January 30, 2020

Part Of My Heart Will Always Be Wherever My Children Are

When you become a mom, you become a heart donor. From that moment on, a piece of your heart goes walking around outside your body.

It's not that other things and people—a spouse, jobs, friends, callings, passions, goals and dreams—don’t have your heart, too. It's just that your children have written their names on pieces of your heart in indelible love.

Because of this, part of a mom's heart is always where her children are.

When my children were little, my heart was often in my arms or on my lap or wrapped around my legs while I was trying to make dinner.

Then it was at a school desk or on a bus or at a friend’s house for a playdate or a sleepover.

Now that my children are a teen and a young adult, my heart is, at various times, walking across a university campus or teaching 4th grade. 
At other times, it's lifting weights in a gym or setting up a first apartment. It’s often in a car, on a road I pray is safe.

Sometimes—the best times—all of my heart is in my living room.

Depending on where their own children are, other moms' hearts are in other places right now, I know.

Somewhere, there is a mom whose heart is in another room in the same house...only a few physical steps away but many emotional miles away.

There is a mom whose heart is on the job, in an office or a shop or a factory.

There is a mom whose heart is on a military base.

There is a mom whose heart is in a hospital room.

There is a mom whose heart is in heaven.

There is a mom whose heart is in a house across town or halfway around the world, maybe raising other little hearts who also have this mom's heart.

There is a mom whose heart is someplace she does not know, because she does not know where the child who has her heart is.

There is a mom whose heart is at home, waiting for her child to come back to her.

Many times since I became a mom, I've commented that I don't know where my mind went. But I know where my heart went. I know where it is. I know where it will always be.

January 23, 2020

8 Things Moms of Daughters Have To Look Forward To (Really!)

I am a mom of two daughters and no sons. 

When you are a mom of daughters and no sons, here are two things you hear a lot:

#1: “So, when are you going to try for a boy?”
#2: “They’re cute now, but just wait until they get to be teenagers.”

To #1, I usually responded, “Actually, we’re not going to try for a boy. We’re going to try for a goldfish instead.”

To #2, I usually made some sort of conciliatory “I know” noises while my mind frantically whipped up all possible worst-case scenarios lying in wait for a mom of girls who would eventually hit puberty.

I didn’t particularly look forward to my girls’ older years. But now that I’m camped out in them, I realize something: I should have.

I have one teen daughter and one young-adult daughter, and it is mostly fabulous.

Yes, there is drama. Yes, there are hormones. Yes, there is crying. But enough about me. (Just kidding. Okay, not really.)

And while it is true that I’d be able to get that fancy farmhouse sink I want for my kitchen if I got paid psychotherapist’s fees for the emotional rehab I do after school every day, I’ve discovered that having an older daughter is a joy-ride in the best possible way. Here are eight things I didn't know to look forward to then that I've been loving for a few years now.

1. When you are trying on a mail-order dress the color of a tangerine and you aren’t sure if it makes you look stunning or like an orange sack, you summon your daughter for an assessment. With no prompting or coaching, she takes one look and says, “It makes you look like an orange sack.” So then you know.

2. You have a handy reference guide for the meaning of such phrases as “I've got tea.” (Spill it? Pour it? I can never remember.)

3. When you shop with your daughter, you actually shop. Often in the same department. For clothes you might share.

4. When you are out shopping with your daughter, you may see, for instance, a “performance-gear” hoodie in a gorgeous aqua color that would boost your workout efficacy by at least 50 percent. You comment (within your daughter’s hearing) “I want that” but do not buy it because it is not on sale and you don’t HAVE to have it. The next time your husband takes your daughter out to lunch, she tells him, “We have to go to the store and buy mom a birthday gift. She wants a hoodie. I know exactly which one.”

5. Instead of preschool-era rounds of Princess Memory, et al, you get to play games you would actually choose on your own and which do not make your head explode.

6. You no longer host playdates in your home; now (until your daughter drives herself, anyway) you facilitate hang-outs at the mall. Your daughter and her friends “shop” while you lounge somewhere in their vicinity and drink a fancy coffee drink and read a magazine and do not make eye contact and do not show any sign you know them. All of which they are fine with and, in fact, insist on.

7. You have a chick-in-residence with whom you can watch flicks your husband won’t touch.

8. Your daughter sometimes puts up social media posts about how she loved spending the day at the beach with you and will remember it for a long time. And by the time you have finished reading the post, a decade-plus of motherhood has been 100% worth it.

I’m very aware I’m not “done” raising my girls. Anything could still happen. 

And the beach/movie/mall days when everyone loves and even likes each other are balanced by an equal number of days when we'd trade each other just for faster WiFi. 

