“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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Keep Singing, Son; Keep Singing!

Caden,

It’s the eve of your Spiritual Birthday, and I wanted to take a moment and record a testimony of God’s work in you–an altar of praise that you can revisit in the years to come. Because as we journey with Jesus on this earth, I’ve found that it’s important to have those moments and memories where we not only record the faithfulness of our God throughout our lives, but where we also recall the track record of His covenant hand. Sometimes the memory of His work in our lives is the very spark that creates a fiery hope that burns bright for the next part of the journey–a spiritual kindling of sorts!

So let me begin.

This year marks your fourth year in school! How in the world are you already in 3rd grade?!? It all seems rather unbelievable to a mama who just greeted you through labored tears and who changed your diaper, but alas…we are here, and you are growing!

Every year, since Kindergarten, you have had a quarter in which you have been assigned to sit by this one, particular boy. We will leave him unnamed because that’s not the point of this testimony any way. But suffice to say, this little boy struggles. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, he’s struggled. He crowds your space, talks loud in your ears, and is constantly asking you questions. He struggles with his speech, with his desk work, and with finding friends who will understand and accept him. He’s written on your papers, ripped up your papers, and even taken your papers. He’s a nice kid and yet…his struggles are a struggle for you (and usually for his teacher and peers as well). And every single year (without fail), your seat has been assigned near his.

This year, at the beginning of 3rd grade, you were placed by him on the very first day, and those first days were a struggle.

Coming home from school, I could see your exhaustion; I could hear your irritation; and I could feel your battle. We talked about it; we prayed about it; and we decided that there was a reason that your chair was next to his…a reason why your soul was placed next to his.

Three days into school, I bumped into your Kindergarten teacher and she asked how you were doing. I shared how much you were enjoying your teacher and how much you were growing. And in quick-passing, I mentioned that you were learning (again) how to handle your difficult desk-mate. I recalled how much you had matured in handling those who were different than you and how thankful I was for the growth that had occurred since Kindergarten. It was a short and sweet conversation, and I left thankful and teary-eyed. I had NO clue that she would share this conversation with your current teacher, nor was that EVER my intention.

Later that day, you met me on the sidewalk after school and simply said, “I was given a big decision today.”

“Really?”

“Yes. My teacher pulled me aside at recess and told me that she heard that I am always assigned to sit by ________, and she told me that she knows that isn’t always easy. She told me that she would be willing to let me switch seats if I wanted to.”

“Oh wow. That is a big decision.”

“I already told her that we talked about it at home and decided that it would be helpful for me to sit there. So I told her ‘no,’ but she told me to think about it tonight and that if I changed my mind, I could let her know tomorrow.”

Immediately, you burst into tears.

“It’s so hard, mommy. He can be so frustrating. I just want to change. I can’t sit by him every day for 9 weeks.”

I held you on the front porch and listened through your overwhelmed tears.

“Buddy, I’m proud of you that you remembered our talk, and I’m proud of you for not always taking the easy way. I know this is hard. I can’t make the decision for you; that’s yours to make. However, I do believe that God can use hard things to grow good things.”

You nodded your head, and we left it at that.

Later that night, you talked with daddy about the decision. Your daddy reminded you that it was your decision and though it could be growing for you, neither mommy or daddy knew how hard that experience was for you. He encouraged you to make the decision, and we moved on with our evening.

That night, after you went to bed, daddy and I talked about your big decision. As we went to bed that night, we came to a place where we felt confident that either decision would be fine with us, and that we wanted you to make the choice.

In the morning, nothing was said and nothing more was asked.

I prayed for you throughout that school day and when I saw you leave those doors at the end of the day, I could barely wait to talk with you.

Confidently and simply, you reported, “I decided to stay.”

Recognizing that you weren’t in a space to process, I responded, “I think you made the hard decision, and I’m going to be asking the Holy Spirit to help you show ________ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.”

