Redeem the Screen

Have you noticed that as a general rule our culture really doesn’t like limits? You don’t have to go farther than your phone screen to see a wide range of political opinions on the subject of limits to one’s body, ranging from abortion, to vaccines, even use of masks during a pandemic. 🤦🏻‍♀️ And that’s just limits to our bodies! Right or wrong, we just don’t like limitations.

But God’s system for our lives tells us that we have limitations. Our most foundational limitation is that we cannot obtain perfection and need a Savior. This primary soul limitation is a framework for why we struggle so much with limits that are imposed on us.

But we have other limitations too: There is day and night, and we cannot thrive unless we rest during one of those periods. We are limited physically in that we can’t live forever…in this body anyways. This is a fact that I am becoming more aware of with every passing year. These I would call our natural limitations. They come by simply being human and will not end until we are out of these bodies. When we recognize and live within our natural limitations, we can actually flourish. When we don’t, we get ourselves into spiritual, emotional, and even physical trouble.

God has also given us explicit limitations. These He has written down in His Word. God is not a cosmic killjoy. He wants us to enjoy the beauty and wonder of the World He created. But He was also intentional in His design. He created relationships and sex and the church to function within certain limits for His glory and our good. Pleasure is good! But any pleasure that is not found in Christ alone must have boundaries, so it does not take His place in our affections.

That being said, I’ve noticed a new wave in Christianity that when I think about it is really not that new at all. We can trace it back even to Greek philosophy. The Stoics said that the rational self was the highest good. Anything experienced in the flesh should be restricted. In Christianity today, there is this tendency to adopt a Stoic’s mindset when we face our culture, adding our own explicit limitations for our flesh that God never laid out for us in Scripture.

The one that has bothered me the most recently is how believers have responded to new technologies. I think technology has often been demonized in Christian circles. But is there anything inherently wrong with a television or a smart phone? No! They are amoral; it is how we use them that can be problematic.

These days, so many in the Christian community have something to say about setting limits on phone usage and screen time. And I wouldn’t necessarily say that they are wrong! We do flourish when we live within limits. We become addicts and consumers without boundaries. I think we have seen that screens in recent years have taken a dramatic toll on us as a society, specifically on our collective mental health.

But I think it is important to note that the Bible does not talk explicitly about these new technologies, so any application of Scripture to this real word issue is extrapolated. It’s good and right to apply the Word of God to our modern day problems, but we have to be careful of applying ourselves straight into legalism.

We are by nature lawmakers. It’s a human problem. We make our healthy limits and boundaries into laws. If we then inevitably fail to stay within our self imposed guidelines, we become overrun with guilt. That is what law does; it points to where we fail.

We also tend to make our personal boundaries into laws for others. If another family allows their children more TV than we do, then we are the better family. If someone even looks at their phone before “quiet time with God” then they are less spiritual.

So let’s be very clear. Not having a television does not make anybody more spiritual. Taking social media breaks does make one closer to God. The screens are not the problem. What God really cares about and has always cared about is our hearts. When we are consuming from screens, the question we should be asking is not “Is this too much?” but “Why am I consuming and how is my heart?” This question, posed with open hands before God, trusting that His Spirit will guide us, will help us to know where our personal limit should be. And it will also guide us to where we can partake with freedom and joy.

The bottom line is this: I am a naturally limited human being in that I am a sinner, and I’m not God. I also have limits that God has explicitly set for me in Scripture. Outside of that, it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict me to know where my limits should be, and this conviction is deeply personal. Those limits are not law to me. They are subject to change based on the Spirit’s lead in my life in different seasons. They also cannot be law for others.

I have struggled often with self imposed guilt of how much screen time is too much, specifically for my children. It’s not coming from the Bible. It’s coming from social media and comparisons to others. I’ve noticed that screen time moderation for children has two extremes. There is one camp that says absolutely no screens ever ever ever before children reach a certain (somewhat arbitrary) age, and you’re a bad mom if you give out a screen too early. Then you have another camp that says that there should be absolutely no limit. If the house needs cleaning, turn on the TV. If the child is too unruly, hand over an iPad. You’re a good mom no matter how much screen time they have. One side is trying to be militant, and the other side is trying to mute.

