Walking Through Hard.

I can always tell when a blog post is churning. These threads float around in my head and I know when I sit down that they will somehow come together as I write. It feels like straining at those pictures that eventually jump out at you, and often for me I finish the blog with comfort that I desperately needed as I began to write.

This week I keep thinking about what we do when things are hard, or confusing. The world has the perspective that hard = bad, especially in this comfort-seeking society we live in.

But we as Believers in Christ know that our reality is different. For us, hard can often mean right. (Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24)

For example, let’s take the topic of having children. When it comes to children, our society seems to have the perspective that children are expensive and time-consuming, and they limit your freedom. I read an article written by Ben Stein for CNN Money, that I couldn’t believe wasn’t satire, that talked about the diminishing return of investment in children, and how that is justification for the declining birth rate in our nation. Let that sink in for a second. If you don’t think that has major implications and explains where we are as a society, you are wrong.

But it plays out on a micro level as well as a macro level. I have had people treat us like the Duggars for our 3 children, and when I’ve mentioned that we want to adopt more a person rather close to me said, “Why would you adopt when you can’t even take care of your own three?” I guess in her mind since we don’t live extravagant lives and our children don’t get everything they want, we aren’t caring for them. Like living in our home is worse than whatever orphanage those kids currently occupy. It was a bizarre moment for me.

Because a Biblical world view doesn’t see children as too hard to take on. As a Christian, valuing children based on their benefit to our lives isn’t an option. They aren’t just an investment that we can measure on a graph. A Christian values children because God told us to. We take the Bible seriously when it says “Children are a blessing and a gift” (Psalm 127:3).

I look at each of my girls and tears press against my eyes as I see their value. There is no limit to how precious they are. Yes, parenting three children is HARD. One is climbing up me now as I type this (so blame her for any and all typos). When we adopt it will be HARD. Some days, marriage is HARD. Ministry is HARD. Faith is HARD. Eating well is HARD. Friendship is HARD. Taking time for Sabbath is HARD. But that doesn’t mean any of it is wrong.

Every year there is a lesson that the Lord seems to teach me over and over. I think this year’s message is this:

Just because it is hard doesn’t mean it is wrong, or I am bad at it.

If I’ve learned anything in 25+ years of faith and 15+ years in ministry, it’s how complicated and confusing and downright hard the Christian life can be. And all the clichés about faith that I’ve heard most of my life are patently false.

God won’t give you more than you can handle. False.

God wants to bless you because He wants you to be happy. Nope.

Those are sweet ideas. They make excellent crocheted pillows. But they aren’t the Christian life.

The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray and sweated blood before his crucifixion.

The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray  before his crucifixion.

Maybe you’re like me, and things are just hard in life now. And even the options to get out of where you are seem hard. It can feel pretty lonely in that place, and pretty forgotten.

But we serve a God who gets it. He took the path through Gethsemane, He gave up the comforts of heaven, He was spit on and mocked and beaten and whipped and eventually killed.

It was hard, but it was also good. Jesus saved humanity when He faithfully walked through the hard. And he asks us to follow him, keep walking, and trust him.

Keep walking. Try to trust. Turn to Him. Sometimes that is all we can do. And I have to believe God will redeem it.

Lord, you know well I am a self-reliant, pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps kind of person. I hate to fail. I hate when things are hard. And lately, there’s been all kinds of hard. I fail daily. And I confess anger toward you sometimes over how hard things are. Sometimes I feel abandoned. But I know those feelings are not the end of the story. I know you have not forgotten us or abandoned us. Please forgive me for all the times I’ve doubted you because it’s hard. Forgive me for all the times I’ve doubted me when it is hard. I trust you. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know a way out. But I trust you. We need you – and I know that is good. I’m thankful that you never leave or forsake me. Thank you for doing the impossibly hard work of purchasing my redemption. Thank you for every single thing in our world that is hard. I know you have a purpose in every moment, and I wait for you. Please be near to us even in the hard circumstances of our lives. 

