Thank Heaven for Big Kids

kids onlineIt’s summer break here in Tiny Town, Iowa, and you know what that means. It means that I have to take my kids places with me again, instead of running errands alone during the school day. This is possibly the thing that strikes the most fear into the hearts of mothers everywhere, but something magical happened yesterday when we all loaded into the van (my oldest in the drivers’ seat!) for a trip to the thrift store, the library, the grocery store, and the post office. I had a Thrilling Revelation.

Going places with my children is becoming less stressful as they get older.

I told you it was magical.

My big kids, y’all. They can try on clothes by themselves, navigate the library, meet me at the cash register in ten minutes. They can walk in parking lots without me being afraid for their lives, grabbing them, pulling them close, yelling “watch out!” and “get over here!” a hundred times. They can carry their own stacks of library books and read them on their own when they get home. They can assess whether a shirt fits correctly and sit in the van for a few minutes while I run into the post office. The boys can go off on their own without my worrying about them getting lost or stolen.

Sometimes my children’s growing independence, which seems so noticeable to me all of a sudden, causes me to catch my breath—just a little gasp of shock. How am I now the second shortest person in my family, instead of the second tallest? How am I sitting in the passenger seat while my son drives us around to our errands? How is my youngest now in the tween category of the summer reading program? How are we only a couple years away from senior pictures, college entrance exams, and scholarship applications? Wasn’t it just yesterday that they were all in carseats?

But mostly, I really just love the older kids stage. These kids are amazing. Yesterday, running errands, I never once felt stressed out (other than the obvious, continual stress of supervising a teenage driver). The kids just walked around with me in the stores, or went to look at their own things. They came when I called them, didn’t touch everything, stood quietly while we waited in line, refrained from interrupting my conversation with the librarian, and didn’t ask for all the candy in the line at the grocery store. We went in, we did what needed to be done, we came out; and that was the end of that.

It wasn’t very long ago that running errands with the kids was a highly stressful experience that I avoided whenever possible. I felt like I was taking seventeen octopi into Walmart, instead of three kids, like I was surrounded at all times by a whirlwind of grabbing, whining short people. I had to know where every single-seater bathroom in town was, in case someone had an emergency or an accident. At one point, when one of my children was potty training, I had to carry a plastic toilet around with me in the van, because said child was unable to use public restrooms for various, purely mental reasons. I had diapers and goldfish crackers and sippy cups in my purse and all over the van, and just getting in and out required more patience and agility than anybody should have to have.

We are in a new stage, now, and it has its own stresses that are sometimes overwhelming and terrifying and emotionally draining. But, man, there are good things too, and I don’t ever want to forget that. These kids are fun, and they’re easy to take places, and every one of them is capable of using the bathroom without me.

Thank heaven for big kids.

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I Am Naomi

I recently finished a study of the book of Ruth, using the book Ruth: Loss, Love, and Legacy by Kelly Minter. I have heard this story a hundred times, but it was so challenging to go through it slowly and to hear the perspectives of the other ladies who weren’t overly familiar with it. This blog post is a result of my challenged thinking and our discussions on Monday evenings.

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I am Naomi. Let’s be honest here. I’d rather tell you I’m Ruth, that I’m fully devoted to those who seem bent on pushing me away, that I’m held up by this unspeakably rich faith in a God I barely know. I’d like to be Ruth—hard-working, selfless, humble, willing, obedient, and trusting. But I’m not. I’ve been me for 39+ years, and I’ve never been Ruth. So let’s talk about Naomi.

I am Naomi, running away from hardship and difficulty, straight into more hardship and difficulty. I am Naomi, failing to trust God’s provision for me, failing to rely on His plan and promises, turning to what is forbidden in an attempt save myself.

I am Naomi, entirely empty and bereft, pleading with the ones who love me to leave me. I am Naomi, hopeless and despairing, unable to see any way forward, any possible redemption, any hope or help. I am Naomi, taking on the identity of my shame and despair, naming myself Bitter.

I am Naomi, depressed and lonely, but never left alone, because God is still my provider. I am Naomi, seeing a bit of light glimmering through my darkness and wildly scheming to take advantage of it. I am Naomi, unable to help myself, desperately in need of a redeemer.

I am Naomi.

