Listening is Loving

Yesterday I was putting mountains of clothes away upstairs as I watched my three boys in the backyard below me digging in a large hole of mud.

I had a report to give in about an hour and the babysitter arriving in forty-five minutes. I was already whirling around my home. I had no extra in-case-of-mud-buffer built in to my schedule.

I let the boys dig and kept putting away clothes until the pile has come to it’s end. Then I walked downstairs trying to breathe deeply to prepare myself for three mud covered children and also a quick prayer to Jesus that I would exude the fruits of the spirit instead of spewing the impatience of my tired flesh.

To my great surprise I found muddy clothes and boots in the laundry room and my boys washing the mud off their ankles and hands in the kitchen sink, the exact same process of demudding I have walked them through time after time over the last eight years. Without me saying a word, they just did what they were supposed to do.

And when I praised them my five year old simply replied, “Mom, we were just listening and listening is loving.”

Cue a:

Wait, are these MY children?

moment.

My children and I have not gotten to this place of automatic obedience overnight and pretty much, three-hundred and sixty-five days a year, sixty-five times a day it feels as if my children are not listening to my voice at all.

But this moment was my diamond in the rough. The one moment I can cling to in three hundred and sixty-five days and see just for one moment my words, my constant words on repeat all day every day are not falling on deaf ears. That slowly, ever so slowly my words are settling into the nooks and crannies of the hearts of my children.

Listening is loving was very much our summer love language last summer.

I developed this love language of listening is loving between my kids and I for the following reasons:

  1. Listening is life-giving to mommy.
  2. Listening is not just hearing but hearing followed by action.
  3. The action of listening must occur all the way, right away and with a happy heart.
  4. Listening is an important skill for all of life.

I have said listening is loving, I have chanted listening is loving, I have yelled listening is loving, I have whispered listening is loving in the ears of my four children as they sleep soundly at night.

Like a broken record for almost an entire year. Listening is loving have been the words I have both yelled and cried to my children.

As I saw my children doing what they were supposed to do I couldn’t help but remember the words a friend of mine said to me almost five years ago. Rachel, you sow. And you sow. And you sow. Then much later you will reap. 

You sow. And you sow. And you sow. Then much later you reap. Much later.

Yesterday’s scene of muddy clothes automatically in the laundry room and children automatically demudding at the sink came after an entire year of constantly repeating listening is loving to the ears and to the hearts of my children.

There are so many moments when I am so tired of sowing. My heart screams phrases similar to: Mommy does not want to sound like a broken record.

Planting wisdom and words in to the hearts of my children is very similar to the dirty, back breaking work of planting seeds outside in the fields.

I’m scattering these words like seeds into the soil of their hearts so that with hope and prayer and divine intervention one day these seeds will grow and produce fruit. Produce evidence that my words have taken root. Produce automatic obedience all the way, right away and with a happy heart.

We have so much further to go with listening is loving.

I will probably say listening is loving a million times more, have three-thousand more bad days with a few diamonds scattered here and there.

But to reap a harvest of children who know that listening is loving to others with hope that they will connect this truth of listening is loving to listening to God and believing His truth…. that is the kind of harvest I am sowing for.

That kind of harvest is what makes the broken record of saying listening is loving a million times more worthy of the dirty, back breaking work of sowing.

Listening is loving.

You sow. And you sow. And you sow. Much later you will reap.

When X Marks the Spot

I have a child who enjoys drawing check marks on all of his drawings. To him, a check mark is his mark of approval on his drawing. If he feels good about a drawing, it gets a check mark at the top right next to his five letter name written in chunky crayola marker and all caps.

You can imagine my hurting heart when I walked down our staircase one afternoon to notice a brown X on my kneecap in our 16 X 20 family canvas that hangs on the wall right in our entry way at the end of our staircase. Like Tonya Harding had been there, planning her next hit.

