Ugly

“Quit being ugly.” This was a phrase that my mom used regularly when I was a child. Part of this is probably because I was raised in the good ole South, and “ugly” is a term for poor behavior in addition to unattractive physical features. But when I look back on my childhood, I am so grateful that my mom chose this phrase to use whenever I was “showing my butt” (another she regularly employed), because it taught me something great about what is ugly, and, consequently, what is beautiful.

In late elementary and middle school, I was not pretty, and I wanted to be pretty more than anything. Pretty girls had perfect hair and skin and manicures and their eyebrows were done. Pretty girls had Birkenstocks and Abercrombie khakis and actual Ralph Lauren polos (I went to a public school that required us to wear uniforms). I had wonky hair (in 1999 I would have used the term “nappy,” which is not acceptable to be used in regular language where I currently live) and caterpillar eyebrows and Walmart brand clothes (Jordache khakis and White Mountain imitation Birkenstocks, anyone?). I remember once on the bus, one of the popular girls was making a list of everyone’s social standing. I didn’t even have the guts to ask what number I was. I was just eavesdropping, after all. I doubt that girl ever thought of me for a minute or ever thinks of me now. The point is, I was definitely not cool.

Now I’m grown up and it is awesome. I have figured out the hair situation and actually get lots of compliments. I go to get my eyebrows done whenever I can escape my house and the caterpillars have been appropriately reduced. I have come to realize that yoga pants and a t-shirt is the greatest outfit on earth and who cares the brand name (Target all the way, y’all!). I have a blessed life full of meaningful friendships and an amazing husband and two gorgeous kids. Life just really does get so much better.

But there is something that I’ve been thinking of a lot lately, and that is the term “ugly.” I don’t get called ugly anymore (at least to my knowledge!), but there are lots of times when I just am. But, just as when I was a young child, that ugliness doesn’t have anything to do with hair or clothes or eyebrows. When I am ugly, it is 100% related to my character.

When I’m “being ugly,” I’m:
-getting angry at drivers who cut me off and then following way too closely behind them for several miles to show just how mad I am
-snapping at my husband who just wants to help me figure out what’s wrong with the external hard drive
-swelling with jealousy or disappointment that one of my friends is getting something before me that I desperately want
-judging or ridiculing others for their parenting choices that I disagree with

Sometimes, in these ugly moments, I can hear the little voice that is my mom from my childhood saying, “Quit being ugly.” Or maybe that little voice is the Holy Spirit. And then a lot of times, I am immediately filled with an ugly guilt. I see the dirtiness of my heart and I cry out, “I need you, Savior!” Interestingly, in those ugly moments, I feel the shame and guilt and sorrow that regardless of the pretty on the outside, there is broken ugly on the inside.

We know something about God related to this. First, the broken ugly on the inside is way more important to God than the pretty on the outside.

“When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord. But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

God told Samuel that just because David’s older brother Eliab was super hot and tall and everything, that didn’t mean he was the one God anointed. God looks at the heart, and He was just about the anoint the man who was after His heart. Additionally, David was, like, the biggest screw-up ever. Like whoa. Dude was a murderer and an adulterer and many other dirty-hearted things. But David loved the Lord and always came back to Him from his ugliness. What a gift that God chose David to be an example for the rest of us – David was an ugly-hearted man who was after God’s heart. Oh, to be like that.

Second, our ugly hearts can be pretty-fied! Our ugliness is imminent because we are all sinners. But Someone wasn’t a sinner. Someone’s heart was never ugly. Someone would have graciously slowed down to let in the person who cut Him off. Someone would have always responded (and did!) with gentle, kind words instead of frustrated snaps. Someone would have genuinely congratulated His friends on their blessings. Someone told the Pharisees to cast the first stone and then told the person who sinned to “go, and sin no more.” Someone hung from a cross – pure, perfect blood from a pure, perfect heart dripping down, ugly hearts screaming and shouting and mocking and shaming and spitting in the ugliest moment in history. And in my ugly moments, even the small ones from day to day, I know I am one of those ugly hearts.

But grace.

Oh purest heart! Oh sacred head! Oh Wounded One. Your grace consumes me.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace which he lavished on us.” Ephesians 1:7-8a
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” Romans 5:8-9
“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” Hebrews 9:14
“But now in Christ Jesus you who were formerly far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2:13

“What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

What overwhelming thought – that my ugliness has been covered by perfect purity! So even in these inevitable moments where my sin nature rears its head, or when the pain of this world shows up through ugly things like death and sickness and pain and broken relationships, or when I just ache to be home and whole and filled and full of joy, God sees only Christ’s blood covering me. God sees my love for Him, sure, but way more importantly, He sees His love for me. His love for me purifies my heart and gets rid of that ugly. And I stand before Him the way He sees me – His.

When my mom said, “Quit being ugly,” she certainly wasn’t talking about my outward appearance. She was teaching, albeit rather subtly, that ugliness is on the inside instead of the outside. I can do whatever I can to fix the outside, but “Quit being ugly” isn’t really possible while I’m still on this earth. I am comforted, though, to know that in God’s eyes, I am already renewed. And as Jesus reminds me of this everyday displacement of my own ugly heart for his perfect one, I am shaped and formed to become more like that heart he saw in David – a beautiful one.

