly move to the front of the parade line where we had a front row view. I felt undeserving of the special attention because others deserved to be in a wheelchair. I just have a bad foot! Throughout the day I thought about Randy. My older brother of six years traded a chopped Harley Davidson and a peppy Camaro in for a wheelchair at age 21. He broke his neck in a tragic swimming accident on the same day in the same general area as did Joni Eareckson Tada. The similarities were stunning, but the difference is Randy died just six years later while Joni continues to live. (Her book “When God Weeps” is one of those that has most taught me a biblical perspective on suffering — I highly recommend it!)Randy’s years in the wheelchair were full of sorrow and suffering. There were times he wished he had died the day he dove into that quarry near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. But after long and trying months of healing and therapy in three hospitals, he came home. Home was a handicap-accessible house in Burke, Virginia to which God sovereignly led he and my parents; a home that Benny and I raised our children in before our move to Orlando in 2000.

Randy with us at our wedding in March 1973.

Randy with us at our wedding in March 1973.

Once Randy was home I laughed and cried more than I had in my previous 17 years combined. One morning I heard his voice over the intercom:  “Sheree, you home?”  Mom had left early that morning for an appointment so his normal morning routine had been delayed. “Yeah, I’m here; what ‘cha need?” “I need some help, sis. Can’t seem to get one foot in front of the other this mornin’,” he responded. I chuckled and told him I would be right there. Then I sat on my bed and cried. My big brother couldn’t even get out of bed alone…Then there was the day he asked me to take him to the mall. Me, the little sister who had only been driving a year, was now transporting him around in a large converted van with a wheelchair loading ramp. We made it to Springfield Mall and I rolled Randy onto the ramp, then into the mall. Not long after we started looking for the stores Randy wanted to visit, laughter broke out and it was coming from HIM! With his head leaned back and his mouth wide open, guffaws were flowing. But the laugh wasn’t his. It hit me. Randy had brought the laughing box!In a successful attempt to embarrass his baby sister, Randy had asked Mom to tuck a small box he found in a toy store into his jacket pocket. Because he could move his arms (but not his hands) Mom positioned it perfectly to allow him to hit it with his elbow at just the  right time.People stared enough back then when a teenaged girl pushed a paralyzed guy not much older than herself around in public. (This was before handicapped access and parking spots allowed wheelchairs to move freely in public places.) But then the laughing started. Loud laughing. Hilarious laughing. Laughing that went on and on. Needless to say, the stares increased. But before long, onlookers were chuckling. I don’t know if they were more humored by Randy, or by the clear embarrassment of the girl pushing him. But I cherish that memory to this day.

That day my laughter once again turned to tears. I went home and cried again. You see, Randy had pleaded with God to heal him. He even made a costly out-of-state trip with Mom to have a well-known evangelist pray for him. But his healing was not to be on this earth.

Rather than become bitter and angry at God’s apparent unresponsiveness to his suffering, Randy chose another road. He applied for a training school and became one of the first quadriplegic computer programmers hired by the Navy. He invited a fellow “quad” he met in the training school to come home with him to share his room in our basement.  Eddie became a beloved part of our family and is one of my Facebook friends today. Randy learned to “do wheelies” on the sidewalk in front of our house; contributed generously from his hard earned money to help Benny with church youth group projects; hosted lots of parties in our basement; and mentored and became a hero to our younger brother, Jon.

The day he died was one of the saddest of my life. I lost a brother and friend; someone who knew how to make me (and everyone!) laugh through suffering and perplexity. But I didn’t lose his godly example, which remains with me till this day. Randy was far from perfect. During his young adult years he did things he regretted that left Mom facing many sleepless nights. And there was the time when I was about eleven that he demanded I iron his pants — then nearly thrust my head into our aquarium when I refused. I did end up ironing those pants.

His suffering ended on September 27, 1975. I’m grateful that my brother had a relationship with Jesus Christ that was tested and proven during the six long years he spent in a wheelchair having to rely on others to do everything for him.

But laugh.

I was surprised to find THE laughing box on google images. Brings back great memories.

I was surprised to find THE laughing box on google images. Brings back great memories.

Today I ordered something online. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone in my family. Who knows when and where it’s gonna show up?
It’s in honor of Randy. The first person to teach me that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5: 3-4).

Those Who Stayed With Me

You can barely see Jaime in this pic…how could she not love a cute little girl like this? 🙂

Today’s post is from Janelle, our fifth, who is married to Eric and is an orthopedic nurse.

