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.

On Creating Sacred Space

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There are some places that make me feel fully awake to the wonder of this life.

As an adult I have lived in three different countries and the Pacific Islands. I’ve settled into eleven different homes in my thirteen years of marriage.  (Really. Eleven!) After all the moves, all the starting over and after being the “new girl” again and again, I’ve come to to long for places that are familiar, places that anchor me in time and space and that nurture a sense of safety and stability. I’ve come to long for home  in the deepest parts of my heart with an ache I can only just begin to describe with words.

When our family moved from Germany to the United States, my husband and I found ourselves back in our hometown, rather penniless and rather tired… and right in the middle of the dry season. The caramel yellow of the hills and the constant dust seemed to echo a fatigue that matched our own. We had lived in a 12th century hunting castle in Bavaria, steeped in the rich community of a missionary base, and I found myself often longing for the green of the hills that surrounded our small village there. I craved  the food  shared at community tables and the quiet of the country. Among the strip malls and billboards of the western United States, I found myself desiring the aesthetic of  old architecture: churches and buildings lovingly updated and restored through the centuries- looking forward, but not quite letting go of the past. My oldest was just two years old at the time and in my days of caring for her and entrenched in the tasks of setting up a new home that I wasn’t very fond of, I sensed a growing discontent with my surroundings, with relationships, and with our pauper circumstances. Life felt so bland and gray, a little hopeless.

My daughter and I had visited all the libraries, parks, pools and riverbanks I could remember from my own childhood and on a lark, I decided to do a bit of exploring.  I was on a quest, really, willing myself to find something that would stir excitement. With money set aside for a treat, we found ourselves at a small French bakery I’d enjoyed visiting in high school. Appropriately named The Anjou, for its location nestled in the heart of a beautiful pear orchard, the scene was idyllic!  The bakery had transformed an old barn into a haven, with a front porch lavished in flower pots and the sweet smell of fruit ripening in the orchard to engulf our senses.  I was captivated by the simple beauty as we savored butter croissants and patted the head of the resident old lab, Fritz.

At that very moment, something awakened in my heart. I became aware of the lime green patio furniture and the contrast it brought out in the grooves of the old slab floor. My baby girl’s dimpled hands seemed softer than ever as she held on to me, and her laughter was infectious as she played with the dog that was bigger than she was. The sun in our eyes lit up that space and I drank in every single drop. I felt at home, not in memory or association, but in sentimental feeling, in the connection that was knit between the beauty of this bakery and my own personality. This physical place had an unspoken ability to nourish my soul and fill it with beauty and light at a time when everything else felt as dry as the hills. Just being there felt right, and for the first time in weeks, I saw my life through a lens of beauty and hope, instead of dust.

Creating a home is a lot like this. We labour as women to create spaces where our family and friends can gather; we set tables and wash clothes, we arrange pictures on the walls and plant gardens, and often, we can become so overwhelmed with the tasks of this call and this work. Creating space for our families to dwell and a home that they long for though, is really about the knitting of hearts, the celebration of personalities expressed, and the truth of God’s presence in our midst.  The beauty of a colorful scarf draped over a chair, the arrangement of a bouquet, or the placement of a single candle at the dinner table can awaken those we love to really see with new eyes. Every day, we offer in our homes a chance for our children to literally glimpse heaven in the presence of small sparks of beauty.

Your home might feel mostly like dust right now. Your circumstances may be dry, your prospects gray and you may wonder how to even begin going about making a home where nurture abounds. I’ve been there. I know that dry place.

But today? Mama, you can take heart and rest because the wonder of it all is Our God does this. He takes dust and breathes life. Not a life that is hollow or gray, but a life that is full. His beauty gives this glimpse of sweet truth to our souls. Truth of God’s presence,  that he alone satisfies, and this brings hope beyond measure. Beauty somehow reaches in and pulls out that sense of longing, the desire for home that can tug at our core, and reminds us that we can know that we belong, truly, at home and at rest with the One who is Beautiful.

  Is there someone in your life who is living in a dry place that can be nourished by beauty and hospitality in your heart and home? How have you seen beauty transform your sense of what is true and Who God is?