I’m still trying to figure out where I fall on this spectrum, where to embrace freedom and where to embrace limits. In this figuring it out process, I’m trying to train my kids to actually think about these things with me.

On one hand, screens are not going away. I don’t want my kids to be so devoid of screens that when they are allowed to have them they have no idea how to impulse control. And impulse control is a real thing. I am a millennial which means that I am a first generation smart phone user. I’m still trying to figure out how to control my phone screen as opposed to having it control me. I hope that training my kids with technology as they are growing will equip them to self monitor and set their own healthy limits as an adult.

On the other hand, I also don’t want to resort to screens for containment and avoidance of deeper problems. I don’t want to reach for a remote anytime I’m feeling overwhelmed. I don’t want to hand over a tablet to an angry toddler instead of dealing with their heart. When I do that, I’m using technology as a bandaid that is simply covering over the underlying problem.

Instead, I want to ENJOY technology WITH my kids. I have found that when I do that there is a camaraderie that is built through shared experience. We can laugh together watching a funny movie. We can strategize together playing a video game. We can capture joyful smiles with silly filters on our phones. It doesn’t have to be all bad. We can redeem the screen, and we don’t have to feel guilty about it. No one gets to tell you what is best for you and your family. But if we are wise, we will put our screens down long enough to hear the Holy Spirit’s direction on this, to live within the conviction of His limits, to lean into grace when we inevitably make mistakes, and to embrace freedom with our families.

Church is Hard Right Now & That’s Ok

Today, church was pretty much a disaster. It started out fine. I got the kids through their online Sunday School lessons without any problems. Then I sat down to watch the sermon in peace with my coffee and in my pajamas (the single pro of church online). And you guessed it: all hell broke loose.

The first issue I encountered was that I couldn’t get my phone to stream to the television. It kept jumping from my phone to the TV screen and back again without warning. By the time I gave up on my shoddy internet connection and was watching on my phone, I had completely missed the greeting.

Then I had some problems with my fellow church attendees. During worship, my girls locked themselves in the bathroom, stripped off all of their clothes, and filled the sink with soapy bubbles. I banged on the door until they let me in, and by the time I cleaned up their makeshift baptismal mess, the songs were pretty much over.

The sermon started, and the kids started to fight…loudly. And then the baby began crying to be fed. While I fed her, another kid decided to empty out the junk drawer everywhere. And then, during the closing, one of the girls spoke some gibberish to Alexa and somehow conjured a very loud disco pop song that woke up the baby. Between internet problems, messes, and fights, I think I got about a quarter of the service, and I was frustrated. Not every week is like this, but we’ve been in quarantine for about a hundred Sunday’s now. It’s bound to happen once or thrice. 😂 I’m sure I’m painting a scene that is somewhat familiar to you.

Let’s face it. No one expected to have to do church during a pandemic this year. Every church across the world has had to make quick adjustments to help their flocks; and thanks to technology, we’ve all made it work. But church at home is not easy. There’s no nursery. There are no Sunday School teachers. There’s no hot coffee handed to you by smiling unmasked greeters. It’s just you, managing the kids while battling technology to get to worship. And for pastor’s families, Mom runs the show at home alone on Sunday mornings.

So for all those parents who are exhausted like me on Sunday mornings and are tempted to just forgo the streaming it takes to be at church, please see this: KEEP SHOWING UP! It’s not ideal. You may miss most of the service due to interruptions, but your kids are watching. They’re watching you loading their Sunday School lessons. They’re watching you dance around in your pajamas to the worship songs. They’re watching you open your Bible on the couch. They’re hearing you apologize when nothing goes right, and you lose your cool.