So far, you have heard from my younger brother, Jake, on the importance of forgiveness and repentance in sibling relationships.  Even though he dissed me and said my laugh is loud and annoying (ok… maybe it is) I wholeheartedly agree with him.  You also heard from my older sister, Jaime. I felt good when I read her post because I don’t ever remember us biting or pulling each other’s hair like her girls do – so there is definitely hope for Annie and Danae.

This post has less about what you can do to foster close sibling relationships in your own kids and more about how God uses bad circumstances to do good things between siblings. The pictures on this page are a testimony to God’s faithfulness…more on that later.

Let’s face it, when we are going through a great season where everything is going our way, everyone is being nice to us, the Lord is blessing, and our kids are being kind to each other (or in my case, my husband is being kind to me) it’s easy to cruise along and be happy.

But when I think back to the seasons of my life I felt closest to my siblings I remember the aftermath of difficulties and trials.  As a kid I was less aware of this than I am now.  However, after reaching adulthood, some of my sweetest memories with my siblings were during times of intense heartache.  Two of these memories stand out more than any others.

Oldest brother Josh. The tears started with him.

I was eleven when my eighteen-year-old sister Jaime got married. I didn’t think much about it. All I knew was that PJ was nice to me and that I liked him, and that Jaime and I weren’t close because she didn’t like me.  (Of course, it had nothing to do with me be an annoying little sister!) As time when on, however, I began to better understand what happened. You see, Jaime and PJ were keeping their relationship secret from our family because they knew Dad and Mom wouldn’t approve. This was the hardest thing our family had walked through. The months that followed were difficult as my parents, sister and new brother-in-law carefully walked through the repercussions of this decision. I remember Mom crying a lot and Dad being unusually quiet. I was fearful and anxious about the future. Our normally happy, loud house was sad and quiet.

Soon after the marriage Jaime wanted to take me to the mall.  I was surprised since she had never done this before. We laughed and hung out. I had the time of my life with a sister I secretly adored but had never been close to.  As we were walking she suddenly stopped, looked at me intently and said, “Missy, you have to promise me something.”  I had no idea what to expect.  “You have to promise that when you like a boy, even just a little bit, you will tell Mom and Dad and trust them.”  She was so serious and passionate I had no choice but to agree.

Tall brother Jesse. He always makes me smile.

I never forgot that promise to my sister.  I can point back to that moment as the moment we became friends.   In fact, she helped Mom plan my wedding and in May 2010 she was my matron of honor. Few were as supportive and happy as Jaime to see me marry the love of my life. Because she made me promise to trust my parents, Eric was the first serious relationship I had….and Mom and Dad were the first to hear that I had my eye on him.

The other memory finds me at my grandmother’s gravesite.  Nanny’s funeral had been both somber and joyous as we celebrated the fact that she was now in heaven with her Savior, her husband and her son — free from the cancer that had been diagnosed only weeks before. The previous months had been draining on our whole family.  Just two weeks earlier, and within days of Nanny’s diagnosis, we had moved to Orlando from the only home we had known; a home we shared with Nanny. Now one of my favorite people in the world was suddenly gone. After watching her coffin laid to rest, I wanted to escape all of it.  I couldn’t stand it anymore.  I moved away from everyone and broke down crying.  I had been crying all day but these were different tears; tears of despair and anger.  I didn’t notice him walking up but then felt Joey’s arm go around me.  He wasn’t one to show affection easily, especially to me, but he saw me crying and wanted to comfort me.  He didn’t say a word.

Sweet brother Joey. (With Jaime looking on.) I’ll remain forever grateful for his hugs.

What Joey didn’t know was that memory would stick with me through the extremely difficult time of going back to Orlando to no friends and the grief of losing Nanny. Mom and Dad were still trying to process and deal with her death, as well as the circumstances that led to our move in the first place. God used my providential loneliness to force me to the Scriptures for solace and comfort.  I don’t know what would have happened if Joey hadn’t silently comforted me.  Maybe I would have trusted God with my grief, but perhaps I would have turned into a bitter teenager who thought that God was cruel and unloving.  What I do know, however, is that moment brought me closer to a brother who put aside his personality to comfort his little sister.

These memories are only two out of probably hundreds.  Now that we’re all adults, my siblings and I continue to walk through trials and hardships.  I know without a doubt that we all have each other’s backs.  I know they sincerely want what is best for me.  And I know that the prayers of my parents are being answered through the good times, but mostly through trials.

My nearest brother Jake. We fought. We bickered. We became friends. And here we cried.

So please take heart.  God can forge a bond between your own children. He will use your prayers that will tested and tried through the flames of hardship, loss and grief. One my wedding day I experienced the love of my siblings in a profound way. My sisters were my attendants and my brothers surprised me with a reception dance where they each cut in to dance with me one by one. I will never forget their expression of love for me that day.

