“Mommy, Can You Be Happy?” – A Confession and A Call to Fight for Joy

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That stinging question hung heavy in the air. 
The weight of what she asked sank into skin, rushed into blood, and stopped me cold. 

             “Mommy, can you be happy?”

I was caught in a moment of visible anger, grumbling, impatience, and frustration. It oozed from me, grimy as the water from the dish rag I held. I hadn’t even noticed that while I stewed over some minor mishap, what was brewing within had become tangible. A foreboding cloud of discontent around me. 

Indeed, from the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise to silence the foe and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2) …. to silence these thankless lips.  

How did I get here? The short answer: idolatry that leads to sin.

I see my tendency to value convenience more than my own children, and more than God (idolatry). When my 3-year-old’s inconvenient “mistakes” challenge my comfort, or she somehow fails to meet my expectations, this gives way to under-the-breath complaints and bitterness building up so that when she willfully acts out I’m already at the tipping point where snapping, sarcasm, yelling, and disciplining in anger inevitably ensue (sin).

No one can dispute that motherhood is one of the toughest, most demanding jobs. Is my desire for structure or occasional time away inherently sinful? Absolutely not. But when those desires become the cause of discontent and bitterness,  they have become idols-something other than God that we turn to for salvation. 

For me, these idols of comfort and control often result in:

1. Scoffing at my child’s shortcomings instead of encouraging her toward growth.

2. Correcting impatiently and pointing out wrongdoing instead of stooping down to guide and nurture.  

3. My fiery tongue whipping out with sharp words instead of being the balm of a gentle answer.

 “…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” – Luke 6:45 (….OUCH.)

The truth is, my lack of “happy” is not a reflection of my lack of “me” time.

It’s the result of my desperate grappling after false gods.

The curtain is lifted. The idols are revealed. And OH! The weight of that truth flooding my heart would surely crush me, and I would be reduced to a constant state of of tears and self-loathing on the kitchen floor, spiraling into even further depths of despair …

BUT for these truths:

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (emphasis mine)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” -Ephesians 2:4-10 (emphasis mine)

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

           

Oh, hopelessly meritorious Mommy…

 

Are your bootstraps, like mine, worn to threads from trying to pull yourself up by them?

Are you, like me, caught trying on your own strength to claw your way out of the pit of guilt

that overwhelms each failure?

Hallelujah! All we have is Christ!

 

We cannot will ourselves up the hill,

because Christ has taken the cross up for us.

We cannot earn our freedom from sin and mom-guilt,

because Christ has already won it for us.

We cannot find joy in our lot apart from the truth that in

HIM is the fulness of joy by his GRACE.

IT. IS. FINISHED.

Even when we fail, we can fight for joy for the sake of these little hearts we shepherd.

Even when they push us to the edge, again and again and again, we can get down on our knees. We can forgive them and be forgiven again and again and again.

This is not a “happy-slappy,” grin and bear it kind of joy. It’s a joy that says HE IS GOOD in the hard days. It’s a battle call for us to preach this to ourselves and to our children:

That IN and THROUGH our suffering and sin, the

joy of the Lord is my strength.

IN and THROUGH the mornings when it’s not even breakfast and all toddler hell breaks loose,

the joy of the Lord is my strength.

IN and THROUGH the hormone-raging, sleepless delirium, deepest, darkest doubt,

the joy of the Lord is my strength.

This JOY is costly. It was purchased by the blood of Christ. Isaiah 53:10 says, “Yet it pleased the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief…” When God poured out His wrath on His Son, instead of us, it pleased him. It’s also translated as “it was His will.” He was satisfied once for all.

Sisters, THIS is how we can have joy.  Because Christ’s sacrifice brought the Father satisfaction, we too can be satisfied in the Son’s saving work and, in turn, live with JOY….a deep, sober, humiliated (in the RIGHT sort of way)  JOY.

This kind of joy also means humbling ourselves before our God IN FRONT OF our children. It means seeking forgiveness from them when we fall sort, and modeling repentance. This allows our children to see us at our weakest, so that they might see more of Jesus, and so that we may demonstrate for them the profound truth in that simple, gospel song we sing to them:

“We are weak, but He is strong,

Yes, Jesus Loves me….”