I also know so many moms have genuinely agonizing stories about raising their older daughters, and my heart truly breaks for them.

But you’re supposed to write what you know, and this is what I know so far: my answer to the “just wait until they get to be teenagers” comment should have been, “I’m looking forward to it.”

January 15, 2020

Eight Lessons From a Reluctant Bible Study Leader

Fifteen years ago, I was talking on the phone with my sister, and we got on the subject of Bible study. “I need to be in a group of women,” she told me. “I need the accountability. I won’t do it on my own.”

A few days later, I was talking with my cousin, and we got on the subject of Bible study. “I need to be in a group of women,” she told me. “I need the accountability. I won’t do it on my own.”

A few days later, I was talking with my church friend, and we got on the subject of Bible study. “I need to be in a group of women,” she told me. “I need the accountability. I won’t do it on my own.”

At which point, God had my attention.

A few weeks later, my church friend and I headed up a planning meeting at church, and a few weeks after that, we held the first session of Proverbs 32 women’s Bible study. (No, we’re not trying to add to Scripture; we just wanted to convey that while we were striving to reach the Proverbs 31 standard, we weren’t there yet. We should have called ourselves Proverbs 30, but the “Sayings of Agur” didn’t seem to convey our mission. So we went with Proverbs 32…P32 for short.)

Now, my Bible study sisters and I are deep into our 15th (!) season. I can hardly believe we've been at it this long. I can hardly believe it got started in the first place. Because I was possibly the least-qualified woman in the world to lead a women's Bible study.

But God has a way of working with the least.

If you're sensing God leading you to facilitate women's Bible study, here are a few lessons I've learned along the reluctant way:

1. With God’s help, you can do what you can’t. I was not qualified to facilitate a women’s Bible study. I am neither theologian nor Bible scholar. I am an introvert. I’d never even done a full-on Bible study before, much less headed one up.

Now I’ve learned that if God calls you to it, He will equip you for it. I brought plenty of weakness to the Bible study table—and there God showed His perfect power (2 Corinthians 12:9). Many weeks, after I’ve told God, “I can’t do this. I need You to do it through me and for me,” I’ve driven home from church praising God for the honor and thrill and wonder of seeing Him work.

2. You can love what you don’t even know you like. On a list of spiritual blessings from my entire life, P32 is very near the top. But before I wandered blindly in, doing or leading women’s Bible study wouldn’t have been on the list at all. Our God of surprises sprung this passion on me when wasn’t even looking for it.

3. Silence does not equal disinterest, boredom, or anger. In P32’s early days, I agonized that ladies who never spoke up didn’t like the material or didn’t like me—or both. But after more than one of them told me privately, “I love this study and this group. I’m getting so much out of it,” I quit worrying about my non-talkers. Someone can be engaged and enthusiastic without saying a word.

4. Pray. (Wisely.) From the beginning, we knew we needed to pray with and for each other. But in order to dedicate most of our time to studying and discussing the Word, we started using prayer cards. Every week, our members wrote their names on index card and, if they wanted to, a praise or a request. I shuffled the cards and handed them back out, and each woman committed to praying for the sister whose name was on the card. We also formed a closed Facebook group, open to all members of P32 but not to anyone else—a safe, private place for us to all share in one another’s joys and sorrows.

5. Do your best to choose a study that’s right for your group, but don’t get hung up trying to find THE right study. Every year, God has graciously guided me toward and then confirmed a study I felt was a good fit for us. But I always come back to this truth: as long as we are digging into His Word and using careful, humble teaching to do it, Jehovah will bless and inform us. He is not so stingy as to leave us just because we don’t choose one “right” study. He is bigger and more generous than that.

6. Growing pains are normal, but they probably won’t last long. We had seven ladies our first season of P32, and it was so special we couldn’t keep it to ourselves. We started showing and sharing it, and others began saying, “I want that.” Twenty women showed up at our first meeting that second year. We revamped our format to accommodate the growth, but it was unsettling. “I just feel like crying,” one our founding members told me, and I shared her grief. We went back to our original structure and quickly settled into a new normal with a larger group. It wasn’t the same, but it was still good.

7. You will scarcely know a sweeter privilege on this earth than that of watching—before your very eyes– another woman grow in her knowledge of God and her love for Him. The gift of having a fellow sister in Christ tell you that because of what she’s learned in a study, she chose differently or reacted differently or thought differently or felt differently than she “normally” would have is immeasurable. It is worth every worry, every difficult morning, every beyond- ourself moment. To borrow from 3 John 4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my [study sisters] are walking in truth.” My heart breaks with happiness just thinking about it.

