Building Foundations of Belonging

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We were made to belong. First to God—He made us to belong to Him and to be in intimate relationship with Him. Then, by His design, He set us in families as a place to belong and live in community—in relationship with each other, in order to know Him and ourselves more fully. Because it is how we were made, each of us has this need to belong deep in our hearts. Though this is God’s design, this is not what many of us experience. Sin corrupts relationships and so many—like myself—grow up in broken homes. This can leave children feeling very lonely, neglected, with a confused sense of identity, rejection in place of belonging—and at a time when this need is most acute. Because it is a real need, kids will go to great, and often unhealthy lengths, to find that need met.

But I think it is not only broken homes that can leave children feeling neglected and rejected. I wonder if many practices of our modern lives have the same implications. I’ve been asking myself—what do my actions and the ways in which I spend my time communicate to my children about my priorities and where they fall in line? If we as moms are more in the habit of staring at our screens, busy agendas, and to-do lists than our children in the eyes, I wonder if they are not feeling rejection —that they are not interesting enough, deserving enough, fun enough, important enough, to have our attention?

I’ve also been asking myself—what DOES build a family identity and sense of belonging? Here are some ideas:

Study your children. Get to know who they are, how they are wired, their love languages, interests, desires. Then…

Experience them. I read a passage by Henri Nouwen once that said something along the lines of this: hospitality is putting yourself aside and allowing another person to be fully experienced. Our kids want to be fully experienced. They want us to come alongside them in their interests, bents, developmental stages, and desires, to be championed, encouraged, developed, nurtured, mentored, listened to, and cheered on.

Create family traditions and rhythms that build beautiful memories and captivate hearts. We learn through our environment and experiences. Simply telling a person they belong yet acting otherwise will not convince them. What we do speaks volumes and the environment of our family culture matters. Here are some ideas for building a family culture.

  • Feasting—like a big Sunday breakfast or dinner that you do each week.
  •  Family rituals—like our friend Ruth whose crew debriefs at the end of each day by serving one another with back rubs. For my family a favorite ritual is getting cozy under blankets and reading aloud together each day.
  •  Taking trips or extended time to be together. We love to go camping. Someone recently asked my seven-year-old daughter “what is one of your favorite things?” and her answer was our family camping trips. (I thought she’d say something like her doll or bike or some material thing.) I loved that glimpse into how important such experiences are to children and how they shape them. A stay-cation or camping in your backyard would be just as memorable to them. If you have the opportunity, mission trips are another wonderful thing to do together. Teenagers especially have a need to know that they are apart of something—a story—bigger than themselves. A family mission trip or serving together will give them purpose and help them find their identity and place in God’s story at a time where they are sorting out their identity— who they are and what they are here for.
  • Have fun together! God wired us in such a way that we need to rest and play together. Our responsibilities as adults can be overwhelming and sometimes we find ourselves so overcome that we forget to have fun. In these moments we need to entrust what burdens us to God so that we can exhale and enjoy one another. I recently read a translation of Psalm 46:10 which said, “Be at leisure and know that I am God.”
  • Cultivate a home environment of grace and unconditional love instead of criticism and perfectionism. Perfectionism pushes God out of the equation. Our kids need us to model for them apologizing, forgiveness, and a deep dependence on God. God’s love for us is unwavering in the midst of our ugliest sins and our kids need us to represent that reality to them. In a home where kids are constantly criticized, they will feel rejected, like they are never good enough, that love is somehow earned, and that they don’t belong.
  • Be intentional. I know this is a bit of a buzzword. But the word literally means “aimed at”—which implies that we have a target. What are you aiming at? What family culture do you want to create in order to shape your kids? What do you want your family to be about? What do you want to direct your kids toward and how will you integrate that into the way you do life as a family? What experiences do you want to incorporate? What shaping practices would you like to have in your home?

If you feel like sharing, I’d love to hear in the comments what you are already doing OR, what God might be prompting you to do differently or to begin doing—to shape your family culture and nurture a sense of belonging in your own children.

Good Job, Mama

Pregnant Mama with little boy

I watched my kids weave through the pumpkins, enjoying the sun on my face and the brisk autumn air. From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a mama, belly ready to burst, buying pumpkins with her little one. He was near 3 years old and a cute little button of energy. I observed as she maneuvered around pumpkins with her pumpkin-sized belly, hand holding her sweet, lively boy.

He asked for something, she told him no, and two seconds later he was on the ground flailing in the dirt, letting her know *exactly* what he thought.

I saw the exasperated look in her face, the desperation, the exhaustion, the overwhelmed feelings sweep over her. 

And, quick as that, the Lord whispered to me, “Joy, go over there and put your hand on her shoulder. Whisper to her, tell her she is a great mom, encourage her heart right now.

My immediate response came just a fast, “Lord, she and everyone else here will think I’m nuts! This is America! You don’t just walk over to someone stranger and put your hand on their shoulder!”

