Safe Spaces: Being a Green Zone Soul

I don’t know what I was expecting when she slid the Boogie Board my way, but I am positive that I was not expecting the string of rainbow-written words I saw scrawled before me.

Those weren’t 1st grade sight words she was practicing; they weren’t practiced numbers or letters; and they weren’t sketched flowers and hearts. Nope. Those words were some of the sweetest, most meaningful words I have ever received.

“My mom is so kind to me. She makes me feel safe.”

Looking at her with big, watery eyes, I whispered, “Oh Evie. Those are such powerful and meaningful words. Thank you. Thank you for writing those to me and sharing how you feel. Those mean so much to Mama, and I am so glad you feel that way.”

With a proud smile and gentle eyes, she wrapped her arms around me and said, “This morning, my teacher asked me what puts me in my Green Zone, and I told her that being in your arms is my Green Zone.”

Attempting to not lose all my tears in the middle of those crowded bleachers, I swallowed hard (letting a few tears squeeze out) and said, “What do you mean by a Green Zone?”

Without missing a beat, she said, “It’s my happy and safe place. It’s the zone where I am good to go!”

Again, the tears threatened to boil over the boundaries of my eyes and right onto those cold, aluminum bleachers.

“Oh Evie, I am so glad. I am so very, very glad that you feel safe with me.”

“Me too, Mommy. Me too!”

It was a treasured string of moments that I never want to forget and a cherished memory that reinforced the important and privileged role we can play in the lives of others.

And as I thought back to those moments from last night and reflected on not only being a “safe space” for my girl, but also on the ways that others have been a “safe space” for me, I thought I would share SIX, quick ways (because my little girl is 6) that you and I might continue to practice/learn/grow/and lean into the role of being a Green Zone Soul.

  1. Make Time and Space: Too often, our lives are so filled with the endless tasks, busy schedules, and the constant demands of our lives that unfortunately, taking the time and making the space to build our relationships doesn’t get prioritized. It’s easy to take our relationships for granted, assuming they’ll always be there, neglecting the importance of nurturing those relationships and creating space for them to grow, deepen, and flourish. In order to be a safe space for the people in our lives, we have to be available, willing to create time in our schedules, and diligent to decrease the distractions when spending time together. Remember, it’s hard to feel safe when there is NO space to be had.
  2. Create Room for ALL emotions: Let’s be honest, it’s a whole lot easier and a load more fun to listen to the rainbows and sunshine of life. But being a safe space for others, means that you are willing to make room (and take the emotional risk) for ALL emotions to be present. The good, the bad, the hard, the discouraging, the doubting, and the downright ugly. When practicing being a safe space, you don’t let your fears about their feelings get in the way of hearing their feelings, and you don’t let your insecurities about how to help them get in the way of allowing them to share. Too often, we are scared by the deep and dark spaces of life and so in an attempt to deal with our own fears, we avoid those places and deny access to the sharing of those difficult emotions. Remember, safety is created when ALL of someone can be shared and heard.
  3. Listen to Hear, Not to Fix: Going along with the last one, we become anxious and angsty about what to do with the difficult emotions that we forget about simply sitting and being with those emotions. And when we get focused on what we need to do, we begin fixating our time and attention on how we can fix it, decrease it, or eliminate it. And though problem-solving has its place in relationships, I believe that we don’t do our relationships/difficult emotions justice when we’re so bent on changing them. To feel our emotions is to understand them…to learn from them…and to grow in, through, and despite them. Not all emotions and situations can be changed and fixed, so remember, being a safe space allows for another soul to be known and loved, rather than fixed or changed.
  4. Validate, Empathize, and Normalize: Again, in our deep desire to eliminate pain and decrease the intensity of those deep and dark places where the difficult emotions can lie, we can be quick to tell people how they should feel, how they should respond, and how they should act in light of those feelings. Being a safe space means validating another person’s feelings in an attempt to understand and empathize with their experience while also normalizing those human feelings/reactions. Validating and normalizing another person’s feelings doesn’t mean that we always agree, understand, or even share their same feelings and experiences, but it simply means that we are willing to “slip on their shoes” and imagine what it must feel like to be experiencing what they are walking. Remember, safety happens when souls are heard and seen, not shamed and silenced.
  5. Practice Vulnerability: Sometimes, creating time in our schedules and creating space for difficult emotions is not the hang-up, but rather we may struggle with the practice of sharing ourselves. It is lovely to be in the presence of those we love and to be known by them, but true and authentic relationship comes when both parties in a relationship are willing to share and reveal themselves in vulnerable ways. To be a safe space for others, we must practice what we preach and live what we encourage. It doesn’t feel safe when another person only-ever has it “all together,” so let’s remember that some of the safest spaces are the ones where others say “me too” and share of their broken and imperfect selves.
  6. Encourage, Don’t Judge: A safe space is a person who sees your pain and hears your hard and speaks into that pain in life-giving, supportive ways. A safe space is not a person who harshly criticizes (adding to your pain) or judgmentally turns a blind and quiet eye to your situation (leaving you to your pain), but rather a safe space is one who encourages, promotes, and supports you in pursuing health, healing, and wholeness. A safe space is someone who not only gives you space to struggle and strain, but is also a person who will graciously, generously, and bravely get involved. Remember, safety isn’t felt or experienced in the gaze of a critical, un-involved, or blinded eye, but in an eye that sees in Truth, stays in love, and speaks in mercy.

Friends, none of us can be perfect safe spaces (because only HE is), but might I suggest that ALL of us continue to practice being Green Zone Souls to those we live with and love.

Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!

More often than not, when I exercise, our littlest is usually at the feet of my yoga mat zooming with his trucks, and cars, and things. While I heave and ho with my dumbbells, he “zooms” and “revvs” his little engines, and it works for the both of us.

But yesterday, he broke the norm-mold and was standing at the mini fridge and screaming “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” Realizing that he was looking at the myriad of magnets that cover our little fridge, I asked, “Do you see Daddy?”

Again, he exclaimed, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”

And as I completed a set of repetitions, he continued. And as he continued, it got louder. Attempting to distract him from his loud fixation, I asked, “And who else do you see, buddy?”

With his little finger, he ran from magnet to magnet yelling, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”

“Do you see Mommy?”

“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”

“Do you see Caden and Evie?”

“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”

Nothing was distracting this kid from his “Where in the World is Daddy” search and nothing was deterring him from what he intended to both see and find. His eyes were set and his gaze was firm, and “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” was right in the middle of those cross hairs.

As I continued my workout with the loud Seek and Find game to my right, the Spirit was at work in my mind.

With whispers that only the ears of the heart can hear, I was challenged with the convicting questions that followed as I lifted and lounged.

Jessica, what are you eyes fixed on these days? Where is your focus? What do you continue to look for and what are you finding as you look? What are in your cross hairs and what has the attention of your gaze?

