The Best Way to Waste Your Gifts

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I am currently lost in motherhood. There are days I feel like everything that makes me who I am is slowly disappearing and I’m gradually becoming nothing more than the coordinator of everyone else’s lives.  I feel like the ultimate goal for the entire week is to find an elusive hour for myself to take a nap. At the end of the day there is little time or mental energy left to actually pursue an avenue for any of my creative abilities. At times I allow the hectic life of having small children to convince me that I am of no use to God. If my talents and abilities cannot be used in big, life-defining ways then, to me, they must be worthless.  If at the end of the day I do not feel like I have accomplished anything then I think that everything I did must have been wasted.

I am guilty of believing numerous lies that have kept me from using my talents for God’s glory. Here are a few ways that you could be wasting your gifts without even realizing it.

  • You are thinking too much about yourself. God has gifted me with the ability to sing and I’ve practiced my whole life. But for many years my tendency was to think about how singing made me feel. If I had a bad performance, I was crushed. I scrutinized every note and rated my success by how few mistakes I had made. My goal was always perfection. My goal was always to please myself. Within the last year God has shown me how much I was wasting my gift by looking at it that way. If I thought I might fail I just simply avoided the opportunity. I never took any risks by trying something new. I only shared my talent within very specific parameters. And worst of all I always thought about the details of my performance and never about how I could serve God and others with my voice. Within the last year I have learned to pray for those who are hearing me. I have learned to sing to my family and friends…no matter how awkward it feels. I have learned to let God guide my steps instead of always taking the reigns. And the rewards I have reaped from this are tremendous. When I laid the desire for my glory aside the burden of perfectionism, anxiety and selfishness disappeared and I was able to experience the joy of giving the glory to God, the only one who deserves it.
  • You could be thinking too small. You write in your journal every day but it’s only for you. You are afraid to let anyone read it or even know that you write at all. But what if you were meant to share your internal processing with others? You could open up to a close friend. You could write a blog post. You could share an idea with your Sunday school class or bible study. You could meet with another writer to encourage each other. You could even write a book or send an article to an online magazine. You could be potentially wasting your gift by keeping it all to yourself.
  • Or you could be thinking too big. My generation is particularly bad about seeking instant gratification. We have not had to work for things like people did in prior eras and so what has developed is a sense of entitlement, a need for recognition and a desire for great self-fulfillment. This can be prominent even in Christian circles where we are told to live big for God…step out of our comfort zones…do hard things…which in and of themselves are not bad concepts but have forced a culture that inadvertently expresses that big and brave and bold are all that counts. In order to keep our focus, we must balance bold living with steady plodding. We can’t all be public speakers and authors. We can’t all be missionaries and non-profit founders. We can’t all be on the radio or pastors of mega churches. Some people have to work in the nursery and serve communion and sit in the pew with a child and make sure the bulletins get printed. We can use these opportunities to support those who are doing big things. These may even be the situations that prepare you for the next step God has for you.
  • You could be too specific about how your gift is used. It is a commendable goal to want to be a pastor. But if that is the only acceptable venue for your public speaking ability then you may miss a lot of chances to bless others with your teaching. What if you teach a bible study at church?  What about teaching one-on-one in a mentor-type relationship? What about teaching at a college campus ministry meeting? Pray about a creative way to use your skills that could lead you in a different direction. Many of the most innovative, successful ministry opportunities have come about because someone with an unused gift prayed for an opportunity.
  • You may be failing to see the big picture. Matthew 6:33 is a familiar verse, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” Because motherhood robs me of brain cells…because I am weak and unfocused…because I cannot determine on my own what is the most valuable thing to be spending my time on, I must submit to what these verses are saying. If I put God’s kingdom first, everything else will fall into place. I can get so anxious about what I’m supposed to be doing, how I’m supposed to be spending my time, how I’m supposed to be using my talents, how I’m supposed to be serving God that I actually end up not serving God at all because I am so caught up in the logistics of it all. If I am working toward the correct goal…to build the kingdom of God…then every little bit counts. Every shoe tied, every nose wiped, every letter sent, every phone call made, every hug, every text message, every word written…adds up to something greater than myself.
  • You may be forgetting who you are trying to please. The ultimate goal is not to feel pleased with yourself at the end of the day but to please the one who has given you the ability to do what you are doing. You can please God just as much by singing your child to sleep at night as you could standing before a crowd of thousands or recording a chart topping Christian hit. Or if you worry too much about pleasing others you could become paralyzed with doubt or you could become unfocused and wishy-washy because you are swaying with the differing opinions of those around you. Focus on pleasing God in every decision you make and you will never be wasting time or opportunities.

