For years my daughter begged for braces. No denying, her teeth are all sorts of crazy, but the cost of braces is even crazier. Finally giving in, we met with the orthodontist where it was explained that in order for Annie to obtain her dream smile, she would need to do two things. 1. Wear braces. 2. Wear the Herbst Appliance. What is the Herbst Appliance you ask? Well, imagine every piece of metal and hardware in the entire world, and then put it all in my fifteen-year-old's mouth. Because there is so much metal involved, the doctor suggested Annie do braces first, then once removed, put on the Herbst. He said, “You can do both at once if you are in a rush to get this done. It will be uncomfortable and take weeks to get used to. But you will get your perfect smile faster. It's up to you.”
Given the option - fast results or patiently waiting it out - take a shot at what my teenager chose…
Yesterday, the Herbst went on, on top of the braces. By the time this blog post is published, I am not confident that anyone within a five-foot radius of Annie will still be alive. She is not happy, folks. And do you want to know the worst part of all of this is? It's not Annie's mood that's the problem. It's not even the cost. It is me. It's my reaction to her reaction. As she went on and on about her looks and appearance, with zero gratitude for the privilege of dental care and a mother who had to sell her kidney to afford it, I unlovingly stood in her bedroom doorway reminding her, “This is what you wanted. So, you can be patient and get used to it, and quit being so vain….or tomorrow we can go and get it taken out of your mouth.”
It is ironic, isn't it? We grumble about children today; how they wait for nothing and only know instant gratification, and I have to wonder... am I any different? Sure, maybe my teenager doesn't have patience with this process… but guess what? Neither do I. As quick as she was to choose the shortest road to the fastest results, I am just as quick to pull the stupid metal out of her mouth with my own teeth simply to put an end to her vanity-filled complaints. Let's face it. Waiting is hard, and there is a reason why patience is a virtue and none of this comes easy. And honestly? This isn't even about my straightening my daughter's teeth. It's about straightening priorities. And all of this takes time.
I am just going to say it. I am lacking the patience for my children to encounter Jesus Christ because deep down I fear that they never will. I am afraid that God will show up hours too late, like my sister on Thanksgiving who signs up to bring the appetizer and arrives as we are serving dessert. And so I preach, and I throw Scripture at them, and I stand in their bedroom doorway in utter frustration, because for some unknown reason I have decided that I am their Savior and turning their hearts towards Christ is something that can only be accomplished by my hand.
Welcome to my ugly.
I am not proud of it, but here is the thing: I can do something about it.
If your lack of patience for a loved one's journey to the Lord tends to stomp on newly planted seeds, here are three things you can do:
Praying today that our patience with His plan grows deeper roots than the weeds of fear and control. And I really pray that Annie doesn't need to get on an airplane anytime soon, because honestly...that girl will never make it through the metal detector.
In patience and love,
Some nights, it is the pale blue glow visible in the gap under the bedroom door that gives him away.
On those nights, I stand in the dark hallway, press my forehead against the closed door, and speak into it. “Jack, turn your phone off and go to sleep, or I'll take away your phone again.”
“My phone isn't on!”
Other nights, it is different but the same. The sound of eager young fingers tapping away on a computer keyboard. On those nights I tell the door, “Turn your laptop off and go to sleep, or I'll take away your laptop again.”
“My laptop isn't on!”
My husband and I have tried different tactics to correct our son Jack's undesirable nocturnal behaviors. We've taken the phone away on many occasions… until Jack convinces us that he needs the phone for school (“Coach is gonna text about practice!”), and we reluctantly hand it back.
We've also installed an app on our wifi that cuts off internet access at night. This limits Jack's technology time... until he convinces us that he needs to sync his laptop with the school server, or offers another similar excuse, and we back off to give him the access he claims he needs.
Of course, the worst of the bad behaviors -- the heartbreakingly bad one -- is the lying.
If you read my January blog post or this one from March, you know that I am currently experiencing the Walking with Purpose foundational Bible study Opening Your Heart in a parish-based program. (Shout out to my girls at Holy Name of Mary in Croton, NY!) Each week we meet to review another lesson from Opening Your Heart, and each week it amazes me how applicable the lessons are to my life.
A few weeks ago, my group gathered to watch the Connect Coffee video that goes along with Opening Your Heart Lesson 18, “Reaching Your Child's Heart.” When I watch these videos it's as if author Lisa Brenninkmeyer is speaking just to me, which is awesome, and others in my group have said the same. (Although there was one part of the video I didn't watch because the most delicious toddler accompanied his mom that day, and when an 18-month-old is clutching your legs and grinning up at you, he just cannot be ignored!)
