Portrait of a Servant Girl – Susan’s Story – Part 1

Author’s Note: All my sisters in Christ are Servant Girls, and we’ve all been given God’s stories to tell. I’m grateful to be able to write to you over the next few weeks about Susan.  We sat at her home one Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago and talked about how she met Jesus and some of the valleys He’s carried her through. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Susan Elder…

“It tickles me,” Susan grinned, “to look back and see where God gave His grace and where He answered my prayers.  So, I keep a journal, and I write down dates and what I prayed for or what God showed me that day. Then, when a prayer is answered, I can look back and see when I prayed for it.”

We sat on the floral-patterned couch in the den of her home.  The great room was still and quiet. The only light was from the big windows flanking the front door and the windows overlooking the back porch. The only sound was the soft whir of the fan as it steadily spun overhead.

My notebook sat on my lap, and I scribbled furiously as she told me the story of her life and her family’s walk with Jesus.

“I’m from Chattanooga, Tennessee,” she told me.  “My family was the trash of the neighborhood. I always knew we were bad.  My dad was a violent alcoholic, and everybody knew it.”

Susan’s family included her parents and their five children.

“I always wanted to be good,” Susan said, matter-of-factly, “but we were trash.  I was helpless. I knew a few Bible stories, but I didn’t know Jesus died for me.”

When her older brother was 17, he bought a car and started going to church with his girlfriend.

“When he invited me to go to church with them, I went!”  She exclaimed. “I learned all sorts of things,” she said, more excited.  “Most importantly, I learned Jesus died for me. I never knew that,” she told me again.

Susan described a Sunday morning church service when her brother made a profession of faith.  She followed him and did the same. “I wanted to be saved,” she stressed, “but I didn’t understand how.  The Bible says, ‘All that call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ I followed my brother, and I said I believed in Jesus, but I didn’t call on His name.”

She laughed a little, and I looked up.  Her hand covered an embarrassed smile.

“I remember learning,” she began, “that the trump would sound and the Lord would come back.”  She paused again, and her sheepish grin spread larger. She didn’t cover it this time.

“Well, one night, I was in bed, and a car horn went off out on the street somewhere in our neighborhood.  It got stuck and just went on blaring. It scared me half to death. I thought the Lord was coming back,” she laughed.  “I jumped out of bed, went down on my knees, and prayed! I begged, ‘Lord, please forgive me of my sins. Please save me.’  And I heard Him say, ‘I forgive you.’ And He saved me and forgave me of all my sins right then and there. See it wasn’t until I fell on my knees beside my bed that I actually called His name.  That’s when I was truly saved.”

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Photo Credit: believers4ever.com

She laughed again to herself, no doubt remembering the car horn that heralded her arrival into the arms of the Lord.

Susan was 16 when she accepted Jesus as her Savior.

After that, her brother’s girlfriend gave her a Bible.

“I read it every night,” she breathed.  “And I prayed, and I talked to God, and I went to church.”

It was in church youth group that she met Steve.

“I noticed his smile,” she confessed when I asked what got her attention at first.

“We started dating,” Susan explained, “and I prayed to God asking Him to show me ‘the right one.’  I always ask God what to do,” she added.  “If you ask Him, He’ll tell you.”

Apparently, Steve was the right one.  They married in 1972. Three daughters followed: Vicki in 1974, Jenny in 1978, and Stephanie in 1981.

Susan said of Steve, “His strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa.  He just thinks differently than me.”

“What do you mean?”  I asked.

She didn’t even have to think before she clarified, “He is very detailed.  He thinks in three dimensions. He’s extremely thorough, always thinking about the next step, and I just want to hurry up and get things done.”  She laughed. Then she gestured at the room around us. “He drew up the plans for our house,” she continued. “He made sure there was no wasted space inside these walls.  Our half bathroom and master bathroom,” she said, pointing toward the hall, “are back to back so that all the plumbing is in the same place.”

She told me about the family’s move to Monroe in 1992.

“We didn’t know much about the area, the schools, or the churches,” she clarified.  “I remembered reading in Proverbs that you could flip a coin, and God would make the decision.  So, we said, ‘Heads, Piedmont; tails, Sun Valley.’ We flipped the coin, and it was heads. It tickles me,” Susan gave a little giggle, “because Vicki, our oldest, wasn’t satisfied with how we made the decision.  So, she grabbed the coin, flipped it three more times, and each time, it landed on heads. So we built our house in the Piedmont area of Union County, and all 3 of our girls graduated from Piedmont High School.”

The Lord guided their decision for a church to attend when they sought His will in prayer over that decision.  They prayed for God to send people to their home who would invite them to church. It happened just as they prayed it would, and they attended that church for eleven years.

“Some strife arose there,” Susan reported, “so we prayed again that the Lord would show us where to go.  We prayed and visited about 17 other churches in a 3-year span. We asked, ‘Lord, would you send someone to our house who’ll ask us to join their church?’  A few of the churches we visited sent people to our house, but no one actually invited us to join until the third visit from a member of First Baptist Church of Indian Trail.  He was sitting right where you’re sitting,” she pointed at me,” when he said, ‘we would like you to join our church.’ Well,” Susan stopped, grinning widely,” I looked at Steve, and Steve said, ‘did you hear what he said?’  It was exactly what we asked from God. So, we joined the church in 2006. Now, Steve and I enjoy teaching 4th graders in Sunday school, and you know I love singing in the choir,” she finished.

