Steady As She Goes – The GIFT your kids really want – Mom’s Emotional Stability

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Steady As She Goes

Well, November is upon us and that means my very favorite time of the year is just around the corner – Thanksgiving and Christmas!  Unfailingly, as the holidays return each year, just thoughts of this season of love and beauty fill my heart with joy!

Of course, with visions of family joys ahead, the pressure of pretty gifts under the tree creeps in.    Hmmmm… what to give everyone this year?

Although I love the frantic fun of tearing into Christmas presents as much as anyone else – I’m smiling just thinking of it – I sometimes shake my head at all the fuss we make over presents.   The truth is, they so rarely get much attention after just a few short months!  The real question is “What gifts will last?”

The old sentiment is true.  The only ones that seem to have any lasting power have one thing in common:  they are the gifts that include a measure of the person who gave it.  Emerson said it well, “Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts.  The only true gift is a portion of thyself.”

This Christmas, I want to give my family something that lasts, don’t you?  I want to give them a TRUE gift.

But what does that look like as a mom?  I’ve been pondering this…and have found a pretty wonderful gift.  This gift, if your child could articulate it, would be at the TOP of their list.  Kids would be clamoring for it if they knew how to express it.  Unfortunately, it isn’t really something they can really request.  This gift has to come from you, Mom, resulting from a most unselfish, mature and loving desire.  It will cost you something.  What is this wonderful and sought-after gift?

It is simply the decision to be the steadying emotional center of your family – and living that out every day.

Maybe that’s not what you expected.  It’s not exactly something that has fireworks after it.  But what a true and lasting gift.  I have observed this gift lived out in families I admire – families that are healthy, intact and characterized by joy.  While there are other factors, one thing they all have in common is this – they have one great lady at the center, steadying the ship.

Now by saying she is at the center, I am not saying she is in charge or that her husband is not the head of the home.  A great lady honors her husband and embraces her role as heart of the home.  But, she knows well, that within that sphere, she has great influence….and she will use it for GOOD!

A great lady is wise and settled. She is determined to be a worthy and happy “heart of the home”.  This means she does what it takes to give her family a mom who is healthy, emotionally balanced and mature.  A glimpse into the life of a woman who is “steady as she goes”…

– She is emotionally available to her children and her husband.  She is a great listener and responder.

– She embraces the responsibilities of her home and devotes herself to her family’s needs with excellence.

– She disciplines her children faithfully and encourages them to blossom into the person God is making them.

– She is a “Happy Camper,” positive and joyful as she loves and serves her family.

– Most of all – she is EVEN, steady and lovingly strong, in the midst of the ever-changing dynamics of her family – different temperaments, struggles, joys and heartaches.  She is STEADY.

But where does this steadiness come from?  It comes from a quiet TRUST IN GOD.  It is believing that He holds your family together (not you) and that He loves your family even more than you do.  It comes from a woman who does not let her unreliable emotions rule the day, but let’s God’s Holy Spirit help her in those crunch moments – to yield.  She must yield her desires and emotions, entrusting herself and her family to God, over and over again.

Does this mean she is never cranky?  No way!  Does this mean she is super-human?  Absolutely not.  In fact, if you saw her in her private moments, you might wonder how steady she is after all.  She may have many moments of fear and struggle and tears.  But she has resolved to not bring that into every moment of her family’s life.

Let’s face it.  We women are emotional – some more than others.  I would say I am on the “more” side of the spectrum.   But what do we do with that when our emotions are not helpful?  We ask God to help us.  He wants to be Lord over all of our lives – including our emotions.  If we choose to let the feelings of the moment dictate our every choice, spewing every time we are frustrated, we will wreak havoc in our families.  We will leave a trail of destruction that may not destroy your family, but will most definitely have unpleasant echoes in the future.

Some things only show themselves after our children are on their own.  What will your emotional legacy be?  90% sweet, 10% scary?  Retreated and unavailable?

Or will it be the gift of consistency and steadying love?  Wouldn’t we all love to hear our children say of us one day, “My mom was such a steadying, loving force in our family.  She really was one great lady.”

