When God Plans to Let Your Loved One Pass Away

My mom was 30 when I entered this world. I was 30 when she left it. Today is the anniversary of that day and it’s a hard one to be reminded of.
 
The picture above is one of the last times we enjoyed with mom before the symptoms of her sickness started. As happy as she is in this picture, it’s harrowing to realize all that was ahead for her. She was in a body that was about to start breaking down. And we had no idea our time left with her would be so short.
 
But in this moment, God knew all that was ahead. He knew the distress we were about live in seeing mom’s abilities deteriorate. He foresaw our desperate search for a diagnosis and then our traumatic defeat learning there was no cure. He knew our hearts were about to ache for years on end and that our faith would struggle to see still Him as good. 
 

In this moment, God also knew how He’d comfort every shard of our soul-piercing pain.

He knew what resources mom would need and how He’d provide them. The donations were already lined out. The caregivers were already handpicked. He knew which people He’d motivate to come visit and what friendships He’d renew when they were needed most.

For our family, He had already planned out how He’d equip our hearts to endure a marathon of grief. He saw what Scripture we’d need to read in our devotions and what sermons we’d need to hear from our pastors. He’d already prepared How He’d inspire us to pray and how He’d answer.

He had loving designed every tender memory we’d share with mom from this day forward and even scripted out her final moments with us, which ended up being more inspiring than Shakespeare.

He knew how He’d express His love and how we’d encounter His grace.

In this picture’s tiny moment, God not only knew how He’d get us through our upcoming suffering, He knew why He was going to allow it. We’ve experienced the former and we still wrestle with the latter.

We wish we had five more years of pictures like this one. We wonder how God, in His unmeasurable love, decided it was best to let this be our last untainted memory with mom. But just as God proved Himself faithful throughout mom’s sickness, we fully believe He has proved Himself good even though we don’t understand the entirety of His plan.

For now, I am grateful I can look back on 30 years of memories with mom. And although the last few years were more painful than pleasant, I’m so thankful they were full of evidence of God’s care and His lavish comfort.

Now today, in this tiny moment, whatever trials I have ahead of me, I’m confident God has His plans in place. And come what may, I trust those plans are good.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Potty Training My Son

Henry is my third child. If you think that means I somehow know what I’m doing , think again. In my case, any kind of mother’s intuition I should have by now has been kept at bay by each successive year of sleep deprivation.

That’s why I haven’t been in any rush to potty train my little man.

The first time I tackled potty training I was a work-from-home mama with two, two-year-old girls and a newborn. Presumably to keep me open to future children, my mama brain has blocked out nearly all memory of those days.

But somehow, back then, little old unorganized me found time to breastfeed my always-hungry son in between rushing tiny bladders to their toddler potties.

And somehow, I won. I don’t remember how we did it or how long it took – but I know I won. It was rough though. The one phrase I remember repeating was: “I hope our landlord replaces the carpet after we move.”

But now my son is almost three and it’s time to face the inevitable: I need to potty train again. And now it’s a boy.

Now I freely admit I didn’t have a clue where to start. So I started where most Millennial moms start – I read a bunch of blogs.

In my naivety I thought that would do the trick. I was confident that my fellow mama bloggers wouldn’t hold back, that they’d guide me through this scary process with plenty of tips and relatable stories.

All I can say is: ladies, ladies, ladies… I believe you left a few things out.

Around here, the potty party has had more than a few unexpected surprises. And for you future potty trainers, I figure I better give you a heads up.

Potty training is more dangerous than I thought. And you need to brace yourself.

Here are 5 things I wish I’d known before potty training my son.

1. Bribery might backfire.

The worst thing in the world is when your kid is afraid to use the toilet. Right?

FALSE.

The WORST thing in the world is when your toddler becomes obsessed with going to the potty.

This nightmare scenario is exactly what happened as soon as my Henry got wise to the fact that even a few drops in the toilet was good enough to earn him “em an emies”(M&Ms).

From about 10am on that first day, the boy ran up to me EVERY. FIVE. MINUTES.

The whole day was an unending loop of “mama! mama! potty potty!!” Then we’d sit, he’d squeeze, and I’d be obligated to reward the little scammer.

By the end of the day, I was giving him 20 questions before getting up to “rush” him to the potty. “Are you sure, son? Really sure? Really really sure? Could you possibly hold it?” And don’t rush to judge me, either. At the pace we were going, I was starting to worry he’d end up potty trained with type 2 diabetes.

2. He may end up an exhibitionist.

After a week of hardcore training and months of prepping, it looks like I’ve successfully taught Henry how to hate clothing.

The naked method is everywhere on the blogs. Basically, the quicker you want your kid potty trained the more naked they need to be.

“You’re only comfortable with keeping your kid barricaded at home half-naked? Oh that’s fine. Just be okay with taking at least 6 days to potty train.