Throughout the last few weeks, you’ve asked for prayer regarding this desk mate; you’ve aired some frustrations; and you’ve even highlighted some moments that weren’t “so bad.” You never felt excited about the choice to sit by him, but you never seemed overwhelmed either. But son, there would have been a time (last year) where you would have been un-done by this decision. You would have struggled with your attitude; your cutting words would have been present often; and your tendency to be critical and pessimistic would have colored your perspective.

But this year, there has been little of that.

One day (last week) you came home and exclaimed with exhaustion, “He even chooses to sit by me at library, mommy! Everywhere I am, he goes!”

“Why do you think he does that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think it’s possible that you treat him with kindness and respect, and he feels that? Do you think it’s possible that your presence makes him feel safe?”

You sat there on the picnic table, quietly kicking stones and thinking.

“Caden, did you worship God at school today?”

“I don’t think so,” you responded with hesitation.

“Did you sing a song to Him?”

“No.”

“Did you read your Bible at school?”

“No.”

“Did you bow your head and pray?”

“Not today.”

“Caden, I still think you worshiped.”

“How?”

“I think you sang the song of sacrifice; I think you bore the cross of suffering; and I think you loved like Jesus. And that is worship, buddy.” 

You looked at me with quiet-big eyes.

“Caden, sometimes worship looks like loving when it’s hard, giving when you don’t want to, and serving when you’d rather not. That’s worship, buddy. And you know what? When you worship, others see that testimony. They can feel your love, and they can sense the difference. Caden, that difference is Jesus, and I can see the Holy Spirit at work in you.”

Grabbing your football, you went back to your backyard game. Very much like you, you left without a word but with many thoughts in your head. And as I headed to the house, I thanked God for the evidence of answered prayer. Because buddy, mommy prays (often and fervently) for the Holy Spirit to root your faith and grow your walk.

That conversation was on a Wednesday of last week, September 4th, 2019 to be exact.

Three days later, a post card came in the mail addressed for you.

It read as follows:

Dear Caden, 

Thank you for being such a kind and patient classmate. I love having you in my class.

Love, 

Mrs. U

As I read along with you, my eyes filled with hot tears. Looking up from the postcard, you exclaimed, “Why did she send that to me?!?”

I responded with the first words that came to mind.

“Maybe she’s heard your song of worship and thought it was sweet?” 

With a smile the size of a football, you re-read the note.

Caden, I don’t know the plans the Lord has for you, but I pray that you will continue to let your life be a song that sings of Him. I pray that your love will be a tune of difference, and I pray that others will want to join that song because they (too) have found notes that can’t be found in any other song.

Son, your daddy and I love you something fierce, and we can see His light and love burning bright in you. We can see the work of His hands in the past year, and we can hear the song of His salvation in you! Keep singing, Caden; keep singing!

Love,

Mommy

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Just Come

My life doesn’t have clean edges and defined compartments these days. Nothing looks “super organized” and there are many days that my “old normal” looks more like a “Once Upon a Time Story.” There’s very little in our home (if anything) that would make the cover of a magazine, and I would hardly be the person you would want to interview for an article on “The Little Years: How to Keep Your House Sparkling!”

To be honest, my life looks rather messy and busy these days.

There’s a lot of changes and transitions, and I’ve got kids at different ages, stages, and needs. There’s not a whole ton of routine and rhythm (at least not the kind I used to have and thought I needed) and our little house feels a lot less like a charming cottage and a whole lot more like a fenced-in play yard. There’s not a lot of “down time” and very few of my days look the same. “Predictable” and “Easy” would hardly be the words to describe this season of life.

And though the younger version of Jessica would bristle at all of the above (maybe even dry-heave and feel a little panicky and a whole lot “less than”), the older version of Jessica is S L O W L Y learning how to embrace the MESSY and the UNDEFINED. I’m learning (though sometimes P A I N F U L L Y) how to resist my need for CONTROL while simultaneously relinquishing my desire for the OLD and the PREDICTABLE. 

And yesterday was just another one of those painful, learning days.

As I sat at a disheveled table with a toddler on my lap, a Bible before me, a half-eaten bowl of oatmeal to my right, and said toddler using my writing utensils to scribble on the kitchen place mats (while sometimes eating bites of his breakfast), I had this overwhelming feeling of JUST STOPPING. 

