When It’s No One’s Fault But You Want It To Be

It’s painful to watch. The itching, clawing, bleeding of my son’s eczema. It tugs on my compassion, but it pulls harder on my anger. I hate that sound, the furious scraping of fingernails across the skin, the catclaw marks they leave behind. And not just occasionally, or seasonally, or even for a month-long stretch. It’s every day for years, the slow, maddening water torture of something that just won’t stop.

We do all we can, anxiously dousing him with creams, soaking him in mineral baths, experimenting with oils, steroids, strict diets. He sleeps with sock-wrapped hands at night.

But no relief. No cures to speak of.

The scratching is more intense at night, right about the time I get home from work and need to make dinner. I try everything to soothe it, but my patience is thin. We do this every day, after all, and I want him to just get over it all ready.

Stop scratching. Stop making yourself bleed. Why won’t you stop?

Sometimes I am calm and ready to meet the need. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I cry. But the words are the same. The helplessness doesn’t change.

I glance around furiously, searching for someone to blame. Sometimes I blamed my son for his scratching habit or for eating triggering food. But being his mother, I’ve been the best target. My body knit him together, guided by the hand of God. Anything that went wrong must be my fault.

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I can blame myself because I started him on formula at 3 months, and then let him go on antibiotics 3 times in his first two years. It’s my fault his immune system is weak and his intestinal tract unhealthy.

It’s my fault because when he was born, I didn’t know how to mother. I ignored every material instinct and refused to be nurturing for fear of being seen as gentle or weak. I was ignorant, arrogant, broken.

If he was born tomorrow, I would parent him so differently, with more nurture and natural remedies, but I didn’t know then what I know now. I just didn’t know.

And yet day after day, his eczema is a painful reminder of my failure, my helplessness, my blame, staring back at me, red as blood.

I yelled and nearly cried about the eczema twice today, and the shame cycle was strong with me. Every time I saw him clawing at himself, I wanted to scream. I wanted to run away or make him leave me alone, to stop reminding me of my failure. The shame heaved over and through me, spinning a cycle of anger and guilt I couldn’t leap out of.

Tonight I skipped out on bedtime stories and prayer because Josh let me, and because I needed to patch my niceness back together after the day shredded it.

I sat in a warm bath and listened to my husband tuck him into bed, the sound of the packing tape scraping off the reel, crinkling over his sock-cuffed hands and around his tiny wrists. That sound, one I’ve heard for months now, a bedtime ritual, broke me.

I don’t want it to be this way anymore. He is still so small. It’s not fair for him to absorb my anger at myself, my rage at my own helplessness. His little body, in distress, tired from the torment, deserves my compassion, not my rage.

Tears streamed down my face in the moment I knew I was ready to give us both mercy. Finally.

I pictured myself asking him to remind me, “Mom, it’s not your fault,” when I wanted to shriek in anger over the scratching moments we would inevitably face. He would do it too, if I asked him. He is the kind of kid who insists unsolicited, “You’re a good mom,” right after I unfairly yelled my eyeballs out for some misdemeanor offense.

This imaginary conversation with my son struck deep, a realization that deep down I must know, his eczema is no one’s fault. As much as I want to blame someone for his condition, for the endlessness and the sadness of it.

I want to blame someone like the Pharisees wanted to blame someone for the man born blind. They pointed at the blind man, they pointed at his parents. It’s his fault. It’s their fault, they shouted, accusing. And Jesus said, It’s no one’s fault. This is his story so he can display God’s goodness with his life. The man was healed after that day, and no one had to shoulder the blame. His healing was the end of the story, not the sickness.

I want that for us too. I want the healing part now, not later, but I can’t control that. But I will take Jesus’ admonition to the legalistic rule followers, the ones whose voices I hear in my head far too often.

“It is no one’s fault. It is his story to display God’s goodness. That is all.”

After the bath, I crawled into his dark room and lay down on his bed. I apologized for being so mean. I whispered that I wasn’t really mad at him when I yelled, that his pain made me feel it might be my fault. I told him I was really just angry at myself. Before I could finish, he was ready with, “I forgive you”, answering with the openness of someone who has not learned to hold a grudge. I thanked him and rubbed his back a while before saying Goodnight.

Now I am ready to give mercy, to get it in return. Since that’s the way mercy travels, in circles like that. I need mercy more than I’ll ever give it. I sort of hate that, but it’s good for me.

My son forgave me. God already did. Who am I to not forgive myself?

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I want to shout a giant THANK YOU to all of you who contributed to my crazy birthday campaign.

My goal was to raise $3400 in 34 hours. Our final total was just over $2000, which was only about 60%, but what amazed me about it was that the giving was done by about 15 people. Proof of your wild generosity and how much good a small of people can do.

