“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12 NIV
Summertime draws out the worst of my body insecurities. Swimsuits and shorts and sleeveless shirts that expose my pale skin and less-toned-than-I-wish arms and tummy that stretched out too many times to ever be flat again.
When I get insecure, I reach for the easiest forms of self-comfort: comparison and consumerism.
First, I compare. Who looks best in a swimsuit? Who has better skin? Who has cellulite? Who has skinnier arms? I play this ugly game in my head always looking and assessing and trying to figure out where I stand.
Then, I consume. Maybe I just need a cuter dress or sunglasses or sandals or nail polish or coverup or sunhat or tank to feel better about myself, even if just for a moment.
Compare and consume. Compare and consume. On and on, trying to make the insecurities go away.
Cultural wisdom would tell me to stop comparing and instead turn my gaze to how strong and beautiful and capable my body is. I birthed four kids! I can run! My skin will age well!
Cultural wisdom would also tell me to buy the things that make me feel better about me. Self-tanner! New cut-off shorts! Little chunks of silicon you stuff into your bikini top!
Trust me, I’ve tried all of these. There is value, of course, in both positive self-talk and choosing outfits that fit. But these tactics alone are insufficient.
One morning a few weeks ago, I became aware of the ugly compare and consume habits that were happening inside me. The good news about God is that He is full of grace. He knows this tender part of me. He’s faithful to pull me out of the pit and realign my heart.
That morning on my bed He reminded me that I was caught up in looking to outward things to heal the inward muck. I was self-focused and self-consumed and kept grasping for a shiny new thing to make the insecurity go away. A new dress is nice and finding a swimsuit that flatters is reasonable, but my inner dialog was getting out of hand. He made me and loves me and has far more important things for me to do than obsess over skinny thighs and a closet full of adorable outfits.
The truth is, all of our insecurities are made obsolete when we remember our unchanging, forever identity as deeply wanted and valued children of God. With His help, we can clothe ourselves with compassion, not comparison. Kindness, not judgment. Humility, not pride. Gentleness, not criticism. Patience, not perfection.
And whether we put on the cutest summer dress or not, we can have all the confidence in the world that we are chosen, holy and dearly loved.
“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24 NIV
She burst into tears. “I don’t like school! I’m never going back!”
This was so out of character. First of all, Audrey isn’t one for overly-dramatic emotional outbursts, and second, she LOVES school.
After some consoling and wiping tears and taking deep breaths we got to the bottom of it:
Her beloved Mrs. K. had taken maternity leave and the brand new Miss B. was doing everything differently. The kids were noisy and disrespectful, the regular, comfortable routine was shifted, everything felt strange and messed up and she just wanted things to go back to how they used to be.
She’s a girl after my own change-resistant heart.
The next morning when I went in to wake her for school, she looked up at me with her wild bed hair and barely awake eyes. “Mom, I’ve been thinking about it and decided that I’m just going to keep reminding myself that today’s going to be a good day, today’s going to be a good day, today’s going to be a good day.”
Positive self-talk is important and valuable and I’m not here to dismiss it. Keeping those words in her mind all day would surely help her look for the good instead of focusing on what was going terribly wrong. So I smiled back and told her that was a great idea.
But I couldn’t leave it there.
On the way to school, a song popped into mind from my childhood. Perhaps you know it too?
🎶This is the day (this is the day), that the Lord has made (that the Lord has made) I will rejoice (I will rejoice) and be glad in it (and be glad in it) 🎶
I sang it to her and she giggled and for a brief moment in the school drop-off line, the Lord reminded me of something so simple, but so profound: It’s not actually about having good or bad days. Surely there will be both and more often than not, good and bad will show up on the exact same day. No, we can’t put our hope in having day after day of good days. I can’t set my daughter up for that.
Instead, that little song taken from an ancient song reminds us that whether life is smooth and comfortable and the way things “should” be or whether it has turned upside-down and feels strange and disorienting, it is still a day the Lord made and we are wise to rejoice in it.