You want to use pull-ups? Oh girl, you’re in it for the long haul.  Be ready to work at it for at least a month.

But fully naked?! My goodness, he may be potty trained in a day – 3 days tops!”

I was all about getting this done ASAP so bring on the birthday suit! But for my tiny closet nudist this method has had some unexpected side effects.

Day 1 of total nakedness at home went okay. We stayed in the house and Henry peed all over it. Eventually some of that pee made it into the toilet. I think that’s called success.

Day 2 of total nakedness at home includes a 1-hour break from nudity where the kiddo gets dressed (including undies!!), plays outside, and the mommy watches their pants the whole time to see if they are staying dry.

I thought Henry would love the break and have a blast running around and playing with his sisters on the swing set.

No. All I got was a kid crying at the top of his lungs because he wanted to go inside and be naked. The clothing restrictions of the great outdoors were just too confining for my little budding nudist.

Needless to say, pastor’s kids don’t make the best exhibitionists. This new trend should be interesting.

3. Potty hugs aren’t worth it.

This should be common sense. The thing is, I had my foggy maternal instinct working against me.

When my girls were potty training, I gave them lots of hugs to make them feel safe on the big scary toilet.

Boys are different.

A hug might mean you are now unknowingly in the target zone. This happened to me today. I gave Henry some love and all I got was a shirt full of pee.

Hugging Henry is just too big of a risk. I’ll pray for you, son, but you’re on your own.

4. You’ll forget you have other kids.

At first, I thought it’d be fun to have the girls cheer on their baby brother this week.

Then I forgot Henry was a baby brother.

For this one week of his life, Henry is pretty much an only child. And my girls are okay with that. I think they’ve had about enough of schizo-mommy.

My poor girls. Here’s how pretty much all of our conversations have gone this week:

Oh yes, Nora, tell me all about your dream last… AHHH! GET OUT OF MY WAY! HENRY IS PEEING ALL OVER THE SOFA!

Gracie, that is the cutest drawing. Who is that? Mommy and.. HENRY, DON’T STAND THERE PEEING ON YOUR BLANKET. MY GOD, GET IN THE BATHROOM!!

I can’t hold a conversation. My eyes are always darting to Henry. Naked Henry. Is he squirming over there? Was that a shudder I just saw? Where is he aiming? What’s in the danger zone?

I love my girls. But when your boy does the potty dance, you drop everything and run. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of preschool, or making lunch, or worst of all – choosing your next show on Netflix.

Girls, I promise next time I’ll hit play before I sprint out of the room.

They are so annoyed with me.

5. Big boy underwear makes you cry.

I really wish I had some warning on this one. It’s the worst.

Remember how adorable you thought your kid’s poofy diaper butt looked? The big boy undies look is nothing like that. Suddenly, your baby’s cute little tush is running around in normal – miniature person clothing.

That’s not okay with me. It makes me want to sit down and order a truckload of those $40 Costco diapers.

I hadn’t realized that this is the week I have to give up my baby. But it’s true. The moment we claim victory over Henry’s potty training is the same moment I’ve got to give up his babyhood forever.

He is almost 3, so I’ll admit I’ve had plenty of time to admit defeat. But I hadn’t and no one was making me. Until this week. This week the big boy undies are winning.

I’ve always been the mom of a chocolate-obssessed, half-nudist, cuddle-crazy, big-sister lovin’ baby boy. But now he’s running around in Superman underwear.

One step closer to grown up and too many steps away from my arms. I’ll admit seeing my little Superman zoom around the house today made me cry. I thought cleaning up pee so many times would make me cry; but no, it’s that darn underwear that did it.

While some of these potty surprises took me off guard, it should’ve been no shocker that my little boy is growing up too fast. Pretty much everyone warned me about that.

So even though this week’s memories are already on their way to becoming a blurr, I’m going to do my best to hang onto as many of these little man moments I can. Because before you know it my sweet Henry boy will rush into a young Henry man.

And I’m absolutely not ready to handle that.

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Go to Disney World Every Day

Our Dream Vacation

We just got back from the best vacation of my life.

Me and my family of five got to travel to Orlando, Florida to celebrate my cousin’s wedding at Disney World. We loved the time visiting with family, staying in a gorgeous villa, and of course – going to the Magic Kingdom!

My kids really are the perfect age to visit Disney World. The girls are both 4 years old and my son is 2. At this age, Grace and Nora are just starting to pick up on the concept of make believe. They have a hazy understanding that some things are real and some things are pretend, but they can’t exactly identify which is which without mommy’s help.

That means for now, princesses seem pretty real and special effects are absolutely magical.

