Solidarity, Sisters!

Parenting four boys means being surrounded by noise, energy, dirt, gas, burps, noise, physical activity, video games, toys, noise, competition, bugs, frogs, oh, and did I mention noise? That is the beautiful and chaotic motherhood life that I have been given. Many times I have wished for girls, but I quickly settle back into gratitude for the small tribe of males the Lord has loaned my husband and I. We are raising men for His Kingdom.

My main parenting struggle enters with the whole “raising” scenario. Who knew that training and parenting children could be so draining? Motherhood didn’t come with an “off” switch. There is only a recharging session while they sleep.

The constancy and exhaustion of raising small humans is the context in which I want to share a story which occurred this week. As a family, we decided to take an impromptu road trip for a few days. It was fun to take off on a mostly unplanned trip: four days carved out to adventure together. We visited state parks and a science museum, went on a cave tour, and even happened upon a fair. We made fun memories as a family, and for that I am very grateful.

This is a real-life picture of motherhood with four boys!

During our trip, we stayed in a hotel. As one might imagine, trying to sleep in one big room was not conducive to falling asleep each night. The boys wanted to talk, joke, touch each other, throw stuffed animals at each other, and generally keep each other awake. Our early-rising child woke everyone up before daybreak each morning. Additionally, the boys seemed blissfully unaware of their volume or how that volume might affect the people staying on either side of us.

The last morning of our trip, I felt particularly annoyed with their loud behavior. It didn’t seem to matter that I had politely, then kindly, then firmly told them to tone it down. The volume continued. I sat them down and had a stern “talk” with them about how their behavior might be affecting the other people in the hotel and how they needed to behave when we went down for breakfast. They all solemnly nodded and did their best to contain their energy all the way down the hall and into the elevator.

When we got to the continental breakfast, I spent 10 minutes pouring juice, finding seating, getting utensils and condiments, and situating the boys before I could eat my own meal. Finally, I sat down with my food and coffee and looked up at my husband. He casually stated, “I don’t think you’re the only one who is struggling with parenting this morning.” He glanced to his right, and my gaze followed his. There stood a mom with three elementary-aged children. She was refilling plates, getting utensils, answering questions, admonishing her children’s behavior, and looking incredibly exhausted. I observed her over the following moments. Unlike myself, she was there without a husband. Although I saw her take a few deep breaths in her obvious frustration, she maintained calm for her kids, finishing the meal, and finally blissfully, took a sip of her coffee.

I passed her while refilling my coffee cup. Quietly, I touched her on the shoulder and declared, “Mom solidarity! You are doing a really good job.”

She blinked at me in surprise and then smiled and said, “Thank you.”

Each mother has been given a different set up: unique children with unique personalities. Some of us are married and some are single. Some of us have girls, and some of us have boys. Some of us have one child, and some of us have eight. What remains the same is the load of blessings and exhaustion that come with the motherhood journey. Some days are great, and others are really hard. Sweet moments of cuddles and kisses are often followed by a sibling fight and spilled milk. If you have lived serving those who can not yet serve themselves, then you are a member of a tribe of women who are changing the world one day at a time. Knowing this, we can have compassion for others we see in the trenches.

We all worry that we’re messing up, and mom guilt is the worst! It feels incredibly reassuring when someone else “gets it.” After seeing my son have an utter meltdown one day last year, I received a text from a mom friend of mine telling me what a good mother I was for my son. It only took her a moment, but the message I received was: “You’re not alone. I see what you’re doing. You’re not screwing this up. Keep up the good work.”

As helpful as it is to be encouraged by other moms, it is even more reassuring to know that the Lord has grace for us mothers as well. One of the verses that has encouraged me most in mothering is:

He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

Isaiah 40:11

Picturing the Lord as my shepherd is a comforting image. That last line though, just about undoes me: He “gently leads those that are with young.”

God doesn’t run ahead without us mothers. He doesn’t even wait for us to keep up with His plans. He leads us. He leads us gently. He knows that we are not equipped to do this job perfectly. He knows what it costs us. He knows the joys and the tears, and He promises to gently lead us.

What a relief! I can trust that as I follow my Shepherd, He will lead me as I lead my children. They will follow my voice as I follow His. Then, by His grace, they will one day know His voice and follow Him for themselves. I am not in this motherhood thing alone.

In the meantime: Solidarity, sisters. The road is tiring, but it is good work we are doing. The best work.

Pause: Find a moment to be still. (In the bathroom with the door locked if need be.) Breathe deeply, and exhale slowly. Read and meditate on Isaiah 40:11.

