What women want

I’m over at Ungrind again this week. Here’s a sneak peek – click over here to read the whole thing 🙂

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I settled down at the table and watched my daughter compose her face in her “now-I-have-something-important-to-say” expression: eyes level, chin down, forehead hopeful.

She paused dramatically and in a butter-cream-smooth tone, said: “Mom, if you just gave us more of the things we want, there would be less crying and being angry with you.”

Reader, I literally snorted with laughter. I laughed, and laughed, and laughed, and laughed until the tears streamed down my cheeks, infuriating my daughter more with each passing second. In hindsight, I probably should have laughed a little less.

I laughed because this was not the first time I was getting advice from my kids on how to do a better job as their mom. Not unlike the young tyrant from Calvin and Hobbes, my children are full of suggestions on how I can “improve my ratings,” or secure better responses from them.

In this particular instance, my 6-year old was angling for me to change my mind about whether or not she could have her ears pierced: a decision we had already said no to. She entreated us daily. For weeks on end. Sometimes with tantrums. Sometimes with stony silences. And on that particular day, she resorted to cool, calm reason. If we would just give her what she wanted, she’d be less angry with us.

Somewhere in the midst of that laughing, I felt the Holy Spirit tap me on the shoulder. Once again, He directed me to consider that panoramic vantage point into God’s parenting of us, His children, which we become privy to when we become parents ourselves.

(continue reading at Ungrind…)

To Be Found Faithful – {guest post by Sarah Torna Roberts}

I have been longing for this day to come, so I can introduce you to Sarah Torna Roberts and share her beautiful post. It was just exactly what I needed to read. I bet it is for you too.

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It was a weekend none of us would likely forget. We were almost all of us together, as total as we’d been in years.  Tents were pitched in my grandparents’ mountain backyard, babies cried, and kiddos ran every which way. Newlyweds roasted marshmallows with arms wrapped around each other’s waists because that’s what you do when you’ve still got the honeymoon in your eyes. There was the familiar family talent show, piles of chocolate, bags of potato chips and the ever present onion dip, may it reign forever.

On night two of this spectacular family gathering, someone gathered us all, quieted our laughter and reminiscing, murmured words of thanks and blessing. Then, a new practice, a time of sharing with each family taking its’ turn breaking open a bit, placing the precious things of our lives and hearts into the hands and hearts of those gathered.

What does the next year look like for you?

What do you need prayer for?

How can we support you through the season you’re in?

One by one, we heard stories of looming college graduations, heavy work loads, raising young children, endless ministry tasks. We listened, we cried. We nodded in affirmation and love.

When it came to my Grandma, my so private Grandma, my never complaining Grandma, my solid as a rock Grandma, my bootstraps Grandma, we leaned in.  She spoke words, halted and started by the choked throat, by the emotion of her whole family spread before her, the emotion of putting it to words, the slow and steady path of her life.

She described her calling, her place in this time.  Sacred tasks, their holiness hidden by their everyday ordinariness. Tiny efforts in practice, monumental in their importance, in their cost. Her quietly muttered sentences washing over all of us, her simple obedience to the mundane and invisible ringing with truth and grace and love.

“I just want to be found faithful.”

And with that, the heart’s cry of my life was born. These words brought Freedom for my try-harder, do-it-right-the-first-time nature.

I just want to be found faithful.

Her words follow me around every bend in my road, blaze above me as I struggle through middle of the night worries, whisper at me when the path seems too narrow for my lead feet.

I just want to be found faithful.

… when my little son’s struggles are more than just a phase, when the road to developmental delay is winding and full of road blocks and rolled eyes. When we land on a diagnosis, to lean into a world as heartbreaking as it is beautiful and miraculous.

…when that file titled “Writing”  on my computer contains documents that date back to 2001. When the nudge to admit that writing is part of who I was made to be,  when it becomes clear that hiding is no longer an option, to write out loud.

… when the friend of my heart walks the road of infertility, when she needs me to just show up, to swear and rage with her as dreams collapse, to smile and nod as they change and morph.

… when I’m exhausted by the minivan, and the suburban life that repeats itself every day. When the tasks are ordinary and necessary, isolating and honorable, to do them tired and do them with love.

… when my husband needs my touch, needs my smiling joy over him, over our union even though I’m so tired and frustrated I could spit, to kiss him well.

… when the conversations are hard, and there is repair work to be done. When I’ve done harm with my words or lack of words, with my actions or inactions, to step toward repentance, forgiveness, the hard words of mercy.

I just want to be found faithful.

Faithfulness doesn’t look like perfection or super spiritual, hero-status endeavors. It is the road of mistakes, of imperfect persistence.