BUT ALSO, the psalmist in 118 is referring to one particular day that changed every day after … the day when Jesus died and defeated death and made a way for us to be healed and set free and no longer bound by our own efforts to save ourselves. THIS is the day we celebrate because that one day changed every day going forward. It points to the greatest act of God on our behalf and this is worth rejoicing and being glad about.
So whether a day is good or bad or a mix of both, we can live and breathe and move confidently in the truth that Jesus has and will and is continuing to redeem what is broken, restore what is lost, and renew all things.
This is the truth I hope sinks down deep into my daughter’s heart. Mine too.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 NIV
If asked if I’m picky, I’ll answer no. That’s not my style of control. I like to be flexible and open-minded, and I hope most people find that I’m easy and pleasant to be around. But ask me if I’m particular, and that’s a different story.
I’m particular about how the dishwasher is loaded because obviously, the bowls fit best on the lower right rack. I’m particular about the sleeves of the t-shirts facing the same direction when folded because they stack better that way. I’m particular about eating my food while it’s piping hot, and get a little grouchy when I have to wait at the dinner table for my less temperature-concerned family members to arrive. I’m particular about practically every aspect of my work that might reflect back onto me: graphics, emails, packaging, branding. I’m particular about how the kids look when we go out, especially when we take family photos.
Being particular is normal. We all have our preferences. It’s when those particularities become cemented in our minds as the only way that they cross over to the arena of control. Ouch, right? Control is especially ugly when I prioritize my own preferences over my care for another person. It’s what happens when I rearrange the dishwasher, huffing under my breath about my son’s incompetency in doing it right. It’s the urge to take over when my daughter is not folding her clothes properly and the self-righteousness that comes out when I take a bite before we all gather to pray because I just spent all this time making food and I want to eat it while it’s hot. It’s the overworked and stressed-out result of not asking for help or trusting another person to do what I mistakenly think only I can do and not caring if the sweater is itchy or the pair of pants is uncomfortable because it is what I want you to wear, and you will wear it.
My preferences are usually harmless, but they can creep in quietly, and soon enough I find myself being particular about more than just the day-to-day things like promptness and how the pillows are arranged on the couch. Instinctively, my eyes search and my hands grasp for opportunities to express my way. Control makes me feel powerful, and I like feeling powerful. It puts me and my great ideas in charge, and I think me and my ideas are pretty great. It allows me to be responsible for me, and that feels better than trusting. But control can also cause me to hurt and disregard others and make poor choices. Control assumes that I know best, but what God whispers (or sometimes hollers) is a knowing of a different kind.
“Be still and know,” he says.
“Know that I am God.”
So I humble myself and find my rightful place once again.
Relinquishing control reminds us that we’re not truly in charge. Letting go of the need for things to go our way allows space for God to have His way in us. Releasing control is just one of many small ways we make room for new growth. Life with God is the very best partnership, and it’s one big, amazing lesson in collaborating, considering, and giving up control. This is what leads to real rest.
(This is an excerpt from Chapter 6 of my upcoming book, an illustrated memoir about identity, transformation, and Jesus’ invitation to real rest. I can’t wait for you to have it in your hands next spring. If you want to be on the waitlist for early notification, please leave a comment and I’ll add you to the wait list!)
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 NIV
“Mom, let’s arm wrestle!”
The boys find great joy in this game. Over the last few years, these children of mine have eclipsed me in height and weight and shoe size and, without a doubt, arm strength. And yet, they still like to challenge me, just to see, can I really beat mom? Every single time they laugh and act surprised and egg me on, “Mom, try!” as I fight with all my strength and laugh back and assure them “I am trying!”.
It’s not even a competition; they win every time.
I want it to be this way. I want them to grow and work hard and build their muscles for health and enjoyment and good use. I want them to be strong.
But, even more than physical strength, I want them to be strong in character. Strong in convictions, in knowing truth from lie. Strong in self-control and firm in who they are. And I want them to be courageous; courageous to act and lead and make wise choices. Courageous to admit when they mess up and brave to try again. I want this for them, and I want it for me and you, too. Because, my goodness, fear, and discouragement just keep coming at us day after day, don’t they?! We could all use strength and courage.