Renew: What images come to your mind as you read this verse? If you are a mother, reflect on times that you can bear witness to how the Lord led you in your motherhood journey.

Next: This week, ask the Lord to bring a Mom in your life to mind. As the Lord brings this person to your mind, pray for her. Then, make it a point to speak encouragement to her or give her a gift that reminds her that she is seen and appreciated.

May we be reminded of our Good Shepherd’s faithfulness and gentleness in leading us.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Desperate Bandits

Last weekend, our family embarked on a camping adventure together. I am labeling it an “adventure,” because we chose to camp on Cumberland Island, a National Park in Georgia that can only be reached by ferry. Taking enough supplies and food for two adults and four boys onto an island to camp for 3 days in the heat of summer is definitely the epitome of adventure.

Cumberland Island is a wilderness full of beauty and nature. The beaches are virtually deserted. Wildlife is abundant! Wild horses and deer roam the island. Egrets and herons can be seen walking through the marshlands. Sea turtles nest along the beaches. It really is picturesque.

Unfortunately, some of the wildlife is a little more interactive. Wild raccoons also roam the island and make themselves at home in the campground, waiting for any morsel of food to claim. We were visited by our first raccoon two hours into the trip. We heard rustling in the bushes and saw beady eyes looking at us, as he sneaked around our campsite, checking out our wares. We put most of our food into a latched food box provided for the very purpose of keeping food safe from raccoons. We hung our trash from a tall pole, and tied up our cooler with bungee cords. We were prepared.

The second day, we discovered that the raccoons could climb poles. Our trash was torn open from the bottom. Later that afternoon, we found that a bag of food inside the food box had been torn open through the wire mesh holes on the outside of the box. I found pieces of shredded bags and oatmeal cookie crumbs all over the ground. We adapted and started putting all of our food as close to the middle of the box as possible. We also started putting our trash inside the box to to keep it safe.

One night, as we got ready for bed, I peeked out of our tent and saw a raccoon digging in our fire pit…which was still aflame. He was managing to pull out charred scraps of food we had thrown into the fire after dinner. In order to do this, he was sticking his paws into the fire to pull out salvageable scraps. Talk about desperate!

Caught red handed!

No wonder raccoons are called bandits! They will not stop at anything to get what they want. Even when it seems desperate. Even when their objective is a burned scrap of food.

But maybe humans aren’t so different. We have needs too, and if we can’t get our needs met in direct and healthy ways we often find more desperate means to get them met instead. Usually, in the United States, we don’t have to work so hard for food, but we may find ourselves desperate in other ways.

Connection: When we don’t have healthy, caring relationships, we will find other ways to get the need for connection met: toxic relationships, gangs, social media, online gaming, codependency, pornography….the list could go on and on.

Recognition: We all have a desire to be affirmed, validated, and recognized for who we are and what we contribute. When we don’t receive this feedback from those we love and respect, we might seek it in other ways: social media, an unhealthy drive for success and perfection, seeking out inappropriate attention from the opposite sex, workaholism, etc.

Security: All of us have a built in desire for both physical and emotional security. When we feel this sense of security is threatened in some way, we can put too much emphasis on things that will seemingly provide for us: a good job and benefits, a large savings accounts, great health or life insurance, the perfect relationship, etc.

There are so many areas where this could apply. Desperation causes us to make choices we would not make under other circumstances, and it’s never a fun place to be. It’s not fun for raccoons, who burn their paws to earn a charred morsel, and it’s certainly not enjoyable for humans who were given a God-ordained soul and an innate need for connection.

Pause: Take a deep breath and find a comfortable place to sit. Think about a time in your life that you may have felt desperate to have a need met in your life. How did you go about trying to meet that need? What are other, more healthy ways that you could have gone about it?

Renew: Think about, journal, and pray about how the Lord has provided for you in your life. How has he provided for your relationship and security needs?

Next: Beginning to make healthier choices means becoming more aware of our own needs and tendencies. Start paying attention to your own needs and work on finding ways of communicating those needs to others in your close circles of relationships.

May we not settle for scraps, when God has designed us for fellowship with his saints and with His Spirit!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Anchoring Our Eyes

Have you ever observed a toddler throwing a tantrum, or an adolescent having a meltdown? If so, you can probably attest to the fact that the child had wild eyes throughout the meltdown. When our bodies are under stress and undergo the fight or flight response, our senses are heightened. This affects the eyes, as they are preparing to take in any important visual cues.

For the most part, this response is beneficial. Imagine you are walking to your car late at night in a dark parking lot. Your pupils will be dilated, taking in as much light as they can to help you see better. Chances are your eyes will also be scanning the alley, checking for signs of danger. This is a helpful response, as it helps to keep you safe.