If my Grandmother is any indication, it is simply opening your eyes every single day to the life God has given you, to the people He’s set you with, to the circumstances and opportunities and situations of your life, and taking a step toward them.  And then maybe another one.

Faithfulness is meant for such as me, with my ragamuffin heart. It’s my imperfect road of trying again, of God smiling on me as I honor the life He’s given me by continuing to live it, even with my messes and sassy mouth and snappy temper. To open my hands to it, to pour my soul into it.  To raise my eyes to heaven and ask for help along the away, again.

To trust that this is enough.

profile pic-smallSarah Torna Roberts is a writer who lives in California with her husband and four sons. She blogs at www.sarahtornaroberts.com where she digs around her in her memories, records her present, and is constantly holding her faith up to the light. She snacks at 2 AM with great regularity, is highly suspicious of anyone who doesn’t love baseball (Go Giants!), and would happily live in a tent by the sea. Connect with her on twitter, instagram or follow her blog here

 

My Love-Hate Relationship with the Word of God

Lesa Engelthaler is a fellow member of the Redbud Writers Guild, and her warmth and wisdom were apparent from the very first time we interacted on Facebook. When I got to meet her and her wonderful sister Beth in person earlier this year, I realized afresh – it really is possible to get a true impression of people online sometimes – for her warmth and wisdom overwhelmed me once again. I’m thrilled she’s sharing this today. Thanks, Lesa. And enjoy, friends!

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In junior high school I learned how to have a “quiet time” with God. I brought pen and paper with me to meet with Him. An English geek, in high school I diagramed the bible in my quiet time. I’d copy down a word I found intriguing then madly draw lines to other beautiful words discovered. I felt a kinship with the author of Psalm 119 who declared his love for the word of God, over and over again.

 “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”

“I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.”

“My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.”

Into adulthood, my relationship with God continued through the written word. His words recorded in the Bible – it seemed just for me. Stories of misfits and screw-ups gave me hope. God’s sarcastic wit cracked me up. His blunt questions stripped my soul naked. A lovely turn of phrase or line of poetry took my breath away. In response, I wrote words, a lot of them, to God.

For years, my grown-up version of a quiet time was to plop down in the old chair in front of the window that looks out on to our backyard. After a few sips of coffee I’d open the bible and drink in its words of life to me.

Things Changed

“’Is not my word like fire,’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’” – the Prophet Jeremiah

Not too long ago, things changed. I could hardly read the bible much less enjoy it. No words circled, mostly sighing.

For three years I went through an experience some describe as a “Dark Night of the Soul.” For me it meant that God said no to most of my requests and then went silent (not the quiet time one hopes for from the Almighty). During that horrific time I became uncomfortable reading God’s words.

At the beginning I continued to read the Bible. It was as much a part of my morning routine as looking at my face in the mirror. Unfortunately, rather than being life giving, the words were deadly. It added new meaning to the bible’s own description of itself, “the word of God is…sharper that any two-edged sword.” It pierced my already wounded soul. The New Testament’s Apostle Paul felt unbearably accusing and I could not stomach God’s harshness in the Old Testament. Eventually I read it less. I remember wondering if I would be okay with never reading it again. I knew people who were.

Things Got Better

 After a few years of darkness, my relationship with God got better. And yet, one of the side effects was a lingering fear of the Bible. My friend Sharon gave me the little book, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. I started there. It seemed safer to read God, filtered.

No bright lights, and yet with time instead of avoiding it I noticed that I was restless when I stayed away from the Bible. For me, that was a miracle.

This summer, I started reading the book of Acts. Around the third morning I looked down at my scribbled word “chosen” then at the many lines drawn to words like “gift” and “restore.” It was as if I had never before seen such gorgeous words. And I began to cry.

Smack dab in the middle of Acts the desire to want to read the Bible, even more so, to delight in it’s words, was a grace. I told my sister Beth about the experience and she said, “Do you remember that old hymn Wonderful Words of Life?” I said I did.

PS

If you are in a dark place spiritually right now I am so sorry. You are not alone. I wrote about my experience for Leadership Journal, “Growing in the Dark.” I hope it helps.

