Blood Diamonds

Not long ago, we went to a birthday party at Cici’s Pizza.

Immediately, the flashing arcade lights beckoned all the children, and off they all ran together, carrying baggies of coins and little prizes.

“Do you have any money, Mommy?” my daughters asked, almost in unison.

I cringed at the hope in their voice.

“I don’t know…” I stammered. “Let me check.”

The girls danced in front of me, clapping with joy. The pressure was officially on.

I unzipped my bag, said a quick prayer and eventually scrounged up a little change for them both.

With smiles and thanks, they dashed off to join their cousins and friends. Moments later, they returned, their smiles somehow even bigger than before.

“Mom! Guess what we got!” they said, the big surprise concealed in their tiny, closed fists. The rest of their coins were gone. They’d spent everything on whatever was hiding in their hands.

“What?”

IMG_8466Diamonds!” They opened their hands, displaying their shiny, new gems, enclosed safely in a plastic container.

I feigned a gasp. “Wow! How beautiful!”

“Can I take mine out and hold it?” my youngest asked.

“Of course, but be careful. We don’t want to lose it.”

My three-year-old nodded solemnly, sealing her oath with a death grip on her finest jewel.

For days, the kids went everywhere—and I mean everywhere—with those cherished diamonds tucked tightly into the crevices of their palms.

It got me thinking about us—about you and me and all of humanity.

About how when God made people, He put a small piece of Himself inside every single one of us. This immortal sliver of divinity—our soul—glitters and shines from within us, like an invaluable jewel.

And yet, how often do we fixate more on our bodies—our plastic containers—than the immaculate gems inside? More often than not, it seems. We all tend to focus on and obsess about the shape and color of our casings. We point out differences. We compare and contrast. We make up lies about whose is best.

With those thoughts in mind, I turned to my five-year-old, whose immortal glittering diamond is older than most.

IMG_8464

“What do you like about your diamond?” I asked.

“It’s just so beautiful,” she said. “I love it.”

“Would it matter to you what the case looked like?”

“No.”

“Would it matter if the case was a different shape?”

“No.”

“Would it matter if it was a different color?”

“Of course not, Mom,” she said, clearly resisting the urge to put her face in her palm.

“So why do you like the case? What makes it important?”

She lifted her prized possession and peered at the glorious jewel with awe. “I like it because it keeps my diamond safe.”

A smile spread onto my face as I nodded in agreement. “I couldn’t have said it better myself, kiddo.”

She’s right, after all. Our diamonds need protecting. There’s an enemy working hard to distract us from that part of ourselves, to convince us to defile it, or to flat out rob it from us.

But God knows how precious we are, and He wants us more than anything else.

So, our Father gave His Son everything He needed to win the prize of our souls. And because of Jesus’s incredible love for us, He took what He was given, and He spent it all. Every breath, every droplet of blood. He spent it. For you. For me. For every single one of us.

And, after giving up everything He had, he returned to the Father with a smile somehow bigger than ever before.

I can just imagine their exchange.

“Dad! Guess what I got!” Jesus would say, the big surprise concealed within the wounds on his wrists.

“What?”

All the diamonds.”

“Wow!” the Father would exclaim with genuine admiration. “How beautiful!”

“Can I hold them?”

“Of course, Son, but be careful. We don’t want to lose any of them.”

And then Jesus would nod, sealing His oath with a firm grip on His finest jewels, so He could go everywhere—and I mean everywhere—with those cherished diamonds tucked tightly into the crevices of His palms.

 

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Severe Pentalties

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of the World Cup.

I’m not just talking about the soccer (although that’s fun, too) but it’s the non-athletic activity that keeps making the headlines. From man-made “seismic activity” in Mexico and Chile, to a Croatian striker getting sent home after refusing to play, to the performance (or underperformance) of the Saudi Arabia soccer team.

That last one really gets me.

After losing to Russia in a 5-0 shutout, Saudi Arabia’s performance was quickly labeled as one of the worst in the history of the World Cup. Apparently, it was so abysmal, Turki bin Abdulmohsen Al-Sheikh, the chairman of the General Sport Authority, cited the game as a ‘total fiasco’—one which made his face “go black with embarrassment and fury.”