God has strategically equipped us all with the skills we need to serve Him but if we continually give in to these pitfalls then we could be wasting our gifts and talents without even realizing it.  How can you reshape your thinking so that you can guard against wasting your gifts? In what other ways could you be wasting your talents?

The Perfect Sunday Routine

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Every Sunday I imagine our morning routine going something like this:

I awake to the smell of coffee. My husband is already up and has prepared my cup exactly to my preference. I don’t need the alarm because I wake cheerfully to the soft sounds of sweet baby coos coming from the bassinet beside me. I have time to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee and consume an egg white omelet with loads of veggies that were grilled the previous Sunday during my afternoon meal prep for the week. My family eats together as we do our family devotions over breakfast.

My kids don’t need to be reminded to put on the clothes that I ironed the night before. They comb their own hair and brush their teeth without being asked. They even wipe down the sink and clean the countertops…and they succumb to the sudden urge to scrub the toilet as well.

Worship music is playing throughout the house while the kids look over their memory verses in the living room. I have plenty of time to shower, dress, fix my hair and put on my makeup before the baby needs to be fed. Then we all file calmly and peacefully into the van. More worship music is playing in the car. The sun is shining.  The kids are happy. I feel relaxed.

We arrive on time. I am well prepared for the solo I am scheduled to sing. My kids go to their classes without complaining. The baby is cooperative and happy. I sing miraculously and I feel pleased with my appearance, my accomplishment and my overall demeanor. I leave feeling blessed and fulfilled because I gave a perfect performance and everything fell precisely into place.

But if I’m honest, most Sundays are a disaster and I marvel at the fact that we even make it to church at all. They usually look more like this:

I wake to the alarm and a crying baby. I try to eat something healthy but Lucky Charms sound better. I shovel the sugary cereal into my mouth with the smell of a freshly filled diaper wafting from the fussy infant in my lap.

I rush to put on makeup, desperately trying to cover up dark circles and wrinkles. I suddenly notice that my sleeve is covered in baby vomit. My clothes will have to be changed but I can’t think of another thing I own that fits and is clean. I comb my 9-year-old’s hair and try not to let my frustration spill out in the way I speak to her. I fail and feel guilty for the rest of the morning.

The screaming baby disrupts my already strenuous schedule. I stop to feed her again even though we should be leaving in 5 minutes and my hair still looks like a yeti that got ahold of a hairdryer. I try on three shirts only to discover that they are all too small because of the extra 15 lbs of baby weight I still have taunting me around my middle. I start to cry but realize I don’t have time for that so I grab the least tight shirt and head out the door with it still unbuttoned.

On our way to church I discover that my shirt is definitely not going to stay buttoned and I finally let myself cry about it…but not too much because I don’t want my mascara to run. I shimmy into the pair of Spanx that I had peeled off on the way home from church the week before, praying that the people in the car next to me have their own Sunday morning crisis to worry about so their eyes aren’t drawn to my disastrous scene.

I’m supposed to sing a solo but I’m running late for practice.  The tight ball of thoughts I had been winding all morning begins to unravel…”should I feed the baby before or after practice?”…”will I have enough time to work on my song?”…”I look like a mess!”….”wait, doesn’t my husband have to give announcements this morning?…how is that going to work out?”…”did my son remember to put on underwear?”

The morning speeds along like a cut-rate circus…fumbling, off-balance, poorly trained, unprepared.  As I step on stage to sing, I can’t remember the words to the first verse. My voice in the ear piece is too loud and it’s shaky and off-key. I can’t hear the piano.  I want to sound good…no I want to sound perfect. I want to get every entrance and every word and every note exactly right …but all that enters my mind is “I can’t”!

And even as I sing it doesn’t sound right in my head. I close my eyes and raise my hands and pray that God uses my Spanx wearing, crazy hair, shaking voice- self to reach people who need to hear the words I am singing. It’s in that moment that I know I can’t, but He can…and I step back and let Him. I no longer tell myself that I have to get it right but only that I have to give Him the glory. And the cracks in my perfection begin to feel like the perfect place for God to shine through. In the midst of my inadequacy the audience rises to their feet and I know without a doubt that it’s not me that is stirring them to move…it’s not my skill or my accomplishment because in that moment I have nothing to offer…it’s God showing His strength through my weaknesses.