So thank you for changing the lives of mothers and their children in the slum of Katwe, Uganda, forever. And thank you for being part of a moment of freedom for me too. I can’t do this without you. And I wouldn’t want to.

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Planned Parenthood, Let’s Get Real

Planned Parenthood, I am a woman and a mother, and I’ve got a problem with you. It’s the way you talk, the dishonesty in your words. Your rhetoric is unsettling and insulting to me as a woman who knows a lot about her body.

Let me give you an example: you call an abortion “removing the products of conception”. Who do you think you’re kidding? Every woman who walks out of the clinic knows exactly what her products of conception were. You want to call it tissue? That’s fine. But there is no other tissue in my body that has heartbeat unless it’s my heart. We know it’s a baby. Let’s be honest about that.

You call it healthcare when 94% of the women who are pregnant walking through your doors get an abortion. I thought we all vowed to make abortion safe and rare. You don’t provide women with information about adoption or resources on how to raise their own children, but why would you when you’re making money on the procedure? How rare do you really want it to be? And how is this actually care?

And again, remind me how we can call something “healthcare” when two fully alive humans walk into an operating room and only one walks out. In no other scenario besides abortion do we call something successful healthcare when someone routinely ends up dead from the process. 

You act as if redirecting funding from your illicit activities is a subversive attempt to defund ALL women’s healthcare. Please. Let’s stop acting as if the only way to care about women is to demand they can have an abortion at any time they want one. Good God. It’s biologically incongruous for a women to want to abort her child. A woman’s body, her hormones, her most natural tendency, is to give up even her own life to nurture and protect a growing baby, not destroy it. Demanding the right to an abortion is akin to demanding the right to severing one’s body part whenever one desired. 

A mentally and physically healthy woman with the financial means and social support does not want to abort her child. It’s not in our nature. Why should we as taxpayers be forced to support and pay for something that is biologically unnatural? (We should, however, financially support women in doing what is natural, but I’ll get to that.)

You call the Center for Medical Progress “extremists” when all they did was record several conversations with you and play them for the public. You’re the one who pulls babies apart and selling their organs for $30 apiece for “research” and all with taxpayer funding. Who are the extremists here, really? As someone who is funding your business with my hard-earned money, I demand an investigation at least. 

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As Americans, why are we okay with this? Why are we not advocating for more and better options for pregnant women? I do not know any women who has had an abortion that was happy about it. She did it for lack of options, because her boyfriend was abusive and didn’t want the child. Or because her parents were going to kick her out.

What if we stopped so vehemently defending the right to an abortion and started defending instead a woman’s right to raise her child?

What if we collaborated to support mothers who, under better circumstances, would want to raise their child?

I love the tagline of Feminists For Life: “Women deserve better than abortion”. Exactly. 

But now it’s time for my confession. As a prolife woman, I’ve been accused, and rightfully so, by Sister Joan Chittister and others, of being irresponsibly pro-birth and not pro-life. I can understand this. So often we fight to get a child earthside and as soon as they arrive, we throw a party and move on to plan the next rally. “There are babies to save, after all,” we tell ourselves.

But being prolife must mean supporting life from conception to death, not just the parts that are convenient. And let’s be real: conservatives aren’t too keen on government healthcare, welfare dole-outs or other federal subsidies for low-income families. So there’s a dissonance here between what we say we support and how we vote.

How can we celebrate a baby’s birth when we aren’t willing to also help the mother get her feet on the ground and earn a sustainable income? If we take away the choice for abortion, can we say in good conscience, “Congratulations on the baby, honey. I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

Even Proverbs warns against wishing someone be warm and well fed and doing nothing to improve their condition.

As prolife taxpayers, we need to get more involved. We need to be prochoice in terms of how the government spends our money, and yes, women deserve better than abortion. But what does that mean 10 years later for a women who opted out of abortion but doesn’t have the social resources to provide for herself AND her child, which is the situation for most women seeking abortion?

Here’s what I suggest we do with our money:

  • I will happily fund prenatal and postpartum care for mothers, as well as healthcare for the children.
  • I will fund infant and child adoptions.
  • I will fund mental health care for women who are post-abortive, post-adoptive and moms and dads who are dealing with stress due to parenthood.
  • I will fund a higher minimum wage so mothers and fathers can do better for their families.
  • I will partner with new mothers in my community to provide meals, mentorship or whatever support they need. 
  • I will fund education grants for parents who want to attend and finish their education.
  • I will fund childcare for parents who want (and need) to work to support their children.
  • I will collaborate with community organizations and churches to support parents with education, babysitting and parents’ days out, and anything else they might need.
  • And last but certainly not least, my husband and I agreed from the start of our marriage that we would be open to adoption and always, if we knew a mother contemplating abortion, be willing to help her raise her child or even adopt the child, if needed. We know big change starts small, and it starts with us.