Since your child can’t request this one, I will.  As you enter the holiday season, resolve to give your children one precious gift that will last:  A home with a mom who is “steady as she goes”.

– Julie McGrath

Proverbs 3 :5-6  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 14:29 “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.”

Going Deeper:

1.  After our number one priority of teaching our children about God and the
truths of His Word, why do you think that being a steadying force in your
family is such a priority?  What is your history of emotional stability in the home you were raised in?  Think about the legacy you want to leave.

2.  Purpose this week to bless your family by demonstrating self-control in
a heated situation.  Teach your children to rely on God’s holy spirit for
patience when they feel the squeeze of life’s pressures.  Remember your
life’s example speaks louder than your words!

Are you so busy that your life resembles “Whack-a-mole”? The importance of Defining What is SACRED

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ImageAre you so busy that your life resembles “Whack-a-mole”?  The Importance of Defining What is SACRED

Have you ever played that arcade game Whack-a-mole?  The idea is to take a big padded hammer on a cord and wait for the moles to pop up. When they do, you frantically whack those moles down just as hard and fast as you can. Of course, the more moles you whack, the higher your score. What is it about this silly game that draws everyone in? This is a mystery to me. I suppose it is because it’s a brainless stress-reliever that keeps you guessing. You never know which mole will pop up next!  And, can you hit them all?!

This game popped into my head a few years ago when my husband and I were going through an especially busy season of life.  We were both stretched thin with the demands of our family, church commitments, sports, friends, and so on.

Finally, one date night, as I was lamenting about how busy our lives had become, it dawned on me, “Honey, our life is like whack-a-mole!” “What?” “You know, that game with the moles…and the hammer?  I feel like that is us!  You’ve got the hammer and I am just one of many moles in your life!”  He shook his head and asserted that I was not one of many moles.  I finally conceded, “Ok, so maybe I am a bonus mole (extra points)…but I am still just one of many moles!”

Sometimes, these word pictures hit a little too close to home for my wonderful husband, who really does live by good priorities.  But, that evening was a turning point for us.  It started us down a very helpful and tender season of defining – and learning to live by – what we defined as truly sacred in life.

To establish what we would define as sacred, we had to answer a few questions:

What are the things that we hold most precious as a couple?

What are the priorities we want to be defined by as a family?

What are the things that we would lay down our lives for?

What is absolutely sacred to our family?

After some soul searching and taking time to make our own lists and then talk it through, here is what rose to the surface.

Our devotion to God. (Deut. 6:5)

Our devotion to our marriage. (Eph. 5:22-31, Hebrews 13:4)

Our devotion to our children; to pour into them lots of love, a healthy measure of discipline, and to faithfully teach them about Christ.  (Deut 6:4-7)

Our commitment to have a home dedicated to serving and loving God. (Joshua 24:15)

And finally, from that strong home base, our commitment to extend the message of God’s love and forgiveness to others. (2 Corin. 12:15)

And, I must tell you, that is it!  This short list of priorities are the things we hold most precious, the things that we want to be known for, and the things for which we would lay down our lives.

Jesus also spoke of priorities…and his advice is beautifully simple.  “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” – Matthew 6:33 This is a gracious invitation from our heavenly Father to a restless people.  He is telling us that if we simply put Him first, setting our hearts and minds on pleasing Him, He will take care of the rest!  As you steady your gaze on Him, you will be amazed at how easily everything else falls into its proper place.

Once we defined our sacred priorities, we discovered just how often they would be challenged.  Every day of every week, worthy duties call and precious friends ask. Often times we say yes. But we have come to the place where we know that the stakes are high, and that frees us up to sometimes say no.  We know that one day we will stand before our Maker, giving an account for how we have spent our days. (Matt 25:14-28, Rom 14:12, Heb 4:13)  Will we be able to say we lived purposefully for the few things we hold most dear – for the things He holds most dear?

Unless we define – and resolutely cling to – what is most sacred to us, those precious relationships and priorities can be swept away in the busyness of our mole-whacking ways.

I encourage you, friend, to stop and gain perspective about your priorities.  As you do, I can assure you that you will be blessed.  You will discover that life becomes a lot more simple – and sweet – once you can define for yourselves that one vital matter:  What is sacred?

