Grace

Looking Up

By Joy O’Neal

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Happy first week of Spring! The irony of this publication and its content falling on the first week of Spring makes my heart sing. If you are like me, then your heart is desperate for a seasonal change. This beach bums heart currently feels semi stuck in an eternal Narnia over here in Colorado Springs. Although true in my physical surroundings I am also currently experiencing a bit of a spiritual Narnia of stagnant faith. So today, I’d like to take a moment to share with you on the topic of looking up.

As a planner, I am the queen of wanting a glimpse at God’s bigger picture. According to StrenthFinders, I am an activator, which means getting things going is my specialty. What’s next? and What are we waiting on? are just a few of the questions I battle with daily.  Although great qualities in certain arenas, spiritually these questions can cause frustration.  Even as my flesh continually battles for the reigns my God brings gentle reminders inside of the mundane that beckon me to release my grip and once again look up to Him.

Many years ago, while helping facilitate a weekend beach retreat for women, I shared about an eye opening practice that transformed my heart around looking up. During this retreat I had a very short speaking opportunity so I asked the women to engage in an experiment throughout the day. Their instructions were simple! Each time they entered a new establishment they were to look up. For me, this experiment was shocking! I realized that out of almost every establishment that I frequently visited I had NEVER seen the ceiling. My Spirit shifted around this simple practice and once again a deep impression by the One who loves us most was written on the walls of my heart. Just as I had experienced, many of the women came to me with similar shock realizing they had in fact never looked up inside of these various establishments that they had visited more times than they could count. 

If you are like me and currently in a stagnant season then you too have possibly forgotten the power that hides inside of simply shifting our eyes upward. As moms are days require us to repeatedly keep our eyes directly on each passing step. Making sure our little ones don’t fall down the stairs, the piling laundry gets washed, that project gets done and the biggest one of all--WHAT’S FOR DINNER (which I fully think should be a forbidden question). They cause us to keep a fixed focus.

Aside from writing and playing mom to my tribe I am also a preschool teacher to the worlds cutest class. Each week my partner teachers and I rotate on teaching Bible to the precious souls we are blessed with. This week was my turn to lead chapel and by no coincidence the Bible story just happens to be my most favorite of all! Doesn’t our God love us so well?

John 3: Jesus Teaches Nicodemus.

Sitting low to the floor with twenty something preschoolers looking up at me, I was reminded how the story of Nicodemus became my favorite. As I shared with you earlier, I am full of questions. I love learning and will be the first to raise my hand. During a hard season in my life I was plagued with questions. Because of my personal pain, I questioned everything. Why did this happen? God, where are You? How did I miss the mark? Did I hear You wrong? These are just a few of the questions I asked daily.  

This is when Nicodemus and I became best friends. I found Nicodemus tiptoeing through the dark night towards Jesus with his questions. I know theologically Nicodemus was keeping quiet and unseen by coming to Jesus in the night but I like to also believe that he couldn’t sleep without getting his questions answered. Just as the answers Jesus gave Nicodemus that night, I too have wrestled with the confusing answers I’ve received during each season of questioning.

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Only when I take my eyes off each step and shift them upward do I start to see the true answer. I can’t image the level of confusion Nicodemus felt as Jesus told him about rebirth. For Nicodemus, the words of Jesus must have seemed like a sci-fi movie scene. Reading through the text of John 3 I wondered how Nicodemus must’ve felt when he heard that Jesus had been crucified. Possibly Nicodemus felt the same way we do when we feel a dream or promise that God has given us has died.  I imagine Nicodemus full of questions again. But where we find Nicodemus next in scripture is the exact reason I share this story with you.

John 19:38-42: The Burial of Jesus

Nicodemus accompanied Joseph of Arimathea to prepare and bury the body of Jesus. I have to believe that Nicodemus was once again full of questions as he wrapped and anointed the lifeless flesh of Jesus. What was right in front of him didn’t look like eternal life. It didn’t look like the answers Jesus’ had previously given him. Nicodemus’ fixed focus looked like death. Oh, but if Nicodemus could’ve looked up into the heavens and seen the war that was being won for eternity in those exact moments!

Mamas, I know--BELIEVE me, I KNOW--that each day requires us to keep a fixed focus on the task ahead, but can I challenge you to look up? There is a battle being won over your dreams and family too! Trust Him with your questions and trust Him in His answers. And while you are at it, see if you’ve ever noticed the ceiling in Target!