Bill and I started going to First Baptist of Indian Trail about the same time, and I met Susan around 2010 when she was a mentor mom in MOPS.  When we met, we realized we sang in choir together, too.

“We love our life group and our church family at Indian Trail,” she beamed, but then somberly looked at her hands in her lap.  “They stood with us and prayed with us through some terribly dark times.”

The Right Way to Fold a Bath Towel

(Author’s Note: Sometimes, in this terrible wonderful journey called parenting, I catch myself doing something so totally ridiculous that I absolutely must share it).

“Here.  I’ll show you how to do it,” for the hundredth time, I thought as I took the bath towel from my son and showed him the right way to fold it.

The right way to fold bath towels is the way my mama taught me, by the way.

“Why does it matter how I fold it as long as it is folded?” Ethan asked.

Seemed like a genuine question.  I didn’t think he was trying to be smart aleck.

I started to answer.  I started to explain that it was the right way to do it because I said it was the right way.

But then I stopped.

And I thought about it.

Does it really matter?  Does it really matter how the towels are folded as long as they fit into the linen closet?

Is this a battle worth fighting?  A hill worth dying on?

Probably not, to be honest.

If I can get the kids to fold towels, I should just be happy that they are helping, right?

So I kept my mouth shut and let him fold the towels however he folded them…

 

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You can see how this would never properly fit into the linen closet, right?!

And then I went behind him later and folded them the way I wanted them folded before he took them upstairs to the linen closet.

Guess I didn’t learn my lesson this time.  Maybe I’ll get it right next time.

Tori Says It’s Hard Adulting when Your Child is Toddlering {A Blog Recommendation}

“PS. She just walked in and is now crying because the sandal she took off is now off of her feet.”

This was the post-script at the end of my friend, Tori’s, blog post called, “The REAL Reasons My Toddler is Crying,” and when I got to this point, I couldn’t stop nodding to the computer screen in agreement.

This was the first post from her blog that I read after we met online in a writer’s group, and I have to tell you, it literally had me chuckling out loud and slapping my desk as I was reading.  I’ve reread it several times since, and it gets the same response each time.

Tori’s hilarious; I just adore her sense of humor, and it comes across in her writing.  But, more importantly, she’s totally on point as she discusses the real reason our toddlers cry.  So, I’m laughing, but then I’m also thinking back to when my own kids were toddlers, and I’m nodding my head because I.have.been.there.

Well, let me be honest: today, my kids are 9 and 5, and there are still moments when they get overwhelmed and don’t know how to deal and become emotional.

Many of us been there with a toddler crying over crazy stuff, right?

It’s #funnynotfunny, isn’t it?

I mean, you’re sitting there with this child, who just yesterday asked you to use the dinosaur cookie cutter to cut the buttered toast you gave him for breakfast, and he’s melting down today because you used the dinosaur cookie cutter to cut the buttered toast you gave him for breakfast.

What.in.the.world, son?

It’s easy to take it personally.  It’s easy to lash back at said child.  Especially if this is day 72 of such outbursts – and it’s probably gone on longer than that.

I couldn’t even put my finger on exactly what it was that was making my kids act so crazy until I read this post, but Tori’s nailed it.  It’s so simple, but it is so true.  You’ll see it, too.  Then, you’ll do a forehead slap like I did, and you’ll wish you could go back to every moment your kid cried over something insane, and you lost your temper (if you aren’t still in the throws of toddlerhood).  You’ll wish you could go back and “dig deep…and just sit with [your child] in her two-ness” as Tori suggests.

I’m trying to keep this in mind even now.  When I’m recalling all the blow ups I’ve had in response to the crying over crazy things.  When I feel like a terribly mommy.

When these feelings come up, I’m going to remind myself that “…’I am failing as a mom’ is not on the list of reasons my toddler is crying.”

Thanks, Tori.  I needed that 🙂

Read “The REAL Reasons My Toddler is Crying” and then visit Tori at A Wing and a Prayer where she blogs about parenting and Jesus and everything in between.  I know you’ll want to subscribe, just like I did, so you can get your own doses of Tori’s wit and wisdom sent straight to your inbox.

Tori is wife to Jeff and mom to a preschooler and a kindergartner. She loves Jesus, music, reading, watching #allthesports with her husband, drinking Jasmine tea, writing when she can find the time and connecting with other moms any chance she gets. Her dream is to see moms and women connected, empowered and encouraged; unburdened, unchained and unleashed.  In addition to writing on her own blog, Tori is a staff writer and the Community Coordinator for Project Mother where she gets the chance to help moms seek connection and create spaces of belonging for one another.

Connect with Tori on her blog, Instagram

7 Tips for Fighting Better

My husband and I had a challenging conversation the other night.  I like to call this having a “difference of opinion”. 😉

Have you ever had a difference of opinion with someone?  It happens, right?

So why not learn some ways to fight better?  No, I don’t mean learn how to always win the fight.