If we want to remove abortion from the social consciousness, we are going to have to work together to remove the need for abortion. We will have to make the resources and support for families so abundantly available that mothers will always know they have somewhere to turn when they have an unexpected pregnancy and everyone else in their world is saying “No” to life. 

We will say “Yes” to life not with votes and protests but with our time and money. With our love and our life. 

It will take all of us, not throwing stones but offering true compassion and empathy to women on either side of abortion. It will not happen overnight, but all of us who love life must stand not just with the women outside the abortion clinic, but all the way until she stands with her child at their college graduation and beyond.

If we say we stand for life, let’s be true to our word and stand for all of life. Not just birth, but LIFE.

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This Is Not How I Thought Life Would Go: A Letter to My 20 Year Old Self

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Dear Sarah, the 20 year old, the one who thinks she is going to marry her boyfriend and move to Mexico for missions work, yea, you were wrong. Very wrong. 

You’re 33 now, and you thought you would be further along. More accomplished. More successful. 

You thought there would be more in your bank account. You thought more people would call you boss, or at least supervisor. 

You thought you would have a title, respect, something to show for the hours you put into the degrees, the years you have in experience. 

You thought for sure you would’ve traveled the world, that your passport would be brimming with the ink of new places and stories. You thought you would live far away, move every so often, start over. 

You thought you’d find love in serendipitous ways, that there would be romance and wild stories to tell. You hoped you’d never have to wonder how he felt about you. 

You thought you would live overseas, at least for a while, that your eyes would be wide with color and language and culture, the beautiful people of the world filling up and stretching out your soul.

I hate to disappoint you, but it didn’t turn out that way at all. 

You did get that Masters degree, found a good man who loves you like crazy, who laughs at your jokes and still thinks you’re beautiful. There are kids, two of them, and they are lovely. As charming and good-looking as you’d hoped.

But you kept changing your mind on your career. Even now, you don’t know what to do next. If you’d stuck with your original career path you picked when you were 14, you’d be a therapist by now, someone with letters behind your name, someone whose opinion was considered ‘expert’. 

But you have a job and a life that are small, and it’s hard not to feel like a failure on the bad days, or on the regular days, give in to that nagging suspicion that you settled, that the adventure you live inside a fenced-in yard is not really the one you wanted.

I know you thought you’d never settle for suburbia, for predictability. You thought you’d never prioritize a paycheck or healthcare coverage. You swore you’d have other things to say besides how the kids are doing. 

Sometimes I feel sad. I miss the life you dreamed up. I wonder if somehow I am missing out on the me you thought I’d be.

I think maybe I should’ve taken the chance to head to India after college. I should’ve at least moved back to Oregon, or maybe California. I wonder if I’ve lost the passion and made peace with living small.

But what is success anyway? Am I failing at life cause it looks nothing like I planned? 

Or maybe, I am right in the middle of the story I always wanted to write.

20 year old Sarah, you didn’t know that the dream of family meant sacrifice. It meant giving up some of the things you want to give the ones you love what they need. It meant deferring dreams but still learning to nurture them in your heart for the right time, rather than burying them in anger or desperation. Love and growing up meant throwing your weight behind the dream of your spouse so he can see his passion come to life.

You thought there would be more adrenaline, but instead there is more caffeine, and mostly from sleep deprivation. 

You didn’t know that when you were 20. I can’t fault you for that.

But let me assure you: it’s still me over here, still a woman in pursuit of adventure. I’m not who you thought you’d be, but I’m still a woman who longs to love and be desired by her man. It’s still me, someone who is learning to love herself in the many shapes she takes. And who, despite the flabby body and saggy eyes, is actually growing to love the girl in the mirror instead of loathe her. 

I don’t have all the souvenirs like you hoped I would, the proof of mattering. But you figured out that results aren’t the point, that the story isn’t over even after you’re dead. You’re learning, ever so painfully, that to live a life that will extend beyond yours means sowing your little seeds into the ground, invisible, even though you may never see their harvest.

Even though it’s breaking your heart, you’re learning we’re called to smallness, to plodding on day after day, even when it looks like everything you’re doing isn’t working, when it all feels pointless. You’re learning to find God in the quiet and the mundane, in the delays and disappointments, in the places you thought he’d never go.

This life is nothing like you planned or hoped. Maybe you’d feel disappointed if you saw this 33 year old you now.

But you are being faithful. You are learning to love, to love God, yourself, this life.

That is all that is required of you. And you know that now.

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I Don’t Have An Anger Problem, Unless You Are Four Years Old

Tonight was one of those nights where I wanted to quit motherhood. Like seriously, quit and walk away. Quit because it is so hard and clearly, whatever I am doing is not working.