I had recently corrected my child for drawing on the walls in my house and sent him to the bottom step of that staircase, where all four of my children have to sit and wait for me to come and sit with them, discipline them, hold them, talk to them about their hearts, pray with them and reconcile with them. A place that is worn from the never-ending merry go round of training up kids.

My child literally X-out his mother in our family picture. The very opposite of the marks I see him draw on his favorite drawings. He clearly was marking his disapproval of me. In permanent marker. The ultimate and forever mark of disapproval.

The child who in this picture I am holding close to my very own heart. The child who smooches with me with pursed out lips. The child who states I am the one he loves the most in the whole world. He put an X on me in our family photo that hangs in our entryway.

My initial reaction was fury. This is my baby. I carried him in my body, nursed him, held him and I make sure his animal blanket is smoothed down perfectly every night at his request.

I was both angry and heartbroken.

I’m not the kind of mother one would X-out. I sing the songs, make the freezer meals, play the games, read the books, volunteer in the classrooms. I should have a thousand green check marks of approval for heaven sakes.

As I continued in fury, and woe as mes, I had to think. Was this X marking the spot of something deeper? Was I hurt because I want to be liked by my kids? Am I the kind of parent who desires to be liked more than I care about the trenches and the hard, ugly places of correcting my children when they are wrong on that step? Am I willing to be ready for the long road of all the X-marks-the-spot moments of the future?

Where do I look to find my green check marks? What is my identity really rooted in? How much my kids approve of me? Or that Christ approves of me not because of my X to check mark ratio but because of what He has done?

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

This one X on our family picture in permanent ink, marking the spot of my own pride. Revealing the deep desire I have within to be a perfect mother, a well-liked mother, a green check-marked ten-times over mother.

I know some of you out there are with me too on the step. With your babes upset with you over correction and discipline.

I just think motherhood there are no guarantees of a long scroll of green check marks. Maybe in forty years, but in the trenches, there will be Xs. But in Christ we get it all. We get his robe of righteousness, we get all His green check marks.

If we are faithful mothers who sit on the steps of life with our kids the Xs will come. There will be times when our correction will stir up the desire in their childish hearts to mark us in Xs either in their minds or right on the family picture in the entryway. We can only be faithful to teach our children about their hearts (and vandalism). We have to faithfully walked with our kids whether in the moment the approve or disapprove of our correction.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

The family picture in the entryway was marked with an X one year ago and it still sits there at the bottom of our entryway. As a reminder for me. That if I am a faithful mother, committed to raising up kids I will keep on sitting on that step even when the Xs come. Because my identity in in something greater than what kind of mother I am. I belong to Jesus. And that sisters, is more than enough.

Am I Focused on the Smudges or the Sunshine?

Last week tucked in between rain and unseasonably cold temperatures we had two very pleasant days of warmth and sunshine in my little nook of the world.

So often on these warm sunny days, I find myself watching my four children playing in the yard from the bay window in our kitchen. As I watch my children playing outside, sun streaking through the windows, feeling it’s warmth and enjoying the extra brightness that sunshine brings inside our home, I feel shalom for a moment. Wholeness, peace and beauty.

On this particular day, I found myself feeling shalom and enjoying beauty one minute and finding faults the next. I took my eyes off the beauty of that sunshine streaming though the bay windows in my kitchen for a moment and I began to see first handprints all over everything; windows, television, fireplace, then computer screen. And next the tiny specks of dust resting on the surfaces of my cherry furniture. My gaze turned from beauty and instantly I saw imperfections and smudges all over the place. Sunshine has quite a way or exposing beauty and smudges.

It is a tough battle for me not to grab my version of a glock 19, the windex bottle, and distract myself from that moment of rest, shalom and beauty by getting caught up in the busyness of shooting down smudges. Doing is the nature of my flesh. Rest has always been counter to who I am. It is the work of the Spirit maturing inside of me to hold still and fight to take my gaze back to the beauty and shalom of that sunshine.

