Shine Like Stars (and Fireflies)

My garden has a bunch of fireflies that hang out in my plants during the day, and then glitter up at night. Lots of them. It’s very magical, the more lights the better. Those little bugs always remind me of the section in Philippians about shining like stars, fireflies always have. It also reminds me how a group of us shining our lights together can be a beautiful thing. As Christian women, this can be us shining together.

Do we shine together, though? It’s tough. The mom lifestyle of our generation includes a healthy amount of online research to get a handle on all the latest data and theories about raising babies. Popular topics include car seats, sunscreen, diapers, food, screen time, education. The list goes on. We all do this reading because we love our kids and have the best of intentions. As Christians, we understand we should shine like stars. We understand we should be examples to the world around us. It is really easy, though, to take the wisdom of the world and infuse it into our Christian wisdom. It is really easy to decide that the decisions we make in our own families, in our Christian freedom (the areas God has not specifically spelled out), are the best decisions and if people are wise, they will do exactly the same. It is at this point we should really pause and think about what we are doing.

I found my dog's toy laying in yard one night, bug-eyed and squished on every side. I relate to this Mr. Pig toy most days. Don't most mamas?

I found my dog's toy laying in yard one night, bug-eyed and squished on every side. I relate to this Mr. Pig toy most days. Don't most mamas?

This is the point at which mom-shaming often enters the picture, even for Christian mothers. Mom-shaming is really any kind of condescending attitude towards other moms. It’s a bit of adult bullying, passive-aggressive comments, snarky posts on social media, posting pictures of our impossible-to-follow diet foods along with a pat-myself-on-the-back caption, sharing tons and tons of articles about all the ways to get the mom stuff down to perfection (implying we have implemented all these things personally). When we slip into the guilty pleasure of mom-shaming each other – our spiritual immaturity is showing. Isn’t it true that when we are putting others down it is because of insecurities of our own? Whether we are realizing it or not, we feel a little taller when we stomp down on others. Yet, this behavior doesn’t gain us respect with others and it has nothing to with shining like stars. It is a good way to dim our own lights and those of others. Let’s give each other a break.

Jesus spent his time befriending sinners, amazing grace behavior which he credits to our accounts. His friends never had it all together, many of them dealing with big issues. And yet, we turn around and cut each other down over small things like iPad time and gluten in the name of being good shining examples of motherhood. Love and acceptance can be elusive among moms, that shouldn’t be. We all stand in the same grace.

This is what fireflies do all day. They are pretty relaxed.

This is what fireflies do all day. They are pretty relaxed.

Holding each other to motherhood perfection is not what it means to be shining stars. That is, in reality, just a modern-day Pharisee game in new organic packaging. Just as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day loved their own longs lists of rules, we construct additional rules around motherhood, levels of perfection. Even though they may initially be well-intentioned actions aimed at health and goodness, our little ones watch us getting caught up in this self-righteous behavior and then Facebook boasting about it. So stressful, heavy, exhausting. Spiritually exhausting.

To be a shining star is something much more joyful. It is something lighter, happier, and really isn’t about our own shininess or perfection. To be a shining star is something that happens because you hold firmly to the word of life. It is to love the gospel. It is to spend so much time with your Jesus that all the noise of social media motherhood guidance fades away into the lesser priorities to be handled later, if necessary. It is to hold dear the wisdom given by God (not the internets) through his word for life. Real life. Forever life.

While shining like stars, holding to the word, we will begin to see each Christian woman for her beautiful spiritual gifts before her faults because we see her has a sister in Christ through eyes of faith. Words of encouragement in those gifts will come to mind before the sharp criticism - because that is what the Holy Spirit can work into our hearts through God’s Word. He smooths out our sharp edges and fills us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control. All of those things. To each of us, as a gift. Along with that gift, confidence in ourselves as unique, loved children of God.