But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. – Matthew 6:33

Questions to ponder:

• What are some of the moles in my life, things that keep me from prioritizing that which is most precious to me?   What is something that I give my time to that isn’t going to matter in five years?  Should I consider leaving it behind?

• Sit down this week and talk with your husband about defining what is most sacred to you and your family.

Waiting for Daisies

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I absolutely love my garden.  Every year I look forward to dreaming about it, planting it and finally, watching it grow.  I learn a bit more each year and am proud to call myself a “wanna be” gardener.   Every spring feels like Christmas to me as I roam through the gardening department, taking in all the flowers and vegetables, considering what to plant.

One year I spotted some lovely looking daisies and smiled to myself, thinking about how much my mom loves them.  I almost picked up a plant or two, but then I saw…the fateful moment…just beyond that, were some daisy seeds.  There was a picture of a pretty daisy on the front and I thought to myself, “I’m getting pretty good at gardening.  I think I’ll just plant my own daisies!  How hard can it be anyway?” (Ha!)

When planting time came, I carefully laid out my plants – tomatoes here, zucchini there…and finally sprinkled my daisy seeds in the corner by the bench, thinking of how pretty daisies would look there through the summertime months.

Well, in no time at all, everything started coming up…tiny plants of all sorts!  I tended to them carefully – watering…weeding…watering…weeding.  It was wonderful to watch everything start to grow and bloom.  Soon I had vegetables and flowers filling my garden and was bringing in basketfuls to share with my family.

But – what was this BUSH by the bench in the corner of my garden?  It was lush and green and looked healthy enough.  I almost forgot what I planted there.  Oh yes, the daisies!  But where were the daisies?  I waited.

Every day I would check for some sign of blooms.  Sometimes I would even peek way down deep inside the bush.  Nothing there.  I watered it some more…still no daisies.  I checked to make sure it was getting enough.  Yes, it seemed to be…hmmm…still no daisies!  To be honest, it was kind of an eye-sore and I would sometimes fret over how awkwardly it stuck out among the other blossoming plants.

Sometimes friends visiting would come and admire our garden.  I was delighted to share what each plant was and how it was coming along that year.  But inevitably, their eyes would be drawn to the BUSH in the corner.  “And what is this?”  Sheepishly, I would say, “Well, it’s supposed to be daisies.”  “Hmmm…” they would smile, “Oh well!”  I would then try to excuse my daisy bush, “I don’t know what I’ve done wrong or what is happening with it.  I think it may be a dud or something.”

Like my daisy bush, have you ever felt like one of your children, whom you have loved, invested in and are tending to every day, is clearly not blooming spiritually?  You faithfully plant seeds of God’s love, teaching and good priorities in their hearts and expectantly hope for good results.  But there just doesn’t seem to be much response. Where are the signs of life?  Is anything happening here?

That daisy bush held a few precious lessons for me that summer. The first is that I need to TRUST that God is in charge of the growing process itself.  He is working behind the scenes, even when we don’t see it, and He is the one that makes the seed grow (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).  Secondly, there is a different pace of growth for each child.  It’s not my job to insist upon the timing!  Instead of staring at my bush every day, fretting over when and if the daisies will ever come, I need to spend my energy on doing my part – continuing to water and weed.  And thirdly, God is faithful (Deut. 7:9).  If you plant His word faithfully in your child’s heart, day after day, season after season, it WILL grow.  God’s good seed produces good fruit, every time. (The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it. – 1 Thess. 5:24)

This brings me to the happy end of my story.  Just as we were about to pull up all the plants for the winter, I noticed a shade of white coming from within that huge bush in the corner!  You guessed it; here came those long-awaited DAISIES!  The next day that bush was completely white, covered in beautiful daisies!  I joyfully picked a bunch and brought them in the house.  The next day I did the same…and the next…and the next.  Soon we had daisies tucked behind our ears and laced into crowns and necklaces.  Everywhere DAISIES!  I had to laugh at my thoughts about my dud of a daisy bush.  Little did I know…

What a wonderful education I received from one thin package of daisy seeds.  So, Mom, remember as you are fretting over your big green daisy-less bush…

  • Trust that God is in charge of the growing process itself (Phil 1:6).
  • Don’t insist on the timing. He has a different pace of growth for each child.  You just be faithful to do your part and love your child well.
  • Remember how many times you have considered yourself a “slow grower” too!!
  • And finally, watch God pour out His blessing in due time!

