When You Pray and It Feels Like Nothing Is Happening

Sometimes prayer feels like this.

Pouring tiny drops of water into a giant bucket. No matter how late or long or loud you pray, it seems like the bucket is still empty.

All your work, your blood, sweat, prayers. You launch them upward, hot, sticky and tired, but nothing comes back down to you.

You want to give up. It feels like nothing is happening.

I can totally relate. Recently, our family thought we’d had a huge victory in something we’d been praying in for years. We thought the worst was over. I can’t share the details, but the celebration was short-lived.

If I had written this post a few weeks ago, I would’ve thought we’d had a breakthrough. An answer to prayer. But now here we are, more heartache, delay, sadness.

I can’t make sense of it. But I know that prayer works.

Revelation talks about prayer like a real thing, not just vapors or whispers that vanish as soon as they leave the mouth of the faithful.

They are like incense to God, a fragrance, and in John’s vision in Revelation, it says prayers fill up bowls in front of God. Fill up. Maybe slowly, maybe quickly, but those bowls fill.

 

And eventually…

The overflow comes. Splash. You are drenched in the magnificent answer to your prayer.

It’s not a neat process. There is no formula. Sometimes we fill bowls and buckets of prayer that won’t overflow in our lifetime. Sometimes we pray and we lose our loved one anyway. What happened to that bowl of prayer? We don’t know.

Paul even has the audacity to suggest that suffering, brokenness, short-term disappointment, can lead to hope. What? He says to the Romans, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

When we go through difficulties, painful circumstances and prayers that seem pointless, somehow God is building hope in us through this. Yes, hope, not hopelessness or cynicism as you might expect or even feel at times. No, this crazy rollercoaster of emotion is somehow designed for our hope. Believe it.

So no, prayer isn’t pointless. Something is happening. Really. The way God talks about this act of prayer, the filling of a bucket, little by little, prayer by prayer, this helps me know I am not doing this in vain.

So don’t give up. Don’t walk away thinking your prayers are merely wind. Don’t let yourself get disappointed. It’s possible your bucket is almost full, ready to soak you in your long-awaited answer.

Just one more day, get up, pour your prayer in the bucket, and wait. Your faith will not disappoint you.

No prayer is unheard. No prayer is wasted. This kind of Hope never disappoints.

Subscribe banner

Advertisements

I Feel For the Cowardly Lion

[Click photo for source.]

Yesterday I went to lunch with my son and my dad at a deli in a wealthy part of Kansas City. Everyone always seems so put together there, and I always feel out of place. No surprise. My car wasn’t clean, and John and I were wearing cut-off jean shorts and sandals. Oh well.

We sat down to order, but John started his shark thing where he never stops moving. The waitress brought us crayons and paper, and we begin to feel more at home.

Not long after we sat down, a good-looking, middle-aged man was seated at a table next to us. As he pulled out his chair to sit, I looked up at him and the thought came to mind: “He has back pain.” Weird. He didn’t look like he was in pain. Maybe I was making this up. But I know to pay attention to these thoughts.

As usual, I so did not want to get up and pray for this guy right in front of the whole deli. So to take up time, I argued with myself. Since my last impression about a stranger was related to back pain, I countered, “Sarah, you think everyone has back pain.” But obviously I didn’t get that impression about everyone else in the deli.

The man and his possible back pain bothered me through the rest of the meal. Especially when his attractive wife showed up to join him. I just didn’t want to pray right there, right then. And what if he didn’t even have back pain? I was going to look weird either way, and we already stood out, and people in this part of town don’t do well with weird.

As we finished our sandwiches, my dad picked up the tab, and we said our goodbyes. The man was getting ready to leave as well. Internally, I groaned. If I was going to do something, time was running out. I did nothing.

John and I walked to the bathroom, and the man walked out the door. As the door swung shut behind him, I saw him wincing in pain, his hands straightening at his side.

