Unraveled Identity

When my husband first told me he wanted to go to seminary I threw up in my mouth a little bit. This was a calling he was sure of for himself but a calling for which I did not yet feel prepared.

I did not grow up in a family that attended church every Sunday or attended VBS in the summers nor did we have family devotions around our dinner table and the only way I knew how to pray was “now I lay me down to sleep.”

I have struggled with a difficult past marked with depression, unhealthy relationships with men, partying and I have experienced great loss through the passing of my mother from cancer as a young teenager.

Back then at twenty-three, in a little four door Camry on my way to St Louis, I did not believe that God could use me in His church.

Back then I did not see myself, this girl with an imperfect past, being able to ever connect with faithful church attenders on Sunday morning serving a perfect God.

This calling felt too big.

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I followed my husband to seminary anyway like a faithful solider not quite ready for battle but on the inside I struggled against the inner voices from my past that whispered I just wasn’t good enough.

It wasn’t like I believed it to be from 2 Corinthians 5:17: if you are in Christ you are a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come.

The new had come, I did have a changed life, but it was also so interwoven with many past experiences and voices. Somehow the old would have to begin to unravel from the new.

Walking through this story has been quite a journey. A journey against myself. A journey so challenging it would fail if God was not in it with me.

I have had some unraveling to do especially when it comes to my identity.

I was being called to the beginning of a journey against myself where I would constantly be required to put off the old and use the new to redefine the woman God was making to be in Christ.

It wasn’t long before the inner voice became coupled with the outer voices from others who were surrounding me.

I will never forget one of my first interactions with another seminary wife, “Wow, I’ve never met anyone like you… someone from total darkness.”

In that moment, whether that woman was joking or not, I stopped putting on what was true about me from the promises of scripture and I put on the scarlet letter of “the girl from total darkness” and I never wanted to step foot on the seminary campus again.

Just-not-good-enough-girl-from-total-darkness became the anthem of my season in seminary. I let that moment mark me and this just-not-good-enough-girl-from-total-darkness let the inner voices win.

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I spent three years trying to distance myself as far away from seminary as possible. I didn’t want anyone else to know the real me. I chose to mark myself with that just-not-good-enough-girl-from-total-darkness scarlet letter.

What happened to me while we lived in St. Louis was painful. I was crippled by my anthem. I wept. I was sick to my stomach almost every day. While my husband was thriving I was dying, carrying this heavy scarlet letter around my neck.

I still appeared to be a good solider on the exterior. But on the inside I was barely breathing.

It wasn’t until one morning on my couch when the words from Matthew 11 appeared on the page of my hot pink Bible in technicolor. “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I thought about how long I had been carrying the weight of this interwoven old and new. How long I had walked with this just-not-good-enough-girl-from-total-darkness scarlet letter around my neck breathless and searching for air?

How long had I carried this burden alone and not shared the yoke with my Risen Lord?

He makes the burden light when I share it with Him.

Matthew 11 helped to let the unraveling of my identity begin.

The thread started to pull and I felt like I could breathe.

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This moment happened in our last weeks in seminary. It took me too long to realize I was not bearing the just-not-good-enough-girl-from-total-darkness identity alone. The one sharing the yoke with me was Jesus. The One Who had overcome death itself.

If He could overcome death He could help me overcome the voices.

So the unraveling of my identity in Christ began as I started to put off the old patterns and ways of viewing myself and I began to put on the new.

I started to challenge the just-not-good-enough-girl-from-total-darkness label with the label of the deeply-loved-completely-accepted-image-bearer-of-The-Risen-Lord-girl-from-total-darkness.

(I mean, I need to stay true to my roots, right?)

You can’t appreciate where you are if you forget where you came from- so the girl from total darkness stays…for now.

I know this journey of the unraveling of my identity is Christ is not over. I know the thread is just beginning to unravel.

I can’t say I feel completely equipped even now to serve alongside my husband but I can say the idea now longer causes nausea. This
deeply-loved-completely-accepted-image-bearer-of-The-Risen-Lord-girl-from-total-darkness knows God calls unlikely people in His Great Story Of Redemption.

