What You Do Is Not Who You Are

Last month my daughter moved out.  Two down, one to go.  Yahoo!!!

I have to laugh at myself, though.  There was a time when the thought of my children moving out was unimaginable.  I didn’t want my babies to leave…ever.  Even as they began to enter the teen years, I didn’t think I’d ever be ready to let them go.  And I always thought any parent who couldn’t wait for their child to leave was cruel.

Ask me if I feel the same way today…go ahead…ask.

Here’s the thing about the way I used to feel…yes, those feelings were based on my love for my children.  But they were also rooted in how my identity was so connected to them that I couldn’t possibly imagine being someone other than a mom.  Don’t get me wrong—not that I thought my mom title would be taken away.  I just knew it was going to be different and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

It’s interesting how the “what we do” becomes the “who we are.”  The way we sometimes place our identity in the doing and not the who-ing (yes, I made that word up).  The idea of my role changing as a mom was quite honestly, a bit frightening.  Trying to imagine a house no longer filled with noise but silence.  The thought of no longer being needed, when all I’m used to is meeting needs.

Who would I become if I wasn’t mom?

Getting to the place of realizing I’m more than mom hasn’t been easy.  I don’t need to become anyone because I already am the person I’ve always been.  My role as a mom is just one facet of my life.  There is so much more to me than that.

And really, this is a chance to celebrate a new season of life—not mourn for what will no longer be.  I will always be a mom but the way that looks is going to be different.   Different isn’t bad.  In fact, different can become something quite wonderful.  And that’s exactly what I’m discovering in this time that I once dreaded.

I’m relishing in the near empty nest season of live I’m in.  It’s not only rediscovering myself but there is a revival of my marriage, friendships, interests and passions.  Life has slowed down and I’m learning to enjoy its leisurely pace.  There’s more time to pursue those things I’ve always wanted to do and unearth new interests.

Children aren’t the only way our “what we do” becomes “who we are.”  This can happen with our jobs, relationships, interests and anything else that becomes our identity.  It’s not really a problem until that thing (or person) is no longer a part of our lives.  When that job ends, the relationship deteriorates or the thing we most loved doing is no longer possible…it can stir up uncertainty, fear and unrest.

The only way to truly avoid this pitfall is to remember that our identity as a follower of Christ should be found in Him.  Not in our spouse, our children, our pursuits, or this world.  When “who we are” is wrapped up in Christ, we won’t be shaken by the negative events of this life.  Fear won’t have a place in our hearts and we won’t have to be concerned about the future.    We will always know who we are when we’re in Christ.

It goes back to the beginning in Genesis 1:27, when God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them.

The “what we do” is the outward, earthly stuff that we get to enjoy on a temporary basis.  The “who we are” is the spirit of God inside us, the heavenly blessing that lasts an eternity.

So…do I feel the same way I once did about my kids leaving home?  Oh, heck no!  Do I better understand my identity?  Yes!  It’s not what I do but who I am in Christ.

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You Have to Let Go…to Be Let In

One of the most difficult parts of parenting (at least for me) is letting go.  When my children were younger, each new stage of their lives brought difficulty in loosening the apron strings.  In the teen years, it was learning how to cast away fear and truly trust God with their lives.

I’ll be honest…it hasn’t gotten much easier now that my children are adults.  Add to the mix a grandchild and another on the way, well, let’s just say I’ll be learning how to navigate this tricky terrain of letting go for quite some time.

While this may not be the case for every parent who struggles in this area, I’ve come to realize that for me it’s an issue of needing to be needed.  It had actually become my identity, so it was a frightening prospect to lose that part of me.  Yet the reality is that the more we try to hold onto our children—yes, even with all the right intentions—we risk our child pulling away from us.  And if we’re not careful, to the point we lose him completely.

We can’t barge our way into our children’s lives.  We can’t demand they invite us into their world.  Instead, we have to let go before we can be let in.

Coming to discover this about myself and then trying to break free from it has been a downright gut-wrenching, painful experience.  One made more complicated by seasons where my children have lost their way spiritually.