I cannot see beauty when I am bustling about focused on destroying dust and shooting down smudges.

I can only see beauty when I still myself. (Psalm 46:10)

When I lay my arms (that trusty bottle of windex) down and see shalom despite the smudges.

And as I have thought about his moment over the past week I have been convicted that my entire life is lived this way. I am so quick to take my eyes off of bright, warm, all encompassing beauty and focus and fret over tiny imperfections. Once I find one tiny imperfection, I tend to see them all.

I live this way with my kids. My children could have one hundred good days at school and a handful of bad, but that handful of bad tills up every single imperfection I see in them in my heart. When I take my eye off of beauty with my kids, I easily forget whose they are. I see them for how they live, what they do right and where they fall short instead of seeing them as covenant children of the Risen King.

I live this way with my husband. I could come home from being away at a women’s retreat or spending the day subbing at school. Every time I am away he has folded the laundry, taken all four kids swimming or to the amusement park or something else extraordinary, but I find myself taking my gaze off that beauty and finding faults in tiny details of crumbs on the counters and toys strewn across the floor. I fail to see all of the beautiful ways he loved our children while I was away when I focus on the condition of my home.

I live this way with myself. When I turn my gaze from beauty, when I forget to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12:2). It is so easy for me to see my imperfections and let those imperfections take hold of my gaze. I so easily focus on the smudges in my own life and fail to see the sunshine. I fail when I focus on seeking the approval of others, what I did right or what I did wrong, drinking from the unsatisfying cisterns (Jeremiah 2:13) of performing the role of parenting well or my reputation in the community and the church.

And as I reflect on standing there in front of that bay window in my kitchen I believe I am feeling God’s nudge to fight to focus on the sunshine.  To lay down my arms of wanting to constantly work on buffing away smudges instead of basking in the beauty of my Savior. When I keep my gaze on Him, the smudges are still there but pale in comparison His beauty.

In my nook of the world I want to automatically focus on the sunshine and forget the smudges. When I start to feel my fretting heart beating a little bit more quickly when it comes to housework, parenting, marriage, ministry, I want to be quick to ask myself: Am I focusing on the smudges or the sunshine?

In my nook of the world I am fighting to remind myself to keep my gaze on Jesus. To focus on sunshine and feel shalom, wholeness, beauty and peace. To dwell in the shelter of the Most High God, feel His all encompassing beauty and rest in His presence. (Psalm 91). To be still, lay down the doing parts of my nature and walk in the path God has called me to. A path of freedom and rest. A path with eyes fixed on Him.

What I Love About Sundays

Most of you know these things about me but for those of you who do not… it is important I catch you up on where I am in this chapter of the story God is writing for me.

I have four young children. My boys are eight, six and five. My daughter is three. My husband is a pastor of a church in a denomination called the Presbyterian Church in America… say that three times fast.

Every Sunday, I get to go to work with my husband. Bring my kids. And sit in the front row.

In my dreams Sunday mornings are well, easy. There is a whole song about it. Easy Like Sunday Morning. So soothing to think of that song. In my dreams I hear that soothing instrument and Lionel Ritchie. And in my life, in this season, I wish this song were my truth. I want you to think it is easy and a joy and a delight to go to my husband’s work place on Sunday mornings. After all, his work is for Jesus.

But my reality. Hmmm. Even on the best of Sunday mornings, Sundays for me, are about as easy as well, the Tasmanian Devil. Dirty-dust-cloud and spit-swirling-chaos.

745 Kids upstairs. Make beds, get dressed, brush teeth.

825 Kids downstairs. Shoes, breakfast, dog out. CLEAR instructions about kids cleaning their own plates.

850 Me upstairs. Try on at least four different outfits. Stress about looking too wrong. Not pastor’s wife enough. Dry shampoo my hair. Daughter upstairs while I make-up. She wants to know about all of the eight items I put on my face. What they are and if she can use them. We have an argument because I NEED TO BE ON TIME and I don’t have time to do this on this day. I stress again about looking wrong. But reassure myself in the mirror that wrong or right to humans, I am enough. Because of Jesus I am enough. Breathe, smooth my half-washed hair again. Say it again. Because of Jesus I am enough. 