No matter what the past, the inner voices, or the audible voices might be whispering I can hush them with truth because Christ, the One who ultimately has called me, is walking alongside me sharing this burden.

In Him I am…

Deeply Loved.
Completely Accepted.
Image bearer of the Risen Lord
Girl From Total Darkness

What is your identity? Are you letting the new unravel from the old?

Parenting In The Pew: How I Prepare

This is the third post of a three part series. Please find the other entries here:

Part 1: The Journey And The Destination
Part 2: Where We’ve Been And Where We Are Going

Over the years I’ve gotten better at doing as much as I can the night before worship. For us, worship begins on Saturday night.

The night before everyone is bathed, in bed on time with clothes and church shoes set out in their rooms.

I also set out breakfast which is something easy for now: cereal or the occasional box of Entenmann’s Donuts. Sometimes I also do frozen Eggo waffles because I just can’t deal with the spilled milk and donut crumbs. (Yes I do cry over spilt milk.)

I have bags packed Saturday night and sometimes even lunch prepped for after church if I am feeling really ambitious.

It helps for me to be well rested as well so while my kids are little I try to make it to bed by 10pm.

For now there are a few things I pack in their worship bag. They each get a small snack sized ziplock bag with a snack and a sippy cup. The only other thing in their bag is maybe a children’s bible and the iPad.

The babies have their normal diaper bag packed along with a special treat to keep them happy while I say hello to friends after church.

During breakfast in the morning, on a good day, I Play the songs that we will be singing that morning. Our worship director is great about sending a link to the YouTube videos for the Sunday morning songs. This helps my non readers sing along because they have heard the songs before hand.

In the mornings I always try to leave a ten minute “pooping window” before we need to leave. Someone always seems to poop especially when I am running a little behind.

When I get to church…

It helps to take them to the bathroom right before the service. After that they are not allowed to use the bathroom during the church. If you let them go one Sunday, they will try it every Sunday. We potty before the service.

It helps to be early and be settled. If I’m rushed my kids feel it. Sometimes I have exited Sunday school a little early just so I could be sure we had enough time to potty and be settled in the service.

Then I pray. I breathe in grace and exhale to moments when I feel like crawling under the pew.
Like when a sippy cup rolled all the way up to the front during a baptism or when one of my sons yells, is this over yet?

Finally, my husband is working with our oldest boys on elements of worship like The Lord’s Prayer and the Doxology. At this age their memories are like little sponges and it is so simple to teach them to memorize things like this. Even my two year old can roughly sing the Doxology.

Final Encouragements For Your Journey

This is a journey. What is working now might not be working a few months from now. But know on this journey are working towards teaching our children that worship is about God and worship requires active listening. With final destination in mind It is easier to see less of what others are thinking of of wiggly kids or the goldfish that may fall on the floor and more of that grace we need when we need it.

Most importantly, remember to accept others where they are on the journey. If a baby is crying, show compassion. If a mom is in the pew alone because dad is out of town, grab a little hand and help them with their tally marks.

We are all parents trying to raise worshippers.

Parenting in The Pew Part 2: Where We’ve Been And Where We Are Going

This is Part Two of my Parenting in the Pew Journey. If you missed Part one find it here: Part 1: The Journey And The Destination

Part Two: Where We’ve Been And Where We Are Going
When we think of training worshippers as a journey, it is important to use your end result or outcome to help you develop achievable expectations. It helps to start with the end in mind. Just like a wise teacher or a smart business person starts with the end result we too should think about what kind of worshipers we want our kids to be 20 years from now.

For us our destination is two fold.

We want our children to understand worship is not about them or what they “need” from church and we want our children to develop into active listeners.

So the objectives I am working on look like this:

Worship is about God.

I want my children to be active listeners in church.

These two objectives shape everything on a Sunday morning for me. Everything.

Objective 1: Children will understand worship is about God.

This means worship is not about my kids and their entertainment. I have learned this the hard way. Mountains of coloring books, sticker books, matchbox cars, mazes. I spent almost four and a half years lugging around huge bags of activities until I realized those heavy bags were not only making me sweaty but those bags were working against my most valued objective.