So he was in pain.

The bathroom was occupied, and I thought maybe I had one last chance. I walked toward the parking garage where I thought he might be, and I saw him walking toward his car, quite a distance away. I would have to shout. I suddenly had too much dignity to shout.

But what if God could heal him? What if he could walk away from here without pain? Wasn’t that worth a little weird? I thought, finally a little bit sane.

John pressed the UP button on the elevator, and we waited. I saw the man driving toward us, and I knew, if I was just crazy enough, I could stop him in the garage and pray for him right there. I’d already come this far, practically chased him down. But my feet were stuck. My mouth stayed shut.

The elevator door swung open. John and I didn’t enter. The elevator door shut again. The man and his big blue car drove past. John pressed UP one more time.

And I knew he was gone.

We entered the elevator with another mom and baby, and I tried to smile. But I was heartbroken. I was scared, and a man left the deli in pain. He didn’t have to, but he did. Because I went into self-preservation mode and forgot who mattered.

He had a beautiful wife, nice clothes and a big, cushy car. But you can’t buy health. And you can’t buy peace. And I had that to offer.

And that’s why I feel for the cowardly lion. I am a lion who forgets who she is. I think fear is the safe bet so I stay under its umbrella. We all miss out when we play the cowardly lion, when we forget who we are.

My heart felt like a stone on the drive home. I wondered if God would maybe let me see him one more time, some crazy way, but I knew I needed to sit in this. I knew I needed to feel the pain, the wages of fear.

It still feels sad to say. I wish there was a happier ending. But please, be brave today. If God shows you a person who needs something, offer the time or the prayer or the presence or the money. Don’t be fearful. Don’t be stingy. Don’t let your heart shrink.

Instead, remember who you are. You are a lion. You might be cowardly at times. But you are still a lion. And that’s a very powerful creature, whether you believe it or not.

When are you most likely to play the cowardly lion? Tell me in the comments below.

{Stay connected. Get all the updates to my blog by subscribing here, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.}  

God, Actual Size

I’m really good at exaggerating to make a point. I am one of the best exaggerators I know. Maybe the best in the world. Whoops, there I go again. (I know you saw that coming.)

When I find myself face first in a dilemma, it always feels like I’ve been stuck for centuries and the whole problem is hopeless. Often I complain, which I call “external processing”, but my introvert husband doesn’t buy it. My condition feels insurmountable, whether it’s a health issue, a financial crisis, worry about my future career, or what to have for dinner.

Each poses a troublesome obstacle for my tiny brain. Why? Because I’m excellent at elevating problems. Good self-talk shrinks problems down briefly, but before long, another one pops up to take its place.

God’s answer comes in the form of two old words that always trip me up: magnify and exalt. One particular spot brings them together in radiant obscurity:

Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together. (Psalm 34:3)

Like any good, modern English-speaking Christian, I hop the text. Sounds archaic. It probably means sing songs to God or something. And…moving on.

But if he just means music, why isn’t he saying that? Because magnify and exalt are not only about guitar and drums and hands up – or down, if you’re more comfortable – on a Sunday morning. David’s talking about a proper view of God.

I remember in grade school, taking a magnifying glass out to the driveway, and if we tilted it just right, we could chase an insect with a ray of fire or burn a scrap of paper. It was a fun science experiment. You should try it, if you haven’t.

Magnification makes things larger. When I encounter an obstacle, my response is magnification. Will it be God or the problem? What I choose depends less on the problem and more on what I’ve been practicing up until that point.

Exalt is really an old word, and there are no elementary science tricks to help us with this one. The word means “to raise in rank, honor, power, character, quality, etc; elevate.”

Back when I had all-disposable income, I used to attend concerts as often as possible: Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Coldplay, Dave Matthews Band, to name a few of my favorites. They played different styles and genres, but they all played on a stage.