“The Safety Talk”

DangerCautionIt is back to school time, and I am starting to prepare my girls for school – my 6-year-old for first grade and my 4-year-old for her last year of pre-K. Part of our routine is a basic safety talk that I try to casually incorporate into our daily life every few months. This morning I read this blog about guarding kids from pornography exposure, and it reminded me how important open lines of communication are with our children. It is our job to guard their little hearts, minds, and bodies. So I thought I’d post what I say in our safety talk to start the conversation and maybe some of you can share how your family communicates to protect your children.

The Safety Talk

I always start by making sure the conversation is casual, positive, and straightforward. I let the girls know many times during the talk that they can ask any question they want as we go. Here is what we cover:

1. We review the proper names for each part of their bodies, and talk about how our body is our own property. In our family we began using informal names for body parts when they were little, but we have been slowly transitioning to the correct anatomical terms for each part as they’ve gotten older. So sometimes there is giggling when we talk about the vagina, penis, and anus, but we want the girls to know and use the proper terms for each body part. Research has shown that pedophiles typically use pet names for genitalia, and as our children grow older we can teach them to be alert to manipulation and grooming by a potential predator, as well as we will notice if they suddenly change what they are calling their body parts.

2. We talk about the difference between boys’ bodies and girls’ bodies. Sometimes this can get derailed, as can any conversation with a 4 and 6-year-old, and I just keep it light. I am trying here to establish open lines of communication, even about potentially embarrassing topics, to get them to come to me with questions instead of going to Google or to friends.

3. We discuss what to do if someone tries to touch our bodies or make us touch theirs (say no loudly, try to get away, immediately tell a safe adult). We discuss that nobody has the right to touch our bodies unless it is mommy or a doctor, and then only if something is wrong and if they give permission. As they get older, obviously this will transition to include the Sex Talk.

4. We discuss what to do if an adult tries to show us their body or look at our body (say no loudly, try to get away, immediately tell a safe adult). We gear this specifically to deal with adults, just to prevent them from yelling “danger!” in the girls bathroom at school. (As a funny aside, I asked my 4-year-old what to do if an adult tries to show her his penis, and she said, very seriously, “We tell Jesus.” I laughed and said, “Yes, we do tell Jesus, on our way as we run to tell a safe adult!”)  We also discuss what to do if a friend or neighbor asks us to pull down our panties or to show our panties (one of my daughters has already been asked this by a neighbor, and I was surprised when talking to friends to find out how common this is, which prompted this addition to the safety talk). I am not wanting to develop shame about their bodies, but I want to teach them privacy, empower them to say no, and let them know that they have control over their own body.

5. We discuss how to recognize safe adults. I tell them that in a store or at church, a safe adult is usually someone like a mother with children, a police officer, or an adult woman they trust. Instead of teaching “stranger danger” we try to empower them to find and utilize safe adults when necessary. We practice confidently telling an adult what just happened and what we need. Our goal here is to give our kids a voice and teach them to speak up for themselves.

6. We also talk about unsafe adults. We define unsafe adults as people who tell them to keep a secret from mommy and daddy, people who make them feel uncomfortable or who treat them in a strange way, or people who try to isolate them from the group. We teach them to never go anywhere alone with an adult unless mommy and daddy have given permission and are fully aware of where they are at all times. Our goal is to develop in our children discernment, not fear. A Facebook commenter talked about how her family uses a passphrase to help her kids know when someone is picking them up that they weren’t expecting, which I thought was a great idea. Her comment reminded me of another thing I tell my children, that I will never send anyone to pick you up who you do not know, so if someone tries to tell you that – they are lying.

7. We discuss basic emergency procedures. They love this part. I let them practice calling 911 on my phone and they know how to use our alarm system at home to summon the police and fire department. I have them practice what they would say to the person who answers, including reciting their name, our address, and mommy and daddy’s name. We practice how to call their dad and their grandmother in an emergency if something is wrong and I am not able to help them.

