Archive for the ‘Encouragement’ Category

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?  Really?

HappyStudentsReturning

After all these years, it still rings in my ears every September.  An office supply store in our area used to run a commercial featuring a parent waltzing happily through the store buying school supplies and singing ecstatically “It’s the most wonderful time of the year . . . !”  Many a mom, often including me, echoed the sentiment. Of course, for moms sending kids off to daycare or preschool or putting kids on a school bus for the first time felt differently. I remember that, too.

The start of another school year is emotion-laden. Yes, in many cases, there is joy. But just behind that comes another reality: The 3-11 shift. With the start of school comes the return to car pool runs, after-school sports or other activities (depending on kids’ ages and family choices), and always—always—the homework grind. How does one mother manage the needs of all four (or more—or even less) of her kids and still devote to each one what they particularly need? Especially if they range from 2 to 12 (or somewhere on either side). And even more especially if any of them have special needs. All the while, of course, dispensing snacks and preparing (or at least pondering) dinner and preventing tragedy in the lives of young crawlers and climbers or exploration-oriented toddlers. Mission Impossible. The real one.   

And somehow buried in all this sentiment and whirlwind of activities is a deep-down sense of this being like New Year’s. A chance for a fresh start, a clean slate, a new-and-improved way to manage it all. Good motivation to a point. But also, yet another way for moms to feel not only overwhelmed but also inadequate, inferior, never enough. There’s extra need to guard your heart and beware the social media monsters who “have it all together”—or at least present that part of their reality (often inadvertently) and lure you to the sinkholes of comparison and feelings of failure.

A perfect time, I believe, to introduce you to my new favorite parenting book: Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David Tripp. If the author’s name sounds familiar, you may remember (or also be reading) my current favorite devotional, New Morning Mercies, also by Paul David Tripp. I have to admit that I approached this book with a tiny bit of skepticism because I feel ever-defensive about anything that presents unrealistic goals or places an unnecessary load of guilt on the backs of already overburdened moms.  No need to worry here. The book has (or at least I hope it also has on other readers) the opposite effect: It is very freeing.

Parenting_14GospelPrinciples

First, a caveat that the author is very clear about. This is not a handy how-to guide to help you solve in practical ways each daily parenting dilemma. Rather, it offers what Tripp calls a “big gospel parenting worldview” that can alter your basic understanding about your role and responsibilities as a mom. For those of you who have been or are in Mom to Mom, I honestly (and prayerfully) hope it feels like a reminder of many of the premises of Mom to Mom teaching.

Tripp is a very good writer. When I sat down to list favorite concepts and quotes, I filled a whole page. There are far too many to include here, but all the more encouragement for you to get this book and read it yourself (and with your husband as well if you are currently married and he will join you). The underlying theme of the book, as it always is with Tripp, is grace. As recipients of God’s grace we are called to be tools of grace in the lives of our children. First, we must clearly understand our own need of grace—not only foundationally for our salvation but also in our daily, hourly, need for “moment by moment grace” (p. 70) to be wise and Godly parents.      

I said the book was freeing. You really need to read it all the way through to understand that. But I know that, for some of you, reading a whole book may sound like yet one more mission impossible. So may I suggest that you start by reading his introduction on our being “ambassador” parents rather than “owner” parents. Then read my three favorite chapters (“Calling,” “Grace,” and “Inability”). By then you may be hooked.  But I hope you will at least be encouraged.

Just a few favorite quotes that I hope will encourage you even in this moment:

“. . . aloneness is a cruel lie that will defeat us every time” (p. 182)

“in every moment you are parenting, you are being parented.” (p. 187)

“God never calls you to a task without giving you what you need to do it. He never sends you without going with you.” (p. 33)

“Good parenting lives at the intersection of a humble admission of your personal powerlessness and a confident rest in the power and grace of God.” (p. 69)

Reminders that are good for any time of year.  Starting right now.

   

Nineteen at Nana’s: Lessons Learned from My Grandchildren

Those lazy, hazy days of summer. Where did we get that phrase anyway? All I knew was that whoever coined it was definitely not a mom. But a quick Google inquiry tells me the words are from a Nat King Cole song title. So definitely not a mom. But the title also includes one more word. Key for moms: “Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer.” So the one word is right: crazy. Who knew?

