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When Mom Falls Away from Grace

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She stood in the dark doorway sobbing over an Easter basket that never came. Despite the gift-filled baskets from family members and a weekend full of festive activities, the space where the basket from mom & dad ought to have been left a void inside her broken heart.

After consoling my 10-year-old daughter with an embrace and reminder of prior occasions where we had surpassed her expectations, she calmed enough to return to bed, assured of our love, and that next year we’d try to do better. I closed the door, slithered into my bed sheets, and crumbled from a fragile psyche weighed farther down with the crush of “mom-guilt”.

“I’m a horrible mother,” I began to sob to my husband, “I can’t even give my kid an Easter basket.”

 
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In that moment, it wasn’t about the Easter basket—it was about my failures, about their piling up day after day, and my inability to do better and be better. How many times have I let down my daughter, my husband, my family? Countless. How many times have I let myself down, that I wasn’t a more gracious person, more skilled at navigating the challenges of motherhood and marriage? Innumerable. How many times have I hungered and thirsted for righteousness only to trip over my one broken flesh, one broken mind, one broken heart? Untold.

No, I wasn’t crying because I didn’t have the bandwidth for curating an Easter basket—I was crying because I didn’t have the capacity to live up to anyone’s expectations…especially my own.

When Grace Has Gone

It’s no wonder the Lord led me to the book of Galatians to uncover the heart of my problem. The epistle is written to Christians who have come under the influence of false teaching and the lie that circumcision was a requirement for saving faith in Christ. Paul spends most of his time reminding believers in Galatia that “by works of the law no one will be justified” (2:16) and that their ongoing Christian maturity is not an accomplishment of flesh, but of the Spirit (3:3). He rebuked the Galatians for turning back to “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more,” (4:9) then targets their hearts with a piercing question: “What then has become of the blessing you felt?” (4:15)

What then, imperfect mama crying over her incessant failures, has become of your joy? What has your lackluster law-keeping given you?

There’s no question that when grace has gone, joy goes with it. And when our rules and expectations become the idols of our hearts, we fall away from the blessing we once felt in our communion with Christ. Indeed, our relationship with Jesus feels cold and distant because we’ve placed ourselves under a false gospel. We quickly grow lonely, isolated, and hopeless because we’ve ceased to abide in him (John 15:5). Paul puts it bluntly:

“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” (5:4)

The Grace and Hope of Righteousness

Yet, as stark as Paul puts it in verse 4, the shining light of the gospel comes breaking through the walls of our legalism in verse 5.

“For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” (5:5)

True, we’re found waiting for and working towards the crown of righteousness kept for us (2 Timothy 4:8), but we’re never found wanting of it in God’s estimation. This isn’t a crown earned, figured, or achieved, but one already guarded for us by Jesus himself. By grace, through faith, we have been justified (Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8) and by the Spirit we can rejoice with eager expectancy that our hope of doing better, being better, and walking with Christ better is not just a goal, but a guarantee (Philippians 1:6).

Grace is no back-breaker, but a law-keeper on our behalf, meant to “overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy,” J.I. Packer writes, “and to drive us to cling to [God] more closely…to ensure that we shall learn to hold him fast.” It is only by way of our inadequacy that we can see Christ’s sufficiency clearly enough to rejoice in it—only by way of our shortcomings do we learn to keep latched to the life-giving bosom of grace.

“And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:16-17)

 
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Letting Go of My Not So Controlled Life

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“I was tired last night. Our truck died AGAIN yesterday afternoon and had to be towed to Lenny’s Auto Repair and our kitchen sink is backed up so you can’t use it or the dishwasher. Plastic dish ware is my new best friend. My life has become a country song...all I need is a dog to die...oh wait…”

This was the text I sent to a friend on Monday morning after an unexpected—and unwanted—weekend of mishaps.

Why can’t life just go along smoothly like I planned?!  I found myself speaking out loud to no one in particular as I poured myself a second third cup of coffee.

I sat down, willing myself to open my bible, knowing I would find some comfort in the words, but instead I sat for a few moments, pondering how often life takes twists and turns I have no control over.

 
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Control. A word I like a little too much and wrestle with a little too often.  A word that regularly comes up in scripture, but not in the context that I’d like, not in the way that it’d suit me as a means to hang onto my nice little life, wrapped up with a pretty red bow slapped across the front.

No, control is often asked to be laid down—willingly— trusting in a God who has promised to take care of me and all the little bits and pieces of my life.