Adel Ezzat, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation chief, immediately jumped on the bandwagon, stating:

“We are very disappointed by the defeat. This result is totally unsatisfactory because it does not reflect the true level of our preparedness. Several players will face a penalty.”

The severity of their penalty remains unclear. Perhaps a fine. Perhaps removal from the national team. Perhaps, in a country that enforces capital punishment, that could be the penalty.

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 10.11.25 AMI don’t know.

Whatever the case (and let’s pray to God it’s not the last one), any outsider can most likely agree that penalties such as these are unfit, unjust, and overall downright ridiculous to place on someone’s performance in a soccer game.

Am I right?

And yet, how many times do we do this to ourselves? How many times do we place unfit, unjust, and overall ridiculous penalties on our own performances? How many times have we been Adel Ezzat?

I know I, for one, have been guilty of this. I’m very familiar with the crushing ache of humility that comes from slipping up and underperforming. I know exactly how it feels to do something so poorly, my face goes black with embarrassment and fury. And I know the self-inflicting penalties I imagine will come later.

It usually sounds something like this:

“If I don’t [insert goal/ideal performance here] then [insert severe penalty here].”

If I don’t write the perfect book and find an agent to represent me, I’ll never get published and my writing will clearly be terrible and no one will ever want to read it. All my hard work, my time—everything—will all be worthless.

If I’m not the perfect mom, what will happen to my kids?? (I’ll spare you the comprehensive list of things I fear will happen to my kids.) 

If I don’t make the best times while training for CG Games, then I’ll fail the competition and be a total disgrace. How would my loved ones even be able to look at me then?

How ridiculous do those things sound? I’ll answer that for you. They sound ridiculously ridiculous. And yet, those thoughts float through my mind with ease. For a moment (sometimes more) I may even believe them.

But threats of unreasonable penalties will not make anyone perform better. It will simply make us afraid to play the game.

Because here’s the truth: You are not perfect. You never will be. You’ll mess up over and over and over again because you’re human.

And, for that same exact reason, you are also deeply loved. 

No performance—great or poor—will ever change that.

So in those moments when severe penalties seem like a reality, take a step back. Laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Give yourself grace.

And then keep playing the game as best you can.

What more can you ask of yourself?

How Many Times Do You Put Your Fingers In Your Mouth Every Day?

“I have water on my finger,” my three-year-old says from the backseat.

I cock a brow and glance in the rearview mirror.

Water?

“How do you have water on your finger?” I ask.

“From my water cup,” she answers, like it’s obvious.

But before we got in the van, I stuffed the water cups into the diaper bag and shoved all of it on the floor. Out of reach.

“You don’t have your water cup,” I say. “Are you telling me the truth?”

Silence.

“Elizabeth, tell me the truth.”

“I am telling the truth…” her voice gets quieter, barely audible over the radio. “…that I put my fingers in my mouth.”

I shake my head in the driver’s seat. We’ve gone over this a billion times, but for some reason she can’t help herself. The kid sticks her hand in there so often, her fingertips are as much of a permanent mouth fixture as her teeth. When she first started doing it, I grimaced at the grossness. Then I tried shouting. Now, I simply remove her fingers, clean them, and direct her to use them for something else. Something she loves. Something that gives her joy instead of germs.

“Baby, that’s not water in your mouth, remember? That’s spit. They’re different.”

“It’s not water,” she echoes, “but it is soft.”

Soft.

If I had looked up, I may have seen a lightbulb flicker on above me.

Finally—after almost an entire year of cringing and shrieking, “TAKE YOUR HANDS OUT OF YOUR MOUTH!“—finally I know why she caresses her tongue.

She likes the feel of her own spit.

To her, it doesn’t matter if her hands are covered in filth from a morning at the playground or the floor of a doctor’s office. She has no concept of the ensuing repercussions. She doesn’t understand how ill it could make her or the fact that—in extreme cases—if she puts the wrong stuff in her mouth, it could be a death sentence. She only cares about one thing.