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I DELIGHT in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 (emphasis mine)

This process is painful. It’s exposing and scraping away the chaff. And I believe (Oh, help my unbelief!) that it will produce fruit in my life, and Lord willing, in my children’s. Not because of my perfect parenting, but because Christ works in spite of me, through the mess, and in my weakness and humility.

His mercies are new EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

HE has conquered my shame! I can choose to look into my child’s face when she is posed with that question…that call  to FIGHT for happy. And by God’s grace, I can answer her, “yes, I can be happy.” And I can smile,  humbled but not ashamed, tears brimming, weak, yet finding strength, not in my comfort, not in my ability to control, not in my self-righteous, sinful anger, but in HIM.

Im HIM we find true satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness in what we’ve been called to, no matter what threatens to undo it,

because the JOY of Lord  is our STRENGTH.

“Once for all, O sinner, receive it,
Once for all, O doubter, believe it;
Cling to the cross, the burden will fall,
Christ has redeemed us once for all. “

From the hymn by Philip P. Bliss, 1871, alt., Music: Zac Hicks, 2013

Take a Deep Breath, and Read

She curls up next to me with a pile of picture books and half-whispers to herself:

“Take a deep breath, and read.”

Simple words, not intended as a command. Yet, from the lips of that babe, what my heart needed to hear was this call:

Take a breath, Mama. But don’t just breathe. Breathe deeply.

Slow down and dive into a luxurious tale with a toddler.

Enter into the wonder she experiences in narrative.

And then….leave some of those dishes in the sink and go read something that gets you out of your own head. Read something that challenges and inspires you.

Stop outputting for 5 minutes and recharge.

Fill the well!

Drink deeply of His Word.

You NEED it like you need air.

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Why is it that my daughter wants the same story read to her again and again? She knows almost every line by heart.

Because, simply hearing the story once isn’t knowing it. And even “knowing” it by heart isn’t enough. She wants to experience it again and again. She wants to participate in the drama of the narrative, feel the anticipation climbing from page to page toward the end. There’s a kind of security in the repetition of it. A kind of strength in consistency that brings about calm and knowing. And, in the really good stories, the ending leaves her with both a sense of completion, yet wonder at what’s beyond those final pages.

Christian, isn’t this what we need when it comes to the Gospel?

To be drawn into that story again and again? To return to His Word and look into the redemptive work of God throughout the ages? To see it all pointing to Christ? To see the reality of our sin, but remember the sweetness of living by his grace?

Too often, I find myself clinging to fragments of His story, but living completely caught up in my own myopic, selfish version of it, which is mostly law-driven and utterly condemning. In doing so, I’m leaving out the best parts of the story! The GRACE parts!

We need to experience the Gospel grace stories again and again. We need to be like children, wide-eyed with wonder and compelled  by that grace to return to the story. Our story. We need to set our minds on those life-giving truths and let them saturate and nourish our weary hearts. We can read our story and feel that sense of completion and wonder because through Christ it is finished, yet we wait for his return.

Oh Lord, slow us down to return to Your story again, and take a deep breath, and read….

….and breathe in, grace. And breathe out, grace. 

All the Messes Between Successes

Another profound teaching moment brought to you by my 2-year-old…..

When I stop to consider the amount of poo and other unpleasant substances that I’ve come in contact with since becoming a mom, it’s truly amazing. Indeed, as moms, we have a high calling!

What would have gagged me prior to motherhood, is now simply part of the job. A not so fun part, but a necessary part, nonetheless.

Potty training my almost two-year-old has added a new dimension to this labor of love. The amount and the “caliber,” if you will, of Aria’s “big girl” potties, and the surfaces I have had to clean them from lately, somehow make me look forward to returning to the slightly less toxic and water soluble breast-milk poo of my soon-to-arrive newborn.

And with that day fast approaching, we’ve hunkered down and stayed indoors (even in this heat wave), to practice the timeless art of “potty time.”

My reconnaissance work on Pinterest has paid off  as I’ve kept Aria entertained with plenty of messy sensory projects and games to keep her hands busy and her mind active. And with silly videos to inspire, encouraging pep talks from trusted friends along the way, treats to reward, and the timer telling us every 10 minutes to “try, try again,” I think I have managed to lay down the framework for a successfully trained almost 2-year-old.