Moms, of course. And, I might add, Nanas. After a fabulous four weeks of three-generational fun, one in Virginia, where four of our grandkids live, and three in our own home, with various family groups coming and going, I am more certain than ever. Lazy, no way! Crazy? Absolutely! For four wonderful days, we were all together: nineteen at Nana’s. Just for the record, Nana and Farfar (as the kids call Woody; it’s Swedish for “Father’s Father) have a small condo. Fortunately, its three levels do stretch a bit when needed. But still, nineteen, with 11 kids age 11 and under (including one baby and two toddlers) is, well, nineteen. Here are a few lessons I learned from my grandkids. Perhaps one or two will come in handy in your summer.

  • Having fun times 19 can be chaotic . . .  but it is well worth it!Collage-1Andersons2017
  • Whatever you do, always remember to eat. And eat. And eat. Collage-2
  • Sometimes you even need to sneak an extra snack. Collage-3
  • Siblings care for each other—or even borrow a cousin or two. Collage-4
  • Be sure you travel with friends . . . or find some. Collage-5a
  • Play outside as much as you can. Find water whenever possible. Collage-6
  • But sometimes, when it rains, you have to make your own inside fun.  Collage-7
  • Dress for fun. A little pizzazz never hurts!  Collage-8
  • If you are a Nana, you need to play on the floor. . . But don’t forget short breaks on the couch.  Collage-9
  • No matter how creative and flexible and fun you try to be, some days are just . . . well, you know.  Collage-10

So it’s all over now. Families have gone home to face the re-entry process (“So what are we going to do today? Are we going anywhere? Why is it always raining where we live?) You know the drill.

And Nana? She’s sitting in a ridiculously neat house that is way too quiet and lonely. But now there are even more memories in the walls. And in many hearts. Nineteen, I hope.

And in the quiet, a friend just sent me a link which reminded me of a long-favorite song, Stuart Townend’s “The Lord Is My Shepherd.” Maybe you need to play it at this point in the summer too, whether you have an empty house or a way-too-full house eagerly awaiting . . . Well, you know “Even so, come quickly school. Come quickly.”

Happy last few days of summer!       

   

Enough

SingleFlower

The word bounces around my brain these days. Echoes through the chambers of my heart. Enough. We use it in all kinds of ways. “Enough is enough,” proclaimed the Prime Minister of Britain after the most recent tragic terrorist attack in that country. “Enough!” we tell our children. “I’ve had enough!” Authors, commentators, and wise observers of life remind us: “We live in a ‘never enough’ culture.”

Wise words from and about mothers float back to me from long-ago gleanings.  One speaker we had at Mom to Mom reminded us: “Whatever you can do today (with and for your children) will be enough.” I remember reading an article written by Ann Graham Lotz years ago about her mother, Ruth Graham, wife of Billy Graham. “I learned from my mother that God is enough. God was enough for her when she had everything else, and when she had nothing else.” Indeed. Enough.

God Himself seems to be very interested in “enough.” When the Israelites were given manna in the wilderness, they were to gather just enough for each day. In a story recorded in 2 Kings 4:1-7, the prophet Elisha learned of the plight of a poverty-stricken widow whose sons were about to be taken into slavery to pay back debts her late husband had owed. After learning that all she had in her house was a tiny bit of oil, Elisha instructed her to gather from her neighbors and friends all the jugs and bowls she could find. And start pouring. God provided oil to fill every container she had. It was enough. Not only for her family, but enough to sell to earn their living. 

Earlier, in 1 Kings 17, when there was a time of drought and a famine in the land, Elisha’s predecessor and mentor, the prophet Elijah, had his own needs provided by a different widow who, along with her son, was on the brink of starvation. When Elijah asked her for food, she was gathering bits of firewood to cook what she thought would be the last meal for her and her son. Then God stepped in. The woman obeyed Elijah’s instructions and scraped together the last flour and oil to make a meal which she thought would be the last, for the prophet and her family. Then, as 1 Kings 17:16 puts it, “. . . the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry . . .” till the famine was over. Enough.

What does this have to do with us? Plenty. Especially for moms. It’s June now, technically the start of summer. For many of you, summer seems to have already started. Here in New England, we keep hearing rumors that warmth and sun are just around the corner—maybe in the next ten-day forecast after this one. But whatever the weather (especially in cold rain!) summer can loom long and a bit scary. “What will occupy this busy brood during these summer months?  Will I have enough ideas/ creativity / flexibility /stamina/ patience . . . ?” You know the drill. “Will I be enough?”