Even more than all that, I hope you remember that you’re not alone. Not only are you joined globally by every Christian mother trying to do her best on a Sunday morning, but you also have an ever faithful Helper with you. He is right beside you as you fill the communion (or not) juice cups during the middle of worship. He hears your whispered prayers of “Help!” when the fighting interrupts the sermon. He sees the messes, the interruptions, and the temper tantrums (from your kids and you), and He still loves you. After all, He did come to save His Church, and that includes every disaster of a living room where the Church happens to be meeting these days. He is working even there! Whatever your particular brand of Sunday morning chaos is, He will be faithful to use your simple acts of service in the middle of church in your life and in the lives of your kids.

We can only hope that 20 years from now when our kids are grown and social distancing is (God, please!) verbiage of the past, they will remember that their mom fired up the devices every Sunday so that they could meet with Jesus. They’ll remember that she desired presence over perfection, and that this concept was applied with extra scoops of grace even in a pandemic. Maybe it’ll also remind them to make the choice to show up and meet with God’s people, even when it’s hard.

Trusting God in the Dumpster Fire Year of 2020

I have been thinking a lot recently about where I was in December of 2019. It’s hard to even believe all the transitions our family has been through in the last 7 months. Big ones, small ones, happy ones, sad ones. This year has read like a Dr. Seuss book for me, completely filled with contrasts and nonsense. (Holy Murder Hornets! Is this even real life?) And we still have half a year to go! 😱

A bright spot in this season of craziness has been the discipleship group I’ve been a part of with five of THE coolest high school girls. Their youthful exuberance for Jesus and life is a sweet reminder to not take myself too seriously.

This week, our girl’s group is studying TRUST. One of the questions today was, “What are you uncertain about?” A timely query, for sure.

The answer, obviously, is A LOT. My husband and I have been talking recently about what it means to be open to God’s leading in our lives in the midst of this dumpster fire of a year. With all the massive transitions we’ve already experienced, I told Jame that I really just wanted to tell God, “I’m willing to do what you want, but leave me alone for the next six months to a year. Because right now, I’m a little overwhelmed.”

That’s not true trust though. Faith is not dependent on what I can tangibly see and plan out on my calendar. It is not reserved for only stable seasons. And having faith isn’t something you wait around for until you’re strong enough to handle it. It is the opposite of all of that.

Nothing reminds me more of this truth than worship. I truly believe that worship is actually a form of trust. When we sing our hearts out to God, we are saying, “I believe that You exist, God, even when I can’t actually see You, and I’m willing to proclaim it in this vulnerable and beautiful way.” Because of that, I love to blast Christian music in my house while I’m working. Normally, it’s just me singing rhythmic truth to my own heart, but every once and a while a song will stick with my children too. The house is then filled with the delightful sound of uninhibited and innocent voices. It often brings tears to my eyes to hear it.

Recently, the lyrics that my kids have singing, that have been reverberating off the walls of my house and my heart, are these:

Even when I don’t see it, You’re working.

Even when I can’t feel it, You’re working.

You never stop, You never stop working.

“Waymaker”, Sinach

Their childlike dependence cuts through the noise of politics, hate, polarizing social media, and even masks. They portray what I aspire to be: a child blissfully engaged with truth proclaimed, undeterred from worshipping by the crisis around them.

Whether we like it or not, the back half of 2020 is enroute, and we have no idea of what it will hold. But here is our hope and trust: while we may feel uncertain about what is ahead and quite certain of our own limits, we can be absolutely, positively certain of Him. He is with us in this. He has proven Himself so many times in the past. Through every uncertainty, He is working. Even if we don’t see it or feel it. We can trust Him for our future. And we can worship.

Mom Squad: Two Ways We Get It Wrong

Every mom needs a mom squad. Our husbands leave for work, and we have 8 hours or more. Alone. With kids. 😅 It can be exhausting. It can feel like our brain cells are slowly dying, suffocated by baby talk and repeating simple instructions over and over again. Finding a good group of friends in that same stage is so important.

I’ve never been more aware of my own need in this area than now. For the past six years, I’ve had the blessing of having a very rich friendship. This girl has been my neighbor, my fellow event planner, my cookie & frothed chai supplier, my “sister from another mister” as the cool kids say. And she’s moving across the country in a few days.