My favorite Disney memories are:

  • Gracie screaming “this is so awesome!” on roller coasters – She couldn’t get enough of the adrenaline rush. My wild child will tell you, “I want to ride on these forever!” and she absolutely means it.
  • Nora being amazed by Disney magic – My little engineer was totally stumped by how Disney magic works. I especially loved her in the Tikki room. With her biggest smile on, she kept jumping up and down saying, “mommy HOW are these birds and flowers singing?!”
  • Henry milking it with the princesses – He’s only 2 and he already knows how to get the ladies. From tripping on his way to Ariel so she’d give him a comforting hug, to twirling with Cinderella and playing the shy card with Rapunzel before blowing her a goodbye kiss, this little man stole the show and everyone’s hearts.

Overall, the entire day was epic; and that made me leave the park wondering, how does Disney do it? Millions of people flock to Disney World expecting an absolutely magical experience well worth all the trouble. And not many leave disappointed.

So what is it about Disney World that makes us so happy?

What I realized is that the magic of Disney World is actually something so basic, we can (and should) experience it every day.

How Disney Does It

The real magic of Disney World is their understanding of human nature. Disney knows what makes humans happy.

From what I observed, Disney World seems to “manufacture” happiness 2 main ways:

  1. Moments of Wonder – Whether it’s the adrenaline rush of riding a careening roller coaster or the exhilaration of meeting one of your favorite movie characters, Disney World delivers extraordinary experiences around every corner. Every ride and every show stun us with elements that are well beyond our normal every-day experiences. Interacting with something you can’t explain leads us to wonder and amazement – and those are close cousins to joy. We love to encounter something bigger than ourselves.
  2. Shared Delight – The first time I went to Disney World on my honeymoon I had a pretty good time enjoying the park’s attractions. The next time I came back my heart could barely handle how happy I was enjoying my kids’ reactions to the park’s attractions. Is there anything better than seeing your 4-year-old’s jaw drop when she meets her favorite princess? Seriously, this moment made our whole trip worthwhile:
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    This face is why Disney World exists.

    Seeing my kids happy and knowing that I was part of bringing them that happiness was one of the more satisfying things I’ve done as a parent. All day felt like Christmas – constantly handing my kids new presents and getting to watch them ridiculously love each one. Disney World knows they can multiply your joy by the number of people you share it with which is why the whole park is designed to be a family experience. Not only did I laugh watching the Monsters Inc. jokes show, I then turned to see Henry fall on his seat in a goofy overreaction, Nora cover her mouth to contain all her cute giggles, and Grace shout out loud her own punchline answers and that all led to triple the reason for more happy laughter.

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    My favorite princesses.

Why It Works

Disney World didn’t invent our inclinations towards wonder and relationships, they simply cashed in on it. What they’ve really picked up on are some of the essential aspects of our divine design.

It’s simple – we want to wonder, because we are made for worship.

From early on, we have a curious bent to believe in magic, and that serves as evidence that a simply natural world would never suffice. Somewhere rooted in this physical body and this material mind there is soul that savors the supernatural. It’s displayed in different ways, but it’s never denied. Disney World gets this right. Magic is amazing.

And shared delights are better because we are meant for relationships.

This life isn’t fully experienced if it’s lived alone. Loving one another is deeply satisfying. And sharing our happy experiences with another exponentially increases our joy. Meaningful relationships not only enhance our lives, they are the very motivation we have for life and living.

While I’m grateful Disney World reminded me how I was made to experience joy, what they left out was honestly the most important part: the magician Himself.

There’s More Magic

There was an unforgettable moment at the end of our day when we were watching the closing fireworks and listening to the “When You Wish Upon a Star” montage. Gracie heard these lyrics and acted on them right away:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

Grace looked up at the Disney castle and gleefully yelled, “I wish I could fly!!!” A second later, she whipped around and with her frustrated little face asked me, “Mama, why am I not flying?!!” Before I could respond she tried again, this time asking for her own playground. But again, her request went unanswered and I had to explain to her that the song didn’t exactly work that way.

The people around us ate it up. They thought it was so cute. But really, it was kind of profound. In the midst of all the Disney magic, Grace ran into reality. Disney World has all the top notch special effects in the world, but they are no magicians.

And that is exactly Who they are missing – the only magician, God Himself.

Both our bent toward worship and our delight in relationships are meant to point us to the source of our joy – Jesus Christ. Not only is God the Creator of our capacity for joy, He is also the One Who “magically” conjures joy for our delight.

John 15:11

11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Worshipping a limitless God means we have a lifetime of  unlimited wonder ahead of us as often as we step back and take in our amazing God. And sharing the delight of those moments of wonder with God and His people promises to exponentially increase our joy along the way.

What Disney gets right in part is fulfilled completely in Christ. At Disney World we get immediate delight, but it’s fleeting. It fades the moment you walk out of the park. What we get in Christ is unperishable, eternal, enduring -it grows rather than wanes. It sustains through suffering and is a hopeful reminder of the even greater inexpressible joy we have ahead of us.

