Unraveled Parenting

As a mom, I am prone to wander over to the dark-side of performance-based parenting.

One of the deeply woven threads in my story is— in the past I have found my identity in and based my worthiness on how well I can perform or accomplish a task. This is a very dangerous way to live and in conflict with the assurance of a gospel-rooted identity—an identity that rests in Jesus and bears gospel fruit of union with Him.

Performance-based parenting keeps me tangled-up in my personal sin,  curved-in on myself (incurvatus in se), and constantly returning to ultimate joy-sucker: comparison. When I am tangled-up in performance-based parenting, I find myself concerned about how well my children are measuring up to everyone else—comparing, competing, perfecting, achieving.

This curved-in way of living focuses my eyes on people and averts my eyes from my Savior.

The gospel has the power to unravel and free us from performance-based living. If you are exhausted by performance-based living and comparison, I would encourage you to investigate Christ and who He says He is by reading His word. Start here: Life Issues Books

When identity is securely rooted in Christ, parenting is transformed. Gospel-based parenting turns our gaze to Jesus, freeing us from the sin that so easily entangles. When our eyes are focused on Christ, comparison and the pressures of performance-based living unravel away.

We model and pass on to our children a legacy of security in our earthy performance record or a legacy of resting in Christ’s performance and trusting Him on the journey of gospel transformation.

The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

It is quite upside-down and inside-out for me to look past the outward and fight to get to the heart. I lived many years operating by measuring up myself and others based on their outward performance—drinking from the unsatisfying cistern called performance and comparison. I have recognized my idolatry of performance and comparison impact the way I come alongside my children, causing my sin to pass on a tangled-up gospel.

Unraveling my old patterns of performance-based living tangled- up in sin and embracing my new identity—Christ in me, the hope of glory—transforms what I thought I knew about raising children and renews my mind to plead with the Lord, “Jesus, make my focus in parenting my children not be on outward behaviors. Help me fight to get to the heart.”

The Lord cares about what lies beneath the surface and I desire to model Christlikeness by obediently cultivating a new pattern to do the same.

Holiness is not a condition we drift into. We are not passive spectators of a sanctification God works in us. On the contrary, we have to intentionally ‘put off’ from us all conduct that is incompatible with our new life in Christ, and ‘put on’ a new life compatible with it.”—John Stott

Change beneath the surface takes time and we wait to see gospel fruit expectantly . . . by faith. My curved inwardness desires change to happen as fast as I like my internet speed, but gospel change bears fruit at a dial up pace.

Focusing on the big gospel story reorients my mind and as I lean into Christ, this is where I find assurance and rest.

All four of my children are sinners. They stumble. I have experienced their wandering hearts, even as elementary and preschool students. But God, He moves me to breathe deeply on the journey of being alongside my children in their childhood imperfections—at a dial up pace while I wait expectantly to see glimpses of gospel fruit.

In parenting, unraveled from my tangled-up desire to perform well and measure myself up to others, the gospel gives me perspective to see my stumbling children as God sees them: precious, uniquely knit together, and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-14). The gospel reminds me that— I too, am on this journey with them,  a sinner, saved by nothing but God’s grace.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

This moves me to compassion and freedom. Compassion in all of our stumblings and freedom from the snares of performance and comparison. God is a sovereign creator and powerful possessor of His covenant people. I am simply an alongside cultivator: modeling, praying, and living by faith that God will work in the hearts of my children, the same way He has worked in mine—at a dial up pace.

In unraveled parenting, I can be assured by the truth: God pursues, redeems, and transforms hearts—from generation to generation. I need to return to this gospel truth daily—for my own heart and for the integrity of the gospel I am passing on to my children.

Unraveled from my old pattern of performance-based parenting allows me to turn my inward gaze upward. I am truly free from rising and falling based on my performance record and my children are truly free from measuring up to current cultural and moral standards—for me and my children, the gospel is not about us—it is about Him. I want to be moved from the dark-side of performance-based parenting and rest in the marvelous light of this truth.

Cultivating a Mindset of Belonging

My Story of Struggle with Belonging

You may think it seems impertinent for a pastor’s wife to write about Cultivating a Mindset of Belonging, especially in the context of church family life. After all, to those who watch the life of a pastor’s family from afar, you may assume the pastor’s family naturally feels connected to covenant relationships simply because of the role they play in the life of the church. However,  as a woman who encountered trauma during my teenage years and in my adult life has felt the impact of abandonment—Cultivating a Mindset of Belonging has not at all been a straight line on an easy path.

