Risks and Rewards of Being the Authentic You

Although I’ve had moments in which I could fool the best of them, for the most part I’m a pretty real person.  I’m not good at hiding how I feel and I tend to say what’s on my mind.  Deciding to be the authentic you does come with some risks, but there are also wonderful rewards to be reaped.
 
Risk #1 – Not Being Received by Others
This is probably one of the biggest reasons people struggle with being authentic.  They don’t want to be rejected or not liked by others.  It’s less risky to be who others expect you to be.  I know because I’ve been there.  I wanted to fit into the right mold as a wife and mother, so it was easier to pretend I had it all together—when in reality my marriage was teetering on the edge and my children were acting out. 
 
When we care more about what others think than what God thinks, we’ll get caught in this trap.  God doesn’t place expectations on us.  He loves us for who we are and just as we are.  This doesn’t mean we stop striving to become more like Christ, but we understand that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion (Philippians 1:6). 
 
Not everyone is going to like the authentic you.  But we have to be okay with that.  The more concerned we are with what God thinks, the less concerned we’ll be with what others think.   If our confidence is people-based, we can’t possibly grow in Christ. 
 
Reward #1 – Being Liked for Who You Are
As a result of being the authentic you, a wonderful discovery is made.  There are people who will actually like you for the person you are.  Aren’t these the kind of people we want in our lives anyway?  A genuine friend and an honest relationship?  Someone who likes the soft side of you as well as the prickly?  Who can look past your flaws to the person underneath?
 
My closest friends have seen the best in me but also the worst.  And yet they still care about and love me.  They can handle my attitude because they don’t take it personally.  They know it’s just me being me in my more difficult moments.  Because the truth is, we all have character flaws—things in us that we’re working on.  Those who can handle that are worthwhile people to have in your life.
 
It’s better to be loved by a few (even one) than receive false acceptance from a group of people.  The real deal is always a better deal!
 
Risk #2 – Getting Stuck in Sin
Another risk we face in being the authentic you is getting stuck in the trap of sin.  What I mean is that we can become so comfortable with who we are, that we’re not willing to change.  We shrug our shoulders and declare, “That’s just who I am.” 
 
For several years, I justified my struggles with anger.  It was either the fault of someone else (you know, the person who caused me to become angry), it was a result of my childhood (that’s always the easiest to blame) or it’s just how us German people respond (yeah, I even used culture as an excuse).  It was an attitude of “take me or leave me” because it’s not going to change.
 
Being authentic has nothing to do with accepting our sinful behavior.  It’s accepting who we are but recognizing our need for repentance and the receiving of God’s grace.  It’s a willingness to admit our faults and a commitment to change them. 
 
Reward #2 – Being Pardoned from Sin
The greatest reward of authenticity is knowing that we can come before the Lord, stained with all kinds of filth, and yet be washed clean through the forgiveness of Jesus.  It really doesn’t get better than that!
 
Authenticity before the Lord is the only way to grace.  Yes, He knows about our sins.  He knows the areas we struggle in and He knows the reasons for it.  But God wants us to come before Him, in humility, confessing that we have strayed from His path…admitting that we are a sinner…and asking for His mercy. 
 
God always has better for us.  He doesn’t want to leave us where we’re at.  He wants us to grow in Him.  He wants us to be a godly example to others. 
 
We can hide our true selves from others, but we can’t from God.  So we might as well keep it real with 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. 

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.”

1)I have full control over this stage of my life…how I want it to look and how to make it happen.

Although this is true in any stage of life, I don’t think a person really gets this until they reach midlife.  Time becomes more precious and you tend to want to make the most of it.  Instead of letting the world dictate how life should look, we take the reins and move in the direction that is best for us.  You learn that things won’t just happen to fall into place—that we have a part to play in the unfolding of what’s before us.

2) Drama is overrated.

“Reality” television has convinced us that dramatics will get you somewhere in life.  The reality is that it gets you nowhere as a person.  You end up looking foolish.  You may lose the respect of others.  And frankly, it’s just a waste of time.

3) Gravitate toward those who make you a better person and retreat from those who suck out the life in you.

Getting older, I’ve definitely become more cautious about my relationships.  I gravitate more toward those who are not only like-minded, but show me how to be a better person.  These aren’t people who sugarcoat things but tell me the truth—even when it’s ugly or hard.  I retreat from those who draw me into things that aren’t healthy (like gossip) or who never have anything positive to say.

4) Get back up, no matter how hard or how far you’ve fallen.

Every single day I mess up—whether in a small or big way.  There are times I feel like the biggest failure in the world.  Yet God’s grace is always available.  More than just a band-aid to cover the wounds of my sins, His grace is the arms I need to lift me up out of the pit.  To get me back up so that I can move forward into being who He has called me to be.

5) Don’t be afraid to establish boundaries.