Yet for all the successes we’ve had over the last few days, we’ve had plenty of messes in-between, and plenty of moments of frustration from both parties. But could there be a better analogy to draw from in reflecting on our own “grown-up” spiritual training?! 🙂

At one point this week (I think it was in the midst of stooping down in all my 9-month pregnant glory to mop up a lovely trail of puddles), I thought of how even though I had won my “big girl pants” many moons ago, I still have my areas of weakness and make plenty of mistakes in my actions, thoughts, speech, and heart, daily.

In my walk and relationship with God, I try and fail often. I doubt and forget what I’ve been taught. Or worse, I regress to baby-like behavior in moments of laziness or rebellion.

Yet God stoops down and patiently cares for me again and again.

He gently and lovingly “leads me down paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” And even when I fall into the muck and mire of sin, even though I “walk through the valley of the shadow of death ” (Psalm 23), this truth remains:

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
(Psalm 103:8, 13 ESV)

I’ve heard it put this way: As Christians, our journey is much like the stock market with many “oh crap” moments (no pun intended) in between moments of “success.” Still, we are always moving “up and forward,” so to speak. Our sins do not make or break our salvation because of God’s mercy and grace through His Son. We can always find encouragement through God’s word to press on, and we are spurred on in faith by our brother’s and sisters in Christ.

All of our moments in the muck and mire (though they be literal as in cleaning up after a potty training child, or spiritual as in dealing with our own messes), draw us closer to God if we are in Christ, because those moments humble us and remind us of who we were apart from Him, and who we are called to be in Him.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Titus 2: 11-14 (ESV)

Home…Where My Husband Is

After a long day of last-minute packing, final moments and meals with family, and teary goodbyes, a 2 hour, overbooked flight swept me and Aria out West to finally join Greg, (who had moved out there 2 weeks before while I waited for my insurance to kick in).

With my 8-month pregnant belly leaving barely any room for my squirming two-year-old, I gratefully stepped off the plane and into my sweet husband’s arms. Arms that would be a BLESSED help and relief to me,  finally sharing the load of our increasingly heavy toddler!

But much more than just a pair of strong arms, over the last 5 years of marriage, this man has become home to me.

Five months of living outside of a physical home of our own, out of suitcases, and in and out of our parents house, has reinforced that truth for me.

That it doesn’t matter where we are. If we’re together as a family, we’re home.

But this also calls to heart the reminder that none of us are ever truly “home” this side of heaven.

“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” 1 Corinthians 5:1

We, as the “church” at large, are under Christ’s authority. He is her “bridegroom.” This imagery of Christ and the church as bride and bridegroom is all over scripture (Ephesians 5:25, Colossians 1:18, Revelation 21:2).

Therefore, we, as a collective, can say in and out of season and even when we feel the disarray of life in a broken world, “home is where our ‘husband’ (Christ) is.” We can turn to him for that “peace that transcends understanding” that Christ may “guard our hearts and minds” (Phil. 4:6-7).

Walking through the door that night into our new “home,” into an unfamiliar apartment with lots of boxes to unpack and organization to do, I felt the pang of resistance to this foreign space where friends and family were now far behind and nothing felt settled or familiar.

Except…crawling into bed, I felt the familiar weight and form of my husband beside me. His hand on my belly, feeling our soon-to-arrive daughter dancing in my womb sent a warmth through my soul.

The Lord gently reminded me of his unfailing love and provision for our family. He called us here, together, to learn to lean more on Him and to remember that in Him, even in the whirlwind of change, and the unfamiliar, and the “now and not yet” of this world, we are “home.”

Singing With the Stars….Literally

Today, I needed a little perspective. I needed to be reminded of my smallness and God’s bigness. It may sound simple, but it is so easy to find ourselves at the center of our own little universes. We think we “deserve” this comfort, or that convenience. We think it’s our “right” to be treated a certain way, or live a certain lifestyle. We find ourselves living each day asking “what do I want” much more than, “Lord, what is your will for me?” And then, even when we do seek the Lord, how often do we really listen? How often to we really soak in His word and seek his face?

