Stop Look Listen!

My son and I like to take pictures of the beautiful sunrises here in Colorado. This morning it was stunning, but just a few minutes later the clouds rolled in and we could barely see the top of Pikes Peak. Thinking about how we almost missed that sunrise moment, I was reminded of the saying we learned when I was little to help us watch out for trains. Do you remember this? Stop, look and listen was the catchy little jingle. I don’t know how effective that campaign was, but it obviously stuck in my brain.

It can be easy to simply go through the motions of my day while checking things off a list. But on the days when I feel like I’m getting it right, there’s a lot less list checking and a lot more stopping, looking and listening. I find myself more mindful of my own needs and the needs of those around me. And while yes, my house always needs something done and there are many requests to help with this or volunteer with that, there are just a handful of people counting on me so that they may feel seen, heard, loved and understood. And I really don’t want to let them down. I only have so much time. If I don’t live in the present and leave margins for what matters the most, these moments will pass me by. The little people in my house will become teens, my teens will leave, and I will be left wondering where all the moments went.

Psalm 23:1-3 says, “Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need! He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He gives me new strength. He helps me do what honors him the most.” Could we let that sink in for just a moment before the moment passes? When God is leading us, we have everything we need. He knows our needs even when we are too busy to feel them or too worn out to understand them. He wants to lead us to a place of rest so we can get quiet and stop, look and listen to his desires for our life. He will help us do what only we can do.

This one life you’re living is not a dress rehearsal. This is the show. If we stop rushing and pushing, if we look for what God is trying to show us, if we listen to what he says about us, we will know what to do next. Maybe you need to say no to one more commitment. Maybe you need to spend extra time with family or a friend. Maybe you need to give yourself permission to drop the to-do list and play today instead. Maybe you just need a nap. Whatever it is, do it!

Friend, you are more than enough. You can stop trying so hard to be more efficient, more worthy and more lovable. You are loved just as you are. What would it look like for you to rest in that today?

Delight, Trust, Wait

Fall 2011 151“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

My heart jumped when I read that verse several years ago as my husband and I were trying to decide if it was God’s will for us to add another child to our family of 4. Already blessed with 2 daughters, I believed that we were meant to have a son, but our life circumstances kept us wondering if having more than 2 kids would be pushing the limits. For 4 years, I had been praying regularly for God to give us clear direction, but lately I’d become so focused on getting an answer, I let worry and discontent creep into my life. I’d forgotten to rest in his presence and delight in his company every day. I’m ashamed to admit that I was focusing more on my prayers than on the one I was praying to.

I knew what the desire of my heart was, but I needed to trust that if I stayed in close relationship with the Lord, my desires would also be in alignment with his will. I think sometimes we want to cherry pick the decisions we consult God on. We might go to him first in the middle of a health crisis or tragedy, but we like to do other things on our own. Psalm 37:5 says, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him…” Often, it seems a lot easier to just do what we feel like doing than to commit everything we have and do to his control and wait for his timing. I can’t tell you how many times during those 4 years I wanted to just decide something one way or the other so that the decision would finally be made. Sadly, not giving God control of our decision distracted me from the incredible blessings I was already surrounded with.

Maybe you are in a season of waiting too. Perhaps you’re waiting for a dream job, a dream spouse, a dream baby or a ministry to come to fruition and the wait has become longer than you ever imagined. “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;..” (Psalm 37:7). Take heart and remember that he is with you. You have not been forgotten! Rest in his joy and delight yourself in the knowledge of his love for you while you are waiting. He knows the desires of your heart and when we align ourselves with his will, we can trust that he has our best interests in mind.

Right about the time I began delighting in the Lord’s presence again and realized that my happiness wasn’t dependent on whether or not this desire ever came to fruition, I arrived at my mailbox one day to find a letter with my name on it congratulating me on my pregnancy from one of the large baby product companies. Not only was I not expecting, I hadn’t signed up for anything or done anything that would warrant such mail. My husband and I laughed it off as an ironic coincidence. But week after week, other companies sent random baby items to my mailbox. One day I’d discover baby shampoo samples, another day it’d be a box of formula. By the time two tiny newborn diapers arrived, it was pretty obvious that it was more than just a coincidence. Doesn’t God have an awesome sense of humor? I can’t tell you how much I delighted in finding those special treats in my mailbox each week. Through prayer, advice from Christian friends, daily reading of scripture and dreams, God made his will for our family clear in his time.