The spit in her mouth is soft. And she wants to touch it.

And don’t we all?

Every single one of us has our own spit that we like to touch. It’s called sin. And sometimes we can’t help ourselves from touching it over and over and over. (If you don’t believe me, come to confession and watch me repent again for the same things I screwed up last time.)

Because here’s the truth: Sin doesn’t come with bright, flashing warning signs and a picture of a skull with crossbones.

Sin feels soft. And we want to touch it.

I reach for it, even when my Father cringes and tells me to keep my fingers out of my mouth. I can’t possibly understand the real repercussions of a sin-stained soul. I don’t know how ill it could make me or the fact that it could be my own death sentence.

But God knows. And, out of love, He has fought to keep me clean. He removes my fingers, cleans me, and directs me to use them for something else. Something that gives me joy instead of death. Something more like Him.

And that’s way better than anything else I could reach for.

I See You

One of my greatest joys is cheering for my kids when they do something amazing.

Amazing being a relative word, of course.

It could be writing a lower case ‘g’ in the lines properly. Or swinging from the monkey bars. Or hopping around the room on one leg.

Amazing can quite literally mean anything.

Just last week, my almost-five-year-old daughter was in gymnastics class, and for some reason, they started juggling scarves. After a series of “tricks,” the coach asked them to toss a scarf into the air and try to catch it with their foot.

Well, let me tell you, my daughter is determined to a fault. Even with something as arbitrary and trivial as catching scarves on her feet. (She gets it from her momma.)

So for a moment, she stood there, her brow furrowed in complete concentration as brightly-colored patches of fabric floated around her through the air.

Finally, she tossed hers up and stuck out her foot. The scarf floated lazily back down.

Miss.

She tossed it again. Another miss.

Toss, toss. Miss. Miss.

Until finally, the sheer square landed directly on the bridge of her tiny foot.

The smile that exploded across her face could have lit the entire gym. With twinkling, blue eyes alive with accomplishment, she turned toward the coach.

But the coach wasn’t looking.

And all her gymnast buddies were too focused to notice anything other than their own scarves.

I see you, sweet girl.

I raised my hands above my head victoriously in the viewing area, and my lips stretched into a wide smile as I tried to will her eyes to meet mine.

I see you.

But she never looked my way.

And a little kid can only balance on one leg for so long. Soon, she tipped over and the scarf sailed to the floor as though the trick never happened.

Everything about her—who she is, what she did—went seemingly unnoticed. Unappreciated.

Invisible.

Mommas, I don’t know about you, but I feel like that all too often.

There are days—heck, even weeks and months—when it feels like I’m sprinting to take care of the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of my family. Trying to clean the house, fold the laundry, do the dishes. Trying to write this book. Trying to get this post-baby body ready for CG Games.

Trying. Trying. Trying.

I’m constantly tossing scarves into the air and trying to catch them on my foot.

And lots of times I miss.

But sometimes—sometimes—I do something amazing.

Amazing being a relative word, of course.

It could be folding the laundry and miraculously getting the all clothes in the appropriate drawers. Or cooking three meals a day that everyone in my family actually eats. Or writing a chapter—or simply one sentence—that I’m proud of. Or giving 120% of myself at a Camp Gladiator workout. Or, most amazing of all, playing with my kids instead of worrying about what task I need to take care of next.

With twinkling, brown eyes alive with accomplishment, I turn toward my husband, my kids, my peers. Editors, literary agents, publishers. My CG trainer.

But sometimes they’re not looking. Sometimes they’re too focused on their own scarves to notice the one dangling from my foot.

And that’s okay. It’s not their job to keep their eyes on me.

But I can only balance my life for so long. Soon, I tip over and my scarf sails to the floor as though the amazing thing I did never happened.

Everything about me—who I am, what I did—feels unnoticed. Unappreciated.

Invisible.

Until I remember the viewing area. The one far outside my periphery.