I realize on the drive home that I wouldn’t trade my mess for the perfection of a properly synced Sunday morning. I wouldn’t hand over the feeling of completely falling apart in order to receive a life that seems to perpetually fall into place. I wouldn’t trade in the overwhelming defeat and the lack of control that I experience on a daily basis because every faulty step along the way reminds me that I have a Savior who is stronger than me. When my weaknesses overtake me and all I can do is cry in desperation, “I can’t”…His response to me is “But I can”.  And He will do it much better than I ever could on my own. If I could do it all by myself, I would miss the chance to see God work in my mess…I would keep moving forward and never seek to grasp His mighty hand.

If everything was perfect, if I always got it just right, I would be deceived into thinking that I am in control. If I could take care of it all and I always felt like I was doing my best work then I would be missing the chance to see God do it better. In the end, I would take every blunder, every fault, every mistake because every single time I mess up I can be reminded that I may not have it all together, but He does.

So, I don’t need the perfect Sunday routine. I think I’ll hold on to my mess…it seems to be working for me.

 

 

I let both of my kids fake an illness and I don’t regret it

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My oldest daughter had become a regular in the nurse’s office. First it was her back. It hurt so bad that she couldn’t run so she sat on the bench at recess and it hurt when she tried to sit on the floor with the other kids so she had to sit in a chair. She found a way to call me everyday. Her teacher finally suggested that she come home.  She took a day to rest and use my heating pad. We got her checked out at the doctor and lightened the load in her backpack.

Then it was her tummy. It was every day for a week until one day it hurt the “worst that it’s ever hurt” and so I picked her up from school. The baby’s two month check-up  was scheduled for that day and we had already pushed it back several times. We couldn’t reschedule so I brought the ailing child with me. Walking into the doctor’s office had a miraculous effect. It may have been the wafting aroma of alcohol swabs. It may have been the healing presence of a caring doctor. But my guess is that it was fake all along and she had pulled one over on me.

On Friday of the next week she was back in the nurse’s office. When the nurse called, I asked to speak to my child because I wanted her to know it was not okay to keep tricking me. We talked for awhile…”I looked in the mirror and my face is so pale…my tummy hurts the worst that it ever has…I feel like I’m going to throw up”. I had heard it all before and so I called her bluff. “Okay, but if you come home you will not be going with your friends to gymnastics tomorrow.” When she answered “okay” I knew she wasn’t messing around.  I took her home and she actually was sick. She was sick in the toilet, she was sick on her bed, she was sick in a bowl and I felt horrible for second guessing her.

Then Monday rolled around and the little dude woke up with a tummy ache. He rolled around in the chair, he laid in the floor, he sipped his milk instead of chugging it. There did seem to be something wrong but nothing so drastic that I should keep him home from school. He is usually not a complainer so I told him, “Go to school and if your tummy still hurts later you can call me.” I didn’t expect to hear from him again. My husband dropped him off at 8:30, then at 9:25 my cell phone rang. I thought about the mistake I had made the Friday before with my 9-year-old and so I answered quickly. “Yeah, okay, I’ll come get him”.

I signed him out and he left the office dragging his backpack behind him. I started the car but waited for him to buckle up before I pulled out. “I was headed to Target to pick up some coffee. Do you just want to go home and lay down? I can get it later.”

“Target?…Well, I guess we could do that first and then we could go home…” He kept his voice nonchalant but the grin on his face gave me the first idea that maybe I had been fooled once again.  My second clue came when we walked through the sliding glass doors. He skipped over to the rows of cheaply priced items at the front of the store and began to shout from ten steps away. “I’m gonna get this slime…I can pick something out for Mia when we go look at the toys.”

In that moment I knew he was faking it but I couldn’t make myself take him back to school.

Sometimes when a child says they have a tummy ache they are trying to tell you something else that they don’t have words to express.  Then it’s my job as a mother to try to figure out what they are trying to say. “I have a tummy ache” could mean “I’m nervous…I’m bored…I’m scared…I’m tired…I don’t want to face this day…I am overwhelmed…I need to be with you…I need someone to listen…I want to feel like someone cares for me.” I felt like it had been days since I had even talked to my son and I think he felt it too. He had spent the night with a friend. I was taking care of an infant and his sick older sibling. We had church and small group and everyone needed clean laundry.