On a beautiful morning in July of 2008, I found out I was expecting our third child. After I shouted praises quietly (my girls were still sleeping), I stood there wondering what to do. At that moment, only God and I knew about the little one to come. I opened my Bible and my eyes fell on these words, “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him” (1 Samuel 1:27). My son, Coleton Samuel, was born 5 years ago. He brings such joy and delight to my life! All those years of waiting make his presence with us now that much sweeter.

God gives the most incredible gifts. But the most amazing gift he gives to us is his presence! I don’t know what your heart’s desire is, but he does. And I know that whether the ending is sweet or bittersweet, he will always walk with us. It just doesn’t get any sweeter than that. Whenever I’m tempted to try and rush this thing called life or make a decision on my own because I’m impatient, one glance down at my little boy reminds me of these three steps; delight in the Lord and embrace joy today, trust him to take care of your tomorrows, and wait patiently for his timing.

*This article was originally published in the Winter 2011 issue of Between the Lines magazine. You can read the full issue here.

Parenting 101: Think Outside of the Box

Cole train 2

This photo of my son, who kept his pacifier much longer than any book or speech therapist would advise, was taken by my friend Julie.

When my oldest daughters were little we took a trip to visit a dear friend. The visit was wonderful except for one problem. My friend’s infant son and my oldest daughter had to sit next to each other in the car and while my daughter had a very large personal bubble, my friend’s son was obsessed with constantly laying his hand on her. This small infraction resulted in her screaming her head off everywhere we went. We tried to think of any possible way to resolve the issue, but came up blank. We couldn’t switch the car seats around for safety reasons, and we could not convince an 8-month-old to stop touching my distressed daughter. We were at a loss until my friend’s mother suggested we tear apart a cardboard box and put a piece of the cardboard in between the kids. It was so simple, but would it work?

Before our next outing, we placed the cardboard between the seats, loaded the kids up, and prayed for a scream-free ride. I watched as his little infant hand made its way over and stopped right at the cardboard as my daughter was oblivious of his intentions from the other side. I’ve never seen anything look so ridiculous and marvelous at the same time. I’m pretty sure the “Hallelujah Chorus” may have broken out spontaneously in the light of that Texas morning as we enjoyed a quiet ride and a pleasant conversation.

The very first words of Genesis tell us that God is creative. And just as he created the wonders of the heavens and earth, he also chose to create us in his imagine. “When God began creating the heavens and the earth, the earth was a shapeless, chaotic mass, with the Spirit of God brooding over the dark vapors” (Gen. 1:2). I love how the Bible refers to the earth as a shapeless, chaotic mass. I don’t know about you, but sometimes my life as a mother feels like a shapeless, chaotic mess! But his word tells us that we are not here by accident. Likewise, he has given us our specific children to parent for a purpose.

As a writer my job is creative by nature. But I’ve never used my creativity more than in my role as a parent. There isn’t a single day when I’m not looking for creative solutions to inspire, educate, discipline, and manage life with my children. And kids are the ultimate game changers. Just when you get one stage figured out, they are on to the next stage. Proverbs 22:6 tells us we should, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” This verse was so helpful to me as a young mother surrounded by the advice of well-meaning books and friends. It helped me to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all style of parenting. Every child is unique and should be raised according to his or her individual needs and leanings.