Finally, I turn toward my attention that direction. There my Father stands, His hands raised above His head victoriously. Turns out He’s been there the whole time, watching, trying to will my eyes to meet His. His lips stretch into a wide smile as he says the words I’ve so longed to hear.

I see you, sweet girl. I see you.

 

When God Closes a Door…

My kids always seem to know what they want.

Milk. Snacks. A blanket. Socks. More snacks.

And that’s just at bedtime.

They’re pros at wanting stuff.

It’s like they’re hard-wired to desire what they think will make them happy.

Take it from my son. He’s only eight-months-old and can’t even speak yet, but he has the gift of knowing what he wants and communicating it clearly. (If you don’t believe me, watch what happens when Mom walks out of the room.)

He has also recently entered the get-into-everything phase. He army crawls like professional militia and can turn on the turbo jets when he’s hunting something down.

The other day, for instance, I was unloading the dishwasher. For the past eight months, this has been a relatively easy task. But with Sergeant Baby on the scene, it has gotten a bit trickier. He crawls into the dishwasher (literally, into the dishwasher, y’all) and one time I even had to wrestle a butter knife out of his tiny, dimple-knuckled hand. It was like a horror scene from Chuckie.

Finally, I managed to wrangle the weapon from my infant and he went on his merry, little way—directly into the open cabinet filled with tupperware. (I had tossed a few plastic bowls in there and darted away when I saw my son wielding a knife.)

He reached for the biggest, glassiest baking dish, but I pulled him away and closed the cabinet door.

And he did not like that.

The kid doesn’t know what a baking dish is—heck, he doesn’t even know what glass is—but by golly, he knew he wanted it. He had no idea what danger and destruction could have come from playing with butter knives or glass bakeware.

All he knew was that he wanted them.

Yet, as his Mom, I closed those doors for him out of love.

Aren’t we adults exactly the same way?

We’re pros at wanting stuff.

And we always seem to think we know exactly what we want.

A spouse. A new car. A promotion. A bigger house.

 

I, for one, dream of finding someone to represent and publish my dystopian novels and children’s books.

But, so far, God has closed those doors.

At first, I whined and shouted.

But what if God did open those doors? What if He decided to give me everything I wanted?

How would the reality of being a published author affect my life? My marriage? My kids? And my ability to tend to all of those things? How would it affect my heart? My spirit? My faith?

The answer: I have no idea.

 

I have no clue what it’s like to be under the demands of a publisher. I have no idea if it is good for me right now or if it will shatter my already-chaotic life into a thousand pieces of sharp glass.

It’s like I’m hard-wired to desire what I think will make me happy.

I’m programmed to pursue sharp knives and fragile Pyrex. And I truly have no foresight of what will happen when I get what I want.

But the only thing that will bring true joy to my life—and to all of our lives—is not our will, but God’s.

So I’ve learned to stop asking for things—or at least, I’ve stopped trying to pummel through closed doors on my own strength. After all, when God closes a door, He does it out of love. So now, I’ll simply back away, grateful for the blocked road with a new prayer pouring from my heart.

God, keep closing all the doors I’m not supposed to walk through.

What You, Jesus, and Nazi Germany All Have In Common

When I was a student, I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Eva Kor, an Auschwitz survivor whose life became the hit Netflix documentary, Forgiving Dr. Mengele. (If you haven’t seen it, you should—it’s amazing.)

When Eva was a young girl, her family was sent to Auschwitz. And, as a twin, Eva endured the infamously atrocious experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele—or, more appropriately named, The Angel of Death.

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 5.50.37 AMAfter years of suffering, the people in Auschwitz were liberated, and Eva was one of the first to break through the gates. Since then, she traveled across the world and restarted her life in Terre Haute—a town nicknamed ‘The Armpit of Indiana’ due to its pungent creosote factories.

There, Eva owns a small Holocaust museum off one of the main roads, filled with mementos from her experiences in Auschwitz. Each year, people from all over the world flock Eva’s museum to listen to and experience her story.

It’s like they’re drawn to her suffering.