A New Hope

I can’t believe I’m writing this post! I mean, the work of the Holy Spirit in my life to get me to the point where I can write it is just incredible to me. It’s all internal, so it is hard to take a picture of or pinpoint the pivotal moment, but it has happened:

I am not extremely depressed and filled with dread on August 1.

For the past several years, I’ve hated August. It’s kind of sad, really – I remember as a child, it was my favorite time of year! Going school supply shopping in elementary school, buying a new fall wardrobe in high school, organizing my schedule, auditioning for U Choir in college – it was all so exciting. A new start – a chance to do things again, meet new people – everything felt fresh in August (except the weather – I grew up in Mississippi in 1000% humidity in August every year!).

Then I had a child, and August 1 meant the school year was starting, and I was leaving again. I would drop off the face of the earth during August because there was so much to do to prepare for the school year. In fall 2014, I remember crying every morning as I got ready for school. I would fall into a deep hole of depression every Sunday night that I had to do it all again on Monday. I would hold Jared’s cute little 9-month self, bawling that someone else was raising him because I had to raise everybody else’s children. I ached to be home.

Then in fall of 2015, I LOVED August, because that was the year I was home with the kids. I remember the great joy I felt each morning that I wasn’t in the rush of school beginning. My house was so clean and I cuddled by babies every day. It’s my hope for everyone who wants to that they should get to stay home with their babies for a time, because it was a wonderful year of growth for me.

But falls of 2016 and 2017, I felt that ache again. That insanely busy time where I had no time to pursue relationships with my own family, much less any other humans. That time when I spent money way out of budget to try to outfit my classroom. That deep dread of what I had to deal with in such needy children. That incredible sadness and jealousy that someone else was getting to raise my kid. That hopelessness that it just wouldn’t ever be different.

In May of this year, those feelings started again. I was very pregnant, and I knew I’d have to go back to school when my Grace was only 8 weeks old. I dreaded it already – that lack of sleep, trying to teach, the great fear because my job is very high pressure and my mind being less than 100% guarantees that I’ll mess up and tick off a lot of people. Missing snuggles with my girl and seeing her be 10X bigger every day when I got home, her baby-hood fleeting away while I try to help middle schoolers be good humans. It ached my heart!

But the Lord has done some amazing work in my heart this year during July and August. He has given me a peace that can only come straight from Him. I feel prepared and hopeful about this year. I feel ready and able to face it. I don’t feel guilty or ashamed or jealous. And these feelings cannot possibly be from me.

I’m okay, and it’s because of Jesus. I am sitting with him each day, and it really, really shows – maybe not necessarily on the outside, but definitely in my heart attitude as I look to each day’s gifts. Oh, that we all should be able to prioritize our relationship with Jesus. Being Christlike makes everything joyful and hopeful and better.

This post isn’t really going anywhere – it’s just a joyful statement. I feel the Lord with me, softening my heart, preparing me for this extremely busy season, and he is giving me the gift of peace in it. I pray the same for you. Seek him, and all else will be added.

MY HOUSE IS PUT TOGETHER.

My house is put together.

And it’s a miracle.

I went live on facebook on Saturday morning to talk about our little miracle – we’ve had a clean, put-together house for almost an entire month! I decided as a follow up to do 5 posts, one containing each step that I talked about in that loooooooooooong video. I talked forever, but it was actually reasonably simple to implement these things. BUT it made a GIGANTIC difference in our peace of mind, ability to find things, etc.

Step One: SUCK IT UP.

This was the hardest part for me. For some reason, I was battling myself with all these thoughts. I would say to myself, “It’s all too much! I shouldn’t have to do all this. How does anyone do this? I am so exhausted! I work full time in an especially exhausting job. Nobody is as tired as me. My kids are messier than everyone else’s kids, so they don’t have it as bad. If only our baseboards were in, our house would be finished and I could get it cleaned up. We have too much stuff, so there isn’t anywhere to put it, so I’ll just have to live with it all being a big mess. I can’t clean this up tonight; I’m too exhausted. UGH! Why are there so many dishes?”

and so on, and so on, and so on. *insert eyeroll here*

Basically, I was making excuse after excuse for why my house was so disgusting. I am the queen of validating – I can validate absolutely anything to myself.

The problem is that making all of those excuses did not, in any way, assist me in cleaning my home. There was stuff all over the floor all the time. There was so much clean laundry that was never put away and ended up in piles on the floor just to be washed again because I couldn’t determine if it was dirty or clean. Counters were covered in random junk that was left out instead of put away. There were crumbs and sticky spots on the floor all around the dining room table. We had mice at one point – not sure if that was because of dirtiness or just because of our neighborhood being so close to a wooded area. It was impossible to walk through our home without a hundred tiny crumbs sticking on the bottoms of your feet. The bathrooms constantly smelled like urine and feces.

My average, everyday home in 2018

It was all too much. I cried over it so many times, so overwhelmed. Everyone kept saying, “This is just a season. Soon it’ll pass, and you’ll be sad that your kids aren’t little anymore.” I would always think, “Okay, so I’m miserable and sad now, and later I’ll be miserable and sad, but my house will always be like this and I’ll always feel overwhelmed so basically you’re saying I’ll be miserable forever?”