Why do I even try to sit down and read while he’s awake? Why is this so hard? I’ll just wait until I have quiet time tonight. I can’t do this. I JUST CAN’T DO THIS. 

And as the thoughts jumbled in my brain, the Spirit nudged my soul.

Why do you wait for PERFECT when you could come, now, just as you ARE?

The words were pointed, convicting, and ever-so true. As tears filled my tired eyes, my heart sank into the gentle, sweetness of His invitation. Right there, in that very moment, I needed that kind of invitation.

I needed Him to remind me that my MESS was okay.

I needed Him to remind me that my CONTROL was not necessary.

I needed Him to remind me that ORGANIZED was not a must.

I needed Him to remind me that ROUTINE was not expected.

I needed Him to remind me that ALL OF ME was all He wanted.

I didn’t need the RIGHT moment or the PERFECT circumstances; I needed HIM. 

Mamas, friends without littles, seasoned followers of Jesus, and everyone else in between who doesn’t have perfect or predictable

God doesn’t need our homes in order; He wants our hearts in order. He doesn’t need fancy fanfare, quiet rooms, lit candles, 45 minutes and an exegetical study from the book of Leviticus; He needs us. He doesn’t need us to find the perfect time or create the preferred setting because He already knows we don’t have it anyway, and yet He does.

At His holy feet…at His perfect throne…near His all-knowing heart is exactly where He wants us. For He is not a God who is limited by any of our imperfections; He is not a God who is surprised by our chaos; and He is not a God whose powerful work is constricted to defined and predictable settings.

No. Not our God.

Our God is the one who left His perfect throne room in heaven, entered our imperfect world, and allowed Himself to be born of a lowly woman, in a dirty stable, surrounded by a sinful set of shepherds and a bunch of dirty animals.

He never, EVER entered into our perfection. He never, EVER entered into our predictable. And He still doesn’t. 

He came for the lost. He came for the weary. He came for the broken, the sick, the confused, the discouraged, and for the weary mama who has no alone time or private space. He came into the messy chaos of our world–not so that we could have perfect on earth, but so that we could have perfect in Him. He came so that we would have eternal life; He came so that we would have it abundantly; and He came so that we would know that nothing here on earth would ever save or satisfy our broken and busted souls.

In a stable, He invited them.

In our mess, He invited us.

In our “messy stables” with our imperfect selves, He still invites us.

May we simply continue to say “yes” and “now” to His always-ready, no-attachments, “come-as-you-are” invitation!

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Parenting: A God-Sized Task

I’ve said it before and I’m sure this won’t be the last…

Parenting is hard and no one fully prepared me.

Noooooo one.

No one sat at my baby shower and told me the hard-fast truth about the difficulties that my womb-dwellers would eventually cause. No one stood up and grabbed the proverbial microphone and shouted warnings about the painful sacrifices and the scary unknowns that would accompany the precious moments of parenting. No one handed me a gift, grabbed a muffin, and then looked me square in the eyes and said, “Listen mama…some day this baby in the belly is going to be screaming at the top of his lungs, ‘I hate Adam and Eve,’ while simultaneously questioning the sovereignty of God at age eight, and you’re gonna stand there shocked with not a clue as to how to deal. NOT A CLUE.”

No. One. Did. Any. Of. This.

And ya know what…that’s okay. Because had they, I would have probably either not believed them, refused delivery, or lived in fear until age 8.

Friends, parenting is hard. REAL hard. 

Sure, there’s the difficulties of sleepless nights, feeding, reflux, and helping your children not bite the arms of others. And yes, there’s the struggle of deciding on what to feed your child and how to feed your child and where to send your child to school and when to send your child to school. And a million other struggles in between the weaning, the teething, and the potty training, and then there are MORE.

How do you teach them respect and kindness? How do you help them think about others? How do you model the Gospel and how do you consistently and fairly discipline? What about modesty, sexuality, and “stranger danger?” And how about the do’s and don’ts of asserting their will while also humbling loving others?