But all too often I find myself gripping and clinging to my desire to want to control everything and everyone around me—including my husband, my kids, my circumstances, myself, and anyone else within arms reach of me (whether they like it or not). But what I’ve realized is that control often has the reverse effect, instead of freeing me from worry or dread or fear, trying to control everything often just leaves me exhausted, stifling myself and everyone else around me.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and they are saved (Proverbs 18:10). The words breeze through my mind, bringing what feels like a breath of fresh air over my soul.

The Lord is a strong tower. My strong tower. All I have to do is run to it. I visualize myself running to that tower. Giving my control over to a force much greater than I, telling myself that I don’t need to control everything in my life, I just need to remember to always turn to the one who does.

My life may never be perfectly wrapped up with a pretty red bow (my kitchen sink is still clogged), and far worse things may come my way than the trials I face today, but joy and peace can still be found when I turn and run to God, who has also promised to never leave me or forsake me.

And today I choose to cling to the truth of these words, and let my control rest with him.

 
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Rest Well

I scurried around the house, picking up papers, crayons, tape, scissors, and a variety of small toys. The stuffed animals that had been set up to attend my 5-year-old’s version of “art class” had already been tossed back in their corner, the blankets and pillows used to create their classroom already back on the sofa. I sighed. I was weary, feeling like there was always more to do, and that I was, inevitably, the one to do it.

For well over a year, God had invited me on a journey to discover the kind of work/rest balance He desired for my life. It started, of all places, on Instagram. I’d found myself taking a hard look at the women I followed in that space as I tried to reconcile my love for work and my need for rest. On the one hand, I followed women who were amazing entrepreneurs. These women were the definition of a #bossmama, and I loved watching their creative minds at work. Their message? Hustle hard - it’s up to you to make it happen before someone else does it first.

 
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On the other hand, I found myself following beautiful women of faith who filled my Instagram feed with a message of grace, soul-care, self-care and rest. My heart craved both the hustle and the rest because I knew God created me to use my gifts for His glory, and that to do that well, I needed time to refuel and refill. God whispered to my heart that this balance didn’t need to be an either/or - work OR rest. But it could be a both/and "work hard, rest well" lifestyle I’ve come to call “holy hustle.”

I am naturally inclined to be an “all or nothing” person, which meant that I would often find myself striving, assuming all the work fell on my shoulders. Or I would find myself vegging out in front of Netflix and calling it “rest” (when it was really laziness) and wondering why I felt even more exhausted afterward.

From God’s very own example of this work hard, rest well balance in Genesis, to Ruth’s hustle as she gleaned from the harvest field (and the blessing she received when her work - and rest - was noticed), God knew our hearts would need these gentle reminders. Like Jesus said to his disciples in Mark 6:31 (The Message): “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.”

Working so hard, or so busy keeping little people alive that I forget to eat? I’ve been there.

When we embrace a work hard, rest well lifestyle, we can serve God and our families as the best version of who God created us to be.

In this season, resting well means closing my home office door so I can focus on my family in the evenings. It means asking my family for help around the house so we can all enjoy time together. And it means trusting that what refreshes me - abiding in God’s Word, reading a great book, creating memories and experiences, working out, exploring a new place - is exactly how God created me.

God, help us to lay down the heavy burdens we feel obligated to carry on our own. Remind us that we aren’t alone, and that - while the work you’ve called us to do is good - so is the refreshing rest you desire for our hearts. Show us today, Father, how we’ve been striving instead of serving so we can enter that sweet spot of holy hustle as we work hard and rest well for Your glory.

 
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Partner Feature: God Loves All of Me

What is your identity? Who are you? What makes you, you?

Venturing into the journey of motherhood can leave us divorced from the woman we once were. Slowly, though rarely with intention, our “self” gets buried somewhere. Somewhere underneath the laundry, the diapers, the pick-ups and drop-offs, we lose our self. We think back to our pre-children selves like the way we’d remember an old friend; Oh yea, whatever happened to that girl? She was cool. I miss her. 

Why do we do this? 

Maybe it’s because of the lack of sleep, or the abyss of confusion that we get propelled into, wondering constantly if we are even doing this motherhood thing right. Or, maybe it’s the drastic overnight change from being completely independent, to being the primary provider for tiny humans that pretty much can’t do anything by themselves. And amidst all of this extra stuff, rather than cultivating various aspects of ourselves, we opt for sleep, or a shower, or drinking a cup of coffee while it’s actually hot. 

Perhaps for you, you’ve lost yourself somewhat accidentally along the way.