Special effects are amazing, but who would ever chose that over real magic? The source of wonder, the source of all goodness and relationships all come from one place:

James 1:17

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

 

What if we spent as much time pursuing joy in our eternal relationship with God as we do planning for a temporary trip to a theme park? What if we really believed we could have more than Disney World every day?

The ticket to our joy isn’t the one to Disney World – it’s the experience of knowing and loving God and it’s already been paid for by the King. Let’s take joy in that today.

Until God Gets Here

Ho-Hum Hope

Have you forgotten how to hope?

No, seriously. Think back. When’s the last time you really hoped for something?

If you’re like me, today you probably hoped you’d wake up early. Then, when you didn’t, you hoped the kids would sleep in so you could grab some personal time. But the moment you finished hoping that, which was the same moment your toddler hobbled into the bedroom, you stopped hoping for anything because your brain got busy keeping little people alive and attending to the daily grind.

Our days are filled with many other optimisms of course – we hope the boss likes our latest project, we hope the traffic isn’t bad, we hope our sports team doesn’t choke, we hope the kids go to bed right away.

In that sense, maybe your day was full of hopes. But if that’s the extent of it, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that maybe your day was a little long, a little tiring, and at least a little lacking. It probably wasn’t all that you hoped your day would be.

That makes sense. Because to be honest, the things we typically hope for are pretty pitiful. In the grand scheme of things, if my most frequent hope is that I find time to watch Netflix, then it’s not all that surprising that my days feel a tad mundane.

Thankfully, my 4-year-old has given me another option.

On His Way

At a recent play date, one of our little friends decided to loan my daughter a Tinker Bell doll she saw Gracie playing with. So we took Tink home for a few days visit with the expressed purpose of returning her on our next get-together. It was a strange arrangement; but it was cute, so I went with it.

A day or two later, the little friend decided Tinker Bell could stay with Grace permanently. How sweet! When I told her the good news, Gracie beamed at me and then asked me the most precious question.

She didn’t ask, “Do I really get to keep this new doll forever?!”

She said, “Do I really get to keep Tinker Bell until God gets here?!

I just love moments like that. Moments when your child applies a truth you’ve taught them to a situation you didn’t realize it related to.

Just hearing her words drew me to praise God for that very fact – He’s going to get here one day! And what a way to remember that – my daughter’s statement held heavy emphasis on the hope attached to an insignificant toy, but it pointed me to the eternal joy I have waiting right beyond this world’s trinkets.

The saying has stuck and now both of my daughters use the phrase “until God gets here” whenever they are asking about the permanency of something. At least once or twice a day I hear, “Mama, will we get to go visit Grandma again before God gets here?” or “Mommy, will we move again or do we get to stay in this house until God gets here?”

Every time I hear the phrase I get a sudden, unprompted reminder of the hope I have ahead of me. I know the girls don’t realize the impact of what they’re saying, but the fact that Christ’s arrival is so matter-of-factly brought to my attention multiple times a day has really been having an affect on me… and making me realize what my days have been missing for most of my adult life.

Frequent False Hopes

I tend to hope in temporal things. I don’t typically hope in the eternal. My heart keeps forgetting that this routine isn’t forever. But as a Christian, the fact that my Savior is planning His return – any minute! – ought to fill my heart with at least a little nervous excitement, and more often than not – a whole lot of hope!

But it just… doesn’t.

This past week, my kiddos have taught me two things about my hope in God and in particular in Christ’s return – it’s impersonal and rare.

It’s impersonal because I think of it in textbook terms. “The 2nd coming of Christ” sounds more like a chapter in a heavy theology book rather than a sold out event I can’t believe I’m holding a ticket to. Sadly, I’ve studied Christ’s return far more than I have anticipated it.

And it’s rare because my hopes are crowded. If we’re being honest, over the last week I’ve longed more to see the 2nd season of Fixer Upper on Netflix than I have the second coming of Christ. And there are plenty of other trivial hopes that my heart is set on. They aren’t just distracting me from heavenly hopes; they are choking them out of existence.

Somehow I’ve come to admire the 2nd coming from afar forgetting that I’m involved in the event at all.

Something to Look Forward to

But according to the New Testament writers, my highest hopes are supposed to be fixed on the promised return of my Savior. Life’s little joys are well and good – but they ought to pale in comparison to the greatest gain of seeing Christ.

Here is just a sampling of the promises that ought to be more than enough motivation to get through our days:

  • Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:28
  • For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
  • Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you don’t expect. Matthew 24:44
  • For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:27
  • When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:4
  • Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. John 14:1-3

The Bible frequently reminds us that if we set our hopes on Christ the grandeur of His promises are enough to cause rejoicing even as we look forward to their fulfillment.

We have a hope worth dwelling on and daydreaming about. The very anticipation of it makes our days worthwhile.

And the more we elevate this hope above all others, the better perspective we’ll have on the joys and disappointments of our lives. If we evaluate our daily ambitions in light of the fact that our Christ is on His way, then we’ll end each day with the same perspective – looking forward.