I have experienced something similar in my own life—not with Nazis or Auschwitz, thanks be to the good Lord—but with suffering in general.

Over the years, I’ve been posting new material on this site and have been (a little too) active on social media. (Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!)

On a typical day, my loyal readers check out what I have to say (thank you!) But, on the days I honestly share some of my heartache, you beautiful people come out of the woodwork to encourage and support me. When I blogged about losing my baby and my tubal pregnancy, you all buried me in love. When I posted raw photos of my post-partum difficulties, friends and strangers alike reached out with healing encouragement.

It is truly amazing. YOU. YOU are truly amazing.

And, every time, I find myself eternally grateful for the kindness and hope you inject into my life. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!)

This kind of response is so infused into our human identity, we even embody it at the biological level. When a physical trauma occurs, our blood—our lifeline—rushes to the wound in an attempt to heal it.

But why does this happen? Why do we go out of our way to rush into someone else’s pain?

Because deep down we know suffering is an injustice—a crime against the soul—and pain, in any degree, was never an intended part of life.

And yet, suffering affects every last one of us, no matter our color, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. No one can escape it. Even God Himself had to suffer as He hung on a cross naked, abandoned, and bloodied.

One look at the news headlines will prove that this world is filled with suffering.

But we were not made to suffer. We were made for joy, for love.We were not made for this world, we were made for heaven.

So what did God do?

He sent His most beloved Son into our pain-infused world. And Jesus willingly left his pain-free home in heaven to come suffer with us.

Similarly, when we dive into the suffering of others, we touch their wounds with a piece of heaven.

Because of Jesus, those who suffer can now be united with Christ the Paschal Lamb, and those who rush to help can relate to Christ the Healer.

We, as a people who were made for heaven, long for God whether we acknowledge it or not. And that is why we cannot stop ourselves from rushing to others and standing against the injustice of sin.

For where there is suffering, there, too, is Christ.

Are you experiencing any suffering at this time? If so, please leave your story in the comments section below. I would love to be there for you with support and encouragement! 

Ready for Church?

“Ready for church?”

It’s a silly question, really, and to be honest, I’m not sure why I asked. I gaze upon my two small daughters as they shove pancakes into their mouths, the stringy syrup striping their pajamas. Cheeks puffed with pastries, they shake their heads.

I run through the mental checklist: Clean the table. Clean the kids. Dress the kids. Do their hair. Get myself ready. Get out the door.

I take a quick glance at the clock and do the math. Ten minutes. We have to accomplish all of that in ten minutes.

Anxiety stabs me in the gut. “Time to get dressed! It’s urgent! Go, go, go!”

They scurry from the table, fiddling with everything they can on the way to their rooms. Even from a distance, I see how their hands stick to whatever they touch, and hear the pop as they pry their syrupy fingers from their plate. And their toys. And the walls.

I cringe.

Wipe down the whole house, I mentally add to the to-do list.

My husband takes the baby, and I hurry to the bedroom to throw on my Sunday best. After slapping some makeup on my face, I scramble back to my daughters’ room to find them swinging from their bunk beds. Naked.

“Why aren’t you dressed?!”

They point to the closet where their dresses hang. “We couldn’t reach.”

I glance down at my watch. Two minutes. With a little luck and a lot of Jesus, we could do this.

The girls choose their dresses and I stuff them in, zip them up, then shoo them out the door and into the van. In those two minutes, my husband has also managed—by some miracle of his own—to dress himself, dress the baby, fill a bag with Cheerios, and meet us in the garage.

Quickly, we throw the girls into their carseats and fasten the buckles. Then we’re off. As we pull out of the driveway, my husband and I sigh deeply. Just like we do every Sunday.

At church, we pile into our normal seats in the front row. We enjoy the clear view. The few distractions. The public humiliation.

“Mom, I’m hungry,” says my four-year-old.

“What? You just ate breakfast.”

“But I’m still hungry. Can I have a snack?”

I grab the bulging bag of Cheerios—the one my husband filled before we left home—and hand it to her.

Then we’re instructed to greet our neighbors. Which we do.