We can’t always walk away from the people that in our life.  But we can establish boundaries that serve as a form of protection.  Whether it’s creating distance from the person or learning to stand up for yourself, we shouldn’t be afraid to do whatever is necessary to protect our hearts.  Healthy boundaries are not only for your good, but oftentimes for the good of the other person.

6) It’s never too late.

We don’t have to allow life to stop or slow down just because we’re getting older.  It’s never too late to try something new.  To develop a skill.  To form a new habit.  To take a risk.  To step out of your comfort zone.  It’s never too late to enjoy life!

7) Avoid the trap of a “busy” life.

In my younger years, my worth as a person was based on how many plates I could keep spinning in the air.  It was a badge I wore with honor.  But here’s what I’ve come to learn about this type of life, it’s a trap that kept me from doing the things I was meant to do.  Sometimes it negatively impacted relationships.  I’ve learned that busy not only makes you tired, it makes you unavailable to the more important matters in life.

8) Not allowing the past to define me.

Each day is a new opportunity to be the person I am meant to be.  So that means I don’t have to allow the past to define who I am.  I look at each new day as a fresh clean start—a slate to write upon it the story of who I am going to be that day.  It doesn’t matter what I did 20 years ago or yesterday, I have been graced with the chance to do things differently.

9) Simple is so much better than complicated.

I don’t like complicated relationships…complicated situations…complicated living.  I have become a much simpler person as I’ve gotten older.  This has led to less stress and more peace.  Less worry and more faith.  It’s the simple things in life that often matter the most.

10) Loosen up for goodness sakes!

Between my Type A personality and the German in me, fun and laughter doesn’t come as naturally to me as I would like.  But I’m working on it.  Being an old fuddy duddy is not very enjoyable…not only to yourself but those around you.  I’m definitely learning to loosen up…to not sweat the small stuff.  To get silly once-in-a-while.  To not make a big deal out of small things.  Life is so much more enjoyable when you’re undies aren’t in a bunch.

 

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!

I’ve had more than my fair share of “if only” moments in life.  If only I had finished college…if only I hadn’t run up that credit card…if only I had listened to her advice…if only I had done a better job with my health.  These missed opportunities were a result of personal choices, with no one else to blame but myself.

 

There are other “if only” moments we encounter in life.  Ones that we have no control over—such as the loss of a loved one, a job or the end of a relationship.  If only Jesus had healed our loved one.  If only the company hadn’t folded.  If only that person had been willing to make things work.  Circumstances out of our hands, with no one else to blame (it seems) but God.

 

In the Bible we read about Martha, a woman who experienced one of those times.  Her brother Lazarus had taken ill.  Martha and her sister Mary had sent word to Jesus, letting him know about their dire circumstances.  Yet Jesus didn’t rush to Lazarus’ bedside.  He waited.  As a result, by the time he finally got there, it was too late.

 

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:1)

 

Like Martha, I have sent word to Jesus…letting him know about my dire circumstances.  When my father was hospitalized in the beginning of 2015, I prayed for divine intervention.  But no one, including the doctors, had any control over how quickly his interstitial lung disease progressed.

 

On February 3, 2015, I held one of his hands as he took his last breath.  If only…

 

My story didn’t end like it did for Martha.  Her “if only” was answered by a miraculous healing, as Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead.  I can’t help but wonder how long she might have stayed stuck in her “if only” thoughts.  You see, it’s perfectly understandable to suggest that God might have done something to intervene in our painful circumstances.  Clearly, He is capable of bringing back the dead…keeping our job intact…restoring that relationship.  But when He doesn’t, will we get hung up on the “if only”?  Or will we turn that into another statement, “But even if He does not…”

 

In Daniel 3, we read about King Nebuchadnezzar’s plan to throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into a fiery furnace.  These three Israelites knew God’s power and ability to deliver them from the flames.  In verse 18, this declaration is made:  But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.

 

There is always the possibility that God won’t do what we want.  Where are you going to park your thoughts?  On the “if only” or “but even if He does not”?

 

With the death of my dad, I was able to quickly move to the “but even.”  It’s the only explanation for how I was able to sing worship songs to God, with tears rolling down my face, as I left his lifeless body at the hospice and went home to tell my family.

 

Yet there have been other circumstances in my life, where I stayed stuck on the “if only.”  This resulted in a shaky faith, with no peace.  My emotions strangled me.  Everything felt hopeless.  It’s a terrible place to remain stuck.  The longer you park your thoughts there, the more difficult it is to get out of the pit.

 

God doesn’t mind hearing your declarations of “if only.”  He can handle it.  He understands.  But that’s not where we are to remain.  The sooner we get to the place of “but even if He does not,” the sooner we will experience the peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7).  This is what will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

The Prodigal Child – A Time for War and a Time for Peace

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time for war and a time for peace…

(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8b)

A time for war…

Prodigal children are in a spiritual battle.  They don’t recognize it and sometimes even parents fail to see it.  Our focus is oftentimes on the issues, when it should really be on fighting the war.  But the only way to do this is on our knees.  The greatest weapon we can wield against the enemy is prayer.