Don’t Forget to Hope

Don’t be discouraged if you realize today that you’ve lost hope. We are forgetful, selfish people consumed by whatever is right in front of us.

But tomorrow, put your hope in the ultimate, not the immediate. Fight to focus more on the promises of God than the mere short-term triumphs of this life.

The Christian who is full of hope is the one who keeps hearing it as often as he forgets it. For this forgetful believer, I’ve had 4-year-olds giving me daily reminders that “God’s going to get here” soon. But once they’ve outgrown this adorable catchphrase will I revert back to infrequent reminders or will I seek out daily revelations of my divine promise? Of course I know right where the words are waiting for me.

Let’s surround ourselves with the greatest hope we have. Let’s read it and savor it straight from the source. Let’s reiterate it to each other as frequently as possible. And let’s pray for the fervor that its astounding power merits.

Because the reality is, we won’t be here forever. Our struggles are temporary, our pain is short-lived. The mundane is fading, and the tedious fleeting. All of these things will only last until our Lord gets here.

And friend, God is going to get here. And it’ll be soon.

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay…”

Hebrews 10:23, 35-37

It’s Not Enough That You’re a Mess

We’re in This Together

There’s a pretty comforting trend going around the mama blogosphere. It goes like this – “You’re a mess. I’m a mess. We’re all okay.”

You’ll find tons of posts following this theme. They tell hilarious stories of moms’ most embarrassing moments or their most frequent failures all with the general message – if I can make it through this, then you can too!

I’ve liked this trend for as long as I’ve been a mom. I’ll readily admit I’m a Pinterest-poser who relates way more to the messy bun mom in sweat pants.

In many ways, confession blogs give me permission to accept that I’ll never be the perfect parent I envision and more than likely, I’m always going to be a bit of a mess.

So often, that’s exactly what my sleep-deprived soul longs to hear.

These parenting posts are meant to be funny. But I wonder if they reveal a side to motherhood we need to address more seriously.

Behind the camaraderie, there’s often a lot of painful complaining.  Beneath the jokes about how hard this life is, there is often the very serious shock of nagging discontentment. While we pat each other on the back for making it through another day, there’s a side of us that seems to actually say, “how long do you think we can hold on?!”

Yes, I get a good laugh at the messy mom blogs. But when I turn my attention back to the little ones fighting in the living room, and the laundry laying on my bed, and the work emails waiting in my inbox – that’s when empathy isn’t enough.

In my muddle of tasks each day, it’s not enough to know I’m not alone. As much as I love them, I need more than other moms on my side.

The Big Picture

Of course, we know how to talk ourselves through the tough days. Mom blogs exist so we can be reminded of the bigger picture:

“Yes, life is hard and basically unbearable some days, but somehow we’ll get through this. We just need to take it one day at a time. Someday our little ones will grow up and it won’t be this hard. But for now, they need us and we love them; so it’s worth it.”

But, what if the big picture is actually bigger than that?

What I’d like to propose is that maybe the point isn’t to strive for the day when we’re done struggling. Maybe we don’t need to settle for just surviving these years. And maybe we’re meant to do more with our pain than turn it into a punchline for our friends.

I’d like to argue that you’re a better mom for being a mess. But only if you wear it well.

A Tale of Two Play Dates

Take for instance, my latest play date adventures…

One happened today. We met up with friends to celebrate a little girl’s birthday. The kids got to eat lunch at McDonald’s and then play at a local park. The sun was shining and for the first time in months it was warm enough to play outdoors without a coat.

My kids were ecstatic. They gobbled up their chicken nuggets as they shared silly stories with their friends. At the park, they ran around the playground and imagined they were pirates sailing through the ocean on the lookout for sharks. They built towers out of dirt and threw stones onto the still-frozen pond. It was a full day filled with energetic giggles followed by the rarest of 3-hour afternoon naps.

To me, this was a triumph of a play date.

Last week’s play date had a bit more character.

It had just rained, and being a city girl transplant in Montana, I didn’t think about the consequences of taking an unpaved back road to my friend’s house. When we arrived, my car was dripping with mud – which I took no notice of until I had pressed against the side of the car to undo the backseat buckles.

Great. I only had one kid out of the car and already I was a mess.

I proceeded to get out children 2 and 3; but in those few seconds, child 1 decided that mud dripping off of our car looks pretty cool and should be examined closely. Said child got mud all over his hands. I finished getting all children extracted from the vehicle and closed the door just in time to see little Henry poking at the gushy puddle. I tried to pull his hand away, but in the process I accidentally swung him around too far and smooshed the back of his coat flat against the mud-covered car.

Keep up with me now – by the time I reached the front door I had 2 muddy, messy people for my friend to welcome into her recently cleaned home.

7 lunches were made and divvyed out. Although it was a bit of marathon getting everybody settled in for lunch, it was worth it. Finally, my friend and I could plop down in the living room to chat while we enjoyed lunch with the littles and the big kids ate on their own.