…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose…. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

- Philippians 2:13,15

It is God who makes us into shining stars, everything we need for that is in his word. We will not find the ability to be a shining star within the collective mothering wisdom of our generation. We will not be stars by just being really good moms. We will not show our children how to be shining stars if we use any source of light other than the amazing sacrifice and love of Jesus. Fall in love with that gospel again and again and your light will shine. Your kids will see, other moms will see. The more lights, the better.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

 

- Philippians 2:12-18

If You've Ever Counted Your Blessing and Still Felt Sad

In no particular order….

Jesus, husband, kids, coffee, art, work, my kids happily playing on swings, warm weather, sunshine, the scent of lavender, big tall trees, a home, a car, puppy dog, friends that love me even though they know I’m a big mess, gardening, music…

These are a few of my favorite things - my favorite blessings to count when times are tough. Some days, the loveliness warms my heart and the blues just lift away and I’m ok. God is good.

But seriously, this scenario has played out for me as well:

I feel sad, I count my blessings, I still feel sad, I determine I’m super broken because it didn’t work, I decide it would be better to just stay in bed.

Sometimes we stab ourselves and each other with this accounting of blessings. Times are tough? Count your blessings! Ouch…. Why was there guilt there? Has that happened to you? Wasn’t it confusing? Did you feel bad for how ungrateful you are, rather than joy? Did you think you are required to be happy happy joy joy 100% of the time, no matter how hard the struggle?

Instead of just enjoying the grace of God’s amazing blessings, we use this handy survival tool as a way to pile on more guilt.

In Philippians, we find this passage: 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
— Philippians 4:8

This is solid advice, no doubt. Looking at whatever is lovely is a really good technique for seeing our life through the eyes of faith. It helps with perspective. As a designer I love love love to look for the lovely. I draw it, photograph it, paint it. Love it. Seeing good in life can be an important component of resilience. We see all the ways God has provided for us, so we know that we need not worry. God’s got this. It truly is solid wisdom for Christian living.

Like people tend to do, though, we make a royal mess of something lovely God has given us. Do we sometimes add up our blessings and rank ourselves against each other? Do we think that if we are really good at blessing accounting, sadness will go away and problems will disappear? Do we hope we have finally found the right behavioral formula to earthly joy? If someone is sad and wants to talk it out, do we assume they are weak in faith because they are struggling? That’s just not quite how it works.

At the very same time as we see all the beautiful things God has given us, we know this:

In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.
— John 16:33

If ever I’m tempted to think that I’m having trouble because I didn’t count my blessings, I remember this passage. Jesus promised trouble would happen, it isn’t a surprise or bad blessing accounting. This world is broken. Jesus overcame it, though. That’s where our joy is at. Joy and trouble coexist on earth. That’s why our feelings are a jumbled mess sometimes.

On a day when blessing counting is bringing me down, I turn to Romans 5. I can look at suffering and gifts in another way – and I just stand there rather than counting. I stand in grace. 

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
— Romans 5: 1-5

If a friend is suffering, it’s tempting to say, “Stop it!” Rather than assuming a shortfall in blessing counting, maybe we can look at Romans 5 together. Suffering – perseverance – character – hope. Standing in grace. I love that Romans 5 starts out with peace and standing in grace and then along side that goes through suffering and producing perseverance. Suffering is a HARD, and knowing we stand in grace while we go through it is real comfort.

Most of us suffer ugly. It isn’t such a lovely thing to look at on the outside. We’ve got the ugly cry going on and the dirty yoga pants and legos and cheerios everywhere. Hiding under the bed on a mama time-out, mascara all over our faces. Wiping our nose with toilet paper because Kleenex is an expensive luxury. Standing in grace, growing in character, having hope.

The world is broken, it hurts. Sometimes hurt is more complex than perspective alone can fix. Sometimes, healing takes time. Don’t feel bad about that. A good perspective from seeing blessings helps, but sometimes we need time to mourn. Other times, we may need to roll up our sleeves and fight battles. Or maybe we need to make peace through hard conversations, rather than keeping peace by pretending the storms aren’t real. Maybe we are just waiting and wondering if chronic pain will ever go away. Sometimes, it’s just complicated.

