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It starts bright and early.

Hey Mom, is it hot or cold outside? Mommy, I’m hungry. Hey Mama, can I have a piece of gum? And can we adopt a polar bear from the Arctic? Mom, watch this! Mommy, have you seen my other shoe? Hey, uh, Mama? There’s a Lego stuck in my nose.

Everyone is looking for you.

I’ve always admired Jesus’ wisdom, but I appreciate His practicality. He told stories because that’s how people learn best. He summarized the entire Old Testament with a few simple words: love God, love people. He spoke with unrivaled power, but His actions have echoed throughout generations.

What’s more? Jesus knew the importance of getting alone with His Father.

“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. When they found him, they said, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’” (Mark 1:35-37)

I can certainly relate to this “everyone is looking for you” scenario. The kids are ready for breakfast. The husband needs my signing off on calendar dates. Lunches crave proper assembly. Tasks are desperate for attention. A project is poised for operation. The texts, the emails, and the to-do lists are silently lurking—like impatient trolls waiting hungrily under a bridge.

But even before everyone was looking for Jesus, He had already been looking to God.

If Jesus himself needed to carve out secluded moments to chat one-on-one with His Father, IT MUST BE ESSENTIAL FOR ME TOO.

Now, let’s not get all crazy and legalistic about the details. Personally, my days go better when my mind is fixed on God and Kingdom-minded things right out of the gate, but I’ve also had plenty of seasons where my “alone time” was at odd hours—like a lunch break or when a baby was napping or after all the kids were in bed.

It’s not as important when you seek God, but it is important that you seek God.

I love how The Message version says it:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Before we click on social media buttons. Before we pour milk into cereal bowls. Before we wipe mouths or countertops. Before we respond to clients or bosses. Before we let the daily flood of information soak into our souls.

Before everyone is looking for you, take a moment and look to Him first.

 

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I posted this picture on Instagram last weekend…

jack-and-mamaIt was an iPhone pic. Nothing fancy. We were in our yard, about to go to dinner.

The caption read: “This kid melts me. He picked out his own clothes (like Daddy’s) for our date. Carefully selected McAlister’s as his eatery of choice. Held open the door. Winked at me from across the table. We played I Spy, chose dinosaur names for each other, and polished off dinner by splitting a sugar cookie. Parenting is no walk in the park, but there sure are moments that shine.”

And it really was buckets of preciousness. He’s so clever; so thoughtful. I die at his hearty laugh, still somewhat babyish cheeks, and milk-chocolatey eyes.

But—I kid you not—five minutes after getting home and posting about such adorableness…

HE THREW UP.

Thankfully outside, but alllllllll over himself and the steps to our house nonetheless.

After getting him cleaned up, into jammies, and onto some fresh sheets that stretched out and tucked over the couch (with a small trashcan—just in case), I went out to deal with the damage.

As I was scraping chunks of half-digested food into a plastic Walmart sack and rinsing the “excess” onto the grass with a garden hose, it started ferociously pouring cats and dogs all over my completely dry self. Would you believe it? I was drenched from head to toe.

Thanks, God, for picking that exact time to bring the rain.

But isn’t it entertaining how a mere 30 minutes earlier I had posted that cute little moment for all the world to see? And though I didn’t know what was coming (he’d been acting fine all day), I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony.

Because parenthood is awesome and beautiful, but also a nonstop rollercoaster—just like ALL OF LIFE. Things can be peachy and wonderful, then flipped sideways and upside-down in the very next breath. It can be the best of times and the worst of times, all within half an hour. You might be dancing gracefully one minute, and stomping on each other’s toes the next.

There’s always a behind-the-scenes. Always a backstory. Always more joy than the highlight reel can capture, and sometimes more ache than what can be documented. There are moments that catch you by happy-surprise, and moments that are far from “the plan.”

And you know what? IT’S OKAY. That’s part of real life.

And while this isn’t some huge revelation or epiphany, it’s something we all need to hear and remember. Because we’re quick to get discouraged when life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, aren’t we? But who ever told us it would be? Hollywood, social media, and our own preconceived ideas can twist reality into something it never was in the first place.