Twenty years from now I don’t want worshippers that spend the service only doodling in the bulletin or playing tic tac toe with their brothers. The heavy bag was working against my first objective because I was showing my kids that I valued their entertainment over my first objective.

Worship is not about my children or their entertainment.

Worship is about God.

I have learned the hard way that coloring books and activities to entertain my kids during the service are actually working against me on the journey to my final destination.

Objective 2: our children will work towards active listening in church.

My goal is not, I want my children to be still and quiet statues in the pew. I can look still and quiet while I am counting all the tiny holes in the speakers up above the PowerPoint screen.

My long term goal is to have active listeners at the end of this journey. So if my children need to wiggle or make a joyful noise unto The Lord, as long as they are actively listening, I really don’t care anymore. I have small kids. We wiggle and we don’t completely know how to whisper.

I can give myself and them grace in this. Active listening and participation looks different in a five year old than it does in an adult. Honestly, visualize a kindergarten classroom compared to a college classroom or even an eighth grade classroom.

Currently, I am teaching active listening through recording tally marks. This keeps my sons busy and aligns with my two objectives.

On Friday I preview the sermon topic, look at the songs we will sing and I help my boys think of names of God they might want to listen for during the service.

They listen for the names of God during worship and tally them either on the iPad or on paper. In the beginning, I would give them a tootsie roll or a lollipop when the made it to five tallies. I needed them to see the reward quickly at first, Then I increased the reward to ten tallies and then twenty.

Recently I have found myself hardly giving out any prizes at all as they learn to just listen without the motivation.

My hope is this will turn into listening for different words, topics and eventually main ideas and note taking.

I use a free tally app on the iPad.

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Not every week is perfect. Just on Easter Sunday my three and five year old where having a whisper fight whether or not to have eyes open or eyes closed during the congregational prayer. In these moments it helps to take a big breath and see the larger picture. One slip up on Easter might help you give yourself and your kids a little more grace when it feels like one step forward and three (or four) steps back on the journey.

Ah. And grace. There is abundant grace. I just read this Timothy Keller quote, “God does not give us hypothetical grace and a lifetime supply. He gives us what we need one day at a time.”

Ah. One Sunday at a time in the pew. God gives me the grace I need one Sunday at a time in the pew. And God is giving our kids the grace they need one Sunday at a time in the pew.

One Final Piece Helping Us Get To Out Destination
Location, Location, Location. We take a front row seat. If my conviction on worship is “worship is about God” we will have a front row seat.

I am a big Dave Matthews fan, like it or not, and when I go to a Dave concert it is all about DMB. I am going to sit as close as to the front as I can because I want the best experience I can have. Same with Reds games. No one calls the box office and says, “I would like to sit as far away from the action as possible.”

Location helps. We sit in the front so my small kids can see everything and do not have to squirm to see over rows and rows of people three times their size.

Also, in regards to location, sit in front of people who like you having your kids in the pew with you. I have developed a great friendship with the family that sits behind us. They know what I am trying to do and can fill in for me even when I am not able to be at church. My friend has even been ready to record a tally mark or her hands have been open for a quick pass of the baby when a curve ball comes my way.

Remember. This is a journey. Keep the destination in mind. Location. And grace.

“God does not give us hypothetical grace and a lifetime supply. He gives us what we need one day at a time.” -Timothy Keller

While on this parenting in the pew journey there is the grace we need. One Sunday at a time.

Parenting in The Pew: The Journey And The Destination

In my short five years of parenting multiple children in the pew I have had some successes and many failures.

The magic formula for getting all my kids to sit still in worship must have missed my mailbox somehow. I’ve struggled.

I have read the books, been to the seminars and searched the blogs but my kids are as unique as snowflakes and no one book is one size fits all.

Nothing is a one size fits every child so I have learned up on my kids, prayed for wisdom, watch other families and taken pieces from the books, blogs and seminars.

Parenting in the pew will be a twenty some year journey for us. We only have five years under our belt so we are really just beginning.

Parenting in the pew

This journey is different for everyone because we are different parents raising different children. What your children need in the pew will look differently from what it has looked like for my family.