What if, however, you are in a crowded restaurant, trying to enjoy dinner with your family, but the crowds and noise are making you anxious. You find it hard to concentrate on the conversation at your table. Instead, you find yourself looking around the restaurant restlessly, scanning the room. In this case, you are not in danger, and your eyes are doing you a disservice by keeping you from focusing on the loved ones at your table.

Anchoring can help our bodies and brains calm down.

Because processing visual stimuli takes a lot of mental energy, one way that we can help our brains and bodies calm down in moments of high arousal or stress is to block out some of the distracting visual stimuli. There are two main ways to do this:

  • The first is to close our eyes. It’s amazing what a difference closing our eyes can make to our inner state. We are taught to pray with our eyes closed, and in this way we can focus inward, rather than paying attention to what is going on around us.
  • The second is a tool called visual anchoring, which is choosing a neutral object to stare at for a short period of time. Using the restaurant example, this might be the menu or a saltshaker at the table. This gives time to refocus the mind and body while purposely keeping the eyes from scanning. This tool is even more effective when paired with deep breathing.

Interestingly, this same anchoring principle can be found in Scripture. In Matthew 14, we find the disciples in a boat, in the middle of the night, being approached by a ghostly form walking on the water. Jesus reassures His disciples that it’s just Him, but, being overwhelmed and terrified, the disciples find it hard to believe. The ever brave and impulsive Peter quickly devises a scheme to test the validity of Jesus’ claim. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” Jesus replied.

Good enough for Peter, he jumps out of the boat and begins walking toward Jesus. We can imagine at this point that he has anchored his vision onto the Savior. Then, he becomes aware of the wind and fear takes over. I can only imagine his stress response system kicking in as he begins to sink. “Lord, save me,” he cried.

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:31 ESV

Just that quickly, Peter was safe.

When we are in danger, our bodies are designed to serve us well, protecting us from danger and rising to challenges. Our eyes are designed to take in more light and scan for danger when we are under stress. Remember that ultimately our fear response can be overridden with calming tools such as visual anchoring. Even more importantly, we can remember that we have a Savior who will never leave us or forsake us, even when it feels like we’re drowning.

Pause: Take a deep breath and exhale. Now would be a great time to practice your new anchoring tool by closing your eyes or fixing your eyes on a neutral object for 20 to 30 seconds. When you feel calm and ready, read Matthew 14: 22 – 33.

Renew: Think about a time in the last month that you felt overwhelmed. What was the trigger that caused you to feel overwhelmed? What helped you to feel more calm?

Next: Both in a spiritual as well as in a physical sense, think about how you can use anchoring the next time you’re feeling stressed or afraid.

May we anchor our eyes on the One who can save us from the wind and waves of life!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Seen and Unseen

One evening, while wandering the perimeter of our property, my husband and I enjoyed a few moments of quiet conversation together. With four boys, moments of relative quiet are to be savored, and I was doing just that. Suddenly, my husband pulled out his phone and pointed it at the sky. “What are you doing?,” I asked, surprised that in the midst of a conversation he could be so easily distracted. “I’m checking for planets with this app on my phone,” he replied. “Look, it will show you the planets and stars in orbit.” He passed me the phone, and I looked for myself. Sure enough, with the help of the app, we found Mars and Jupiter in the night sky.

Seen and Unseen: visions in the night sky

As often happens, my mind takes everyday occurrences and turns them into spiritual or relational metaphors. This instance was no different. It occurred to me that those planets and stars had been present throughout the day, but had remained unseen. Why? Because the Sun, our planet’s favorite star, shines so brightly, it blinds us to the presence of the others. It’s only when the Sun sets, and we can peer into the dark corridors of space, that we are able to see far-off stars and planets.

In II Corinthians 4, Paul writes about the perspective of what is seen and what is unseen in relation to suffering. He encourages his readers to look not at what is seen, but at what is unseen. He does not deny that suffering exists, or wish it away with platitudes of faith. What he does do, is put it into perspective declaring that these “light and momentary trials are working for us an eternal weight of glory.” He closes the chapter challenging his readers to “fix their eyes” on what is unseen, because what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

I relate to this analogy personally. In this season of my life, I am struggling to make sense of and hold onto truth while coming to terms with physical conditions that are worsening over time. Will I choose to hold onto what is “seen” or what is “unseen” about the situation? Certainly, both are real factors. I cannot wish away the facts. I have to learn to live with and manage what is “seen” about the situation.