I still feel like a broken mother. And earlier, giving up seemed like the better, wiser option because I can’t do this. I am not good at this.

I wanted a permanent timeout. For my kid, yes, but mostly for myself.

Me. Except not as well dressed. And way angrier. [Click photo for credit.]
The breakdown was well-earned. Only five minutes into an evening walk, something that is becoming something of a ritual for us, my oldest decided he wanted to go a different direction than I did. When I explained this was not on the agenda, he escalated into what became the biggest, loudest, nastiest tantrum I have ever seen.

I turned the baby and the stroller around to head home because no child of mine was going to enjoy themselves if they behaved this way. But the walk home only got worse.

I would tell you all the graphic moments and how I was so painfully wronged, but I am learning that my child is not a possession but a separate human so it’s really not fair for me to share his bad behavior with you. At least not all the gory details. Even if he tells you about mine, like he has at church more than once. Sigh. But I digress.

When we got home, he had lost all his privileges for the evening. I managed myself fine while we were out walking. I couldn’t very well freak out in public. But when he kept up his tantrum-ing at home, my cool and collected self straight up evaporated. I lost it: a showdown of who could yell the loudest.

I wanted an ally so I told Josh about how our son had lost his mind and what needed to happen for him to find it. I sort of wanted revenge.

But then, I’d lost my mind too. I had to own that.

My son and I have a lot in common, aside from our strong personalities and our love of adventure and people. We freak out when we feel powerless, when we feel we are fighting a losing battle. We get scared, and we lose our cool. We both do it, and I’ll bet he learned it from me, not his dad.

It makes me sad because I’m afraid if I keep this up, I will lose more than my patient demeanor, the thing that makes me look good in front of other people. If I don’t watch it, I could lose my son too.

I feel powerful in many area of my life. I know how to talk to clients or co-workers, how to get people to share my ideas or jump on board with my plans.

But I never feel so powerless as I do with my children. I think those moments when we reach the end are the tests, and I usually fail them.

Two years ago, I wrote about my anger problem, how I yelled too much. But I don’t have an anger problem. I have a power problem. I don’t feel powerful when my kids act up so I react by acting powerless. I yell or freak out or overreact, letting the moment or their behavior tell me what to do, rather than guiding them forward and upward with my calm presence.

I know better. They don’t. But in the heat, I’m as lost as they are.

So who’s the parent? Sometimes I don’t know.

Don’t worry. I’m not really going to quit. I know that blaming myself for being a “bad mother” is just a pity party, a crappy excuse to stop doing hard things. I can’t quit. I mean, it’s not even legal. But if it was, it’s lame.

I can’t walk away when I’m bad at something, even if it’s one of those annoying (yet hopelessly necessary) virtues like patience or self-control.

Apparently, God thinks I need parenting, need this particular child, for my personal growth. And he needs me.

We need each other. (Sorry, son.)

Before he went to bed tonight, my son and I apologized to each other. We talked about our anger problem and what we can do next time to keep from letting it get there.

Mostly, I need a plan for myself. I am 33. He is 4. One of us can be expected to have another tantrum. The other needs to manage it, be a good example, for crying out loud.

If you’ve got loads of patience and self-control, pray for me. I need what you have. But if you can relate, help me remember – and I’ll remind you too – that we aren’t here to parent our children perfectly. Nor are we here to make perfect humans of them. But we are here to make each other better, with each interaction, to bring the other closer to God.

Our children can do it for us. Let’s try to do that for them too. You with me?

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Help and Healing For The Anxious Mother

I never saw it coming. The anxiety from this past year. I’d heard of postpartum mood disorders, but knew it would never happen to me. Not with my mental health training, my pastor-husband and my strong faith. Not with my friends all around me to support me. Not me. Even my second birth itself was beautiful and empowering.

But months later, something ugly started to grow. My disconnection with my soul and my chronic self-neglect started to reveal themselves. My insides were a skeleton, a garden overgrown with weeds.

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I started to feed on the most terrifying media. I always knew where to find the news, and if I didn’t read it, I could envision it in my head – all the worst, goriest scenarios. All-out war and diseased plagued me, if only in my mind.

And as the months dragged and the images magnified, just like that, fear drained the hope and life right out of me.

I felt such peace at first, rocking my newborn to sleep. It was beautiful. I thought everything was fine. I thought I would take care of myself later. But the accumulation of lost sleep, the chronic neglect of my soul and the pain of the world all created a perfect storm.

No one knew the hopelessness of my mind. The fact that over and over in my mind, I asked myself, “What’s the point? What’s the point?”

It felt so grim, so permanent. I thought I would always be this way. 

I realized it was soul neglect early enough, and I started doing all the things I knew to do, prayer and singing and reminding myself of God’s promises. I sat in the quiet with Jesus and tried to quiet my soul.