About a week before Christmas, I had an epiphany.

Suck it up.

That was my epiphany.

I said to myself: You are a grown-ass woman. When the age boxes show up on paperwork, you have to check “30+.” There isn’t a world in which you aren’t an adult. You own this home. It is a blessing. You had those kids. They are a blessing. You have a partner who is willing to be helpful. He is a blessing. You have the obligation to steward well what has been given to you. You have been blessed with much, so you must be faithful with much. And how many years did you dream of this exact life? How long did you ache to find such wonderful love? How long did you dream of making your house your own by remodeling and living in a neighborhood with great people and a pool and playground and tennis courts? From what age did you begin imagining having your children and raising them, dreaming of high-waisted mom jeans and a big huge perm? Your life is incredibly wonderful, and you are choosing to complain about how hard it is instead of working this weedy garden. Do. The. Work.

Suck. It. Up.

Now, for some people, this kind of straightforward, rather harsh self-talk might not be helpful. But for me, it is necessary. I need to be brought back to reality when I get in these emotional fits of Mrs. Grumpy Gills.

And reality is: my life is amazing, and I have every power to make it feel so.

I set the tone in my home. I have immense power. I am not weak. It is not impossible. Yes, it is hard. Yes, I am tired. But I will NOT waste this time anymore. One chance. One life. I will never be thirty-one years old again. My kids will never be 5, almost 4, and 7 months again. This. Is. It.

Something shifted in my brain that day. I am not going to waste my only chance at giving my kids a stable, happy home just because I’m grumpy about being a working mom. I cannot stay home in this season of our life, regardless of how much I want to. (I’m truly convinced that if I stayed home, none of this mess would ever be an issue – I know it’s true because whenever I do get to stay home, our house is very put together and tidy.) I cannot change our circumstances in this way. But I can change my attitude. So from now on, I’m going to suck it up.

New phrases for self-talk: You might only get today, and then you’re into eternity. Don’t let the trivial pursuits of this day stop you from the eternal pursuits. When you are a literal mess, you are also a spiritual mess. You cannot give and feed into others when you are frantically clinging on to your last shred of sanity. Push off the weighted demons of perfection, dreams of how you wish things were, and excuses. Work. Tend your garden. With a sweet spirit for Jesus, serving Him in it all. The mundane becomes the holy. The trivial becomes eternal. Your children see this energy. They see your praise to the One who gave you everything. They see your effort to be faithful in these things. They see how you steward what has been loaned to you. This is your only chance to show them Jesus when they are kids, and someday they’ll grow up and have to clean a house, too. Teach them. Right now.

My friend Lindsay calls this the CEO mindset – you are the CEO of your life! And with this mindset of “I will do this,” I was able to move into Step 2.

The #SpousePsalmChallenge – Episode One

My husband and I have always looked for ways to talk about God’s word together in incorporate our faith-practice in our home. We had this idea to read a Psalm separately and then talk about it on camera. We found it to be a really meaningful and rich time!

We’d love for you to join us in the #spousepsalmchallenge!

Step 1: Pick a psalm. (Ryan randomly chose Psalm 33 this time.)

Step 2: Read it separately and write down your thoughts – what sticks out to you? What questions or thoughts do you have related to it? What does it say about God? What does it say about you? How does it apply to your life?

What can I say? I heart pink.

Step 3: Read the psalm together and talk about your thoughts. You can make a video, too, if you’d like. We recommend that you start and end with prayer.

Step 4: You can post the video, or you can post a picture of you and your spouse with the hastag #spousepsalmchallenge. We’d love to see how you’re incorporating God’s word into your home and building into your relationship with your spouse.

Everyday Liturgy Episode Three: A Hymn of Praise at the End of a Year

(I’ve been writing my prayers in poetic form in a google doc. Episode Two was a little too personal to publish online for all to see, but I think some of the episodes might be more relatable and meaningful to others, so I’ll be publishing them here every once in a while.)

Lord, I am overwhelmed
That you’ve given me another year.
A full year with you,
In the glory of the life you’ve given
With such potent and beautiful gifts
That I can’t help but notice.

You are with me in the smallest ways
In tiny baby smiles
In a helpful woman at church when my son throws a fit
In a full tank of gas and open road

You are with me in the biggest ways
In a supportive husband
In kind-hearted, loving family
In gracious long-term friendships I inherited through marriage
In a wonderful home
In jobs that provide much more than what we need
In gracious gift-giving family

I look back over this year
And I see your hand,
Just like I see your hand in every year
Guiding, directing, goading, nudging, moving me
To do your will.
Even in the conundrum of uncertainty
I can know that you’ll guide me again and again
Like you’ve done before and before

You
Hem
Me
In

Elsa in a burp cloth

Like a tiny doll
Snuggled in her blanket

Like a little action figure
That clips perfectly into his car

Like Tommee Tippee pacifiers
In a certain little 6-month-old mouth

How is it that you are so great a God
And can somehow be small enough to see me?

And how is it that in your holy, perfect majesty
Way too good to care about little ole’ peasant me
You can look with kind eyes and grant me so many wishes?