Today, I gained some perspective again through this short video clip from the 2011 Desiring God Conference. Louie Giglio “mashes up” the recorded sounds of space and sea to show us that Psalms like 148 are not just pretty verses, but truly all the creatures of the earth and sea sing his praise, and his majesty is indeed found above the earth and heaven.

I found myself crying tears of humility and joy at the reminder that we are NOT the only beings in this universe who have a voice with which to praise Him. God’s ears are FULL of the songs of his creation, from the tiniest buzz of the bee, to the whale’s haunting melody, to the pulsar’s magnificent aria in outer-space.

Please, take the time to watch this and be reminded of how glorious our God is! How GREAT and GREATLY to be praised!

No Guilt in Life!

At first, there is so much guilt.

I’m not being a good mom because I lay on the couch and let Aria watch baby videos.  I’m a bad wife because I let the dishes sit in the sink and the laundry pile up. And forget about cooking. The thought of chopping a carrot makes me gag….oh, and intimacy? Not a chance.  I’m also a bad Christian because every other prayer out of my mouth is a cry for God to “save me from this morning sickness!” (more like, all day!). Instead, I could be praising Him for the blessing of this tiny 10 week baby in my womb, and thanking him that with every wave of nausea comes the reminder that he or she is thriving and growing and will soon be another beautiful child to cuddle and nurture and share Christ with.

I doesn’t matter if it’s physical illness, a confrontation that went poorly, or dissension with coworkers or a spouse.We lay so much guilt on ourselves. Too often we allow the weight of our sin or shortcomings to nearly crush us when in truth we have already been spared that burden through Christ.

And when hormones rage and depression sets in, it takes the truth of the Gospel to dispel those lies. The truth for me lately has come so many times from sweet sisters in the Lord. Sometimes it just takes some fresh perspective and a helping hand to remind me that I don’t have to try to pull myself up by my bootstraps, or just suck it up. I can ask for help and find joy and comfort where it is found.

Several of these sisters have reminded me that “this too shall pass.” (And I know they didn’t mean the last meal I tried to keep down.)

As our pastor reminded us this week through the writings of Paul who suffered far greater trials than most of us could dream up:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Whatever guilt is haunting you today, I pray that you will put it to death, ask for help as needed, and remember to always “carry within you the death of Jesus,” so to speak, so that, as verse 10 says,”the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

 

Using our Gifts as Women of Faith

How has your husband encouraged you

to grow and use your gifts for the kingdom?

My husband sent me this wonderful article today from the Gospel Coalition called Wives Speak Out, and I just had to share it.  I urge you all to take the time to read some of the brief answers from these godly, hard-working women who are not the oppressed, mousey, house-bound wives that the world would sometimes see them as simply because they “submit” to God and their husbands.

These are examples of women who pursue their dreams, ambitions, and gifts as nurses, writers, teachers, musicians, etc., in ways that do not oppose the gospel or compromise their calling as wives and mothers. In fact, their calling as makers of the home and godly wives arguably under-girds these other pursuits and enlivens them.  Indeed, God calls us all to bless the body with our talents and gifts both inside and outside of the home. These women speak out about how their husbands support and encourage them in them in this.

Read and be inspired!

In the article, they all responded to the question “how has your husband you to grow and use your gifts for the kingdom?”

Here’s my answer: My primary love and calling is wife and mom. There is not doubt about that, but I also have an entrepreneurial spirit and feel called to use my other gifts in writing, music, and the occasional theatrical endeavor as well. I can say that Greg has always been encouraging of my desire to pursue these things. He has cheered me on in plays, helped me pursue a degree in creative writing, and supported my musical endeavors countless times, staying home with the baby so I can go to rehearsals, etc. He has never shut down any of my crazy ideas to start an herb business, start a baby music class, or teach a yoga class. However, he has wisely counseled me a number of times to not do too much. He has sought to protect me from overcommitment, which I tend to do so often! I have a hard time saying no, and Greg has gently, lovingly helped me weigh out decisions, and do what is wisest for our family. I trust him and seek is opinion and counsel. I know he wants to see me use my gifts for the kingdom and for my joy and that blesses me immensely.

How do you answer this question? Please comment below!