Guard My Thumbs

Here’s a fun useless fact about me: I have teeny tiny hands. A friend in high school once called them “kitten paws.” Sometime around puberty, my hands simply stopped growing, locking me into a size 4 ring finger forever. I think I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that I’ll never be able to palm a basketball. I think I’m going to be okay. 🤔

There’s only one not so teeny tiny facet of my hands: my thumbs. They’ve basically ruined any chance of hand modeling for me. They’re very short and very fat. When I was little, my dad encouraged me to stop chewing my nails, specifically that finger, so that my thumbs would look more proportionate to the rest of my hand. It didn’t work. I have this theory that because I sucked my thumb as a kid, I have permanently stunted their growth. They really are the pimple on the clean face that is my hand.

Good news is that it appears to not be genetic. *Peter breathes a sigh of relief*

There are perks to having dumb thumbs. My thumbs have become a scapegoat for me. Any physical task that I’m not good at, I blame on my misshapen stubs. My husband thinks it’s a lame excuse for ineptitude when I play video games with him, and he’s not wrong. But it comes in handy when autocorrect fails me in a text.

The thumb is an important part of the body. Without them, I couldn’t hold or grip things easily. I wouldn’t be able to pick things up or write correctly. And I wouldn’t be able to hitchhike either, which would obviously be devastating. 😂 No matter how odd it looks, the thumb is really incredibly useful.

With today’s technology, the thumb has a whole new super power: the ability to communicate. Most people use their thumbs to text, send emails, scroll, click links, like pictures & comment on social media. From the glowing face of a cell phone screen, our thumbs are showing us what is in our hearts.

The Bible talks often about the power of a different small member of the body, the tongue. With the tongue, we can both encourage others and tear them down. The cell phone has made the thumb the tongue’s new best friend.

And this new best friend has an even stronger set of skills. With the thumb we can “say” what we are thinking with anonymity. There are words we feel comfortable typing that we would never dare speak. Yet, the thumb lacks the tone and inflections of the tongue, so misinterpretation is rampant. Plus, the thumb is an avid record keeper (a double edged sword), and what is put out there can be tracked down even if the delete button has been pushed. If the tongue is a small spark that sets a forest on fire, then the thumb is a blow torch that wipes out an entire National Park.

We need to hold our thumbs accountable. What we speak is what is in our hearts (Luke 6:45), and the same goes for typing. You can learn a lot about what a person values by the links they click, the pictures they like, and the comments that they make. We “say” so much more than we think we “say” with our thumbs.

As believers, we want what we say and do to reflect WHO is in us. We live so often without conviction as we post and sometimes troll, even in His name. That is not how Jesus designed Biblical confrontation. Social media is almost NEVER the right space to have that kind of conversation. We need to learn to guard our thumbs.

We also need to learn to do the hard work of self evaluation before posting or texting. We can start by applying Ephesians 4:29 to the social media interactions we have. Is what I’m about to post wholesome? Is it helpful? Is it needed in this moment? Does it build others up? Is it gracious? If not, it’s better to put the thumbs to rest before they do damage.

Or better yet, we can redeem the thumbs. We can use them to send encouraging text messages to people who are hurting. We can use them to post photo captions that praise a good God. We can use them to forward email chains that build…nope…I take that one back. You should NEVER forward email chains. 😋

Whatever size or shape your thumbs happen to be (and I sincerely hope they’re not like mine 😉), let’s raise them up high for what is good, true, kind, encouraging and gracious. And may we twiddle thumbs before we post anything less. 👍🏼

When Motherhood is Not a Walk in the Park

It all started with a brilliant idea. With all this lovely spring weather we’ve been having, I decided to load up the wagon and schlep my trio and our lunch one block to the park for a picnic. It would be fun. It would be outside. Best of all, it would allow for the three of them to run out some energy before nap time.

I was feeling confident. I was feeling great. My husband has been out of town for almost 10 days. Unlike other trips in the past, I have actually maintained my sanity. This trip, we’ve been thriving. We’ve gone to the library and shopping and have gone to several different local parks, and I’ve done it all without Daddy. The kids have been pretty well behaved; and blessing of all blessings, the baby has been sleeping. I was feeling positive. I was killing this single mom gig.

I should’ve known we were doomed when after I had instructed the kids to grab their shoes, Peter emerged in flip flops and socks, the bad omen of footwear. I began to explain that there is ALWAYS a better choice to be made, but his defensive look convinced me to choose my battles. I continued packing our food and let his fashion faux pas slide out of my kitchen.  It wasn’t 10 seconds later that he let out a scream at the screechiest of decibels from the laundry room. Leanor had slammed the garage door on his foot, gouging a small chunk of skin off the tip of his big toe.