Then comes the music. Which we sing.

Then an hour of stillness. Which we can’t do to save our souls.

Almost immediately, my daughter drops the snack bag, sending 8,000 tiny Os sprawled all over the floor. My two-year-old, who’s already down there crawling under the pews, picks them up and shovels them into her mouth. I bend over to help and my infant son cries out for milk. I sit back up, swing my nursing cover over my head, and expose myself beneath it so he can eat.

We’ve already caused a scene. People are looking. I can feel their gazes smothering the back of my neck. I have no idea what the priest is saying. All I know is that I’m sweating. And if my baby yanks the blanket (like he’s been known to do), the entire congregation will get to see more than just Jesus’s body today.

My insides squirm more than my active toddlers. “Do you SEE what I go through to bring my kids to Mass?” I silently whine to God. “Do you see everything I’m doing to be here??”

“Really?” The word—definitely not my own—flashes through my mind, saturated with sarcasm and jest. “I went through some stuff to be here, too…”

Screen Shot 2018-03-28 at 1.27.33 PMIn one swift, sobering moment, Jesus Himself reminded me that my biggest inconveniences are merely that—inconveniences. Nothing painful (save for the few right hooks to the nose or cheek when my husband and I pass around small children.) But what I go through—these hardships I can hardly bear—are nothing compared to the absolute agony and misery that Jesus willingly endured. All so He could be here and live up to who He truly is.

Immanuel. God with us.

What about you?

What cross of yours makes it difficult to get to church? And will you choose to bear it to meet Him there?

What Is Parenthood, Really?

My son’s cry rattles me from sleep. I rub one eye and take a dreaded peek at the clock.

4:43

Sigh.

Who needs alarms when they’ve got kids?

Tossing back the covers, I shiver in the chilly, pre-dawn air. But this is it. No more covers. No more sleep. The baby’s awake. The day’s begun.

I slip into his room silently, though it’s not like it matters. His wails have grown stronger and more desperate. Behind the bars, tears stain his sheets and crib mattress. I lift him over the railing and cradle him, absorbing the warmth of his small body. He nuzzles into me, rubbing his face against my pajama shirt. When he pulls back, a trail of mucus shines from my shoulder.

I grimace. “Did you wipe your nose on me?”

Then he coughs uncontrollably in my face and I have my answer.

After wiping the germy spit from my cheeks, I collapse onto the recliner tucked in the corner of the nursery.

Maybe I can snag a few more minutes of sleep while he eats.

But before I can finish that thought, the door to my daughters’ bedroom creaks open, followed by the sound of uncertain, shuffling feet and the unmistakable swish-swish of Pull-Ups on the prowl.

My two-year-old peeks her head into the nursery, allured by the soft, blue light of the glowing lamp. The only light at this time of day.

“Mom?” She rubs a tired eye. “I’m hungry.”

I let go of any hope of closing my eyes. “Okay, let me finish feeding your brother, then—”

“And I’m wet.”

With the baby still attached and slurping, I crouch beside my toddler and strip pee-soaked clothes from her body. She wraps her arms around herself and shivers.

“Now I’m cold, Mom!”

“I know.” I suppress the frustrated huff rising into my throat. “Let’s go get you some clothes.”

“But I’m COLD!”

My heart pounds against my temples. If I weren’t holding a nursing baby, maybe I could massage them for a moment.

But I know that’s out of the question.

I glance at my daughter, the tiny girl with gigantic emotions. If she goes to get her own clothes, her flaring temper will surely wake her older sister who shares the same bedroom.

I sigh. “Stay here. I’ll get your clothes.”

Fumbling through the dark, I make my way to the girls’ room and open the dresser drawer. Slowly. Quietly. I reach inside, grabbing blindly, then go back to the nursery and slip the dry clothes onto my quivering daughter.

“Will you make some breakfast now, please?” she asks.

“Sure.” I prop the baby onto my shoulder and pat his back. Again he coughs in my face.

As I fill bowls with Honey Nut Cheerios, my oldest comes out of her room, her hair a tangled mess, a shy grin glowing on her face. She scurries to me and presses her face into my abdomen.