As the questions pelted my mind, my heart was brought low. And as I was brought low (in the best kind of way), I was reminded that we have the ability to see what we want to see.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I know that our eyes see what is in front of us, but is it possible that our hearts and minds have the capability to see beneath the concrete and beyond the corporeal? Is it possible for us to choose what we see and select what we view? Is it possible that our hearts and minds have the ability to control our vision?

In my counseling world, I often employ the tool of “Cognitive Reframing” when working with clients. What in the world is that? Well, it’s simply a fancy way of saying that a person’s point-of-view depends on the frame in which it is viewed. When the frame is shifted or altered (zoomed in or out, tilted or turned), the meaning can change and when that occurs, thinking and behavior can often change along with it. In short, when we change what is seen in the camera, the picture can be both viewed and experienced in a different way.

So, if I take a camera and zoom in on a horse’s tail, I’m only going to see and experience the tail. If I zoom out and view only the landscape, I may miss the horse on the hill. In short, our minds have the power to change what we see and how we see it.

Was our littlest seeing pictures of his mommy, brother, and sister as he scanned those magnets? Of course! Was he seeing his grandparents, family friends, and cousins? Of course! But he was choosing to focus and fixate on “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” And the result? He was seeing and finding only “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” All those magnets had become “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”

And as I finished that workout, I was challenged by my own focal points and the ways my in which my own lenses have been zoomed.

Friends, we will see what we search for; we will find what we focus on; and we will view what we choose to seek.

If we are looking at our relationships to confirm the belief that we are “unlovable,” then it’s possible that we will see a bunch of opportunities and circumstances where we feel and experience being unloved.

If we are zoomed in on our inadequacies and shortcomings, then we will see the myriad of ways where we have faltered, fallen short, and failed.

If we have a heart and mind that are focused in on our suffering, then we will have eyes that fixate on our misery, our circumstances, and and the pasture that appears greener than ours.

If we have eyes that seek to compare, then we will find those that are “more of this” and “more of that” in our cross hairs.

If we are looking at life through the eyes of pride and arrogance, then we will see the ways that we succeed, others fail, and our blind spots will be hidden from our view.

If we have minds that are focused on fear, then we will see, look, search and find the evidence and support that confirms our fears.

If we have a heart that refuses to see the plight of others, then we will dismiss the experience of others; we will turn our eyes from the ugly; and we will be tempted to deny the reality that exists.

If we are zoomed in on the inadequacies of the Church and the hypocrisy of Christians, then we may miss the landscape of not only a Gospel that forgives, extends grace, and justifies the ugly, the broken, and the messy, but the believers that choose to live in light of that Gospel (though imperfectly).

Friends, may we take an inventory of our gazes; may we evaluate our lenses; and may we consider the ways we need to zoom out, zoom in, turn or tilt the picture we are choosing to view. May we have hearts that are tender and soft to see the things He desires for us to see, and may we have minds that see the reality of circumstances and the heaviness of our lives while still choosing to focus on a Truth that is higher and a Hope that is bigger than any earthly reality we face.

Let the Little Children Come

Last week, I couldn’t find our Evie.

We weren’t in a store, a park, a stadium, or a restaurant. Nope. Just our home.

“Evie? Evie?” Repeatedly, I called her name with no response. And probably like most parents, I went from calling her name, to shouting her name, to looking for her, to frantically scouring for her.

So when I rounded the corner of the kitchen, catching a glimpse of the back patio, I was relieved. In no danger and obviously “fine,” I found her perched on the picnic table with her head down.

Opening the door and trying not to act like the crazy-mom who thought she lost her kid in her own house, I smoothly said, “Oh hey! Whatcha’ doin’ out here?”

Turning toward me, with her Bible on her lap, she responded nonchalantly, “Just reading my Bible, Mommy. I thought it would be nice to read out here.”

“Oh! You are?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh. Well, that’s great!”

She honestly acted like this was her norm…her routine…the obvious answer as to where her mom might find her on a Thursday morning. And as I thought about this throughout the day, finding her perched with her Bible open (a book that is way above her reading level), I kept thinking, “They don’t do what they don’t see.” 

Now I’m not suggesting that they will always do what they see, and I don’t believe they’ll never do what they don’t see, but I am suggesting that they are watching what we’re doing, and they are learning what they see.

And as I let myself mull over that throughout the past week, I was challenged and convicted by the picture we’re portraying to our kids.

Do they see our words in action, or do they just hear a bunch of words that are filled with good ideas, truths, and a lot of good intentions? Do they see us do what we say we value?

I remember being a young new mom and pushing my kids in front of a show so I could read my Bible in peace. I recall moments where I shoo’d them outside and away from conversations and cups of coffee with friends. I remember leaving them at home (so I didn’t have to shuffle them in and out of the car) while I delivered meals to the new moms, the shut-in, and the dying. I remember getting sitters, so we could have peaceful and uninterrupted adult dinners, and I recall waiting until bedtime to do the volunteer work.

Now don’t HEAR me say what I’m NOT saying.

I absolutely believe that parents need and should have time away from their kids (someone honestly may be harmed if we don’t), AND I’m also saying that it’s important to bring them near while we serve, bring them close while we worship, and invite them into our  conversations.

In short, it’s important for them to be INVOLVED in our lives, in our work, and in our mission(s) to live out our values. 

So this past week, a friend and I had planned to intentionally discuss the issues that are facing us and our world (individually, collectively, and systemically) in relation to racism and injustice. We had planned to meet after bed time, complete with wine and cheese (a time where no one was whining and where cheese wasn’t being smeared on our clothes), and it sounded wonderful. ALONE. INTENTIONAL. QUIET. FOCUSED. But as the week went on, the Spirit nudged my heart with that simple reminder of, “They don’t do what they don’t see.”

And it was then when I called my friend and said, “Hey, what if we include our families?” We acknowledged that there would be interruptions; we recognized that it would involved some split focus; and we were keenly aware that it would involve some multi-tasking, extra service, and maybe some whining and shepherding. BECAUSE IT WOULD; BECAUSE IT DOES.

And ya know what? We decided it was worth it.

Why? Because we want our kids to SEE us DOING what they hear us saying we VALUE and WANT.

Friends, it is 150% easier to do things without kids; I agree, and I think that’s exactly why the disciples were all huffy and puffy when the children were flocking to Jesus. Because though the clothes and hairstyles may have changed a tad; kids have inherently not. They can be noisy; they can be whiny; they can be distracting; and they can be needy. And YET, Jesus saw the importance of their presence, and He invited them into His work, His words, and His mission.

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

Friends, if the kingdom of heaven is for children, then how are we introducing, showing, and inviting them into that kingdom work? How are we encouraging them to participate in those kingdom conversations, and how are we showing them those kingdom values and kingdom Truths?

Because truth be told…all those children become adults some day. And the truth is, “We aren’t becoming tomorrow what we aren’t becoming today.”