Still, in Christ, I know that behind the scenes, much more is at work. Even if I never know the entirety of the story this side of heaven, I can remind myself that these days of discomfort are just “light and momentary.” What is unseen by the eye, but perceived by the Spirit is an “eternal weight of glory” at the end of the race.

Just as the Sun shines brightly through the day lighting up all that we see, we can know with the same surety that at night, through darkness, stars will shine. Darkness, or the “unseen,” is where we grow in faith most, learning the art of hope, and clinging more closely to the promises of Scripture.

II Corinthians 4:18

Pause: Breathe in. Breathe out. Read II Corinthians 4 and meditate on any verses that resonate with you in this chapter.

Renew: As you think about your own life, is there a trial or struggle that you can relate to in reading this chapter? What about the situation or trial is seen and temporary? What might be unseen and eternal?

Next: Pray this week that the Lord would give you renewed perspective about this situation. Ask Him to help you fix your eyes on what is unseen and eternal.

May we be renewed day by day, and have eyes to see with eternal perspective!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Mantras and Meltdowns

Have you ever noticed that when you feel overwhelmed, it’s hard to form clear thoughts and think logically?  There is a good reason for that. When we are under great stress, our bodies go into the “fight or flight” response which equips the body and brain for survival.  The same mechanisms that make your heart pound harder and adrenaline flow when under stress also cause your higher-level thinking abilities to become impaired.

One of the downsides of the stress response is that our higher-level thinking cortex (responsible for language, logic, imagination, and planning) gets hijacked, while our lower brain that runs instincts, reflexes, emotions, and memory is highly activated. This is all meant to work for our survival. After all, if your car is parked on a train track, and a train is barreling down the track towards your car, you don’t need to calculate the velocity involved; you just need to MOVE! Our bodies and brains in fight or flight mode are made to do just that.

Our fight/flight response helps us react quickly in stressful situations.

When under great stress or anxiety, we are also more susceptible to believing negative thoughts.  It’s a lot easier to fight negative thoughts when you’re in a positive frame of mind. When overwhelmed, you will not only have more negative thoughts, but also give in to “stinking thinking” more easily.

I am a huge proponent of talking back to negative thoughts.  In other words, replacing lies with truth. In previous blog posts, I’ve shared about the importance of using Scripture to combat negative thoughts. However, when overwhelmed, the part of your brain that can think logically and combat lies with truth is impaired due to your body’s fight/flight system.  What then?

Enter the mantra, a short, true statement (4-5 words) that uses little concentration and can be used to get through a time of stress.  

Mantra: a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation / a statement or slogan repeated frequently.

Long before I knew about how the fight/flight response affects the brain and body, I managed to use a mantra.  I was in labor with my second child in the middle of the night, and I told myself over and over, “Joy comes in the morning, Joy comes in the morning.” After my first birth experience, which was far from pleasant, I was prepared for the worst. In the heat of labor, immersed in pain, I almost forgot my mantra. Still, when it was all said and done, my joy DID come in the morning, with the birth of my sweet child.

Some examples of helpful mantras could be:

  • “This too shall pass.”
  •  “I am not alone.”
  • “Tomorrow is a new day.”
  • “I can do this.”

Large chunks of Scripture may be hard to remember when in fight or flight mode.  Still, the truths of Scripture can be shortened to work as a mantra.

  • “His mercies are new each day.” Lamentations 3:22 & 23
  • “He will fight for me.” Exodus 14:14
  • “God loves me.” John 3:16
  • “He is with me.” Isaiah 41:10

If I am being carried along in a rushing river, trying to keep my head above water, I will not be looking for a yacht to come and save me.  I will be looking for a life saver, a piece of plywood, or a log to grab onto, until I can make it to shore. That is how I think of mantras.  They’re not elaborate. They’re not even eloquent, but they are true. They can be clung to until our brains return to a calm state.

Pause: Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Think of a Scripture passage that brings you comfort when you are overwhelmed and read through it now.

Renew: Remember a time when you felt overwhelmed and had to fight negative thoughts. When in that circumstance, what kind of a mantra would have been helpful to repeat to yourself?

Next: Make a list this week of a few true, short statements that will be helpful for you the next time you find yourself under major stress. If you want, keep a couple of them in a location where you can see them easily (in your wallet, on your phone, or taped to your bathroom mirror).

May you be encouraged to hold onto truth in the midst of stress and anxiety.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Never Alone

I think there is a good reason that the apostle Paul never names his infamous “thorn in the flesh.” By not giving it a name or a condition, we can all place our own suffering experience into the text and relate to his pain. Although I am not an expert on the subject of suffering, I certainly can relate to a thorn in the flesh. Mine happens to be in the form of joint instability and the pain that goes with it. I too have asked for my thorn to be removed. Although I hope that one day I am healed, for now, the Lord is slowly teaching me that His grace really is sufficient.