Or maybe for you, you’ve been misguided by well-meaning people who have assured you that this, this new title you’ve been given is your new identity; a mother is who you are. And so, just like with any good thing, you’ve placed the sum of your being in it, defined yourself by it, and continue to pour yourself out completely onto your children. While it’s true, you are a mother, that isn’t all that you are. 

Saying motherhood is my identity is like saying “Space Mountain” is Disneyland, and using those two terms interchangeably. Sure, Space Mountain is one aspect of Disneyland, but it doesn’t fully encompass it. 

Jeff Dillow Photography (jeffdillow.com)

Jeff Dillow Photography (jeffdillow.com)

Similarly so, our identity is multi-faceted and can’t be fully encompassed by one role we play.  

Our identity is fraught with passions and skills and gifts and interests. It’s enriched by roles like friend, mentor, wife, and mother. It’s a life-long journey of being shaped and reshaped, broken and redeemed and coming through fires we didn’t think we’d make it through. It was crafted in the innermost place of Holy, set apart, made to produce reverence and reflect the very image of the Divine. It’s made up of inner-wirings and things that make us hum happy tunes, and it’s built with gravitational pulls toward certain things and experiences. It’s all of this. All of these components mixed together uniquely and specifically to make up who you are. 

Jeff Dillow Photography (jeffdillow.com)

Jeff Dillow Photography (jeffdillow.com)

Motherhood is not your identity. It’s simply one beautiful, amazing, challenging aspect of it. 

But, discovering and cultivating that identity can be a struggle. It can feel selfish, inconvenient and irresponsible when little lives are so dependent on us. 

So, what’s a girl to do?

I guess what I’ve learned along the way is that the journey of discovering your identity is worth the risk. Allowing yourself precious time with the Lord, so that He can reveal to you who He made you to be, is the paradoxical way to more life. It will come back to you ten-fold, because it’s in this place of being led by our Creator on a journey of discovery that we truly begin to come alive. And along with this awakening comes an enhancement and enrichment in our children’s lives, our marriage, our friendships, and our intimacy with God.

Jeff Dillow Photography (jeffdillow.com)

Jeff Dillow Photography (jeffdillow.com)

“Identity: A Soul Journey” is a 7-week workbook & video teaching study that leads women on a journey of discovering their unique and specific identity created and given by God. If you’ve struggled with placing the entirety of yourself in your role as a mother, or if you’ve wrestled with a false identity, or if you’ve never really taken the time to get to know yourself, then join us. Join us on this soul-journey of discovering the unique you God made you to be.

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Losing Control

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I had created the perfect plan. I would get married by 24, have baby #1 by 26, and have baby #2 by 28. And then, at some point, we could add in a dog and live happily ever after.

But as 24, 26, and 28 all passed and I was single, I realized that my plan was in trouble. To be honest, I was not happy to have to adjust the plan. And I was doing all the right things, so I kept wondering why God wasn’t giving me what I wanted. I feared that God had forgotten about me and it was up to me to make it all work out.

 
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Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “The Lord says, “My thoughts are not like yours. Your ways are not like mine. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.”

In time, the Lord showed me that my plan was so flawed, like I am. He revealed to me that I can make all the plans I want, but His thoughts, ways, and plans will always be better than mine. (Proverbs 16:9) And they were so much better! I married at 31, to a wonderful man who had two wonderful daughters.

As the years passed, I did a pretty good job of keeping the control monster in me at bay. Until our oldest daughter entered high school. The “golden days” of controlling her environment, friend groups, and experiences were a thing of the past. The control freak in me had a hard time accepting that reality.

During this season, I held tight to the words of Philippians 4:6-9, “Don’t worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks for what you have. And because you belong to Christ Jesus, God’s peace will stand guard over all your thoughts and feelings. His peace can do this far better than our human minds. Brothers and sisters, continue to think about what is good and worthy of praise. Think about what is true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected. And do what you learned and received from me—what I told you and what you saw me do. And the God who gives peace will be with you.”

The reality I had accept was I had been parenting out of fear and not out of trust. My worries and my freak outs were not things that were good, worthy of praise, true, honorable, right, pure, or beautiful. At the end of the day, it all came down to me--I thought I had a better plan, that I knew best.

I started praying that the Lord would make me aware when I was getting out of control with trying to control. (And, He has answered that prayer, more times than I care to admit.) I began to pray that God would give me and my husband the wisdom we needed to be the parents our girls needed, and He continues to prove faithful in answering this prayer!