Do they participate in church community, or do they just hear us talk about it? Are they part of racial reconciliation and bridge-building attempts, or are they side-lined with a sitter? Are they rocking the baby and welcoming a soul into their home, or do they simply hear us talking about fostering and adoption? Are they out delivering the meals, passing out the water, joining the marches, speaking during the presentation, singing at the gathering, or just hearing about the mission and our acts of love? Are they sitting on your lap, running around the table, and coming in and out as you sit at the table reading, singing, talking and worshiping, or have they been sequestered to the other part of the house where they can’t, won’t, and don’t see? Do they visit the sick, the needy, and the poor with us, or do we only-ever share upon our return?

Friends, I need to do better, and I have work to do. 

Because the hard-fast Truth is exactly what James reasserts over and over again, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only.” And if our kids are only-mostly hearing our words, when will we ever invite them into the doing of the words?

Pandemics, Pirate Booty, and The Never-Empty Bag

I don’t know about your household but in our house, we love us some snacks. And not just any ‘ol snacks; we love ourselves some Costco-sized snacks! I’m somewhat convinced that a Kroger-size bag of popcorn even tastes better than a Costco-size bag of popcorn?!? Or it that just the inner-psyche telling me that “It’s better because it’s bigger?!?” I don’t know, but we love us some big-bagged snacks.

Daddy and oldest child love Cheez-Its; our youngest loves Cheetos and Fritos; I love allllll the popcorn (except that Chicago-style popcorn–blek! Orange cheese-dust is only for Doritos); and our middle child loves Pirate Booty! No, really. It’s a snack, people!  Get your heads out of the gutter!

Have yarrrself some baked, white-aged cheddar puffs of corn and rice in yarrr livingroom with yarrr favorite drink, matey! Raise the jolly snack, matey! 

Have you ever had it?

Well if you haven’t, our middle child would suggest that you haven’t truly experienced a snack–at least not a “good one!”

So on Sunday, we secured ourselves a new bag of Pirate Booty and all was right in Evie’s world. For two-whole days, she was excited about her mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and bed-time snack because every single time, she had “harrrself ” an IKEA-sized bowl of Costco-sized Pirate Booty (now if that’s not irony, I don’t know what is!) But suffice to say, she was happy with her pint-sized bowl of Pirate Booty.

Until yesterday.

Because three days later, the bag ran out, and there was no more Pirate Booty to be found, and little girl had a Costco-sized meltdown. 

Absolving into hysterical tears she sobbed, “I don’t like this house!!!”

Semi-flabbergasted and honestly shocked by her response (because sister isn’t usually emotionally reactive and illogical), I responded with a dumbfounded, “What? What did you say?”

“This house has nooooooo good snacks. EVER. We never, EVER have any good snacks!”

Welp, that escalated quickly, eh?!  

“Evie, is that true?”

She didn’t respond. There was silence on the other end.

And though part of my mama-flesh was tempted to be impatient with her struggle, giving her a swift kick in the proverbial pants, the Spirit quickly spoke to my own “Pirate Booty Struggles.”

You know Jessica…there’s quite a few things that have recently been taken away that have caused you to struggle with contentment, too. 

And He wasn’t wrong.

This COVID-19 pandemic (coupled with the orders to social-distance and shelter-at-home) has removed a fair amount of things that have left me wrestling with my own “empty bags.”

Those quieter and slower mornings? Gone.

Coffee dates with friends? Gone.

That extra time to my self during littlest’s nap time? Gone.

Ability to see clients in person? Gone.

Options for friends to help us pack, move, and help with child care while we move houses? Gone.

The ease of 2-day Amazon delivery? Gone.

All at once, everything has gotten simpler and harder all at the same time.

And though I wish I could report that I’ve handled it all with a happy heart of contented acceptance, I haven’t. I’ve whined out loud; I’ve grumbled in my heart; and I’ve had my fair-share of venting complaints that have been huffed and puffed.

COVID-19 has tested my contentment, emptied my comforts, and left me with choices. 

Will I find my contentment in my comforts?

Will I praise even when I’m not pleased?

Will I forget and neglect the “good” when things are less than “great?”

Will I choose to let my peace be dictated by my personal pleasures?

Every single day, I have a choice of how I’ll respond to the struggle. Every single day, I get to choose how I’ll live and love in the midst of my sufferings. Every single day, I get to decide what I do with my empty bags of earthly pleasures. 

And as I contemplated my own struggles with contentment and the choices they’ve brought about for me, my heart filled with compassion for my girl.

Gathering her into my arms, I hugged her and said, “Evie, it makes sense that you’re upset that your favorite snack ran out; I get that. But ya know what? That bag of Pirate Booty doesn’t have to control your happiness or your contentment.”

Looking up at me with big, tear-filled eyes, she listened.

“I get it, sweet girl. I do. Sometimes it hurts when the “good things” run out and come to a an end, but ya know what? That’s what happens with the things here on earth. And that is exactly why we can’t find our contentment, our joy, or our identity in any of those things.”

She nodded.

“So do you know what we have to do?”

“No,” she responded quietly.

“We have to find our contentment in a bag that lasts forever! And the only ONE that lasts forever and never runs out is the ONLY ONE who made it ALL, holds it ALL, and keeps it ALL.”

Grabbing for my neck, she wrapped her arms around me and squeezed and simply said, “God is better than Pirate Booty.” 

“Oh sweet-girl, He is. He really, really is.”

Friends, I don’t know what you’re facing in this pandemic; I don’t know what empty bags you’ve been left with; and I don’t know what contentment choices you are facing. But I do know this, there is a “bag of treasures” that never runs out, and His name is JESUS. And though He doesn’t assure us riches on earth or promise us unlimited, finite pleasures, He promises us Himself. And THAT is a bag that is only-EVER full and forever-ALWAYS eternal.

This Easter, may we not cling to our earthly pleasures and our finite treasures, but may we choose to rejoice in the eternal riches of hope, heaven, and a life hidden in Christ! 

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal [and where pandemics and quarantines lay waste and up-end], but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

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Pandemics and Pandemonium: 7 Things I Want (You Kids) to Recall, Remember, and Rehearse

Dear Caden, Evie, and Superman,

In 10, 20, 30+ years, I’m not sure if you’ll remember the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic and all the details surrounding it, but there are some things I ALWAYS want you to remember–no matter what you’re facing and no matter the fear before you.