My “thorn in the flesh” journey began about six years ago. A year or two into the journey, I remember a day that I took a walk in the woods. As I walked, I was thinking and praying, and honestly feeling pretty sorry for myself. Any time I took a walk my dog, Todd, a black lab mix, walked with me. He was so enthusiastic, running ahead, chasing all the smells and noises, but constantly making sure that he was near me.  He would double back around to check in with me, before chasing the next smell.

A loyal companion

I was contemplating how faithful my dog was to me, when I felt the Lord impress on my spirit that He was the same way.  I might be going through suffering, but I would not do it alone. The Lord was with me, and He had given me a family (and dog) who loved me and would walk with me on this journey.

As time passes, even though I feel that I grow wiser, somehow I find that I need to be reminded of truths that the Lord has taught me before. Flash forward to this week, when the Lord did a similar thing for me again. Last week I was experiencing more pain than usual, and with the pain came worry, insecurity, and fear of the future. One afternoon I took a walk and was praying about it. By praying about it, I mean ugly crying and once again having a pity party. As I walked and cried, a phrase from Psalm 91 came into my head: “I will be with him in trouble.” I stopped walking, and pulled out my Bible app to read the whole verse:

“When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.”

Psalm 91:15

Once again, the Lord reassured me that although I was experiencing pain, I was not in it alone.

The promises of Scripture are so rich. When we suffer, we can hold on to God’s promises more tightly, exploring the depths of them more fully.  We serve a dependable God. He is the same today, tomorrow, and forever. My feelings and circumstances change, but His grace and faithfulness don’t waver. I’m so thankful that when our perspective is skewed by pain and fear, He reminds us of His faithfulness.

In Christ, we are never alone.

Pause: Find space in your day that you have time to read, pray, and journal.  Look for promises in Scripture about suffering and God’s faithfulness (or whatever else pertains to your current life situation).

Renew: Write these verses down in a journal so that you can revisit these promises when you need a reminder.  If there are one or two verses that really stand out to you, put them on a 3X5 card and carry them with you or put them in a place that you will see them often.

Next: Take opportunities throughout this week to bring your thoughts and feelings to the Lord in prayer.  Take time to listen for His voice and to spend time in the Bible meditating on what you read there. The Lord has the power to re-frame our perspective about our circumstances.

May you have the reassurance that the Lord goes before you, behind you, and with you, always.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Stories of Faith – Pass Them On!

I’m going to let you in on a secret: this blog and podcast ministry affects me more than it does my audience. Of course, my intention is for PRN to encourage other women in their faith, but I also find that it encourages my own. Let me explain.

While recording my the last two podcast interviews, I found myself becoming tearful as my sweet friends shared their God stories. Tearful because the stories were touching. Tearful because even though these women are my friends, there were layers of their stories that I had not previously known. Tearful because the Lord was using their stories to touch my own heart. As they shared about how God ministered and spoke to them, God was, through them, ministering to my own heart as well.

My pastor often says, “Believe the Gospel more.” At face value, this sounds like a really wise blanket statement to any Christian, but I honestly don’t often apply it. What does it really mean to believe the Gospel more?

The Gospel is GOOD NEWS, not just the minute I received salvation, but every minute: In the midst of hard days with my kids, in the midst of days my body doesn’t want to cooperate with my plans, in the midst of busy, can’t get a breath between activities, kinds of days. It’s good news on the days many people read my blog and listen to my podcast, and it’s still good on the days that they don’t. The Good News remains the same: I am loved, accepted, forgiven, and redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ. He is using every circumstance in the present life, even the bad, to be worked into His (and my) ultimate good. (Romans 8:28)

That is SUCH good news! Realistically though, it’s incredibly difficult to maintain that perspective! The primary way I can believe the Gospel more is to spend time with the Lord and in His Word. However, the second most important factor to my faith being renewed, is twofold:

  1. I need to remember and tell others about God’s faithfulness in my life. Remembering times He has been faithful in the past helps me have faith for my future.
  2. Hearing others’ stories of God’s faithfulness encourages and renews my faith. Where has the Lord shown up, sustained them, spoken to them, reminded them of His goodness? When have they stepped out in faith and been caught by their faithful Savior? Hearing others’ stories bolsters my faith.
Psalms 40:10

Thankfully, through podcasting, I get a double portion of faith stories. I get to hear the stories the first time as we record, and then I listen to the conversation again through the editing process. I find that there are many parts of the stories that I hear the second time around that I missed the first time. This too reminds me of the faith walk. I may read a passage of Scripture once and come away with one golden nugget, but when I read the passage again, another nugget of truth sticks out to me.