For this we have God’s firm assurances. “My God will supply all your need . . .” Paul tells us in Philippians 4:19 (KJV).  And Peter chimes in: “His divine power has given everything we need for life and godliness . . .” 2 Peter 1:3a (NIV). Everything we need. God will supply. Enough. Good news. Whatever may lie ahead in your summer, God will be enough. And, through His power and by His grace, you will be enough. Now that’s something to celebrate!

But here’s the really good news.  This is not a promise just for summer. It is for life.  For life. For the big-picture questions we all face sooner or later.

Some of you may remember a conversation I related in a recent post. That one about God being enough even in the face of disappointment, loss in this life, and uncertainty about the future this side of Heaven. My friend’s question still lingers in my mind. I think of it nearly every day. It is, in many ways, the central question of life. The hope we cling to no matter what: that God will never ever leave us and that a glorious eternity lies ahead. “And that is enough for you, Linda? That is enough?”

Yes. It is enough. Still. Always. When we have everything else and when we have nothing else. When we cry and when we smile and when we shout for joy. It is enough because He is enough. The God Who knows our every longing, Who hears our every sigh (Psalm 38:9). That One. He is enough. For this summer. For this life. For me. For you.

May He bless your summer!

Hello, Summer: An Encouragement Challenge for Every Mom

The title may be a bit misleading.  First, full disclosure: It’s not actually summer yet here in New England. While we have had a few brief outbursts of summer heat, it is currently cool and rainy, with little or no sun in sight for the upcoming week. In fact, here’s how it really is: when I checked my weather app this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see warmer temps and much more sun than I had heard was predicted. Just one glitch: turn out I was looking at the forecast for Belfast, Northern Ireland, where my daughter lives, not here in Burlington, MA. Those of you who have been to Ireland will get the joke!

Second potential (though intentional) miscue in the title: While I really do want to share this challenge with every mom, it is particularly directed toward Titus 2 moms (that is, older moms who encourage younger moms—see Titus 2:2-4 in the New Testament).  If you are or have been—or might become!—a mentor in Mom to Mom, it’s especially for you. But I deeply believe every mom should take this challenge.

What challenge? The challenge to keep your eyes open this summer for moms in your life who you can encourage in the midst of this wonderful, crazy, exhausting, relentless, joyful adventure called mothering. 

Women

This is a bittersweet time of year for me. Sad because I will miss Mom to Mom groups over the summer. Sweet because I love hearing from our member moms.   As Mom to Mom groups begin to disband for the summer, many of them give each group a chance to have one person share at the closing brunch what difference Mom to Mom has made in their lives. It’s my favorite day of the year. I love hearing from these moms, and this year I got to share the end-of-year brunch with two different groups—one in Massachusetts, and one in New Hampshire. Each has been using the Mom to Mom curriculum for many years: 25 years in one case, 14 in another.

There are common themes that surface at the year-end brunch every year. One of those most mentioned is always what a huge gift the Titus 2 leaders have been to the moms.  A very small sampling:

“I knew from her first phone call that this woman was going to be a rare treasure. She loved us in so many ways, but especially thought her intentionality in keeping a weekly prayer journal with our group so she could pray for us and help us pray for each other.”

“I heard God’s truth poured through her and saw it woven into how she lived her life.”

“My leaders each year have had different personalities—each amazing in their own way—but this year I have especially seen in my leader the humble, selfless, joyful peace that personifies the verse: ‘In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.’”

Another common theme: The enormous gift of loving childcare:

“This was my first time leaving my baby with anyone, and the childcare workers were amazing, freeing me up to soak in all morning what I so needed to hear.”

A Biblically-grounded curriculum which is, at the same time, welcoming to all, challenging, and encouraging is always key.

“. . . the joy of Scripture poured through me weekly . . .”

“. . . a sort of weekly mindfulness moment: the reminder of heaven.”

“. . . always challenged to grow, always leaving encouraged.”

Why am I telling you all this? Well, for those of you concluding your own Mom to Mom year, I want to encourage you leaders with the huge difference what you have done/are doing can make in many lives. Many moms mention the ripple effect on their husband and kids. And, I might add, future generations.

Moms

Years ago someone shared with me a quote. I cannot remember it exactly, nor can I remember who said it, but it went something like this: “If you can help a mom love her life, you change a life. If you change a mom’s life, you change a family. If you change a family, you begin changing a nation.”