On and on it goes.

Parenting seems to be a continual journey of beautiful blessings and memorable milestones mixed in with a bunch of “Oh-my-word-how-do-I-even-deal-with-this” kind of moments, along with a steady undercurrent of wanting to tear your hair out. Let’s be honest, people. That’s the skinny on parenting.

And a few weeks ago, I was there.

Standing on the stairs of our basement, I looked on as our oldest son ranted and raved.

“I hate Adam and Eve. I hate them! If they hadn’t sinned, then we wouldn’t sin! I hope they don’t get to go to heaven!”

Is this real-life? Is. THIS. REAL. life? Over and over, I paced the top of the stairs.

I was shocked by his anger, overwhelmed by his sentiments, and a little scared by his line of questioning. And just when I had swallowed my shock and mustered my mouth to open itself, he began a new tirade.

“And if God is powerful like you say He is, then why wouldn’t He just put an end to sin and take us to heaven right after they ate the apple?!?!?!? Why didn’t He just take away our choice to sin?!?!?! Why did He even make the tree and the apple?!?!?!”

(mic drop)

(mouth drop)

(mama drop)

I’m not sure how many minutes passed, but I know there were tears running down my face, and my words were a mumbled, jumbled mess of stammers and stutters. Fumbling through my fears and working my way through my shock, I attempted to empathize with his frustrations and normalize his questions. I walked through the Gospel of God’s plan; I reminded him of the big-ness of God’s ways and the small-ness of our understanding; and I reiterated the faith involved in belief. I encouraged him to wrestle with these questions, pray about these questions, and continue to trust God with these questions.

I held him; I hugged him; and I silently begged the Lord to meet us on those stairs.

There were no simplistic answers for these big questions and though I knew that in my Christian-brain, my Mama-brain felt a little overwhelmed.

As I tucked him in that night, tired from all his ranting and exhausted from all his crying, I sat outside his room.

I prayed for his little heart and his big questions, and I asked our Big God to help our little selves.

In that hallway, I felt so small and so unsure…so needful and dependent.

And ya know what?

I think that’s all a part of God’s big and beautiful plan for all of us scared and overwhelmed parents.

He calls us to a God-sized task, so that we have countless opportunities to be child-like in our faith.

He calls us to steward and shepherd these big responsibilities, so that we would remain humble, dependent, and ever-seeking of His endless wisdom and forever strength.

He calls us to the impossible, so that we would seek His face for the possible

I believe it. I do.

Days after his “Adam and Eve Rant,” he raised his hand during a breakfast devotional and said, “I think God wants to give us choices to love Him. If He didn’t give us choices, then that wouldn’t be loving.”

Smiling with tears in my eyes, I simply said, “Yes, I agree.” And when he left the table after a bowl of fruit and a plate of toast, I thanked the Lord for His work and for His commitment to our faith.

A few days ago, in preparation for my Sunday School lesson, I stumbled upon the words of Solomon in 1 Kings 3:7-9.

“And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

Did you catch that?

The soon-to-be-King comes to the Lord in such a needy, overwhelmed way. He admits his smallness, acknowledges his weakness, and asks for the wisdom of God to do a God-sized task.

In the face of leading a nation of people, Solomon raises his small hand.

He doesn’t ask for a curriculum; he doesn’t request a manual; and he doesn’t demand all of the answers. Nope. He simply asks for HOLY HELP.

And ya know what?

I think that’s the very posture of parents that God desires most.

Small. Needy. Dependent. Humbled. Asking. 

Friends, we won’t have all the answers and we don’t need to…because He does.

So whether you find yourself in a conundrum over discipline, a struggle over feeding, a worry over schooling, or a shell-shocked moment with a child who wants heaven withheld from the man and woman who ate the apple, may we put to the test the words and promise of James 1:5.

 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

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“Mommy, I Want to Win ALL the Races!”

When she reached my legs, she was a mess of hot, defeated tears. Bumbling and mumbling, her sobs drowned out the specifics of her angst. I had no clue what was wrong, but I was confident that something was not right. With her head buried at my knees, her little body heave-ho’d with emotion.