Lesson Learned: Always pick the battle involving footwear.

Anyone who knows Peter knows that he loves big and feels big. Bless his heart, he has the mental and physical toughness of a bunny rabbit.  I know this, because it sounded like he was being ripped limb from limb in the other room. I quickly assessed the damage and grabbed some bandaids from the hall closet. Bad decision, because there’s only one thing that is worse than having blood on your foot and that would be covering that blood with a bandaid. According to Peter, that is a crime against humanity.

Once he was properly bandaged (much to his chagrin), I thought he would calm down. I encouraged him to be brave and explained that his wound was not a mortal one. It fell on deaf ears. He howled over and over again, “I’m not tough! I’m not tough!” as if at that point I had any doubts. Clearly, I had underestimated his ability to dramatize. He cried and screamed for 15 minutes; and before we had even left the garage, I had played the roles of both comforter and life threatener. We were off to a great start.

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Fortunately, we were able to get to the park without any more difficulties. I spread the blanket, and we unwrapped our sandwiches. It was like I hoped it would be. The kids ate their lunch happily, interrupted only a few times with complaints from Peter’s foot. They were pleasantly surprised that peanut butter and jelly could be so delicious and expressed gratitude over their fortuitous meal. To finish, they chose apples over granola bars and other snacks I had brought. Is this real life? When it was time to run across the field to the playground, they hopped up and took off with glee. Even Peter ran without inhibition…or a limp…or tears. Things were looking up, and I busied myself with packing the wagon to follow them.

Then I saw Peter make a hard U-turn and come racing back towards me. Bracing myself for a renewal of his foot woes, I began walking towards him, and heard one of the last things you want to hear as a mother in a public place.

“Moooooooooom! Leanor peed!”

Nothing puts a pep in your step quite like your urine covered child. I broke into a run towards the playground. About halfway across the field, I saw her. She was coming down the hill from the slide, her face full of smiles, her pants trapped at her ankles. She attempted to run towards me but immediately fell flat to the turf. Not to be discouraged, she picked herself up and tried running again. More grass tasting. When I got to her, she stated the obvious, “Mom, I’m wet.”

Lesson Learned: Always bring a change of clothes. Always.

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Naturally, I was laughing so hard that tears were coming down my face. What a hilarious spectacle we were making of ourselves! By the time I had wrangled the three kids to the wagon, one was crying over the toe again, and the other was starting to chafe. When I thought it couldn’t get worse, Josie face planted out of the wagon and onto the pavement. Three for three. Game over.

Lesson Learned: It’s three against one. Eventually, you lose. The odds are in their favor.

We arrived home bedraggled, wet and wounded. All my confidence had melted away and drowned in a puddle of foot blood and urine. Motherhood, as always, had me appropriately humbled. I bathed, and cuddled, and re-bandaged my motley crew.

That finished, I’m happy to say that all is again right in the world. No more blood. No more pee. No more crying.

And only a couple more days until Daddy gets home. Praise the Good Lord!

Choosing a Word for 2019

I follow a lot of Christian influencers on Instagram, and many of them pick a Word of the Year. Instead of making a bunch of resolutions that they probably can’t keep, they pick a foundational word that they want to drive their year. I’ve never done it before this year; but over the last couple of months, I’ve felt like the Lord has been just tapping on my heart with a very simple word over and over again.

My word for this 2019 is THANKFUL. In October, I finished reading “Daring Greatly” which had a small section that talked about the power of thankfulness. Then, in November, I challenged myself to write down a few things I was thankful for every day. And I didn’t stop at the end of the month. I began to notice how thankfulness has the ability to:

  • change my perspective
  • keep me from discontentment
  • calm an anxious moment
  • remind me of the blessings in my life
  • turn my heart to WHO I should be thankful to

We always have a choice in every difficult circumstance to get frustrated and complain or to choose to be thankful. And the Bible points us to thankfulness as an imperative for every day life. “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). It’s as if God knew that we would forget to thank Him.

Then last night at 3AM, I got to put my Word to the test, when sweet teething Jo woke up and stayed up for hours weeping over her swollen gums. This was after a long day of intense clinginess; I had a Josie sized polyp attached to my hip all day long. And that was after a few very similar nights of her being up in the night multiple times.

I had a moment in the madness of the night where I thought, “I can’t keep doing this! I’m exhausted. Is this freaking kid ever going to sleep? I’m starting to feel a little crazy.” And truly, I am running on fumes. Peter was a bad sleeper, but with him I could catch up during the day if I needed to. He was my only baby. I have three now. There is no catching up; there’s only keeping up.