“Good morning,” she says, her soft words muffled by my shirt. “Can I have some milk in a cup, too, please?”

It’s barely 6 o’clock and I already feel like a ragged, worked-to-death servant.

The word leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Servant. Blech.

I could do so much more. Be so much more. If only I didn’t have to wait kitchen tables and the small children crammed in the chairs.

But Jesus didn’t call us to be comfortable. He never offered an easy, convenient life. And He definitely never promised prosperity in five, fun DIY steps.

In fact, He did the opposite. He challenged us to do something way more difficult. More counter-intuitive. Something that’s much harder to hear about and cheer for. He commanded us to die to ourselves. To be servants.

He told us to serve those who are without food and drink. To serve people with nowhere to call home. To nurture, comfort, and heal the sick. To give company and mercy to those in prison. And even to give of our excess to those who need it more.

He calls us to live the Corporal Works of Mercy.

And parenthood—especially in the early years—is the embodiment of the Corporal Works of Mercy. Day after day after grueling, grinding day.

Feed the Hungry/Give Drink to the Thirsty

The hungry and thirsty? Those might as well be my daughters’ real names. Not to brag or anything, but as a mom, I feel like I can check those two works off the list every fifteen minutes.

Shelter the Homeless

Until my kids turn 18, I’ll go ahead and put a checkmark by this whole shelter thing, too.

Visit the Sick

When a virus spreads through the family, who’s the one to stay awake, vigilant, stroking the backs and sweaty hair of the ill-stricken? Parents. Moms and Dads. I know I’ve had my fair share of all-nighters where my kids coughed in my mouth, sneezed in my eyeballs, and puked all over my pajamas. We visit the sick and we take care of them. It’s in our job description.

Visit the Prisoners

The aspect of prisoners gets a little trickier here, as our kids (hopefully) aren’t running around breaking state and federal laws. But they do break family rules. All the time. Or at least mine do. And who visits with those scoundrels who’ve earned solitary confinement—their hands shackled, if invisibly, to the nearest wall? Who receives the prodigal sons and daughters once their time is up? You got it. Parents. We’re responsible for showing them mercy and Jesus after their most royal of mess ups.

Give Alms to the Poor

I can’t think of a poorer population than children. And I also can’t think of anyone who gets more of my money than my kids. Case and point.

So, mamas and papas, if you’ve been thinking that parenthood is tough, you’re in good company. We are constantly dying to ourselves. Constantly meeting the needs of others while our desires go unmet.

We are constantly being servants.

We are constantly living the life Jesus called us to live.

Better Than a Rubber Monkey

My infant son has a lot of toys. They’re not sparkling with newness, by any means. No, they are the leftovers—the survivors, really—of his two older sisters. All of them hold their own stories. My oldest daughter favored some, my second daughter preferred others. But all of them were abandoned after years of child growth and development.

One of my son’s current favorites is an orange rubber monkey that squeaks when you squeeze it. Basically, it’s a glorified dog toy. But by golly, he loves the thing. He grasps it in his tiny hand, refusing to let go, as he lifts it above his head and brings it crashing back down. Over and over and over.

Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.

There is only one reason it ever drops from his fingers.

Me.

The other day, he was sitting in his little baby chair, smashing the monkey to squeaking bits. I sailed over to him, unclasped the buckles that chain him down, and lifted him from his seat.

“I love you,” I cooed as I brought him to my chest.

Without hesitation, my son sent his cherished toy plummeting to the floor.

“What an honor.” I rolled my eyes in jest. “I’m better than a rubber monkey.”

The words themselves seemed insignificant. Better than a rubber monkey.

But, after I thought about them, the meaning of those words was huge.

My son valued that monkey more than anything in the world. And he valued me even more.

He wanted me more than his greatest want.

How often do I treat my Father that way? What rubber monkeys do I cling to? And when was the last time I dropped those earthly treasures so I could reach for my Father?

In this season of Lent, that’s exactly what we’re challenged to do—to identify our most cherished valuables, then drop them to get closer to our Father.