This talk will get more complex as they grow older, and especially so once they begin to utilize social media and the internet. If your children are already there, here is one resource I have found and here is a blog I thought was very compelling about social media dangers for children. Jen Wilkin also wrote a great blog about talking to our kids about bad words they have heard, opening the door to them discussing these things with us and not other people. Again our goal with these talks is two-fold: give them information to keep them safe, and open up honest fearless communication so that they will always come to us first, not last.

Nothing can fully protect children from predators, but with open communication, knowledgable kids, and a ton of prayer, I feel more confident sending my babies into the world. What do you experienced parents have to add to this list?

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in His commands. His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Psalm 112:1-2

The Lonely Hard Road of Motherhood

Can we all just be honest that this motherhood thing is tough? I’m pregnant, and I’m pretty unfiltered, so buckle up because I have many feelings about it.

Yesterday I read this post on my friend Kristen’s blog, “For When the Mother In You is Desperate,” and the post was great, but the responses stopped me in my tracks. Mom after mom after mom poured out her heart in the comments about how desperate and overwhelmed she felt, and how alone she felt in that place of desperation, like she was failing on a desert island. Woman after woman shared how much she needed grace.

And boy do I relate.

Yesterday my oldest child snuck into Valentine’s candy and ate it all in her closet before 7 am, and in a sugar craze then made huge messes in room after room after room in our house throughout the day every time I turned my back. I spoke harshly to her many times yesterday, which made me feel small and horrible. This morning I spent almost an hour cleaning up glass from the Christmas lights that she unstrung and broke in our backyard (because she wanted colored lights, not white ones) during the 20 minutes I sent her outside to give each of us a small break.

Exhausting.

And although I know, rationally, that the sugar played a huge role, and that these things are her expressing natural creativity and curiosity and I am proud of her and I truly think someday God has great plans for her as a creative artist, I do look at her sometimes and think “how utterly I am failing at this.”

A good friend one time asked me why, when our children rebel or disobey, us moms tend to feel like it is our failing and not just our children’s. And I didn’t know the answer to his question. But I do know that is how it feels. And even as moms, when we see other children rebel, we do tend to blame the parents, don’t we, if we’re truly honest? We forget the sin nature and the curiosity and the immature self-regulation and the power of impulse and instead we just feel like the worst mom in the world. We are so quick to judge, and so slow to give ourselves, and other moms, grace.

What a terrible tactic of our enemy. He lays the blame trap, and so often we fall into it. May God help us to see as He sees and avoid this trap. We need to know that we aren’t failing and that our children are just growing and learning, and that just because this is hard doesn’t mean we are bad at it. We need God to help us see the grace that is ours.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” – Psalm 4

Courtesy graceformoms.com

And to compound this problem, it’s hard to know where to go with these feelings, because it is lonely being a mom. Which is another tactic of our enemy. Isolate and destroy. Isolate and destroy. It’s been his battle plan since the beginning. And he is good at isolating moms of young children.

My friends with children who understand where I live are themselves too overwhelmed to do much more than check in occasionally, and my friends without children have their own busy lives and although they try so hard, the world we live in with young children is hard to comprehend. True friendship is hard to maintain when you are the mom of young children – and it is a season of life where I think we may need friends the most. True friends give perspective when we have lost our ability to see the bigger picture. Thank God most of us have those friends who you can see or hear from once every three weeks and still pick up where you left off, but the hours and days and weeks between significant adult interaction can sometimes spread out before you in an overwhelming chasm.

And social media, although it seems it would help with this problem, just isn’t sufficient to fill that void and I think may even exasperate the problem. I think sometimes we post the fun stuff, because we don’t want to appear crazy and put out there all of the bad feelings, so we fake each other out so we don’t reach out and we don’t know what is on the heart of our friends. We are connected virtually but alone relationally. It’s a bastardization of the true community that we need as humans to grow and thrive, so false and yet what we have settled for. Maybe even what we’ve been deceived to settle for.