In My Weakness: The Truth About (im)Perfection

By Gabi Kelley

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Hey moms, you don’t have to be perfect. No, really. There’s no need to be spending your time and sanity trying to do everything right...stressing about things like, “Has my kid done enough creative things today? Is she getting too much screen time? Should I feed him a different snack? Am I spending enough time sitting on the floor playing with them? What if they’re not getting enough brain stimulation? Am I reading the right books, disciplining them properly, letting them get away with too much?”

Seriously, we can’t do this to ourselves anymore. Because here’s the deal—what your kids want and need is a happy mommy who loves them. And listen, I know you LOVE your kids, but are you happy? Or are you so bogged down by doing everything right (in parenting and life) that parenting has become a heavy weight you wish you could escape?

Let me tell you this: I will never judge you as a parent. I have been walking through enough hiccups and surprises with things our kids are going through, things our family has had to carry, that my sympathy/empathy/no-judgment level is through the roof. If your kids are angelic and clean and polite, then I celebrate you because you are doing awesome. You’ve been consistent and patient and kind, and you’ve had to work through plenty of things to have this good day with these good kids. And if your kids are having massive meltdowns and screaming their heads off in the middle of a grocery store, and they have chocolate stains all over their shirts, and you give them the iPad to play with just to calm them down, I celebrate you because you’re doing awesome. You’re there and you didn’t run out the door and I’m sure the things you and your kids are facing at home or elsewhere are more challenging than anyone in your life can understand. Regardless, those kids are all gonna grow up remembering that their mommy was with them. On the good days and the bad days, the thing that will stick with them is that you were there. They won’t care if they had salmon or pizza for dinner, they will care if you were present and engaged while they were eating it.

There are enough things in life to cause us stress, let’s not make parenting competition and comparison one of them. Your kids are YOUR kids, and God gave them to YOU—you with your quirks and your temperament and your skills and your sense of humor—and He knew the challenges you would have in your life (both parenting and non-parenting related). He knew the specific special needs your kids would deal with and decided that you (yes, YOU) were the one who would be able to handle them. He knew YOU would be mom to YOUR KIDS.

 I’m not saying we shouldn’t follow good advice or throw training our kids out the window. We have to train them, and it will be hard. But doing specific things just because you’re worried about being perfect or not messing up is not the right motivation. Press into Jesus. Trust the grace He has for you today. Believe that He catches all the things that fall through the cracks and rest in the fact that the strength He has given you today is enough for what you and your kids need. So if you don’t get everything done you “needed” to get done, or if your kids watch an extra movie because you just can’t do anymore, it’s ok. You’re ok mama. And you know what? You’re doing awesome and you were made for this.

In fact, one of the very greatest promises in the Bible is this:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
— 1 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

I know you’ve heard this verse a million times, that it’s one you can likely recite from memory, but let’s not take it for granted. Go back and read it one more time, slowly, and take it all in.

Seriously, if we can wrap our minds around this verse as moms, the heavy burdens of self-condemnation, competition, and guilt could be greatly lifted off of our shoulders. Because guess what? We have something that super-moms don’t have – God’s power.

Whoa whoa whoa—hold on, slow down. Does this perhaps mean that on those days when you really JUST CAN’T, the days when you KNOW there was a whole list of you completely messed up on or skipped or missed or just threw out the window—the days when your WEAKNESS is prevalent—that God gets to show up in the most special way?!

I think YES. Because those are the days (and the hours and minutes) when you get to fall directly into the outstretched grace arms of Christ and let Him do His thing.

We hang on to control so tightly, we work so hard, we strive and strive to be perfect, to be everything to everyone, but these, in fact, could be the very things holding us (and our kids) back from truly experiencing the power of God.

(Dang girl, this is good stuff!)

If you’re not sold yet, let’s take a look at this same Scripture in The Passion Translation together:

My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.

My power finds its full expression through your weakness.

Wow, I don’t know about you, but this brings tears to my eyes and kind of makes me want to fall on my knees and say, “Thank you, Jesus.” This is a beautiful, incredible promise we’ve been given! This is who our Jesus is. The same One whose most painful, most broken moment resulted in the most magnificent glory will do the same in us.

Maybe your apology to your kid after you lost your temper is more powerful and healing for his heart than if you hadn’t lost it at all.