And here is what I know. At the end of the story, Ruth may be the hero and Boaz may be the kinsman-redeemer, but Naomi is the one who has been rescued. Ruth was strong, but Naomi saw God work in her weakness. In spite of all her faithlessness, hopelessness, bitterness, and loss—despite her inability to see past her own circumstances and trust that she, like David, would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living—Naomi was redeemed. Her story was made beautiful.

From the beginning, God had a plan for Naomi. He was working in her life even as He took her husband and her sons, leaving her seemingly alone. God hollowed Naomi out, so that she felt empty and hopeless, but her emptiness was a place where God’s beautiful plan of redemption was soon to be seen. In her emptiness, God placed Ruth, a woman who may have been just a daughter-in-law, just a foreigner, just a woman, but by the end of the story is declared to be “better than seven sons.”

I am Naomi, and mine is a continuing story of failure and imperfection and brokenness that is being redeemed by a God who has given everything for me.

I don’t have to be the hero in this story. My Redeemer already is.

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Thanks to my Monday Night Bible Study Girls and our fearless leader Deb. 🙂 Y’all make my life better.

 

God My Comfort

God is my comfort, and not only when my troubles come from outside my control. God is my comfort when I am mourning or afraid, and He is my comfort when I am sick or wounded, and He is my comfort when I am broken and messy and covered in the dirt of my own destructive shame. He is my comfort when I lose my job, when I lose my keys, when I lose my mind about the mud tracked in on the floor. Nothing is too great or too small for His loving eye, His mighty hand, His comforting arm.

He is my comfort no matter what has caused my fear or sorrow or wild heart. He comforts me when I stand over the grave of a loved one, and He comforts me when I fall flat on my face in my own sin. He comforts me when I am weary and He comforts me when I sting from the consequences of my own actions. He is a good Father who comforts with tender care the child He has chastened, for His chastening is just as much a sign of His love as His comfort is.

God is my comfort who never stops caring for me, even when I shun His comfort and care, even when I turn to my own worldly means of comforting myself—when I fall back into that same old pit of sinful passions because somehow I think that this time it will satisfy and rescue and comfort my scattered soul.

He is my comfort because He is mighty to save—stronger than anything I fear, anything man can do to me, anything I can do to myself. He is stronger than my loneliness, than my sin, than my faithlessness, than my weakness, than the enemy and accuser of my soul. He guards my life, fighting for me as a mighty warrior defends his most beloved possession. He is stronger than death itself, stronger than the grave, stronger than all the terrible powers of darkness. God is my comfort because He is able to rescue me from every attack, every pit, every foe.

God is my comfort because His steadfast love endures forever—endures patiently when I wander away, when I cower and hide, when I fling myself like an angry toddler on the ground because things have not happened as I wanted them to. His love does not fail or change, and He daily offers me grace, mercy, acceptance, forgiveness, and nearness. His love overcomes my sin, my fear, my disgrace, my failure, my childishness, my wildness, my shame and brokenness. His love comforts me as a mother comforts her flailing child, gently, tenderly, patiently. God is my comfort because His love is always for me and nothing can separate me from it.

God is my comfort because He is wise and all-knowing—because He sees the end from the beginning, the depths of my heart, the hairs on my head. He knows my name and counts my tears, and He sees my future and knows the end of the way I take. He leads me as a good and wise shepherd leads his sheep through green valleys and dark ravines, always knowing what’s ahead, always making a safe way even when the way is hard. He comforts me with His wisdom, for He is my Maker and He is my Savior and He is the God of all my days. He knows what heartaches I will face and how to use them for my good. He knows the way out of every pit I find myself in. God is my comfort because He has given me His Word of wisdom and His Spirit of wisdom, and He understands even when I can’t.

God is my comfort, and His comfort is always there for me, His arms always open wide. He never leaves me or forsakes me. He is with me always. He chastens me, yet He comforts me. He walks with me through every sorrow. He comforts me in all my affliction, even self- affliction. He comforts me with truth and with mercy, with power and wisdom and faithfulness.

My God is who He says He is, and He is my comfort.

Never forget or doubt– He is able to comfort you.