At first, it didn’t work. The waters of refreshing simply pooled on the desert floor of my insides. But after a while, it started to sink in. I started to talk about the fear, the sense that something horrible was just around the corner. I started to realize what was really happening. My husband prayed for me. I told my story.

What I thought would always be true became a memory. 

But it was so lonely, and if you are like me, you feel like no one will understand. You think no one could know what your painful world is like. No one will comprehend what it feels like to be trapped in your own mind. No one can understand why you lay in your bed with your heart racing, unable to sleep, with the possibilities of pain and death and loss spread before you in high definition.

But I do understand – it happened to me too. 

Here’s the crazy thing though: during all this time, my circumstances never changed. The scary was all in my mind. Fear, panic and paranoia, all trapped inside my inner world.

This taught me that above all things, we must fight for our mental real estate. The state of my soul is something only I can curate. My inner life is my responsibility, and I am daily inviting in darkness or light by the choices I make, what I choose to look at.

As mothers, we have to come to terms with our vulnerability. We have never loved anything like we love this tiny baby. Our bodies broke open to bring them into the world. We can’t imagine losing them. And the fear of this haunts us.

We have never been so open, so vulnerable as when we love. But unless we care for our souls well, our vulnerability, the cracks that love in, will let in the pain of the world too. And the infection will make us sick. 

But we don’t have to be ruled by panic, fear, anxiety. We don’t have to be sick and live crippled by things that are only temporary anyway.

Beauty: it’s right here in front of you, and all around you.

I love what Paul told the Galatian Church – this has been a saving grace for me:

“Instead of being anxious, thank God for all the things you can think of, then pray and ask for what you need. Then peace that it so powerful, it doesn’t even make sense, will stand guard at your heart and mind. So whatever is lovely and beautiful and good and worthy of praise and adoration, if anything is wonderful, focus and meditate on and pay attention to these things.”

We become whatever we look at. For years, I read the news, the panic-stricken, fear-mongering news. I became a junkie of fear, and I had to detox.

Now, I don’t read the news. It’s not news to me that there is pain and suffering in the world anyway. I guard my mind and heart and soul vigilantly. Whatever I listen to and watch and think about are seeds planted in my garden, and whatever I plant will grow.

I planted fear in my soul, and panic grew. I planted sorrow in my soul and despair grew.

Now I plant goodness in my soul and beauty grows. I plant peace in my soul and generosity grows. 

So what are you looking for, mama? Let me urge you with all of myself to look for beauty. Look for goodness. Look for compassion and kindness and healing and restoration.

Whatever you look for, you will find. You will see it everywhere, the thing you seek.

So stop looking for the scary, terrifying things. Stop looking for evidence that the world is unsafe and no one can be trusted.

Let me give you a prescription for soul-care, for the thing we mamas really need:

Go to museums and art shows and concerts. Take the baby for a walk and listen to the birds sing. Search for beauty in your babies fingers and toes, in the grass beneath your feet and the trees in your yard. Sit in the quiet with God until your soul quiets down. Take a break from always being mother and let yourself be a child with God. Become obsessed with finding beauty and goodness in the unlikeliest of places. I promise you it’s hiding there, waiting to be discovered.

Please, if you do anything this year as a mom, let goodness and beauty cleanse and calm you. Let them restore your faith in Father God and your faith in humanity.

You were made for beauty. You yourself are beautiful. Look for beauty, let it in, let fear go.

Perfect, whole, complete love pushes out fear.

Darkness is only the absence of light.

When we let the light in, the darkness will run, and only love will be left.

Surely goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in Father God’s house forever and ever. -Psalm 23

 Let’s be bright and whole and full of love together.

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There’s No Such Thing As Perfect (Until You’re Dead)

Your life is this road, up and awesome one minute, and if only it just stayed that way, but then whoops, you’re down at bottom again. [click photo for credit]
There is no such thing as perfect.

There is no such as a perfect child, a perfect hairstyle, a perfect front yard, a perfect job.

There is no perfect score. No perfect performance.

There are no perfect husbands, and no perfect wives. There is no such thing as a perfect dad or mom.

There are no perfect friends, perfect houses, or perfect neighborhoods.

There is no perfect way to spend your time or your money or your thoughts.

Perfect implies completion, and this side of heaven, we are constantly growing, gaining and losing. As long as you are breathing, you aren’t not done yet.

Yet we are always on the lookout for perfect. We tell ourselves it doesn’t exist, yet we are always disappointed when we don’t find it.

When we are on hold or something is taking a long time, we often assume it is because the perfect thing is being prepared for us. We think if we just wait a little longer, the perfect job/husband/wife/house/opportunity will come along.