It’s fine. I’m fine. *famous last words*

“Win some. Lose a lot.” – Emily Bower

I know that we will continue our friendship at a distance, but I also know that friendships change with time and circumstances. When Emily leaves, the most comfortable local friendship I have will be pulling out with the moving truck. I’m really really going to miss her.

God has a way of mixing things up when I get comfortable. I will need to begin to do the hard work of growing my friendships deeper where I am locally. It’s something that has me feeling some trepidation and anticipation. It can be hard to put yourself out there. But I know that God has been faithful in the past and will bring good local friendships with time.

I also know that to have good friends, it’s important to be a good friend. Friendship is not a passive relationship. It takes time and cultivation, and I’ve realized that I have some tendencies that I need to be aware of that can hinder me from developing rich Christ-centered friendships.

COMPARING: I want to acknowledge this up front. It is almost impossible not to compare. If you’re going to talk about your kids with your friends, you are naturally going to notice differences in practice. Every parent is different, and every parent tailors their parenting uniquely to the needs of their own children. Also, every parent is sinful and will not parent well on any given day. Seeing differences in parenting style and parenting struggle is not in itself sinful. It’s the heart issues that comparison leads to that are.

First, comparison often leads to guilt. We see our mom friend disciplining her toddler calmly with success or having a robust devotional time with her kids or keeping her home organized. It could be anything, and the accuser always knows the exact place where he thinks we should feel mom guilt. It’s the area where we feel weakest and where others are thriving.

A second sin that comparison leads to is pride. There is always a mom to be found whose kids are far more unruly than our own, whose home is a little messier, and who has a shorter temper. Pride is so subtle, but if we’ve ever thought “At least I don’t do that with my kids,” our ego is involved.

Both of these responses are just wrong. Guilt pushes us to either self improvement or self loathing. Pride pushes us to self glorification. The gospel says something completely opposite; it’s not about “self” at all. Our successful and unsuccessful mom friends are not the standard; God is. It’s about Him! And His standard is perfection. We know (and so does God) that we can’t be perfect. That is why Jesus had to die. His perfection covers our imperfections. So now, we can appreciate our succeeding friends without guilt. We can encourage our struggling friends without self congratulation. We can fail and move forward without loathing, because He bore that shame on a splintered cross. Thank you, Jesus!

COMMISERATING: C.S. Lewis once said, “Friendship is born at the moment when one man says to another ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” The beauty of having mom friends is that they get it. They speak the language of birth stories, breastfeeding, toddler tantrums, and school pick up lines. We are united in our shared experience of nurturing life, and we love to share our experiences and hear them echoed back to us.

Sometimes we want those echoes to be validations. When we lose our ever loving mind at the kids, we want the knowing nods and the pats on the back. We want to hear “it’s understandable” and “why do kids do that?”

The best kind of friends will care about our circumstances AND our character. They’re happy to listen to us vent, but they won’t just commiserate. They don’t let us wallow in our sin. They remind us of what is true and won’t validate us when we are clearly in the wrong.

To find the kind of friends who don’t compare or commiserate is hard. To be this kind of friend is even harder. But if we want to have the kind of relationships that encourage and push us to grow, we need to live that way too. We become this way by surrendering to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to transform us and to also bring good friends along for the journey.

Grace for the Postpartum Mom

We have a new baby! It’s surreal. For months, Mae was inside pressing deep into my ribs, and 4 short hours after being admitted she was snuggled on the opposite side of my ribs. We are a family of six now! I don’t know if it’s God’s grace or because it’s my 4th baby, but this postpartum time has been surprisingly easy, as much as it can be.

But it’s never really easy. You go through 10 months of slowly growing a human, your body claimed by another. And then in a traumatic physical event, you are thrust into a purgatory body. Your body is once again yours, but not fully and not really how you remember it. Your belly button is in the wrong place and still figuring out whether it is in or out. Your chest is swollen and burning. Your hairline is receding. Your body isn’t housing human life anymore, but it’s still sustaining it. It’s a weird place to be, caught in the in between. And that’s just the physical element!