But two minutes into our lunch, I heard my daughter start coughing. I had warned my friend about this lingering cough that was the stubborn hold out from Gracie’s cold. It was nothing, I had assured her. But this cough didn’t sound like nothing. It kept going. And going. And going.

After a few agonizing minutes, Grace made her way to me with tears in her eyes because she couldn’t stop coughing.

At this point, I started worrying that I’d exposed my obviously sick child to all her little friends. I hate it when other moms do that to my kids. I hated it that I was now that mom that I hate.

I tried to console Grace while figuring out whether we should just pack up and leave. But before my brain even got the chance to answer this parenting pop quiz, Grace did something she’s never done before.

She threw up. In my lap.

Next mental challenge: should I laugh this off while politely requesting some paper towels? Or do I jump into emergency mode and order bucket and rags, stat? If I was at home, this would’ve been the moment where I would’ve screamed for my husband to “hurry in here, NOW!” and he would’ve saved me while I just sat helpless and lingered in my shock. But I wasn’t at home. I had to keep it together – to comfort Grace, to keep any vomit from getting on their carpet, to not die of embarrassment and total humiliation.

So I smiled, apologized, and asked for some paper towels. Of course my friend obliged.

And while she got them for us, just to top it off, Grace threw up on me three more times.

Still keeping count? I was trying not to.

Nora somehow made it out of the play date unscathed although there was a juice spill between her and her little friend which we might as well throw into our tally since we were on such a role anyhow.

I left this play date wearing my friend’s clothes and wondering if we’d ever be invited back, or if I’d ever risk leaving the house again for any play date, ever. I was embarrassed and worn out. And a mess.

Why We Need Terrible Play Dates and Messy Moms

To state the obvious, I only want play date triumphs. I never want to relive the ones where I was frazzled and got thrown-up on. But of course we don’t get to opt out of life’s messy moments. We ought not ignore them or laugh them off too quickly either. They can serve great purpose.

Why is parenting hard? Because I am a sinful mama, raising sin-addicted children in a sin-smeared world.

What does God do with sin? He redeems it.

Isn’t the message of the Bible, that sin has messed everything up and yet through God’s plan every single bit of that mess is going to be used to bring Him glory? That our God, not only conquers sin – He shockingly incorporates it into His salvation plan before He ultimately rids the world of it.

Sin is what makes motherhood a mess. It’s why we lash out, why we give up, and why we’ll never be the consistently-loving moms we want to be. But because God has fused His eternal purpose into every action of our day-to-day lives, He’s using our breakdowns to bring about breath-taking grace too.

Our repeat failures mount a stronger argument for God’s unfailing love. Our daily sins showcase a tally of the times Christ has chosen to save us. Our tired hearts reveal the challenge His promised sanctification is ready to take on.

We need the mess of motherhood to better understand the glory of the gospel.

What glories did I see in my play date catastrophe? I saw God deepen a friendship with bonds that went well beyond my comfort zone.  I saw God strengthen my relationship with my daughter who now knows I’ll care for her whenever and wherever she needs me. I even saw God jump start my prayer life, which to be honest had been lacking.

Make the Most of Your Mess

Does the chaos of motherhood point you to Christ or to your insufficiency? It’s not enough to admit that you are a mess if it doesn’t lead you to wonder at God’s grace at work in you. There is so much of God’s glory being revealed in our  weakness.

Whatever your final straw, your breaking point, wherever you last lost it as a mom – that is where you met the limits of your faith. And that is where Christ is ready to extend it by granting you yet another measure of His unfailing love and His unbelievable grace.

So let’s admit we are weak and revel that we are Christ’s.

And the next time we are reminded of our mess, let’s not simply turn to each other in mutual resignation. Let’s encourage each other to remember the relief we have in the gospel of grace. And when we do confide our struggles or laugh about this crazy life, let’s be sure it’s with a firm hope in our God who is working all of our failures for His glory.

Because ultimately our greatest hope isn’t that we have each other, it’s that we have Christ.

 

 

To the Mom Who Doesn’t Love Her Adopted Child

What happens when adoption is way harder than you expected? Below is an edited version of an email I recently wrote to a mom, who, like all new adoptive parents, was asking “is this going to get any better?”

Oh my goodness, the first thing you need to know is that you are completely normal. Right before we brought home our Nora, I remember a beautifully honest friend of mine sitting me down to talk with me about some of their unexpected adoption challenges and every single thing she mentioned happened with us as well. And even despite her warnings, I still felt overwhelmed by all that I went through when Nora came home.

I thought I’d be dealing with Nora’s adjustment into our family, but the harder part was dealing with MY adjustments adding her to our family.

I had zero natural affections for her and found myself getting surprisingly angry with her over petty things (and I never got angry with our biological daughter in the same way). I was appalled at how my heart was feeling towards our daughter we had labored to bring home and looked forward to meeting for years.