We got everything we needed at Target. The baby had started to cry so we checked out and headed out to the car. “Can we go home and play Minecraft? I’ll teach you how.” I chose to ignore the fact that he was skipping school to play video games and I just said “yes.” We built a house together. He knew all the right bricks to use and how to get my sheep into the pen we had made for them. He laughed at the cave I constructed just for storing my cake and laughed even harder when I called it my “cake hole.” When it started to rain, we hid in his tower watching the drops through the glass ceiling. We chased chickens and walked on top of the trees. He showed me an underwater castle and we played hide and seek.

When he got up the next morning he was fine. Whatever had been bothering him had passed…whether it was sickness of body, mind, or heart…it was better and he left for school without an argument. I thought back to the day that my daughter had gone to the doctor for her back. We got frozen yogurt and listened to Taylor Swift in the car. We went shopping and took selfies together. The day her tummy hurt she helped me take care of the baby and we laughed when the wind tried to blow our grocery cart away. We watched old 90s sitcoms and made cookies.

They will have to go to school every day for the next decade but how many more days do I have to play with them? Maybe next time I will give them time with me before they have to beg for it. But for one day I let them both get away with faking a tummy ache and I don’t regret a second of it.

Revisiting The Desires of My Heart

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A few weeks ago I wrote this blog post on pursuing the desires of your heart. I encouraged readers to ask God for big things and to expect Him to act on their behalf whether it is through answered prayer or a change of heart.  In the process of praying over my list of desires I have imagined the possibilities of how God is going to surprise me with His answer. I have imagined meeting new people who introduce new opportunities. I have imagined big events and life changing steps. But in dreaming big, I failed to see one possibility that could arise from presenting my desires to God. What if He wants everything to stay just like it is? What if he looks at my list and nothing I desire lines up with His will and He doesn’t have anything bigger and better to give me in exchange? What if He gives me nothing more than I already have and His desire for me right now is to find contentment in what He has given me?

What if for every single desire on my list God’s answer is a big, obvious “no” or “not right now” or “I want you to stay just where you are” or “keep doing what you’re doing”…and what if it’s not even presented in some giant, miraculous life changing, burning bush kind of moment? What I want is for my life to take a huge swerve toward the magnificent but what if God is asking me to keep driving for hundreds of miles in the same direction on the same two lane road? We all want to give a hearty amen to the idea of asking God for big things but can we still affirm His ways when nothing of significance happens?

The answer to having joy when the desires of your heart are not fulfilled is to find contentment. So that you can say as Paul, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”. It often means not getting what you want and in our “have it your way” culture it is not an attribute that is widely pursued. We may have good jobs, but we are told we could have a great one. We may have loving families but we are told that we could have perfect ones. We may live in a nice house but we are told it can always be improved. According to the world, our lives could always be better. If your list of desires has started to sound too much like our discontented culture…if your list has made you unhappy with the life God has given you…then you have missed the point of making the list.

If you find yourself holding too tightly to your list you may have developed some wrong ideas about what contentment means. You may find it hard to seek contentment because it sounds like too much work with little to no return. Even in Christian circles where contentment is celebrated, it is still surrounded by many misconceptions. It may help to point out what contentment is not. Being content is not:

  1. Settling for less.  It is trusting God more. Being content with what you have may not look like your idea of the best for you but in His sovereignty and wisdom God always knows what is perfect for His children. Trust that he knows what he is doing.
  2. God’s worst for you. It is ultimately His best. It may be hard and it may be frustrating but God is truly for you, not against you in the things he chooses to give you. He may be shaping your character which is far more important than getting what you want in the moment.
  3. Based on circumstances. It is based on how we think about them. The situation you find yourself in will never be exactly how you want it and if you don’t decide to be content in all things you will be chasing the perfect life around for the rest of your existence. If you find yourself saying “if I only had this” or “if only that would happen” or “if only this would go away” then you are probably battling discontentment and you should evaluate your motives behind your desires.
  4. A joy killer. It is a joy giver. Joy does not belong exclusively to those who get everything they want. In fact, those are the people who tend to be the most unhappy because they are always searching for the next thing that will bring them fulfillment. When I think about the most joyful people I know it is those that in plenty and in want have chosen to be content.