The bad news is, the strength and courage required to combat fear and discouragement are not achievable on our own. We can give it our best effort, and perhaps succeed for a time, but it’s always a temporary fix. No matter how much we train or try, we’ll fall short.
But there’s great news, too. It’s not up to us. We will receive exactly what we need as a result of this: God is with us, wherever we go.
We chose this verse for our firstborn, Ethan (whose name means ‘strong’) when he was just a baby. And with each consecutive son, we chose it for them. It is the prayer of my heart for each of my boys:
Be strong, my child, when you look fear in the face. Be courageous, my son, when you feel inadequate, knocked-down, and discouraged. For the Lord is good and powerful and full of grace and HE IS WITH YOU. He will never leave you alone or forget about you and you can never get beyond his reach. He is for you. He makes you strong. He makes you courageous. Always remember this.
These words are for my boys and also me and you and every other son and daughter of God. This truth is for all of us, wherever we go.
I woke and the house was quiet. It wasn’t necessarily early; we’ve grown very accustomed to the irregular weekday schedule that doesn’t require an alarm clock or bus routes or school bells and take advantage of the chance to sleep in. Ryan had already gone up to the studio over the garage to start his workday and the otherwise sleeping house felt like just the opportunity I’ve been craving for some quiet alone-time with my bible and journal.
I tiptoed downstairs and as I quickly tidied up from the night before – fluffing the couch pillows and tossing stray shoes into the mudroom, lighting a candle and straightening the stack of magazines – the familiarity felt like a friend. I’ve missed you, quiet mornings!
I sat on the couch with my bible open and before I even began, I felt a sense of loss creeping in. I miss how things used to be. I miss the kids going to school and hours of a quiet house and alone time. I miss popping into my coffee shop and picking up a few things at the market without even thinking about germs. I miss friends dropping by and my Wednesday night bible study and the familiar faces at pilates class. I gave myself a minute to name the things I miss most and wrote them down.
Audrey walked sleepily into the room, fuzzy blanket wrapped around her and wild hair peeking out. Brady came next. I could hear the other boys upstairs. Just like that, quiet alone-time is over, I thought to myself. Grouchiness and selfishness rising to the surface.
Just then, I glanced up to see the sunlight shine in just perfectly, casting a glow on the chair across the way.
Lift your eyes up.
Sometimes I need a full-on heart-to-heart to get a message to sink in. Other times all it takes is sunshine coming through the window at just the right moment to shake me awake and reorient my heart. Today all I needed was that streak of sunlight. Take a deep breath; life your eyes up.
This morning’s reminder was a fresh invitation to open up my hands on the loss and weirdness and disorientation and disruption of my lovely schedule (it really is a nice schedule). It was a reminder to pick my eyes up off myself so I might be able to see goodness, beauty and truth even in these curious circumstances. And it gave me (once again) the permission to trade the anxiety over the unknowns for lasting, enduring peace that is found in trusting God.
So right then, even though the room was no longer quiet and I was no longer alone, I carried on with my morning meeting with Jesus. It was different and a more distracting and I still prefer silence and solitude to help me uncover what’s going on in my heart, but also, God isn’t limited to perfect circumstances. He isn’t bound by a schedule or routine or optimal conditions. He is with us and for us and is always at work renewing our hearts through whatever the means.
Under the list of things I’m missing, I made a second list: Things that are unexpectedly wonderful. Surprisingly, that list came even faster than the first and is much, much longer.
A self-made school schedule that includes bible and journal time for the kids.
More time for Ethan to play piano.
A walk on the beach with Audrey.
Nightly Facetime story-time with my niece and nephew, Ellie and Ryan (why haven’t we done this before?!)
A pilates studio that is adapting to online classes.
Zooming with Aunt Lorrie for math. Again, why have we not asked her for high school math help?!
Bible Project church at home. So grateful for this resource.
Katie Couric morning emails. A new-to-me discovery that makes catching up on the news enjoyable.
Dinner together as a family every night.
The list went on.
Yes, this new normal is anything but normal and it’s okay to be honest with the many ways it’s messing with us. And also, perhaps the best part of the messing up is the ways it exposes the comforts and addictions and selfishness that need to be pulled out anyway. There is work being done inside my heart that wouldn’t have otherwise happened if not for this momentary blip in my nicely-organized routine.