While my instinct is to thump the Bible over their heads and voice my thoughts on all that is wrong in their lives…I’ve had to restrain myself.  Experience has taught me that when I do those things, the door gets slammed in my face.  My child stops sharing.  Our relationship starts to deteriorate.

Instead, I have to remind myself that my children know the Word.  The seed was planted.  It’s in their hearts.  They were raised in a home and church that taught truth.  No matter what they do, their choices are never more powerful than what God can do in their lives.   Isaiah 55:11 is a verse I hold onto:  So is my word that goes out from my mouth.  It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

See?  I don’t need to thump the Bible over their heads because God’s Word is already in their hearts.

It also doesn’t do much good to constantly voice how I feel about choices being made.  As parents, we have a responsibility to correct our children when sin has become an issue.  But at the same time, we have a responsibility to point them toward the One who can break that sin in their lives.

I’m not advocating to stay silent.  Our children must know that we’re not okay with their wrong choices, but we have to leave room for God’s conviction.  We can’t cajole or convince our children to change their ways.  They need a transformation that can only come through the work of Christ.

Letting go means putting our faith in God’s purposes and plans and not our works as a parent.  Letting go is trusting God to do what we’re unable to do.  Letting go is showing grace in spite of their choices.

I would much rather stay close to my child in his state of sin.  There is a greater chance of being invited into his struggles.  Our children are more likely to let us in when we have learned to let go.

13 Reasons Why You Need to Talk to Your Children

Steeped in controversy, the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has brought greater awareness to teen issues such as bullying, depression and suicide.  It’s raw.  It’s violent.  It’s difficult to watch.  But it’s real and the reality of what many teenagers go through on a daily basis.  Long before it became a series, I read the book, “13 Reasons Why.”  And yes, I did watch the series with my daughter (who was 19 at the time), which sparked some great conversation.

Regardless of how you feel about the series, it was my past naivete that leads me now to face these types of hard topics head on.  Our family’s personal experience with some of the same issues addressed in this series doesn’t allow for me to ignore the painful truth.  Yes, even for a semi-functional family.  A two-parent family.  A loving family.  A church family.

Whether you choose to watch it or not, alone or with your child, I implore you to consider 13 reasons why you need to talk to your children about these types of difficult topics.

  1. What we think is minuscule could be monumental to your child.

I’ve always joked that my daughter was a drama queen, or when she was younger that she was sensitive.  Emerging into the teen years, I oftentimes made the mistake of dismissing her “end-of-the-world” events with it “just being her.”  Yet the reality is that some of those events were truly traumatic to her.  The more I poo-pooed them, the less she shared.  As a result, she suffered silently.  Our wake-up call came when she overdosed, which thankfully she recovered from. But it taught me a painful lesson on not recognizing the importance of taking her hurts to heart.

2. Bullying is real and it’s harsher that we might imagine.

Bullying has reached new levels, compared to when I was a child.  And we can easily miss cues that it’s become an issue for our child.  I naively believed that my daughter’s middle school years were smooth sailing.  It wasn’t until she was in high school that I discovered just how painful that time was in her life.  None of my children have been spared from some form of bullying.  And it didn’t just happen at school…it happened in the church.  It extends to an online world, in which you can’t seem to escape the bullying.  Pictures, posts, snap chats, Tweets, and comments can follow a child around ruthlessly.

3. Everyone reacts differently to bullying.

The way someone responds to taunts, name-calling, or harassment depends on so many different factors.  Some people seem to handle it better than others.  Certainly, the answer is never to end one’s life.  Yet we can’t dismiss the deep hurt that some feel, to the point where it feels like there is no other option.  Because of this, we need to be available to our children so they can talk to us if there are issues of bullying.

4. Our children need to understand the impact of suicide. 

Some felt the Netflix series glamorized suicide.  In some ways I can understand why, but it also depicted the deep pain and anguish felt by the main character’s parents, friends, and yes, even her enemies.  Suicide is a very uncomfortable topic but it’s so important.  My daughter (thank God) was able to see the effects of her overdose on our family.  This isn’t always the case.