I know not all of you are mentor moms—or even involved in a Mom to Mom group.  But I also know that every one of you reading this knows a mom in your life—or perhaps many moms—who will need some encouragement over the summer.  Keep your eyes open. Look for them. See how you can come alongside and listen to them—really listen! Laugh with them—or cry with them—or maybe both. And look for ways you can point them Godward. Be as transparent as you can about your own struggles as well as your joys. Maybe, just maybe, you can change a life. Or a family. Or more.    

  

Can You Come Over?

sunrise lighting and easter cross

I can still hear the little voice on the other end of the phone: “Nana, we’re having Easter at our house next Sunday.  And . . . can you come over?” 

“Oh, how I wish I could, Soren.” My four-year-old grandson, who lives in New Hampshire, had no idea what it would take for me to just “come over” from where I lived in Wisconsin at the time.

Suddenly I am transported to that long ago afternoon when Soren’s father, 4 years old at the time, had invited a friend to come over during Easter week. The boys were playing on the back porch while I was busy in the kitchen. “No, Mark,” I hear Bjorn say. “No, remember you are the angel and you say ‘He is not here, He is risen, just as he said.’” I peek out on the porch. Bjorn, who always loved to act things out, is apparently staging and directing a small Passion Play. I smile and wonder what Mark thinks of all this. The next day, Mark’s mother calls to thank me for the play date and adds: “And Bjorn did such a wonderful job of explaining Easter. We have just stuck with the bunnies and eggs and had never known how to tell Mark the real story. Thank you.” 

I sit here by my fire this morning (yes, it can still be winter—sort of—in April in New England) and wish all of you could come over. To meet my neighbors. To talk about Easter. How this Pivotal Event in all of history alters our world view entirely.  As I wrote last Easter, the cross and the lily change everything.

Why do I wish you all could come over and join my neighbors and we could chat?  Because we live in a broken and bleeding world.  Because I know many of you, like the many moms I see every Thursday and the moms I pray for every day, are struggling with all kinds of broken things. Broken career dreams for you and/or your husband. Broken relationships. Broken finances. Broken bodies—sick kids, secondary infertility, chronic diseases, special needs. 

I live amidst what my new favorite poet Ben Palpant calls the “Broken Brave” (Sojourner Songs, p. 32). Friends and neighbors grappling with failing eyesight and fading memories and compromised mobility due to brain tumors. And no, I don’t actually live in a “senior neighborhood”; there are also two babies due—arguably a different kind of bravery.

So what does Easter have to do with all this? It’s a reminder. No, more—it’s proof.  God loved us enough to enter our broken world and become broken Himself—and rise again whole—that we might one day be completely whole again. We say it at communion: “the body of Christ, broken for you.”

One day what is broken in our world will be restored. And whole. 

My friend asks the question.  A friend who has lost much. We are talking about medical conditions that seemingly have no earthly “cure.” I share with her about a time of disappointment when what seemed to hold promise of a cure didn’t work out that way.

“So what did you do?” she asks.

“I talked with God about it,” I say. 

“And what did He say?” she presses. 

“He reminded me that one day—in Heaven with Him (an unfamiliar concept to her)—all will be well and whole again. Forever.” 

Then comes the real challenge: “And that was enough for you?”

A long silence while I ponder: What is the true answer of my heart here?  And then: “Yes, my dear friend. That is enough.”

Is it? It’s the Big Question, isn’t it? We grappled with it last week in Mom to Mom talking about prayer. We struggle with it often in everyday life. Much too big a question to address in this humble blog post, which is one reason I wish you could all “come over” and we could talk about it. We could listen together to one of my favorite songs: “Even If” by MercyMe. And talk more.

But in the meantime, Good Friday is coming. And—praise God!—Easter after that.  He Who was broken for us conquered death for us—and for our children. It is enough. Because HE is enough. He Who was Himself “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” walks alongside us every step of the way in this broken world. He gives us strength in our weakness, comfort in our sorrow, mending for our broken places, and—sometimes—healing in the here and now.  But always, Hope. Hope in what is yet to come: “. . . the Great Story which no one on earth has ever read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (C.S. Lewis, at the end of The Last Battle)

Because of Easter. Come on over!