  1. I want you to remember that your ultimate safety and your security will never be found in a mask, a hand-washing, a quarantine, or anything else earthly or man-made…but in the saving name of the ONE who died for you, cleansed you, and made you whole because of His sacrificed blood. Because of Him, you are no longer wrecked by the disease of sin, and you are no longer in danger of eternal death. You have a Savior who can raise you from your earthly grave and bring you into life eternal.  (1 John 1:9, Romans 8:38-39)
  2. I want you to remember that even though your ultimate safety and security is NOT found in earthly measures, we are still called to be wise, discerning, and have a spirit of submission to those in authority. You may not always agree, like, want, or value the things that the authority (above you) may be asking of you, but we know that all authority is given by God, under the direction of God, and can be used by God to sanctify, grow, and refine us. Therefore, we do not have to trust in the authority of man, but in the authority of God who holds all things (including earthly authority) in His sovereign hands. (Romans 13:1-7, Hebrews 13:17)
  3. I want you to remember that though it may be easy to make fun of, make light of, or even criticize those who believe, think, and feel differently than you do, I want you to remember that God has not called us to any of those things. But rather, He has called us to, “Love Him and love others,” which means that when you truly love others, you can honor, respect, and care for them as “His image-bearers” and not because you share values, agree on opinions, or adopt the same preferences. The call is to love, not criticize. (John 13:34)
  4. I want you to remember that when “bad things happen,” it’s easy to point our fingers and blame earthly things (whether that be a leader, the media, or any other earthly organization or man-made thing) for our situations and our circumstances. But I want you to remember that ALL of our earthly situations are because we live in a fallen world where disease and death run rampant, where brokenness and sadness abound, and where we are still bound to finite bodies in a fallen world. To point to anything temporal is to believe that these battles are earthly and not spiritual. For we know, that everything this side of Eden and this side of heaven will be broken until we live in heaven with glorified bodies and in the presence of an infinite God. (Ephesians 6:12)
  5. I want you to remember that though your life and safety may not be at stake (whatever the circumstance), it’s loving and kind to remember the lives that are. In a world where self is promoted and the interests of others are second, I want to encourage you to follow the way of Jesus–laying down your self for the needs of others and being willing to forgo your comfort for the sake of others (Philippians 2:2-8).
  6. I want you to remember that though pandemics and pandemonium may be surrounding you or swirling inside of you, you do NOT have to fear. The Lord stands in the middle of our fears and claims, “Take heart; I am here. Don’t be afraid. Have faith and do not doubt; I AM is here.” The same God that parted the Red Sea, dried up the Jordan, and made a way for the needy Israelites and the fearful disciples is the very same God who goes before you. We need not fear because I AM is always here and always near. (Exodus 14-15, Matthew 14:22-33).
  7. I want you to remember that in the middle of fearful circumstances, you can be a beacon of LIGHT and a messenger of LOVE. Standing in stark contrast to the darkness that threatens to overwhelm and control, you can share (and even rehearse) an encouraging message of hope and peace to both yourself and those around you. In the midst of unknowns and uncomfortable, you can be a spreader of love and a sharer of joy. And instead of focusing on the “negative and the worst case scenarios,” you can take the lead in sharing Truth, in choosing a spirit of gratitude, and in taking opportunities to think beyond your needs and outside your walls. (Romans 12:13, 1 John 3:16-18)

I love you, kiddos, and I pray that no matter what befalls you in the future, that you will faithfully recall, remember, and rehearse the steadfastness of a God who is sovereign over the pandemics and faithful through the pandemonium.

Mommy

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We Want More Than GOOD Kids

Kids,

I had a few spare moments to write you a letter and jot down my thoughts today, so I’m pushing aside the moving boxes, the To-Do List, the mortgage documents, and all the collected dust, papers, and tasks that need tending because there’s something that I really, REALLY want you to know.

Your daddy and I don’t want to raise good kids.

Sure, we want you to follow the rules and treat people with kindness. And sure, we want you to be respectful to authority and sensitive to the needs of those around you…but we want more for you.

Of course we want you to have grit and perseverance and sure, we desire for you to go to church, love the sick, help the poor, and fight for the lowly…but we want more for you.

Of course, we would love to hear of your achievements some day and we must certainly won’t be sad when we hear affirmations about the kind of character you have, the kind of work ethic you have, and the kind of values you possess and live out…but we want more for you.

We want you to be men and women who do the right thing when no one is looking; we desire you to be humans who forgive often and believe the best; and we want you to be souls who sacrifice, share, and support those in your circles and those who are not…but we want more for you.

Sure, we want you to be ethical and of course, we desire for you to be labeled among those who are considered “good and honest people”…but we want more for you…but we want more for you.

Your daddy and I don’t want to raise good kids; we want to raise God-fearing kids.

We want you to love others and respect others BECAUSE you love and respect God. 

We want you to be sensitive to the needs of others and kind in your actions BECAUSE you understand your need and His kindness.

We want you to be persevering and demonstrate grit BECAUSE you have embraced the “adversity gospel” that says, “I will follow Him even when it’s hard.”

We want you to go to church and help those in need BECAUSE you desire to worship the One who is worthy of congregation sings, acts of mercy, and all the in-between.

We want you to have character and achieve BECAUSE you understand your identity is found only in Him, and you have a desire to steward His gifts as an overflow of worship and act of obedience.

We want you to be affirmed and seek to add value to the world around you BECAUSE you are striving for His kingdom and His applause.

We want you to forgive and love BECAUSE you are forgiven and have been loved (much) by Him.

We want you to be people who sacrifice, share, and support BECAUSE you realize that it’s ALL for Him, by Him, from Him, and to Him.

We want you to be good and honest people BECAUSE you are honestly aware that He is the ONE who makes you good.

Kids, we want more for you than good; we want God for you. And when you have Him, ALL is good

Love,

Mommy

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“I Put a Good End to That”

Raised voices, accusations, stomped feet, and then a slammed door; I could hear them arguing from the other room.

Knowing that this sounded like an argument that needed some mama-mediation, I left my cup of coffee and headed for their room. I could hear the tension and could feel the anger as I approached the slammed door war zone. But before I could knock, our middle child came out in a flurry of frustration.

Huffing and puffing, she breathed her anger out through her nose and out into the air.

“I’m just SO mad at him. He doesn’t even listen to me, and he always has to be right about what he is saying!!!” 

The tears were just beneath the surface, and I could see the tremble in her clenched hands. She was hot, and he was hotter.

Yelling through the door, I heard, “You don’t even listen to ME!!! You make me SOOOOO angry, Evie!!!”

Genuinely, I felt like I needed armor and maybe even a Nerf gun, or three. For reals though. Sibling arguments are NOT for the faint of heart OR for the impatient (of which I can boast of neither in the affirmative).

Taking a deep breath, I counted to three in my head and turned toward Evie (the one outside the door).

“Evie, what…”

But before I could finish my question, she said, “You know what? I know what I need to do. I need to put an end to this.” 

Fearing the worst (because seriously, what kind of “end” was she planning for him???), I asked, “What do you mean, sweetheart?”

“I need to stop arguing, mommy, and I just need to put an end to our anger. I need to apologize and stop all of this.”

As she turned, my eyes welled and my heart grew. I was SO proud of her maturity, and I was incredibly encouraged by her humility; growth was happening in her heart, and I could see the Spirit at work within hers. But within seconds of feeling “ALL THE GREAT THINGS,” I heard our oldest yell (from behind the door), “I’m never talking to you again!!!”

Stopping smack in her tracks, the tears immediately spilled onto her cheeks as she stood behind the closed door, looking at me.

Man alive, Mama Bear wanted to go into that room and rip him a new one. I wanted to protect her pride; I wanted to fight for her; and I wanted to humble him in the process.

But I didn’t.

I looked at her with steady and even eyes and I simply said, “Evie, if the Spirit is nudging you to do the right thing, then follow through. He’ll take care of the response, sweet girl, but you are responsible for your heart.” 