Grabbing her from below and bringing her to my face, I wiped her tears and simply asked, “What’s wrong, girl?”

Attempting to gather some air and compose her words, she breathed out, “Mommy, I want to win all the races,” and then she burst into another round of tears. 

Holding her for a few more minutes and arranging her matted silk into its normal places on her head, her body stilled and her crying ceased. Again, I ventured into another round of questioning.

“Sweet girl, what happened?”

“Caden and I are playing airplane races, and he has the longest legs, and I don’t always win.” Her words were a tad huffy and her tone a lot frustrated.

“Ahhh. I see. It’s hard to lose, isn’t it?”

Nodding her head but refusing to affirm my answer with words, I could tell that she understood my empathic response.

“But I want to win ALLLLLL the races, Mommy. I don’t want to lose. I want to be the best!” 

I shook my head in complete understanding and simply said, “I get it, girl. Mama gets it.”

As I held her on my lap, my heart retraced its steps to the ball field where we had sat earlier in the weekend.

Wrought with frustration and ticked about our son’s current playing position, I had been mad too. For nine, straight games, he had been placed in the outfield. Moved from the action and his usual position at 2nd base, our son was occupying the grass and mama-bear wasn’t thrilled. In fact, I was straight-up annoyed. Since April, he had spent a majority of the game in the diamond of dirt and this unexplained change was hard for all of us.

Why wasn’t he playing where the action was?

Why was someone else getting the spotlight?

Why wasn’t he where he always was? 

Why weren’t they rotating? 

And though I wasn’t able to admit it in the moment, the Spirit had stirred my haughty heart after I left that field in a huff of my own. And as I sat in that Sunday pew (less than 24 hours later), my mind was finally able to own what my pride wouldn’t acknowledge when I had been sitting in that Saturday lawn chair

I, too, had wanted ALL the best. 

I, too, had hated SECOND best.

With my pencil in hand, I scribbled-confessed my sin on the pages of unlined white.

Lord, I confess that I was comparing while I was on that ball field. And while I was comparing, I was also tearing others down. Lord, I confess that I was coveting the position of other players. I confess that I was jealous and wanted what I perceived to be mine/his. Lord, I confess that I was angry when I didn’t get what I wanted or what I thought he deserved. Lord, I confess that my pride was idolizing that position and that my heart was angry in the face of what I perceived to be injustice. Lord, forgive me for being angry when I didn’t get the best. 

I know it’s not pretty and I know it’s not the perfect image that we want to proliferate on the pages and walls of our social media platforms, but it was true.

Mama doesn’t like the backseat.  

And truth be told, maybe you don’t either.

Because the truth is, our hearts don’t like the small positions and the tiny spots. Nope. Our hearts like the big spaces and the lofty places and when we don’t get them, our hearts can throw a tantrum that can look a whole lot like a little girl in tears, or an angry mama on a lawn chair, or vying brothers named James and John and their 10 cronies.

James and John, Zebedee’s sons, came up to him. “Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us. “What is it? I’ll see what I can do.” “Arrange it,” they said, “so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left.” 

When the other ten heard of this conversation, they lost their tempers with James and John. Jesus got them together to settle things down. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.” Mark 10: 35-37, 41-45

As I finished writing out that Sunday, sin-confession in the margins of my journal, I drew an arrow and wrote at the bottom, “Oh, how unlike Jesus, Jessica is!”

In the face of injustice, Jesus sacrificed.

In the face of injustice, Jesus served.

In the face of injustice, Jesus set down.

In the face of injustice, Jesus SAVED.

So unlike…so very, very UNLIKE Jessica.

In fact, Jesus sacrificed, served, set down, and saved the countless other “Jessica’s” that would vie for placement, jockey for position, and become undone by anything other than the very best and the absolute first.

Jesus died for ALL the “Jessica’s” who want ALL the best. 