Stages elevate, which makes the band easier to see, but it’s also a physical representation of what we’ve already done to the band. We paid a minimum of $30 for lawn seats or nosebleeds because months before, we “exalted” this band or artist to the position that justified spending that much money and time. The stage is a place of exaltation. 

Dave, high up on stage.

So here we have two old words that finally make sense.

Magnify = make bigger.

Exalt = lift up.

What if I was to make God bigger and lift him up every day? How would I do it? Here are a few ways to make God actual size:

1. Worship and praise: Making God large is most certainly done through worship, by singing songs about his power and connecting our hearts to heaven through music. Worship admits to our hearts about our own smallness and gives God the proper stage elevation in our lives. Psalm 22:3 says “You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.” God’s governs from the top of his people’s adoration. When we praise God, we allow his ruling and government into our situation, where we are sure to benefit from his mercy and justice.

2. Remember. One of my biggest problems is forgetting, not just where my keys are, but mostly how God has powerfully intervened in my life, again and again. He brings the right thing at the right time. He gives me all my necessities and more. When I forget, I grow fearful and orphaned, trying to figure out how I will make my own ends meet. Psalm 78 illustrates how our hearts wander and fail us when we forget what God does:

“The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle; they did not keep God’s covenant, and refused to live by his law. They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them.”

Israel, fully-armored warriors with God on their side, panicked when they forgot every time God supernaturally moved in their midst. They forgot. And they ran. Their problems grew while their God shrank.

3. Gratitude. A relative of remembering, gratitude puts us in the recipient position. It’s the place where I acknowledge I am the one in need, and I need someone to give me something. That’s what Thank You means. “I needed something; you provided it. Thank you.”

When my God dims and my troubles brighten, my heart grows anxious instantly. It looks like even God can’t save me this time, I tell myself. Paul faces off against this forgetful fear in Philippians 4.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” 

Anxiety bows to prayerful gratitude.

So next time you can tell your problems are swelling, and fear is rising up and choking you out, put on some worship music, write a short list of the last five times God bailed you out and thank him for each of them.

Then you can restore God to Actual Size in your heart and mind. Now doesn’t that feel better? 

{Let’s stay in touch. Get all the updates to my blog by subscribing here, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.}  Blog Signature

These stories pump water

I love brand new ideas, really good ones I wish I thought of. Don’t you?

Well, here’s one for you. Have you heard of CausePub yet? If you haven’t, you’re about to.

I just wrote a story for CausePub, an organization creating books for a cause through group-publishing. [Click here to read the story and vote]. [Their current book project is called Couch Rebels, a collection of stories about folks who rebelled against horizontal life and got up to do something, to change something, even if the thing they changed was themselves. The concept is genius. Here’s how it works.

  • CausePub identifies a charity or cause they want their book to support
  • CausePub solicits stories from adventurers and story-tellers
  • After stories are submitted, they approve the stories and post them to their site
  • Story-writers solicit votes from friends and strangers
  • CausePub selects great stories they love with the most votes
  • The Couch Rebel book will be published as a Kindle eBook on August 14. So soon!
  • When anyone purchases the book, the proceeds are divided between the cause, the writers and basic overhead costs.
  • For Couch Rebel, 50% of the proceeds will benefit Blood: Water Mission. The breakdown is in the graphic below.

[Follow CausePub on Twitter here and find them on Facebook here.]

Here’s where I need your help: I wrote a story for CausePub, and I need your vote.

The story is below. It’s a story about a time when God met me and my seatmate on a plane to Atlanta. I didn’t see it coming. I love this story because it makes me like God even more. Please read and take a second to click VOTE. Thank you so much.

What God Thinks About You

“So, where are you headed?” I asked the young brunette next to me to end the awkward silence. She smiled the stranger smile, as if wondering how long this conversation might take. “Somewhere tropical. With friends.” She needed a little prodding, and I wondered if I should just lay off. Instead, I offered my own less glamorous destination: Atlanta.