And lately, the whole thing has had me on my knees. Justin and I are talking through what to do about the difficulty of parenting and the isolation in the midst of it, and thankfully he understands and relates and takes my feelings and needs seriously. Because I am more needy than usual. I feel lonely and overwhelmed. I want to battle it all – but when we are tired it is hard to battle. So together we are working through what to do with all of it.

  • First of all, I deactivated Facebook for lent to force me to have real interactions with people I love and not settle for the social media fake-out. And in those relationships – I’m trying hard to be real and transparent.
  • Second, Justin and I are trying to talk to each other more about deep things we feel and about our struggles with faith everyday, making sure we connect over more than TV shows and work updates.
  • Third, we’re trying to have more people over into our house and visit the homes of people we love. In-person interactions are truly the best community.
  • And fourth, I’m trying to call or text friends to see how life really is beyond the mask of social media and momentary interactions at church on Sundays, especially when the Lord lays them on my heart.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Romans 12:9-10

For all of you friends who feel unsettled and alone, I guess I just want to say “me too” and I’m sorry you feel that way. For my offline friends, I am sorry for my part in any relationship that is all surface and no substance. I am working on being refined in this area and truly praying for a revival in the relationships in our life. Because we need each other, especially in this season of life. Because we aren’t failing. This is just hard. It is a season, and it will end someday, and for now we just need to keep working, keep trying, stay humble and loving to our kids when we can, and take a break when we can’t. We need naps and date nights and occasional ugly cries and texting each other the terrible things we think when we are just too tired to fake it anymore. We need the grace and perspective that true community brings. We need new mercy each day. We need more grace than we even know how to ask for.

So what do you think? What has the Lord shown you as a trick to maintain relationships when times get tough and schedules are insane? How do you keep a wise perspective on parenting and avoid the “blame” trap the enemy sets for us? Any wisdom for us overwhelmed moms?

Gasoline or Water?

A Pastor I once worked for taught me a brilliant lesson about dealing with people, and it has revolutionized the way I see misunderstandings, conflicts, and flare-ups in relationship. It is even helping change the way I parent my kids and relate to my husband.

My Pastor used to say that we all carry around with us a bucket of gasoline and a bucket of water, and wisdom is knowing which bucket to throw on the “spark” of a given situation*.

See, conflicts don’t just explode out of nowhere. There is a spark. Most of the time that spark is small and commonplace – a miscommunication or an unmet expectation, a tone or even a look. And we have a choice in how we deal with that spark. Do we escalate, react, “take it to the next level”? Do we bring the gasoline and burn that thing up? Or do we walk away for a minute, process, deal calmly, ask questions, speak kindly. Is water what we employ to deal with the spark?

It sounds simple, but don’t forget it is a spark. Sparks lead to fire, and we have all been burned. So reaction is actually the normal, default mindset. Your adrenaline gets going. Your fear kicks in. Your instinct to protect and defend flares up. The “us” versus “them” sin-nature we all possess shifts into high gear.

  • You get an email that seems to attack you, and other people are copied on it. Gasoline or water?
  • You have a child throwing the fourth fit in 20 minutes. Gasoline or water?
  • You have worked hard all day, and immediately upon arriving home, your spouse starts in. Gasoline or water?

I think gasoline is easier, at least in the moment. It is quick, definitive. You feel strongly that bringing the gasoline is justified. But most of the time, after it is over, all you are left with is a charred mess.

Ashes.

Whereas water, well, water is harder. You have to stop. Slow down. Pray. Breathe. You have to try to warp your mind to see things from the other person’s perspective. You have to speak kindly, even when you are being spoken to in a harsh or disrespectful way. Water doesn’t come naturally – it’s entirely supernatural and only really possible when we get our eyes off ourself. But when we work at it, we see things differently. We can suddenly see that an angry reaction to an email will only provoke more angry emails, and a child who is exhausted cannot reason, and a tired overwhelmed spouse sometimes just needs to vent a second. Sometimes our relationships are worth humbling ourselves and choosing the water, because it restores what is broken.