Here are some ideas for developing more contentment in your own life:

  1. Be faithful. Don’t wish for another role so much that you neglect the one you have or you fail to see the one that God wants you to step into. The problem may not be that you don’t know what God wants you to do next…it may be that you just don’t like what he is asking of you. You may want to lead a great revolutionary ministry but the next step may be to volunteer in the nursery. You may want to write a best-selling book but the next step might be to write a blog post that no one will read. You may want to get married but the next step might be to watch your married friends’ kids so that they can have a date night. You may want to find a job outside the home but your next step might be to change another diaper.
  2. Be thankful. Don’t complain. God has blessed all of us more than we ever deserve. Even if you are in a dead-end job…even if you feel underappreciated…even if you are lonely…even if you are chronically ill…God sent His Son to die for you and offered you salvation despite the fact that we are all terrible sinners. That in itself is enough to be thankful for but God chooses to bless us beyond that. Make it a habit to find something to be thankful for everyday.
  3. Be trusting. Don’t assume that God is punishing you or testing you. Remember that God’s plan is always perfect even if it doesn’t make us happy. Ultimately it is not His goal is not our happiness anyway…it is our holiness.
  4. Be obedient. Don’t try to leap ahead on the path you have been given. Take the next step in front of you. This is the way I think about it…I can see what I want in front of me but I am separated from it by a huge chasm. It is way too far for me to jump. God has prepared a path for me to follow that leads in another direction…one that is manageable one step at a time. I am not guaranteed that this path will lead to the thing that I want but it will lead somewhere and it is better than trying to leap over an insurmountable distance. But I know he is trustworthy and I know he has my best interest in mind and I know it is fruitless to jump or even to keep standing still staring across the chasm so I follow Him into the unknown. I can’t be guaranteed that my next step will lead to what I want but it will lead somewhere and that somewhere is part of God’s plan because it is all He has given me to do so far.

Being content does not cancel out the desires of your heart. It does not eliminate the need to ask God and seek Him. But it does offer an opportunity to hand your desires over and trust God with the outcome. It gives you a more peaceful avenue to follow as you run hard after what God places in front of you. So, keep pursuing your desires, keep seeking God but in order to remain at peace while you do it, find contentment in each step along the way.

The Desires of My Heart

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I hear my daughter in the kitchen. She pulls open the freezer door and then slides it shut. She stands for awhile in silence and then opens it again, basking a little longer in the frigid glow.

“Do you need something?” I call from the other room.

“Well…” She hesitates. “I wanted a snack…but…umm…I guess I will just have some fruit.” She grabs an apple from the bowl on the counter and disappears before I can ask anymore questions.

I know the routine. What she really wants is ice cream but she is afraid to ask. She is afraid to even speak the words for fear that I most certainly will say no. And so she settles for fruit…or yogurt…or popcorn…or something that she thinks I want for her to choose. Something that isn’t so sweet and delicious. She doesn’t ask, so I don’t even have the chance to say yes. And what she doesn’t know is that I would love for her to choose ice cream. I bought the ice cream for her to enjoy…and I want to enjoy it with her.

This is often how I approach my heavenly Father. I am afraid that what I am asking for is too big, too extravagant, too rich and so I dance around my desires, asking only for what I think he would want for me to choose.  I would love to have a book published. But what I end up asking for is that I will put those notions aside so that I can be content at home doing housework. I want to be a part of my husband’s counseling ministry. But I settle for simply praying for my husband and watching him do well from the sidelines. It’s good to seek contentment. It’s good to pray for my husband and his ministry. But it’s not wrong to pray to have a book published or to pray for opportunities to open for me to serve with my husband.

Psalm 37:4 speaks of these longings. “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  I don’t interpret this verse as promoting a health, wealth and prosperity mentality. I don’t think God owes me anything or that I will receive blessing for anything that I do. But I also don’t think it means what I grew up believing…that if you want to do something it can’t possibly be what God wants you to do because God only asks people to do hard things…or your desires don’t matter and you should suck it up and shove them down and pray that God will change your desires to align with the most godly thing you can think of. Your desires are His desires. He gave them to you and He wants to use them. He even wants to enjoy them with you. Even if it is for the purpose of turning you toward Him or adding to the bigger picture that He plans to fulfill in the future.