If we stayed focused on those squeaking rubber monkeys in our lives, we might miss the moments when our Father sails into the room. We might miss it when He tries to unclasp us from the buckles that chain us down. We might even be distracted when He lifts us up and brings us closer to His Sacred Heart.

By clinging to our valuables, we let the Invaluable slip through our fingers.

We’re at the halfway point in Lent, folks, and the rubber monkey I dropped this season was watching TV after the kids go to bed. At first, the transition was rough—uh, hello, the third season of The Man in the High Castle is supposed to be released soon and I’m still working my way through The Crown. I mean, c’mon, priorities people!

But after my husband and I teamed up and decided to spend our nights screen-free, I prefer it now. I don’t feel lacking like I thought I would. Instead, I feel much richer—richer in time, in connection with my husband, in personal pursuits. I’m diving headfirst into my life, not Julianna Crane’s (but seriously, what’s going to happen to her???) I’ve read books, beta read for fellow writers, exercised, and I’ve even gotten to talk to my husband. *gasp*

What about you? How has your Lenten journey been treating you? Have you shown God that He is better than the rubber monkeys in your life? I’d love to hear about your journey (and support and encourage you along the way), so feel free to share your experience in the comments section!

Raising Jerktoids

My daughter is a jerktoid.

There, I said it. I know it’s harsh, but it’s true.

She’s selfish, stubborn, and abrasive. She whines and shouts, emotion spilling uncontrollably down her face when things don’t go her way. Then she strikes me in the face when I don’t cave in to her antics.

It’s like raising a viper.

In short, she’s difficult to get along with.

Some would say she’s this way because she’s only two-years-old. And for a while, I was fooled into believing them. But lately, I’m beginning to suspect all of this is engrained into her DNA. She runs on raw emotion as surely as she runs on her two, tiny feet.

And, quite frankly, I’ve questioned whether I really like that.

It’s a difficult question—whether or not you like your own child—and it’s one I find myself ashamed or embarrassed to ask. (Isn’t every mother supposed to love her babies with unwavering ferocity?)

So I tiptoed around it gently, sizing up every angle before coming to my conclusion:

There are many times I really don’t like who she is as a person.

But she’s my daughter, for crying out loud, and I love her.

It knots my stomach to think about our future relationship. One where if I let my liking for her overcome my love for her, we would surely part ways—and do so bitterly. She’d be glad to be rid of me, and I’d inhale in the drama-free air after she goes.

I don’t want that at all.

I want a relationship with her now and when she’s grown. But to do that, I must show her love now. Even when I don’t want to. Even when it’s hard.

Even when I don’t like her.

To do that, there needs to be a truce. A laying down of our weapons. A reconciliation of sorts.

And since she’s only two, I will hoist the burden of that onto my own shoulders. I choose—willingly—to make the greater sacrifice so that she and I can be close.

That, I realize, is exactly what my Father has done for me.

I’m selfish, impatient, and stubborn to a fault. I whine and self-pity, emotion spilling uncontrollably down my face when my comfortable life seems too hard.

It’s like raising a serpent.

In short, I can be difficult to get along with.

I’m beginning to suspect that aspect of me is engrained into my DNA. I function on sin as surely as I do on a good night’s sleep and a full cup of coffee.

And, quite frankly, I’ve questioned whether God really likes that.

It’s a difficult question—whether or not you’re liked by your own Father—and it’s one I find myself ashamed or embarrassed to ask.

It knots my stomach to think about our future relationship. One where if He let his liking for me overcome his love for me, we would surely part ways—and do so bitterly.

But He doesn’t want that at all.

He wants a relationship with me now and in heaven. But to do that, He must show me love now. Even when it’s hard.

To do that, there needs to be a truce. A laying down of our weapons. A reconciliation of sorts.

And since I’m only human, He hoisted the burden of that onto His own shoulders. He chose—willingly—to make the greater sacrifice so that we could be close.

He says so right there in His own living Word:

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: that while we were still jerktoids (rough translation), Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

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