The good news is that the pages in the study guide reinforce what I may have missed in the video, and Lesson 18 made me rethink everything.
“Behavior is simply what alerts you to your child's need for correction. But don't make the mistake that so many parents make and allow your desire for changed behavior to replace your desire for a changed heart. If you can reach the heart, the behavior will take care of itself.”¹
Changing Jack's undesirable nocturnal behaviors wasn't working because his heart wasn't changing.
This concept is rooted in Scripture. Lesson 18 goes on to say this:
“A change in behavior that does not stem from a change in heart is not commendable; it is condemnable. Is it not the same hypocrisy that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees? In Matthew 15, Jesus denounces the Pharisees who honored Him with their lips while their hearts were far from Him. Jesus censures them as people who wash the outside of the cup while the inside is still unclean.”²
It became clear that I needed to spend some time inside that teenage boy's bedroom (not just talking to the door), and I needed to figure out how to wash the inside of that 15-year-old cup.
Jack and I sat down. I told him how hurtful his dishonesty was, and before I could get to the “lying is a sin” part of the talk, he interrupted.
“If you'll stop trying to control my life, I'll stop lying.”
I was certain there was truth in that statement. If Jack was given free reign with technology and internet access, he wouldn't have much to lie about.
However, it was not a deal I could make. It was, I think, a deal with the devil.
The wifi in our house still shuts off at night, prohibiting internet access. And Jack is still trying to find ways around it. Apparently we are the “only” parents who restrict access to their kids' cell phones and internet. And I think Jack might hate us for it.
Did the "inside of the cup" get washed? Not yet. That's a place I can't go; that's a process I can't force. My husband and I don't have the power to change Jack's heart, but we are fiercely protecting it. And when He's invited in, God can go deep in the heart, to the "inside of the cup." I pray that will happen.
In Lesson 18 of Opening Your Heart, Lisa includes a “Monthly Prayer List for Our Children” and one of the talented WWP designers turned it into this beautiful free printable. (Download the file, print it two-sided, and cut off the extra paper to make the perfect bookmark.) For anyone who has children or grandchildren, this list of twelve prayers is something you'll want to save and turn to. Often.
¹ Opening Your Heart (2010-2018), p. 219
² Opening Your Heart (2010-2018), p. 220
As a mother of strong-willed toddlers, I was instructed to “pick your battles.” Now, as a mother of strong-willed teenagers, I still follow this instruction. Having held a full-time job as “Ultimate Enabler” while working a part-time position in the field of “Keep the Peace and Sweep it Under the Rug,” I usually base my “picking” on what will produce the least painful and uncomfortable response.
The battle I chose not to pick this past summer was the battle of “asking my son to turn off his rap music while driving.” As I was navigating my way through a season of parenting that made the hours I spent at Chuck E Cheese look like a Bermuda vacation, asking my son to turn off what was downright offensive meant risking the ounce of peace I was desperate for. What can I say? I was weary. I had no fight left in me. “I can tune it out and pray the rosary,” I thought. I reasoned that God understood I simply did not have the emotional capacity to fight over something so...trivial. Were the song lyrics written by the devil? I am certain. Was the music good for my son's heart, mind and soul? Not so much. Did approving of such a thing contradict my morals, and all the good I am called to model for my children? You bet. So, you might be wondering, why on earth did I allow it?
Because, sometimes? Sometimes my own moral compass is easier to follow than God's.
I think we all know the difference between good and evil. But wouldn't you agree that at some point, our knowledge of right and wrong will be put to the test? Our culture certainly has its own set of standards, and all too often I convince myself that if I only compromise once in a while it's not such a big deal. Surely there are more extreme evils in the world than this. I figure God must understand.
And I am right.
God does understand.
But understanding is not the same as approving.
And He more than understands...He sees and knows exactly what I am doing.
What am I doing?
Dancing with the gray zone.
I want so badly to take credit for coining this phrase, but the truth is, it is taken from a quote by author Lisa Brenninkmeyer, out of her Bible study, Beholding His Glory. A study I am having difficulty putting down because it is just that good. She writes, “So often we dance with what we consider to be the gray zone. These are the little things that we know aren't particularly good, but we doubt whether we really need to take them seriously.” (1)
I do this, and maybe you do, too. I nominate myself to be my own moral compass because I think I know better. Because I do not believe the consequences matter. My standards are a whole lot easier to live up to than God's standards. And in the moment, it works. I drove miles by my son's side, listening to the catchy song that, ironically, began with the lyric, “I got standards…” and we arrived to our destination with minimal argument and discomfort. So what's the big deal? If it cost us nothing and gained us peace, I ask...who cares?