In Luke 22 we find Jesus reclining at the Last Supper with his disciples.  After breaking bread and drinking wine Jesus tells them one of them will betray him.  What did they do? Say things like, “Oh Jesus, thank you for being willing to die for us!” or “How hard this must be for you, to suffer and die!”  Yeah, no.

“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.”

My newest brother PJ. He always liked me.

It reminds me of when all of my family is together at a birthday party and Mom initiates our normal tradition of honoring me – the birthday kid. But somehow the conversations turns to my brothers arguing about whose basketball career was the most impressive.  They all claim personal rights;  Joey because of his last second three pointer in the playoffs; Josh because he scored 1,000 points by his junior year; Jake because he….just because he’s the best at everything; and Jesse because he dominated the paint.  Okay, not a perfect analogy.

In His moment of greatest need Jesus could have said, “Guys!  I am about do DIE!  I am the greatest, you nimrods! How can you be thinking of yourselves at a time like this?!?”  Rather, He gently reminds them that the greatest would also be the one who serves.  But the most surprising thing to me that he says is right after.

“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials.”

That echoes in my heart.

Mom and Dad, you are those who have exemplified what it means to pray for your children through trials.

Josh, Jaime, Jesse, Joey, Jake, Julia…you are those who have stayed with me in my trials.

P.S. The rest of the story: Jaime and PJ will celebrate their 15th anniversary in March, and Dad and Mom love him. Well…mostly because he helped give them Kayla, Wyatt, Annie and Danae.

An After-Dinner Chat With Some Smart Kids

Yesterday a longtime friend made a facebook comment about a book Benny and I wrote years ago called, “Walking With the Wise.” Frankly, it was written so long ago that I rarely think about it. It was a book for parents about the importance of developing the kind of relationship with our kids that makes we parents the people to whom they want to come for friendship and counsel in the teen years.

It was based on Proverbs 13:20:  “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” Having been in youth ministry for years before having kids, Benny and I watched many teens turn their affections and desire for approval away from their parents to peers. We wanted to do our best to avoid this happening to our kids.

Years after writing that book we went through some rough waters with several of our kids when our relationships with them were tested and it seemed we were the smallest voice in their lives. And some of the hardest times were after they were no longer teens. The early 20’s brought challenges we didn’t anticipate, so with an 18-year-old still at home we are still spending time on our knees. With her oldest siblings we breathed a sigh of relief once they were out of those high school years. We know better now. We need God’s grace now just as much as when she was younger and are wanting to finish these remaining parenting years well by God’s grace.

Something cool has happened over the past few years to our grown kids (ages 22 through 34 and their spouses). They’ve gotten smart! The kids to whom we used to give advice (or try to!) are now advising us.

Take the other night. We went out to a birthday dinner for our daughter, Janelle. Not all of the kids could come but 4 of them and a couple of spouses were there. After dinner, Benny asked if he could get their thoughts on some decisions we’re facing, including having his elderly mom come to live with us and needing to move closer to where our new church was planted.

As we sat on the restaurant patio Benny shared his heart and our questions. I loved hearing him openly share some of our temptations and struggles, as well as our questions. One by one they started asking questions and sharing their perspectives. They helped me to see an oversensitive conscience about admitting it would be easier if my mom was needing to move in with us rather than Benny’s. In fact, one son-in-law interrupted his wife (our daughter) when she half-joked about the day we might have to move in with them by interjecting, “Now, wait a minute; we need to talk about this!” They also helped Benny and me to see the importance of talking through our housing preferences more before we actually house-hunt. And, most importantly, they agreed that we need to take a good look at heart motives behind some of our questions and struggles.

Now we are walking with the wise!

Benny and I cherish our peer relationships. We could never put a price on the help, counsel, correction and encouragement we’ve received from our friends over the years. Yet there’s something really special about sitting across from our kids-turned-adults and gleaning from their perspective. Last night as we talked I stopped to savor the moment. Josh started out bald and is now voluntarily bald again. Jaime’s ponytail looked just like it did in her high school basketball games. Janelle’s laugh is still there — the one I could always hear from across the room. They’re my children; the ones I carried and made birthday cakes for and disciplined and taught to read and sinned against and fed pbnj’s.

Yet there they sat: helping, advising and caring.

At one point I realized that someday they’ll all be sitting having a conversation about what to do with their Dad and me.  To add some comic relief to quiet the tears brimming in my eyes I told them I wanted to apologize in advance for all the trouble we would cause them someday.

“Someday?” Josh asked. “You already cause us trouble!”