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I’ve been thinking about Israel lately, and how they sinned against God over and over and over again, until, after many generations of terrible faithlessness and iniquity, God sent judgment on them. The book of Isaiah talks in great detail about the judgment of the Lord on His people for their sin, but then it also promises a Redeemer. And it promises comfort. I think we fall into a way of thinking that says God only comforts us when our hardships are not of our own making, but I don’t see that story in Scripture. God loves His people, and though His ways of dealing with His people have changed over time, He has never changed. Still today, when I struggle with my own sin and its consequences in my life, God  offers me comfort. His love is beyond description.

“Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the LORD has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted.”
Isaiah 49:13

Hollow But Not Empty

It was ten years ago this morning that the Doppler couldn’t find my son’s heartbeat. A decade ago, I discovered that you can survive being emptied entirely—gutted and destroyed within—that you can be hollow and still walk around breathing, make arrangements for the kids, call your dad and tell him that terrible news.

I remember just laying on my bed so very devastated. Never before had I experienced grief like that.

In so many ways it feels much longer than ten years—a whole lifetime ago. Back then I had two little preschool-aged boys, a husband in seminary, a job in a daycare. Today all three of my kids are well past the preschool stage, my husband is a pastor, and my job is trying to keep track of all these people who are counting on me. Back then it was all marble runs, story books, and learning to hold scissors; today it’s driver’s ed, essays, and learning to handle girl drama. It’s amazing how life changes in a decade.

Always there will be this tiny hollowed-out place in me, shaped like the son I lost in 2008, the baby I lost in 2011. The wounds have healed, but those places will always be hollow, carved out by grief and loss and the sharp painful knife of sorrow. But hollow is not necessarily bad. The hollowness in me is not empty—not anymore. I serve a God of mercy and grace who fills hollow places with His fullness and abundance of mercy and grace, of hope and love and life.

Perhaps my daughter is the most physical, visible evidence of God’s abundant filling of my hollow places. My daughter, who never would have come along if it hadn’t been for the loss of my third son. She is a loud, messy, unexpected, opinionated, affectionate, every-single-day reminder that when God fills our empty spaces, He does it in ways we didn’t dare to imagine.

But there are other, less physical ways God has filled those hollows in my life. He has given me the gift of empathy with those who are suffering loss. He has given me the ability to weep with those who weep by softening and tenderizing my heart through sorrow. He has shown up in His mercy and steadfast love in ways I never knew I needed Him.

I believe that the tragedies of life are no surprise to my God. I believe His love never stops for me. I believe that every terrible sadness, every loss, every painful experience is a new place for His beauty and joy and life to be found. I believe that just as the ground has to be broken for a garden to grow, just as a bowl has to be emptied and cleaned before it can be used to make something delicious, so we have to be broken and emptied and purified if we hope to see God’s beauty and grace coming forth in our lives.

In the years since January 30, 2008, since there was no heartbeat, no movement on the ultrasound screen, I have been emptied again and again. I have lost another child and have walked through losses with friends and family members. I have been to funerals of grandparents and church family and strangers, and I have held my husband when his dear friend passed away. I have struggled with loneliness and depression and fear, and I have made hard decisions and watched my kids get on the bus for the first time and every single time I have been hollowed out a little more and every single time I have found God to be faithful and good and sufficient for my need.

We named that little lost boy Elijah, before we knew he was lost, because of the story of Elijah in the Bible. This man of God waited by a brook during a famine, and God caused ravens to bring him food. Slowly but surely, the brook dried up. And God let Elijah stay there by that tiny trickle and watch it disappear completely before telling him where to go next. And then He sent him not to a wealthy person, but to a poor widow who was down to her last handful of flour and drop of oil. And God did a miracle, providing for both Elijah and the widow and her son.

Sometimes it feels like we watch the last trickle of hope flow away and are still waiting for God to step in. I’m here to tell you, He always will, if we will keep opening our hands for the blessing.

I’ve been reading the Old Testament to my kids at breakfast every morning, and today of all days, by the grand sovereign coincidence that makes my God so very awesome, I came to the story of Elijah by the brook.

And I was reminded, again, that God is faithful, still. He is enough, still.

He filled up the widow’s empty jars with enough flour and enough oil, and He daily fills my hollowed-out spaces with life abundant. And He can do the same for you.

An Update of Sorts

I’ve had people ask how the kids are doing with our new school routine this year, so I thought I’d post a quick update.