Sometimes there are tears and laughter, mourning and dancing, bitter and sweet, chaos and beauty. More often than not—it’s both.

Which is why I think a toast is in order, in the middle of the everyday mundane, as we head into the weekend.

So. Here’s to you, Mama, covered in some concoction of spit-up/snot/mushed bananas. Here’s to you, Mama, pumping in a (hopefully) locked conference room at work. Here’s to you, Mama, searching for that lost lovey/pacifier/sippy cup. Here’s to you, Mama, making lunches in stilettos while taking a business call. Here’s to you, Mama, tossing nuggets into the back seat in route to soccer/gymnastics/piano/karate/basketball practice. Here’s to you, Mama, just trying to survive your fiery toddler (you can start with this letter—written just for you). Here’s to you, Mama, wishing the carpool line would HURRY UP ALREADY. Here’s to you, Mama, working your tail off and making ends meet and still creating space for the silly voices at bedtime. Here’s to you, Mama, fired up and ready to love your people all weekend. Here’s to you, Mama, whoever you are, wherever you are, and whatever it is you’re going through.

To you I raise my coffee mug. May your day be filled with a million bear hugs, zero amounts of throw-up, and an extra shot of espresso.

CARRY ON.

 

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I was the perfect mother before having kids.

I remember thumbing through pregnancy and parenting books at Barnes and Noble while expecting our first baby—a girl. When stumbling across an expert piece on raising strong-willed children, I quickly placed it back onto the shelf.

Surely that won’t be our princess,” I thought to myself while nudging my growing belly.

Our Hallie made her grand debut with chunky cheeks and gummy smiles, making life a million times sweeter. She was everything we had dreamed—and more. Those soft baby coos and itty bitty toes eventually turned into babbly words and wobbly steps.

Then toddlerhood hit like freight train, colliding into our world at a breakneck speed. Everything happened fast and furious and ahead of schedule: Conversations. Potty-training. The infamous “terrible twos.” And while it was a beautiful season for endless reasons, it was also hard.

Beautifully hard, you might say.

By 18 months old, she had mastered the fine art of digging in those heels and standing her ground with grit. She was fiery and stubborn, spicy and determined, gutsy and resilient.

I remember… fighting her tooth and nail over ordinary things like: wearing a coat to play in the snow, putting on sunscreen for a day outside, coming in for bedtime, and buckling her ever-loving seatbelt.

I remember… leaving playdates only for tears to unleash in the car (me, not her). She had not been content to sit and play dolls with the other girls. She did not want to listen, she did not want to share, and she did not want anything but her own way.

I remember… locking myself in our bathroom, sinking down onto the cold tiles (while curious fingers wiggled under the door), and praying screaming desperately at God.

When it came down to it, I wanted her to be good. And—embarrassingly enough—I suppose I wanted to look good too. I wanted a compliant child; a tame child. Maybe even a robot that resembled a child…

Lord, forgive me.

Because God is not after some flimsy mask like behavior modification. He’s after us.  

And He didn’t go to all that trouble—making the entire world, sending His own Son as our redeeming sacrifice, and dealing with our junk—just to assemble “good” boys and girls, then hushing them into a corner to be quiet and still.

He’s constantly teaching us, urging us, pleading with us, molding us, encouraging us, refining us, and drawing us to Himself. But He never forces us.

The will is something that’s been exercised for as long as the Garden of Eden is old. And though a strong will harnessed to the wrong things can certainly cause damage (as can a passive will), a strong will funneled toward the right things—Kingdom things—can literally change the world.

Where the heart is captivated, the will will surely follow.

“…For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)

We’re still in the trenches over here, but God has graciously redefined our understanding of “strong-willed.”

Hallie is now seven-years-old and full of that same spunk. But—oh—how I can already see her growing into her strength. She’s a mama bear and a natural leader and an avid planner. She loves to do and love and serve, not just sit. She’s courageous, hilarious, brave, thoughtful, and creative—constantly thinking outside of the box. She’s ferociously loyal (don’t mess with her brother) and full of joy. She’s an encourager, an includer, and a spark in this increasingly dim world.

She is the greatest earthly gift to her daddy and me (along with her brother, Jack).