Gasoline or water?

This is a gasoline world. Sound-bites flying, reactions spouted-off, rage and offense the default reaction to any perceived slight.

But we serve a water Jesus. He did get angry and bring the gasoline twice that we know of from Scripture, but it was rare and incredibly justified. Most of the time, peace, mercy, grace, and love flowed from him like a never-ending stream of water. He died refusing to fight. He had enough gasoline at his fingertips to torch the earth, and yet he held it back.

And when he breathed his last, the earth grew dark. And I have to wonder, do you think it rained?

 

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:18

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20

Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

*I believe my Pastor got this illustration from John Maxwell’s book “Go For Gold”

Mercy for Today

I have talked to a bunch of moms this week and this seems to be the theme.

“I’m having a tough time with my kids.”

“My kids seem to be throwing a ton of fits right now.”

“This is just hard right now.”

“I have lost my cool this week and I feel so guilty.”

I have heard these things over and over, and every woman shared it with me carefully, afraid I would think less of her.

Can I just say, moms, that I don’t think less of you? That we are all with you? Summer is tough, for all of us. Routines are interrupted, kids are home more than usual, it’s too hot to be outside like they normally are. Tempers can flare and chaos can creep in.

Don’t let yourself be discouraged. Don’t let the enemy isolate you. Don’t be bogged down with guilt. If you have lost your cool, talk to your kids. Apologize, pray together, ask the Lord to help you both do better. Even if they are little, it’ll teach them how to be humble and show them how to correct when they sin.

ImageAnd give yourself grace. None of us were parented by perfect parents, but by God’s grace we’re here, (relatively) normal. 🙂 Go to the Lord, ask Him for more patience and love and ask Him to grant peace to your home. Curl up in your bed and imagine yourself curled up next to him. Know that He looks at you with love – not condemnation. He is pleased with you.

We are all – kids and adults – working out our salvation with fear and trembling. We are all in need of mercy. And we all have a God who specializes in saving and in pouring mercy on us.

If this week has been tough – you are not alone. And you are not a bad mom. What God calls us to do (motherhood), he equips us to accomplish. In you, because of Christ, is all you need to do well as a mom to your kids.

Breathe. Relax. Feel His grace. His mercies are new every day – and there is mercy for you today no matter what yesterday looked like. He loves you.

The Long Hot Summer

Anytime I post about the challenges of being a mom, I worry. Because our culture wants to oversimplify things and make everything one-dimensional. So when I post about challenges or concerns, I often worry that people will think (wrongly) that I am not grateful for my children, that I am not cherishing my time with them, that I see them as an inconvenience. In fact, I adore my children and am very aware of the fleeting nature of my time with them. But that doesn’t negate the fact that motherhood is the hardest task I’ve ever undertaken. I just isn’t simple. I am a mess of contradictions when it comes to my emotions about being a mom.

Take summer.

The fantastic foursome eating ice cream in Estes Park last summer

There are so many things I adore about summer: Sno-cones, little tan children, watermelon, the smell of sunblock, swimming at my mom’s house, sandwiches and fresh fruit at lunchtime, trips to see family in Colorado. I realize I am blessed with a flexible schedule that lets me be home with my children when I am not traveling. I do love the time with them. I often marvel over how long their little limbs have grown and I snuggle them close and kiss their face before they get old enough to tell me to stop it. But summer is also daunting to me. Hours upon hours and days upon days and weeks upon weeks with the kids looking to me for almost everything. The comfortable workable routine of our school year is gone, along with the support system it affords, replaced by the need for me to come up with activities to occupy, engage, and challenge my children all day long every single day. My freelance work, housework, and schoolwork suffers, because of the lack of time where I am alone.

I saw this e-card the other day and loved it. For me, it sometimes feels like I just get the kitchen cleaned up from one meal when they are ready to eat again!

Courtesy of someecards.com

It is a little overwhelming.