Maybe it’s during those mornings when you turn on cartoons and roll over to go back to sleep that God is healing your soul.

Maybe it’s on the days when you all eat Pop Tarts for dinner because you forgot to go grocery shopping that will make your children feel deeply, intimately loved, because instead of cooking and cleaning, you laughed about the meal and you talked and played and looked each other in the eye, all enjoying the unique togetherness of the “OOPS.”

Maybe it’s those moments with your special-needs child when you are completely at a loss about what to do that God gets to step in to parent your child’s spirit because you’ve had to surrender.

Maybe it’s that season of grief and loss and pain that you’ve had to walk through, making it hard to be engaged as a mom, when the grace and power of Christ are at work in your spirit and the spirits of your kids, making faith roots go down deep. Roots that will sustain each of you in the future, displaying the glory of God in your lives.

Maybe it’s exactly when you DON’T have it all together, when you’re NOT super-mom, when you actually can’t do all the things you’re “supposed” to do for your kids that you get to learn true humility and genuinely experience the incredible, grace-filled power of God flowing in and through your life and onto your kids.

Except I don’t think God would say MAYBE.

I think He’d say DEFINITELY.

He’s a good God; a God of rest, and the true Father of us and our children. So lay down your burdens, reveal to Him your weaknesses, jump into His grace, and watch Him do miracles in your family’s life over the years that you never could have dreamed.


New Mama Mercies for the New Year

By Becky Beresford

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I became a mama on the cusp of the New Year. We actually prayed our son would be the first baby born in 2011 because then we could score some major swag, including a year’s supply of diapers. It’s totally a thing.

But we learned right away that parenthood would never follow our premeditated plans. After twenty-five hours of labor and three hours of pushing, I was rushed to the OR for an emergency C-section. Baby’s vitals were dropping, as well as my own, and before I knew it, I was gazing into the eyes of this tiny human who made me a mommy.

I’m sure I cried. At least, I think I did. I was so physically drained and out of it, everything had become a blur. But through the drug-induced daze, I remember my husband bringing our son to my side. I couldn’t believe how perfect he was. As I leaned towards him in wonder, I whispered my first words as a new parent. “Hey there little boy…I’m your mama.”  He turned towards my face and pressed his soft mouth against my cheek. It was our first kiss, and I knew, right then and there, it was worth it. It would all be worth it.

The next few days were spent making sure baby and I were recovering well. I kept waiting for the ‘new mom euphoria’ to kick in, for the fog to clear and the pain to subside. But all I felt was exhaustion. Becoming a mom was nothing like I expected. The movies were wrong. TV had lied to me. Nobody told me about the aftermath of birth or the raging hormones. Sweet Jesus, the hormones!  All I knew was that I never felt more unqualified to do anything in my entire life. I didn’t know how to take care of a newborn. I didn’t know how to raise a child. I didn’t know if I was enough.

Discharge day arrived, and as they wheeled me to the hospital entrance, I was handed finely-tuned instructions in a perfect little bag. All papers and rules and schedules to follow. But I never received what my heart needed most: Grace in all its abundance. In those raw moments before heading home, I wish a fellow mama could have grabbed me by the hand. She would have smiled and told me it was going to be okay. Not because I’d learn how to keep it all together, but because my God would hold me tight when things fell far apart. Sweet friend, I can’t rewind the clock to the moment you became a mom. But I can offer you words from the One who was standing there:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!  His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning.
— Lamentations 3:22-23 (NLT)

 

No matter how many years we have roamed the halls of motherhood, we all need to be refreshed by the truth of His mercies. So, I made you a list. It should have been included in your newbie mom bag. But to be honest, its relevance rings true each and every single day. 

Claim Your Mama Mercies for the New Year:

In your weakness, He is strong. The pressure is off, girl. You don’t have to fear weakness or failure because our good God has you covered. In every area, no matter how many times we fall, He will be there not only to pick us up, but to build us up! You can do this because HE can do this through you. 

You are one righteous mother. For real. You may not feel like it sometimes (*or most of the time*), but the Bible is the inspired Word of God, which means everything in it is true. So, when God says He made Jesus, “who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” we can accept it as a divine fact!  2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB)  We mess up. Hard. No mama will ever be perfect, but the moment we start to tear ourselves down, we need to remind ourselves to look up. We need to cast our gaze towards heaven and claim Christ’s righteousness as our own. We are in Him. We are clothed in white, completely holy and pure. When God sees us, He doesn’t see our mistakes. He sees our majesty. Remember that, mama.