Emotionally, it’s a roller coaster too. Normal routines feel heavier, weighted down by lack of sleep and swirling hormones. Everything feels slightly like a dream state. You don’t feel like you’re totally thriving or totally yourself, just slowly pushing through a fog. You can go into survival mode.

This postpartum journey is not as shocking as it was with my first, and I’m thankful for that. With Peter, I let the scary unknowns of first-time motherhood and the weird hormonal mind blur combine into a dark fog that took me about a year and a half for me to emerge from. The challenge with every subsequent pregnancy was to give myself enough grace to take it a day at a time, enough grace to self-evaluate where I was emotionally and to not be ashamed to admit to others when I needed help. Thankfully, the postpartum depression I experienced after Peter never reoccurred with the girls.

I’ve never really talked about my postpartum depression following Peter on this platform. It’s not because I’m embarrassed that I went on medication for 6 months to even me out, but mostly because I don’t love reliving that season. It was dark and heavy. I had never experienced anything like that before, and I hope I won’t again. I also felt like there was a stigma about taking medication for postpartum depression that I didn’t really have the emotional fortitude to argue against. I felt like people had a lot of opinions about how bad my relationship with God had to be if I had to resort to meds to “fix myself.”

This really isn’t about whether you take meds or do therapy or just push through the heaviness of the postpartum season. Like every birth story is unique, so is every 4th trimester. I just want to recognize that whether you have postpartum depression or not, this season is hard. It is difficult to feel like an alien in your own body. It is hard to not be operating at 100%, to know that there is a disparity between what you used to do easily and what you are able to do now. Having more kids to care for than just a newborn exacerbates that feeling. I know my kids are not getting a fully functioning mother right now. I hope they can’t count the deficits or resent the fraction of a mom they are getting.

Until the postpartum fog lifts, I am just taking in every moment step by step. One day at a time, I am moving forward, knowing that there is grace enough for each blurry moment. There is grace to fill the gap between my own (probably unrealistic) expectations of myself and the current reality. There is grace to believe that a lack of rhythm and routine in this relatively short season of our family life does not equate to failure. It just means I have more opportunities to surrender, to give my strange postpartum body to the Lord, to give my outlier of a postpartum brain to a God who sees me clearly.

Honestly, this really does apply to all of life. Whether you just had a baby or are processing a job loss or are overwhelmed by your workload or are feeling the pressure of parenting and marriage or singleness and loneliness, we all have grace that we need to press into. We aren’t given grace for tomorrow, just today, this moment. And this grace is from a God who knows the full story. He knows that we can’t handle all the pressures, so He asks us to simply lean into Him today. There is rest in relying on Someone who is not shocked by our brokenness, who sees our scars, and still loves us as we are.

Quarantine Power

I’ve been wanting to write for weeks now, but it’s been difficult to know what to say. I keep coming to the keyboard with thoughts swirling; and as soon as my fingers hit the keys, my brain is just still, completely without words. Maybe that’s what a pandemic does to the functioning adult mind. It makes it billow until it numbs to a stop, and words that could pour out of it just seem superfluous.

So instead of ruminating on the negatives of being in quarantine: the survivalist mentality, the personal inadequacies that surface under the pressure, the uncertainties of what is actually true in the media and when this mess will ever end…I just want to ruminate on what I know to be true:

God is really really powerful. And He cares about us.

I’ve been reading and studying the book of Colossians during these crazy days. It’s an interesting letter, because the author (Paul) had actually never met the recipient church. A buddy of his had started the church in Colossae, so Paul had only heard of their faith. For never having met these people, the way he writes his letter is deeply personal. The first chapter is brimming with his thanksgiving and personal prayers for this stranger church.

It is in this rich first chapter that I stumbled across a tiny little verse in Paul’s prayer that has become my quarantine foothold.

“being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance.”