As I held my little girl tightly in my arms, my mama heart felt deeply for the little girl who sat struggling in my lap. And so I did the same thing for her on Monday that I did for me on Sunday, I prayed for the Spirit to humble her heart; I prayed that He would conform her spirit into His image; I prayed that He would help her battle her pride and resist her need for position; and then I bear-hugged her little body.

Oh, Lord…turn our hearts of pride into hearts of praise and turn our eyes from our earthly positions and toward your heavenly presence. 

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Babies, Bottles, and Our Broken Worship

Climbing the stairs to his room, I excitedly opened the door. With big, sleepy eyes and outstretched arms, he looked so cuddly in those terry cloth jammies.

The clock read 8:12, and I was so excited to see him. I was looking forward to those early morning cuddles and those silly giggles of his.

With all the sing-song sap that a mama can muster, I happily exclaimed, “Hi baby! Good morning!”

And what was his response to my excitement?

“BA-BA! BA-BA!! BA-BA!!!

With wild eyes and a shifty head, he turned his gaze from me and started surveying the room.

The truth was, he was looking for milk, not his mama.

And though I knew it probably shouldn’t sting as much as it did, it did.

After two nights of being away from him, I was excited to be together again. I had been looking forward to his excited smiles when he saw me again, and I was hoping for a squeal or three. I wanted to be with him, and I wanted him to want that too. But he didn’t. In that moment, he didn’t.

Focused on his wants and desirous of the milk, he wasn’t concerned with the one who brought the milk, he merely wanted the milk.

Trying again, I called out and even reached out to him with my arms. “Hey buddy! Mama missed you! I love you!

Batting my arms away and running to the other side of the crib, he shrieked again, “BA-BA! BA-BA!! BA-BA!!!

My mama heart sank.

Why didn’t he care that I was there? Why wasn’t he desirous of me? Why was the milk taking precedence over his mama? Didn’t I matter more than those 7 ounces of cow-produced liquid? 

As I reached for him, the initial sting started to feel a little hot with hurt and before I knew it, a bitter irritation had settled over my spirit.

I’m tired of being a vending machine. I’m tired of being a need-meeter. I’m tired of being used as a genie in a bottle of warmed milk! I want to be WANTED!

I really have no clue why it bothered me so much that morning because truth be told, it has probably happened before. But as I reached for that bottle and graciously handed shoved it in his direction, I feel like the Holy Spirit had orchestrated the entire moment…or at least my awareness of it.

As I grabbed for a clean diaper and a fresh wipe, the Spirit reached for my heart.

Jessica, I think there has been a time (or few) that you, too, have entered my Presence only to ask for my Provision.

The words were not audible but the whisper of conviction was loud in my soul. I couldn’t un-hear His whisper, and I couldn’t un-think the thought.

It was just as true for me as it was for the baby in the crib.

I, just like him, have looked past my Father and asked for the favor. I have shifted my gaze from His Presence and searched for the present. I have overlooked the Giver and sought the gift. I have neglected the Heavenly and reached for the handout.

And though God is entirely unlike me (a finite being who is easily wounded, often needy, and imperfect in ALL my ways and responses), I can’t help but think that the God of the Universe desires for us to want Him too.

Why do I believe that to be true?

Because the Creator of the Universe took the time to fearfully and wonderfully create us. Not only did He create us, but He sought communion with man and woman in the Garden. When man and woman sinned, He covered them and sent them out. Did He leave them? No. He loved them, provided for them, rescued them, delivered them, set their feet on dry ground, and covenanted with them. He led them, fed them, protected them, fought for them, and gave them an inheritance. He spoke to them, tabernacled with them, and even outlined the ways they could worship Him. He gave them judges, appointed them kings, sent them prophets, and promised a Messiah. He came to earth to be with them, performed miracles for them, discipled them, forgave them, died for them, resurrected for them, and even promised to come back for them.

From the beginning of time, He has been making a way for His people to know Him, love Him, fear Him, worship Him, believe Him, trust Him, and dwell in His presence.

16 times throughout the Old Testament, God refers to Himself as a jealous God–a God who is jealous for His Creations to worship, know, love, and delight in Him. Friends, God isn’t jealous for something that isn’t His. No, He wants all of us because we are all of His.