I attempted to stir the conversation with more questions about her destination, responding with appropriate amounts of awe and jealousy. I hoped we would catch a common thread in our lives and the chatter would take off, giving me an opportunity to eventually talk with her about Jesus.

But no such luck. The conversation flailed, and we politely took up our books. I leaned into the window, pretending to read, but inside I argued with myself, knowing God might have bigger plans for this three-hour plane ride.

Eventually, my discomfort with silence grew larger than my desire to be well-mannered company. “What are you reading?” I finally inquired. She stammered a bit. “It’s a little unconventional. I’m not sure I want to say.” She tucked the pink book cover down toward her lap. I attempted to reassure her I didn’t have plans to judge, but I wasn’t going to push it. But what was she reading?

“I’m reading about artificial insemination,” she offered hesitantly, waiting for the verdict to read on my face as she turned the cover toward me. “I’m not married yet, but I’m 35. And I want to have a baby.”

Oh.

Click the button below to keep reading and vote.

Vote

Negative tests and practicing my poker face

{I’ve been leery of sharing these thoughts and stories about our journey to have Baby #2. I don’t want to get pegged as an infertility writer cause I will feel guilty for getting pregnant when my readers are still trying. But more than that, letting strangers see the longings in my heart has been just too much. Way too much vulnerability. But two weeks ago, I was freaking out in a waiting room, hoping for certain test results. And I watched myself fight transparency and cover up emotion. It was weird. I didn’t want anyone to know. So this is the first time I’ve really talked about it. Here goes.}

Two weeks ago, something strange was happening to me, something “not normal”. I hoped maybe the weirdness was pregnancy, but home tests read negative. I ran out of homeopathic options and patience so I called my doctor. My regular, non-hippie medical doctor.

“We may have to run some tests, but we have to wait,” the nurse informed me. Of course. Tests. And waiting. Dislike.

“Can I rule out pregnancy?” I squeaked in the most non-neurotic voice I could muster. “I just want to be sure I’m not so I can make the necessary adjustments.” Yea, adjustments, like curing my racing mind and my feverish curiosity. The nurse humored me.

Less than 24 hours later, I left work early for my appointment in the lab. The drive to the clinic gave me 20 minutes to remember the last few times I sat in the lab waiting room, doing what you do in a waiting room: waiting. Trying to sit still, distracting myself with newsstand magazines, pretending to breathe.

The lab tech would call me back and draw my blood, and we both acted like it was no big deal, that I was just there for the Band-Aid, and I didn’t really mind at all if there was only one line on that test.

They would send me back to the waiting room for more discomfort and squirming. There I’d become spiritual.

I would try to imagine all the things I could do to make the test positive. Cross my fingers, blink five times fast, forgive all the people I’m mad at. I land on the best make-things-happen action step: surrender. Not real surrender, of course. Fake surrender. Super-spiritual apathy.

I tell God that I will be okay and he is still good and I trust him, not so much because I do, but because that’s how you get what you want around here, right?

I want surrender, but I would rather just be pregnant. That would save so much time.

After I wave my faux white flag, the lab tech inevitably comes out with the poker face and no voice inflection. “Tests are negative today.” Whoosh. Out goes the little flame of hope.

I am always surprised, but I pretend I’m cool. “Okay, thank you,” I half smile back, feigning confidence. So the results are only negative today, right? So maybe tomorrow they will be positive? Okay, I will be back. Tomorrow. And there’s always next month.

But I don’t feel confident at all. I’m disappointed. Something must be wrong. I wish I’d stayed home and let the white stick tell me the answer, but I had to come in. Just had to know. I can’t let the lab techs, the bearers of sad news, see that look on my face. I can’t let the strangers know my sadness.

After lab room flashbacks on the drive to the clinic, I decided to practice my own poker face. I knew the tests would probably be negative, but maybe not. That’s what I was there, right? I was ready for anything, and a positive result wouldn’t be hard to deal with. I just had to protect myself from the Messengers of Negative, ensure they don’t see even a change in eyebrow posture. Remember: stone-faced. Be prepared.