We’ve made it past the first midterm period, which according to math means that we’re more than 1/8 of the way done with this school year. I do this with everything. I like milestones. We have basically adjusted to having school on Mondays– not saying we like it. I mean, who likes Mondays anyway, right? I personally have adjusted to packing lunches, buying things like snack cakes and juice boxes and so many zippy bags that I’m sure we are personally responsible for the unseasonably warm temperatures we’ve been experiencing here in Tiny Town. We’ve fallen into a routine.

Some things have been more of a struggle. Finding one on one time with the kids. Figuring out how to keep family a priority. Figuring out when to do the grocery shopping, which has been surprisingly complicated with our new schedule. Dealing with the shakeup that this change has brought to the way our family relates to one another. Having one kid homeschooled and two in public school brings relational changes I hadn’t expected, and we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with that.

R is doing really well in his first year of high school. He enjoys his photography class and is doing well in his classes– including an aced history test this week. He has gradually been immersing himself in the life of his high school and dressed up every day this week for spirit week. He helped decorate his classroom door and rode in the homecoming parade and generally seems to be doing well socially and academically. I’m pretty proud of my boy. 🙂

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S is learning so much this year, thriving in the quieter atmosphere of our home. He is loving his general science class and is making good progress through math. I feel like he’s making really great strides academically and am praying that he will continue to do so. We participate in a homeschool cooperative twice a month, and he is taking an art class and a writing class (taught by yours truly). We’ve only met twice but I think he’s having fun, and we have been pursuing our writing every school day with half an hour of designated writing time. So far he has filled up many pages of his journal with a fantasy story involving a castle.

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G is my most communicative child, and also my most dramatic. Sometimes it’s hard to sift the truth about school from the midst of the drama. But generally she seems to come home happy and relaxed, once she has decompressed a little. She is struggling some with the long days away from what she really wants to be doing (PLAYING ALL THE TIME), but I remember how bored she was last year and am convinced that she’s going to be okay. She walked in the homecoming parade yesterday with the confidence of a movie star on the red carpet.

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As for me, I know I keep promising to blog more and then neglecting to do so. I have a lot of things happening right now– good things, hard things, big and small. Things that deserve to be written but I’m too much in the middle right now. Things that are tiny and mundane and unimportant but take up a lot of space in my life. I am here, though, growing.

I guess we all are. And it’s good.  🙂

Of Prayer, Waiting, and All Kinds of Answers

Sometimes life is breathtaking. We find ourselves in joyful mountaintop seasons where our prayers are being answered, where there’s enough money in the bank and the kids are happy and our jeans fit just right.

And sometimes life is gut-wrenching. Grief, trial, hardship, and stress pound us like waves with seemingly no break, so that we can barely catch our breath. We cry out and it seems like nobody hears.

I’m not in either of those seasons right now. Right now is this almost bewildering mix of good and bad, joyful and grievous, exciting and stressful. I see prayers being answered and I see prayers not being answered. I see God so clearly at work in situations I’ve been so burdened for, and in other situations– situations that feel dire and desperate— He remains silent.

Lately, instead of answering some of my prayers with a yes, ma’am, here’s just what you asked for, God has been saying here’s what you need: I am faithful. I am good. I love youI will take care of you. And He asks me to trust Him in the circumstance I’m praying for.

Y’all. I’m just going to be honest. I would really just rather have God give me what I want. I mean, faith is great and everything, but when it comes right down to it what I want are more items in the praise column. I want all my financial needs met. I want the thing that is hanging over my head to just go away. I want my kids to thrive in school and I want clear direction for the writing I’m trying to do. I want victory over an ongoing struggle with temptation. I want our church to grow and I want to sleep well at night and I don’t want to wait for God’s perfect timing and God’s perfect answer.

Honesty can be pretty ugly.

I’m so thankful that God is my good Father– that He can see what is best for me in spite of my childish tantrums and demands that I want what I want and I want it now. I’m so thankful that He knows me in all my crazy mood swings and my bewilderment and He knows how to give me good gifts. Not only that, but He loves me– He desires to give me good gifts. And He is able to do so.

I went to a conference with some ladies from my church this past weekend, and that was the summary of the speaker’s messages: God is able, He is aware, and He is good. If you only have two of those things, you have an incomplete picture of God and how He deals with us. But if you understand that God knows our trials and our needs, that He desires good for His people, and that He is able to do that good thing– well, what you have there is a trustworthy God.