He urged me gently again, “She needs your encouragement right now. Go ahead and put your hand on her shoulder and tell her she’s a great mom.

So I did. I swallowed my embarrassment and my pride and walked over. Face hot and palms sweaty, I put my hand on the dear mama’s shoulder. I quietly whispered, “You are doing such a great job. Hang in there, mama. We have all been there. You are doing a great job.”

She looked up at me, startled, and then grateful. She offered a tear-filled, “Thank you“, and we shared some tears and a smile and the knowing bond of motherhood.

No matter our differences, we all share those desperate mama moments when we need a hand on our shoulder telling us everything will be okay, don’t we?!

Who do you know that could use a hand on their shoulder, an encouraging word spoken, a smile? Are you like me, you don’t want to appear foolish, so you hold back? Here is my challenge…. just do it!!

Are you like the mama at the pumpkin patch? Do you need encouragement today?

Leave a comment and let us put our hand on your shoulder, pray for you, and bless you.

Now, let me whisper to you, “YOU are doing such a great job. Hang in there, mama. We have all been there. YOU are doing a great job. Good job, Mama.

Blessings,

Joy GraceFullMama

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Is Your Lens Properly Focused? Mine Wasn’t.

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It hit me hard in the middle of the first session of two-day parenting seminar at church.

To some degree, it had nothing to do with child rearing.  But it had everything to do with me and how I think about myself as a parent, as a mom.

Our pastor was pointing us to the Scriptures and encouraging us to minister to our children, reminding us of our call to disciple them through instruction, discipline, and relationship.  I think being reminded of all of the good we can do in our children’s lives might be what caused the Spirit to prick my heart at that moment with this thought:

I process my life through the lens of failure.  I have trouble seeing the good and focus only on what I’m not doing or can’t do.

Like a camera with an improperly focused lens, my perspective was blurring what should have been in crisp focus and drawing my eye to what belonged in the fuzzy background.

As I wrote down this observation about myself at the bottom of my notes, a weight was lifted.  It was as if the Lord said to me, “You do not have to look at your life this way.”  And, friend, I say to you: You don’t have to either!

Here are a few reasons why:

The Gospel Defines You:  When you believed in your heart and confessed with your lips that Jesus is Lord, you received a new identity.  You belong (every bit of you!) to God the Father.  You are His child.  The Bible tells us that our sins are forgiven.  Sure, you probably have in immense number of weaknesses and a hearty list of ways you blew it in only the last 24 hours, but in Christ you are a new creation!  We confess our sins, we remind ourselves we belong to the Lord, we receive His forgiveness, and we move forward joyfully in faith.  Phew!

You are Gifted:  The Spirit lives in you and has gifted you in a unique way to contribute to the body of Christ, including the little part of it that lives in your home.  Don’t be shy about finding out what that is and using it liberally in your church and under your own roof.  I repeat, the Spirit lives in you;  honor Him by processing life through and with Him, rather than focusing always and only on what you can’t or don’t do.

You are “Just Right”:  You have a unique life during which you have had experiences and training that make you who you are as a person and a mom.  I think that’s pretty stinkin’ cool!  You may be a crafter extraordinaire.  If you are, craft it up with your kids.  Share with them what makes your heart sing.  Or, you may be useless in all things domestic but love the great outdoors.  So, stop feeling bad that you’re not doing life with your kids someone else’s way, and do it your way.  THAT’s the way the Lord would have you do it.  After all, He did give your kids to you!  And I have strong feeling that there are some wonderful things happening in your home simply because of who you are as mama to your little ones.  (Don’t believe me?  Ask an outsider for their perspective!)

Moving from feeling like a failure to mothering in freedom requires refocusing the lens through which we see ourselves, making sure it lines up with what the Bible says about who God is and who we are.  These words from an article at howstuffworks.com say it well:  Camera focus depends on light passing through the camera lens at the proper angle to produce a clear image.*  Let’s kick the dark lens of failure to the curb, open our hearts, and let The Light shine in so we have a clear and right perspective!

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”   John 8:12

Photo Credit

*http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/camera1.htm

These Few Sheep

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In the midst of raising little ones, a mother may find herself at odds with the future. Often, dreams and gifts are shelved in preference of little people with constant needs.

Conflict ensues between the privileged nature of motherhood and the long pause in what was a productive, somewhat predictable life.

How does a mother measure success?

Some say life is made up of defining moments. A typical Sunday revealed itself as one of those moments for me. While the speaker expounded on the life of David, I did not expect to be singled out by the Lord. No one around me suspected the arresting that took place that Sunday morning – of my mind, will and emotions – held captive by a thought which transformed into a desire to take the Lord at His word – at home.

Mothers of young children can feel overlooked in the church setting. From the pulpit we hear of mission trips, service opportunities, small groups, worship bands and all sorts of public endeavors. But with a van full of car seats and nap times looming – I was in no place to serve in public. I knew it – but needed affirmation from above.

The speaker described in vivid detail the life of David. Not David the king, but David the shepherd. As the sermon unfolded – time stood still for me. I felt all alone – in a good way – personalizing the story.