They draw my blood, and I wonder if I’m wasting my time. I don’t say that. I tell the lab tech I like the wall decor. “It’s so colorful,” I cheer.

Back to the waiting room, where I pull out my iPad to write. But I can’t write because I’m calculating my due date and how old John will be when his sibling is born and what if it’s a boy and I don’t think I can handle another boy, but I will just be happy if it’s a baby at all and I can always adopt a girl…

And then the lab window slides open. “Tests are negative today,” the blond lady announces. I’m alone in the waiting room, but I feel alone in the world. I will go home and tell Josh, and he won’t understand what it feels like to hope your body is growing a human life, only to find out it’s just messed up instead.

“Okay,” I stutter, but I wasn’t prepared like I meant to be. “I guess I’ll have to do something different.” What? Something different? What ever does that mean? My secret was out. I sounded drunk, but it was just the sadness. The out-of-controlness. The I’m-trying-everything-so-what-else-do-I-need-to-do?

I shoved my iPad back into my tote, wishing I’d been prepared to leave, hating the moment I lingered there helpless. She knows I’m sad. She knows I wanted the baby. She knows something is wrong with me. She knows.

I still don’t really understand why the lab techs scare me. They are only messengers. They don’t make me un-pregnant with their words. I just hate to hear it. It feels vulnerable. I don’t want the first person to know of my hope deferred, the person who tells me my body can’t do it, or just won’t do it, to be someone I’ve never met.

I walk to the car, texting my friends the news. On my way home, I call my cousin in Texas. “I’m not pregnant.” I try to sound optimistic.

I don’t say it, but I think the pregnancy tests should have a sad face for the negative. Then maybe it would feel like someone understands.

A friend recommended this book to me for those of us struggling with infertility at any level. It’s not advice. Lets be clear. Just journal entries, thoughts and prayers from a woman who was waiting. The book is called Moments for Couples who Long for Children. It sounds immensely helpful. Thank you for the tip, friend.

The God of Self-Help

If you’ve been in church, or been around churchy people, you’ve heard people talk about God. Mostly he sounds like a philanthropic celebrity, but kind of religiousy. The hazy God-descriptions based on scriptural references don’t help.

“He’s the God of the oppressed.”
“He’s the Father to the fatherless.”
“He’s a friend to those in need.”
“He is a refuge for those who seek him.”

While these might be true, why the archaic language to describe someone who is supposed to be “closer than a brother”? These antiquities of speech only widen the gap between confused little me and a God who already feels far away.

I grew up in church, and for those of us who did, at some point we decided if we wanted to interact with God or not. If he was really there and worth our time. The general malaise present in many North American churches serves only to sedate and even quench the passion for the divine with which children are born.

Eventually, if you stay in the shades-of-slate suburbia long enough, you’ll be introduced to The God of Self-Help. This God wants you to “be good”. With only rare head nods to a nicely tanned, smiling Jesus, DIY spirituality is the flavor of the millennium. The mantra: “I can do it myself, with a little help from Jesus.”

Needing help is reserved for only special occasions, like praying for orphans in Africa or the parent with a rare form of cancer. People who really need it. Otherwise, we rarely have to bother God. After all, he hath bestowed on us Deepak Chopra and Oprah and Dr. Oz. What more do we need? A full life awaits us.

I’m a Christian, and I follow Jesus. Self-help affirmations and feel-good quotations give me the willies, but if I’m honest, I will usually pick The God of Self-Help over Real Jesus. Why? Four main reasons:

1. I can do it on my own.
2. I should do it on my own.
3. I owe Jesus to get my crap together after all he’s done for me.
4. I don’t want to bother with all this relationship stuff. It’s too unpredictable.