I have not found this to be true at all. I have only found that God makes good out of bad. He takes a lot of things that are imperfect and makes them beautiful, and eventually, perfect.

He takes an imperfect husband and an imperfect wife and makes imperfect children. They live together in an imperfect house with an imperfect lawn (and a sink full of dishes that I swear we just did an hour ago.) On Sunday mornings, they go to an imperfect church crammed full of imperfect people who sing along with an imperfect band banging out imperfect songs. And then imperfect pastor has the courage to get up and preach an imperfect message.

Then they all drive in their little imperfect cars back to their imperfect lives and somehow, in the middle of the mess, there is a God, piecing together the pretty good, and the not-that-bad, and oh-heck-no. And what do you know? He makes it good. He is so good at that.

Let us not underestimate the value of adversity. This life is not about arriving on some high hill, buying real estate and squatting there. It is not about “making it”. God is not in the comfort business. He is in the gold-making business. It is in the hot and uncomfortable and tight places we find ourselves in that we can have a chance at coming up gold. It’s the dark and invisible, the high-pressure, underground places where the diamonds form.

This side of heaven there is no perfect anything, at least nothing that will last. But if you stay close, Someone who is perfect will keep working on you until you look just like him, and then you will finally get your Perfect after all.

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What We Mean When We Say We’re Busy

I used to think I was busy, and I used to think that made me important. The busier, the important-er I was. Or so I thought.

When people stopped by my office, they’d apologize for taking my time. They told me they knew I was busy but they would make it quick. I find myself doing that to other people I perceived as busy and important as well.

The truth is, I have a lot to do, but I’m not busy. My proverbial plate is full and spinning and all that, but I’m not busy. Not too busy to make room for people.

Being busy, or acting busy, keeps people at arms length. It sends the message that people are not welcome. One of my primary jobs as a Christian and a social worker is to send a message to people that they are welcome that there is room for them. This is the opposite of busyness.

I don’t want people to apologize for taking my time. I don’t want people to apologize for sitting on my couch and sharing their lives with me. I don’t want to be perceived as somebody who doesn’t have room or time for others.

There might be a pile on my desk and a stack in the sink, but if that doesn’t bother you, I won’t let it bother me.

Because I have to pick.

I can’t be generous with time and while living under a scarcity complex.

I can’t make room and crowd out.

I can’t be hospitable and busy.

So I’m going to pick the one that lets me love.

Five Words Every Mom Needs To Hear

“Do you think I’m a good mom?”

Sitting on the couch one afternoon with my oldest son, I got brave and asked what he really thought of me. I knew he might try to spare my feelings a little, but he’s four. He would tell me the truth. Besides, his opinion was really the only one that mattered.

“Yes, you are a good mom,” he reassured me with a hug. It surprised me how nervous I was to ask. What if I wasn’t a good mom? It took more courage than I expected, but his answer brought relief.

A few days later, the moment was less than precious. He was taking his time in the bathroom, as he has a tendency to do. I was in a rush for some reason, but that is not out of the ordinary either. I could not get him to move, to do whatever I wanted him to do. I huffed out of the bathroom yelling, aware that I was not in control of him but not in control of myself either.

Moments like this make me hate myself a little. Or perhaps the hate is always there, but I don’t see it until times like these. Times when I am impatient and erratic.

It’s times like these where it feels like being “a good mom” is just a fluke and now the real me is showing, “the bad mom”.

I think most of us mothers are secretly afraid we are blowing it, that we’re incompetent and mean and terrible and we don’t have what it takes. At least a lot of the moms I know feel this way. So our bad mom moments only confirm our suspicions. And pity the person – or child – who is around to see us then.

I stomped into the bedroom to give us some distance. I did not feel like talking right now. Instead of taking my I-need-some-space cue, he stood in the doorway and called to me, “You’re a good mom. You’re a good mom.”

I stared back at him. How did he know exactly what to say to my soul? And then I broke down.

What? I didn’t know how to respond as he repeated himself again.

I don’t remember what we fought about that day probably for this reason: these six words from the only person whose opinion matters.

Tears filled my eyes as I realized God was shouting at me with the voice of my four year-old, right over my shame and self-hatred, right past the finger accusing me of sucking at motherhood. “You’re a good mom,” my son, an incarnation of God that day, called to me.

How does a good mom act? Well, if I am a good mom, I can act like one. I can put the “bad mom” in the past, and we can all move on from her. She’s not who I am anyway.

Even when I am yelling at my son, even when I am impatient and brooding and exhausted and out of control, who I am is really “a good mom”. I’m just not acting like myself.

And so are you. You are a good mom. Even when you don’t act like it. When you don’t act kind or compassionate or generous with your kids, it’s not the real you. The real you is redeemed. The real you loves your children with a sacrificial love that you didn’t know you had. The real you stays up late holding tired bodies and wiping tears, doling out medicine and singing lullabies when you wish you were snug in your own bed.