What I’m saying is, let’s learn some better ways to fight so that we can find an amicable solution or so that we can at least can walk away with our feelings and the other person’s feelings in tact.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

7 Tips to Fight Better

  • Stop.  Stay calm.  This is important whether the conflict happens on social media or in person.  The Bible calls this being “slow to anger,” and is full of verses that speak to the wisdom in remaining composed.  Take a moment to stop and pray, even if it’s just a short, “Help me please, Lord.”  Take time to think through what happened and ask yourself, “Am I really upset at this?  Is this worth getting into a disagreement over?” If the answer is no, move on. If the answer is yes, it’s still a good idea to wait and try to keep your cool.
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Photo Credit: Pinterest

  • Acknowledge your own part in the conflict.  What assumptions and expectations do you hold that are influencing how you talk about this situation?  A related question to ask yourself is, ‘Did I do anything to offend the other person’? A familiar verse that supports this tip is Matthew 7:1-5.  Christians are challenged to deal with the “log in your own eye” before you “take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  It is hypocritical to point out all the things your spouse, sibling, friend, or in-law did wrong if you won’t acknowledge your part in the problem.
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Photo Credit: Pinterest

  • Talk face-to-face and one-on-one.  Whenever possible, go to the person and talk in private.  Avoid venting to someone else. (Don’t fuss to your sister about your lazy husband or to your husband about your annoying coworker…you get the picture).  Also avoid taking the issue to social media. I think we all know what can happen here. This is called “airing dirty laundry”, and it almost always turns out badly.  In Matthew 18:15a, Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone”. This was a verse I saw over and over when I was researching this topic.  Matthew 18:15-17 was used often as the key verse to show biblical conflict management.

 

 

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

  • Find common ground.  Focus on the relationship.  If you can find something you have in common with that person, you’re much more likely to be able to cooperate, acknowledge the other person’s feelings, show that you care about that person, be honest about your feelings, and be respectful of the other person’s feelings .  Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that our enemy isn’t flesh and blood but the spiritual forces of evil.  Remember, the other person isn’t your enemy – Satan is, and he’s the one who wants the conflict to tear apart your relationship.

 

  • Listen. Let the other person talk, even if you’re the one who brought up the issue because you were hurt or wronged.  After you explain what’s wrong, allow the other person to have his/her say, too. Sit quietly. Don’t plan your retort.  Just listen. It’s ok to ask for clarification as the person is speaking – to repeat some of the things he/she said to be sure you understood – but leave some space for her otherwise.  There may be some underlying issues you don’t know about or unspoken expectations or assumptions that have made the problem worse.
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Photo Credit: Pinterest

  • Focus on the main issue.  It is very likely that other problems will surface while you’re trying to work this out.  While those shouldn’t be ignored completely, they should be sidelined for the moment as you focus on the current situation.  What offended you in the first place? If it was the fact that your husband doesn’t help with the dishes and cleaning the kitchen after dinner, you’ll have to table the issue of him not helping get the kids in the bed and come back to that later.

 

  • Forgive.  Give grace. Did you know that God wants us to put our worship on hold and forgive someone we have a grudge against first.  It’s THAT important. Matthew 5:23-24 says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  God wants us to come before Him with clean hearts – not hearts burdened with contempt over an offense or argument.

 

The next time you find yourself having a difference of opinion with someone, remember these tips.  Take a moment to stop, pray, and ask for God’s guidance. Then, go to this person, and begin the conversation.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Think back to some recent conflicts you’ve had.  Which of these tips did you use? Which ones didn’t you use? How did the use of these tips (or lack thereof) influence the way the conflict was handled?

Can you think of other helpful tips to share?

For more on the subject of biblical conflict management read When Your Feelings Are Hurt.  Also, see What To Do If You Have a Critical Spirit.

I used the following resources in my research for this post:
9 Ways to Handle Conflict Biblically

Conflict Resolution

Experiencing Intercultural Communication 4th Edition

Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters 8th Edition

Sermon: Jesus’ Plan for Resolving Conflict – Matthew 5, 18

Tips and Tools for Healthy Conflict Resolution

Christian Mom – What are You Teaching Your Kids?

What do you want your children to remember about you after you’re gone?  What do you want them to learn to value from you? What’s the most important thing you could teach them?

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The Hooks Family June 2017 – Image by Real Promises Photography

My children will likely learn that family is to be treasured.  We are very careful to spend time with both sides of our families: their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and first cousins as well as extended family – great grandmothers, great aunts and great uncles and other cousins.

Ethan and Emery already know a little bit about household finance as Bill has focused on that since we used Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball method to get out of debt.  Bill frequently plays Ramsey’s radio show podcasts in the car and at home.  Ethan even requests to hear them sometimes.  (I think it’s because Ramsey often says things like “dumb”, “idiot” and “stupid” – words we have asked our kids not to use.  I hear stifled snickering coming from the back seat when Dave explains to someone, quite emphatically, how stupid it was to go into debt to buy a new car).  The main thing is, though, that both kids are learning at a young age that it is essential to manage your money and that going into debt is a big no-no.