8. You really can't imagine the joys that are set before you. That's because "no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).

A version of this post was originally published here

January 9, 2020

Dear Children: Please Don’t Give Up (Even Though No One Would Blame You If You Did)

Dear Children,

Please don't give up.

Please don’t drop out of the race just yet. Please don’t sit down when the finish line is in sight. You’re almost there. You can do it. You almost certainly won’t regret giving it your all, all the way to the end, but you might regret it if you don’t.

Don’t stop working hard in that class. Don’t decide that good enough is good enough in your walk with God. Don’t accept almost when you’re getting ready for that competition. Don’t abandon that hard-but-worth-it relationship. Don’t settle for halfway on that goal you’re working toward. Don’t prepare just most of the way for that big performance.

I know you’re tired. I know you feel discouraged. I know you’ve studied those notes, practiced that song, run that drill, rehearsed that speech, had that conversation, prayed that prayer, and reviewed that presentation dozens of times already.

I also know you cannot entirely control the outcome of whatever you’re working toward. You don’t know what God has in store for you. You don’t know for sure what will be on that test. You don’t know how good the other competitors are. You don’t know how your friend will respond when you share your heart.

The results of that test, race, performance, conversation, struggle, presentation, game, or contest might not be exactly what you’re hoping for. You might get a B...or lower. You might get second place…or last place. Your BFF might reject you. God might say “no” to your prayer. You might trip over your words or your feet in front of the crowd. You might not hit all the right notes. You might know disappointment.

But you do not have to know regret, too.

You do not have to add “if only” to this chapter in your story.

If you prepare as hard as you can for the challenge ahead, you still might not get the prize you’re seeking.

You may have to deal with disappointment. But you will not have to deal with regret, because you will know you did everything you were able to do. And in that, you will find peace for the moment and renewed hope for the future.

Disappointment is painful, but it is not nearly so painful as disappointment with regret heaped onto it.

Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” 

You can do, it my loves. You can do the next bit of hard work. There is strength available to you that is not your own:

"Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint" (Isaiah 40:31).

Keep your eye on the goal.

Not only or even mostly the goal of winning (whatever “winning” looks like in this race), but on the goal of contentment without the distraction of “if only.”

Finish strong. Gain for yourself the prize you can control: completion undiluted by regret.

You can choose to take regret and “if only” out of your equation. And when you do, you’ll know the beauty of this truth: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7).

Run on, dear ones. Run on.

January 3, 2020

When Morning Doesn't Come, I'll Stay With You In the Night

“Is that the best you can do?” 

I overhead this question at church a few Sundays ago when I was on my way to the coffee bar.

“Is that the best you can do?” was part of an exchange that went like this:

Man 1: “How are you?”
Man 2: “OK.”
Man 1: “OK? Is that the best you can do?”
Man 2: “Today it is, yes.”

Indeed, “OK” was the best he could do that day. 

It was better than he could do some days. 

It was an honest answer. 

But it did not play by the unwritten rules of social interaction, which maintain that “fine” or, preferably, “good” or, ideally, “great” are the expected responses to the standard question, “How are you?”

“Most people aren’t comfortable with a perceived problem (your feelings) until they feel like it’s close to being solved,” wrote Akilah S. Richards on Everyday Feminism.

Of course, we do not want to stay mired in despair. Of course, we don’t want to make a pit our permanent home. If we must be in a battle, we want to fight it and win. If we must be going through a struggle, we want to do just that: go through it and come out on the other side. 

But while we’re living in this messy world, there are some battles that don’t get won in ways that make anyone cheer.

There are diseases that don’t get healed.
There are broken relationships that don’t get repaired.
There are losses that never stop hurting.
There are wrongs that don’t get righted.

This is part of the reality of life, but it is not the part that makes for good Sunday-morning banter.

When we know someone in these realities, we may get used to their problem or tired of hearing about it. They’re doubtlessly tired of it, too, but they’re probably not used to it.

And so, to my friends who are living (maybe as permanent residents) in seasons where some days, “OK” is the best—or better than—you can do, I make this pledge . . . and hope with all my heart I keep it more than I break it.

When healing doesn’t come, I will stay with you in the sickness.

When joy doesn’t come, I will stay with you in the sorrow.

When provision doesn’t come, I will stay with you in the want.

When reconciliation doesn’t come, I will stay with you in the estrangement.

When answers don’t come, I will stay with you in the questioning.

When clarity doesn’t come, I will stay with you in the uncertainty.

And when morning doesn’t come, I will stay with you in the night, trusting that together in the darkness, we will fan hope's bright flame.

**A version of this piece first appeared on Her View From Home.**