And how in the world is it
That I can miss your gifts and your kind eyes and your care?
How truly impressive it is that I can be so easily distracted!
How truly impressive it is that you remain staid
With love for me

Even as a three-year-old, I talked about my elementary understanding of your greatness
“You are so big
That I can’t even see you”

Yet your bigness didn’t stop you
From becoming small
The smallest
The meekest
The lowliest

Oh Lord, help me to see myself as lowly
Meek
Small

How funny that the biggest, greatest God had such an easy time making Himself small enough for me
But I have such a difficult time making myself think that I’m as small as I actually am!

Last shall be first
First shall be last
Lowly shall be great
Great shall be lowly

Oh God, I praise you for your backwards kingdom.
Somehow, you’ve made my life so great.
So undeserved.
Such favor.

Your grace is so much more than enough.

Everyday Liturgy: Episode One – on Christmas Day, 2018

A Hymn for a Parent Who Is Sorting and Assembling a Plethora of Christmas Gifts

It’s 11pm, and we just got home from a whirlwind of holiday festivities, and Lord, you know them
Last week, Ryan worked a closing shift on Monday, so I single-parented
Tuesday was my Christmas concert
Wednesday I taught until 3:45 and then had 2 rehearsals immediately following
Thursday I attended the school board meeting since we’ve been negotiating since April with no results and then did all of my Christmas shopping
Friday I tried to pack
Saturday we had Kneezel family Christmas
Sunday I was on team for 3 services conducting the children’s choir and then
Back for Kneezel Christmas, cont.
Monday was 3 services for Christmas Eve, but I woke at 3:30am with a horribly sore throat.
After the three services, I was running fever, but we went to Hamrick family Christmas
Tuesday, we returned immediately in the morning for Hamrick family Christmas, not really feeling better
Our house, as usual, is a heap of rubbish that stresses me out to look upon
Dirty dishes, piles of wrapping, tons of garbage, 2 dirty diapers randomly lying around instead of thrown away
This is how I live, Lord Jesus, and I am overcome with shame.
I live nearly every moment filled with shame and embarrassment that my family lives like this
I am filled to the brim with heart sickness over how I yell at my kids
And lose patience with them – their tender little souls that are just learning for the first time
And I’m learning for the millionth time and somehow am no better

I told the kids in choir on Sunday that grown-ups need to see them up there singing for Jesus
Because it reminds us of when we were children, and we first met the Lord
I knew how desperately I needed you then,
And I forget, so very often, that I need you just as much now.
Probably more
For I think that I’m competent
But I know that I am not
And I set ridiculous, unrealistic, and unfair standards about how I should be
Based on the expectations and pressure that I feel from society
“You can do it all” doesn’t mean that – it means “you have to do it all”
And then when I can’t,
I feel pressure and shame and unworthy and not good enough and not enough

And then.

And then, Lord Jesus.

I begin sorting through our gifts.
During that crazy week at school, kids brought me little things
“Mrs. Kneezel – you’re a great teacher”…”I love you”…”thank you”
On Saturday at Kneezel family Christmas
Toys and clothes and gift cards and beautiful books
Smiles and hymns and desserts and joy
On Tuesday at Hamrick family Christmas
Toys and clothes and gift cards and jewelry
Laughter and hymns and honey ham and games

Oh, Lord, these precious people that you’ve made mine
And the time they took to think of me
And Ryan
And my kids

I am not enough – not good enough
Terribly incompetent
Always wishing for time I don’t have
Always aching to be somewhere else
Always dreaming of life – different

IMG_1404

In front of me,
Filling my table
Is the way-over-the-top provision from You
That I readily forget as I strive and strive and strive and strive
And strive and strive and strive
And try to control
And try to do do do do do do do
Oh Lord, help my unbelief.

You left
Perfect Glory.
Perfect union with your Father
The Perfect One
To come down
In the humblest form
With basically nothing
To be with us.
Emmanuel

You left
Perfect Light
To come down
Into the darkness
To be with us.
Light of the World.

And I
Forget
That you are still here.

And I
Forget
That you have given me the most incredible life
While I sit dreaming of a different one

You, sweet Jesus,
You came to the lowest.
Glory to God in the highest
And on earth,
Peace.

This is it.

I was just staring at them, sitting together in the rocking chair in the back living room. They were both totally naked, having taken a bath just before and it’s 81 degrees in the house because our air conditioning is out, so I didn’t make them get dressed. They were each eating a peanut granola bar and starting to watch the wretched Paw Patrol that I allow for exactly one total hour each week.

It hit me then: this is their only childhood. This is it. Just like how I look back so fondly on playing shipwrecked in the cul-de-sac on Cottonwood Place, they’ll look fondly back to this house, this neighborhood. This is it. It’s fleeting so quickly.

Will they like it? Will they remember me being silly and funny or stressed and emotionally absent? Will they remember themselves being naked, like, all the time while I fretted over how normal people are probably dressed right now? Will they remember the total chaos that I feel like their life is? Or will it all be blurry, like my childhood is for me – fuzzy flashes of warm safety and laughter and utter joy?

It changed something in me, just now. I hopped up and started dancing to the music like a crazy person. I picked up Ellie and started swinging her around. We laughed so hard together. That sweet giggle is such a musical sound to me.