Right now, there are prayers I’ve been praying for years that He is answering, and it feels like a miracle, like something unspeakably beautiful and precious. Something fragile and treasured.

And honestly, there are prayers I’ve been praying for years that, as far as I can tell, God is not answering. Prayers that I believe line up with God’s will. Prayers for good things.

My God is growing my faith, and He is doing so both through the answered prayers and the unanswered ones. He says– Look. Now is the time. See how much I can do? See how much I love you?. You can trust me! And He says– Wait. I know what’s best. You have seen me work before, so hold on and keep working and keep praying. You can trust me.

I truly have no idea what God is doing right now, because it feels wild and all over the place. But I know this– I may fail to trust, but He will not fail to be trustworthy. I may be faithless, but He remains faithful. I may not understand, but He does, and He is good, and He is able.

And as I wait, He renews my strength, so that I can keep doing the work before me. He promises this: In due season I will reap, if I don’t give up.

 

 

Of Comfort, Mercy, and the Mighty Hand of God

Right this very moment, I have two dear friends walking through deeply painful times with their parents. Their stories aren’t mine to tell, but as each of them face the very present reality of mortality and loss, I hurt with them. I wish I could do more– my words seem empty. Every night my daughter and I pray, and it is terrible and beautiful to watch her and listen to her sweet voice as she tries to grapple with the reality of death.

That a daughter could pray for her father to close his eyes and breathe out and wake up in heaven, my daughter cannot comprehend. Honestly, neither can I, but I can more than she can. She is so young, and death– even eternity in heaven– seems terrible and far away and unreal.

Today I read Psalm 139, and I found my eyes drawn again to this verse I underlined last year sometime:

You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.

These words speak such comfort to me, as I think of my friends and their loved ones, tenderly held safe in the hands of a good God. As I think of my children, off at their school without me there to carefully control all the influences in their lives. As I think of my own crazy week and the calendar that seems full to bursting right now.

I am held safe.

But there have been times in my life when I have felt hemmed in by God, with His hand upon me, and it has not been a sweet, positive, comforting experience. Sometimes God hems us in and says you will not go any further down this road. Sometimes He keeps us stuck in what seem like pointless or painful places. We wonder if we are making any progress at all. Sometimes His hand is heavy upon us because of sin in our lives. David experienced this after his sin with Bathsheba–

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.   Selah

These times feel anything but comforting. They feel terrible, painful, and confusing. Sometimes we know exactly why we are under the hand of God, or why He is hemming us in, but sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we just feel trapped and miserable. We cry out and it feels like no one answers, or we don’t get the answers we’d hoped for.

But I have learned– and undoubtedly will have many opportunities to keep learning– that God’s hand never rests on me for any reason other than my good. I have learned that to be hemmed in by God is always to be protected from what is harmful, even if it feels like I am being prevented from doing a good thing.

God’s ways are wise and merciful. He kept us trapped at Bible college and seminary for so much longer than I wanted to be there, with no way out. And you know what? We needed every one of those long years to bring us to a place where we could minister competently in the place where He has called us.

When I was a teenager, rebelling and traveling down a very deadly path, He hemmed me in and refused to let me keep going. I screamed at Him and raged against my parents, but looking back all I see in His hemming actions is mercy. Where would I be if I had gone down that road? I don’t know, but He did, and He wanted something better for me.

In David’s life, when God’s hand was heavy upon him, it was also an act of grace and mercy, because it brought David to repentance.

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

My friend, wherever you are today, whether God’s hand feels like a loving Father’s tender hand rubbing a child’s back or like a hard hand of discipline, know this– you are dearly loved by the God whose hand is ever upon you. His hand is always a hand of mercy and grace. When He hems you in before and behind, it is always an act of protection and fierce Father-love. He will protect you from your enemies, even when your enemy is yourself.

This is the God who made you, who saw you and loved you before your mother even knew you were growing within her. Every part of you is precious to God, and He will do whatever it takes to bring you near and keep you safe, to comfort you and show you His mercy.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God . . . , casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Saturday Evening Ramblings

We survived five days– in a row– of school, and I feel like we deserve cookies. Unfortunately, if we are going to eat cookies I’m going to have to bake them, and I am happily ensconced in my recliner for the evening, so I guess cookies are out.