So if you are new to motherhood, or don’t have girlfriends who are honest with you, and you feel these feelings but are afraid to say them out loud, can I just say I get it and I’ll be your friend even if you are so sick of laundry and the dishwasher and the high-pitched voices that you could cry?

I read once that the kindest thing in the world you can say to somebody is “me too” and I’ll just say if summer and motherhood in general sometimes overwhelms you, me too. If you fall on the sofa worn out after saying the last goodnight, praying the last prayer, fetching the last water, and exhausting the last stall tactic and you think “finally”, me too. If your house is never completely clean and your laundry hasn’t been completely done and put away since sometime in the 90’s, me too. If you pray and desperately ask the Lord to somehow redeem all the mistakes you made with your kids that day, cataloging the litany of ways you screwed up, me too. If you need grace for each moment and have never needed the Lord more than now, me too.

We can do this, moms. We can make this a great summer of joy and connection with our kids. There may be days we put on a movie three times because our laundry has reached code red status (meaning our husband is to the point of re-wearing underwear), and that is okay. There may be days our kids eat the same pizza and applesauce for lunch and dinner, and that is okay. There will hopefully be days we nap while they nap, and that’s okay. Let’s give each other, and ourselves, grace.

And let’s meet up at the splash park as many days as possible, watching them run themselves exhausted, so we can talk to another adult and enjoy moments of sanity. Because we deserve it, and this is hard, and we need each other. Let’s spur each other on in righteousness, encouraging each other and loving each other, pointing each other to Christ when we are worn out. Because He is enough and He will help us when we are at the end of ourselves.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Have a happy summer, friends!

The Prayers of Many

I have a friend who is in the middle of a very difficult adoption trial. I want to protect her privacy, so I’ll call her M. She is a kind, wise, godly person who loves children, a school teacher, who adopted a little girl last summer (I’ll call E) out of the foster system. Months after bringing E into her home, M found out that CPS had made serious errors in the removal of E from her previous home. Although there was definite evidence of abuse and neglect, these errors have put the adoption of E into indefinite hold just days before the adoption was to be finalized.

E has been bounced around from home to home most of her young life. She has been neglected, forgotten, and abused. Last year she finally got a mommy who had prayed for her long before she knew her. She was safe and loved. She has made strides this year to trust M and to start to let down the walls that she built around herself in her early life. They have walked through some serious trials together and truthfully they are still walking through difficulty. The wounds in E are deep. She’s afraid, and justifiably so, that M isn’t permanent. The therapist working with E has encouraged M that once E’s adoption is finalized, she can really begin to trust and heal.

So not only does this indefinite hold effect M and E because it seems to have the potential to split them up, it is actually delaying E’s healing and making M’s home feel like just another “holding tank” that E has been placed into, not the home of permanent stability and safety she so desperately needs.

It is a terribly difficult situation. M lives in a rural community, works all day with her students, comes home and focuses intently on E and her healing, and then after E goes to bed grades papers until she finally falls asleep exhausted. She does not have much community around her, outside of her family, who “get” what she is doing. She is not on Facebook, attached to the amazing community of adoptive parents that I have been able to meet, and she isn’t in a church that has other adoptive parents.

So the purpose of this blog is to change that. It occurred to me today that I know an army of people who fight for kids like E and moms like M everyday. So I am going to send this blog to every adoptive mom and adoption advocate I can think of and to members of the church who have stood with us in trials. I want people to come in droves willing to pray for M and E, willing to write them letters of scripture and encouragement, willing to stand with them in intercession before God that He would fight for them, give M peace, and heal this sweet little girl. So if you want to join me in this army of prayer support and encouragement for my friend, would you leave a comment, or send me an email at jenniferlwells@me.com? I will send you updates on the situation, and a way to send encouraging “snail mail” and email to M and E if you feel led to send them encouragement and prayers.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

I believe that together we will rejoice (and I pray it is soon) when the Lord has worked a miracle not only in the case, but in M and E’s home, in the love, trust, and permanency of a family. And until then, Jesus please be near my sweet friend.