Colossians 1:11-12a

In the very first sentence there’s 3 different “strong” words: “strengthened,” “power,” and “might.” There are actually 2 Greek words used here. One refers to God’s innate power. He is all powerful; that is His character. The other refers to his manifested power or His power at work.*

When we think of the power of God in the Bible, our minds tend to focus on the miraculous: the creation of the world, the parting of the Red Sea, the feeding of the 5000, the resurrection of Christ. What beautiful and grand displays of an Almighty God! He certainly does power with creative genius!

This verse says that the power that works the unbelievable spectacle, the unfathomable miracle, is the same power that produces endurance, patience, and joyful thanksgiving in the believer’s heart.

We may have given COVID-19 too much control. We’ve empowered a disease to grow in us great fear, selfish hoarding, complaining spirits, anger towards political powers, impatience with our loved ones in close proximity, or insensitivity to the hurting.

But COVID-19 is not the divine; it’s just a disease. It certainly has the power to kill, but we serve a God with infinite power, who defeated death. And He is still at work in this unprecedented crisis. The same Power that handcrafted the universe is what empowers us to endure job losses and uncertainty. The same Power that told the waters to stand up and let Israel through is what gives us strength to be patient until this emergency has passed. The same Power that raised Jesus out of that grave is what enables us to rejoice and give thanks in the chaos of a global pandemic.

Quarantine Activity: nesting with these crazy birds!

While endurance, patience, and joyful thanksgiving may not have the pizzazz of the miraculous, any mom will tell you that after 7368 days of quarantine any one of these traits feels like a miracle. 😂 I know that I need God’s power to produce these characteristics in my life. There have been so many days in this quarantine where my patience has been tested with my kids, where my joy has been stolen by headlines and curvy charts, and where my heart has longed for freedom instead of being thankful.

The beautiful gift of these verses is that we don’t have to search long and hard for this power. We have only to ask, like Paul did for the church in Colossae, for God to intervene. Not only does He have the power over every crisis, He has the power to transform our lives in the midst of this crisis. COVID-19 has nothing on our King!

* Source: Be Complete, by Warren Wiersbe, ©️1981

Grief & Birthday Balloons

“IT’S GONE!” I heard her scream out into the sunny air. I raced to where she stood in the back yard frantically pointing at the sky. By the time I realized what was happening, my freshly minted 4 year old daughter had melted down into heartbreaking sobs. You would’ve thought that the birthday balloon that slowly ascended into the air carried with it all possibility of future happiness. It had graced our home for all of 48 hours after her party before it (unfettered by the clip that had once tethered it) shook off the hold of gravity and left us behind in crisis.

The next 45 minutes, Leanor walked through the 5 stages of grief in rapid succession. This included her screaming angrily at me to fly up there after that balloon and bring it home. She didn’t seem to understand when I explained to her that my body is aerodynamically challenged (perhaps even more so now in its current baby laden state). The balloon was gone. The grief remained.

I was talking recently with a good friend about grief and how it is uniquely personal from one person to the next. Grief can even be completely different for the same exact person experiencing it in different seasons of their life. All I know is that the unifying characteristic seems to be its unpredictability and its ugliness.

The thing that baffles me most is why some people’s grief is so heavy that their faith curls up and dies in it. Then, for other people, their faith clings on even when it seems that it should crumble. What makes some people white knuckle and some people raise the white flag?

I wish I knew the answer.

The hardest part is knowing how to respond to someone who is struggling with deep doubt in the midst of grief. It’s easy to champion an “overcomer”; but we don’t often know what to do with a perceived “turncoat.”

I really struggle with this. It’s natural for me when someone is hurting to try to solve it, to offer a logical response. It’s so easy when they’re doubting or angry to get defensive. In general, I just find myself talking way too much, and I’m never really sure if I’m helping or making more of a mess of things. It’s so hard to sit quietly in the hurt with hurting; it costs more and takes longer. I just want to fix it!

Certainly, there is a time for truth telling, but the truth shouldn’t be offered at the expense of empathy. Grieving people need presence and grace over arguments and fixes. We do more harm than good when we go into attack mode with someone who is emotionally doubting the goodness of God. Perhaps the best tack when we are uncertain of what the wounded need is to default to quietly grieving with them, and trusting in God’s goodness when they can’t. He is present in their grief, even if they don’t want Him to be anymore.