You give and give and give, and most of the time, no one sees you. No one knows. And no one acknowledges. It’s hard work, and your children will never repay you or know how much you gave up. Maybe they won’t even care. And that’s what makes you a good mom. Because you keep showing up and doing it anyway.

Not many people will tell us we are a good mom, not even on Mother’s Day. But we need to know it, don’t we, moms?

I might get flowers on Mother’s Day. Or maybe I’ll get to pick where we go to eat. Maybe someone will send me a Happy Mother’s Day text message, and that will be nice. But I don’t need a bouquet or flowers of my choice. I just want to know I’m doing a good job. I think I am, maybe, but I am insecure. After all, I’m only four in Mom Years.

Maybe you need to hear it too. Mama, you’re doing it. You’re not only doing a good job. You are a good Mom. A good mom. Do you hear me?

And speaking of good moms, I asked you to nominate a mom who inspires you, and I am proud to announce our Momspiration winner, Adele Reiter. She was nominated by her friend, David. Here’s what he had to say:

“My nomination is Adele Reiter. Her resolve and gumption blow me away. She suffers through a difficult and demanding job in order to put food on the table and provide health insurance for her 3-year-old. She’s the primary breadwinner as her fiance is a full-time student. On top of that, she sings in two different bands. She also works out religiously (I’m talking Insanity and half marathons) despite having spinal problems. There have even been times where she’s worked a second job on top of all of that.”

We are proud of you, Adele. You’re a good mom, and we know your daughter thinks so too. Thanks for being a mom who works so hard, all for love. We know it’s hard but you think it’s worth it and you do it anyway. A great big mom’s hats-off to you. Happy Mother’s Day. And thanks for inspiring us. Be looking in the mail for the lovely necklace from The Lulu Tree Boutique – it’s yours. [The purchase of this necklace will go to empower and equip mothers and families in Katwe, Uganda through The Lulu Tree.]

And don’t forget, subscribers are always rewarded. When you subscribe to the blog, and I’ll send you my two eBooks on hope and calling FREE. 

How To Like Your Kids {And A Giveaway For Moms}

We’re not supposed to admit we don’t like our kids sometimes, but it’s true. Sometimes they are uncool. Like, extremely uncool.

Lest we forget, our kids are humans with (usually) our DNA, or (probably) our last name. And we are just humans raising them. We are all just people with bad habits and bad breath, living in the same house. But there are things beyond DNA that bind us together, that make families work.

It’s true, often our personalities don’t match. Or we have children with truly challenging behavior. It can bring a person to a breaking point parenting a child who will not respond to their patience and care, and sometimes parents feel they are simply going through the motions with difficult kids. I do not want to minimize this at all.

What I’ve found to be true about parenting is, “Love is a verb and Like is a feeling. We can love our kids by caring for them and meeting their needs, but we need positive interaction with them to feel that we like them”. So I am not questioning your love for your kids. It’s there. I know it. But when the loving is taking everything you’ve got, wouldn’t you like to like your children too? 

[click photo for credit]
 So how do we like kids when they are repeatedly and consistently unloveable?

I know I’ve had days that turned into weeks where I felt disconnected and angry with one of my kids, and my behavior showed it.

The worst part of this season was how I felt about myself. I didn’t want to be mean or hurt my child’s feelings. I wanted to be in control of myself and be loving even when it was hard. I had a ton of shame and guilt over this, and that’s how I knew I had to do things differently.

I want to share what helped me change my heart posture toward my child when things were off. This worked for me, and I come back to it when I feel anger crowding out love.

1. I recognized I was disconnected from my kid, and this was not normal. Sure, we get mad at our kids, but when we start to actually not like them, when we struggle to get “I love you” out of our mouths, when we don’t want to give them hugs or affirmation, when we speak about them in public in angry or frustrated ways, then something is wrong, folks. Where else are our kids going to get positive feedback and love? The family is the place where our kids learn whether they are worthy of love or not. Of course, they are, but are they hearing it from you?

2. I remembered we are on the same team. We talk about “breaking our kids down” or a “battle of wills”, and I think this way of talking about parenting puts us at odds with our kids. Why are we fighting them again? We can make behavior or habits the opponent without making enemies of our kids.

3. I forgave my kid. He was acting like a punk, and we just weren’t getting along. It was more angry vibes than feel-good vibes, if anyone was keeping count. Maybe I had unreasonable expectations, but either way, I had to forgive him. This is basic but often overlooked – if you are mad at someone, forgive them. No matter who they are. Forgiveness erases the old thought and makes room for believing a new thought about a person. It’s essential. Don’t skip this.