Then I thought, I have a healthy 18 month old. I have an 18 month old who really really loves me, sometimes only me. And right now she needs me. And in that moment, thankfulness melted away the feelings of anxiousness, weariness, and (if I’m honest) resentment. I have a reason to be thankful in sleeplessness; the cause of my sleeplessness is a beautiful baby girl. She’s worth it!

In the light of day, there are a dozen other reasons to be thankful. For my husband, who finally got her down after several failed attempts on my part. For a comfortable bed to collapse into after being awake in the night. For the sweet nectar of coffee in the morning. For slow mornings with cartoons for the kids and time with Jesus for me. For family, that always steps in when I’m feeling drained. All of these things are gifts from God and reasons to be thankful! I just tend to be too caught up with the frustrations to notice the joys.

So to those who are choosing a word this year: let’s be in this together! I’ve noticed that whenever I focus on a particular area where I need growth, that it becomes the exact area where I get attacked the most. But God is with me, with us. He supplies what we need to do the work He has for us. He will be the one to accomplish growth in our lives in 2019. More glory to Him when He does!

I’m a Bad Mom: Fact or Feeling?

I’ve always been a pretty confident person, probably to a fault. Once I make a decision, I usually don’t second guess myself. But motherhood has socked that self assuredness right out of me. As a mom, I put in a lot of work, and the results are hardly ever immediate. That’s not to mention the complete lack of certainty and control. Motherhood is a long game with no guarantees.

Especially on the hard weeks where the kids are struggling, I can begin to doubt myself. I can feel like I’m not consistent enough or intentional enough. I can feel like I’m constantly just reacting to their bad behaviors. On the hard weeks, I just feel weary with self doubt. Am I even doing this right?

The problem for me is determining whether this weariness that I’m feeling is guilt or conviction. Guilt is not currency in the kingdom of grace. I have been bought by the blood of a perfect Savior. He took my guilt, so I never have to feel it again…Especially when the guilt I feel is a direct result of comparison to other moms and perfectly manicured social media accounts.

There is conviction though. As much as I try, I will never be the perfect parent. I fail ALL the time. So those nagging feelings might be the prodding of the Holy Spirit, identifying areas of my parenting where I need growth.

My struggle is that sometimes I can’t tell what is self imposed guilt and what is conviction from the Holy Spirit. It’s all feeling, and I know my feelings are fickle carriers of truth. But my feelings also don’t exist in a vacuum. So how can I tell the difference between fact and feeling when I just can’t tell the difference?

I need to run to Jesus.

When I don’t know, He does. When I’m doubting myself as a mom and the feelings of failure start to wear me out, He understands. After all, He has experience with handling sinful kids.

God is completely capable of distinguishing the difference between unhealthy patterns and unhealthy comparisons. If it’s an unhealthy pattern, I know that He is always faithful to convict me when I’m reacting sinfully, being selfish with my time, or slacking off in consistent discipline. If it’s an unhealthy comparison, He also is always faithful to remind me that my motherhood should all be for Him, not governed by the approval or disapproval of other moms. I just need to run to Him and trust that He is working on me even when I feel like I’m failing.

God is in the long game of parenting too. My kids are really His kids, that He carefully created and gifted to me to raise. He cared for them before I knew their names and loves them more than I ever could. And He loves me too. I’m not a perfect parent, but if I stay close to Him, He will make me into the mom I need to be.

He who began the good work is always faithful to complete it. And that’s a fact.

Giving Thanks When the Holidays are Hard

The holidays are here! I’m unashamedly one of those people who had her Christmas tree set up the first week of November with the holiday jingles on full blast 24/7. My thought is that if I’m going to decorate, I need to have it up for longer than a month to be worth the effort. My kids are freaking out about it, and by “freaking out,” I mean pulling ornaments off the tree and asking me every morning if it’s Christmas yet. This is all in stark contrast to my husband, who is the silent sufferer of my holiday spirit. I’m going to win my Scrooge over yet. I believe in Christmas miracles.

Over the past few months leading up to this holiday jubilee, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my life would change if I cultivated thankfulness in my heart with more consistency. As we hit the month of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d challenge myself to think of things I’m thankful for each day of November. I’ve been keeping a journal, writing them down, and occasionally posting them on my Instagram.

Hello, Thankful Living!

Nope. The problem is that I find it so much easier to be thankful when life is going the way I want it to. While I’m not about to have a Melancholy Christmas or a Happy Complaintsgiving (haha), I have felt the weight of this past year as we roll into the holiday season. There certainly have been a lot of joys, but there also have been a lot of tough things about 2018. God calls us to be thankful in EVERYTHING. Honestly, I’m struggling to be thankful for the tough stuff. I really wish it would just go away!