So what does that mean to me on a practical level? It means that I’ve got to think outside of the box when it comes to raising my four unique children. Here are some personal guidelines that help me parent my kids creatively:

  1. Do what works. I take advice, but then use my discernment in all things. If I find something that produces good fruit in my children then I do it even if it seems unconventional or ridiculous. I walked our first daughter in a front pack every day for 6 months because it’s the only way she would sleep. She stayed happy and I stayed fit and, no, I don’t carry her anymore.
  2. Roll with it. Our second daughter insisted on wearing a Tigger costume every day for 6 months. Which was replaced with a swimsuit (in the dead of winter), followed by various crazy outfits. Whenever I felt the urge to control her choices, I had to remind myself that she was simply expressing her personal taste and it was NOT a reflection on me.
  3. If you resent it, change it. This may seem contrary to #2, but this is all about picking my battles. Some battles aren’t worth fighting and some absolutely are. When it comes to sleep, I am militant about my no-kids-in-our-bed policy. For me, sleep is a deal-breaker, and I would be a very unhappy momma in the morning. Instead of allowing resentment to grow in my heart, I pray and ask God to help me find a creative solution. For our oldest daughters, that meant putting them in the same room at night.
  4. Steal a moment. With 4 kids and a husband who travels frequently, it can be extremely difficult to find one-on-one time with my kids. So I have to get creative and steal moments with them, whether that means taking one who needs some extra love on an errand and sneaking in ice cream or chatting with one in the car. It also means giving them all of my attention when a little one comes to me with a question or wants to discuss something.

When I feel overwhelmed, I remember that God has entrusted me with these precious children and they are gifts from him. Only a cruel God would give me a child without giving me the tools that I need to raise her. But our God is good, and he has given me everything I need to love these children well. Through his word, prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit, I’m free to raise them one crazy, creative day at a time.

*This article was originally published in the Summer 2012 issue of Between the Lines magazine. You can read the full issue here.

It’s Summer Time! Are We Having Fun Yet?

My kids have been out of school for a month now. My stack of parenting magazines is covered with titles like, “Summer Fun!” or some variation of that sentiment. Is it just me, or are those titles mocking us moms? Sometimes the idea of summer fun seems nothing more than a half-baked dream I had before kids when my head was full of unrealistic expectations. In reality, my summer doesn’t always feel fun. With 4 kids all relearning how to get along, it can feel like a lot of work.


I admire the mothers of largish families who tell me how much fun having a large brood is, but I often wonder how I’ve missed the boat here. For me, adding more children has translated to increased pressure. After laundry, cleaning, phone calls, bills, finding time to write, picking up all day, and a hundred other tasks, I often feel like any joy has been squeezed right out of me. Throw in a dozen tantrums and some tween sassiness and I’m done. I’m not saying there aren’t hilarious moments, there totally are and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but there are also increasing demands and responsibilities. When I get stressed, fun feels like the first thing to fly out the window.

So the question I asked myself before this summer began was, “How can I better balance work and play without losing my mind?” Since we added another child to our crew over the winter (Lord if you’re listening, we are good now thanks!), I knew having a plan in place for fun would be even more essential this summer. So here are a few guidelines I came up with to keep my work/play meter in check:

  1. Care Less. With 4 kids in the house generating dishes, laundry, and mountains of stuff, summer is a great time to care less what my house looks like. Messes are temporary and memories of merriment are forever.
  2. Take Breaks. Without school to give me a daily breather (my hats off to homeschooling mamas everywhere) I need to make an effort to take breaks in the evening or on weekends. I might do something crazy like grab a Starbucks and sit in silence or wander aimlessly around Target.  
  3. Be Silly. Even if my natural inclination isn’t silliness, I make an effort every day to act a little immature. My favorite silly behaviors include dancing, joking around, and finding little ways to make my kids smile. Of course, some awesome moms will take this to the next level like the pinterest picture I recently saw where stairs were turned into a slide using cardboard. I think I’ll pass. That would end badly in my house.
  4. Slow Down. During summers the older kids have reading time each afternoon. One day on a whim, I decided that instead of trying to get things done while my little one was sleeping and they were reading, I would sit down for 30 minutes and read too. It was refreshing and I’ve been doing it ever since.
  5. Enlist Help. Many high school kids are looking for babysitting jobs during the summer. I have a weekly play date with my older girls while my younger ones are home playing with a sitter. It’s a win-win.
  6. Release Control. I sometimes have a misguided desire to be Wonder Mom, so this summer I’m giving some of my workload away. Turns out, my kids are a lot more capable than I imagined. They’ve learned to help me cook, handle their own laundry, and they’ve been drafted into my army of deep cleaners armed with nothing but a box of baby wipes. It may not get done perfectly, but they are learning to be part of a team in the process. 
  7. Add Structure. Having fun with kids often requires planning on my part. I write down some things to do throughout the week. Whether it is a surprise outing to a favorite place or something as simple as playing a game, I make a plan and stick to it no matter what work is piling up around me.