In my experience, Cultivating a Mindset of Belonging has been hard, heart-work of undoing lies and healing the wounds of my past while actively and obediently pursuing relationships within the church—not based on my feelings, but based on the biblical truth the God has redeemed my life in Christ and calls me into a people.

“Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Exodus 6:6-7).

Biblically speaking,  I am redeemed from my slavery to sin and brought into a family of God’s people. Redemption by the blood of Christ means I am no longer an individual, I am covenantally a part of a people, God’s people. My story is His story, and my struggles with belonging are being redeemed in Christ and His power redeeming every nook and cranny of my heart—including my struggle with belonging.

My Redeemed Calling to Cultivate a Mindset of Belonging

I have four children. Three sons and a daughter. My desire: with the help of the Holy Spirit, I desire to come alongside the Holy Spirit to help cultivate a mindset of belonging in the hearts of my children. The covenant promise of redemption is not just for me, it is for the generations. My children are included in this covenant promise.

I will either pass on my unredeemed mindset of belonging or I will pass on a biblical mindset of belonging to my children. My hope is that I can pass on the latter. The understanding of my personal woundedness in this area enables me to be intentional to guard against passing on a wounded mindset to my children.

So I have been asking myself . . . how can I, as a mother redeemed by a Great and Powerful God, be intentional to pass on a redeemed mindset of belonging to my children because of my new heritage in the gospel?

Me Mindset or Covenant Mindset

If we are thinking biblically, we will live covenantally. 

As parents, we are responsible as to whether our children feel like they do or do not belong in the church. The truth is: our children do belong and the church desires for them to feel connected—children are included in God’s covenant promise to the generations and children matter to God. Our personal sin, emotions, and woundedness distort this biblical truth. Personal sin and blame shifting pushes this responsibility outside of us, cultivating a me mindset instead of a covenant mindset of belonging:

The youth group kids don’t make my kids feel welcome.

The programs are not engaging enough to cultivate relationships for my children.

Youth and children’s pastors didn’t do enough to connect my children. 

All of the above are me mindsets, not covenant mindsets that desire to cultivate belonging for the next generation.

In the gospel, a redeemed calling invites us to cultivate a biblical mindset of belonging. We belong in the family of the church because of Christ—as redeemed sinners, all Christians have Christ in common, He is the cornerstone that holds us all together—Christ should be the foundational piece when it comes to our relationships in the body.

Practical Ways to Cultivate a Mindset of Belonging

Believers are responsible to pursue covenant connections within the body. The most practical way we can pursue covenant relationships is by showing up: show up to church, to women’s ministry events, to Sunday School, to Community Groups—whatever your church is offering as a way to connect people to people, show up—and not just once or twice, show up consistently with the biblical mindset that you belong at these events because of Christ. Show up even when you’d rather stay home.

I am an early to bed, early to rise kind of woman and I loathe evening events—but it is my responsibility to show up even when I feel tired because I have an individual responsibility to pursue connections and covenant relationships within the church.

We don’t just drift into relationships with other believers in the church, we have to pursue and cultivate covenant relationships. 

This is the most practical way to cultivate a mindset of belonging in the hearts of our children: we have to show our children a mindset of belonging by modeling belonging and connection to the body in our own lives. As members of the family of God’s people, we have to act like members of the family.

Another way to cultivate a mindset of belonging for our children is to bring your children with you to church events. I bring my daughter to as many women’s ministry events as I possibly can—and I try to encourage her to pursue relationships with older women in our church. We review women’s names often, pray for these women, and serve the women in our church together. Whatever I am doing in the life of the body, she tags alongside me.

She is five and when I observe her playing with her Barbies and American Girl Dolls, the dolls are usually set up having Bible Study or a Women’s Ministry Meeting—I see her doing what I am doing as I observe her play.

Our children will mimic what they see us doing and how they see us responding to connections within the church.

Worship.

I strongly believe children should be in corporate worship—they should be free to wiggle, play, draw, or write, but including children and youth in corporate worship on Sunday Mornings cultivates a covenant mindset of belonging. Our children belong in worship (or big church) with us.