March Madness and Music Therapy

MarchMadness

March Madness is alive and well at our house. You could take this in a number of ways. For us right now, it’s all about basketball. Woody loves the suspense and drama of the NCAA tournament with all its twists and turns. And often, I do, too.

But there are many kinds of madness. And I suspect that one or two of you reading this may be experiencing a different kind of March madness. Maybe crazy schedules. You find yourselves caught between winter and spring sports, and the carpool schedule has become a tangled, impossible mess. Or never-ending winter. Will this cold and snow never go away? (If you live in Massachusetts, who knows?) Snow days, sick kids, and being housebound are making you crazy—a different kind of madness. Or the biggie: sleep deprivation. Someone is always up during the night. If you’re lucky enough to get the baby sleeping through the night, your 5-year-old is having bad dreams, your 7-year-old is throwing up, or your 3-year-old has a monster under her bed. Maybe all three . . . in the same night. It’s enough to make you crazy. Really truly crazy. The real March madness.

In the middle of all this, I have one small suggestion. Music therapy. I remember times in my mom-life when 15 rare and precious minutes of Mozart (Yes, I’m one of those crazy people who likes almost all kinds of music—even classical—sometimes especially classical) through my headphones got me through those “piranha hours.” (Remember what Max Lucado called those times when “everyone wants a piece of Mom”?) I also remember marching up and down our upstairs hallway singing “The Steadfast Love of the Lord Never Ceases . . .” at the top of my lungs. Until I believed it. Some days it was a lot of singing.

I know many of you already live on your music—at least, whenever you can get it. Even though you can access your favorites in many ways these days, sleeping babies, nap times, and kid music choices for carpools do take their toll, no matter how good your headphones are. But still, you know what a mood-changer music can be.

Yes, you already know that music is life-giving. But I want to remind you of two gifts of music that you may not always remember.

First, God uses music to remind us of deep truths about Him that are easy to forget in the midst of March madness. Any kind of madness. In every season of life. In recent months I have been waking up with the words of old hymns floating through my mind. I also have found myself adding music to my quiet times with God. Whether it is old favorites on the piano or Fernando Ortega filling the living room or prayer time with Sandra McCracken’s Psalms. As I pray for the many I know with “troubled bones” (Psalm 6:2-4) or hurting hearts, I begin my prayers with Sandra McCracken’s “Dear Refuge for My Weary Soul” or MercyMe’s “Even If.” Or Shane and Shane’s “Though He Slay Me.” Or “Eye of the Storm”(Ryan Stevenson). Balm for the soul. Not only for others for whom I pray. For me. For you.

Music also is a powerful voice in your children’s ears. Some children receive and remember truths about God far better through music than in any other way. But I believe all children benefit from music. I remember great kid conversations about the fruit of the Spirit because of an album we frequently played called The Music Machine. And I’m sure nearly every one of you can add lots of current examples.

Singing!

But here’s the other thing: The songs you sing to and with your children will remain with them the rest of their lives. And yours. I know this because I hear our children singing to their children some of the very songs I sung with them. Our grandkids ask for those songs when we put them to bed. Even, in one case, in Swedish! And guess what? Some of these same songs now sing in my heart when I most need to hear them: all the verses of the old Swedish hymn “Children of the Heavenly Father” have new meaning for me in this chapter of life. And words to a song called “Peace” (also from The Music Machine): “Knowing that my Daddy’s home [my caps], God gives me peace.” And “Peace, Peace I think I understand. Peace, Peace is holding Jesus’s hand.” Yes. For me. For my children. For my grandchildren.

So keep singing your way through March—and beyond. A letter one of our kids wrote to me recently included an old Victorian quote that says it best: “. . . the songs sung over the cradle hide themselves away in the nooks and crannies of the tender life, to sing themselves out again in the long years to come.” (J.R Miller, 1880)

Keep singing! 

Then Came February

SnowScene

So it’s February. Actually, February 9 as I write this. And—you guessed it!—it’s a Snow Day. All the schools in the area are closed. In fact, nearly everything is closed today due to “heavy bands of snow” and potential blizzard condition whiteouts in some (unpredictable) spots and very cold temperatures combined with the 8-14” forecast.

I’m sitting here by my fire reflecting on all the mixed emotions I’ve always felt about snow days. First of all, I wish they didn’t happen on Mom to Mom days; I hate missing Mom to Mom. But then, there is the excitement and beauty of a good old-fashioned New England Nor’easter. I remember the glorious excitement of kids jumping up and down with joy when they see their school on the TV cancellation list. We’d celebrate with pancakes or French toast and hot chocolate. Followed by layers and layers of snow apparel to prepare for a day of sledding and

snowmen and snow forts and gigantic snowball fights and general snow bliss.