As I said earlier, I would love to author a book. Maybe I pray everyday that I will get my book published. I work on it, I pray over it, I seek God, I give my desire to Him. This desire is not wrong and it is fueling me to write every single day. But maybe as I pray over the desire, other things come into my path: I am presented with a teaching opportunity. Now, because of that desire I have material to use to teach others. In the process my desire may become so strong for teaching that I no longer want to publish my book and I just use it to teach. Or I may teach for awhile and continue to work on my book while I teach and eventually get my book published because of the people I meet through the teaching opportunity. Or maybe God reveals to me that my desire has deep roots of selfishness and pride and He makes it clear that it is better for me to lay my desire aside until I can deal with those issues. God can even use your desire to pull sin from your heart in ways that never could have been accomplished if you had not pursued that desire.

Our desires are never wasted especially if we are praying over them and seeking God through them. We don’t have to shove our desires down to make way for  God’s desires. We can pray over the desires He has given us and let Him guide as He sees fit so that it is no longer “my desires” and “His desires” but they are one in the same.

So, in lue of a new years resolution this year I decided to make a list of the desires of my heart. This is my plan:

  1. Make a list of all the most extravagant desires that have been resting on my heart. Be aware of lurking selfishness and try to avoid anything sinful or self-promoting. Don’t be afraid to include the most exciting thing I can think of.
  2. Pray over the list every day. If I have missed any selfish motives in the first step, God will reveal them as I lift these desires to Him.
  3. Expect things to happen…because they will. Whether my desires are fulfilled, removed or changed God will do something. It will almost absolutely be something I wasn’t expecting, but it will be something.
  4. Don’t resist.It is futile to do so and will only makes things more difficult. Be okay with God removing or replacing things on my list knowing that God’s plan is perfect. Don’t try to fight Him for something that He is taking away, let my desires be molded as I continue the process of praying and seeking Him. God is sovereign and will do as He sees fit, resisting will only make it more painful.

I am not under the impression that this is some magic formula and that I will get exactly what I ask for.  I do not think that if I do this then God is obligated to give me something in return. I just know that my own heart has settled for less because I’m afraid to ask. James 4: 1-3 gives us a glimpse of what happens when our desires are not aligned with God’s.”What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions”.

Desires are powerful. They can become so important to us that they stir up destructive emotions inside of us. These verses say that some of us may fight for our own desires even to the point of murder. But James goes on to say that these powerful emotions can be avoided. He says that we do not ask for the right things, we do not ask in the right way or we don’t even ask at all. Our desires go astray and are unfulfilled because we do not present them to God in prayer and trust Him with the outcome.

It’s not sinful to ask for bigger things. It’s not sinful to expect a big God to do big things. This year I plan to give Him the desires of my heart…as big as they may be…and see what He will accomplish with them.

The Dinner That Took Me 15 Years to Prepare

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“I think this might be the first time you’ve ever cooked for me.” Though I could think of a few other times I had actually made her a meal in the fifteen years that I had known her, the general concept was true. I hadn’t shared a meal with her as often as I should have. I wanted to deny it. I wanted to pretend it wasn’t fact, I wanted to fill in the gaps with so many other things that I had done for her instead…but the reality was still the same. I hadn’t cooked for her but it had nothing to do with the status of our relationship or the amount of hospitality I was able to perform…it had everything to do with how far I had sunk into an eating disorder and how long it took me to come crawling out.

I knew that I could always stand to be a better host but as I scrutinized the situation, I became less discouraged with my homemaking skills and more in awe of the amazing miracle that God has worked in my life. After years of only eating in front of people who knew about my food excentricities and didn’t make a big deal out of them. After years of avoiding restaurants and feeling terror over social gatherings that involved food. After years of not wanting to cook for anyone else because I lacked the physical capability of adding flavor to anything because of my strict limit on fat, sugar, sauces, dressings and carbs. I knew it tasted bad and I didn’t want anyone else to have to endure it. After years of bondange to an eating disorder I finally found freedom.

It was a process of handing things over to God. It was an exchange of my own desire for control for the understanding of His ultimate sovereignty and care. It was denying myself the need for approval so I could realize that I am already loved and accepted by the only one who truly matters. It was valuing and cultivating other characteristics in myself…kindness, love, generosity, patience, joy…above being thin. It was letting go of fear and letting mercy and grace reign. It was getting my life back after years of thinking I would be lost in that spiral forever.