I started this week with an arthritis flare, which had the kindness to die down about a day before I went in for my quarterly checkup at the arthritis doctor. I think I’ve only actually had the doctor see a flare once in nearly five years. This time she was very eager to blame it on stress. Which, in fairness, I guess it could have been. But still. Everyone always seems to want to blame everything on stress. What if– what if it’s rheumatoid arthritis being rheumatoid arthritis? Crazy ideas.

Our kids’ club at church starts next Wednesday evening, and I have spent several hours this week planning out the whole year, September through April. The calendar is all ready to print, and I’m feeling very accomplished. Not that I did it on my own. Two dear friends came over on Thursday and we figured out crafts and activities and themes. So that was awesome. Anyway, I’m excited for this new year. Praying to see new families reached with the love and truth of the Word of God! 🙂

I’m teaching a writing class for our homeschool co-op this year, and we start on Thursday. I am very much not ready. In fact, I should probably be working on that right now, but I have set a goal to write two blog posts a week and it’s Saturday and I had only written one, so in order to meet my goal I have to write this mediocre, rambling post about nothing and neglect my responsibilities.

My life is very confusing.

A miracle happened yesterday and I found a pair of jeans, in my size, that weren’t hideous, at the Goodwill. Those of you who aren’t thrift store junkies might not know what a miracle this was, but trust me. On the other hand, I guess most of us just flat out have trouble shopping for jeans. So maybe you can understand a little bit. 😉

R got to bring home his school-assigned camera for his photography class yesterday. He’s a happy boy. S got to have a shortened day of school yesterday because his teacher had to go to the arthritis doctor in the middle of the morning. So he was a happy boy, too. G’s glasses broke randomly today, but Art took her in and found a new pair of the same frames and twenty minutes later she was good to go. Then she convinced him that the next obvious step was an ice cream run. So she was a happy girl. It’s nice to see everyone happy every now and then.

I have apparently lost my ability to stay up late. I think I’ve been asleep before 10:30 every night this week. Most nights before 10. Does this mean I’m getting old? My first 39th birthday is approaching rapidly– only 3 months away. Shocking.

G just brought me Bear. I think that means it’s time to stop writing and time to do something else, like prep for my writing class. Or, more likely, read a novel. Because it’s Saturday night and sometimes you have to relax.

Next week I’ll try to post actual posts that have a purpose. Until then, have a lovely day.

 

Around the Table

We gather, every night around 5:30, around Grandpa K’s big old wooden dining room table. So many generations of our family have come together at this table. Nine months ago we put the leaf in for a birthday party, and we’ve left it in, because we like to spread out and it’s more conducive to art projects to have the table nice and long.

I don’t cook fancy food, and none of my serving dishes match any of the others. Cups get knocked over at least a couple times a week, and a buttery knife is basically guaranteed to fall on the table during every single meal. The kids fight silently during prayer, squeezing each other’s fingers violently or refusing to hold hands at all. Passing clockwise is a concept some of us still struggle with.

It doesn’t matter. Family dinners, with all their messes and with the dreadful manners that leave me cringing, with all the complaints or backhanded compliments (“this isn’t as bad as it looks, Mom!”), are still a sweet and sacred part of the day.

They’ve been important for years, but now they are crucial. I miss my kids while they’re at school. Dinner is when we reconnect.

We go around the table and share– What was the best part of our day? The worst? What’s something new we learned? We are teaching conversational skills and hopefully discovering what’s up in our kids’ lives.

My children’s personalities shine through in this exercise– R always says that the best part of his day was “Coming home and seeing my MOMMY!” because he’s fourteen and speaks sarcasm like a pro. Generally then he shares something else, but not always. I’m glad he likes coming home. S’s answers are usually short and to the point. He likes to say that the worst part of his day was school, but I make him name something specific, because I’m here all day and he’s definitely not walking around miserable. G’s answers are long and rambling– confused 3rd-grader accounts of playground drama, classroom procedures, and the latest game she and the neighbor girls made up which probably involves doing something they’re not supposed to do.

Yesterday, after G had rambled for eight minutes on the subject of where she puts her math papers when they’re finished, I had to cut her off. It made her cry. It’s rough being the mean mom.

We find ourselves lingering long after our bellies are full, discussing what happened in R’s world history class or the latest book Art read. We laugh and joke, and at least once every meal I have to repeat the rule, “We don’t discuss our bodily functions at the table.” I do have two boys, after all. Three if you count the big one at the head of the table.