And though He delights in hearing our requests and though He is a good, good Father who wants to mercifully bless us with gracious gifts from His heavenly hand, He wants our worship before our want-list, and He wants our hearts before our hungry hands.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

SEEK HIM and HE will fulfill all your eternal heart-necessities. 

Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.”

SEEK HIM and HE will give you what He knows you need. 

John 4:14 says, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never first.”

SEEK HIM and HE will satisfy your soul with all that is necessary. 

So when we enter His presence, may we not yell our want-list into His ears; may we not forego His presence to seek His presents; and may we not neglect His Name on account of our needs. But rather, may we seek His face and do as the Psalmist commanded in 100:4, “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.”

For truly, He is a God who deserves all of our delight and warrants all of our worship! And in HIM, all our needs are satisfied.

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I’m Evie, NOT Short!

Our girl doesn’t cry too often. In fact, she rarely cries. So when I heard the big sobs in the backseat, I was concerned.

“Evie-girl, what’s wrong?”

With a voice filled with anger and a face full of tears, she said, “That big girl in gymnastics told me that I was the smallest in the class!”

“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that. How did you feel when she said that to you?”

“I felt really mad and angry! And I felt really sad, too. That was NOT nice of her, and I don’t like that she said that.”

“I’m sorry, Evie. What made you angry and sad about what she said?”

“Well I’m NOT the smallest! I am five, and I am NOT a baby!!!”

Immediately, more tear-filled sobs came from the backseat.

“Did she say that you were a baby?” 

“Well no, but that’s how she made me feel.”

“Ahhh. That makes sense. I can see how you might have felt that way, but that’s not what she said. Right? And we don’t know that her intentions were to use her words to make you feel that way. Right?”

Still hot with some anger, she responded, “Well I am NOT the smallest.”

Knowing that she was indeed the smallest in her class and not wanting to avoid the lesson that could be learned from the “ouch,” I leaned in.

“Well…is it possible that you are the smallest in your class?”

Sheepishly but knowingly I heard her mumble, “Yes.”

“Evie, those words that she used were words to describe you, but they don’t have to define you. You are the smallest in the class, and that is okay. When God made you, He didn’t call you short, He called you fearfully and wonderfully made.” 

Quietly listening from the backseat, I went a little further.

“And when you introduce yourself to others, you don’t say, ‘Hi, I’m Short,’ you say, ‘Hi, I’m Evie,’ right?”

“Yes.”

“And when God made Evie, He made her more than just short, right?”

With an edge in her voice, she agreed.

“What else does God say that you are?”

Reluctantly and with a fair bit of ‘tude, she said, “He says I’m forgiven and loved.”

“You’re right! And no amount of earthly words to describe you will ever define what He says you are and what He’s created you to be. And His words are the most important.”

It was silent for awhile, and I let it be.

As we drove, I couldn’t help but mull over my own words and the repeated Truths.

Jessica is not defined by a title; she cannot be reduced to her abilities; she is not the sum total of her size; she is not determined by her good and bad deeds; and she cannot be deduced to the roles she plays and the tasks she performs.  

Jessica is a treasure of the King, a chosen creation, and a forgiven child. Jessica was bought with a price, purchased with blood, and redeemed by a Savior who called and equipped her to bring glory to His name. Jessica is a heaven-bound daughter whose identity is defined by His unfailing grace and determined by His perfect mercy. 

Jessica is defined by His works and not anything else that she, or the world, attempts to describe her as. 

Interrupting my thoughts, our little gymnast spoke from the backseat.

“Mommy, it’s okay that I am the smallest. My name is Evie, not Short!” 

“You’re right, sweet girl. Your name is Evie, and your perfect Creator didn’t make any mistakes when He made you short.” 

“Yep! He’s perfect, and He can’t make any mistakes!”

Friends, may we fight to see ourselves through the lens of Him, and may we celebrate in knowing that absolutely no earthly description can ever define the value of His beloved creations.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well. Psalm 139:14 

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