With a resolute but gentle look in her eye, she turned and opened the door.  And in the quietest, most humble voice, she said, “Caden, I’m sorry. I don’t want to fight with you, and I don’t want to continue this. I’m sorry for my part.”

Peering around the corner with held breath, I saw his face-armor immediately fall.

With stunned eyes the size of a Texas pancake and a tender softness that is not typical of our boy, he looked at her and said, “I forgive you, and I’m sorry, too. I was also wrong for yelling and responding in anger. Will you forgive me?”

“Yes, I forgive you, too.”

Leaving the room to give space for continued cooling, she came out to find me. But before she could open her mouth, I gathered her into my arms and said, “Evie, I’m so grateful that you followed the Spirit. I know we’re not always guaranteed a good response here on earth, but God is always honored by our humble obedience.”

With a huge smile, she simply said, “I’m glad I put a good end to that.” 

“Me too, sweet girl. Me too.”

As I thought about the events of the afternoon and replayed them in my head, the words of Proverbs 15:1 came to mind.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Wasn’t that exactly what had happened?!?!

In the face of anger, she chose softness and in the face of wrath, she chose humility. Instead of stirring the pot and stoking the fire, she cooled the fire and slowed the boil.

And the outcome?

Wrath was turned away and anger was stifled.

Now I realize that this isn’t always the case with every person and every scenario (there’s always two parties involved and not every party is always willing), but I wonder how many times we miss this “being the case” because we never even give it a try.

I wonder if our anger burns so quick and so hot that we miss the opportunity to cool the fire. I wonder if our fears about their response gets in the way of our gentle attempts. I wonder if our pride blocks out the nudges of His voice. Goodness, I wonder if our own wounds get in the way of our willing obedience.

Whatever the case and whatever the reasons, we’ve all been there. More often that not and more times than we like, our anger has been stirred and our wrath has been raised.

But what would happen if we were quicker to lay down our arrows?

What would possibly heal if we were willing to let go of our own wounded pride and acknowledge our part?

Goodness, what holiness might come from “putting an end” to our anger and choosing gentleness instead?

Friends, there’s no guarantee to the outcome and no assurance of a reciprocated response, but might I suggest that humble obedience (in the face of anger) is always the reward?

I don’t know what anger you’re facing, what anger you’re stoking, or what anger you’re nursing, but I pray that with the empowerment of the Spirit, you will mimic the footsteps of the five year-old (and of our heavenly Father) and “put a good end to that.”

But now you must PUT THEM ALL AWAY: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.

PUT ON THEN, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:8, 12-13

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Rescued Hearts and a Surgeon-Savior

Dear Superman,

Though it was hard to see then, I no longer question (not even for a second) the perfect timing of your open-heart surgery.

In the middle of a season that’s lauded to be the “happiest time of the year”–a season where tinsel, bows, and sparkly ornaments adorn the brightly-lit trees in our living rooms–you were being taken to the Operating Room. With a different set of lights and a sterile room adorned with shiny, medical instruments, you spent the day of December 20th, 2018 under the surgeon’s scalpel.

It wasn’t “holly,” and it certainly didn’t feel “jolly.”

It was a somber time, an anxious time. It was riddled with tension and tears, and a bunch of whispered fears. It was both unknown and scary; and yet it was the very thing your heart needed.

I remember the deep sobs that came out of me when they took you from my arms around 1 o’clock that afternoon; I remember stumbling in my thoughts and speech as I tried to recall the numbers of my cell phone when the waiting room receptionist asked me for a number to reach us; and I remember the chaos of the waiting room as we waited and waited.

Goodness, how we were waiting for GOOD NEWS. 

The minutes were long and yet somehow the hours flew as we waited for each and every update.

At around 4 o’clock, they notified us that you were tolerating anesthesia well, and they had begun the bypass machine.

At around 6 o’clock, they told us that they had located the hole in your heart and were working to add the bovine mesh.

At around 7 o’clock, they reported that they had taken you off bypass and were conducting an MRI to review the attempted repairs and look for any other problematic areas.

Oh, how we longed to hear that your heart had been repaired! 

At around 8 o’clock, we were called behind a curtain.

With a big and tired smile on his face, the surgeon shared the outcome of the surgery.

“I was able to seal the large VSD, and I was also able to take care of another minor VSD that I found during surgery. The electrical functioning of his heart looks great; he has been extubated and is breathing on his own; and he is coming out of anesthesia like a champ.”

That string of sentences was such beautiful music to our ears.

The surgeon was done;

the surgery was successful;

and your heart had been rescued. 

As we entered your Cardiac ICU room close to 9 o’clock that night, I saw colored wires; I saw busy nurses; and I saw brightly-lit machines.

But do you know what else I saw, buddy?

I SAW CHRISTMAS. 

In the middle of that room, lay a soul whose broken heart was repaired…whose needy heart was rescued.

Not because you earned it. Not because you achieved it. But because you NEEDED it.

In the middle of your need, a surgeon came in and did a work that you couldn’t have done on your own.

Buddy, that’s Christmas.

Though you were born with a medical diagnosis of Double Outlet Right Ventricle with a VSD, each and every one of us was also born with a diagnosed, heart condition.

Sin was the diagnosis and the prognosis was death, and we needed a heart-surgeon too.

But more than an earthly repair, we needed an eternal redemption. And more than a surgeon, we needed a Savior.

In the middle of our brokenness and in the midst of our neediness, we needed the Good News of a Savior who was not only capable of rescuing hearts, but a Savior who could also conquer death.

So on the one-year anniversary of your successful heart surgery, I thought I would write about Christmas. Because son, your earthly story (in so many ways) so beautifully reflects our heavenly one. And though we celebrate and rejoice in the good news of your earthly, heart repair, we eagerly await the rescue of your eternal soul.

And may you always know (no matter where you find yourself in the Christmases to come) that Christmas will always be about the rescue of our hearts.

Love,

Mommy

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In the Middle of Our Bethlehems

The passage of Scripture was not new to me. Not new at all.  In fact, over the course of my life, I had probably read it and heard it, countless times before.

But last year, on December 17th, 2018, He met me in my dining room…8 days before Christmas. With the 2×4 of His timeless AND timely Truth, He hit my heart in a way that could only be described as Divine.

Sitting at my table with a heaviness in my heart, a weariness in my soul, and a burning, pine-scented candle before me, I cried and cried.

I was frustrated; I was tired; I was overwhelmed; and if I’m being honest, I was angry at our situation, the timing, and the very God who could have changed it all, but had chosen not to.

But before I share the words that changed the course of my heart in the days leading up to Christmas 2018, let me start by sharing a little back-story–a story that God had written from the foundations of the earth–but a story that began in March 2018 for our little family.

In the middle of March, I had received a placement call for a 7 day-old baby who needed a foster family. But since I was unable to get a hold of my husband and because they needed a quick and immediate answer, I had to say “no.” Three days later, they called a 2nd time and asked us to take this very-same baby boy because his other foster family was no longer willing to take him.