Self-help offers the thing we all want so desperately: a formula for success with little mess. How do I get to heaven? How can I make the boss like me? How can I have one more baby? How can I get the things I’ve been wanting, tangible or intangible?

I want to achieve. I want to check boxes. I want to feel good. I want to make a difference because I want my name on something. I want people to be impressed with me. And I don’t want anyone questioning my motives or giving me a hard time. Get out of my way. I am trying to get rich and famous, or at least be decently oblivious and happy over here.

And it sure seems like Real Jesus wants to come in and mess it all up.

20130724-012403.jpg

It’s easier to dismiss the King James deities, all unrelatable and distant. The Self-Help God offers me a solution to my surface desires, which distracts me with niceties and a busy spiritual life.

Then along comes this Jesus guy, God with flesh on, messing everything up. Touching lepers, playing with kids, drinking wine, sitting in dirt. And dying.

Suddenly it becomes quite clear that Self-Help God is holding out on me. Because why would this other God go to all this trouble to redeem a bunch fully qualified humans? Why the bloody death if we can just read a handbook to pass? Overkill much?

Or perhaps self-help is not enough. Perhaps I am a giant, flailing mess and not even the people around me can toss the tube over cause they’re too busy drowning in it too.

Indeed, self-help is help yourself. Every man and woman for him or herself. There are no extra resources. I need all the points I can get. It’s “I can’t save you so you better work and try to save yourself.”

I’m sorry I’ve been dialing the God of Self-Help while keeping the Real Jesus at arm’s length, suspiciously eyeing him and fearing for what he will ask of me.

I still want to fix myself. I think I need to try harder. But Jesus’ crazy life says I’m desperate, and if I slow down long enough to look around, I can see that I am. I need way more than self-help. I need a rope deep enough to reach into hell and pluck me from the flames seconds from the burn.

God, I’m sorry I drank the Kool-Aid thinking you were gonna help me be a nice person, that you were peddling best-sellers on formulas for a better life. You couldn’t care less about my manicured lawn and nails if my heart is rotting out. You look past skin and landscaping to see the whitewashed tomb inside.

It’s ugly. I need a makeover. This is no DIY project. It’s major surgery. There is nothing worth saving here. I need a life-transplant.

Real Jesus, I’m done with The God of Self-Help. I am really sorry I’ve been one of those friends who only calls when she needs something. And I’m sorry I’ve been a liar, liar, pants on fire about my relationship with you. I’m a novice. A born-yesterday beginner. But I’m aware now.

Help.

When it’s all up to you: the value of legacy

{If you found me through my article on Catalyst, welcome. And if you’re a regular or a visitor, please let me share my news: I had the privilege to be featured on Catalyst this week, talking about the church planting life and the value of raising up the legacy of the next generation of leaders. I’m hoping to have the opportunity to write more on church planting and leadership, something Josh and I are growing intimately familiar with. Thanks for reading. Please leave thoughts in the article comments section. Thanks. Now, without further ado…}

Church planting is like parenting. It’s exhausting, and in the beginning, you’re doing all the work. It’s a good thing you love your new, baby church.

But as it grows, it gains independence. It can tie its own shoes. And eventually, you get to go to the bathroom unaccompanied.

Yup, this is pretty much what it’s like in the beginning.

Okay, it’s not a direct analogy, but you’d be surprised by the similarities.

If you’re a church planter, you know: the policy writing, program development, volunteer training and recruiting, preaching and teaching, discipleship of new converts, janitorial duties, midnight counseling, Sunday bulletin design, weddings and funerals and hospital visits and baby dedications are simply all part of the job. Your job.

But this is only the infancy of the church, the stage of greatest need and dependence, and in many ways, the highest level of pastoral involvement. But it’s not supposed to stay this way.

After my son was born, we returned home from the hospital and tried to adjust to life without sleep. I remember hearing him cry one day and wondering when his mother was going to come and help him out. It was dreadful to realize I was the mother. Who gave someone with no parenting experience a new child who has no use of the English language?