Speaking of Jack. If you’re wondering where he falls on the fiery spectrum, Jack was arguably the most mellow, joyful, and content little giant on the planet through the twos. But then came three—along with a rowdy, opinionated, rambunctious, and adventurous boy—who melts plastic cupcakes in my real oven, will tackle you to the ground in one of his superhero costumes, might claw you to pieces if you take his Lovey, and has been caught peeing on random cars in the church parking lot.

I guess we all have a little fire in us.  

So, Mamas? Daddies? Grandparents? Foster parents? 

If this screen wasn’t in the way, I’d jump into your world—your living room, your car, your bathroom floor—and gently lift your chin. I’d remind you that a strong will is actually a great thing, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.

Parenting is beautifully hard—no matter who you are. It isn’t magically easy—no matter where you are. But it’s also one of the holiest and worthiest missions there is: to raise our kids to love like Jesus.

Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In fact, it’s often an indicator that something spectacular is in process. Athletes and artists know this truth well, but it’s no different with our kids.

Transformation happens in the trenches. 

God chose YOU to raise your feisty tribe. Not them, not her. You. You are the perfectly imperfect parent for your perfectly imperfect child.

God sees you. He knows you. He’s passionately in love with that miniature spitfire who’s currently giving you gray hairs. He knew you would feel inadequate/overwhelmed/underqualified at times, but that you’d eventually press into His strength. He knew it would take someone special to not write-off or break the spirit He put inside of your amazing child, but that you could lovingly—in your very own way—be a spark to ignite a blazing fire for His ultimate glory.

We will not be perfect parents, but we can be forgiven parents who share the grace.

We can love irrationally and forget the world’s standard of impossible perfection, all while tapping into His strength as we shine light into the next generation.

“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

And while it might not be the most fun thing for our children to go against the grain and test the limits, it’s an admirable trait in adults.

The strong-willed children of today will be the leaders and visionaries and pioneers of tomorrow. It will take strength, boldness, and resilience to scatter hope into a world that’s otherwise hopeless. It will take someone who isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo, when the status quo needs challenging.

Some of my favorite adult humans were spicy children—who now face injustice with a holy passion and righteous fight in their souls. This is why we should be careful not to squelch the purposely-designed spirit He’s put inside our kids, but to fan the flames that stir a desire for His ways.

But how? How on earth can we do such a thing?

By ourselves, it’s hopeless. But with Him, there’s always hope.

“He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” (Isaiah 40:11)

This verse isn’t just about sheep and lambs and flocks. It’s about Jesus leading us mamas (and daddies and whoever else) as we lead them. I don’t have all the answers—and my guess is, neither do you—but we have a God who does.

And He is the perfect parent.

 

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For the next time someone asks me what I do, I’ve prepared a fresh response…

“I am a professional wiper,” I can say and even nod simultaneously. After all, I wipe countertops and salty tears and jelly-smudged faces and milk-splattered floors and pudgy bottoms and crunched up goldfish and unidentifiable objects from every surface known to man—every day. With qualifications like that, it’s time I gained some professional merit.

Maybe even a badge. 

As moms (and parents in general), there are things we do that nobody else sees. We trim tiny fingernails and hold back their hair. We fetch another glass of water and read Goodnight Moon for the 726th time. We referee squabbles and facilitate homework. We do the silly voices and cuddle like it’s our job—because it is. We answer five billion questions a day, like: “When will the pig lay its bacon?” “Why can’t we go to the African Savannah today?” “If you were a Cheetah, what would you have for lunch?” We kiss boo-boos and dress Barbies and pray desperately and make snacks and give piggyback rides and endure practices and fold underwear.

Whether you’re a working mom, a stay-at-home-mom, or somewhere in between—this is all of us. We are all in this crazy motherhood gig together. It’s hard. It’s beautiful. IT’S BEAUTIFULLY HARD. And most of all, it’s sacred.

 

But sometimes, we can feel invisible.

 

Random poll: Who’s ever heard of Moses? Or Mary? What about Noah, Esther, Jonah, or Abraham?

Even if you don’t know much about the Bible, you’ve likely heard of this famous cast of characters. But here’s one name that might not ring any bells…

Jochebed.