5. We need to understand the climate our teenagers face on a daily basis.

At one point in the series I turned to my daughter and asked, “Is this really what school is like?”  It seemed almost too vulgar to believe.  Yet she confirmed that it was indeed what she had experienced.  Our children face a daily barrage of foul language, unkindness, gossip and backstabbing.   While we’d like to believe they’re untainted, it’s safe to say they’re affected to one degree or another.  And let me assure you, it takes place in both public and private schools.  It’s naïve to believe that our children aren’t affected by a school’s climate.

6. The sexualization of females (yes, in middle and high school) is real.

Slut-shaming, crude remarks and sexual assault are realities that females face everywhere—even in school.  Evaluated by looks, body parts and how far one goes…is an unfortunate part of this sinful world.  Being taken advantage of, emotionally or physically, can significantly impact a person’s mental health.  This type of behavior should never be downplayed.  And when we see teenage girls posing in provocative or suggestive pictures online, let’s pray for them.  Most are confused and have falsely come to believe that their worth is tied up in how they look.  We need to have open and honest conversations with not only our daughters but sons when it comes to the sexualization of females.

7. Our children need to know the value of a true friendship.

I don’t want to spoil the story-line for those who may not have watched this series, but I have to say it’s extremely sad the main character missed the opportunity for a true friend.  She had one, even though she partly blamed that person for her death…the reality is that this individual genuinely cared for her.  Trust is a real issue in friendships, especially for teenagers.  One minute someone claims to be your best friend and the next, they stab you in the back.  While these events are painful, they reveal if someone is a true friend.  Our children need to know that a crowd of friends who will dump you in a second can never replace the worth of one good friend who is there for a lifetime.

8. A bad reputation isn’t always built on truth.

A bad reputation is hard to recover from.  Once gossip spreads about someone, it’s really hard to take it back—kind of like trying to get toothpaste back into the tube.  It’s messy and nearly impossible.  While we can create our own bad reputations, sometimes they’re built on lies.  It’s extremely painful to be known for something that you’re not.  This is a good reminder to our teens that what they say about someone could result in long-lasting damage.

9. Even with the best intentions, we can miss the mark.

Another issue that critics had with this series is how the guidance counselor failed to help the main character.  I don’t know if the intent was to throw professionals under the bus.  Yet the reality is that teachers and others can fail to see a need.  Even her parents missed the mark.  No one could have ever convinced me several years ago that I would find myself sitting in a room at Children’s Hospital, with no privacy, because my daughter was there on suicide watch.  Or that I would have to fight to get her out of a mental institution.  I’ve always had the best intentions for my daughter but clearly, somewhere along the way, I missed something.  It’s important to acknowledge this reality—not to place us on a guilt trip, but as a reminder of our imperfections and God’s perfect grace.

10. We can’t blame everyone around us for the way we respond to our feelings.

Critics have also brought up the way the main character blames everyone for her decision to end her life.  It’s a reminder that we must take personal responsibility for the way we react to our feelings.  We can feel angry, hurt and frustrated about what others do.  It’s what we do with those feelings that rests squarely on our shoulders.  When someone decides to end their life, it’s on that person.  It’s a choice.  A terrible, heartbreaking, permanent choice that cannot be undone.

11. Pain is temporary. Death is forever.

Watching my daughter suffer through some pretty painful experiences were the hardest times of my life.  In the moment, it feels like the pain will never end.  Our children need to know that it doesn’t last…but death, oh, there is no coming back from it.  We need to share with our children those moments in our own life when it felt like the pain would never end.  They are not alone in that thinking.  They need to know that God will see them through because He has a wonderful future awaiting them.

12. Suicide is grisly.

Unlike other scenes where the cutting of wrists looks like a simple slice and then you just relax and stop breathing…the scene in “13 Reasons Why” was graphic.  It was bloody.  Death was slow.  It was very difficult to watch.

Suicide isn’t romantic.  It’s also not the answer to life’s problems.  While it’s not an easy topic to discuss, it’s critical we talk to our children about it.

13. God has entrusted these children to you.

Our responsibility to parent goes beyond providing shelter, food and clothes.  We have a holy obligation to point our children to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  The spiritual implications of this cannot be underestimated.  The devil wants to do everything he can to thwart your efforts.  He will use all means of doing this—depression, eating disorders, self-harm, pornography, sexual immorality, drug addiction, alcoholism and the list goes on.