Like parenting, church planting is a startling thrust into the fire. When we got the 2 AM call from a local hospital that the husband of one of our parishioners passed away suddenly, we searched about wildly. “Someone should call her pastor,” we muttered in our groggy stupor. And then we realized we were the pastors. We left our three week-old infant with my mom, who happened to be in town, and hurried to the hospital to comfort our friend.

Even if you’ve never comforted a new parent, cooked a casserole for a potluck, or provided the homily at a funeral service, suddenly, it’s up to you. You’re up.

Like parenting, it’s almost a given that whatever needs to be done will fall on you in the beginning. But that’s only the beginning.

Continue reading at CatalystConference.com.

I am the opposite of me

I am a paradox. And so are you.

We are clean and shiny in some areas of ourselves, yet disheveled disasters in others. The real estate of our souls and our yards is impeccable from one angle, and painfully unkempt from another.

How is it that we can live with coexisting brilliance and ignorance, with generous nobility and glaring narcissism?

Sometimes, I feel I’m an imposter, like the real me is the messy version, and the times I act right are just glitches, some kind of cosmic error where the light fell just right, and now the world thinks good of me.

But it feels like a balancing act, until I wreck it again.

So who am I? Can I be the bad and the good, at the same time?

Am I summed up in my moments of fear, panic and rejection or in my faith and courage?

Am I a scared, helpless child, wordless with shame, or a ferociously brave teacher who lives to inspire?

Am I all the times I hate to be alone, or the times I am frantic to get away?

Am I the girl who can’t find her keys or the idea-generating leader bent on improving her environment?

Am I the friend you can count on for everything, or the friend who will let you down?

Am I the blessings and encouragement I bestow, or the curses I hiss beneath my breath?

Am I the rage and anger I release on my very last nerve with my child, or am I the patient nurturer, singing this same child to sleep?

Am I the forgiveness I extend or the grudges I feed?

Am I all the times I disappoint or the times I keep my word?

Am I the girl who finds showers annoying or the girl who can’t stand dirty feet?

Am I everything I do right or everything I do wrong?

Am I the desperate woman wanting children I don’t have yet or the grateful mother to the one I do have?

It doesn’t seem possible, but I am all these things. It’s the conundrum of me. I can stop covering it up now, stop holding my breath so people will think of me as cleaned up and together.

The truth is, I am holy and I am full of sin. I am a work in progress. But at this exact moment, I am the good and the bad. 

I am all the things I’ve screwed up irreparably, the words I want back, and the genius and generosity in between. I am everywhere I’ve been and everywhere I’m going. I am my failure and my success. I am what I know and what I don’t know. It’s part of me. 

I just need to hit “Accept” on all this stuff, on the easy to love and the impossible to love parts of me. Cause it’s all me, and I’m not going anywhere.

Anger management: how it’s going out here

Two weeks ago, I took a crazy challenge. But it was about time.

Inspired by the brave mom at The Orange Rhino, I committed not to yell at my son for 365 days. With certain caveats, like safety and distance, of course. That was 14 days ago.

no-yelling

So now it’s confession time, right? How have I actually been doing? Well, let’s just say I’m only 10 days in to this thing. May I defend myself? Well, I’m going to.

On Saturday, July 6th, we were visiting my family. My son, in true toddler form, turned into quite a mess from an afternoon of play. So into the tub he went. Being an opportunist, I decided to also wash my hair under the faucet while he took his bath. And what do you think I saw floating toward me as I rinsed my hair? Poo. That’s right. A small, but definitely-there piece of poo. In the bathtub. Where you’re supposed to get clean!

I was upset, disgruntled, flustered, not quite yelling, but I was close. Out went the toddler and down went the water. My hair was now sopping wet so I sat the tot down on the potty so he could finish his business and tried to complete my hair washing, this time in the sink, which is a less likely place to find poo. I peered around the corner to check on him, and at just that moment, he plunged his foot into the toilet. Just to spite me, I’m sure of it.