She appreciated the time and work that I had put into her meal, not realizing it wasn’t just the hour spent in front of the stove. That meal was fifteen years in the making. She may never see all of the steps it took me to get there but in that moment I saw how far I had come and I was thankful.

A Concise Book Review: Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

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Give-Them-Grace

What do you get when you cross multiple generations and parenting? Usually a heated discussion or at least a mild disagreement. My grandparents generation was all about hard work, discipline and conformity. My parents leaned more toward responsibility and making supervised choices. While my generation seems to swing on the side of uniqueness, individuality and freedom to make mistakes. But this book has a refreshing perspective. No matter what generation, the Gospel should drive our parenting, leaving no room for changing views and waning strategies.

Grace takes away the need to be a perfect parent. Perfection is out. Grace is in. If we know that the work is already completed. Christ already died for whatever we are going to say. Christ already died for whatever my children are going to do. He has already completely covered over our mistakes and so when God looks upon our parenting He sees the perfect life of Christ. We are free from the guilt that says we aren’t enough. We are free from the anger that explodes forth when are kids don’t act the way we think they should. The Gospel isn’t a list of what we should be doing…it is a story of what was already done. And focusing on that through parenting is freeing on so many levels.

The entire weight of our child’s salvation does not rest on our shoulders…only God saves souls. Somewhere along the parenting path, God gave me a bit of parenting advice. Though I can’t remember the particular source, the concept has stuck with me over the last few years. My children are little eternally living souls that will be in heaven or hell someday. I took that advice to personally, as I always do, and began living as if every choice I made would determine whether my child would become a Christian or not. But as I read “Give Them Grace” I became more aware of the fact that God chooses who will be saved. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that brings anyone to salvation. We read numerous accounts in the Bible about godly parents who appear to be doing things right, but end up producing evil rebellious children…and we also read of many godly servants of Christ coming from horribly ungodly parents. God can harden or soften hearts to the exact same message. So salvation is truly a give of grace, not of my doing, but a gift given by God.

You are a sinner parenting a sinner. After reading this book, things changed drastically within my own heart before my parenting strategy saw any form of makeover. I was expecting my children to do more than I could do myself. Though I knew it was impossible, in my own speech and actions, I was expecting perfection from them and never giving them any way out. And that is not how God deals with me. Though my life seems to be an endless cycle of sin, repent, repeat, God is gracious to me. He says, “I know you can’t be perfect and that is why I sent my son.” And so I should be more willing to say to my children, “I know you can’t be perfect, that is why Jesus died”…and continue to point them toward obeying out of love and gratitude for that sacrifice instead of constantly expecting them to obey the rules to perfection because nothing less is acceptable.

It’s not a child’s behavior that’s bad, it’s their heart. Long before I read this book, I could quote a long list of scripture about how wretched and sinful our hearts are, but the way I was parenting was failing to apply those verses. Bad behavior produced a punishment, usually without any further discussion. You hit your sister, you go sit on your bed. You disobey mommy, you don’t get to ride your bike. But I failed every time to get to the root of the actions and to help my children look at their behavior as God does. The book gives many examples of what a conversation might look like when you take the initiative to talk to your child about their sin instead of just automatically producing a punishment. Here is one such conversation (condensed and paraphrased from the book):

When I tell you it is time to go, it is not okay for you to start screaming and to throw yourself on the ground. First of all because it is unsafe. God put me in charge of you to keep you safe. Also, it is sinful and disobedient to act that way. That is sinning against Mommy and God. I know it is hard to do the right thing and because it is so hard you need Jesus. Do you know what Jesus did when he had to go somewhere he didn’t want to go? He told God he would do whatever He wanted him to do and he went to the cross to die for us. He knew it was going to hurt a lot but he went anyway because he loves us so much. And God showed me today how much I need Jesus too because I have a disobedient heart. I had pride and anger in my heart. Discipline hurts, but God can use it in both of our lives to make us love Him more.

In this excerpt, we see a few key points of grace filled discipline. Explaining that a parents role comes from God is a crucial way to teach a child that all authority comes from Him, all sin is against Him and to teach the ultimate source to which all obedience, love and worship should be directed. All grace filled parenting centers around the gospel so at all times we should search for ways to bring the cross into our conversations with our children. Showing them their need of Jesus right in the midst of their sin gives them hope and shows them the seriousness of their actions. And this book also points out how important it is to admit your own need of Jesus as well. Humility and repentance can be learned through our example to them.