This is it for my sweet babies. I’m so happy that they are growing up – it’s supposed to happen. And it’s supposed to feel this quick. What a blessing to be a flash of eternity and to get to remember it well. To see it go so quickly is proof that we’re eternal. But it is so quick, and it is so easy to get lost in what doesn’t matter. But this is it for them – their only childhood. I want them to remember it being beautiful.

So I’m going to keep jumping up for random dance parties. I’m going to let them make a giant mess of banana bread. I’m going to splash in their bath water. I’m going to put down my phone and look in their precious deep brown eyes (and maybe blue – we aren’t sure about Grace’s eye color yet). I’m going to turn off the tv and go outside, splashing in puddles and playing in dirt and getting bug bites. We’ll swim and run and walk and bike and play tennis is this blessed, beautiful place. We’ll celebrate this short life in and out of these walls. We’ll gather with believers and unbelievers in this home, showing the love of Jesus in our short time.

This is it. YOLO, if you will. Our only chance, their only childhood. Help us see it, Jesus.

“This day is fleeting. Soon it will end, and once it has vanished, it will not come again. So let us love with a love pure and strong before this day is gone.”

Judge Away

I seriously struggle with guilt. I think it’s one of my biggest areas of needed help in my life, honestly. I feel guilty about absolutely everything, all the time, particularly with parenting.

I never noticed that I felt so guilty and fearful all the time until a few weeks ago, when a friend posted an article about being a mom in “the age of fear,” as it was titled. The article really struck a chord with me. I get really “soapbox-y” about “Good Samaritans” (I always put that in quotes because I don’t think they are actually being good or providing help) who call the police on parents who they think might be neglecting or abusing their kids when they don’t really have enough information to determine that – like people who call the police on someone for leaving their kid in the car for 5 minutes or letting their kids play alone in the backyard. I think these people are cowardly. I don’t think they want to help; I just think they get a kick out of being self-righteous, tattling hall monitors. And this is my great fear as a parent: I fear, fear, fear – every single day – my children being taken away from me and traumatized by someone who was being a self-righteous, tattling hall monitor when my child wasn’t actually in any danger. It’s so out of hand that I fear doing simple tasks for fear of being judged (and even receiving criminal charges). For example, when I get to Aldi every week, I grab my quarter, leave the kids in the car, go the front of the store, get my buggy, and bring it back to my car, where I then lift the two big ones into the double cart (Aldi, I love you), put the wrap on, place the baby inside, and then begin walking into the store. I don’t mind in the slightest taking my kids in to Aldi with me, but that less-than-2-minute interval where they are left in the car so I can get a buggy has me second-guessing my choices as a mom EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK. This also happens at Target, for the record. I should be able to do that without living in great fear that some nosy person will think I’m a terrible mother.

I am an excellent mother. I am imperfect in every way. I mess up every day. But by golly, I am an excellent mother.

My house is always a mess. My kids don’t eat healthy even though I consistently try to feed them healthy food. My oldest child will be 5 in two months and isn’t completely potty trained during the day (interestingly, he is completely potty trained at night). I have lost my temper and yelled and slammed doors. I have spanked out of anger rather than out of loving punishment before. I have gone several days without cleaning up their room. I have gone several days with a dirty diaper sitting on top of the dresser, continually forgetting to throw it away. I have cleaned up yogurt handprints from my fabric furniture several times a day because my children WILL NOT stay at the table to eat no matter WHAT we do. My kids have gone over a week without having a bath before; I forget to brush their teeth way more often than I’d like to admit. There are no baseboards in my house and I still haven’t found about half of the newborn-3 month clothes that I had for Ellie after we moved because the basement is a wreck of total destruction.

I worry about every single one of these things. I feel so guilty that I can’t seem to just get it together and be Wonder Woman and tame it all with my lasso. (Actually, I wish I could throw all our crap in the invisible plane, because that would be handy to quickly hide it from people when they are coming over!) I’m feeling nauseated even writing this down – I’m literally scared RIGHT NOW that someone is going to read this and report me to DCFS because they think I neglect my children or can’t properly care for them. But in the spirit of authenticity, I want you to know that we are doing okay in the midst of extreme chaos with 3 kids under 5. I work hard to stop all of these things that I listed above. I am currently working hard to get my house in order and have routines that will stop the messes. I am working very, very hard to enforce routines and rules that will help my kids self-regulate and be neater and cleaner. I am working hard to take a deep breath and discipline in a way that is effective, consistent, and deeply rooted in love and a desire to see the character of God in my children. I’m exhausted and worn and weary. THIS PHASE OF LIFE IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT.

So judge away. Judge me for those embarrassing things I listed above. Think in your head that I’m a terrible mother. Make that grimace-face at me. Tell me on my walk with all three kids when two of them are acting crazy that “oh, you’ve got your hands full!” Text me that it isn’t okay that my kid spread his poop on the walls when he was three or that my daughter had yogurt in her hair at church on Sunday morning. Judge me at Aldi because I forgot to grab the kids’ shoes on the way out the door so they are barefoot in the cart. I have decided that I welcome your judgment.