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But it isn’t going away, and sometimes it never does. So, I’ve been trying to be proactive about processing that tension of gratitude and pain in my own heart. I want to be a truly grateful person, not embittered by my circumstances. Here are some reminders I’m clinging to this holiday season:

FEELINGS ARE EXTREMISTS.

When hard times hit, I can begin to become extreme, painting my circumstances with broad strokes of doom & gloom. Though it may feel all bad, I must remember that my emotions are fickle guides to life. In crisis, it is a given that I will feel pain, and I shouldn’t suppress or bury it. But to be thankful in the midst of it, I have to intentionally look for ways that good can come from or that good is in the crisis. In the deepest grief, this may seem impossible, but it’s worth the fight. It means feeling what I feel, but also intentionally looking for grace from God in the midst of it.

I’ve found that processing my pain with close friends and family members is so beneficial, because they may not have the same emotional connection to the hurt that I do. They help me process it in a healthy way, pointing out areas of gratitude that I may have missed.

THANKFULNESS IS A MEMORY BUSINESS. 

In crisis, I can become tunnel visioned. It’s hard to see anything but the present painful circumstances and a million possible (often negative) outcomes in the future. I can overthink the thrill of hope out of life. One way to restore a dwindling hope is to look back with thankfulness. I’ve lived long enough to know that the current crisis isn’t the only crisis. There are many seasons of problems, pain, discomfort, and sorrow. Looking back in times of struggle allows me to see how pain and grief are finite periods of time. Even with deep grief, time and distance are emotional balms if not healers. By looking back, I also can celebrate the joys that can come out of seasons of hurt. Without hardship, I could not feel the seasons of joy with such gratitude; contrast elevates thankfulness.

Sometimes, I go through old journals or photo books to remind me of what I was thinking and processing during certain periods of my life. It’s a great way to look back and see how far I’ve come. I still have a long ways to go, but to see the tiny steps towards maturity over time reminds me that God is not done with me yet. And I’m so thankful for that.

THANKFULNESS IS A DISCIPLINE. 

As a parent, I’m often astounded at the little things that kids just don’t know. If I want them to eat a certain way, I have to train them how to do it. If I want them to be polite, I have to constantly remind them of their manners. If I don’t want them to eat their snot, I have to correct it every time I see it. It’s all a part of developing as a person. By correction and repetition, we learn; it becomes a discipline. If we read Scripture, we are commanded over and over to be thankful. The Psalms are full of imperatives, “Give thanks to the Lord” (Psalm 136). It’s as if the authors knew that like little kids we are prone to forgetfulness. When the monotony of sustained pain threatens to steal my hope, I have to remember that thankfulness is not natural. I have to train my heart to turn away from what is natural (self-pity, complaining, and cynicism) and towards gratitude.

Right now, I’m trying to focus my short term memory on the discipline of gratitude. Repetition creates rhythm. This is where the journal becomes helpful. It helps me think back over my day and look for opportunities for thankfulness in the mundane. If I know I’m going to have to write it down later, I become hyper aware that I can and should view my daily circumstances through the lens of thankfulness.

IF NOTHING ELSE IS GOOD, GOD IS. THAT NEVER CHANGES.

The struggle of pain is that it presents itself in so many ways. There is no road map to grief; it is triggered at random times and can often blindside us. Around the holidays, it feels like the triggers are extra sensitive and as plentiful as bad egg nog.  With all of the unknowns, there is one truth that is never changing, always constant and certain: God is with me & He is good. It’s easy to wonder where God is when it all goes downhill; but He’s there, and He’s interceding for me when the grief is so overwhelming that I have no words to pray. (Romans 8:26).  This is who God is for all of eternity. Because of this faithful love, He will bring to completion the work He is doing in me, in spite of the brokenness and pain I experience.

I don’t know what you’re experiencing right now. It may be such a challenge this holiday season to be thankful, but we serve a King who is preparing a future that is dazzlingly pain free. If nothing else, there is future hope, beyond the confines of earthly pain. It’s going to be glorious. Just like the old Christmas carol reminds us, we can always look forward with thanksgiving.

In his name, all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we.

Let all within us, praise His holy name!

How God Dares Greatly

A friend told me I had to read this book; and as she explained the premise, I began to realize how right she was. It’s called Daring Greatly, and it deals primarily with an unsettling subject, vulnerability.