People keep asking how we’re doing, and the answer is we’re doing well. Adjusting? Slowly but surely. Struggling to wake up in the morning? Definitely. Really really tired? Absolutely. But God gives grace. And He has reminded me in about six different places in the last week that He is strong enough, even though I’m not.

He has helped me listen to my little verbal processor tell me all the words about her life, even when I really just want to tuck her in and go read a book. He has helped me handle grumpy, out-of-sorts kiddos who just need to decompress. He has given me the privilege of seeing my seventh grader doing so much better than he was last spring. Y’all. I don’t know if S’s brain has matured, or if it’s just because he’s getting more one-on-one time with me with fewer distractions, but this kid is rocking it.

Sometimes the enemy attacks my mind with fear, but God is bigger than my fears. God has my kids, my family, in His good hands. He uses every challenging situation to bring us closer in relationship to Him– to help us grow. I believe that, and I am determined to live it, even on the days when the stories my kids tell me fill me with anger or anxiety.

God has put all of us in a place where, if we dig in, we can grow. And I can’t wait to hear tonight about the ways He’s growing my kids, as we sit around this old table and pass the food.

Hard and Holy Faith

Hanging-By-a-ThreadSome days, faith is easy. That’s because some days, faith is just there, untested, a kind of snuggly blanket that makes you feel good.

But some days– some days faith is the one thin string that is keeping you from plummeting down the sheer face of an unforgiving mountain. And some days, faith is the desperate prayer that when that thin string snaps, there will be a net at the bottom of that very long fall.

It is in this hard place that my mama heart hangs right now. This adjustment– from homeschooling to school buses, from leisurely mornings to early ones with lots of don’t forgets and hurry, pleases, from me being in control of how my kids spend their days and what they learn and where they sit and who they hang out with– this is a big adjustment, and it is hard.

It is hard to see my son struggling with all the big adjustments that come for every freshman in high school, made worse by the fact that every single part of going to school is a big adjustment.

And what it comes down to is, do I trust my Father?

Do I trust that His Word is true, not just for me, but for my children?

Do I trust that He is the God of beauty from ashes, the Giver of good and perfect gifts, the One who works all things together for good?

Do I trust that He goes with my children and watches over them, making a way for them, lifting them up when they stumble, just as He does for me?

Do I trust that it is the trying of my children’s faith that will produce patience, completeness, and maturity within them? That the easy road, that easy snuggly warm blanket of feel-good faith is not what is best for my babies?

Today it took faith to send my kids out the door to walk to the bus stop. I’m not going to lie. What felt right to my mama heart was to clutch them to myself, to retie the apron strings, to cling desperately and keep them home.

When I started homeschooling, it took faith that God was going to teach me and help me do the hard work of educating my children, of spending all my days with them. And now, in a new season, it takes much greater faith to do the hard work of sending them away, of not being in control of everything, of believing that whatever happens to them, they are in the hands of a good and loving Father.

I say I believe God is good, that He is sovereign in my kids’ lives and has a plan for them that will end in beauty and glory. But if I fail to follow the way He shows me, I do not have faith. This is where James’ hard words– that faith without works is dead— have their meaning. Faith is living the hard and holy truth of God’s promises.

Today, that meant hugging my kids one last time and sending them out the door and down the front steps and knowing that they are not alone, for even one second. The God who sees me right now also sees R in his third period science class and G out at her morning recess. He cares for them so much more than I ever could.

Today, faith meant turning to the work of my day– hunkering down at the dining room table and digging into math and grammar with my middle son, trusting that this work is what I am meant to do today, that this work is just as good and worthwhile is teaching all three of them was last year.

Today, faith is a thin strand that is holding tight to a big and powerful God, a God who loves me and loves my kids. A God who loves you.

I don’t know what hard thing you are facing today, but I bet you’re facing a hard thing. Because life is hard, and we do not grow if we are not forced to push up through the hard and find the God whose glory waits on the other side. Sometimes we can’t see Him. Sometimes we catch only tiny glimpses. We must still look. We must still trust.

We must live and speak and make choices in a way that shouts from the rooftops– I believe that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He has promised.

This is faith, and just when it seems that thin string will break, we discover His hands have been holding us up all the time.