I’m fighting the urge as I write this to list all the things I am great at as a mom. I don’t think that matters, though. I have a deep need to validate myself by overbalancing the scale – I do more things well than poorly, so that makes me a good mom. I actually don’t think that’s true right now anyway; I do more things poorly than well. But I’m not going to list them.

Here’s what I am going to say: thank you. Thank you to my friend who came over to deliver us a meal after Grace was born and helped us scrub purple sharpie off our cabinets. Thank you to my friend who came over to bring us food about an hour after my kids spread ashes over the entire house and stayed for over an hour to clean it up with me. Thank you to those people who are willing to step into my ridiculous mess of a zoo and help me.

This is who I want to be. I want to be the person who helps in a mess. And I want to be the person who invites people into the real – even when it is ugly – to live life alongside one another.

Most of all, I pray deeply every single day that my children will see that when life is a hot mess, we help each other. I want them to see that we reach outside of ourselves. I want them to see that spilling food isn’t a problem because it makes a mess; it’s a problem because we’re wasting our privilege. I want them to learn that we take care of our bodies by bathing and brushing our teeth because they are temples of the Holy Spirit, given to us by God to do His work on this earth, so they need to be cared for.

In letting go of my incessant need to have a perfect life, or more specifically, to appear like I have a perfect life, I pray from my inmost core that my children can learn the grace of God. I pray that the LORD will arrest their hearts for His cause, that he will fill them up with love and mercy, and that they will be His beacons, His World Changers, His light. And I pray every day that in spite of my huge list of imperfections, they will seek His kingdom first.

I pray that they’ll see me turning toward my Jesus in every moment of weakness, and that they’ll learn that doing that is the greatest strength they can have.

And if I am perfect, or if I try really hard to look perfect, then they don’t get to see that. They miss that chance to learn humility. They miss that chance to learn grace.

So judge away, friends. I’ve decided that being real is more important than looking perfect.

Sabbath: Impossible

As you know, I have three kids now. I have officially entered the “more kids than hands” club. Literally for my entire life, as long as I can even remember thinking about my own family when I was a grown-up, I’ve imagined having four kids. I’m almost there! And it is a lot, folks. It is a lot. Huge blessings, and so much love, but so overwhelming a lot of the time.

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My mom got me this amazing mug yesterday: “Motherhood is not for wimps!”

The main thing that I’ve found to be challenging in making the adjustment is that I feel like I just can’t get a break.

I feel like I have to be “on” 24/7 – always patient, kind, slow to anger, giving and pouring out to someone all the time with no chance to rejuvenate myself. It gets to be a little much! But then I think a little deeper, and I realize that this is no different than it has always been. Before I was married, I felt this way. Married with no kids, same. One kid, same. Two kids, same. And now three kids.

I think we just all feel this way.

I could go on lots of soapboxes about why we don’t get rest. It’s AMERICAN to get no rest – we have to work work work work work until we’re dead to leave large amounts of treasure for our children that moth and rust can destroy (do you hear the irony in my voice?). It’s because of unfair expectations on WOMEN (but, then again, men feel this, too). It’s because there are too many wonderful things to experience on this earth, so we have to go go go go go in order to see everything and do everything (HEEEEEYYYYY – shoutout to my fellow enneagram 7’s, amirite?) so we don’t miss anything. We feel obligated to say “yes” as often as possible so we don’t miss anything and especially so our kids don’t miss anything.

I would become so stressed and overwhelmed at my incredibly long list of responsibilities. Why is the house ALWAYS a mess? How am I supposed to navigate getting three children through this parking lot without one of them getting hit by a car when they always run from me? How am I supposed to write quality lesson plans when I only get 40 minutes a day to do it and I cannot work at home because there is too much to do at home and if I leave the kids unattended for 0.1 seconds they destroy everything within reach (and some things out of reach!)? Taking time to myself seemed selfish because it left Ryan with my huge responsibility list in addition to his own.

A Sabbath? Impossible. Laughable!

A few years ago, Ryan and I read a few different books about eliminating excess in our lives. We did this in the hope that cutting things – choosing “no’s” – would help us get more rest. I was worried during this time. If I keep quitting things, will I let anyone down? If I’m not part of anything, will anybody care about me anymore? We spent lots of time in prayer, and we ended up quitting, like, everything. Funny enough, we didn’t feel any more rested after quitting all of our activities than we had before. But one thing was for sure: we were humbled to see how God kept working in all of those areas where we had been striving and serving without us. 

Unlike what we thought about ourselves, we weren’t actually a necessary piece of the puzzle.

I suppose this could be viewed two ways.

1.Since we aren’t necessary pieces of the puzzle, why should we even bother?

or

2.What a relief that I’m not a necessary piece of the puzzle! Now I can rest in letting God do the work, and I just get to be part of it.

At first, I really leaned toward the first attitude. But praise God – He has taught me how to lean in to the second attitude instead. And in doing that, I am finding, for the first time in many, many years of serving God, that there is a wonderful freedom in finding rest within my work.

It seems paradoxical; I know. But think about it – when you get a night off and you spend it totally scrolling through Netflix or Facebook, do you feel rested? Maybe you think you do – I thought I did. What I found, though, is that I wasn’t resting – I was numbing. I use those things not to rest, but to zone out. I totally check out of my life during that time and live in escapism. It makes life itself more bearable, but there isn’t any filling of my soul.