And then I lost it. I yelled. It was a violent act of regression, and I knew I was going to have to come out here and tell you I did it. But I did.

So the next day I started over. There have been two poo-in-tub incidents since that day, which makes three since I’m counting, but guess what? I’ve responded well to both, no yelling, just redirecting. And whining. Because eewwwww, gross.

I hope you don’t leave my alone on my commitment, but I also promise to keep you updated every couple week so you know I’m not faking it over here. I’m a mom who needs help, but I’m sure trying.

Here’s to more days and years of self-control! And kids who don’t poop in tubs.

Anger Management for Moms: the 365 Day Challenge

I can relate.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about anger. My anger. The kind that fills me up with sadness and regret. The kind I dive into in the moment and feel I’m drowning in the next.

Since I wrote about it, read about anger from other moms and started paying attention to my volume and emotion, I’ve been doing better.

It’s amazing what a little awareness can do.

About a year and a half ago, a mom blogger at Orange Rhino got caught yelling at her kids. (I can’t remember when but I feel like I’ve been there. It’s not pretty.) She decided enough was enough, and committed not to tell at her kids for a year. If she yelled, the 365 days started over.

That’s quite a challenge. And a brave woman.

She outlines the varying levels of volume in our voice as we move from a whisper to a raging scream. Her cut-off is level 4, the “oopsie snap”, the moment when “your blood pressure is building” and maybe you’re overreacting a little. That’s nice. She gives herself some grace.

Crazy, wild-eyed yelling is out. No matter how tired she is. No matter how bad the kids are.

It’s parental self-control at its finest. I love this commitment, and I am going to make it as well.

365 sounds like a long time, but when do I want to start yelling at my kids again? I don’t. Ever. So setting the deadline far away improves my chances of forming new habits. I will either sail through the year with perfect performance, which means the light has come on, or I will be required to start over by bad behavior. Either way, I win because I am forced to learn alternate ways to deal with anger.

So here is my commitment. 365 of no yelling, no nasty snaps or raging screams. I think I know what these are, but I may have to define them more as I go. Orange Rhino’s rule of thumb: If you think you yelled, you did.

So what do I want from parenting? I want relationship. Not zombie, docile, obedient children…

Why yelling or not yelling really matters? Two big reasons:

1. Because proving parents can control themselves as a higher priority over controlling their kids is something we must demonstrate to our children. I must not try to control them or they will learn that people can be controlled. It’s only a matter of figuring out how to do it. I want my children to demonstrate self-control, not others-control.

2. Protecting my children from my sinful responses is essential if I want to guard their hearts. I want to keep the relationship open between us and “not provoke them to anger”, as Paul challenges fathers, and I believe all parents, to avoid doing. I provoke anger when I am angry and out of control. I am powerful enough to mold a tender heart into an angry, defensive heart with my words and expectations. I have to use my power to build and not destroy.

So what do I want from parenting? I want relationship. Not zombie, docile, obedient children without opinions who only want to please me to avoid my rage. Or the opposite, raging hearts who only have their parents to model the handling of their emotions, children without self-control who feel rejected and unsure of their boundaries.

Dear God, help me avoid that fate. It’s painful even to imagine what my children could grow to be if I don’t truly learn this.

I will continue to discuss these emotions and handling them better as I discover new ways, or as I run into challenges. I know now I will need to outline specific ways of dealing with anger so I can be prepared, not surprised.

Until then, here are a few excellent posts on doing motherhood well from some of my favorite bloggers:
Sarah Bessey
Ann Voskamp
Lisa Jo Baker

May you respond with love and self-control, and may you live without regret every day of your life.

Do you have skills or suggestions on how to manage mommy madness? Please share them below. I would love to learn. Thank you.