The kids also are learning that it is necessary to take care of our bodies – to remain physically active and to consider what we eat. Bill and I typically get up an hour early 3 days a week to do cardio workouts at home.  Sometimes the kids get up early too, and heckle us about how we’re doing the moves wrong or asking how come mommy is stopping (breathing heavily with my hands on my knees) when the people on the video are still going. We often have conversations about why they should eat less mac-n-cheese and french fries and more green beans and grilled chicken.

But, I have to ask myself, “Are these the most vital things my kids should learn from me?” Family, finances, and fitness are valid lessons. In fact, they are part of what it means to Christians to be stewards of our bodies and the resources God has given us.  They are significant pieces of the Christian walk. But, should they be our main focus?

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Family photo of me and the kiddos summer 2017

The answer is – NO.

If I follow Christ, and I do, the most important thing my children should learn from me is to trust God.

End of story.

I was reading a lesson in the Experiencing God bible study by Henry and Richard Blackaby and Claude King, and was reminded of this.  The authors write, “Our greatest contribution to God’s kingdom is teaching our children to watch to see where God is at work around them and then join Him.”

The thing is, God already has a purpose for them.  He did before Bill and I ever even decided we wanted to be parents.  {Hint – He has a purpose for everyone. Don’t believe me? Read Psalm 139: 13-16 and pay close attention to verse 16}

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Yes – God already has a plan for each and every one of us including my kiddos.

The lesson in Experiencing God reminded me that, first, God’s purpose is that people become more like Christ.  I was reminded to pray with and for my children.

Ethan has already asked Jesus to be the Lord of his life, so one of my prayers for him is that God will show us how to disciple Ethan so that Ethan will learn to follow God’s call on his life.

As far as we know, Emery has not asked Jesus into her heart, so my prayer for her is that she will and that she will come to trust Him and follow His calling on her life as well.

I was also reminded to talk to my children about how God has already worked and continues to work in my life and in our family’s life.  (This should be just as much a part of our family’s story as are Dave Ramsey radio show podcasts and cardio workouts).

Incorporating this could be a little tricky for parents though.

Our first instinct as parents is to point our children back to ourselves: when they ask for advice on making a decision, when they face a difficult situation with peers, and so on.  I don’t think this is 100% wrong 100% of the time, but we have to be careful. Are we facing these issues in a Christ-like way or as the world would face them?

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

For example, Ethan is already talking about what he wants to do after school, what his job might be.  When he talks to me about it, I try to encourage him to ask God. I have assured him that God has a plan for him and will tell him what to do if he will only ask.  Plus, I don’t want to inadvertently point him toward or away from something just because it is what I would prefer for him to do.

Henry Blackaby says to ask “God-centered questions.”  He explains: “Instead of ‘What would you like to be when you grow up?’  I would ask, ‘What do you sense God wants you to do?’…I wanted my kids to learn to put their trust in God, not in their parents.” (emphasis mine)

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

This is ultimately what my husband and I want as well.  I pray that this is what you want for you family, too.

So, let’s follow the recommendations in Experiencing God: Pray with and for our children.  Talk to them about how God has and is working in our lives.  Worship and serve with them.

This is the greatest thing we can do for God’s kingdom.

How about you?  How did your parents point you to God and encourage you to seek Him and His purpose for you life?  How do you foster this in your own children?

If you do not have children of your own (or yours are adults), how can you encourage a pursuit of Christ in the lives of younger or less mature Christians around you?

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”Hebrews 10: 24-25, NIV

 

A #parentingfail – Part 4

This is the last in a series of 4 posts where I explore one of my parenting fails – my inability to control my temper when my kids push my buttons.  If you’re just joining us, please go back and read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. The following list is a continuation of the tips I shared in Part 3 – helpful parenting tips I’ve learned so far.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

  • Have structure – So much research supports the fact that children need structure (and even want it) by way of boundaries, rules, routines, and schedules.  You don’t have to be rigid, but it is good to set rules and expect that children behave accordingly.
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Photo Credit: Pinterest

  • Delegate/Accept Help – Children love to help, especially when they are little.  They may make more of a mess than you’d like or not do something exactly the way you want, but bite your tongue, be patient, and accept the assistance when they want to give it.  Also, accept help from others – your mother-in-law, best friend, neighbor, husband – especially when you have tiny babies. Give others the blessing of being able to assist you.
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Emery helping me wash the dishes – she was about 3. 

  • Plan Ahead – Things go so much better when I have done as much as I can to prep ahead of time.  Have the kids make school lunches and pack book bags the night before. Lay out clothes the night before.  Plan an entire week of dinners the weekend before. Many of the screaming fits I have thrown have been in the morning before school when someone couldn’t find his homework or her shoes because those things weren’t put where they should have been ahead of time.
  • Respect Your Children’s Father – I realize this is controversial, but it simply has to do with how God wired us as male and female.  Our children need to see that their mom respects their dad. I imagine this can be difficult if there is a separation or divorce.  However, some of the most amicable separations/divorces I have seen have been between people who are still nice and respectful toward each other.
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Photo Credit: Pinterest