 

However, there are times we grow weary in the battle for prayer.  It happens to even the greatest warriors.  These are the times when we should turn to others for help.  People who care and will intercede on behalf of our child.

 

War is ugly and it oftentimes results in some casualties.  But it’s always, always worth the fight when it comes to the souls of our children.  When it’s a time for war, don’t give up and don’t be afraid to enlist help.

 

A time for peace…

For the sake of peace, sometimes we have to call a truce with our prodigal child.  We may never see eye-to-eye or understand each other’s ways.  But we have to weigh whether the battle is worth the price.  Relationships are the first to suffer harm, sometimes resulting in irreparable damage.  It’s a high cost to pay just to prove a point or to be right.

 

I’ve learned that the less I say about an issue, the more likely it will come to a healthy resolution.  It’s not my natural inclination, to remain silent—especially when I feel strongly about something.  But a closed mouth is worth it when the end result is peace.

My Personal Resurrection

I always enjoy the scene of Jesus ascending into Heaven…the applause starts in my heart and moves to my hands, as I celebrate His resurrection.  From cruel suffering at the hands of men and death on the cross, to a glorious homecoming in the Heavens.  Sin once and for all nailed to the cross, His blood spilled out for me.

 

Sometimes, we can hear the story so often that we become almost too familiar with it.  To the point, it becomes just that…a story.  We relegate it to something that only applies at Easter.  Yet it’s a yearlong truth—a daily truth of our personal resurrection.  When we miss this, when it becomes so much a part of us that we forget it’s significance…we fall into complacency and ungratefulness.

 

Daily I need to be reminded that when Christ ascended into Heaven, it became my personal resurrection.  Resurrection from the pit of hell.  Resurrection from the grip of sin on my life.  Resurrection from defeat.  Resurrection from loss and heartache and pain.

 

Regardless of what’s going on in my life…despite the hardships or trials I face, the reality is that Christ has resurrected me.  If everything goes wrong.  If nothing changes.  If life brings disappointment.  If I don’t live to see another day…I have the assurance of being resurrected from this sinful earth to a glorious heaven.

 

Yet daily I need to recognize my personal resurrection.  I am not defeated.  I am not without.  I am not alone.  I have the victory in Christ.  I have all I need in Him.  He is always with me.

 

This Easter I am trying really hard to focus less on what’s wrong in my life and more on my personal resurrection story.  I’m trying to stop seeing the stories about Palm Sunday and the Last Supper and Good Friday as nothing more than a recounting of the past.  Because it’s my present.  It’s my future.

 

Here’s what I really love about Jesus ascending to Heaven.  In Acts 1:9, we’re told that Jesus was taken up before the eyes of His disciples.  That means they had to look up.  Maybe we all need to do a little more looking up.  What’s your personal resurrection story?

The Prodigal Child – A Time to Love and a Time to Hate

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to love and a time to hate…

(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8a)

A time to love…

If you had told me when my children were little that one day I would feel dislike toward any of them, I would have said no way.  It wouldn’t have seemed possible and yet…that is exactly where I find myself too often.  And I’ve learned that I’m not alone.

 

Yet it’s not the liking that gives me the ability to show grace. It’s not the liking that allows me to believe the best.  It’s the LOVE I have for my children.  Love goes deeper than my ability to like someone.  It gives me the strength I need to keep fighting on my knees.  It gives me the hope I need to believe there is good that can come from trials and tribulations

 

There is ALWAYS a time to love.  Not loving the sin but loving the sinner.  Not liking your child’s choices but loving the potential.  Loving when it hurts.  Loving when it disappoints.  Loving when all seems lost.

 

Isn’t that what God does for us?  He loves us when we sin.  He loves us when we make bad choices.  He loves us when we cause pain and disappointment.

 

A time to hate…

Hate is such a strong word.  Yet it’s exactly how I feel about some of the choices my prodigal has made.  Not personalizing their choices isn’t always easy.  This means we don’t take it personally and we don’t assign it to them personally.

 

The only one we should really be mad at is the devil.  When we turn the anger inward or toward the child, we are missing the mark.  Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood (people).  But it’s against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Satan and his demons).

 

One morning on my drive to work, the thought suddenly crossed my mind that all of my anger had been misdirected.  I started listening to a song that led me to start proclaiming out loud that the devil had to, in Jesus name, take his hands off my child.

 

The more I declared this, the angrier I became.  But it wasn’t aimed at my child…it was at the devil.  Thankfully it was still relatively dark out and not busy because anyone driving past me would have thought I was a lunatic.  I began to scream at the devil.  What a release!  Yes, there is a time to hate…to hate the sin and not the sinner.  To hate the hold the devil has on our child.  To hate his plans to rob, kill and destroy.

 

Think about where your love or hate may have been misdirected in parenting a prodigal.  Ask God to help you work through this and show when it’s the time to love and when it’s the time to hate.