We encourage our children to stay with us  in church beginning at age four. My third son wanted to stay with us starting at age three! Our church has a developmentally appropriate option for children ages 3-Kindergarten called Wee Worship, but we always try to encourage our kids to start training for corporate worship at age four, one year before they age out of Wee Worship. They each have a notebook and a pen, and they sit a draw during the sermon.

This is not easy and some weeks are better than others. For the last five years my husband has been the lead pastor at our church and preaches most Sundays. My children are now ten, nine, seven, and five. For five years I have been pursuing my children’s involvement in corporate worship as a solo parent in the pew. But God has been so faithful and good, even when I have been at the end of myself wrangling and wrestling three boys and a girl in the front row of our church.

For my Wee Worship children, I have recently developed a pattern with my youngest to pick her up from Wee Worship directly after the sermon and bring her back into corporate worship for communion, the singing of the doxology, and the benediction. My heart swells to look down the row and see eight tiny hands reaching out towards my husband to receive the benediction each week.

My three sons just interviewed to be communing members of our church and it has been a joy to see God work in their hearts and lives.

Finally, my heart is to pursue church connections outside of the church. Our church family is always invited to our children’s special events: this includes birthdays, music programs, and special awards nights. We intentionally try to think of church members who have special connections to our children and invite them into the life of our family. My children have a strong covenantal web of connections because we have been intentional to help build their webs.

We also pursue specific connections with teenage girls by exclusively asking the members of our youth group to babysit our children, and because we don’t have family support nearby, many older couples in our church have stepped in to act as grandparents to our children.

In the book, Sticky Faith: Everyday ideas to build lasting faith in your kids, Dr. Kara Powell and Dr. Chap Clark suggest each parent “needs to intentionally recruit and build a sticky web of relationships for their children. This sticky web should include five adults to invest in their kids in little, medium, and big ways. The intentionally built sticky webs of intergenerational ministry give the next generation the relationships they need to stick to the church.”

This is cultivating a mindset of belonging for our children and the next generation.

An Opportunity to Live Out Redemption with a Redeemed Mindset of Belonging

The struggle and fallen-ness of relationships and belonging is not the end of the story. In Christ, sin and woundedness no longer have power. It is Christ’s power that enables us to cultivate a mindset of belonging because we are redeemed by His blood and brought into God’s redeemed family of believers. The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in the hearts of believers! We have the power to use our Christ-confidence as we pursue relationships within the church.

We belong because of Christ. This is the new heritage and redeemed mindset I want to pass on to the next generation of believers in my household.

God is making all things new in Christ and He uses His church. He is able to do abundantly more than all we can ask or think as we intentionally pursue cultivating a redeemed mindset of belonging.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

May he be glorified in the church as His redeemed people cultivate a redeemed mindset of belonging.

Littmus Lozenge Mother’s Day

Joy and Sorrow Mixed Together

I want to express that Mother’s Day is a day for mixed emotions—it is joy and sorrow mixed all into one—there is so much sweetness in painted handprints, ceramic planters made in STEM class, and descriptive All About My Mom worksheets, but for some—Mother’s Day brings a touch of sorrow.

This touch of sorrow is not a one size fits all—some have lost mothers, some long to be mothers and are in a season of waiting, some have lost children, some are estranged from their mothers, some mothers are estranged from their children, some are not the kind of mother they thought they would be, some are spiritual mothers who may have seen spiritual daughters go through a difficult season in their lives or walk away from the faith.

In the book, Because of Winn Dixie, Miss Franny Block is one of my favorite characters. This book is filled with many wonderful characters, Miss Franny Block is the town librarian. India Opal visits the library with her new dog Winn Dixie, and Miss Franny Block tells them elaborate stories.

One day, Miss Franny Block tells the story of the Littmus Lozenge. During the Civil War, her great-grandfather, Littmus W. Block, signed up to fight (even though he was only 14!). When the war was over, he returned home to find out that his home had been burned to the ground and his family had all died.

Littmus started walking, and eventually walked all the way to Florida. After experiencing such sorrow in his life, he decided he wanted to make something sweet. He invented a candy that he named the Littmus Lozenge, a special hard candy with a touch of sadness.