– Julie McGrath

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  (1 Cor. 3:6-7)

Watch over your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim. 4:16)

Going Deeper:

  • Just like in gardening, where God is the grower, there is much you can do to help your children’s hearts be fertile soil for God’s growing process:
    • Watering – Are you teaching your child God’s Word and His ways?  Are you praying for him and investing in him lots of love and time?
    • Weeding – Are you watching over his attitudes, friendships and influences?
  • Are you more concerned with outward appearance, or are you trusting God to make His change from within?

Sibling Rivalry – Helping “The Balloon Popper”

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The Balloon Popper

Some months ago, the relationship between two of my children was in a rut.  I seemed to be constantly playing referee with the two of them.  It was a discouraging time for not only me, but for our whole family.  Their squabbling was affecting all of us and I decided it was time to get the root of the problem.  

I began to observe my son.  For whatever reason, he had decided that he needed to do whatever he could to keep his younger sister in her place.  Every time she was excited about something or had a story to share, he was right on her heels with a few words to squelch her joy.  I gave him a visual picture of the way he was treating his sister.  

Every time she had something to share it was like she was blowing up a balloon…balloons of excitement, balloons of hope, balloons of a bit of family news.  Every time she slowly blew up her balloon, her big brother was there waiting, anxious to pull out a giant pin, and POP IT!  He had become The Balloon Popper.  How hard to see this as a mom.  How sad!  How unlike the generous love that our Lord has for us! (1 John 4:7-8) Where was this discouraging behavior coming from? 

The Bible talks about building up and tearing down.  Notice that both building up and tearing down are actions that require purposeful intent.  The big difference is that they are headed in two completely opposite directions.  Sadly, tearing down is the natural inclination of our hearts.  We don’t want people to shine brighter than we do, or to have attention we crave for ourselves.  This is what was going on with my son.  

How tempting it can be to wish away these difficult issues and just throw up our hands, attributing them to childish behavior.  But honestly, how cruel for the child in the long run.  Instead of leaving it alone or deciding to turn a deaf ear to it, I encourage you, Mom, to address it.  What this young balloon popper was doing was wrong and it was time for a change.  

We bless our kids when we are honest with them. With love, truth and grace, we can break through the tough and defensive exterior of their behavior and get to their hearts.  As the old saying goes, if the kettle is black, call it black.  The benefit of pinpointing the problem is that it gives our children the chance to repent and to be free of it!  

When the reality of what my son had been doing to his little sister was finally heard, he was grieved.  It was a difficult conversation.  But it opened the door to healing and freedom from this awful rut they were in! We helped our young son by tenderly showing him what to do with his guilt.  He must own it, take it to God and confess it.  He must ask for forgiveness from God and from his little sister.  We then shared the wonderful truth about how freely our merciful God forgives us…and forgets!  (Romans 8:1, Psalm 103:11-12, Daniel 9:9)

Next came a helpful discussion about how God wants his children busy working on building others up, not tearing them down!  (1 Thes. 5:11, Hebrews 3:13)   I explained that a builder of a house, intently working on building with purpose and excellence, would not even think about tearing down his hard work.  In the same way, when you are intentionally busy building someone up, you wouldn’t even consider stopping and then tearing them down!  That would be going in the complete opposite direction!  

We brainstormed together about how he could get busy building up his sister. It started with a few simple projects.  The first was negative in nature.  He may not speak to her for a while.  Their relationship had gotten so dysfunctional that I felt it was necessary to withhold all interaction with her for a time.  The tearing down had to cease construction.  

The rest were positive in nature.  I encouraged him to serve her.  He made her bed in secret (I required it at first ), he wrote her a letter and surprised her with a fort for the two of them to play in.  All of these efforts brought big smiles all around.  We saw improvements right away. 