  • If It Isn’t Working, Change It – Some of this advice may not apply or may not work based on your family culture.  These aren’t written in blood. The best you can do is try them and then tweak them to fit best with the dynamics of your family.
  • Get to Know Your Kids – (a little long.  Bear with me…I promise I will make a relevant point).  In Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God study, the author says, “In every situation God demands that you depend on Him rather than a method. The key is not a method but a relationship with God.“ He goes on to say, “ A formula is not the way to recognize God‘s voice either… If there was a formula… You would not have to seek God with all your heart. You could mindlessly use the formula and neglect your relationship with God.“ I think this applies to our children, (or anyone else in our lives for that matter). If there was a formula for interacting well with our kids, we would not have to seek genuine relationships with them; we wouldn’t have to spend time getting to know them. We could just rely on the formula – those five tips from that parenting article or that list of advice from that veteran mom. This isn’t to say that these things aren’t valuable or some methods aren’t worth your time; however, we shouldn’t completely rely on them. Get to know who your children are by spending time with them. For example, I learned early on that Ethan was an outdoor kid. He likes watching TV, but he LOVES being outside – digging in the dirt and rocks, exploring the woods, hunting for lizards and frogs, running in the yard having a Nerf gun war… That led me to notice that he and I also interact better when we are outside. Coop us up in the house all day, and tempers are likely to flare. Put us in the backyard, and we can jump on the trampoline, pull weeds and smell gardenia blossoms all day! I know this because I have spent time with him – watching him, talking to him, noticing what he likes to do, and so on. Now if we could just spend all our time outside, we’d be best buds!  But, this is honestly one of the hardest things for me. It takes energy that I would rather not expend. It takes listening to and talking about and doing some things that don’t interest me (hello, Nerf gun wars?!). It takes time away from the things I want to do. It takes creativity and imagination. But I have to do it, and you have to do it, as often as we possibly can. This is building the relationship, and this is what our children need most (and it will do us a world of good as well).
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Photo Credit: Pinterest

My son isn’t a bad kid.  More than likely, neither is your kid.  Our kids are just being kids at their stage of development doing what kids do at that stage.  As parents, we have to learn how to work through that as best we can and get out on the other side with our sanity and our relationships with our children in tact.

Above all else, we have to fight every day to choose joy in parenthood, or Satan will steal it.  He’ll lull us into a cycle where we focus on all the things our children are doing wrong and miss all the wonderful things about them.  That’s how he steals the joy in families, especially from mothers.

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Oh man!  That opens up so much more to talk about when it comes to our children, and more I should tell you about my struggle with my mommy-temper, but I should probably move on for now.  I imagine there’ll be more opportunity for me to revisit this subject soon enough.

What situations are most difficult for you when it comes to your children’s behavior?  What makes you “lose it”? What tips and advice have you found to work when you’re in tough interactions with your children?

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Next week is a first on the Servant Girl Stories blog – we’ll have a guest post!  You’ll meet Leigh Anderson, founder of Be Still Mama, a women’s ministry at First Baptist Church of Indian Trail.  Join me next week for her post about what happens when we have a critical spirit.

A #parentingfail – Part 3

Ethan was sitting in the backseat of the car listing his favorite songs that play on K-Love, the Christian radio station we play.  Then, Hillsong United’s “So Will I” came on, and he quickly added, “ Oh, I like this one, too.” Bill and I looked at each other and grinned, thankful that he is listening to, learning to sing, and appreciating music that glorifies God.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

It reminded me that he’s a good kid – he’s not perfect, no one is – but he’s got a good heart (and he loves the Lord, thank goodness).

Why is it so difficult, then, to be his mommy?  Why do I lose my temper with him so often?

In “A #parentingfail – Part 1”, I explained how I struggle with my temper when dealing with difficult situations with my children.  Then, in “A #parentingfail – Part 2”, I shared how God revealed that He wasn’t going to take away my temper problem.

Today, I want to explore what I have learned so far on my 9-year parenthood journey.  The lessons have come from trial-and-error, tears, arguments, seeking advice from other moms, reading parenting articles, and just good ol’ experience.

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Ethan, Emery, and I pose together on our vacation last summer (2017).

I’m not professing to be an expert…the last few posts have shown quite the contrary.  Despite this fact, I know I have learned some valuable lessons along the way, and I want to pass along some of these tidbits.

Granted, it is still difficult to act on what I know when I’m in the throws of dealing with disobedience or tantrums.  That being said, here’s what parenthood has taught me so far:

  • Stay Calm – I know, I know…start off with a difficult one, but if you can stay calm, you could keep the situation from escalating.
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    Photo Credit: Pinterest