You are chosen and you matter. Many days you may feel unappreciated and overlooked. The demands of motherhood may seem, at best, mundane. But in reality, you are doing sacred work. You are raising a generation of warriors and worshippers. You are fulfilling the greatest commandment and the great commission. You are loving unconditionally and giving unceasingly, all for the sake of building up God’s kingdom within the walls of your own home. There is no greater calling. There is no greater thing. Your family is your heartbeat and continually pointing your littles towards their Savior will inevitably change the world. You were chosen for this role. You were born to be their mom. And you’re doing a great job.

You are deeply loved. By God. By your families. And we hope you know you are loved by us… a sisterhood of women who are in the diaper-filled trenches, holding each other up, speaking life into the beautiful and hard places. No matter what we have or haven’t done, our worth remains the same in our Father’s eyes. We were fought for and forgiven at the cross, before we could do anything to try and earn God’s favor. It is finished, mama. He has already given us His heart, and now it is up to us to let His love into ours.

May His mercies cover you each morning. And fill all the moments in between.  

Happy New Year, friends.


Giving Grace to the Gap of Uncontrollable Circumstances

By Joy O’Neal

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Mamas, we have mastered the art of giving. We give our time, energy and body to our family. There is one person we often forget though and that’s the beautiful yet tired face that stares us back in the mirror each morning. Today, lets talk about giving ourselves something and I’m not talking about getting your nails done, getting a massage or scheduling a much needed night out; although I am a lover of all these things. I am talking about giving yourself grace! Grace to the gap of uncontrollable circumstances.

As mothers, grace is often forgotten amidst the sleepless nights, dirty diapers, mounds of homework, sibling meltdowns, toddler tantrums and empty milk jug corners, can I get an amen? Moms often construct the perfect picture of the Joanna Gaines meets Mrs. Walton moments and find ourselves confused on how they ended up looking more like Rosanne meets Peggy Bundy!

I remember when my two oldest were under the age of three, I painted a perfect picture for Mother’s Day. Sunday after church my husband, kids and I would have a perfect picnic on the beach.  I started prepping the food on Saturday, put all the beach toys and umbrella in the car. It was going to go off without a hitch! I would sit on the sand, eat my grapes and look at my cute little babies and sweet husband and feel so celebrated. When church was over my husband mentioned that a storm was coming. Oh, No! Not on my perfect day! I told him it would be fine and we should keep things as planned. When we arrived at the beach the wind picked up and again my husband suggested that maybe going out for some fresh seafood was the better plan. Again, I blew off his suggestion and recommended that sitting in the car a few minutes was all we needed. The storm stayed! Finally, I decided that maybe the wind wouldn’t be so bad once we walked over the dunes and closer to the water. My husband started to gather all of the wonderful things I packed for my perfect day. One thing that’s dangerous about preparing for an entire day is it allows an entire day worth of “maybe we should bring ______?” thoughts! I can still see my husband walking through the thick sand carrying a blanket, two chairs, a bag full of toys and ALL while pulling a giant cooler full of food. Once we got onto the beach and set everything up our children began to scream because the wind blew the sand like tiny pellets from Hell all over them and our food. We packed everything up, trekked back to the car and my Mother’s Day was a complete fail.

My plans were shot! The uncontrollable circumstances where there but where was the grace? Nothing had gone as planned and my day was wrecked!

Now it’s a funny memory but what about the mom moments that aren’t so funny? The ones that keep us up at night—the ones we replay over and over, fishing for how we could change the outcome?

When my youngest was sick for the first time (that she could remember) she laid on the floor and rolled back and forth moaning, “UGH, I didn’t see this day coming!” As to say, had I known I’d been better prepared? Isn’t that all of us? Life throws us curveballs and instead of giving grace to the gap of uncontrollable circumstances we force the picnic against the storm or roll around on the floor wishing we’d known it was coming so we could be better prepared.

I am so thankful that in spite of ourselves we have a God that weathers all storms and DOES hold each day in His loving hands.  

Over the last year the phase “Give grace to the gap” has become a bit of a personal tagline. God continually places me inside beautiful collisions that teach me the importance of giving grace to the gap and allowing provision to catch up to the promises He’s spoken over my life.