When you taste a Littmus Lozenge, you experience the sweet taste of strawberries and root beer, but then everyone tastes something that reminds them of sorrow in their life.

Littmus Lozenge Mother’s Day

For me, Mother’s Day is like a Littmus Lozenge. There is so much sweetness! I am in a sweet season of motherhood with my four school aged children, most days it is like the sweetness of strawberries and root beer—but because I lost my mother when I was fourteen, and we have lost two children to miscarriage, Mother’s Day always comes with a touch of sorrow.

Mother’s Day is joy and sorrow mixed all into one Littmus Lozenge—and I know I’m not alone in experiencing a Littmus Lozenge Mother’s Day—I know many feel both joy and sorrow on this second Sunday in May.

Transformed Joy and Sorrow

I believe faith in Christ transforms joy and sorrow—faith does not completely wipe out sorrow, but faith in Christ transforms sorrow. This transformation of sorrow is a slow process, but over time, faith sees joy and sorrow mixed together as a part of our journey on this side of heaven.

The faithful see sorrow as a reminder that life on this earth is just not the way it is supposed to be. This creates a longing for what is to come. Along the journey, there is pain, death, loss, and sorrow—but the faithful look not to what is seen, they long for what is unseen—eternal hope when all things will be renewed and restored. So we do not lose heart . . .  we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16,18).

The faithful draw closely to a God who can identify with sorrow and is near to those who are suffering. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering (Isaiah 53:4) The Lord is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). 

Jesus tells us we will have tribulations and experience sorrow, but on the cross, Jesus overcame the permanent sting of pain, the faithful know remaining in Christ transforms our sorrow, He is our peace. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

A Touch of Transformed Sorrow

There have been seasons when I let the sorrow of the Littmus Lozenge overshadow the sweet strawberry and root beer tastes in my life. It is important to feel sorrow, to weep, to grieve, and to mourn—but it is also important to not let sorrow overshadow joy. The Littmus Lozenge is filled with sweet and only has a touch of sorrow—and as a woman who has been changed by the gospel, that touch of sorrow should been seen rightly with the hope of God’s Greater Redemptive Story.

Touching on the sorrow keeps me wholehearted, reminding me of the love I had for my own mother. But touching on the sorrow should not steal away my joy. Both can exist together, but sorrow shouldn’t keep me from rejoicing in the love my own children will surround me with on Mother’s Day. I have experienced sorrow and that sorrow will forever linger, but I have received abundantly more than all I could ask for at the same time—which gives me great joy!

Mother’s Day is a Littmus Lozenge—sweet with a touch of transformed sorrow.

 

Christmas Presence

My seven-year-old son made a grid-like calendar with pencil and computer paper; and he taped it to his wall next to his bed with scotch tape. This happened back in November and I believed he was counting down the days to his December birthday, or maybe even Christmas. I knew he was eagerly anticipating something to be so intentional with that pencil-drawn calendar scotch taped to his wall—each night he faithfully crossed off the day, each morning he accurately recited the date.

But then, his birthday came and went and he kept counting down—I assumed he was waiting for Christmas but I wondered . . . I finally asked him, “what is this thing that you are waiting for?”

He quickly replied, “Mom, you said I would need to wait six weeks until after your surgery before I could give you a big hug again. Every day when I used to get off of the bus, you stood in the front yard waiting for me, and I ran and jumped on you to give you a big welcome-home hug. I really miss that. I am counting down until six weeks after your surgery. I miss you standing in the front yard. I really miss those big hugs.”

My sweet son. My double mastectomy and reconstruction season has kept me from standing in the front yard with big welcome-home hugs every day. In this season, my children have been gently hugging me around my hips. I just had no idea how greatly my son missed my physical presence in the front yard. It seems like such a simple and mundane thing—standing in the front yard with a welcome home hug—but to my child, this mundane thing to me was everything to him.

This is how my children amaze me. They live with child-like excitement and wonder. They make calendars and count down to big welcome-home hugs. Children understand the importance of presence—so much so they want to be in the bathroom with you—children care about snuggles, and hugs, and books read before bedtime, and belly laughs over Apples to Apples. This is a good reminder to me in the busyness and what can feel like the mundane of the holiday season. My children teach me the importance of presence.