God, who endured much pain, fear, and discomfort, all in the name of carrying my shame, so that I wouldn't have to.
That's who cares.
And you know what?
Deep down in my core, I care, too.
And the only way I know to fix this; to stop justifying unholiness, to stop sweeping supposedly small things under the rug is to “sit in the presence of the One who knows and loves you deeply, and to allow Him to reveal to you the areas of where compromise is costing you.” (2)
Because we are compromising, it does come with cost, and we need to start trusting in His definition of good and evil, throwing away our own. The only way to arrive at this place of trust is to stop believing the world's perception of who God is and allow God's Word to tell us who He is. We need to marinate ourselves in Scripture and get to know personally and intimately this God who we are assured to never fully understand, but who proves His faithfulness over and over again. We need to stop avoiding fear, pain and the uncomfortable, and embrace every bit of it, just as He did for us. If you find yourself doubting in God's promises; if you believe that your sin can provide a better life for you than God can, if you find yourself dancing with the gray zone, please take this as a gentle and loving, but serious warning, and make this the very moment you turn things around. Make this be the day you evaluate the standards you live by.
I finally told my son that we would no longer be listening to his music in the car; that I, like the rap artist, had standards...God's standards...and he needed to respect them. And I know this will sound silly, but it was a hard thing to do. I was afraid that by my rejecting his music, he would think I was rejecting him. But if there is one thing I can promise you, any decision made out of fear is going to be the wrong decision. I can also promise you that God never asks us to do anything hard on our own. He is with us every single step of the way and He knows we don't always understand the why, but He asks us to trust, anyway. He loves us so deeply. If you ever question this, might I suggest you take a long, hard look at the cross. Those are our sins, our nails, our crown, our tears. Christ took our shame so we won't have to hide. And He never counted the cost. So living by His standards? Not always easy. But always worth it.
And we continue to drive. To the tune of silence, down unmarked roads, dancing out of the gray zone, and back into the light.
Your Sister in Christ,
P.S. In what area of your life do you find it hardest to accept as good what God has called good, and as evil what He has called evil? How often do you stop and listen to the reasons behind God's perspective on it? I highly suggest picking up a copy of Beholding His Glory to delve into these topics. While you are at it, go on and listen to the playlist that goes along with the study - music that is good for your soul and meets God's standards!
1 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Walking With Purpose, Beholding His Glory (2010-2016), p. 24
2 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Walking With Purpose, Beholding His Glory (2010-2016), p. 25
Today is the second day of school. We crushed day one. Knocked it out of the ball park.
I only forgot to make one lunch.
Only one kid forgot her water bottle.
I only had to make one school run to drop off a lunch.
I took absolutely no pictures of any of my children.
We did not get any new haircuts or backpacks or first day of school outfits.
Only one bus got lost.
Only one kid lost his lunch box. (thankfully not the child who insisted on the Vera Bradley lunch box, that has obviously been designed and hand crafted for the child who doesn't eat. It has room for about four grapes and two crackers. Maybe three..if you crush them.)
Only one teacher is highly questionable.
Only one kid said, "I don't like school," before heading off to bed.
Only three children brought 6,000 papers in giant envelopes home for me to sign, as opposed to the 8,000 forms I got last year, when I had four kids in grade school.
And only one kid might have already annoyed his teacher.
Oh, back to school. I really am not a fan.
The day before the first day of school, I sat on my front porch in prayer. You might have heard me shouting, "Saint Monica!!!?? Are you there??!!" Because kids, school, and all the worry that comes with it, like a stupid package deal...all of it...it is just a lot. And I figured Saint Monica, our Patron Saint of Mothers, would understand. I figured Saint Monica, who knows about kids and about worry, could help.
It can not just be me, right?
School? It is a lot.
But we make it a lot, don't we?
I mean, we start preparing our kids for college when they are still wearing pull-ups.
We start touring colleges when they barely know their way around the high school.
They practice sports 56 times a week because clearly, they are all professional athletes just waiting to happen.
We ask 17-year-olds, who barely know how to hold a conversation that isn't in texting format, "What do you want to do with your life?"
Third grade teachers look at their students on the first day of school, and say, "If you want to make it in the fourth grade...."
We ask 18-year-olds to declare majors, otherwise they will be labeled undecided. Undeclared. Might as well call them unworthy. Unimportant. Unsuccessful.
You know what it is like? It's like telling a four-year-old to get ready because Christmas is almost here, and that Santa is coming with all of their presents....in July. Then we expect them to not cry or complain when they realize how long they have to wait.