Honestly, I think disappointment is the first hurdle. You have so much time to build up this vision of your life with your new addition; and if you already have biological children, you probably expect many of the same joys you’ve experienced with your other children to happen again with your new child. When life with your adopted child is hard, just hard, for days and weeks and months – you have to get through the loss of your expectations and learn to adjust and accept the reality of your situation. Thankfully, once you submit to what always was God’s plan for your family, you’ll be given a new vision and a deeper hope for how God will use and bless your life with this child.

Adoption, like marriage, is a beautiful gift with the unexpected bonus of exposing some of our darkest sins.

As good a person as you think you are, your heart really doesn’t want to constantly serve another – especially when there is little or no personal gain from your efforts. If your little one doesn’t show gratitude or affection yet (which I wouldn’t expect at all early on), the challenge to love “the unlovable” is basically impossible apart from the power of Christ. That maternal instinct God gives mothers is an incredible force for good – and something I’ve never had with our adopted daughter like I have with my other kids.

When Nora joined our family, I expected to have hard days – I just didn’t expects months of them back-to-back. And during those days, my heart got ugly. Really ugly. I went from disappointed to barely surviving to bitter and defeated. My sinful response to adoption was shocking most of all to myself. I never would have expected to struggle internally with feelings of such anger and frustration.

The good news in all of this is the other part – the sanctification part. Just because I wasn’t aware of the depths of my sin potential doesn’t mean it wasn’t always lurking in my heart. And after realizing my desperate need for Christ to save me again from even greater sins, my faith was forced to grow. Talk openly about your struggles to people who love Jesus because you need them to remind you of the gospel. You might already know it, but now you need it more than ever.

Remember that Christ knows how to love the unlovable. He came to die for the undesirable. He didn’t rely on a feeling of affection – He fully trusted in the will of His Father. And the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in your own heart is going to make you more like Christ.

His goodness, not our worthiness, motivated His sacrifice. And in Christ’s goodness, you will find all the motivation you need to love your child well.

Furthermore, this experience of adoption, Lord-willing, is going to lead you to cherish your own salvation far more than ever before. You will see how undeserving your own soul was to be saved. You’ll be challenged to love your Father better and appreciate His sacrifice more now that you feel the pangs of rejection and rebellion from your own child.

You’ll know the miraculous power of Christ’s mercy and love now that you know the natural reaction is repulsion and frustration – not affection – for the sinner in front of you. And, I have great hope, that you’ll experience seeing your heart change over time as God even grants you increasing measures of affection for your child – which in contrast to this struggle, you’ll know is His doing and not your own.

We imagine that our needy, adoptive child is a victim worthy of love. The reality is they are a sinner worthy of wrath. We imagine that adoptive parents are good people worthy of praise. The reality is we too are scoundrels made up of a mix of righteous and prideful motives. It’s hard when these realities hit you, but it’s the best place for Christ to continue His sanctifying work.

He has, and is, certainly doing that work in my heart. After 2 1/2 years with Nora home it’s still hard – but totally worth it. I wish my sin was easier to eradicate, but God is using the blessing of adoption to faithfully root it out of me. Loving Nora is easier, and deeper, than I thought it could get. And I see huge strides of slow but steady progress in our relationship.

Most of all I’m thankful that adoption made it impossible for me to have a complacent relationship with ChristI give up my time with Him, and I fall right back into chaos. He is what makes our adoptive family work – and I’m so thankful for the challenge of adoption that makes me know my need for Christ.

What Makes us Merry

Today we finally celebrated our first Christmas with sweet Emma.

Last February she flew on her first airplane. In March, she celebrated her first birthday (as a 4-year old). Since then, it’s been a succession of all her first holidays – Easter, the 4th, Halloween, Thanksgiving. It’s certainly been an exciting year with so many reasons to celebrate!

This is not what life was like in her orphanage.

Where Emma grew up, there wasn’t much to celebrate. She was one of 70+ orphans crammed into a 3-bedroom compound. The orphanage was enclosed by a rusty sheet metal fence that surrounded the one acre lot. There was a guard out front with an AK-47.

Poor Emma only ate one meal a day. She played in a yard of dirt, and she took care of the younger girls assigned to her. Her dull routine was basically the same every day.

Their version of a “holiday” was on take-away days – the day parents came to take their adopted children home. On these days, the staff opened the donation closet and gave every child toys to play with while the parents toured the facility. For those special hours, she was supposed to look happy and act like she loved her life there.

Every other day the toys were locked up and the nannies didn’t care much about whether she was having a good time or not.

Of course since having Emma home, I’ve cared.

Her needs are attended to and I’m doing my best to give her the individual attention she’s lacked all her young life. In less than a year, she’s gained ten pounds, grown an inch, learned to speak English, and started to genuinely smile.