No matter what stage of motherhood you find yourself in, don't lose sight of the fact that God has a plan for your kids. And His plan is the best plan, just as He is the best Father. Sweet Mama, don’t forget that God has a specific plan for you, too. He has called you to be the mom to your kids, and no one else can fill your shoes. He will be faithful to give us everything we need, if we lean into Him and lose our need for control.

Psalm 86:15 says, “My Lord, you are a kind and merciful God. You are patient, loyal, and full of love.” In our freak outs and our mess ups, don’t forget that the Lord is kind, merciful, patient, and full of love. So, let’s lose control together and parent out of trust in the One who is writing our stories.

 
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A Pleasant Land

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The land you have given me is a pleasant land. - Psalm 16:6

I am constantly living in a state of re-structuring my expectations. I mostly have high expectations for myself, but I also tend to expect that my children, our budget, our life in general will respond if we put the work in and live on the right principles. It’s not a bad way to think, really, because wisdom and hard work and consistency are all such important factors to a life well lived. Yet some days, or weeks, or months, life throws me. The people I live with don’t respond to me in the manner I expect. The money we put aside has to go somewhere we didn’t foresee. Somebody gets sick (or maybe all the kids and I get sick at the same time, as it most seems to happen for mamas, am I right?). Or maybe we just aren’t where we expected to be by now.

When these moments come itching close to my surface, it’s so easy to feel unseen. It’s especially difficult to understand when we’ve tried our hardest, and things just turn out topsy-turvy. When I read this verse on its own, it’s easy to imagine David writing it when battles were won, when harvest time came around, when he was in good standing with God and man. But if you read the whole of Psalm 16, you can see that David is coming to the Lord for refuge right in verse 1. He reminds himself that the Lord is his true inheritance, the Lord is his blessing. And then he says those words — The land you have given me is a pleasant land. This isn’t true just because God gives good gifts. It’s true because a loving and good God is our greatest treasure, and having Him outweighs anything the world can throw at us. He is for our eternal good, and he cares about us intimately. If this is true, we can trust Him with our today. We can even call it pleasant. We can thank him for the boundaries and even the struggles, because we have this great hope in this great God and His ultimate unfailing involvement in our moments and our days.

 
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So I’ve been practicing teaching my heart as David did, not only in the victories, but also in the trials and in the mundane and in the not-so-lovely ordinary --

When both of my children are up too early, we are out of laundry detergent, and my well-made plans to actually fix my hair are all dashed, the land You have given me is a pleasant land.

When the car starts to smoke and the grocery budget gets tighter, the land You have given me is a pleasant land.

When I wish I could do more, be more, yet the time or the energy seem to slip through my fingers, the land You have given me is a pleasant land.

When my marriage is messier and my children need more attention that it seems like anyone else’s does, the land You have given me is a pleasant land.

The more I tell my heart, the more it feels true (because it is). He is good. The place He has given us, boundaries and blessings, have so much good - and they show us His goodness, too.

 
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Partner Feature: Bible Belles

Riding in the car the other day, my three-year-old daughter called out from the back seat and caught me by surprise.

“Hey, Mama?”

“Yes, my sweet baby.”

“Even when I make a bad choice, God still loves me.”

I smiled and met her gaze in the rearview mirror.

“That’s right, Honey. He always loves you.”

I cry. Several bouts of cancer in your 20s and becoming a mom after you never thought you’d ever be one will do that to you.

“And when I’m angry,” she continues, “God still loves me. And when I’m sad, He still loves me. He loves me all the time.”

Please remember that, I think to myself, when this world is bearing down on you. When you come home from school, confused about your friendships, will you remember that His love is constant? When you ask to be left alone to wish away the world, will you remember that His love never diminishes? When you’ve retreated into your bedroom, second-guessing yourself as less than a masterpiece, will you remember that God poured out His perfect love for the creation of you?

She’s only three, but that little voice declares the truth with such certainty. As she grows, I can only help but think about how that voice might change when culture tries to have its way with her. 

The Sound of the Belles will be HEARD

For generations girls have struggled to find and use their voices. When we decided to launch Bible Belles, the goal was to highlight real heroes: women in the Bible whose inner beauty God used in powerful ways. We wanted to create something that would celebrate them and show girls what it means to know your value and live into God’s design for your life. We prayed and researched and prayed and studied and prayed some more. When we settled on five women for our first series, it was because of what these five women represent. They represent the journey: the real journey to growing a real relationship with God, understanding His definition of beauty, and finding and carrying out His purpose for our lives.