We whip them up into butter, get them thinking about everything yet to come and all of the things they will need to do, and then we sit back, pour our fourth glass of wine, and shake our heads wondering why kids today have so much anxiety.
Can I just say, I have spent nearly my entire life undecided. I basically majored in "Undeclared," with a minor in "I know absolutely nothing." Amazing that I even graduated, really.
And dare I say, as I write, I am still undecided on so many things. Especially what to make for dinner.
But there is ONE THING I am decided on.
And on this, I do not waver.
I am decided on the one thing that actually matters.
That one decision, that one declaration, that makes everything else...all those indecisions...just a little bit easier, a little more clear.
I decided long ago never to walk in anyone's shadow. If I fail, if I succeed, at least I know that I believed. No matter what they take from me, they can't take away my dignity. Because the greatest love of all, is happening to me. I found the greatest love of all inside of me....
Just kidding. Sorry. I couldn't resist singing that.
So, for real.
That one decision?
Life changed for me the day that I decided that my identity was not in my talents, in my job, in my children's success, in my mothering, in my finances, in my home, in my body, in my baking, or in how good of a wife I am (and thank God for that).
My identity is in CHRIST and Christ alone.
No one else.
Because here is the thing. If you do not know that you belong to Christ, that you are a beloved child of God, that your worth is not in what you do, but in whose you are, then being undecided about things like school, and marriage, and career and where to sit in the cafeteria, can feel really, really, REALLY horrible. And our children?? What about them? In a time when God is unpopular and removed from everything and they are told to do whatever they want so long as they are happy, where do they stand? In a time where we spend so much of our energy making sure that they play the right sports, and get those good grades, and apply to the best schools, and get those scholarships, what about them? Have we told them why they matter? Or have we been too busy telling them what they must achieve? Have we reminded them that their worth has nothing to do with how many followers they have on social media? Do they know there is something, someONE, so much greater than what many have settled for? Do they know their true identity? Do they know whose they are?
Because I don't think that they do.
I think that they think that they belong to the world.
And friends, this breaks my heart; when I picture how hard life will be for our children, should they never come to know their true worth, and how frightening it must be for them to wake up not having any idea as to who they are. And when my mind goes there, well, that's when you'll hear me screaming for Saint Monica, to come quickly, to intercede, to put my tears to good use. Our children deserve so much better than to be defined by anything other than their names etched in the palms of God's hands.
You know, I am not the kind of parent who really cares that much about grades. I am the parent that cares more about their hearts. Maybe because my own grades were not that good, but I think more so, because I have lived much of my life with a misdirected heart. And I just see too much worry in our children's faces today; too much pain, too much comparison, too much obsession and worshiping of all the wrong things. And as I prepare to send my first born off to college this weekend, all I can pray and hope for is that the foundation I have laid down for him is solid. The seed has been planted. My whisper in his conscience will one day be louder than the screams of this world. The sports, the grades, the college years...sure, of course, they matter. But it is what has been learned under our roof that matters the most. The domestic church. This is where it all begins. And you pray that just a little bit of what you have done...not said or preached, but actually lived out strong...you pray to God that just a bit of it sticks when they are gone.
Funny. Yesterday morning I asked my 6th grader what sort of things he wanted me to pack in his school lunches, and in confidence he said, "We'll figure it out." I was hoping for something a little bit more clear...like, I don't know, a sandwich, or apples. "We'll figure it out" was not sounding like much help at all. But an hour later, kneeled before the altar, with three kids at school and one still in my basement, I stared at the crucifix, thinking that maybe, if I stare hard enough, I will hear some answers. And so I prayed...keep them all safe, Lord...they will be safe, right??....and guide them to good people, healthy relationships...please, Lord, lead them to You, You can do that right?....teach them that their identity has nothing to do with anything but You, ok?? Will you promise me, that Lord??...and I stared and stared until finally...I heard.
"We'll figure it out." He said.
But not so much a "you and me, Laura...we got this" more of a "I have got this...and when it is all revealed, you will see...it will all be figured out."
I am happy to report that everyone left this morning with a lunch, no water bottles were left behind, and we are hoping for smoother bus rides that arrive on time and that maybe that one teacher was just having a rough day. The young man in the basement, who packs up and goes on Sunday, just surfaced to say that he is bored, which only means he is ready to move on. And yes, in case you are wondering, he is undecided. And that is not a bad thing. It gives God much to work with, actually. And He is already working. And I believe that if my son were able to sit still for just long enough, without comparison to his peers, he too would hear Him say, "We'll figure it out." And as I call on Saint Monica I can't help but smile, because I am reminded that it is ok to have a child who is undeclared, so long as he has a mother who declares; who declares day and night, truth and love, over her children, who will never let go of hope, whose tears matter, who does not need to figure it all out, because He already has.