  • Walk Away – It’s ok to admit you need a minute when you feel yourself losing it.
  • Get on Their Level – Rather than towering over them and literally talking down to them, sit or kneel so you can look them in the eye.
  • Give Choices – When possible, allow them to choose or at least couch their responsibilities as a choice.  Ask, “Do you want to brush your teeth or make your bed first?” Sometimes I ask this during the “Get Ready for School” routine in the morning.  Ultimately, they’ll have to do both but making it seem like they have choices sometimes helps things go more smoothly.
  • Don’t Hover – My kids do better, whether on their own or playing with others, when I am not standing over them waiting to correct every mistake they make.
  • Relax Your Need for Control – Looking back, I can see that many of the blowups I’ve had with my kids were because I insisted on having something done the way I wanted it, when I wanted it. Now, I try to ask myself if I must have it done my way or if I can give them the chance to do it their way.
  • Shut-up – I’m pretty sure that God has said this to me a few times – almost audibly. I don’t have to have the last word. I may not even have to have a word at all. Sometimes I should just shut up.
  • Be specific, simple & direct with instructions – This is especially helpful when the kids are younger. Don’t give a long list of complicated steps and details. Give one step at a time, wait for that to be done, and then give the next step.
  • Be positive – Look for the things they are doing well, and give compliments.  Also, try to have a more positive mindset about your children overall.  Once you view them negatively (because of their behavior, for example) it is difficult to redirect yourself to have a positive outlook.  If you find yourself thinking more negative then positive thoughts, think of 3 good things about your child. Write them down if you want.  List more than 3 – as many as you can, in fact. This simple exercise will help refocus your mind on the wonderful things about your children. (And keeps Satan from stealing your joy…I’ll talk about that next week).
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Photo Credit: Pinterest

  • Be present/Put down your phone – You could also say turn off the television, get away from the computer, or put down the tablet. We need to look at our children, talk to them, listen to them, play what they want to play, allow them to help when they want, and focus on them when they need our attention.
  • Be consistent – (Insert eye roll here, especially if you read Part 1 and feel my pain).  You may have to keep it up for five years before you see the fruits of your labor, but it is important to stick to your guns.  Ethan is 9, and over the past 4 years or so, we have started to notice him doing things, unprompted, that we had been trying to teach him for years!  HALLELUJAH!

For the sake of keeping my posts as brief as possible, I’ll stop there and finish sharing the list next week.  I’ve saved the most important one for last, so you’ll have to come back 😉 Also, I’m going to reveal my first guest blogger who’ll write for you the last week in April.  You don’t want to miss the announcement!!!

P.S. Here’s “So Will I” – one of Ethan’s favorite songs 🙂

 

A #parentingfail – Part 2

I could have sworn this post published last week…I even checked?!  I must be crazy.  Anyway, if this is a repeat, I apologize.

Author’s Note

Sharing things that I’ve failed at doesn’t exactly bring me joy.  However, when I began to realize that I was going to have to be obedient to God’s conviction and write a blog, God showed me that I would have to be honest, real, vulnerable. That I would have to be truthful and tell you things about being a wife, a mom, a believer, a woman that maybe weren’t so glamorous or flattering or honorable or joyful.  This was one reason I held off for so long. There are a lot of things I don’t want to tell you about myself. But, in the end, I realized that I am just God’s servant girl, and right now, He wants me to tell you some of the stories He’s given me so you can connect, so you can relate, so you can see God in my stories and in the stories that He’s given you.  Last week, in A #parentingfail – Part 1, I had to disclose what I see as one of my biggest failings as a mother. This week, I reveal the answer I got from God after years of pleading to Him to make me a better mom.

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After I scream at one of my kids or slam the door in frustration over something they’ve done, I feel the most horrid feeling.  It’s like my heart and soul are fighting to stay alive. I feel tight and hot and putrid in the center of my chest. Satan tells me I am not fit to be a mom.  He whispers that, if I continue yelling at my children, my son in particular, they will hate me when they grow up and will have nothing to do with me. Then, the tears come, hot down my cheeks, and I just want to curl into a dark corner and stay there.  It’s a disturbing feeling – the notion that your children might walk away from you one day and never look back.

I don’t want that.

Early on, I read all the articles I could find and talked to as many people as I dared to admit to that I frequently lost my temper with my children.

And, I cried.  Storehouses of tears.

And, I prayed.  Mountains of prayers.  For God to take away my temper and make me stop yelling at my children.  For them to still love me even after all my temper tantrums.

But then, I’d be right back in that place, that hot, angry place where I’d end up screaming again.  And, I’d think, “why aren’t my prayers working?! Why am I still yelling so much?”

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Truthfully, the years have worn off the sharpest edges.  I’ve learned better ways to interact or deal with disagreements or how to walk away.  So, there has been some improvement, but it has been minuscule compared to what I wanted – a total transformation, a 180 degree turn…June Cleaver, maybe?  😉

I didn’t think God was answering my prayers if He didn’t make me stop yelling altogether…after all, that was what I asked for, cried for, in my prayers.

Then, a few years ago, I was in a Be Still Mama Bible study, and we read Stuck by Jennie Allen.  In the study, Allen discusses 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 where Paul discloses the thorn in his flesh and how he has pleaded with God to take it away from him.

So, to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ ESV

In essence, God told Paul no.  God would not take away the thing that was tormenting Paul.

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Why not?  Why would God say no to a fervent prayer from one of His children?  Why wouldn’t He give relief when it was requested?

The answer was the same for Paul then as it is for me now: Without the thorn, Paul wouldn’t look to God as he should.  Without my thorn, I wouldn’t lean on God as I should.

Our weaknesses, just like our strengths, are God-given – and they are both ultimately for God’s glory.  We use our strengths to glorify Him, and we bring Him glory in our weaknesses as well.

How is that?  That doesn’t make sense!

When we are weak – when we lose our tempers and yell at our children, for example – we must acknowledge our need for God.