But just as with the construction of a house, the building process was sometimes slow.  Still, we were headed in the right direction! I’m happy to say that The Balloon Popper is long gone.  After many months of construction, the relationship between the two of them is – and I am not exaggerating – full of laughter and kindness!  What a beautiful change in our family!  How I thank God for His simple plan of healing and restoration – simple enough for a child to understand.  

Remember, too, that as we help our children turn to God, we are showing them the path to freedom!  How helpful to lay the groundwork for their future relationships, teaching them what to do and where to go with their struggles – to our forgiving and restoring God. 

– Julie McGrath

 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 

 – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Going Deeper…

  • What are the relationship issues that need to be addressed in your family, not only at the behavior level, but at the heart level?  
  • Do you acknowledge to your child that left to your own, you are not the builder you want to be either?  Share openly about how much you, too, have to depend on God. 

Longings of the Heart – Is your nose pressed against the window?

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Nose-Pressed-Against-the-Window

I have a funny memory etched in my mind of a friend serving in our church nursery several years ago.  It was toward the end of a long church service and she had been serving in there for a good hour and a half.  Although she didn’t see me, I saw her looking longingly out the nursery window for parents to come and retrieve their little ones.  I giggled at her puppy dog “Help me!” eyes…and her nose – literally – pressed against the window!  Clearly it had been a big day in the nursery and it was time to call it a day!  I waved at her, breaking her out of her trance, and we had a good laugh about it.   But what has stayed with me is that look on her face.  There is something I will remember from that nose-pressed-against-the-window look.  I think I recognized something in myself that day, something that doesn’t always rise to the surface of life.  But it’s a common trait of all humanity: longings.

How many times through the years have you thought, “If only…”  If only I could be somewhere else…someone else…If only I could somehow be more free from the troubles or limitations of my current situation…

Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with dreaming.  It is a God-given blessing to dream.  The question is – where do we go with our dreams?  Do we look toward God and seek His ways of satisfaction?  Or do we look away from Him and search high and low, desperately seeking to fulfill our deepest needs in ways that may bring us satisfaction for a season… but will it last?

The Bible talks about three potential directions of the heart.  The first two are obvious:  We can turn our hearts  toward God or we can turn them away from God.   The third position could be described as somewhere in the middle.  Christ describes this third direction as a lukewarm or divided heart – and if we are living that way, He has some sobering words for us.   “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”  – Revelation 3:16   Wow!

It’s clear that the direction of our hearts matters deeply to God – and only one of those directions will be blessed.  That is heart that is fully turned toward Him; a heart that is undivided, set on honoring Him with your whole life.  How I need God’s help to love Him more fully, with my whole heart!

Now, I must say, the way of learning to live for God and be satisfied in Him is not a quick fix – nor is it always easy.  In contrast to what the world has to offer you, God’s ways of satisfying the deep needs of your heart are very different.  I have found that when I choose to turn to God, my experiences have been marked by unexpected, yet truly life-giving lessons.  Things like forgetting my own needs for the sake of another, surrendering my plans and dreams to Him, trusting Him when I don’t understand His plan, waiting when I want to jump, laying down my rights when I want to hold on to a hurt and hanging in there when life gets hard….not exactly the stuff of ease and comfort!

BUT – I have also found that God’s ways of satisfaction are profoundly real and lasting.  When I choose to surrender my dreams to Him, he has a way of gently guiding (even changing!) them so that they are more in line with His heart and will for my life.  As a result, I find myself resting in the blessing of being completely at peace with God and with my circumstances!  Truly, there is no greater joy than to feel that you are enjoying the smile of God on your life – and there is nothing more satisfying.

So, friend with your nose pressed against the window, I encourage you to turn your heart fully toward the One who loves you most, and best knows the deep needs of your heart.  Trust Him to show you the only true way to meaningful satisfaction – and that is satisfaction in Him!

– Julie McGrath

Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.  Psalm 103:2-4

Going deeper:

1.  Where is your heart today?

2.  Take time to spend time with the Only One who can speak to the deepest needs of your heart.