Ahhh. It was perfect. The tears stopped and we all had a good laugh.

I hope the Lord gives us lots of healthy years to get more good counsel from our kids.

I guess this is “Walking With the Wise: Part Two.”

Cows….in My Heart?

This morning I was reading about the Israelites making a golden calf while waiting for Moses to come down from meeting with God on Mt Sinai. I’ve read this story numerous times, but something jumped off the page for me this time.

“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said,’Up, make us gods who shall go before us'” (verse 1).

These are the same people who had witnessed the stunning plaques in Egypt; who watched Him change Pharoah’s stubborn heart; experienced the unbelievable miracle of watching the waters of the Red Sea split to allow them to walk on dry land (and then to swallow up the Egyptian army!); and were benefiting from God’s daily provision in the desert, even in response to their sinful grumbling (Ex 16: 4-12 and 17: 1-7).

These are the people who had recently responded to the Lord’s commands with, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (19:8).

Yet in no time they are insisting that Aaron build a lifeless golden calf because Moses didn’t come back from meeting with God soon enough. This unplanned delay resulted in those who had pledged their loyal devotion to God to turn to idolatry.

Delays are hard. Waiting is always undesirable. I quickly complain when a red light lasts more than a couple of minutes or I have to wait in the driveawy (again…smile) for my teenaged daughter!

But what about waiting on God? That tests much more than my patience; it tests my faith.

As I was reading the passage this morning, I found myself spurning the Israelites. How could they have been so foolish? Disloyal? Ungodly? How could they have witnessed such incredible miracles and provision only to start gathering their gold jewelry to make an earless, voiceless cow to be their god?!?!

Then the Holy Spirit started massaging my heart. I started seeing myself in the Israelites. I have never made a golden cow, but John Calvin’s words started ringing in my ears: “The human heart is a factory of idols.” His broadening of idolatry from created objects to heart cravings has helped me see that I, too, am an idolater. It’s easy to self-righteously condemn the Israelites because their idols were visible. My idols, though, are just as dangerous because they, too, are god replacers.

Recently, the idol that the factory in my heart has produced is an idol of peace. Peace is a fine thing to desire. In fact, a peaceful life is a wonderfully good thing! But an idol is anything I’m willing to sin to get or keep. When my desire for peace becomes a demand for it I’m in trouble. Once it becomes a demand, it has moved from a hoped-for want to a sinful “craving.”

I then begin to forfeit the very thing I desire with my restless, sinful churning because it’s been delayed.

Like last Wednesday. I was tired. I felt I needed and deserved some rest. (Which was probably true.) But just as I was lying down to rest I got a phone call with a timely request from someone I love. I could have said no, but that would have resulted in considerably inconveniencing them. As I was “serving” them, I started grumbling to myself. When Benny came in to ask about my interrupted nap, I provided an eye rolling, martyr-ish explanation. My fatigue was real…but so was my self-pity.

You might think I’m being a little hard on myself. I don’t think so. My desire for peace (and rest, in this case) was fine, but I chose to set that desire aside to serve another. That was my decision. Once that decision was made, the self-pity and resentment that bubbled up in my heart alerted me that what I wanted had moved from desire to demand.

My idol of peace was just as foolish as a golden calf. Why? Because at that moment I was willing to sin to get what I wanted. Peace had become all too important to me: important enough to sin when I didn’t get it.

That day, the delay was rest and quiet. Other days it’s been a new piece of furniture; appreciation from family members; someone doing what they said they would do without reminders; being heard or understood; dinner out. You get the picture. Sometimes those desires being delayed doesn’t result in me sinning. But other times even brief delays squeeze the sponge in my heart and yukky stuff comes out.

Yes, my heart is a factory of idols. How comforting to know this! If my sinful reactions to delays are “just the way I am” there’s no hope. But if they are functional idols they can be destroyed. Moses took the golden calf and “burned it with fire and ground it to powder” (Ex 32:20). My God can do the same for me! Because of His idol-destroying death on the cross I am promised the power to “put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature…which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). No golden calves mentioned here: just real-life temptations…including lust, impurity and greed!

Is having an idol in your heart a new thought? No worries. Many Christians still believe idols are simply statues that sit in religious buildings. But if that’s true, the New Testament wouldn’t talk so much about heart idols. The worst thing we can do when idols in our hearts are exposed is think “that’s just the way I am.” That may be just the way I was but because of Christ’s sinless life, atoning death and resurrection we who are Christians have been given His righteous life in exchange for our sin and idolatry! By His power we can stop worshiping peace or getting new things or feeling appreciated and turn our worship back to the only One who deserves it.

More about desires becoming demands tomorrow….