We can’t talk to our children if we’re wrapped up in our own world.  With our eyes fixed on our phones, computers and television sets.  We need to purpose to set aside time to talk with them.  We have to be willing to get out of our comfort zones and deal with the hard stuff of life.

Don’t be lax in the reality that there’s a battle waging for their souls.  Mom, Dad…YOU are their champion!  You are their warrior!  You are their safe place.  Do not ignore or make light of this role.  It could make an eternal difference…

 

A Misunderstanding of Sacrifice

I thought I understood sacrifice those sleepless nights I was nursing a newborn or comforting a child woken up by a bad dream.  I thought I knew the meaning of sacrifice by braving the cold and rain to watch my child play football or reading the same story five times in a row.  I thought I got the meaning of sacrifice when I spent my own birthday money on a toy for my child or gave up a career to stay home when my children were young.

Sacrificing my time, sometimes my sanity, and most definitely my wants.

I had a misunderstanding of sacrifice that I wouldn’t come to realize until the later years.  When my role as a mom would change because now they’re adults and I have to bite my tongue just to keep the peace.  When I would have to push aside my need to rescue and allow my children to make mistakes.

Sacrificial parenting is a way of surrendering what I think or want and trusting God with the outcome.  It’s giving up my need to be right or to have my say so that a relationship can stay intact.

It’s hard.  Oh, is it hard.  The heartache it can cause is indescribable.  But so is the wonder in seeing how God can turn an entire situation around or give you glimpses of good in the midst of difficulty.  It’s a reminder that my sacrifice is nothing compared to God’s, who gave up His own Son so that we might have eternal life.

The more I reflect on His sacrifice, the less I focus on myself.  The more I surrender, the greater my faith.  Like Abraham, who was ready to sacrifice his son—literally—God will provide my “ram.”  The way that points to God’s faithfulness in each and every one of my children’s lives.

Sacrifice is less about giving up something and more about entrusting everything to God.  It’s nothing about me and everything about Him.

 

The Painful Side of Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day isn’t always about homemade cards, roses and brunch at your favorite restaurant.  Sometimes it’s about loss, pain and heartache.  It’s so important we acknowledge those who may be hurting.
 
Some have lost a child.  It’s a tragedy I can’t even begin to imagine.  I won’t even pretend to understand this type of loss.  For this person, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of what is no more.   Others have experienced a miscarriage, a pain I’ve personally experienced.  The ‘what could have been’ never seems to completely go away.
 
For others, Mother’s Day could just as well not exist.  They have yearned to have a child but the womb has remain barren.  It feels unfair.  The ache of empty arms is too much.
 
Others are experiencing a Mother’s Day without their mom.  An empty place in the heart that can’t ever be truly filled.  The longing to go back and do everything over again.  To better appreciate the time while you had it.
 
Relationships fractured by distance or strain can make Mother’s Day a painful holiday.  There’s little chance of celebrating the day together, let alone receiving the obligatory phone call.  Regrets weigh heavy.
 
While we’re celebrating, let’s not forget some of our own painful Mother’s Days.  Even if we’ve managed to escape that unwanted club, may we not neglect to acknowledge someone we know who is hurting. 

A Letter to My Younger Mom

If I could write a letter that would go back in time, to the years I was younger and my children were small…here is what it would say:

 

Dear Younger Mom,

 

They won’t be little forever.  I know that everyone tells you this, to the point it becomes nauseating, but trust me—it’s more real than anything else.  Time moves quickly.  Even when it seems like you’re forever stuck in a particular season of life, soon it becomes nothing more than a distant memory.   And one day you will look back, wishing you could redo it again.  Yes, even the hard seasons because you will have realized that they really weren’t so hard after all.

 

Cherish every moment.  What seem to be the most insignificant moments can turn out to be treasured memories you hold in your heart…so enjoy them while you can.  The story you have read so many times you could recite it without looking.  The millionth time you’ve been told, “Look at me mommy.”  The dandelions bunched up in a chubby fist.  You will never fully realize the value of a moment until it’s gone.