Telling and hearing faith stories is a key part of being in the body of Christ. So, if you have a story of God’s faithfulness in your life, don’t keep it to yourself. Pray and wait – the Lord will bring people into your life who need to hear your story.

Are you feeling depleted in your own faith right now? Spend time in the Word and in prayer. Go talk and pray with those whom you know are strong in their faith and listen to their stories of God’s faithfulness. The body of Christ working together can spread faith like wildfire. Faith is contagious. Like a baton in a relay, pass it on.

Pause: Take a deep breath and find a quiet space to read Psalm 40: 1-11. What stands out to you as you read this passage?

Renew: Reflect on a time that you heard someone share, as Psalms 40:10 says, God’s faithfulness and deliverance in their life. How did hearing that story affect your own faith?

Next: Spend some time this week reflecting on the Lord’s faithfulness in your life. If you have not previously done so, journal about it. It can be helpful to record those memories. Pray about how those stories may encourage others.

May we speak of the Lord’s faithfulness and believe the Gospel more!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Puffed Up or Built Up?

As an adoptive mother, I have known for some time that I should have a polite and respectable answer prepared for those inevitable times when I will be publicly asked questions about my son. From the very beginning of the fostering and adoption journey, I knew the questions were destined to come. However, no matter how much preparation I have done for those moments, they always seem to catch me off guard.

Mother and son – hand in hand.

For example, one day last summer I was checking out at the grocery store when one such question arrived. This particular day I happened to be alone, and every mother of multiples knows that a shopping trip without kids is like a mini getaway. So, it caught me off guard when the cashier referenced my adopted son and asked “Where did you get him from?” Now, the first thought I had was: we must be really well known at this grocery store for her to remember my children, even when they’re not with me!

Being caught off guard, my response felt like a fumbling attempt to educate her about foster care and the fact that all adopted African American children do not arrive through international adoption agencies. Honestly, I mostly just tried not to be rude. Afterwards, as I loaded my groceries into my van, I was internally frustrated with myself over my response. I replayed the conversation over and over again in my mind. I felt miffed with people in general for being so ignorant, and more than anything I was relieved that my son had not been present to hear the conversation.

Not long after that event, my husband and I were visiting with his cousin and her husband, who had recently done research on privilege and race. When I shared about my exchange at the grocery store, he offered a wise and unique perspective. He explained that people are fundamentally curious, and that, as a white woman, the cashier would probably never have approached an African American mother to ask a question like that. However, in her curiosity, she felt she could approach me. He said kindly and gently that, rather than being offended, I could view it as a privilege to answer questions that otherwise might never have been asked. Due to our conversation, the cashier had learned something about fostering and adopting she had not known before our interaction.

It’s all about perspective. I feel extraordinarily honored to be my son’s mother. Above all, I want to guard his heart and protect his story. Nonetheless, I am in a unique position to educate others about adoption, particularly about transracial adoption. My family is a living show-and-tell to our community.

On the other hand, I must also humble myself and learn from others. Because as much as I have sometimes been offended by others’ questions, I find myself asking questions too in my attempt to learn all that I need to know. Sometimes I have done this well, and other times I cringe to think about what a fool I’ve made of myself. Learning can be a humbling process.

I can’t change any minds, opinions, or lives through imparting knowledge. I could share all day about adoption, and it would mean absolutely nothing if it were not for love. People care when they see love. People care when they feel loved. I wish that I had shown a little more love that day in the grocery store.

Paul speaks to this very thing when he writes in I Corinthians 8:

We know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.  If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.  But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

I Corinthians 8: 1b – 3 ESV

I love knowledge. I have attended phenomenal adoption conferences and read amazing books. Still, I can admit it: I do not yet know as I ought to know. Not about motherhood. Not about adoption. Not about raising a son who looks different than me. The list goes on and on.

I Corinthians 8:1

My hope is that before I graduate this life, I learn to love first and pass on knowledge second. So, if you happen to see me out and about and have a curiosity question to ask of me regarding my son, I make two requests:

  1. Please make sure my children are not present. I want to protect my son from questions that could bring him unnecessary pain.
  2. Know that if you catch me off guard, there’s just no telling what might pop out of my mouth. (Just being honest.) Still, I hope that as I grow in knowledge and love, my answers will become wiser and more full of grace.

If on the other hand you happen to be on the receiving end, and I have asked you a seemingly awkward question, know that my heart was probably in the right place. I just so want to advocate for my son, and sometimes I can come across as clumsy in my zeal.