And then—seemingly only 5 minutes later—someone (or several someones) tromping in with half the snowfall attached and trailing through the house to get a drink/go to the bathroom/need a snack/have to warm up/complain about sibling injustice . . . You know the drill. Let me just tell you: A mother never forgets what it takes to undress a snowsuit-clad toddler for the bathroom break that seems to occur every few minutes. And then get them dressed for the Arctic all over again. Or what the whole house smells like at the end of the day with wet mittens and scarves and snow jackets and pants and boots draped absolutely everywhere. Unless you happen to have (sigh) a mudroom the size of a gym. Still, I miss those days.

At this point I’m guessing some of you are nodding in recognition of all I’m describing. Others are probably gloating and thanking God you don’t live in The Land of Snowsuits. And others may be a bit envious. Your kids would love to play in the snow.

Somehow this snow day feels like a microcosm of the mixed feelings February generates. For those of us who love the snow (or at least love looking at it out the window if we don’t have to go anywhere or have kids with very large bladders who love being cold and playing out in the snow all day without needing breaks at 15-minute intervals), let me say it: It IS beautiful. And February seems to be the month that brings the most snow drama—at least here in New England.

February also brings Valentine’s Day. I for one have always loved Valentine’s Day. I liked making Valentine boxes and exchanging valentines in school. Especially if there was candy involved. Years later I loved the great “excuse” for romantic dinners. And more candy. I especially loved making Valentine cookies (I did do that some years—right, kids?) and having special Family Valentine’s Dinners. And now I love sending Valentine boxes to our 11 distant grandchildren.

But not everyone loves Valentine’s Day. For some it is most dreaded or best ignored. Maybe it’s long ago hurt and scarring associated with this day or it could be recent loss and pain—or maybe a lifetime of feeling alone more than ever at this time. This is a hard time—and February is a hard month—for many.

So it is that as I sit here looking out at the beautiful snow and feeling a strange mixture of delight and melancholy in the memories of many years of February, I find myself praying for all the moms I know. For joyful fun in the snow (or joyful gloating in the sand). For patience and endurance when the Snow Days (or any days) get long and lonely. And for healing of many hurting hearts in this February. Psalm 34:18 keeps coming to mind: “The Lord is very close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

For all of us, a reminder that both snow and hearts bring to mind our loving God. The One Who inhabits “the storehouses of the snow” (Job 38:22). The One Who loved us enough to die for us, that our sins, as bright and deep as scarlet, might be “as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). And The One Who also “loves us with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

An old hymn comes to mind: “There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God.” Quiet rest? Are you kidding? For moms? In the heart of God, yes. Yes. Yes.

Feel loved this February, in the snow or not. Because you are.

New Every Morning. Even in January.

calendar-1508663_640

So it’s January. In fact, we’re already halfway through January, and I feel I’m just coming out of my post-Christmas stupor, blinking my eyes against the sometimes harsh light of the new year. I hate having Christmas over. I’ve always had a problem with saying goodbye to Christmas for another year. My family will tell you how I used to spend New Year’s Day curled up in a fetal position on the couch while Woody took down the Christmas decorations and hauled out the dry bunch of needles that had been our tree.

But there’s also, once I get past my goodbyes to Christmas, something good about January. A sort of cleansing. The house looks pretty good after all without all the clutter of Christmas. And there’s something hopeful about turning the calendar page on to not only a new month, but a whole new year. Who knows what possibilities lie ahead?

There’s a reason why the month is called January. It traces back to the legendary Roman god Janus, who had two heads, one looking back and one facing forward. He was the god of doorways, gates, and bridges, symbolizing beginnings and ends. Reflection and remembering the past. Hoping and praying into the unknown future.

But you moms of young children are not, I am quite sure, spending hours in reflection. You probably feel jolted into January. Back into school routines and (for us in the North) early morning jackets and boots and lunch boxes. And homework. Yes. Homework.