On the phone, they had informed me that he had a “minor heart defect” and was currently in the NICU for an indefinite and undetermined amount of time (it could be days, it could be weeks, it could be months). We thought deeply about this decision and painfully declined a 2nd time.

Because we weren’t sure we would be able to adequately care for the needs of this baby while also managing our jobs and two children at home (children who couldn’t come to the NICU with us), we decided to give room and space for another family to care for him.

Our hearts were heavy and confused as it seemed like the Lord was opening a door for us to take our 2nd foster placement only to close it not once, but TWICE. We had been trusting the Lord for the timing of our next foster placement…as only a couple months prior, we had said “goodbye” to our first, foster placement….but we continued to trust in the timing of God, knowing that He would open the door at just the right time. After two calls within one week and after saying “no” twice, I was almost sure that the door for loving this little boy had closed.

But not unlike many other times in my life, I was wrong.

On March 19th, we received a THIRD call from the case-worker asking us if we would (again) consider taking the same, little boy. Since he was being discharged that week and still hadn’t been placed with another family, they wanted to know if we would consider caring for him.

We didn’t consult long or labor over the decision because it truly seemed as if God had swung open the door (very WIDELY) and asked us to walk through it.

There are lots of memories we make during our lifetimes, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the evening that my husband and I walked into the NICU room and saw him lying there ( all alone) in that little bed.

With no nurses in his room and not a single set of arms to hold him, he lay there in the dark…swaddled in a blanket of white…with the grayest color of skin I have ever seen. His eyes were closed, and he looked so terribly vulnerable.

There were NO introductions, and there was NO fanfare.

This baby, lying alone, was waiting for our arms…or any arms for that matter. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and I certainly had never experienced anything like it before.

Shortly after we had entered his room, a NICU nurse came into the room and quickly began briefing us on this baby boy, his current situation, and the medical needs and care he would require in the days ahead. I remember the bright lights, and I remember feeling like the floor was moving beneath my feet. I truly believe it was the grace of God and the power of His arm that kept me standing for those next hours.

With graphs, images, and medical terms beyond my comprehension, she began to share the specifics of his “minor heart defect.”

I remember the following snippets:
“He has an Aortic defect.”
“He has Double-Outlet Right Ventricle”
“He also has a hole in his heart called a VSD”
“That hole in his heart is helping to keep alive.”
“If he didn’t have that hole in his heart, his heart would have no ability to pump oxygenated blood back to his heart and body.”
“He is gray because his body has limited blood flow.”
“He is breathing heavily and quickly because he is not receiving adequate blood flow.”

On and on the information came.

He would go home on multiple medications that he would need multiple times a day. Regularly, we would need to monitor both his color and breathing. He would eventually need open-heart surgery and in the mean time, he would need to have very regular trips to a variety of specialists who would monitor his continued heart failure. The more and more she talked, the less and less it appeared to be a “minor thing.”

As I looked at this sweet, very sickly baby boy…a baby who was born a mere 4.2 lbs with a hole in his heart…I had a hard time reconciling that the very next day, we would come back to the hospital; we would pick up this fragile, little life; we would buckle him into his car seat; and we would bring him into our home and hearts for however long that would be.

And if I am being a bazillion percent honest, I was scared. REAL SCARED.

What had we done?
What had we committed to?
How would we do it?
Could we do it?
Did we even want to do it?

The fears swirled as fast as the questions came.

And if I had only known THEN what would come down the pike in the months to come, I am ashamed to admit it…I would have probably run. Because the next 10 months were some of the hardest, scariest, most painful, unknown, and out-of-control months of my 36 years of life.

Pediatrician appointments, blood draws, virus scans, ultrasounds, EKGs, OT and PT home evaluations, cardiologists, trips to the pharmacy, phone calls, weekly weigh-in’s, and medication logs on top of laundry, bottles, midnight feedings, 3 AM feedings, diaper changes, baby baths, and all the other things that come with normal, newborn territory.

We saw a Neuro-Surgeon; we saw Dieticians; we saw an Infectious Disease Doctor; we saw a Cardiologist team; we saw an ENT Specialist; we saw Development Specialists; we saw a Genetics Specialist; and we saw a Pediatric Thoracic Surgeon.

We had a sleep study, a helmet consultation, a tongue-tie clip, ultrasounds, MRIs, and a myriad of other assessments and evaluations to rule out infectious diseases, potential jaw surgery, Spina Bifida, and a Genetic disorder.

For 10 months, I LIVED AT THE HOSPITAL.

And on top of it all, his birth parents were involved every single step of the way (which is a beautiful, painful, and very messy story for another day). It was a physically exhausting, emotionally draining, mentally numbing, spiritually-testing journey.

There were highs and lows, blessings and struggles, and everything in between. As our old friend, Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

So when we got to October of 2018 and were finally given a date for his open-heart surgery, we were both exhausted and relieved.

It seems weird to think that we were eagerly awaiting a date for them to cut open his little chest, but OUR hearts ached for HIS. It was a long and dicey wait, so we were thrilled to circle November 12th on our calendars.

But on November 9th, only 3 days before his scheduled surgery date, he came down with a cold.

He hadn’t had a single cold the ENTIRE time we had had him (which was nothing less than a miracle), but after doing a blood draw during his Pre-Op testing, they found that he tested positive for the Rhino Virus. Since the doctors wanted to make sure that he was in the best of health in order to ensure the best-possible surgery and recovery outcome, they called us on Saturday night and told us that we would need to reschedule.

We understood, but we were bummed and disappointed.

As I made the call to reschedule, the scheduler informed me that due to the Thanksgiving holiday, the surgeon would be taking some time off and that we could reschedule for the first, available appointment which would be Friday, December 14th.

More than a month later?! What?! How long could this little boy continue like this? He wasn’t eating well because he couldn’t breathe well and because he couldn’t eat well, he was beginning to lose weight. He NEEDED this surgery. WE NEEDED this surgery.

I am sure she heard the disappointment in my voice as I confirmed the new appointment.

As I got off the phone and relayed the information to my husband, I remember my Polly-Anna self saying, “Well, at LEAST we’ll probably be out in time for Christmas!”

The doctors had suggested that if everything went as planned, he would probably be in the hospital for 7-10 days. December 14th would be cutting it close, but hopefully…we’d be snuggled at home on Christmas Eve with footie jammies, hot chocolates, and presents around the tree. I was hopeful.

In the next month, we worked hard to (again) rearrange our work schedules and to secure care for our two oldest while we’d be gone in the hospital. We rescheduled our Pre-Op testing, re-secured the Ronald McDonald house, and worked ahead to wrap the presents and do ALL THE THINGS so that we could have our “NORMAL CHRISTMAS.”

So when December 13th came and the 2nd round of pre-op testing was over, we were thrilled. WHEW!

In less than 18 hours, our little guy would be in the OR!

I remember breathing such a deep sigh of relief as we pulled out of the hospital parking garage and headed to our hotel.Truly, it felt like the burden of the last months was finally lifting.