It’s not about what we are doing with our children during the holidays—it is about whether or not we are present with them in the moments.  Are we there just physically, or are we there wholly—seeking to enter in to the child-like excitement and wonder?

As I have grown-up, my task list has increased as well as my worries; I sometimes feel the importance of a second cup of coffee greater than the importance of Christmas Presence.

Presence is defined as existing, occurring, or being present in a place or thing. Presence is entering in and engaging with others in the front yard welcome-home hugs of every day life. Presence is wholly living and evidence of holiness—dwelling among the little ones God has given to us.

Christmas Presence is living like Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us), Matthew 1:23.

Jesus came to Earth to give the world the gift of Christmas Presence. As humans we needed a God who would dwell among us. Presence, dwelling, and wholly living are the balm to all the longings of our human hearts—even when we are grown and we all too easily forget—glory is seen in the presence and the dwelling. Glory is seen in a God who knows our humanity because He dwelt among us.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth, John 1:14.

Christmas Presence is the greatest gift. As parents, we get to show this kind of love to our children. I don’t want to been grown and forgetful, I want to be child-like with the kind of excitement that causes me to make a grid-like calendar and scotch tape it to my bedroom wall—I want to long for presence more than I long for more coffee.

I want to live like Jesus with those around me, I want to be present and live wholly. I want to see the beauty of an every day welcome-home hug. Christmas Presence is what our hearts are all longing for, it is why we need a God who would dwell among us. It is children who are sweet reminders of the gift of Christmas Presence—counting down to the simple and important things like welcome-home hugs.

If you have grown and forgotten about Christmas Presence, there is great hope in a God who fully sees you, loves you, died for you, forgives you, and longs for you to return to him. He doesn’t require you to do anything but turn to him, he is waiting with a welcome home hug.

How To Respond To Teacher Welcome Letters

As a mom who was once a classroom teacher, I have been on a journey of learning how to come alongside the four public school teachers who love on my four children all year long.

I purchase everything on the school supply lists as well as the extras on the wish lists, but there is an extra thing I do that I wanted to share with all of you; as a former teacher and a sub who recently served in a two-and-a-half week long-term placement in kindergarten… teaching is hard… and teachers need reminders of parental love and support all year long. Teachers need to feel love and support not just in August and September, but in January, February, and March as well.

new heritage

When I receive the welcome letters upon my child’s placement, I usually respond with a note that I am willing to help in anyway I possibly can. I can cut lamination from my couch while watching television, make copies, change bulletin boards, coordinate parties, and even pray for my children’s teachers throughout the year.

I also respond with this list I have developed, revised, and revised again throughout my five years of being a parent with school-aged children:

What are your favorite things?
Birthday:
Birthday cake flavor:
Favorite flower:
Favorite candy:
Favorite gum/mints:
Favorite hand lotion:
Favorite homemade dessert:
Favorite drink (all):
Favorite lunch place (and even order):
Favorite dinner place:
Favorite sports teams:
Favorite date night spots:
Favorite places to take your kids:
Favorite color: 
Favorite drink from Starbucks:
Favorite kinds of teacher pens:
Other favorite teacher things:
Favorite scent at Bath and Body:
Favorite Yankee Candle scent:
Monogram:
Coffee Mugs or Water Bottles:

 

This list personally equips me, as a parent, to care for my classroom teachers throughout the school year. If I am at Starbucks on my way to school before my volunteer slot, I try to remember to bring something in for my classroom teacher as well.

If I am stopping in to help make copies and I know my classroom teacher loves Diet Coke, I drive thru McDonalds before I go to the school.

When my family and I show up at Meet the Teacher, we always try to bring something off of the teacher’s favorite things list.

Then I share this list with others.

As a public school family, we are just a small piece of the larger classroom community. It takes the whole classroom community to love and support a teacher. Sometime in September, I take the above list once it is filled out by the classroom teacher, and I share it with the whole class along with a Sign Up Genius link for families to sign up to bring in a small treat for our classroom teacher every other Friday. This is a small way we can show our encouragement, love, and support for our classroom teachers who love and support our children every single day.

When it comes time for Christmas gifts and End of the Year gifts, the above Favorite Things List comes in handy too!

My hope is this Favorite Things List will equip you to love your teachers all year long and not just during back to school time. Teachers need our love and support all year long. They support our children all year long and this is a small way we can show our continuous appreciation.