Though her actual name is only mentioned twice in all of Scripture, her role was not small. Jochebed was Moses’ mom. Yep—the woman who put her baby in a basket and sent him floating down a river. No one even called the cops. 

In a nutshell: Pharaoh was feeling overrun by the ever-increasing Israelite slaves, so he ordered that all Hebrew baby boys be drowned in Nile. A horrendous idea of population control. But like a good momma, Jochebed couldn’t bring herself to obey such an evil decree, so she kept him hidden for three months.

“But when she could no longer hide him, she got a basket made of papyrus reeds and waterproofed it with tar and pitch. She put the baby in the basket and laid it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. The baby’s sister then stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to him. ” (Exodus 2:3-4)

And after that? The Egyptian princess spotted him while she was bathing, the baby’s sister bravely proposed the idea of finding her a wet nurse, and Jochebed ended up getting paid by the royals to feed and love her very own baby! Talk about a change of events. Eventually, when Moses was a bit older, he was taken back to the palace where the princess raised him as her own.

So, first of all, let’s acknowledge that there are three courageous females in this story. A side note of applause goes to the princess, who had compassion on this helpless babe in less than ideal circumstances. A powerful adoption story. And to Miriam—the gutsy little girl who proved that no one is too young to change the course of history.

Secondly, I have a lot of questions for Jochebed. How did you know what to do? What was going through your head? How did it feel when you held Moses in your arms again? Did you ugly cry? Well of course she did.

The Bible tells us a little, but there’s plenty left unsaid. We know, however, that:

 

  • Jochebed was intuitive. “She saw that he was a special baby and kept him hidden for three months.” (vs 2:2) Sure, we all think our babies are special—and they are!—but she was paying attention to more than what her eyes could see. In the midst of a gruesome situation it would’ve been easy to panic, but she prayed instead. God whispered direction into her heart and she had the sense to listen.

 

  • Jochebed was hardworking. Um, have you ever tried to keep a baby quiet for three minutes? Let alone three months?! That would require some major skill. I’ve also never waterproofed a basket with tar and pitch (or anything at all for that matter). But she did it all while keeping a worthy secret, with merciless officials lurking outside of her door. She supplemented her faith with actions that affirmed her ferocious trust in God.

 

  • Jochebed was smart. I doubt it was mere coincidence that this little float trip occurred at the exact time and place when and where the princess was bathing. Yes, it was absolutely God’s orchestrating. But Jochebed also surrendered to His promptings, used her brain, devised a plan, coached her daughter, and prayed to the Lord Almighty for protection. She did what she could do and trusted Him with the rest.

 

  • Jochebed was brave. Not only did she put herself at risk by hiding Moses, but she also made the valiant decision to let him go. I bet her tears fell uncontrollably as she wiped down that tiny basket. I bet she changed his little diaper and nursed him at the water’s edge, just to get him as fat and happy and sleepy as possible. I bet her entire body shook as she laid him in that makeshift boat and gave him one last kiss—one last time. Being brave doesn’t mean that our fears are expelled, but that we choose to push through them anyway.

 

  • Jochebed was steady. Moses and Aaron were two of the greatest leaders in biblical history, eventually facing Pharaoh and leading God’s people out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land. Miriam played a significant role as both a child and an adult. Moses penned the first five books of the Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments, as God instructed him. Kind of a big deal. It seems that their mom was on mission as she taught them how to trust her God, and to hear His voice above all others.

 

So what does Jochebed’s story have to do with us? With you?

Raising a tribe of God-followers is no small thing, but she wasn’t all that different from me or from you. She loved her God and her babies—pretty simple. She did the best she could, taught them all she knew, and let them go when she couldn’t hold on any longer.

That’s the way of the mother, right? We’re raising them strong to one day release them as bright lights into the dreary darkness; to watch them live out the story for which they were made.

We are not just wipers.

We are daughters of the King. Vessels for God’s glory. Mentors of growing disciples. Executives of the Kingdom. Carriers of the most important message on the planet. Teachers to future leaders who will one day change the world.

And being unseen really isn’t so bad. God often does His best work in holy, invisible places.

 

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