 I’ve been asked if there were any Scriptures that comforted in the Dark Night. Here are two:

1.) King David’s psalms were safe. One whole summer I camped out in the Psalms of Ascent with the companionship of Eugene Peterson and his grace-filled classic A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

2.) I stayed awhile when I discovered expressions of honest disappointment with God. I found a home in Lamentations: “You have made me to walk in darkness. Even when I call out for help, he shuts out my prayers. You have covered yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can get through” (Lam. 3:8)

 

Lesa Engelthaler is a Senior Associate for Victory Search Group, assisting nonprofits to recruit executive leaders. Lesa is also a writer for such publications as The Dallas Morning News, Christianity Today, Gifted for Leadership, Relevant, Today’s Christian Woman and Prism. Recently, Lesa started blogging at Faith Village.  Her friends would say that Lesa is passionate about empowering women. For the past several years, she has lead a trip to partner with the House of Hope a nonprofit in Nicaragua helping women escape prostitution. Today, Lesa finds herself completely taken by one small girl — her first grandchild Lucy. You can connect with Lesa (and I heartily recommend that you do!) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@lesaengelthaler).

If you’re needy and you know it, clap your hands

Perhaps it’s just the mini-van-driving and wheels-of-the-bus-singing stage of life I’m in, but when I read the opening words of Psalm 86: “Hear me, LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy” – the first thing that came to my mind was this:

If you’re needy and you know it, clap your hands.

Friends, I clapped. I have been reading through Caryn Rivedeneira’s lovely little book for weary moms:  Known and Loved: 52 Devotionals from the Psalms, and I settled into the pages one morning and thought about this neediness that I feel almost constantly as a mom. And I’m wondering: maybe one of the hidden blessings of motherhood is becoming aware of this neediness, and learning how to ask for help.

We come into this world utterly dependent on others. Babies rely on their parents for everything. Childhood is the long process of slowly learning independence: beginning with the toddler’s first insistence “me do it!”

Little Mr Independent doesn't want anyone to hold his hands while we walk.

Little Mr Independent doesn’t want anyone to hold his hands while we walk.

Later, they learn to dress themselves, feed themselves, wipe their own butts (oh thank you God!), read to themselves, bathe themselves… and later yet, transport themselves, organize themselves, and to decide for themselves. Our goal as parents is to transition them from dependence to healthy independence. This is maturity.

But maybe there is a second ‘turning’ which marks a new phase of maturity: the transition from independence to learning healthy interdependence. Motherhood, more than anything else, has taught me that. Before I had kids, I felt competent at what I did. I didn’t know everything, but I knew enough to do my job. I had particular skills suited to my particular vocation, and it felt good to be a person skilled enough an independent enough to be the one offering help where help was needed.

But then came a bundle of crying baby: and I couldn’t get her to sleep or to stop crying. I couldn’t make enough milk to feed her, and didn’t even know enough to discern that that was the problem. Taking care of her was my full-time job, and it was a job I felt utterly incompetent to do. I had gone from feeling useful to feeling completely useless, and through sobs confessed to my husband one night, “All I’m supposed to do is the very basics: feed her and get her to sleep… and I can’t even do that!”

It was there, in my sobbing heap of uselessness, that I got a fresh glimpse of God’s grace: his tender love for me even when I had nothing to offer. The neediness of motherhood pulled a new prayer out of me: “Help! I’m drowning!” I learned the old hymn’s words afresh: “nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”

I was needy, and I knew it.

God brought me comfort in the way that 2 Corinthians 1 promised he would: directly with his presence, and indirectly with his love and comfort expressed through others. Having kids taught me that grace didn’t just mean being someone able to offer help, it meant being someone able to ask for, and receive help.

Yes, please hold my baby?

Yes, please would you bring us a meal?

Yes, would you substitute this class for me?

Yes, I’d love it if you could watch them for an hour so I can take a shower.

From dependence to independence. From independence to interdependence. This is maturity.

Yesterday I took my overtired, hangry kids to the grocery store, since we had an Old Mother Hubbard situation in our kitchen. It was a disaster. In the hour it took to locate the contents of a skeleton grocery list, my middle kid needed to use the potty twice and the youngest had a Vesuvian diaper explosion. I wrangled my kids through the store and arrived rather breathlessly at the check-out counter. I paid for our goods and, in the customary way of store clerks, our checker asked politely, “and would you like any help out today?”

I didn’t even hesitate. “Yes, I would. Please. Thank you. Yes, I would.”

All together now: If you’re needy and you know it, clap your hands.

(Clap, Clap)

 

 

 

A 30-Year Echo

Not quite a year ago, with trembling fingers I sent my first article to an online magazine. The magazine was Ungrind, and the kind editor who fielded my nervous query was Ashleigh Slater. Since then, I’ve come to know Ashleigh as an online friend and so appreciate her wisdom, gentleness and sense of fun. I’m thrilled to introduce her as part of the Words That Changed My World series.

 

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Photo Credit: Pedro Riberio Simoes – Flickr Creative Commons

I wasn’t there. And so I’m not really sure how old the boy was that pivotal day so many years ago.