Stopping for a celebratory meal and for some last-minute Christmas shopping, we excitedly texted our family and friends.

We were ELATED. Finally, the time had COME!

But sometime between responding to a text and purchasing some tea for my mother-in-law, my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but it appeared to be a Cincinnati number. Quickly, I answered.

“Mrs. Buczek, I am so very sorry to tell you this, as I know you just finished the 3 hours of pre-op testing for the 2nd time, but the heart surgery has been canceled for tomorrow and bumped again. The earliest we could get him in would be December 20th. If not, we would need to push the surgery out until the middle of January.”

I don’t remember how I remained standing as she talked, but I did. And I have no idea how the tears stayed silent, but they did.

EVERYTHING WAS NUMB.

Hanging up the phone, I left the tea shoppe and went to find my husband. As soon as I found him, I burst into tears. Recounting the phone call, I sobbed and sobbed between the bits of information.

“Babe, I don’t think he can wait any longer. I think we need to schedule on the 20th.” I knew he was right and yet NO part of my heart wanted to agree.

Through blinding tears and a mob of people, I kept asking, “But what about our Christmas? What about OUR Christmas? I don’t want to be in the hospital (away from our children) on Christmas. I don’t want to do this!”

My tired and exhausted self continued to rant in my head and rave in my heart.

“This sacrifice is too much, God! TOO much! Haven’t we given enough? Why this? Why then? WHY?!?!?”

I wanted to be dancing to Christmas music and clinking mugs of hot chocolate…not sitting in a surgery waiting room!

I wanted to be slowly and intentionally counting down to Christmas in the confines of my cozy home…not living out of a suitcase and eating from a hospital cafeteria!!!

I wanted to be decorating gingerbread houses in Christmas jammies and wrapping last-minute gifts…not huddled over a baby swaddled in ICU clothes and lying in a hospital bed!

Apart from my internal pity party, I don’t remember a whole lot about that drive home from Cincinnati but by the time we had arrived home…I had bitten all my fingernails off and my face was a mess of blotchy red and runny mascara. I was both DONE and UN-DONE.

The days between December 13th and December 17th are both a mental and emotional blur to me, but I can distinctly remember that afternoon at my dining room table. Do you remember? When the Lord met me at my dining room table?

As I read from Luke, chapter 2…the familiar words hit the deepest parts of my tired soul.

“And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son…”

Did you catch that?

While they were THERE, the time came for her…

Now listen, if God could bring about a miraculous virgin birth, then I believe He was more than able to control the timing of those contractions.

He knew the time; He knew the journey; and He knew the place.

HE KNEW.

And not just an “Oh, I saw that coming” kind of way. NO. He pre-planned it. Like from the beginning of time, HE KNEW.

700 years before the birth of Christ, Micah prophesies and says in Micah 5:2, “But you, O Bethlehem, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from days of old, from ancient days.”

God had big plans to use that little, unlikely town to fulfill His promise. BIG PLANS. And so because He chose Bethlehem as the birthing spot, He knew it would be THERE.

But what about Mary???

How did she feel when she was told that she had to load up, pack up, and head to Bethlehem?

How did she feel when she knew that a 90 mile journey was ahead of her?

How did she feel about leaving the comforts of her home and hittin’ the road on a camel, a donkey, or on her swollen feet (Scripture doesn’t say how she traveled).

How did she feel about taking that journey with a full uterus and a bulging belly?

Now clearly, I’m not Mary, but can we just imagine for a second and ponder for just a moment?

Isn’t it possible that Mary would have wanted to be in the cozy confines of her home (near family and friends) when she gave birth?

Isn’t it possible that she was already “nesting” in preparation for her Savior-son to be born?

Isn’t it entirely possible that she never, ever intended to give birth after a terribly long road trip that would require her to not only pay taxes, but then also give birth where an animal manger was present?

Again, I don’t know how she felt, and I have no clue what she was thinking. But whatever the case, she submitted her will to His and did exactly what she already committed to do in Luke 1:38 when she told the Angel of the Lord, “…I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Even in the midst of her not knowing, she trusted that HE did.

Again, maybe it wasn’t a struggle for Mary to pack up and head to Bethlehem with a baby in womb (maybe I’ll ask her when I get to heaven), but I think it’s safe to say that none of her journey was expected or went as she had planned.

A virgin birth? A manger? Visiting Shepherds?

A son that would die for her and the rest of the world?

I don’t imagine that this is what Mary had envisioned, and I scarcely believe that ANY of that was “in her plan” when she fell in love with Joseph, the wood-working man born in Bethlehem.

So as I sat at my dining room table, reading this passage with fresh eyes and a tender heart, I could feel the Lord stirring in the confines of my soul.

Jessica, I know it wasn’t in your plans to potentially be in the hospital on Christmas Day with a foster son recovering from open-heart surgery, but can you trust that I KNOW?

I know you didn’t plan to be surrounded by beeping machines, cords and wires, difficult birth parents, and a slew of nurses coming in and out with pain meds. But can you rest in believing that I have a good and perfect plan that was known before you even breathed your first breath of air?

I know none of this was on your timeline and on your agenda, but can you submit to the journey, trusting that I lead as an all-knowing Father? Can you trust that I KNEW even if you didn’t?

Oh, how I longed to echo the words of Mary. “…I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your PLANS, not mine.”

How about YOU? Where do you find yourself this Christmas?

Are things going as you have planned, or as you desired? Or does this year feel more messy than merry? Or maybe more broken than bright?

Maybe you find yourself entering this Christmas season with weakened health, a job loss, or bills that are greater than your bank account.

Maybe this is your first year (around the tree) without your loved one, or maybe one of your loved ones has been given months to live.

Maybe your marriage is falling apart, maybe your aging parent is struggling, or maybe you have a prodigal child who won’t be at the table this year.

Maybe this is your first Christmas as empty-nesters, maybe you’ll be alone (again) at all the Christmas parties this year, or maybe depression and anxiety has followed you into the holiday season…once again.

Maybe your friendships are struggling, maybe your faith is being tested, and maybe you’re dreading the year of 2020.

Whatever is happening that may or may not be a part of YOUR plans, may I encourage you to remember that from the beginning of time, He KNEW exactly where you’d be and what you’d be facing on Christmas of 2019.

That first Christmas (over 2000 years ago) may not have gone as Mary had planned or desired, but it went exactly as God had planned. At just the right time, in just the right place…God entered into the middle of our mess and into the brokenness of our world. IMMANUEL (God WITH us) came in the form of a baby.

Where?
Right THERE. Right THEN.

In the middle of Bethlehem, He came. And in the middle of our Brokenness, He STILL comes.

He came for our sadness; He came for our anger; and He came for our hurt.

He came because of the disappointments; He came because of the difficult; and He came because things in this world aren’t as HE had planned.

He didn’t come because our lives were “put together” or because our plans were “perfect.” No. He came because none of us are put-together and nothing is perfect…and never would be, apart from Him.