When we read every possible child psychology and parenting article, scouring for something that will work, and we still yell, we come face-to-face with our need for God.

And we throw ourselves down at His feet.  We beg forgiveness. We confess that we can’t do it alone.  We ask Him to help us.

In our weakness, He is strong.

I remember the moment I came to that conclusion after completing the section in the Stuck study where Allen talked about Paul.

I KNEW in that moment that God said no to me, that the temper and outbursts were a thorn in my flesh that wasn’t going anywhere.

And, you know what?  I was immediately at peace with it.  Immediately!  That was my confirmation that God was indeed saying no but that everything would be alright.  God always gives peace.

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Now, this isn’t to say that God will always say no to our requests. Surely He’s said yes to some of yours as He has said yes to some of mine.

And, it isn’t to say that He’ll say no to you specifically about your temper and your interactions with your children.  You may get a different answer.

What’s more, it isn’t to say that God won’t give me relief in some ways.  He has. He has let me see better ways of interacting with my children that don’t always lead to meltdowns.  There will probably be other breakthroughs and lessons to learn in the future as well.  We are called to pray no matter what.

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What I am saying is, It’s ok to ask.  It’s ok to plead and cry. However, if you pray and the answer is no, do not be discouraged.  Accept God’s peace when He says no. Find solace in the fact that He is leaving the weakness so that you’ll lean into Him and grow closer to Him.  He will get glory in some way, and that is in fact our ultimate purpose, to glorify God with our lives, even through parts we don’t like.

When has God told you no?  What were you asking for? How did it feel when you realized that the answer to your prayer was no?  I realize that these may be painful situations, but, if you are willing, please share as your stories can help others in similar situations.

*I’ll conclude A #parentingfail next week with Part 3.

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Afterword

I wanted to share some of the notes I took in the Stuck study after I realized God was telling me that He wasn’t going to take the thorn in my flesh.  It was a kind of prayer that I journaled. Maybe it will help you, too. 

It was written in response to the following instructions: Read about the apostle Paul’s stuck places.  As you read, think about these two questions – “Who are you, Lord?” and “What do you want from me?” and journal your thoughts…

My response – Who are you, Lord?  – a God full of grace – a God with enough grace for me and all the horrible things I have said, done, and thought.  A God whose power is most evident when I am weak. When I know and accept that I am weak, I cannot brag and take credit for the blessings and good things in my life.  I have to accept that these things have come from God.

What do you want from me?  God wants me to allow myself to be weak.  God wants me to lay the weaknesses on Him.  God wants me to give Him the glory when He sustains me despite my weaknesses.  The weaknesses allow me to see that I do need God. The weaknesses take the pressure off me – I don’t have to be perfect, strong…I can’t be those things.  The weaknesses allow me to make room for God – to let Him take over.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

A #parentingfail – Part 1

Author’s Note: Sharing things that I’ve failed at doesn’t exactly bring me joy.  However, when I began to realize that I was going to have to be obedient to God’s conviction and start a blog, God showed me that I would have to be honest…real…vulnerable. That I would have to be truthful and tell you things about being a wife, a mom, a believer, a woman that maybe weren’t so glamorous or flattering or honorable or joyful.  This was one reason I held off for so long. There are a lot of things I don’t want to tell you about myself. But, in the end, I realized that I am just God’s servant girl, and right now, He wants me to tell you some of the stories He’s given me so you can connect, so you can relate, and so you can see God in my stories and in the stories that He’s given you.  

I had one of those days that makes me feel like a failure as a parent. It was a Saturday so it should have been relaxed and fun and happy and sunshiny.  But I yelled and fussed and argued and complained and knit-picked.  And then I furrowed my brow and pinched my lips together and clenched my teeth so hard that I got a headache, and it was difficult to relax my face.

Why? I kept asking myself.  Why do I keep doing this?

Why can’t I get along with my son?  Why am I aggravated by everything he does?

This is one of the biggest sources of anxiety and frustration and shame in my life right now and has been for some time – my relationship with Ethan – and I don’t have anyone to blame but myself.

I just can’t figure out how to get better at being Ethan’s mom.

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Ethan and me in 2015 on a chairlift at Tweetsie Railroad.  Bless his heart – he looks just like me when he smiles!

I have cried about it.  I have prayed about it. I have journaled about it.  I have asked other people about it…but I haven’t figured it out yet.

Honestly, this is probably one of the things that pushed me closer to God.  Before Ethan was born, Bill and I were already in church together and I was feeling wooed by God, but it wasn’t until after Ethan was born that I started desperately seeking Him.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

I felt like a terrible mother, and I was begging Him to make me better.

The first 3 or 4 months after Ethan was born were challenging and stressful to say the least, but I was a first-time mom, so that was to be expected.  After about 6 months, things seemed to even out, and it became more enjoyable. Ethan was a smiley, happy, bouncy baby for the most part, and Bill and I kind of settled into the parenting thing.

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Ethan in 2010 – around 15 months old.

Then, God convicted me to leave my full time job and stay home with Ethan – another fairly smooth transition.  We had our routine. We ate. We read books or built with blocks.  We played outside. We strolled around the neighborhood. He napped.  Things were doable. I found joy.  The parenting thing wasn’t too bad after all.