I thought of all of this while I sat on the couch and held my sweet little girl while she cried. I wish that this was the hardest trial that Leanor would have to experience in life, but I know that if God gives her a long one she will experience much worse than a lost birthday balloon. I hope that she knows that whatever she goes through in her future, that I’ll try to be there for her, even if I don’t fully understand or agree with her response. I’ll try be there for her, clinging tightly to the goodness of God and praying that she does too.

New Mercies for Momma

I turn on the hallway light and slowly inch the door open. The room is dark and still. My eyes adjust to the shadows of the bedroom. I always try to check on the girls before I head to bed, mostly because I’m never sure their final chosen resting place for the night is actually IN a bed. They’ve been really favoring the floor recently.

But tonight they’re both curled up on their matching twin beds, breathing those deep sighs of blissful rest. Josie’s cheeks are flushed, and she’s doing those heavy puffs that are a snort away from snoring. But the one I really want to check on has her back to me. I sit quietly on the edge of her bed, and lean over her sleeping frame. Her long eyelashes flicker as I brush her bangs across her forehead. Leanor is out.

It’s normally a quick check, and I’m off to seek slumber in my own cozy bed. But tonight I linger. I linger and weep.

It’s just been one of those days. It’s not that it was really any harder than others, but some days just get to me. Some days, the small moments that I am supposed to savor seem infinitesimal against the tyranny of the grind. Some days, all my practiced patient responses run out, and I react. All the repressed frustration pours forth like the foam from a shaken can of soda. Some days, I just feel like a bad mom.

We all have “some days.” At least, I hope I’m not the only one. Maybe you’ve never quietly crept into your daughter’s room after the heat of battle to sit on the edge of her bed and cry.

But tonight, I do just that. I rub Leanor’s back and press her sticky fingers, and as my tears dampen her sheets, I whisper to God that I need Him: to help me understand her, to be a good mom to her, to love her well in spite of my weariness. I need Him to be there in the room with me, when motherhood feels heavy and a lot like failure.

And He is there. As I kiss her cheek and stand to go, He brings a favorite verse to mind:

Yet this I call to mind

and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:21-23

Tomorrow is a fresh 24 to hope in what does not fail. When I am weak and mess up, it isn’t the end. He always shows compassion and loves me in my brokenness; my failure can’t break His faithfulness.

I flick off the hallway light, and the shadows descend. But it’s brighter than it was before for me, because tomorrow is coming and with it new mercies. I can rest in that tonight.

Balance: A Well Meaning Way to Burnout

I love this time of year. Christmas is boxed up in the garage; house projects and cleaning are underway. There is just something wonderful about starting fresh. When that calendar page flips to January, Jame and I try to always mark out some time to reflect on our past year, pointing out the fingerprints of God’s faithfulness found all over the last 52 weeks. We also look ahead and share our dreams, the areas where we want to grow, and where we want to be individually and as a couple by the end of the next year. It’s a time of contemplation and anticipation and hope.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. The New Year is a hard reset for so many people, even more so this year with the beginning of a new decade. There are opportunities to start over any time during life, but something about a fresh 52 weeks motivates the western world to set new expectations for itself. We want to have a better balance between work and home life. We want to have a balanced diet and workout regimen. We want to be balanced in how we use social media or screen time. We want to balance our time, our money, our emotions, our friendships…everything. Balance is a tight rope that we string for ourselves, and we take bold steps across it when the clock strikes midnight on New Years Morning.

Balance does seem like a good idea. I am limited in my physical/emotional resources, and I do need to be careful with how I use them. But what I struggle with is that balance seems to depend entirely on me to find it and maintain it. Balance is all about control.

And frankly, I just can’t do it. The longer I live the more clear it has become to me just how little control I have over the circumstances of life. Hilariously, I am still so quick to think that if I can just calibrate the right symmetry between work and play that life will be fulfilling, and I won’t burn out! But balance is precarious. Just when I have it locked in, something in life happens to throw it off again. Then I’m back on the tight rope, feeling stressed about all the tension, feeling guilty about the faltering, and feeling powerless to really stabilize the wobbling well. Failing at balance often leads me to full spiral burnout.