He came for ALL kinds of busted plans and broken hearts; He came because we needed rescue; and He came because NO earthly Christmas would ever be perfect WITHOUT the hope of heaven.

He came for all the babies with all the broken hearts because He WAS the baby with the PERFECT heart.

THIS is precisely why He came.

Oh, how I wish I could wrap up your Christmas 2019 season with a big-happy bow…a life filled with comforts and ease and a holiday season where everything is MERRY and BRIGHT, but I can’t.

AND YET…

I can point your hearts to the one who CAN and WILL. Because one day, He will gather up all of His grace-saved children and bring them home to heaven–a place where EVERY day is perfect, ALL plans are perfected, and where EVERY day is a CHRIST-centered Christmas.

But until then, I pray that you will know Him, that you will continually learn to trust HIS plans even when yours differ, and to echo the words of Mary, “…I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to YOUR word.”

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“Sometimes You Put the Pain on Daddy.”

There’s a whole lot I don’t know about parenting, but if there is one thing I’m willing to stake my claim on, it’s this:

We are going to hurt our kids. 

And this is the very reason I didn’t want to have kids in the first place. Genuinely.

I remember as a newly pregnant mama, I’d be asked often, “Are you excited?” And though I truly wanted to answer with an emphatic “absolute yes” with no reservation, I never could. In fact, more often than not, I would say something along the lines of, “Yes, but if I’m being honest, I’m also afraid that I’m going to hurt them.”

It was an honest answer AND an awkward answer, but it was my very-real, ever-near fear.

I knew I was a fallen soul who has broken tendencies;

I knew I was an imperfect follower who doesn’t perfectly love;

I knew I was a sinner who was capable of hurting others; and

And I knew that I couldn’t prevent my brokenness from hurting those who I desperately wanted to love.  

And though I knew (in my head) that this wasn’t a “good enough” reason to not rejoice over life, I knew it was “enough of a reason” to tremble at the task that lay ahead. And so before our firstborn came out of from the safety of my womb, I vowed in my heart that I would make a regular practice of allowing our kids to give us feedback about our strengths, our struggles, and our sins.

And so I have.

About every other month (since about the age of 3), I take some time and ask each of the big kids the following questions:

How am I loving you well? How have I hurt you? And how can I love you better? 

The answers have evolved over the years, but the questions and intent have not, and I pray it never does. With an open mind and a soft heart, I give them a space to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. And though these little souls are so gracious to focus on my strengths and highlight the kind parts of my behavior, they have also given me some much-needed feedback over the years.

Sometimes the feedback has convicted; sometimes the words have caused confession; and sometimes the conversations have brought about some healing changes. But more often than not, I’m not usually shocked by what they say. Sure, there have been some times where they have opened my eyes to my blind spots and sure, they have given me some new ideas for how to love them better or differently, but I’ve never really left a conversation feeling shocked. 

But about a week ago, I left shocked. 

I had taken Evie on a little date and while sipping on pumpkin lattes over a shared donut, I said, “So Evie. How am I loving you well? How have I hurt you? And how can I love you better?”

Immediately and very quickly, she rattled off a bullet list of positives. Quietly, she continued to munch on her sugar. Honestly, I kinda thought that the conversation was going to be short. She seemed done; she hadn’t shared anything constructive; and she didn’t appear to be super interested in the conversation. Pushing through the silence and the sprinkles that lay on the table in front of us, I asked, “Is there anything that I’ve done to hurt you recently? Anything that has made you feel unloved?”

“Well, sometimes you put the pain on Daddy.” 

Honestly, my brain couldn’t comprehend her words.

“What?”

“Sometimes you put the pain on Daddy.” And as she said the words again, she pushed her thumb into the table.

Now I was shocked by the thumb.

“What are you talking about?”

“I mean. You sometimes put the pain on him…like this.” Again, she pressed her thumb into the table.

Realizing that my heart didn’t feel all that soft in the moment and recognizing that the point of this was to HEAR and RECEIVE the feedback that I had always said I wanted, I took a deep breath (attempting to swallow my pride) and said, “Can you give me an example of what you mean?”

“Well, sometimes you speak in a mean tone to him.” 

“Since when did you become his protector?!?!?!” 

“Well maybe sometimes he needs to feel the pain, okay kid?!?!?!”

“What about his tone?!?! And his thumb-pressing pain?!?!?!” 

“Just wait until you are married, girlfriend!!!” 

“Oh. Okay. And that makes you feel unloved?”

Yeah. I don’t like when people say things that make people feel pain.” And again, she pressed her thumb into the table.

(The thumb felt like it was pressing itself into my proud soul)

I honestly feel like the Holy Spirit was the one to utter the words from my proud-filled, mama mouth. Because if I’m being real, my fallen self was having a REALLY HARD TIME mustering the strength to accept the truth of her words and the reality of her feelings. A REALLY HARD TIME. And though I wish I could tell you otherwise, I can’t. Because even though my mama-self was so fearful of hurting my kids with my sin, my sinful self was so unwilling to want to OWN IT. SOOOOO unwilling.

“That makes sense, sweet girl. That makes sense. (INSERT BREATHING PAUSE) Well…I’m sorry that my tone with daddy has sometimes made you feel unloved.  I can see why that would feel unloving to you. (ANOTHER HUMBLE SWALLOW) Sometimes mommy gets frustrated with daddy and you’re right…sometimes I don’t always use a very kind tone. I am sure that doesn’t feel loving to daddy either; I will work on that. Thank you for telling me that.”

You’re welcome!” 

And just like that, she had cheerily moved on to our board game.

But ya know what? I haven’t stopped thinking about that conversation since the day it happened. And the more I think about it, the more I’m thankful for it.

Why?

Because if we don’t give our kids (and others) an opportunity to hold up a mirror so we can see some of the broken blemishes and the sinful sags of our fallen faces, we can’t address those issues. And if we can’t address those issues, then we can’t change those behaviors. And if we can’t change and attend to those behaviors, then others will be (repetitively) hurt by our brokenness. And if we are repetitively hurting others without an attempt to address our JANKITY-JUNK, our relationships are bound to be broken, hurtful, and even damaging.

And ya know what?

Our pride isn’t worth that cost; it’s just not.

Intentionally and unintentionally, we are going to hurt our kids. At times, we are going to throw arrows and inflict wounds. And though we don’t like it or don’t want it, we are going to do it wrong, mess it up, and all the in-between. WE WILL.

The hard-fast truth is that we aren’t going to be perfect because we can’t be and because we can’t be, we must confess, repent, ask for grace, and then REPEAT. And not just from our kids, but from our Savior. 

Friends, the Truth stands that we are sinners in need of a Savior; it’s inescapable. But there’s another Truth that reigns in freedom and wins in victory and it’s this:

By the power of His Spirit and by the enabling of His grace, we can choose (as far as it depends on us) to love others, seek forgiveness, pursue healing, and live redeemed…even in our brokenness. For though our sinful selves are prone to using our “broken thumbs” to “put the pain on others,” we can live victoriously through His nail-scarred hands! WE CAN!

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