4. I started acting like I liked him. I started saying “I love you” and being intentionally affectionate, and it changed me. Action goes before feeling, people tell you, but there’s science behind this piece of advice. Oxytocin, our well-being and bonding hormone, is released during positive interaction, specifically positive touch like hugs, wrestling or tickle fights, and other play. In fact, we need at least eight hugs a day to maintain an optimal oxytocin, or well-being, level. If you have kids, eight hugs or should be a given, which is awesome. But if you’re finding your relationship with your child to be adversarial, you may just be trying to survive, not maintain a hug quota. [Check out Paul Zak’s TED talk on oxytocin below. Fascinating stuff.]

5. I started praying for my kid. Every night before we put the kids to bed, we talk to God. This reflection ritual can be very powerful when practiced regularly. The oldest thanks God for three things from the day, and we, the parents, thank God for aspects of each child’s personality, then ask him to help them be wise, grow as leaders, be protected, etc. Prayer forces me to seek the good in my children, and it gives me an opportunity to bless them and get God’s view of them. If the day – or year- has been especially hard, this time of reflection allows us to reconcile and not go to bed angry, but also to end on a positive note.

6. I do hard things for my kid. When we’re in a relationship rut with our kids, reaching out and saying “I love you”, putting a kind note in their lunch or tucking them in at night with an extra story might feel almost too hard – do it anyway. If you’ve been crabby or distant for a while, or if you find yourself angry at yourself for how you’re parenting, you probably need to ask your child for forgiveness. If there’s something you can tell you don’t want to do, you should probably do it. It’s not wrong to feel disconnected from time to time, but when our habits and interactions reflect this missing feel-good vibe in the relationship, we reinforce to our kids that they are not valuable and loved. We need to correct that.

We can love our kids and like them too. Relationships will always be work, but the peace in your home and the feeling of enjoying your kid is worth it.

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MomspirationNext Sunday is Mother’s Day. I’m celebrating by honoring moms who inspire us. Send me 100 words or less about one mom who is doing a great job to scsiders(at)gmail.com. Your inspiring mom can be your own mother, your wife or the mom of your kids, someone from work, your sister, a neighbor, whoever. Tell me about a great mom you know, and I’ll pick the most inspiring story by Wednesday. The winner will receive this necklace pictured here to give to their special mom. Sounds good, right? You have two days. Go!

Let’s be honest and better together. Subscribe to the blog, and I’ll send you my two eBooks on hope and calling FREE. 

When You Want to Resign From Parenthood, Remember This

My friends and I are constantly dismayed at the behavior of our children. There is always someone crying, something broken, some mess being made that need not be, all because the little darlings seem to have cotton in their ears.

This inability to listen and then obey, seems to reflect on our competency as parents. Granted, most of us have only held the position of parent for a few years – as I’ve said before, I am only four in Mom Years. And my oldest is only four years old. It’s just hard not to have higher expectations for behavior when we’ve had this conversation One Thousand Times.

Look at that mom. Clearly it’s her fault her children are acting like this.

Last night, my girlfriends and I sipped chamomile tea and consoled ourselves about our children who seem to be selfish and entitled and wrong in every way – although we love them dearly, bless their hearts. But really, they do seem to think we only exist to make them happy.

And yet, we are trying so so hard to be good mothers. We are doing everything we can, and yet, they still misbehave. We reassured ourselves that, probably, we were little hellions when we were two and four years old, and look how decent we turned out to be?

The moral we landed on was we couldn’t use our children’s behavior to judge whether or not we were good parents. We would find out when they got older how it all plays out, but until then, Soldier on, good women.

When I got home, I remembered Jesus. Poor Jesus. He had those 12 teenagers to work with, and they were a mess. They were always bickering about who was the greatest, right in front of God, mind you. And even after Jesus multiplied food for a crowd, a few weeks later they were freaking out about how they would feed another crowd.

You could hear the exasperation in his voice some of the time. I used to think Jesus sounded a little mean and impatient in those moments. Until I became a parent.

I guess this is the circle of life, folks, for the children to be doubting and forgetful, and for the parents and teachers who guide them to wring their hands and wonder if everything is actually sinking in. If the children will actually become adults ready for launch.

I take so much comfort in this, knowing Jesus, who was God the whole time and who knew how the story ended, who knew that these were the men and women who would “turn the world upside down”, sometimes got a little frustrated with the children he was readying for the world.

So on the days your children make you want to submit your resignation letter for parenting, remember we all get the same human nature to work with. Even Jesus. The parenting gig is hard, and sometimes we wonder if it’s worth it or if the little ones will grow up, in every sense of that phrase.

But let’s remember not to look at the behavior of our kids as the evidence of our effectiveness as parents, or our worth as humans. Instead, remember Jesus had the same troubles too, and his kids turned out alright.