He was old enough to have passed that seventh grade year when his parents separated, and then divorced. The year first spent at a difficult new school in a new town. Old enough to have marked the time when his mom and dad both remarried. Marriages that, little did he know then, would go on to grow over thirty anniversaries. And old enough to know well the torment of middle school bullies. The ones whose taunts elicited silent tears later shed at his school desk, his face hidden in the shelter of folded arms.

While I may not know what birthday this hurting boy celebrated last, what I do know is that on this particular day a proclamation of sorts was spoken over him. Words of life were carefully uttered in a small kitchen in a small town in Michigan that changed the course of his life.

“Ted, if anyone ever asks you to describe yourself,” his stepmom Alice remarked, “tell them you’re a happy person.”

Those words were taken to heart that day. Rather than let the pain of divorce and change and school bullies bitter him, this boy found himself thinking, “I am a happy person. That’s me.”

Decades later, I can attest that he is.

Happy.

Still.

This once-towhead little boy now grown big is my husband. And I realize that after eleven years of marriage, I owe Alice an overdue thank you. For her self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts has affected me too.

You see, Ted’s upbeat, positive personality makes our marriage better. He brings a lightheartedness to our relationship that’s helped ease the hard times. That’s kept me laughing when a smile’s difficult to come by. He’s been the optimist to my often pessimist.

And while I think that some of Ted’s contented self was hard-wired into his God-given DNA, I believe that Alice’s words came at a pivotal moment in his life. At a time when cynicism and defeatism could have easily taken root. She didn’t limit what she professed to the obvious: to a muddled boy that perhaps felt beaten down by circumstance. Instead, she gazed ahead to what Ted could be and took the time to verbally spur him toward that.

Now, with our own small ones, Ted continues what Alice started. He speaks those same blessed words over one of our daughters.

This girl of ours struggles with a melancholy personality. Some days she’s a glass is completely empty sort of child. Other days, it’s half-empty. And while at times I’ve shaken my head and asked her, “Are you ever happy?” Ted follows in Alice’s footsteps, speaking over her, “You are a happy girl.”

He inspires me to do the same. This once-towhead little boy now grown big gently reminds me, as Lisa-Jo Baker writes in her book Surprised by Motherhood, that “children are born of the Spirit as much as of their parents’ DNA, and perhaps that’s where we should focus.”

With our words, we can squelch life, tear down, deflate, demean, and bring a kind of death that doesn’t kill the body, but disfigures the soul.

Or we can choose to speak life.

Words spoke creation into existence. Everything from nothing. And then that living Word – through whom all things were made – became tangible and showed us that words don’t return empty. He demonstrated through His love for fishermen and a tax collector and an adulterous woman and little children who longed to come to Him, that a word aptly spoken is life-giving.

And perhaps, just like it did for Ted, this profession will take root in our little girl. One day, these gentle words her papa has lovingly spoken over her again and again may be ones she speaks to herself, as she determines, “I am a happy girl,” rather than letting the disappointments and challenges of life bitter her.

On that day – the day I pray this papa’s proclamation shows itself to be a self-fulfilling prophecy of its own – those words spoken over Ted thirty years ago will prove their fitness by touching yet another life.

And who knows? Maybe these words, professed so many years ago by Alice Mae Slater to her stepson, will splash beyond our little family, and perhaps even touch you.

 

ashleigh slaterAshleigh Slater is the author of the book, Team Us: Marriage Together. As the founder and editor of the webzine Ungrind and a writer with almost 20 years of experience, she unites the power of a good story with biblical truth and practical application to encourage readers. Ashleigh and her husband, Ted, have been married for more than a decade. They have four daughters and reside in Atlanta, Georgia. To learn more, visit AshleighSlater.com.

The Good Words that Held Me Up through My Hard Marriage

I’m honored to welcome author/speaker Elisabeth Klein Corcoran for the “words that changed my world” series. Elisabeth’s new book, Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage, was released last week.

Living in a difficult Christian marriage is an isolating experience, for a couple reasons.  First, you feel like you’re the only person going through what you’re going through.  Secondly, you feel that if you shared, no one would truly understand. And thirdly, there’s this little thing about being a Christian, in my experience, that led me to stuff the really bad things down, because I thought if I were “found out”, my building-the-Kingdom card would be taken away.

So in the midst of almost twenty years of pain, I learned to share just bits and pieces of my hard road. I didn’t think any one friend could handle it, or would believe, or would know what to do about it. And I didn’t want to be that woman who was only full of her own pain.