The month doesn’t slow down. Suddenly all the realities of the world we live in can hit hard. New diagnoses. New challenges at work or school. Back to the grind . . . it can be jolting. Suddenly (or so it seems to me since I’m not the one to whom it is happening) I’m hearing of sad goodbyes two of my friends are saying to their beloved fathers. Two precious ones I pray for are either awaiting or receiving stem cell transplants. My only remaining aunt, dearly loved, is facing unexpected surgery. And one very brave very godly young mom I know is commemorating, along with her four precious children, the sudden death of their husband and daddy in a Marine helicopter crash one year ago in mid-January. There can be a lot of tears in January. And a lot of Hope.

new_morning_mercies_book

All this is why I am delighted to have a great book to recommend to you. It’s a daily devotional by Paul David Tripp called New Morning Mercies. Wait. Don’t stop reading because the last thing you need is a new devotional to stack with all the other unread volumes—or someone putting you on a guilt trip because you never get to any devotional time at all with young kids needing you every waking moment (even those intended for sleep)! Before you give up, let me tell you what I love about this devotional.

First, it grew out of daily tweets that the author sent out, and every day’s reading begins with a tweet-length thought that will fire up your day even if that’s all you get to. Also, it is saturated beginning to end with grace. And if there is anything we moms need, it is grace. That’s because it is full of Biblical truth (thus infused with grace). This truth is passed through the filter of the author’s experience (seminary training as well as training and experience as both a counselor and a pastor) in such a way that it hits us right where we need it. Yes, it is convicting as well as comforting (remember it is Scripture-saturated). Nearly every day it feels as if it were written just for me. Maybe you, too.

I want to leave you with just one favorite quote. But it is very hard to choose because nearly every page I’ve read is totally marked up with “favorites.” And by the way, a note for you Type A Firstborn Perfectionists (How do I know you so well?!): Do not hesitate because you didn’t start with January 1. I first got this book in September and started reading from there. It works perfectly well wherever you start.

From January 10: “The DNA of joy is thankfulness . . . [but] If my heart is ever going to be freed of grumbling and ruled by gratitude, I need your grace: grace to remember, grace to see, grace that produces a heart of humble joy.”

Grace to remember what God has done in the past. (In his Introduction, Tripp reminds us that “remembering is spiritual warfare; even for this we need grace.”) Grace to see His work in what is before your very eyes. Right now. Right here. Even in January.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23 ESV)

  

Disheveled December?

Sad looking Christmas tree

“Well, I’m looking at our Christmas tree, which already looks disheveled, and I’m thinking that’s how I feel.”  This text came to me last week from an overworked, overwhelmed mother of 4 young kids whose 15-month-old had HFMD (hand, foot, and mouth disease—ugh!) and whose pastor-husband is extra-busy all month and who has absolutely no family or support system living nearby. It happened to be from my daughter Erika. But, with a few slight changes in detail, I’m thinking it could have come from many of you.

Feeling disheveled? Done in by December? Ricocheting between the joys of the season and a dull aching exhaustion that doesn’t want to admit this but wishes it were already over? You are not alone. I am sure of that. I have heard it from many moms (and dads!). And I see it on weary faces everywhere I go. December is a killer.

And I think it is all the harder for those of us who really love Christmas. I know, because I am one of these. Every year I looked forward with delight to December. The fun. The parties. Choosing just the right gift for each precious one I love. Celebrating Advent. Getting (and sending? Well. Maybe.) cards from long-lost friends. The music. Oh, how I love the music! I even love the baking. Let me correct that: I loved the thought of baking. Until I actually did it. You know, the never-ending cut out Christmas cookies you do with your kids? The kind that spread frosting all over your family and dust the entire kitchen with a fine layer of flour and colored sugar? We did it every year. Some mamas never learn . . .

It all felt great in anticipation. And then I turned the calendar. Yikes! It was already full before I started adding Christmas. That’s when it hit me. There really ought to be a moratorium during December on normal things—you know, everyday life for moms. No annual physicals or dental check-ups or school conferences or PTA meetings or… Come to think of it, why do we have to keep doing laundry and dishes and meals during December? But there is no moratorium. Even though my kids occasionally ate Christmas cookies for dinner, basically normal life just kept on. Even though I wanted to do all those other fun things.

December. Truly my favorite time of the year. And also the most exhausting. And maybe the most dangerous. Dangerous because we can so easily miss the moments in front of us because we are drowning in to-do lists and distracted by disillusionment. We had pictured it so differently. The tree was so magical just a few days—or weeks—ago. And the planning so careful. We wanted to not miss Christmas this year. But sick kids and broken appliances and extra work schedules and complicated family. Those weren’t in our pictures.