David’s brothers mocked him for having such a small job – tending to his ‘few sheep’. They were fighting the big battles, had the upfront positions and represented little brother to the world. David had no voice for public ears. His thoughts were relegated to the mound of sheep off the beaten path of real life and no one expected more of him.

But David sought the Lord in his isolation. He used the years of serving and protecting his ‘few sheep’ as an opportunity to know God. He did have a voice – and an audience of ONE. On the backside of a mountain David learned to pray – not in the, ‘I’m asking for things’ kind of praying but in the, ‘Lord, I want to know your more ‘ fashion. He turned his thoughts into songs (Psalms) which soothed the sheep and brought heaven to earth.

David fought off lions and bears – archenemies poised to steal, kill and destroy his flock. His sheep knew his voice and he knew their limitations.

While David was being faithful in the little – God was training his hands for war and capturing the shepherd’s heart for His own. Culture would eventually be shaped and history rearranged by the actions of this unassuming sheep herder.

I remember the Sunday service, like it was yesterday. I left church with my pile of notes – and mulled over the facts, chewing on the hard truths of God’s ways.

Little becomes much – Up is down – The backside of the mountain is in the presence of the King.

My eyes were opened to the possibilities. What if?

What if I embraced this role of mom/shepherd tending to my ‘few sheep’ with everything I had? What if I learned to know God during these busy, quiet years? What if  I was all right with being misrepresented without a voice?

Fast forward a decade, or two, and this shepherd/mom is in a whole, new place. The little lambs are strapping men and lovely ladies. Some days I long for the season when life was simple, kids were little and God was so near.

I’m  thankful for a church leader who ministered the word of God in a timely fashion – fitly spoken for my hungry heart in need of a defining moment.

Young mom – use these tender days to watch over your little ones. Learn the dynamics of spiritual warfare by protecting them and get to know your God while in the quiet place on the backside of the world.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

How to Speak the Vision of God’s Best Into the Lives of our Children

Gwynedd Wales Conway Castle

Gwynedd Wales Conway Castle

 

Do you ever have days, as a mom, that you feel like you’re surrounded inside high castle walls with no route of escape? And harder still, maybe instead of the “enemy” being locked on the outside of those thick walls, they are trapped in there with you?

Now we all know in our hearts that our kids are the furthest thing from our enemies, BUT there are days when our heads pound with what we are confronted with…when all we seem to face is opposition and battle! And we can feel imprisoned – totally unsure of how to deal with the attitudes and behaviors that are literally staring us in the face.

Sixteen years of mothering – five kids later – I’d have to say I’ve juggled more than a little defiance and insubordination within my castle walls, and there is something I have come to realize…God calls us, as moms, to step up on the castle walls and look beyond what we see right in front of us.

In fact, I believe He desires to fill us with vision for what lies ahead in their futures and not just observe what is right before us with our little warriors.

Let me explain: when I feel surrounded by the discouragement of conduct that flies in the face of what I desire to see pouring out of my children, I have learned to call upon a principle that I find in God’s Word. It says in Romans 4:17 that, “He calls things that ARE NOT as though THEY WERE.”  Think about that in relation to our own castles…

If we were to call out what we know God desires for our children, instead of just criticizing what we are faced with, it changes our whole approach!

Maybe you already do this on a regular basis, or maybe you tried it for a few weeks and didn’t see change – I will say it is a job, this role of mothering. And the results we want to be instantly rewarded with may be a few years down the road, BUT the years inside my castle walls have given me vision to see beyond the fights and I want to encourage you to NOT GIVE UP.

Our little castle dwellers will test every button that God has built into us, and some days we will be sure the castle walls are going to cave in for all the tremors they are enduring. Our children do need to be lovingly disciplined and issues addressed, but don’t stop there! Take hope and keep calling things (miserable attitudes, frightening behaviors, angry words) that are not as though they were (loving attitudes, patient behaviors, kind words)!  When we do this we can hold hands with God to help draw out all the good that He has in their futures.

 Will you share the beauty you see in your children with us below in the comments? Let’s celebrate together the work we know God is doing in their lives.

***Thank you for making this launch week so much fun! The winners of this week’s many Rafflecopter Giveaways will be announced on the blog next week! Stay tuned!

The 24 hours of the .99 on Amazon is now over, but as an almost full length book, I think you will enjoy it and be blessed at the normal price of $4.99! We were so happy that we were able to do a 24 hour deal for so many of you. Thanks for making the launch such a wonderful blessing to us, who work on the blog and books just for you! You were amazing!

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“The wisdom and guidance in this read is yet another of Sally’s wonderful admonitions on how to raise a family with grace and love. There are many practical applications, suggestions, hints and admonitions to guide the mother daily in the things that truly matter. You will be encouraged to drop formulas behind and to embrace what God has for you and your family and will inspire you to have a vision for the many things God has prepared for you.”

Amazon Review

You can get the book here.