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These five women represent the journey to be truly heard: to discover and use the unique voice God gave all of us.

Psalm 145:18

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

Hannah is the first belle in the series: the Belle of Prayer. Her story shows girls that the first step toward a real relationship with God is open and honest communication: the revealing of truth from deep within their own hearts.

Psalm 130:5

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.

Esther is the next belle: the Belle of Patience. If prayer is the first step in growing closer to God, the second step is to sit, be still, wait, and listen. We talk to God, but He wants to talk to us too. Our girls need to learn to wait patiently, prepare their hearts to hear from Him, and step out in faith according to His timing.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.

Abigail is the third belle: the Belle of Bravery. Once a relationship is established, it’s sure to be tested. Our girls need to know that they can call upon the courage of God to boldly face any problem. They can be brave and do what is right, even when they are scared. 

Proverbs 17:17

A friend loves at all times.

Ruth is our fourth belle: the Belle of Loyalty. The series takes an exciting turn here. The first three books have focused on the self. I can prayI can wait and listen for God’s voice. I can be brave to make the right choices. One of our major goals for this series was to help girls understand that a “me-first” attitude and a sense of entitlement are not what God had in mind when He created them. Part of God’s plan and purpose for them is to love the people around them faithfully. A life lived in kindness toward others is part of God’s purpose for all of us. Self-sacrifice and putting the feelings and needs of others before our own are meaningful ways we can show real love.

1 Peter 4:10

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.

Deborah is the fifth belle: the Belle of Leadership. The wisdom to know what needs to be done and to stir action is essential to finding and carrying out God’s plan and purpose for each of our lives. This final step in the journey guides girls to ask the question, “God, in what areas of my life are you calling me to lead?” and shows them that true leadership isn’t about success. It’s about service.

It was only after we chose these five women that we realized their initials spell the word heard. What a beautiful reminder for us to seek out ways to press our kids up to the voice of God so they can head out into this world and be heard in exactly the way that He had in mind when He breathed them into existence.

2 Peter 1:3

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

These women are so much more than positive role models. They are reminders of how powerfully, with a little bit of obedience and the right perspective, God can use us. With Him, we can learn to step into each day with boldness and remember that it is His love is everything we need.

“He loves me, Mama, no matter what happens.” Yes, my precious girl. His love is everything, and by listening to His voice, you will find your own.


To find out more about Bible Belles visit their website here

 

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Let Them Hear Them

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We are at a crossroads of activity choices for my daughter. If she decides to continue in gymnastics, it is a major increase in commitment. Or, if she decides to continue in dance, it is a major increase in commitment. Either way – one has to go. There is simply no time to do both.

Seems like such a silly problem to have, but it has pulled at the heartstrings of my girl quite a bit. She doesn’t know what to choose. Her heart loves both and she loves different things about each activity. And while obviously we are not pushing one or the other, and we have told her she can always try one next year and go back to the other if she decides to change, she is taking it very seriously.

In the midst of this, it has allowed some real intentional, soul-stirring conversations about what she feels like she is good at, what she feels like God made her talented in, and what her passions are. (and no, it’s never too early to start talking about passions with our kiddos – God put gifts in them since they were forming in the womb, and it is our job to draw those out in them!). It has also sparked some sweet talks about asking the Lord what she is supposed to do next year. We have discussed time and hours, considering family time and school time and meal time. It’s been great to think about as a family, and great to involve her.

 
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This past week, as we have needed to start making decisions, the most beautiful thing has happened. In her heart-felt angst about this big decision (a “big” decision to a little girl!), she decided to take all the information we have been discussing, and asked if we could all just pray and see what the Lord said about it. She wanted His input into her life decision. She wanted His leading.

And He answered! He gave her some clear leading and prompting in her heart. It was so neat to see, that after all the processing we did together with her, she still decided to take it to the Lord and follow His voice.

This was such a powerful moment for me as a mom. A reminder of several things…that it is good to involve our children in decisions and give them all the information that is appropriate for them to know. That there is value in calling out the gifts and talents in our children, and helping them realize those too. It reminded me that I have a responsibility to guide my children to ask the Lord themselves for answers. And most of all…it reminded me that He talks to them too, and not just to us adults.

Like it has been said, there is no “Junior” Holy Spirit. God can and will lead our little ones in the way they should go, and when we give them the space to ask God for what they need…we get to witness the peace that comes to their hearts when He answers!

 
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