915 Coats are strung across the small wooden table which was my mother’s and sits right behind my sofa. Kids did clean up their dishes. (Hallelujah Chorus) I leave the crumbs. My pre-four-children-self hates this. I shut her voice down, I can’t be that girl anymore. I give the first “get in the car” warning. I’ve had coffee but still haven’t eaten. I am caffeinated but hangry. Dog comes in. My oldest mostly cares for her and gives her what she needs to been happy while we are gone.

918 Someone has to pee. Or poo. Or the dog pooed. Or peed. My life revolves mostly around poo or pee. Vomit sometimes too but mostly poo and pee. Today it wasn’t that. Today it was about a plastic piece of fake lipstick. My daughter was in tears because one of her brothers stomped on her Anna lipstick and it had mud on it. Tell brother that the most important job he has on Sundays, is to be a peacemaker. For his mommy, for Jesus. Be a peacemaker. Go back inside to rinse mud off fake lipstick.

924 Try not to get crazy-eyed and loose my crap in the driveway. I am almost always crying or yelling by this point. Hangry lighting is not my best lighting. Breathe. Also notice stain on the skirt of the outfit that took me way too long to choose. Sunday School and Adult Community Groups are in six minutes and I have a four minute drive so skirt with stain it is. Breathe again. Check the mirror. Say I am enough. Because of Jesus. I am enough.

928. Heck who am I kidding sometimes 935. Pull into Sunday school drop-off circle and cheat park because this is the easiest way to get my four children into my husband’s workplace while I am hangry with a stained skirt and dry shampooed hair. Battle the Pop-a-Shot basketball hoop, my new nemesis which has been perfectly placed near my cheat parking spot. Shoo boys away from giant idol and into classrooms where each of them are welcomed by the very BEST Sunday School teachers a boy could have.

940 My three year old cries because I’m abandoning her. She uses those words. Abandonment. Knife to my heart. I know it’s developmental. I know she will be okay. I am beyond late for Adult Communities.

942-1000. Get stopped by friends in the hallway or heck, I stop friends in the hallway. I’m an extrovert. Sooooo. Late. For. Community Groups.

1000-1030. Go to Community Groups. Overshare waaaaaa-y too much. Feel insecure about oversharing. (Make note to no longer attend Community Groups to spare everyone from my oversharing.)

1030-1045. Pick up boys and army crawl pass my daughter’s classroom because if she sees me the abandonment argument returns.

1045 Worship begins. Inhale. Exhale. Pray that the visitors and members who are here don’t hate the fact that me and my three boys are sitting here with this giant mess of markers, notebooks, Bibles and crafts from Sunday School in the front row and that our chaos does not distract them from Jesus. Really need to be praying that this chaos does not distract me from Jesus. Also praying no one needs to pee or poo.

1046-1110 Try to keep crazy eyes and disappointed sighs towards my children to a minimum. I hear the whispers of my name in my children’s counseling sessions when they are grown. My mother was always so stressed out in church. She was hangry. And crazy-eyed.

This all goes on. Even after I drop the children’s church eligible kids off for their developmentally appropriate church program and am left with one kiddo there with me in the front row.

I hear nuggets of what my husband is saying. What God is saying.  Jesus opens my ears to what I need to hear. The Word in my lap and it being taught is the thing I crave most. I mark up my Bible with the little I can absorb.

1145 I now am aware that I have four kids to pick up/get to the car on my own and three boys I need to unglue from the Pop-a-Shot before I can them out the door. Breathe and prepare for the chaos awaiting me in five minutes. For the dirty-dust-cloud and spit-swirling-chaos.