 

Don’t just do the mom thing, be the mom.  So much is missed when you’re caught up in the tasks of doing.  The laundry and dishes will always be there.  But the snuggles, the giggles, the laughter…they eventually go away.  Be available.  Put down the phone.  Put away the vacuum cleaner.  Look your child in the eyes.  Show you’re listening.  Interact with your child.  Even if it’s messy or not on your schedule.  Don’t just do the things that moms do.  Be the mom.

 

Give yourself more credit.  You’re doing a better job than you think.  It’s okay to give yourself a pat on the back.  To relish in what you do well.  Feel proud of what you have accomplished and the difficulties you have gotten through.  It’s normal to feel tired or angry or frustrated.  You are not alone in this.  Those moments don’t define you as a mom.  Your children need to be okay with an imperfect parent so they can better understand the grace of God.

 

Don’t get hung up on the small stuff.  Most of what you’ll get worked up about is really not a big deal.  It may feel like it in the moment.  But learn to let go and give more energy to the more serious matters at hand.  One day you will even miss the messes, the loud noise and the bickering.  Silence doesn’t always mean peace.  Sometimes there is more joy in the chaos of life.

 

Finally, don’t try to fit into another mom’s mold.  Be who you are.  Raise those children in the way you see fitting.  Trust your instincts.  Stop comparing yourself to other moms.  You were handpicked to be the mother of those children.  Your experiences, background and personality are perfectly suited for the task.  You don’t have to fit into someone else’s mold.  Do you.  Be you.  Your children will appreciate it.

 

Love,

An Older Mom Who Finally Gets It

 

Also in my Mother’s Day Series, “My Heart Outside My Body.”

My Heart Outside My Body

“Making the decision to have a child—it is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” (Elizabeth Stone)

 

Any parent can relate to this profound statement.  We have experienced this very feeling, from the early days of wonder when we’re still basking in the miracle of new life…to the later days of surrender when we’re watching an adult child navigate through life.

 

My children are my heart.  And let me tell you, my heart has gone to some very painful places.  Times when they’ve been sick or hurt by friends.  Their disappointments and sorrow have become mine.  I have literally felt their heartaches.

 

Forever my heart walks around outside my body…

 

My heart has taken me to places I’ll never physically visit.  A son who has served in the military overseas for more than four years.  My heart has been in Turkey, Japan, and now in South Korea.

 

My heart has taken me to places I never imagined going.  A daughter who thought the answer to ending the pain in her life was to end her life.  My heart has been in an ambulance, a hospital and mental health facility.

 

My heart has taken me to places that seem so unfair.  A son with a skin condition that causes him to look different.  My heart has been with him in the midst of bullying at school and his struggles to go out in public.

 

Forever my heart walks around outside my body…

 

But the heart of a mother is more than just the pain.  It is also the prayer that reaches God’s ears when she cries out and pleads for His help.  It is the prayer of strength to get through the difficulties.  It is the prayer of healing.  The prayer of provision.  The prayer of comfort.

 

My prayers go with my heart that’s outside my body.  Intertwined in such a way that my child can’t escape the hand of God on their lives.  The protection while far away.  The saving of one’s life.  The strength to face challenges.

 

Forever my heart walks around outside my body…yet they’re never, ever alone because mama’s prayers are always with them.

 

(Note:  This is the first post in a special Mother’s Day series I’m running through May).  Please feel free to share with other moms!

Should Mothers Be Forced to Work?

There’s a lot of things that should be illegal…but choosing to stay at home and raise your children?  Are you kidding me?  Apparently, that’s the belief shared by an Australian magazine writer.  Columnist Sarrah Le Marquand, a mother of two children, says it should be “a legal requirement that all parents of children of school-age or older are gainfully employed.”  So, she’s not targeting the parents of little ones but still…it’s a little twisted to cite the reasons for this being 1) a loss to the economy and 2) untapped potential in the women who choose to not work.

 

I became a stay-at-home mom just before I had baby #2.  It was fairly easy to make this decision because financially, we couldn’t afford to put two kids in daycare.  Basically, I would be working just to send them to daycare.  That became even truer when baby #3 arrived.  When my oldest became school-age, I decided to homeschool.  My reasons for that could be a whole other blog.  But I did this for several years.  In fact, the first time my children were put in school my oldest was in 5th grade, my middle child in 2nd and my youngest started kindergarten.