Last summer, we announced that we were going to spend the morning on a family bike ride. After what felt like 5 hours of whining, preparation, and hassle we finally hit the road. When at last we arrived, it was a glorious ride that everyone enjoyed. An older gentleman passed by our biking clan, smiled and said, “You’re doing great mom! The family that bikes together stays together!” His encouraging words were a gift. It was worth the effort to play that day. It always is. The projects can be put on hold, the work will still be waiting in the wings come fall, but today it is summer. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” This summer, I’m doing my best to stay cheerful and not let my bones dry up in the heat.

How about you? How does your family have fun in the summer?

Christmas: A Beautiful Mess

I have a confession to make. I love Christmas, but sometimes it’s a little too messy for me. Ironically, I’m a soon-to-be mother of 4 who craves order. Between the shopping, food, decorations and the Christmas tree taking up way more room than I think it should, I can start to feel overwhelmed.  Some years, I’m relieved when January rolls around and all the stuff gets put back where it belongs. What can I say? I have issues, but God isn’t finished with me yet. My mother assures me I was born this way (I loved to spend time alphabetizing my books at the age of 3). With each child that’s been added to our family, I’ve learned to embrace the mess more, but there are still times when my need for order gets the best of me.

Don't worry, we kept this batch in the family.  Love these girls!

Don’t worry, we kept this batch in the family. Love these girls!

A few years ago, I purchased new Christmas stockings for my 3 kiddos at the mecca of American consumerism, Pottery Barn Kids. I ordered 2 online with the monogram, but my oldest daughter wanted one that was only in the store so I told her I would purchase it and have it monogrammed later. For several days she hounded me about when her name was going to be sewn on her stocking and I asked her to wait patiently and I would take care of it. Then one day she appeared holding up her stocking with her name written on it in large, black sharpie ink. She had a proud, but sheepish grin on her face. I was furious. I asked, “Why did you do that when I told you I would have it sewn on?” And then I said the words I wish I could take back, “You ruined it!” She burst into tears and ran off. I justified my reaction because she had been disobedient, but I think I was angrier about the ruined stocking. I tucked it away in the decorations box and ordered a new one. Not my proudest mom moment.

Pulling out decorations a few years later, I smiled when I saw that old stocking and laughed to myself. I asked her if she remembered doing that. Her face sank and tears welled in her eyes as she looked at the stocking. I felt like a horrible mother and apologized as I put it back in the box for another year. This year, I pulled out the old reminder of my failure again and wondered if I could make it into something new. I promptly took the stocking to a fabric store and asked two middle-aged female employees if they thought I could cover up the writing and have a new name monogrammed on it. They both replied, “You’re going to want to keep that.” Apparently these kind women did not get that the thing had been ruined. And then it hit me, I was the one who didn’t get it. My daughter didn’t mess up her stocking; she was trying to make it useful and perfect. In my efforts to make everything perfect and beautiful, I was the one who made a mess.

At Christmas, I find myself thinking a lot about Mary. I wonder what she was thinking as she traveled that long journey to Bethlehem. I doubt that giving birth to her son in a stable far from home was part of her birth plan. No doubt it was dirty and smelly in there, a mess really. And into that mess, a savior is born. Luke 2:19 says, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” How she must have treasured the beauty of the moment.

So this year, I’m going to resist the urge to spread out the ornaments on the tree, fuss over details or shake off extra sprinkles. I’m going to embrace the beautiful mess of Christmas. The memories of laughter, love and chaos; I’m going to want to keep that. I’m so thankful that God knows my imperfections, loves me anyway and has my name written on the palm of his hand.

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands – Isaiah 49:16