What I need is not balance; it’s reliance.

Reliance is going to Someone other than myself for my resources and surrendering control of everything to Him. God knows that I am limited. He’s not surprised by inability to keep up with myself. In fact, nowhere in Scripture does it say that if I find the happy medium between work and rest that my life will be peaceful and fulfilling. God does say in His Word, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). My rest is not found in a perfectly balanced schedule or in outmaneuvering unexpected life circumstances. My rest is in a God who is outside my control, who has perfect control, and who offers Himself to me freely. So I’m cutting the tight rope this year and free falling into grace. He knows what is best; and if I stay close to Him, He’ll take me where I need to be.

What “Daisy Jones & the Six” Taught Me About Marriage

I read A LOT of fiction. Some might argue that this is unhealthy, and that nonfiction is the only place to go for a real challenge. “Fiction is for fun; nonfiction is for serious readers.” I actually have found that truly good fiction can end up being a more challenging and therefore a more rewarding read. Fiction forces the reader to become a detective. Instead of the author stating their opinions and worldview in the text as in nonfiction, the reader has to follow the clues in the narrative, pay attention to the dialogue, and study the characters’ motivations. Meaning is sometimes less obvious in fiction, but it is always well worth the search.

Recently I finished reading “Daisy Jones & the Six,” a popular novel that chronicles via oral history the rise and fall of a fictional one-hit-wonder band. Each member of the 70’s rock group shares their role in the band and how they each contributed to its ultimate dissolution. Without spoiling anything, one character’s arc leads her at the end of the book to share her thoughts about marriage. Here is what she said:

Maybe if I was of the younger generation, marriage would have been more attractive to me. I see the way a lot of younger marriages are these days, truly egalitarian, nobody serving anybody else. But that wasn’t the mold I saw.

There is something about the phrase “nobody serving anybody else” that has stuck with me since I finished this book a few months ago. What this character is positing is that equality and service within marriage cannot coexist. Each spouse must be free to serve their own needs or there is no equality. 

This is indeed what the world wants: full equality and full autonomy and full acceptance. Everyone desires to be free to be exactly who they are and do what they want with equal rights…and also to be fully known and loved in that state.

The problem is that two beings can’t really have complete and simultaneous equality, autonomy, and acceptance in a relationship without a cost. One partner’s full autonomy always costs the other partner something. If the two are seeking to serve their own needs simultaneously, it will always result in a growing separateness. 

It’s obvious then why the character in “Daisy Jones” thought that happiness in marriage is impossible. What this character misunderstands is that equality in marriage is not achieved by “nobody serving anybody else.”  It is achieved by BOTH partners equally striving to live in service to their counterpart. Two spouses are never more fully equal and emotionally intimate than when they are together striving to sacrifice for the other person. 

Perhaps equal parties serving equally seems impossible too. It doesn’t take living long to realize that people are selfish. Eventually one partner gets lazy. Certainly, marriages have too often been stifled or destroyed by one or both sinful spouses falling back into patterns of self-service. When one partner gives up on the struggle to serve the other, the ultimate result is abuse of power…and again, a growing separateness.

It IS impossible to do this perfectly. Good couples must lean into grace, understanding that their spouse will fail them again and again and vice versa. For a healthy couple, the only course of action when failure takes place is to communicate well and to keep right on looking for ways to serve. Giving up altogether when failure happens can never become a viable option.

Good Christian couples realize that they can’t just serve primarily because it will make their marriages happier.  They have to serve their spouses out of obedience to a God who has served far beyond what the world deserves. Christ served His own Bride unto death with absolute humility (Philippians 2:3-8).  The motivation for serving in marriage must always be for the greater love of a good and perfect God. Surely the Author of marriage and the Creator of souls knows how marriage works best: when service is done for His glory and then for the other’s good.