Audrey’s little devotion of the day says it perfectly:
“I promise to meet all your needs. And while you may not realize it, your greatest need is for My Peace. I am the Gardener of your heart, planting seeds of peace. But the world also tosses in seeds. These seeds grow into weeds of pride, worry and selfishness. If these weeds aren’t ripped out quickly, they will choke out all your peace. I get rid of those weeds in different ways. Sometimes, when you sit quietly in prayer, My Light shines on the weeds and they shrivel up. But other times, I use troubles to encourage you to trust Me. And that trust kills the weeds. So thank Me for troubles, as well as joys. Because I use them both to make your heart My garden of Peace.”
So I lift my eyes and remember that this moment in time is, in fact, just a moment. I confess my worry and control and self-focused ways and thank him for using both the troubles and the joys to bring peace. And I choose to place my gaze on the unexpected blessings that only a slowed-down, messed up routine can offer.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
Our oldest son is just the nicest kid – he is smart and friendly, witty and creative. He’s responsible and caring (and as sloppy as they come, but I try to overlook that part). He’s a leader in his class and has lots of friends. And he has a bully who’s been bugging him all year.
It’s admittedly not the worse bully case of all – but it is hurtful all the same. We’ve talked about it and offered suggestions for the past few months, but last Friday, my 10 year old came home with teary-eyes because this mean boy just won’t leave him alone. We talked it through and have a few positive next steps, so we’ll get the issue taken care of, I’m sure. As much as I want to step in and protect my baby, I know situations like this will build his character, teach him compassion, show him what it means to pray for his enemies. He will be better because of moments like these.
But I can’t stop thinking about this one thing, this one reality that I’ve known was there all along, but it hasn’t been an in-your-face part of my children’s’ lives until now:
the world will try over and over to tell them who they are
Sometimes it will be good, like when they win an award or score a goal or get promoted. Their friends/teammates/colleagues will offer praise and give respect and it will feel great. They will feel confident and proud and think they are pretty awesome.
Other times, it will be terrible. When they don’t get chosen or are left out or made fun of or passed over for the promotion and their friends/teammates/colleagues will laugh or ignore or say hurtful things and it will sting. Over and over and over, these inadequacies, negative comments, hurtful words will work their way into their hearts and soon enough, they will begin to believe them.
I don’t like this. Either one, really – feeling awesome because of what we’ve done or feeling awful because of what we haven’t. We base our identity on our successes or failures and that just leaves us scrambling, striving, doing all we can to be good and avoid mistakes and try desperately to prove our value to the world.
It’s so my story. Probably yours, too. Maybe all of humanity, even.
We look to the world to tell us who we are and the world doesn’t even have the right to voice its opinion in the first place.
I’m still learning the lesson. I care way, way too much about what others think of me. I always have. I’ve been reminded over and over again that basing my value on the world’s opinion of me will never satisfy, and I’m getting closer to believing it, but I still haven’t quite grasped it.
My oldest son’s bully experience has deepened my desire for our kids to have a solid understanding and confidence in who they are – in who God says they are – so that they won’t get caught up in the people-pleasing-accolade-chasing-fearful-perfectionism that so easily entangles. I want them to go through life having people either wildly approve and accept them or hurtfully make fun of and ridicule them and not waver from their belief in what Jesus thinks of them.
I want my kids to twirl, really. Not just Audrey, but the boys too (maybe it’s not the right word for them, but see the original post and the follow up and hopefully you’ll get the point). To be who God made them to be, thanking Him when they are successful, accepting His unending grace when they fail. And knowing this:
“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you; He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17
So many beautiful promises in one little passage.
God is with me. He saves me. He delights in me. He loves me. He rejoices over me
God is with you. He saves you. He delights in you. He loves you. He rejoices over you.
This is the verse we chose for our daughter, but I pray it for my boys as well.
So when a bully tells my son that he’s not good enough, it will hurt. It should hurt. But he will know, deep in his soul, that because of Jesus, he is enough. He is chosen and adored and that is enough.
Note: Written in 2014, but just as applicable today