I struggle with vulnerability. It feels like weakness to be that transparent. I want people to see me living my life with strength, resilience, and (if I’m honest) perfection. I want to keep people far enough away from the cracks in the facade. Being vulnerable means letting others into my brokenness, opening myself up to judgment and potential pain.  Hiding feels easier and safer.

The thesis of the book is that vulnerability is actually strength. We all must experience the risk and uncertainty of being human, so, as the author writes,

Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.

I certainly don’t want to be disconnected. I want to have rich relationships, where the reward of knowing and being known far outweighs the risk that it takes to get there. I don’t want to look back and regret the missed opportunities where I let fear beat me back from engaging in relationships in a deeper way.

This got me thinking. If vulnerability is as necessary for relationships as this book posits, then it should follow that the One who created relationships must be vulnerable too. God must be vulnerable.

That idea was a little disconcerting. How can a completely perfect God be vulnerable? He has no faults. How can an all powerful God be vulnerable? He has no weaknesses. How does an all knowing God be vulnerable? He is never surprised by anything.

Then I remembered Jesus, holy God robed in humanity. He took on the weaknesses of human flesh. He tired out; He got hungry; He was tempted as we are. When Jesus went to the cross, He was declaring that the highest risk of vulnerability, human death, was worth it to have intimacy again with humanity. Where else is humanity more vulnerable than at the point of death? Everything else is superfluous; the achievements, failures, emotions, and memories that construct a life are all flatlined in that final wisp of a breath.

The cross is the most vulnerable moment in history. At Calvary, Christ was fully engaged; He knew that this was what He had come to do. In the most courageous act of vulnerability, He died, so that fear could die. We would never have to be disconnected from Him again. The veil was torn. We have access forever to a fully open and engaged God, who wants nothing more than for us to KNOW HIM! We don’t have to hide anymore. We don’t have to hold onto shame. God dared greater than anyone else, so we could be free to dare greatly too.

Love That Won’t Leave

I knew we were going to have issues the minute I put her in the SAMS Club cart. She wanted to walk. I wanted to shop without her running away, touching everything and breaking things. One of us was going to be disappointed, and it wasn’t going to be me.

She handled it the way two year olds know how to handle things, a lot of crying, whining and yelling. I pushed the cart and precious cargo ahead into the cool building anyways. We had a short list, and she knows that she doesn’t get what she wants when she acts this way.

Unfortunately, it began to escalate. Josie looked confused. Peter had his fingers in his ears. That’s how you know it’s bad. We hadn’t even hit the apple sauce aisle, and I knew Leanor wasn’t going to calm down. I pulled the cart over and bent over to have one of those “Come-to-Jesus” kind of conversations with her. I was handling it.

Then he said it. I know he meant it as a joke, an offhanded remark as he and his wife rolled past us. But in the heat of the moment, I didn’t even know what to say. I just smiled slightly and returned my attention to my agitated child. It wasn’t until later that I could fully process the older gentleman’s comment.

He said, “Betcha wish you’d only had two.”

I’m so glad my little girl is too young to understand what he was saying. The last thing I want her to feel from me is that her behavior has any influence on how I feel about her existence. Even on her worst days where I’m counting down the minutes until bed time, I recognize that my daughter is one of God’s sweetest gifts in my life. Just thinking about a life without Leanor makes me want to curl up and cry.

Even in an untimely joke, we can see an underlying worldview. We live in a culture where conditional love is the norm. Even in relationships where love is supposed to be forever, we reserve an escape route if the other person isn’t doing what they’re supposed to do. Marriage covenants are broken because of “unreconcilable differences.” Parents and children despise one another because of unmet expectations. Friendships are cut off without any effort to repair damage. Sin corrupts love, even the best love we can muster.

I’m so glad God’s love isn’t like that. His love does not discriminate, waver or leave. It just exists permanently, a love so constant we can’t fully understand it. His love doesn’t depend on how hard we work, how many mistakes we make, how many victories we celebrate. It depends on His own perfect holiness.

It depends on the sacrifice He made of His Son. Sometimes we expect Him to dump us when we blow it. We expect Him to get annoyed when we make a scene, like He’s a grumpy man in a grocery store. We say to God, “Betcha wish You didn’t give up your only kid for this.”

If we ever have felt this way, we only have to turn to Romans 5 to find God’s response. Paul echoes how ludicrous it is from a human perspective that Jesus would die for sinners:

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. (v. 7)

and then the best “but” in all of history:

BUT God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (v. 8)

It doesn’t matter what it is: a selfish meltdown in SAMS Club or the darkest evil deed we can fathom. He still loved us enough to sacrifice His Son. We would never want to give up our children for anything or anyone. He does what we cannot comprehend doing because of love. May it always astound us that this kind of love exists and is ours for the asking!