***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 Secret to Making it to the end of December without blowing apart


The Cup of Tea
~ Mary Cassatt

I am reposting from a couple of years ago. But as I was rereading this post, it spoke to me. This week has added stress to an already very stressful season with the shootings and economy and so much more.

But the essence of this post is still so true. We must guard our health–mentally, spiritually and physically, and see that we do not run dry, or else we will crater. Even today, I decided to lay down for 15 minutes and just seek peace because I needed that more than I needed to keep pumping more adrenalin into my body from so much to do.

So, today, instead of mentoring Monday, I offer you the admonition to take care of yourself today, say no to something, sit down and listen to some music for 5 minutes with a lit candle–just find a way to decide to walk this week with peace.

Dear Sally,
HELP!!!!!!!!
Love,
A Mom

Dear Mom,

I have said and felt a need for help so very often and so I offer you my best advice. First of all, chill out. Take a little time for yourself until you can get perspective. I hope something I say may help. I have had to learn that no one else in the world will be responsible for my over-all well being. I have a husband and children who need me, and as I have said before, they are going to want to continue eating every day and want to wear relatively clean clothes, with the expectation that I will be the one to keep this going. However, there are times I run out of soul-fuel and have to stop it all to refuel the tank of my heart, soul, mind and body.

As we all know, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. So, I have to tend to my own happiness and well being and you need to tend to yours.

I am responsible for my rest, my quiet time, my eating and exercise, filling my cup, so that it will not be empty when others want to keep taking and taking from me–and I am also the manager of my  my chill time. Laughing and lightening up really brings health to the bones. (A joyful heart is good medicine has been proved by the medical research1) I do have countless emails in my inbox vying for my attention, and people expecting to hear from me, but I know that I will never get to them all, even if I wish I could–never, ever, but it is God’s will for me to survive with grace.

And there are tasks calling my name around the house, but I have become the queen of turning my head away and trying to stick to my most important priorities. I have found that there will be just as many things screaming for my attention tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

But today, I know that my body and mind need a little rest and my emotions become frayed and I become grumpy if I don’t create a little break. No one else is going to tell me when I have reached my limit. But if I do not monitor myself, my children and husband and I will come to regret it when I blow!  I am a steward of my limitations and body. If I don’t protect my  walk with the Lord, it will get eaten up in everyone else’s agenda.

Though still learning, I am always simplifying and evaluating if something is worth the effort–(I do think that making things beautiful and special during the holidays are worth the effort as it builds the taste and values and work ethic and ministry skills of my children–but all in its season, and only so much.

Not everything “we have always done before,” has to be done. Fast food with candles lit is just fine. But it may not be worth it to answer one more phone call or one more email–as this will certainly steal from my children and husband who need me today. Sometimes, I have even been known to hide from my children. It made me smile.

Each of us has a different puzzle and different personality and we must accept our limitations within our own story and be comfortable being ourselves. There is great freedom in deciding to enjoy who I am, as I am not going to essentially change any time soon! I see so many moms seeking to live up to other’s expectations and ideals and then burning out in the process. I have high work times,  and times when I just can’t get anything done–and somehow the world does not crash when I take time to just live and enjoy, and avoid the “I have to do everything or I will be a failure” syndrome.

It is why I have my cup of tea every day–a way of saying, “I will take time for a moment of pleasure and peace, because it centers me, and I have decided I will last a lot longer in this very long distant race, if I build anchors of serendipity into my schedule.”

If you and I don’t eventually make peace with our own life circumstances, then we are in danger of cultivating a heart of bitterness, inadequacy, guilt or whining, or possibly blowing apart into oblivion. But if we become the conductors of our own life symphonies and live within our own melody of life, we will last longer more gracefully with the God of grace who leads us.

Spend time in God’s word and let Him love you and you love Him back. He came for you–he came to comfort. Let His comfort be yours. You cannot find peace without the prince of peace.

Take time to regroup today–Go eat some chocolate, and don’t feel guilty as you are eating it–that is a waste of good chocolate! Listen to some beautiful music, watch a heart-warming movie, take a nap, eat off of paper plates! The rest of December is still coming and you will be the better for it! I’ll be praying for you!

Love,
Sally