Lately, God is beginning to teach me to step into His work in freedom and thankfulness. Being a mom is an enormous gift, even when my kids are writing with purple sharpie on my cabinets and spreading fireplace ashes all over the living room. Approaching the opportunity as a gift of praise and a chance to honor the One who gave it to me has completely changed my heart in it. Doing the dishes becomes worship. Thank you, God, for these nice plates and pots and pans. Thank you for the people who loved us enough to give them as gifts for our wedding. Thank you for the little ones who dirtied these dishes. Thank you for the food that we put on these dishes. Thank you for running water and soap to rid of germs.

When I actually think these things while doing the dishes, God renews my heart in my work, and I am filled with a joy that doesn’t come from anything else.

It’s a relief to think of how good God is, and to acknowledge that He is the Guide, the Power, and the Worker.

I’m not trying to devalue a real Sabbath – taking time away from it all to focus on the Lord only. God literally rested from his work on the seventh day, and he commanded us to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. That said, I am in a season where it is completely unrealistic for me to get one day a week totally away from everyone, especially while one particular tiny human needs my body for sustenance. Finding myself praying in desperation for my soul to be filled by the LORD in a way that only He can, my Jesus meets me here in smaller moments: time alone with Him in the morning and within the work I must do during the day. I’m so grateful for a God who is with me.

A Thorn

When I was a little girl, I was running in church trying to do something quickly to help my dad. There was an all-glass door going to an alley that led to the children’s area. In my hurry, I pushed the glass of the door instead of the metal frame, and I ran right through it! I was in total shock, unsure of what had just happened, when I realized that my hand really hurt and was bleeding. I had been cut!

My hand was treated with some antibiotic ointment and a bandaid, and it felt better. But a few days later, I noticed that it wasn’t fully healing. It turned out that a small piece of glass was embedded into my palm, and it couldn’t heal while there was still glass in there. While the antibiotic ointment and the bandaid did some to ease the pain, my wound could never heal as long as there was still glass in there.


God has been doing some hardcore work in my life lately. It’s all related to this one, small, seemingly minuscule area in my life. I have this one particular little hurt – like glass in a wound – my thorn, we’ll call it. It doesn’t matter in the slightest what it specifically is, because I know we all have these little thorns that are quite deeply rooted and are impossible to release. We just can’t heal, even with some antibiotic ointment or a bandaid, until the thorn is removed. I am writing this to help myself process the pain of this thorn and to speak about what God is teaching me through this.

IGNORE (Hint: This doesn’t work.)
For a while, the thorn hurt a lot. I didn’t understand it, so I tried ignoring it. Maybe I was just being a baby, and it just wasn’t as serious as I thought, so I just needed to let it go and move on. I spent a long time pretending like it wasn’t even there. The thing is, though, just like a physical injury that gets infected, ignoring it isn’t always the best route. Even without really noticing it, the thorn kept poking into other areas of my life. It infected my feelings about others, my feelings about God, and especially my feelings about myself. Because of this thorn, I started to believe some things.

I truly started to believe that God doesn’t want me to be blessed in this area. He doesn’t want my thorn gone. I still believe this in some ways, and I fight myself every day about it. Even though the bible commands this particular thing should go a certain way, I find myself believing that, for me, it isn’t supposed to happen, and I’m supposed to have to endure this unfair thorn forever. I honestly am still not sure about this one – it is tricky to determine exactly which pains are ones we’re supposed to endure for the end result of faith and perseverance, and which ones are simply a result of the sin in this world. This is one of those where I can’t tell. Or is it both? I’m at a loss. But here I sit in this thorn, just always slightly uncomfortable because of the pain it causes.

I truly started to believe that this thing is hurting me because I’m not a worthy person. I still believe that I have a very annoying personality, and I need to carefully edit each thing I say and do and how I react. I still believe that I should just avoid others because my ugly personality will eventually turn them off of wanting to know me. This is another tricky one – because of sin, there are definitely things that need to be edited in myself. There are parts of me that are unworthy and sinful and just plain bad. I’m not inherently good, and I think scripture makes that pretty clear. But it is a tough thing to determine if this thorn is based on how I’m sinful or if it’s based on something I need to learn about God. Or maybe it’s also both? I just can’t tell, so here I sit in this thorn, just always slightly uncomfortable because of the pain it causes.

REPLACE (Hint: This is a much better plan.)
When I started to see how this tiny pain was creating much more significant wounds in other areas, I tried to go another route. The medicine route, I call it. I tried to see the truth past the hurt – the definite truth that doesn’t change based on the sin of the world. I tried exchanging my sorrow for the joy of the Lord – focusing on blessings and thankfulness and peace instead. I tried listing all the provision of God in my life and praising him for it. I tried spending time with him everyday, starting and finishing my day with his greatness in my mind. I tried thinking of how worthy and sinless and perfect He is, and how worth it it’ll be to trade everything else for Him. He is the only important thing, so a little thorn just doesn’t matter that much.