We wait for our Savior to heal our hearts and eventually bring us to our heavenly home – that’s the long term plan. Meanwhile, God’s pouring out his love in our hearts to get us through day to day. With all that perseverance and hope you’re gaining, you will have peace. You will wake up one day and realize God brought you through and it’s ok again. New seasons come.

I just want you to know, that if you have counted your blessings and still felt sad and struggled, you aren’t necessarily more broken than everyone else. Suffering isn’t a surprising thing. And in itself it is a blessing through which we gain hope. While you do it, you stand in grace – not contingent on your accounting skills. Grace is free – zero – easy math. 

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 4:7

Prayers Needed

I never know when my prayers will be needed or how they will be used to help others.  Sometimes I am moved to pray and I do not even know why.  Has this ever happened to you? Just this morning a string of events led me to an amazing discovery which I can only attribute to the Lord.  The string has become a metaphor and a reminder of how interconnected humans are with one another. Hindsight reveals how much we need to look for ways to lift up people in prayer; yes, all people, even those we don't know. Allow me to explain. Prayer2Normally I do not watch the news at night – it is chock full of the realities of modern life: car pile-ups, drug busts, murders and politics. However, last week I had been completely offline spending time with my mother in her last days. It was a wonderful experience to see her Christian faith stay strong to the end. I was exhausted and joyfully sorrowful after her death and day of glory. I was full of the moments spent with her and processing them slowly.

It was in this state of mind that I returned to my home to unwind before having supper. Absentmindedly I had channel surfed to our local news for a brief moment. The opening story was riveting. A dispatch of policemen were responding to a 911 call. The SWAT team went to an address in a nearby town, forced a woman and girl out of home to the lawn, commanded them to drop to their knees and began to interrogate them at gunpoint.

The problem was the police had done this work at the wrong address. The woman and girl were completely taken by surprise and shaken to the core by the events. The last news image of this horrifying incident was of the innocent girl looking straight into the camera. Her doe eyes were shining brightly with tears. She stated something about having her personal security in the neighborhood stripped away. She said she was now afraid. She looked so pathetic! I immediately started to pray for her, asking God to send her peace in the storm around her.

Her eyes and face haunted me a little too, I must confess. I continued to pray for her for the next couple of days. I hoped that the trauma wouldn’t settle in. I asked the Lord to guard her and give her parents wisdom to use the incident to teach her.

Three days after the news incident, a colleague of mine appeared in my office to offer condolences at the death of my mother. Toward the end of our conversation I asked how his family was faring. He said fine. Then he stopped and hesitated.

Slowly he shared what was on his mind. He told me about one of his daughters for whom my husband and I had been praying, and I assured him of God’s providence and care for her. The conversation then turned to this incident in a residential area where the police had mistakenly held guns to the head of a woman and girl. I said that I had seen this on the news and was immediately praying for them both, especially the girl.

He then began to stare at me. The silence filled the room as I was struggling to understand what was on his mind. What he related next was unbelievable.  “Thank you so much! She really needs to know this. That girl is my daughter, the one we just mentioned.  We are asking for her to be able to overcome the trauma.  We pray for God to make something good happen from this incident. I confess I wanted to lash out at the police at first, but it wasn’t their fault. ”

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.  James 5:16

I don’t know how the Lord will answer my prayer for this little girl. I just know that God is bigger than the situation. In God’s plan, I felt privileged to help carry my colleague’s burden without knowing it. He heartily thanked me again and again for the prayers.