It took three months for her to call me “mama” and five months before I received my first unprompted hug. While our relationship has grown slowly, the fact that it keeps growing is what keeps me going!

So for this holiday, I knew we had to go all out. For her first real Christmas, I wanted Emma to experience all the trappings and get as many confirmations of our love as possible.

I started buying presents in October and by early December my closet was so crammed with hidden gifts, I could barely get to my clothes! As the presents piled up, so did my anticipation of seeing our sweet Emma open each and every one.

Today, Christmas morning finally came and I was the first one up. I made cinnamon rolls in the kitchen and waited for the aroma to wake my little princess.

Soon enough, she hopped downstairs albeit at a hesitant pace – like she didn’t quite know what to expect. That was understandable considering the confusion a few of our unexplained holiday traditions had caused earlier in the week – like eating deviled eggs and making gingerbread men. The poor thing still takes things a bit too literally, so I’m sure she was worried that she’d misunderstood some other aspects of the holiday. But once she saw the mountain of presents, her excited smile showed me she knew just what was coming next.

Her daddy sat down near the tree and she quickly plopped down next to him. As he divvied out the presents, I brought in the plate of cinnamon rolls and we all settled in for a grand gift-opening session.

I wondered how this part would go, because in the past Emma hadn’t quite understood the concept of presents. On her birthday, she opened one gift – a tiny teddy bear – and thought that was it. Even when we explained that she had about a dozen more to go, she just kept petting that little bear and smiling at us.  I had to pry the toy from her clutches and gently turn her head toward her gift pile before she finally realized that those were hers too.

Today she was much more confident, probably in part because this time, I talked with her about it beforehand. I explained, “Emma, on Christmas we give gifts to show how much we love each other. Christmas is a special day where we spend time being happy with our family.”

Now that we were settling in for the part of Christmas that she clearly understood, I could see she had her game face on. Her first gift – an art easel – brought a sweet smile, a genuine hug, and then an immediate re-positioning for her next present. Not as much exuberance as I was expecting, but I’m not going to take that hug for granted!

Gift #2 was a cute new outfit. Emma opened it, looked up and thanked me, and immediately began looking for box #3. Once found, she sat happily holding her next present prepped and ready to open it as soon as mom and dad caught up. I guess she’d gotten over that lingering habit!

Rounds 3-5 were more of the same. Politely unwrap the gift. Acknowledge the gift. Look around right away for the next one.

Her sixth present was one that I hand-made. They were little band bracelets that I’d seen her admire on her friends. I made a dozen of them in all different colors knowing that she’d love the bright selection.

Surprisingly, when Emma opened this box, she again only took the time to recognize that the box contained bracelets before setting it aside to make room for gift #7. I had hoped she’d at least linger a bit over these, but maybe tomorrow she’ll realize the hard work I put into it.

By round 8, Daddy and I were all done with our presents, so Emma could open hers unhindered. There’s really not much to tell about presents 8-20. Her reaction was the same no matter what the size or significance of the gift. The one thing I did notice was how her smile was always strongest when she was being handed her next present. Each new present seemed to be greeted by an even bigger smile.

After opening her final gift, Emma eagerly turned back to the tree; and I won’t forget her reaction. Right as her bright teeth began to peak through her blossoming smile, she froze. I knew she recognized the gifts were all gone.

As Emma looked back to me, her excited eyes wilted into teary confusion. She was trying hard to look happy but was barely holding it together. It actually looked quite unnatural. Her tiny voice trembled as she said, “Is that all?”

I answered her question with my own perplexed (and truth be told somewhat irritated) response: “Emma, what do you mean? You got so many gifts this year! Look how loved you are!” I suggested Emma play with some of her new toys, but she just settled into a blank stare, sitting there like she was shocked that was it – even though she was surrounded by a closet-full of brand new Christmas treasures!

In resignation, I thought we should at least try for a family picture before moving on from this strange gift-giving experience. Daddy set his camera timer and we both huddled in on either side of Emma.

As we  got into a happy family pose, I tried to get my stoic daughter looking at least a little full of holiday cheer: “Smile for the camera, Emma!” But for some reason that was it. In that moment, something in our child snapped. Immediately she whipped around to look at me and her sad little eyes narrowed into an enraged scowl.

I don’t really want to get into what all happened next; but in short, Emma threw her first full-blown fit. When her shocking tantrum was over, her new presents were very much worse for wear and now I was the one staring in disbelief.

Emma’s been in her room since then crying Christmas day away. I’m not sure what we did wrong, but I assume this must be an adoption thing. To be honest, I’m pretty much at a loss for what to do next.

I’m planning to assemble her new art easel and take it up to her as a peace offering. We’re hoping that might cheer her up.

If I can coax a few smiles from her later, I’ll be sure to post that first family holiday pic! Until then, I hope your Christmas has been much more merry and full of good times with friends and family.

Here’s hoping for a great 2016!