Verse 3 of the above Scripture passage is my favorite part: “If anyone loves God, he is known by God.” What a promise! We as humans might miscommunicate, get frustrated, or focus too much on knowledge, but God sees through all of it right to our very souls. He knows us: our motivations, our curiosities, our struggles, and our love. That is an amazing promise in which a tired mama can rest.

Pause: Find a quiet place where you can spend a few moments alone with the Lord. Read I Corinthians 8:1-3 and meditate on what you find there. For more context, read the rest of the chapter as well. What stands out to you in this passage?

Renew: In what areas of your life do you find yourself knowledgeable? Take a moment to honestly evaluate how you share your knowledge with others. Is it with love? If not, pray about how the Lord can help you love others well in this area.

Next: Look for opportunities this week to show grace to curious bystanders in your life. When you feel an eye roll forming, take a moment to observe your internal reaction and shift your paradigm. How can you bring light and love to the interaction while imparting knowledge?

May we view curiosity as an opportunity to build others up in love.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Body Image: Perspective is Key

The funny thing about bodies is that we all have one. We’re all given the same parts that serve the same functions. There is nothing new under the sun. Why is it then, that we can find so much dissatisfaction with our own bodies? Let’s be honest. Every woman struggles with disapproval about at least one part of her body. Yes, even beautiful women. Yes, even super models.

There is a turning point, somewhere around puberty (maybe before), where we become aware of our bodies, and especially the flaws of our bodies: maybe due to someone pointing them out, or maybe from comparing to friends or people in magazines or on social media. Regardless of how it comes about, from that moment on we engage in a life-long battle for our own body self-acceptance.

One of the most insidious detriments to our body image is the comparison factor. We are constantly assessing and comparing ourselves to those around us. How do we measure up? Now add airbrushed models or actresses into that comparison trap, and it becomes a battle that is completely unwinnable.

In order to combat our own insecurities, there are a few strategies that we tend to use: engaging in dieting and exercise, seeking validation and attention, or hiding our flaws through clothing, make-up, or surgery.

Although the above strategies seem like they will provide you with confidence and self-assurance, they are only a thin mirage. Even when you meet your self-imposed goals, you’re still just you. No amount of weight loss, liposuction, firming or tucking can change that.

If you read my earlier blog post about thinking patterns, Thoughts, Thighs, and Tollbooths, you know that the things we think about create pathways in our brains. If we dwell on negative thoughts long enough, there will be a cost to our minds, bodies, and relationships. How then can we shift perspective about our body image?

On exercise:  Our bodies are our own personal power packs with which we accomplish life. With them we can live, move, feel, see, and hear. We can experience the world in a sensory way, and move about, solely due to this body that we often take for granted. When our thoughts about our bodies are skewed, exercise can become a demand, almost a slave driver, rather than the freedom that movement was designed to be.

A passage of Scripture that I have found particularly helpful in this area is found in I Timothy 4:

Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

I Timothy 4:7b – 8 ESV

These bodies we have on this earth, although incredible gifts, will one day age and die. Unfortunately, no amount of fighting it will change that, due to the laws of sin and death, and no amount of exercise in this life carries over to eternity. There we will have new, glorified, radiant bodies, free from pain, wrinkles, and death! Praise the Lord! So, rather than putting an overabundance of attention on physical training, for the purpose of weight loss or “toning,” we might be better served by placing our focus on growing our spiritual lives in Christ, which has eternal value.

On food: I’m sure this is a controversial statement, but as someone who has both battled an eating disorder, and now works as a counselor, my motto is: “there are NO BAD FOODS.” Placing foods in categories can begin a slippery slope of rules. Black and white thinking about food can easily lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.

Have you noticed that eating is a major part of social events and living in community? Families discuss their days around the dinner table. When we feel we have to eat a restrictive diet, or eat in isolation due to shame, we can miss out on family, friends, church, and community functions. Food is life-giving. Enjoy it. We want to fuel our bodies well so we have the energy we need for life!

Seeking balance is the key: all things in moderation. I love I Corinthians 10:31 (in the picture below), because it provides great context for seeking the Lord’s glory in all things, even food.

I Corinthians 10:31

On negative body perceptions: How can we fight against our own negative thoughts? Particularly when it comes to self-image, this is a hard task.

One strategy is to talk back to negative thoughts, taking them captive to Christ. If you find it too difficult to combat the thoughts using your own self-talk, find a Scripture that relates to your area of struggle, and use it to fight those negative thoughts.

Another tactic that can help shift perspective is to reframe the thoughts from condemnation to gratitude.