So I ask the reader, who really benefitted from my prayer for this unknown person on the nightly news: the girl, my colleague, or me?  When I heard my colleague’s description of his family’s reaction to the incident, it was amazing. His tribe had only concern for others. The family was dealing with the whole scenario with wisdom and grace. They were not blaming the police. Instead they were wondering how God would bless the whole bad scene set off by a 911 caller who gave a wrong address to the dispatcher. They also were praying for the police, the caller and their own daughter.  What a great example for us to remember.

You see, it really is a God thing, because we all benefited.  This is the way our God works. How thankful I am the Holy Spirit prompted me to pray. How I praise him for including me in his holy work.

We know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love him, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

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Am I Doing This Right?

IMG_0470"Wow! You're Super Mom!" I looked up, startled, to see a woman walking toward the table at the supermarket where my four children and I are eating hot dogs, a lunchtime reward for a successful shopping trip. My children, their mouths full, are all eating quietly and politely, and nobody is throwing any food or whining about their ketchup. It's a good day. "I just wanted to compliment you on your well behaved children," says the women. "They've been eating so nicely and quietly. You're obviously raising them well."

"Haha! Thank you!" I stammer, an awkward joke at the tip of my tongue. I'm not sure what else to say. I'm never sure what else to say when this happens. Because, believe it or not, it's happened to me more than once. The couple at the restaurant, the old lady at the zoo, the man in line in front of us at the post office, and now this lady at Costco. All of these random strangers observing my family during a calm, peaceful outing, and complimenting my parenting. This should feel amazing, shouldn't it?

While it does feel a little nice to hear I'm "raising my children well," I'll admit my initial inward response when I hear this is defensiveness mixed with laughter. Sometimes I crack an awkward joke in response like "you caught 'em on a good day!" or "Yeah, they are being really well behaved. I'm starting to get suspicious." I want to tell these well wishers about all the times my family wasn't so well received by the general public. Like that time I tried to go out to breakfast with my three children under age 3 and the meal culminated in my 1 year old standing on top of the table and pouring an entire pitcher of syrup all over herself and the table while my baby and 2 year old screamed? Yeah, we did the walk of shame out of that one. I can still see the waitress's fake smile and gritted teeth as she eyeballed the syrup and deadpanned "have a nice day" while we high tailed it out of there. Or just last week, when my five year old threw an epic toddler-style tantrum about her shoes or her bike or something. She was kicking and screaming and rolling around on the sidewalk while we were supposed to be out on a nice family walk. The elderly neighbor out gardening who raised one eyebrow over her fence and muttered "oh my..." definitely wasn't paying our parenting any compliments.

It's funny how easily one kind word or raised eyebrow from a stranger can make or break my day. It feels so great to be admired and so awful to be scorned, that I find myself giving the desire for admiration undue attention. I will catch myself worrying over others' approval, even in instances where it doesn't matter! Will they like what I'm wearing? Ugh, this hair cut! I should have worn different shoes. Am I too underdressed for the occasion? Did the way I said that sound ok to them? What do they think of my kids? Am I doing ok? Maybe I should be stricter? Is that normal behavior for a four year old?

In truth, the only person I have to answer to and seek a yes or no from is my Lord. I spend so much time wondering and worrying over what other people think of me, whether I'm making the right decisions by worldly standards, when I can just take my concerns to the Lord in prayer instead! I can pray for guidance and help in my parenting, in my business, in my life as a homeschooling mother, in my marriage, in my friendships. I can look to Him for the model of how I should be acting and behaving on a daily basis.

"Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his face continually." 1 Chronicles 16:11

And I can confess those times I fall short, ask for grace, and rest assured that I'm forgiven.

"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:16

Lord, am I doing this right? Are my kids alright? Did I respond to that situation with the right mix of love and discipline, Lord? Help my kids, Lord. Help me be the best mother I can be.  Forgive me for the times I've been short tempered, angry, unresponsive, or lazy with them and others. Thank you for the times you've given me glimmers of a hopeful future with them. Keep them always safe in your care, and help them to have a strong and healthy relationship with you as they grow. Amen.

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