Elisabeth and her beloved friendBut Jesus brought a friend into my life who walked closely with me through years and years of heartache. She knew the most.  She leaned in the closest.  My pain didn’t scare her.

And one day she wrote me these words: You would bless ANYONE with the way you choose to handle your marriage.  I know you don’t do it perfectly every minute, but you are amazing!  Most Christian women couldn’t do half as well in your relationship as you have.  You are a godly example whether you feel like it or not.”

She saw my life was out of control. She knew my marriage was unraveling and frail and just barely hanging on. She knew I was messing up at every turn. And yet she spoke those words of life into my soul in a moment when I wanted to throw in every single towel.

And those words buoyed me up.  They changed my perspective.  She called out something in me that I was too blinded by my hurt to see, and that was this: that I was handling things better than I thought and that I still had something to offer.

We all have moments or even seasons in our lives when we cannot see what is true about ourselves.  And we all have the ability to stop what we’re doing and look deeply into the eyes of a friend and speak words that can shift something in her soul, even if for just right then and there.

We all have experienced firsthand the devastation of a careless or intentionally cruel word. But we sometimes forget how a carefully chosen, kind word can bring absolute healing, or can pour courage into someone who is flailing, or can realign a self-misperception that has taken root.

Today, think of one hurting person in your life.  And think of one kind sentence you can say or write or text. You will never, ever regret dispensing sweet words.

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. –Proverbs 16:24

Elisabeth Klein Corcoran is the author of Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage and Unraveling: Hanging Onto Faith Through the End of a Christian Marriage, along with several other books. She speaks several times a month to women’s groups, and is a member of Redbud Writers’ Guild. She lives with her children in Illinois. Visit her online at http://www.elisabethcorcoran.com/difficult-marriage-divorce/ or https://www.facebook.com/ElisabethKleinCorcoran.  She is the moderator of two private Facebook groups: one for women in difficult Christian marriages, and one for Christian women who are separated or divorced. Email her at elisabeth@elisabethcorcoran.com if interested in joining. Elisabeth is a proud Member of Redbud Writer’s Guild and has been featured on Moody’s In the Market with Janet Parshall, This is the Day with Nancy Turner, and Midday Connection with Anita Lustrea.

Do you have a story to share of words that changed your world? I’d love you to be my guest! Read more here.

When there’s something icky in the bath water

I don’t even know what it was that made me suspicious, but I’ll give the credit to mommy-instinct. One minute my two boys were splashing in the tub, and the next I was giving my four-year old the death stare:

Me: “Did you just pee in the bath?”

Boy: “No, I was holding my hand in front of it so that it wouldn’t come out.”

Me: “Do you need to get out and pee?”

Boy: “No. I went.”

Me: “Did the pee come out while you were sitting there in the water?”

Boy: “Yes, but it’s okay because I had my hand in front of it so that it wouldn’t be in the bath water.”

*lesigh*

The boy seemed confused and more than a little upset at the speed with which I yanked him out of the water. What was the big deal? From his perspective, he had contained the problem. Why, then, was I muttering something about contamination and yuckness? He acquiesced to his premature lauch from bath-time-bliss, still confused, but glad to be in one of his favorite spots: snuggled in a towel burrito.

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For the record, this is not my shiny clean tub in the picture.

As I leaned in to pull the plug from the tub, I got a glimpse once again of the tireless love with which God loves me. How many times have I not broken a little rule, done something I know I ought not to have done, and thought “it’s okay”? How often have I thought that I was doing “damage control” putting my metaphorical hand out to contain the mess, certain that no-one would know and nothing would be affected by my sin? Surely, from God’s perspective, that looks a lot using your hand to try and prevent pee from mixing with the bath water.

Sin, like germs, are invisible. And contamination, like pee in a bath, happens. Other people, like the unsuspecting baby brother sitting in the same water, are affected. Others, like that same brother, experience consequences from our choices, even though he was dimly aware of the facts. And yet often I am perplexed at the alarmed reaction to sin from Jesus: “if your eye causes you to sin, CUT IT OUT!” What’s the big deal, we sometimes think?

As I snuggled my boy, another thought crossed my mind. The Psalmist writes of God:

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;

He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” (Psalm 40:2 NIV)

Maybe I could suggest another version:

“He rescued me out of the pee-bath, out of the mud and the germs;

He set my feet on a non-slip bath mat, and snuggled me in a fluffy towel.” (Psalm 40:2 crazed mama paraphrase)

And rescue me, he has. Even though I was hardly aware of it. As I watched the last of the water swirl out of the tub, I found myself thankful for Jesus once again: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.”  They’re gone:  down the drain,  washed away,  while I am safe in the Father’s arms.