1148. Final song. The Doxology.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. 

Praise Him all creatures here below. 

Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts. 

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

I know the words. I know them well. But in this moment. After I make sure my son is signing them, I stand with eyes closed and I listen. I barely sing a word. I stand with ears fully opened. I listen to the voices of my community. I breathe each word and note in deeply. This is my Sunday moment. In this season of life– I’m grasping at truth wherever I can get it. And this Doxology. These voices all around me. That beautiful Amen. I want to stand in it forever. I don’t want it to end. I want to hear it all week long.

This is the moment that makes it for me on Sundays. I love my husband’s sermons, he is a gifted preacher of God’s Word. I love listening to what I miss via audio on Monday morning.

But I cannot get that community Amen from a recording. You can’t pick out each individual voice and rejoice in the fact that one day you will sing this Amen with them at the feet of Jesus. The Doxology. The stillness. The skirt stains. The crazy eyes. This is where I stand in my story of this Sunday morning, with my community, in my chaos and I forget all the moments where I based my worth on how well I executed being at work with my husband with my four kids in the front row and remember why I am there.

To Praise Him. With how little I have to give. Feeling hangry, unraveled, unworthy, dirty-dust-clouded and spit-swirling–almost always on the verge of big hot-mess tears.

That Amen, that community. That is what I love about Sundays. That I can come as a Tasmanian Devil. Hangry. That I am worthy of that Amen because of a Jesus who died for me. Not when I was perfect. But when I was a skirt-stained hot-mess. That Amen. Those people singing it together. To Jesus. That makes all the swirling around worth it. That’s what I love about Sundays. I feel His goodness surrounded by community. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Everything Smells Like Pee

A few months ago I spent an entire day scrubbing baseboards, cleaning walls, floors and bathrooms. One of our family favorite dinners was roasting in the oven I even had left a Kitchen Spice Yankee Candle burning out the counter, all before my husband walked through the door at 5pm. It was a glorious day as conquering dirt demons brings me deep pleasure and abundant joy. But when my husband came through the door, casually and unassumingly he commented, does it smell like urine in here?

And more recently I had one of those days when I walked around my house tidying as usual. Specifically paying attention to the bathrooms as I like to do on the day the garbage makes the journey from the backyard down to the street and then across town to the dump.

But I only became increasingly more frustrated as I tidied. All four of my bathrooms had just been comet-cleaned by my husband just four days before my quick garbage night swoop through them but yet the smell of pee was everywhere. Pee left in the basement toilet (for seriously a disgusting amount of time) from non-flushers, pee on the carpet from our joyful new four-legged friend, pee around the back of the toilets on the floor from bad aiming soldiers and pee in the laundry from tiny accidents from a girl I know.

And as I became more annoyed with the overwhelming pungent smell of urine surrounding my semi-put together home I decided: everything smells like pee and I quit. I quit, quit, quit.

I truly thought potty training four kids would rid our house of the smell of pee pee. But as I walk in a new season of six people toileting in my home, I’m thinking the smell of pee pee is here to stay, at least until my little soldiers move on to the next chapter in their lives.

I could scrub everyday and try to return my bathrooms to the sparkling clean they once were in a world before four kids and a dog.

Or I could breathe (not through the nostrils and not too deeply or course) and accept, everything smells like pee. And that brings to freedom to stop. To quit. To try to enjoy this new season of six people sharing bathrooms.

I quit trying to restore life to what it once was before kids. I quit over working myself to bring the porcelain in my home to pristine perfection. I can accept us, our family, as we are, living life together making pungent messes and I can confidently walk in a season of life with four kids, a dog, and pee-pee crusted toilets.

This is where we are. There will be pee. And yes husband, our house does smell like urine.

I hope if you get to come over you will accept us too. Because everything here smells like pee and I just quit fighting the battles I can’t win.