As a pastors daughter, growing up in church I knew the ending to every story. I knew Rehab and her family were spared, Daniel left untouched, the grave left empty and Jonah’s story didn’t end in the belly of a fish. These spoiler alert moments created a desensitized revelation that clouded an overwhelming truth!  Each one of these people had zero clue around their future while they were living in the gap yet their words of faith send my soul swimming in the goodness of God and the beauty of living as a true grace giver inside of the gap of uncontrollable circumstances.

Particularly Jonahs Prayer in Jonah 2:1-9, I listen as Jonah cries out in the depths with praise and certainty that his God will rescue and redeem him. Now that’s a grace giver! The bold declaration of an almost certain faith that his God is already at work in delivering him and in spite of it all he would praise the God he loved so well.

So as moms, what does giving grace to the gap of uncontrollable circumstances look like?

We all have patterns of fighting uncontrollable circumstances. For me, these battles always had signs of my combative approach that were undeniably byproducts of my lack of trust and grace giving.

A life lived without giving grace to ourselves looks a lot like worry, doubt, frustration and weariness. So what does giving grace to the gaps look like?  While looking back during times when I was able to give grace to the gap I found some familiar actions that I know are responsible for a positive outcome. Something I now call the 4S approach: Speak, Seek, Sing and Stand.

Thumbing through my journal I can see how I allowed women of faith to speak into my life.  I also found that I had a hunger to seek counsel.  Additionally, there was a pattern of praise, personal laments to a God who hears my cry. Finally, I stood!  I boldly declared His promise over my life and chose to speak the God breath truth into the gap.

I’ve only been in the mom game for 10 years now but I’d much rather stand inside the 4S approach then experience worry, doubt, frustration and weariness.

As moms, I am certain that we will continue to be plagued with uncontrollable circumstances but can I challenge you today to give grace to the gap? Our God is good all the time! He is drawing near, coming as close as a breath, standing shoulder to shoulder and declaring that we are His and He is ours. No weapon of mind, body or spirit formed against us shall prosper. We’ve already been given every ounce of today’s grace, today’s mercies and today’s spiritual bread needed to be courageous and victorious!

Cheers moms! You’ve got this!


Resisting the Urge to Parent Your Husband

By Brittany Rust

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It happens so often I can even pick one example to share. One glimpse into my imperfect attempt to be a perfect wife and mom.

Before having a kid, I'll be honest, I didn't understand why it was so common for marriages to become secondary. I was naive about a lot of things before having a child, haha. I just loved my husband so much I couldn't comprehend the difficulty that could come with expanding the family.  Especially since pregnancy brought us closer than we had ever been before.

Bringing a child into the world is one of the most beautiful things and a true gift. But it sure ain't easy to all the things that come afterward for a lifetime.

I make a lot of mistakes as a mom and wife, but one I do real well is parenting my husband. Do you do that, too?! You know, make comments about how you think your husband should do something. Correct how they dress the kiddo or feed the baby. I mean, we all have done this a time or two, am I right? Please say I'm not crazy!

Part of learning to parent and love your spouse well in balance is learning to never parent the spouse. Here are a few ways we could do a little better in this area.

  1. Take a breath and move on. In other words, let it go. Pick your battles. If it's not a game changing decision or throws your household into a chaotic mess, take a moment to realize it's not worth causing disunity for one snide remark. Take a deep breath and move on.
  2. Ask questions instead of assuming. Extend some grace. Maybe your husband has had a rough day and just isn't all there. I mean, I've had mom brain more times than I can count and I really appreciate the understanding. Don't just assume your husband had bad intentions to get back at you or didn't care to give it his best.
  3. Don't assume your way is the only right way. As moms we sometime assume our way is the best way (and only way) to handle a situation because of that motherly instinct and all the research we pour into. But I'll be honest--there were times I wanted to resist the way Ryan wanted to do something and realized he actually had a great idea!

I hope this helps give you a bit of perspective when it comes to being a mom and a wife. I know it's something I certainly need to be reminded of.

Tonight, let your husband know how much you value him as a husband and father. Share with him all the wonderful ways he contributes to the family. And be a little more open-minded about co-parenting with him; showing him respect as a father and resisting the urge to parent him.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
— Ecclesiastes 4:9-12