I think this is all true. Some real wisdom and maturity has come into my life since I started doing this method instead of the “ignore it” method. The times of joy are certainly outweighing the sorrow now – the despairing moments from the ache of the thorn are much fewer and far between. The discomfort of the thorn reminds me of my Jesus and what he has done for me, so I’m *almost* glad for it.

WHAT ABOUT THE TIMES WHEN REPLACING IT DOESN’T WORK?
But then little things happen that stinkin’ thorn really starts to nag, and that makes me come to terms with something more awful now. I’m realizing that I am clinging to my thorn, and I don’t want it to go away. Not sweetly because it reminds me of my Jesus, but like a toddler who doesn’t want to change his bandaid! I don’t want it to go away until there is justice. I don’t know how to lay it at the altar. The ugliest, dirtiest part of my sin comes out as I face this demon:

I think I’m right in this situation. I think there has been injustice here, and the deepest parts of me want to see that justice come to fruition. I want to see others experience this thorn that I’m experiencing. I so badly want other people to feel and understand just how painful my thorn is, even if that means they have to experience the thorn, too. I also deeply, deeply feel that I don’t deserve to have to go through this. Talking as a fool, my soul says, “Haven’t I been through enough, going through suffering in the name of Jesus just by the family I was born into and their service to the Lord? Hasn’t it been enough to be pulled around the country my whole childhood, never making roots, never having deep connections, always dealing with the drama of sinful church-goers, suffering the consequences of other people’s sin and selfishness my whole life even during my more innocent childhood? Hasn’t it been enough to experience great heartache through losses of friends and family members without any shoulders to cry on because we’ve had to be the rock of faith in these times? Hasn’t it been enough to have been shunned and pushed aside constantly by those who claim to be believers or to have true believers put up walls because they’re afraid of what I’ll report to the church hierarchy? Hasn’t it been enough to be in second place in absolutely every area that I show any promise in? Even in my great, undeniable, incredibly privileged life, haven’t I suffered enough that I shouldn’t need this thorn, too?” I’m so embarrassed that I feel this way. I’m ashamed that my soul is so ugly. I see the irony in my words – the ridiculousness that I even consider my life to be hard at all. But I truly, deeply feel these poisonous thoughts – and many more than these listed.

Even deeper than that, I want so incredibly badly for my pain to be healed the way I want it to be healed, but it will not be. That’s the twist of the knife. I’m never going to get what I want in this. It is never going to happen. Never. I will likely live another 50-65 years on this earth without this ending the way I want it to. It is an enormous struggle to figure out whether I’m supposed to keep fervently praying for the result I want or just give up. The bible teaches both sides of this – fervent prayer for our wants and also total surrender. The easy answer is that we’re supposed to fervently pray for what we want but also be totally cool with never getting it. Yeah, that’s the truth, but that is not easy at all. When something is the deepest, aching-est, most inner-circle desire of your heart, it isn’t so easy as just praying the thorn away.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:21-33:
“Whatever anyone else dares to boast about – I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.”

I think it’s fair to say that Paul went through a bit more than me. But then he goes on at the beginning of chapter 12 to talk about a vision that he saw. He knows that the vision was a great one, and something that he could certainly be very proud about having. And then in the middle of verse 7:
“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

When I read this, I always get a little annoyed for Paul. I feel like it isn’t right that he had to go through all that stuff mentioned in chapter 11 just to turn around and still get a thorn in his flesh that nagged him, too. I can’t help but notice, though, that he says, “to keep me from becoming conceited.” It does make sense that one might want to brag about all the pain they’ve experienced in Jesus’s name. I certainly feel that pull! Look what I literally just did in the above paragraph, where I listed all the things that I feel are unjust about my life! Even after all that pain, Paul still needed a thorn to put him in his place. I certainly do, too.

God didn’t take away the thorn! God’s answer, after three days of torment, was that his grace was enough. I know this is what God is trying to teach me with my thorn, too. His grace is enough. I should delight in these things I experience because my weaknesses point to Christ’s strength. It’s about Him, anyway. His strength is what matters. His name is what matters.

BUT THAT SUCKS and is very hard to come to terms with because of my sinful pride, and it makes me mad. Again, I’m ashamed that I feel this way. I don’t want to admit it. But I bet you feel this, too, somewhere, and it might help you to see that someone else feels the ache of injustice in all of the mess that is this world. The great humility that it takes to be okay with God’s way when everything seems so messed up is something I haven’t figured out yet, which is why I know I need it.

Oh teach me, dear Teacher, to embrace my thorn. Teach me to thank you for my thorn. Teach me to dwell in the glory of your power instead of mine. Teach me to dismiss my need for justice and take on gratitude that I have your grace. You holy, all-knowing, compassionate, wonderful Father – help me to see your grace in this thorn. Help me figure out how to lay it at your feet. In your incredible joy, allow me to release my grief. In your all-consuming peace, allow me to release my anger. In your unending mercy, allow me to embrace my thorn.


We had to pull that piece of glass out of my hand that was stuck there. I remember that it hurt a whole lot. Now, when I look at my hand, I can’t even see the scar from where it was. There is no residual pain from the wound. It’s just a fond memory of my silly hurriedness. Thank you, Jesus, for heaven, where all of our thorns will be gone, healed perfectly by Jehovah Rapha, as we stand with new bodies in your presence. You are so good.