 

I didn’t run out and get a job.  In fact, my first job was very part-time when my oldest entered 6th grade.  When he was in 7th (the other two in 4th and 2nd grade), I tried full-time work.  It lasted a few months.  For our family, my immediate availability was most important.  So, I went back to part-time work and eventually became a professional writer who worked from home.

 

Untapped potential?  I found value in being a mom.  Whether I worked or not, that didn’t change this truth.  It doesn’t diminish anyone’s value, whether they decide to stay-at-home, work part-time or full-time.

 

Gender equality is something I tend to poke fun at, to be completely honest.  When Donald Trump was elected as president, the feminists cried about how the women’s movement would be negatively affected.  I have yet to see that happen.  Women have a great deal of opportunity to contribute significantly to this world.  In the workforce, yes.  But also in in their families (and sometimes doing both!)

 

If feminists are all about equal rights, why do they squash the desire of some women to have that right to stay home and raise their children?  They’re thinking is one-sided.  If women are supposed to support one another, why aren’t we cheering on those who stay home?  Those who work?  Why aren’t we celebrating one another and the different choices made available to us?

 

Motherhood is one of the greatest privileges I’ve been granted.  While I would never change the ability (and sacrifices made) to be able to stay home, I would never question another woman for choosing to do things differently.  Equality is defined as “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities.”  Our status as a woman is not defined by choosing to work or not work.  Our rights give us the choice to choose between working and not working.  Opportunities means the ability to make full use of our skills in the workforce and/or in the home.

 

Feminists get frustrated with women who don’t do things the way they think it should be done.  That’s not equality.  Equality is found in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

 

I choose to celebrate the uniqueness of God’s creation, not only in man versus woman…but within my own gender and the advantages we have in choosing what’s best for our family.  With His guidance and direction, we can’t go wrong, no matter what we decide.

Let Go

She slipped out of my hands.  The pull of the current was too strong.  I couldn’t reach her.  Desperation enveloped me as I attempted to grab at something, anything.  But she didn’t fight to make her way back.  She seemed to accept her fate, her mouth not saying a word but her eyes telling a story.  “Let me go,” they seemed to plead.  Never mind my screams that pierced the dark night.

She doesn’t want to be rescued.  My attempts to intervene unwanted.  Quickly and yet at the same time it seems like slow motion, she is drifting away.  Our eyes lock, mine pleading for her to come back and hers pleading to let her go.

For a time I run along the banks—she’s still in my sights and although I know she isn’t safe, there is some reassurance because I can at least see her.  I haven’t completely lost her.  Maybe around the bend a branch will catch her and I can make a daring attempt to bring her back safely to the shore.  I will die trying! 

Yet it seems the more I try to keep up, the faster she drifts away.  What scares me the most is that she seems to have no fear.  She sits back comfortably, unaware and unafraid of the dangers that lurk ahead.  No concern regarding the unknown.

While initially she seemed alarmed at our separation, now she appears almost relieved.  As this reality hits me, in a panic I realize that now she’s nothing more than a dot…I can barely make her out because she has gone so far from me.  But there is nothing—absolutely nothing I can do.  It’s out of my hands.  She’s gone.  No possibility of a rescue.

Exhausted from my efforts, I fall to the ground.  The tears flow freely.  But a gentle breeze comes along and wipes them from my face.  The sun is shining so brightly I now have to squint.  Warmth envelopes me.  Peace floods me.  Comfort surrounds me.  And suddenly I know—that although she’s out of my reach—she is safe in the arms of my Father.  My tears like prayers He collects in a bowl.  The sun a radiance that gives light to even the darkest moments.  And the warmth of my Father’s love that reminds me of hope.

She is not completely lost.  He still has her in His sights.

I get up from the ground, brush off the dirt and look not in the direction I last saw her…but heavenward.  I don’t have to worry.  I don’t have to fear.  As great as my love is for her, His is even greater.  He’s got this.  He’s got her.  I can truly let her go because He never will.

 

NOTE:  Taking a little break from the Prodigal Child Series I’ve been doing, as God laid this on my heart to write and I wanted to share.