Don’t like those stretch marks on your belly? Praise the Lord that your body carried the babies who gave them to you. They are like sweet tattoos documenting the little lives who grew inside of you.

Hate the flab on your thighs? Thank God for those sturdy thighs that provide support to your whole body. They contain some of the largest muscles in your body, and without them you would be unable to stand, walk, kick, or squat.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1

The enemy gains so much ground in our lives in the areas of shame surrounding our own self-image. It’s really hard to do this work alone. I believe it’s incredibly important to lift each other up in this area and to bounce our skewed thoughts off of others who love us and care for us no matter the weight, size, shape, or strength of our bodies.

2 Corinthians 4:16

Pause: Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Read II Corinthians 4:7-18. Read it through slowly, out loud, then silently the second time. Highlight any sections that stand out to you.

Renew: Journal/Think/Pray about the areas of your own body image that you think may be out of alignment. How do the above verses change your perspective about your body image?

Next: If you find that negative body thoughts are taking up an unhealthy amount of time in your life, consider ways that you can begin to find freedom from self-condemnation. Find a trusted friend, mentor, family member, or counselor with whom you can talk about this issue. If you know that the struggle is deep enough that you need a professional, please seek out someone trained in the areas of body image, eating disorders, or trauma.

May you be free to see the beauty and value of your body and to use it for His glory!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Hide and Seek

Have you ever played hide and seek with a toddler? Hide and seek is to a two year old what peek-a-boo is to an infant: a game full of inexpressible joy and surprise. As an adult, the game is rewarding simply because playing with a small child generates loads of grins and giggles.

It’s not exactly a game of strategy when playing hide and seek with a little one. Honestly, the first dilemma is that a toddler has not yet learned the art of being quiet. They often give themselves away with scuffling, sniffles, giggles, or whispers. Sometimes they even announce their location, squealing “Here I am!” The game is often a simple one because toddlers tend to pick the same hiding spot over and over again. If it worked the first time, then surely it will work again, right? No, for small children, the game is not about logic or strategy: it’s an enjoyable game where they can be found by a caregiver who loves them!

“Come find me, Mommy! Here I am!”

From a parent’s perspective, there is a little more strategy involved. When playing with a toddler, an important tactic is to hide in a painfully obvious place. It is important to make just a little noise or leave a part of your body partially exposed to make it easier for the child to find you. After all, the point is not to be standing in plain sight, nor is it to be completely hidden. The object of the game is to be found! It’s the moment of being discovered that brings shouts of joy, hugs, and contagious giggles.

Have you ever wondered if maybe God interacts with us in a similar way? I once heard my college pastor preach a sermon about this very idea. Granted, many years have elapsed, and I don’t remember his exact words. Still, the concept has remained in my mind over the years. God delights in hiding and letting us seek Him. He never hides in inaccessible places, because He promises to never leave us. He delights to leave a toe sticking out under a door, so to speak, so that we can more easily find Him.

For instance, have you ever gone through a season where you felt you met the Lord in a very real and tangible way? Maybe His Word came alive to you. Maybe He gave you comfort at a time you needed it. Maybe He fulfilled a promise or provided for you in an unexpected and aptly-timed manner. Maybe you felt an intimacy with your Savior that you had been missing previously. Aren’t those moments priceless? If only we could sustain those spiritual mountaintop experiences!

Just like a child who has discovered his father hiding behind the couch, we are delighted and astounded to find our Father hiding in plain sight! Because we are very often like toddlers ourselves, we may look in the same place over and over again. If we found Him there once, we might find Him there again! Both thankfully, and frustratingly, our God is not that predictable. I believe He enjoys surprising us, and our experiences with Him cannot be duplicated. He longs for us to seek Him and promises that if we earnestly seek Him that we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). He may choose a new hiding place, but we will be just as delighted each time we discover a new aspect of His character. In this way, we continue to be enchanted and delighted by our ever-loving and ever-mysterious Heavenly Father.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:13 NIV

Pause: Find a quiet and comfortable place to read Psalm 105. In what ways did the Lord “show” Himself to the Israelites? If you have the time, make a list.

Renew: How has the Lord revealed Himself to you? Can you make a list from your own life, just as David could list the ways that the Lord showed up for the Israelites in Psalm 105?

Next: I just love Lauren Daigle’s song, Salt and Light. There’s a line in the song that says, “Let my eyes see your Kingdom shine all around.” In the same way, keep your eyes open to see where the Lord and His Kingdom are at work around you this week.

May you seek the Lord and discover new aspects of His majesty.

Pause, Renew, Next!