And so it is that once again, an Ann Voskamp quote comes to mind:

“In the thin air of Advent, you may not even know how to say it out loud: ‘I thought it would be easier.’ And your God comes near: ‘I will provide the way.’ You may not even know who to tell: ‘I thought it would be different.’ And your God draws close: ‘I will provide grace for the gaps.’ You may not even know how to find words for it: ‘I thought I would be . . . more.’ And your God reaches out: ‘I will provide Me.’ (The Greatest Gift, p. 60)

There it is. The Gift. The Grace. GOD. What we truly celebrate in December. He came. He comes. He provided—and provides—grace for the gaps. We know that in our heads. But here is my December prayer for every one of you: May you know this in your hearts. No matter how disheveled you feel. No matter how disappointed you are. No matter what you didn’t get done on your endless lists.  Nothing keeps Him from coming. It’s just that He came so quietly that not many noticed. Except what Brennan Manning has called the “shipwrecked at the stable.” I want to be one of those. You too?

What Song Shall We Sing This Thanksgiving?

“O sing unto the Lord a new song . . .”  In our family, we’re singing a new song this Thanksgiving. Woody and I have just welcomed into the world our 11th grandchild, Bjorn and Abby their third son. Now we are nineteen!  I’d like to introduce Lars Wheeler Anderson and his very grateful little family:

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God gives great gifts, and we are overflowing with gratitude.  It’s easy to sing a song of Thanksgiving just now.

But thanksgiving doesn’t always come so easily.  Especially if we see the giving of thanks as dependent on particular circumstances in our lives. The interesting thing is that God calls us to more: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV) In everything . . .  How in the world do we do that? How in this world do we do that?

At this time in America when our country is election-weary and future-wary and fractured down the middle in so many places, how do we do that? It’s hard for Thanksgiving songs to be heard amidst the chaos. It is, after all, an American holiday. And yes, more than a few people are finding their thanks-giving voices more than a little bit strained.

But the question becomes much more personal for so many people I know and love—and pray for every day. How do we give thanks amidst deep personal loss, terribly sick children, scary financial stresses . . . you know the list goes on and on.  But still, we are called to give thanks.

Maybe sometimes it’s easier to sing it. I always think of Martin Luther’s friend’s advice to Luther amidst struggles with depression: “Let’s sing the Psalms, Martin.  Let’s sing the Psalms.” 

So what song shall we sing this Thanksgiving? I offer you my favorite. A favorite because it is so very real. It reflects the good times of life as well as the bad and the sad. But I love it mostly because it reminds us of the true basis of our gratitude. And above all, the One we should thank every day of our lives. It’s an old Swedish hymn, one we sang at the Fall funerals of both of Woody’s parents. One that sings in my heart often.

See the words below.  If you’d like to hear it, here’s a link.

1. Thanks to God for my Redeemer,

Thanks for all Thou dost provide.

Thanks for times now but a mem’ry,

Thanks for Jesus by my side.

Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,

Thanks for dark and dreary fall.

Thanks for tears by now forgotten,

Thanks for peace within my soul.

2. Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,

Thanks for what Thou dost deny

Thanks for storms that I have weathered,

Thanks for all Thou dost supply.

Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,

Thanks for comfort in despair.

Thanks for grace that none can measure,

Thanks for love beyond compare.

3. Thanks for roses by the wayside,

Thanks for thorns their stems contain.

Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,

Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain.

Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,

Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee.

Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,

Thanks through all eternity.

So there you have it: 24 reasons to give thanks.  In the good times and the bad. In a word: Our Eternal God . . . with His Everlasting arms underneath. Always. Forever.

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I’d like to leave you with a picture. It’s a picture that embodies much of my heart this Thanksgiving. It includes so much that I am thanking God for at this time of year. The pilgrims on the table were Woody’s mom’s. They joined our every Thanksgiving celebrated with her. The chairs in the background were my mom’s. I sat in them and admired them each time I visited with her in her little Florida condo; and when she moved to hospice, they were still there . . ., and now here. I love the view out our window. And how I cherish the family God has so graciously given us! Us . . . the ones who once wondered whether we would ever have children!

A thanksgiving challenge for you: Take a picture of things for which you are thankful. Make a list. Sing a song. Maybe sing a new song . . .

Happy Thanksgiving!    

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