He was easy to get along with, easy to redirect, easy to pacify.  He liked to be read to and to play with his toys and to be outside in the sun.

When he turned 2, I didn’t see any of the Terrible-Twos stuff many people bemoan, so I naively thought we’d missed that somehow.  Maybe Ethan wasn’t going to do that stuff?!

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Ethan and Bill in 2011 at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC.  Ethan would have been about 2 1/2 here.

Then, along came about 3 or so, and all of a sudden, my pleasant, smiling, easy-to-get-along with little fella started saying no to everything I asked him to do, refusing to nap, being difficult to redirect from one activity to another, and complaining about the food I got for him (which was exactly what he’s just requested not 2 minutes before).

Where the heck was my precious angel-baby?

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Posing for family pictures on the beach in 2012 – he was 3 1/2.  (He still looks like an angel-baby with those big, clear, blue eyes, doesn’t he?!)

I had no idea what to do!  I’d always heard that children would test you…”just be consistent” was the advice I replayed from my pre-child days.

So, I was consistent…I thought.  But a day turned to a week which turned to two months which turned to a year, and he was still disagreeable and stubborn and wouldn’t nap and complained about his food and didn’t like to stroll around the neighborhood anymore.

And I still didn’t know what to do.  “Be consistent” didn’t seem to be working.  So, instead, I decided I could be more stubborn than he could.  I was the parent, and he would do what I said.  (I know. I know.  I’m supposed to be the adult here.  I didn’t say this was the right decision or the most mature parenting move I could have made).

At some point, I don’t exactly know when, I started screaming and yelling and slamming whatever was in arm’s reach onto the table or the floor and making him sit in the corner and spanking probably more than I should and making the “mad face” as he called it.

I NEVER knew I had a bad temper until I had children 😦

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

All this led to a TON of guilt.  I cried – correction, I blubbered.  By myself and to Bill mostly. But, I cried a lot.  I also started praying about my temper.  I know parents have to be in charge and to  discipline their children, but I knew I was taking it too far when I lost my temper the way I did.

I honestly believe this was what drew me so close to God during this season of my life.  I had to learn to lean on Him because nothing I could do was working.

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Summer 2017

Next week, in A #parentingfail – Part 2, I’ll share some things I have learned along the way about children and tempers and consistency.  I’ll also share some specific words from God that I’ve gotten in response to my petitions for Him to take away my temper so I wouldn’t scream at my kids anymore.  I think you’ll be surprised at some of the answers I’ve gotten.  I know I was.

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How about you?  What have you learned from going through the Terrible-Twos or Terrible-Threes or Terrible-Tweens or whatever difficult stages you’ve walked through as a parent?  Where did you go for help? What did you find that didn’t work? What did work? Where are you now in your parenting journey? Any advice from those with older children to those with younger ones?  Can we survive this thing called Parenthood?!

Coincidence or Christ?

What do you make of events in your life – of one thing causing another or of one thing happening at the “perfect time?”  Do occurrences happen merely by chance or is God’s sovereign hand putting together the pieces of the puzzle?

For the longest time I was a skeptic about such matters. I didn’t believe in Jesus for about 10 years so naturally I wouldn’t see His hand in things. I was more in the “coincidence camp”. Only recently have I started to see that God does have a sovereign hand, and He can orchestrate details and events days, weeks,  months, or even years before they actually happen and have them come out the way He wants them to come out for the purpose that He has in mind.

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I heard one such story this past Sunday morning. It’s the kind of story I would have brushed off as serendipity in the past. If I had heard someone share it 10 years ago, I would have rolled my eyes, especially if that person tried to say that God made it happen the way it did. But this past Sunday morning when I heard the story, I never doubted God’s involvement for a second.

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The FBCIT choir was practicing just before we went into the loft for the 9:30 service. Our director, Matthew Slemp, said he had a story to tell us – the story of a man who attended our church and who had a song request for the choir.  During the week, the man had gotten word to Matthew that he would really appreciate it if the choir could fill his request during the coming Sunday service.

Click here to read the blog post about how we started attending FBCIT.

Some representatives from the church went to visit him and ask his request. He explained that his daughter was not a believer but would be at church with the family on Sunday morning. The man asked if the choir could possibly sing a song that we have sung in the past called “Lord,You’re Holy.”. When the request got back to Matthew, he could hardly believe his ears. This was the song that was already on the schedule for Sunday morning! 12 weeks ago when the service and the music selections were being prayed over this song was chosen. So this past Sunday morning this is what our choir sang.

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This recording was not made this past Sunday but during another worship service in the past.  Mrs. Jessie Chavis is the soloist.

Click here to watch our choir sing “Lord, You’re Holy”

I haven’t heard whether the young lady actually came to church and heard the song.  I don’t know if it had the influence her father (and our choir) had prayed it would. Like I mentioned in last week’s post, little things/BIG THINGS, we may never know the outcome of the things we do – whether the young lady was influenced by the song or not – but we still do whatever we are called to do.

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Are you in the “coincidence camp” or the “Christ’s Sovereign Hand camp?  If you see God’s influence, what events have you known Him to orchestrate either in your life or someone else’s?  Please share those experiences here.

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