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It’s a new year—with new dreams, new challenges, and (like it or not) a new president.

As we approach the end of January my gym is still decently full, which I happen to find bittersweet (sweet because people are taking charge of their health; bitter because I do not like smelling someone else’s sweat right next to me). But it will taper off soon, as it does every year. Because forming a new habit is hard.

We moved our kitchen trashcan from one wall, where it’s lived for over ten years, to the pantry. And would you believe it? It took a solid MONTH for us to break the rhythm of walking to that old spot and train our brains to take the new route instead. Because forming a new habit is hard.

I took a siesta from the World Wide Web these past several weeks to hone in on some top priorities. At first, I found myself wanting to click those social media buttons or craving to lose myself in one of my favorite blogs. Because, as you know, forming a new habit is hard. But once I embraced the empty space and didn’t hurry to fill it with something else, my perspective radically shifted.

It’s not easy to break an old habit or to create new ones, but I never want to allow my routine tendencies to trump what’s most important. I want to live my life on purpose, refusing to settle for merely going through the motions.

“Don’t act thoughtlessly,” Paul encourages, “but understand what the Lord wants you to do.” (Romans 12:2)

My husband and I decided to do a “family word” for 2017—to intentionally involve the kids and think about what really matters. We wanted it to be something like focus; something about fixing our eyes on the important stuff. Since Jack (our almost 5-year-old) is really into nerf guns and constantly shooting his foam bow and arrow, we decided on the word AIM. Aim for what matters most. Notice it’s not “hit the bullseye every time” or “be perfect and never screw up.” No, to aim is to point toward the end goal.

And so we sit around the breakfast table, casually chatting about the seven areas we’ve chosen to aim for this coming year. We wanted them to be short, simple, and easy enough for our kids to remember. And though we’ve elaborated a bit more in our personal scribbles, here is the basic gist:

AIM:

(1) Love God.

(2) Love people.

(3) Be the Church.

(4) Live healthy.

(5) Work hard. 

(6) Play hard.

(7) Stop to rest.

If we don’t point ourselves in the right direction, how can we expect to end up somewhere on purpose?

So if you committed to start something new but have already fallen off the bandwagon, you can still get back on. If you set some fresh goals but have already messed up your record, you can still begin again. If you want the power of Christ to continually change the way you think, but so far you’ve only been focused on yourself, admit your weakness and lean into His strength. Steady your feet, ask for God’s help, mark your target, and don’t give up now.

Your one and only life is far too important.

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Parenthood is one of those things we all want to get right and finish well. But, goodness gracious, the bar is set awfully high with gobs of unachievable Pinterest goals. And Christmas is no different—if you haven’t noticed.

I could scribble down a list of crafty holiday projects, creative advent calendars, yummy Christmas treats, and even a few design ideas that would rival the fabricated scenarios in a Pottery Barn Kids magazine.

But who wants one more thing to do? One more line added to the already overflowing demands? One more way to not measure up this holiday season?

Well, NOT ME.

But there is one thing at the top of my list; one thing I tell my kids (and myself) at Christmas…

See those twinkling lights shining on every rooftop? The sparkly tree in our living room? The emerald wreaths with merry-red bows? The chestnuts roasting on an open fire? (Okay, who really does that?) The snowflake sugar cookies? The gumdrop-covered gingerbread houses? The carefully wrapped presents? The cheery songs? The heavenly smells? The warm gatherings?

Every time you stop to enjoy one of these things, just remember: This is all one huge party for Jesus.

Birthdays are a big deal around our house, so this is lingo my kids can understand.

Christmas is not just a festive season or some random tradition. It’s ALL a big birthday celebration that points us back to Jesus’ humble birth, to that dusty stable, to the climax moment when a young mama’s labor pains turned into tears of joy as she held her new baby in the crook of her neck, cheek pressed against His little face, gratefully wondering about all the angel had told her regarding the miracle in her arms.

God often starts with small, but small things tend to grow.

Jesus left the glories of heaven and came to this busted ground as a tiny, ordinary babe. He grew strong in wisdom and stature. He was different from the others—carrying a unique perspective, unmatched knowledge, and a backwards kind of love. Then, He did something wild, giving up His life for those who didn’t even appreciate it. But He only borrowed the grave, defeating the most painful thing here on earth.

And He will make Himself known once again—to the entire world—at just the right time.

Why can we trust this? Because the Old Testament prophecies were exactly right about His first coming (read Isaiah 53), which leads me to believe that the many other predictions about “the end” will come true as well. Also, when someone forecasts their own death and resurrection, and successfully pulls it off? I’m going with that guy.

But why did He go to all that trouble? And why did He do it this particular way? Why didn’t He skip the mess and just smash through the sky as the reining and ruling King from the very beginning?

While the magnitude of His ways and His sacrifice still lie beyond our full grasp, we know that He did it for us. Because He loves us; because He couldn’t let us stay stuck in our brokenness—helpless to fix the situation on our own. And He did it so that the world would see His great power. 

This story isn’t over yet, but the plot certainly thickened when He entered that tumbledown stable on a dark, starry night. And isn’t it just like God to meet us right where we are?

So whatever you do…

Whether you turn your life upside down to have the most mischievous Elf on the Shelf in existence—or not. Whether you bring Santa into the mix—or not. Whether this Christmas is everything you dreamed it would be—or not. Whether you go big or go small or go somewhere in between.

If we forget everything else and absolutely nothing is perfect?

Let us remember that this is all for Him.

 

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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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