You should know that although my husband may be present next to me, my husband is at work on Sunday morning so this makes our parenting in the pew journey a little unique and challenging for me as I try to parent without my greatest and favorite partner in life.

You should also know I am fairly new at church. I’ve been a Christian for almost ten years now and a parent for five of those years.

I joke that something in the worship service always seems new to me. Songs, scriptures, liturgy. So just because I am married to a man involved in the service does not make me any more equipped to handle those surprise curve balls.

Both the newness of church and my husband being at work bring uniqueness to my parenting in the pew story.

I just want to share with you in hopes to encourage you and see that I too am walking alongside you in this journey.

First, you should know and it helps to remember: This is a journey.

Once I think I have it figured out, something changes. A curve ball is always being thrown. As soon as I figure out the pitching pattern the curve ball comes. For me, it is important to expect the curve ball.

And then…when I swing and miss the curve ball I remind myself: This is a journey and next week I’ll have another at bat.

Training Worshippers

 

 

It also helps to think of this journey as a journey of training worshippers. For me the main objective is not to have quiet and still children. The objective is to train worshippers.

Every journey has a destination. My objectives for training worshippers simply function as the destination. The objectives function as the “where we are headed” on this journey of parenting in the pew.

I have two main objectives for training my children to be worshippers and like any good teacher I use the objectives to shape how I teach them on each and every Sunday morning.

When I started thinking about my objectives and this journey of parenting in the pew I simply thought about what I want my children to do in worship five years from now, ten years from now and even twenty plus years from now.

What do I want to see my children doing independently at the end of the journey?

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I can’t wait to share my objectives with you tomorrow. I have written over two thousand words about this journey so I have broken everything up into three pieces.

Come back tomorrow for Part Two: What Helps

The Weary Momma

It’s Mother’s Day and almost my birthday so I’ve been reflecting a little about my life over the past fifty-two weeks.

All I have done is move and have a baby.

Really that’s it.

I have hardly volunteered in my boys’ preschool classrooms.

The family devotional time I mapped out in July for the next two years has not worked out the way I thought at all.

I forgot to take my kids to the pumpkin patch.

I didn’t send out a Christmas card.

I traveled to a wedding instead of attending my son’s Mother’s Day program.

I’ve grumbled. I’ve complained. I’ve whined. I’ve even yelled and had epic tantrums complete with slamming the cabinet doors in the kitchen.

I haven’t even had my new baby girl professionally photographed yet and she is five months old.

So upon reflecting on the last fifty-two weeks I have come to this conclusion: I just didn’t measure up this year. Not even close.

I’m not at all feeling like the woman that is worthy of praise from Proverbs 31 and I’m not sure my children would call me blessed.

I am weary.

I’m not sure why anyone would even want to celebrate me for “all the things I do” when I feel like I am up to my eyebrows of momma hood and just barely hanging on with my unmanicured fingernails.

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But there are glimpses of how His grace covers the unachievable expectations I have for myself if I pay close enough attention to the moments where God reveals my worth as a momma isn’t at all about what I do but simply who I am. 

When I see my daughter smile at me with her whole body. She doesn’t care that I haven’t gotten around to that professional photo shoot.

When feel my three year old’s hand reach for my hand and then he clings close to my leg in his classroom. He has no idea that we missed the pumpkin patch in the fall.

When I hear my two year old call out for me, “Hold You,” is what he calls me as he grazes around me when I whirl around in the kitchen.

When I experience the sweet, innocent forgiveness or my five year old after all my weary tired yells, “I forgive you mommy, we all make mistakes.”

So for all you weary mommas forget about all those unachievable expectations.

Don’t hold them under the magnifying glass in the same way I do. Give yourself the same grace given to you by those little ones who call you momma.

Give yourself the same grace that God gives to you in Jesus.

Exhale the unachievable expectations and inhale the grace.

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Philippians 4
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

The best gift I can give myself is forget about the things I didn’t get to. To forget the blah and remember the praiseworthy.

It’s a fight for this weary momma to dwell on what is excellent and praiseworthy.

But God is good to me and His grace covers my weary soul.

Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”