My children? I declare that they are not their grades, they are not their schools, they are not their sports, their looks, their talents or successes. I declare that they are the worthy and beautiful and good children of an Almighty God, a faithful God, a gracious God, a God that has good plans for them, a God that has it all figured out. This, I have decided, and this I declare, so in case they ever forget their identity, they will always have a mother around to remind them, to declare truth over them, when the world tries to decide truth for them.
And if they ever forget their lunches, well, I will take care of that as well.
Regional Area Coordinator
Walking with Purpose
Read Laura's blog here: http://www.lauramaryphelps.com/
Something pretty remarkable is going on around dinner tables, in car trips to soccer practices, and beside little one's beds. A generation of children is being raised to make their mark on the world-to make a difference in their place in history.
I always hesitate to talk about mothering, because it proves to be such a divisive issue. When women disagree about topics concerning their kids, we do it with passion and conviction. We are quick to feel judged. Perhaps it's because in the quiet of our hearts, we are all a little bit afraid that we aren't doing a good enough job as mothers. We are uber aware of all the ways in which we should be excelling, and all too often, we feel we fall short.
Because we want to give our kids everything they need, because we are so afraid they'll fall behind or not be good enough, we follow schedules that would have made our mothers laugh out loud. I wonder if a single one of our mothers would have behaved the way that we do. Whenever our schedule gets too harried, I'm reminded of my mom's wise words-that what our kids need most is consistency, routine, and calm-to know that one day will be like the next and that there is stability at home.
Moms, we have got to slow it down. We need to give one another a break, and give our children a break, and get off this unhealthy gerbil wheel that is going absolutely nowhere.
And those of us who are feeling that it's not just the schedule that's the problem-it's just everything, might need to call in some reinforcements.
My husband, Leo, recently pointed out that our eleven-year-old daughter, Jane, was getting a little bit lost in the shuffle. My first response was to feel judged. I was doing all that I could, but it still wasn't enough? Then I cooled my jets enough to recognize that his comment wasn't about me, it was about her. And he was right. The problem was, I truly did not have the bandwidth to put one more activity or project on my calendar, even if it concerned my beloved Jane. So I decided to look for some reinforcements. Help came in the form of Sarah, my wonderful assistant. Sarah loves my kids, loves Jesus, and once asked, was more than happy to schedule special “Jane time” each week. They are going through a great Christian book aimed at Jane's age level, and Jane has found a new place to explore her faith. She feels special, singled out, and Sarah's influence has been shaping Jane's heart. Lesson for me-it didn't have to be my influence. It just needed to be a good one.
One evening, Jane arrived home from her time with Sarah. Let me set the stage-I had family coming in the next day, and one had a birthday I was prepping. Leo had been coaching soccer, and followed that practice with a tennis game. I had taken everything out of the fridge and was trying to clean it. Both little ones should have been in bed, and I was starting to feel overwhelmed. Jane bounced in the kitchen and enthusiastically blurted, “What are my gifts and talents?”
I was caught off guard, paused a little too long before replying, and then asked her to give me a minute. Her face fell, and she said under her breath, “I knew she wouldn't be able to come up with anything.” I asked her to just give me a minute-that we'd talk when I put her to bed. She went upstairs looking deflated.
By the time I had gotten the kitchen pulled back together and the little ones in bed, I was truly wiped. I just felt like I didn't have it in me to pour out more. I walked into Jane's room, and it was like a tornado had swirled in. I had asked her earlier to clean her room, and she had done nothing. Let me tell you-this was not a good set up for me to call out all her gifts and talents.
We cleaned the room together, I tucked her in bed, and I was tempted to make the consequence of the messy room to be a withholding of my words of affirmation. But I knew that would be wrong, so I asked the Lord to give me the right words. He did. I was able to share the specific abilities I see in Jane, and share with her my vision for the ways in which I believe God can one day use those gifts.
I don't do that sort of thing nearly enough.
We are in a unique position to call out the destiny of our children. God has a plan for each one of them, and there is no one more qualified than their mothers to help them see the connection between their gifts and talents and genuine needs in God's kingdom. We can chart a vision for who they can become, based on their unique bent.
I know that sometimes our mothering tasks feel repetitive, mundane and unimportant. But it's in those still moments, in the calm, that we can be making an enormous investment in the future. As Andy Stanley said, “Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise.”
With you on the journey,