No Mommies Allowed

The other day my little girl, Aletheia, came down the stairs with a very determined look on her face.

“Mommy,” she said. “I have some very bad news for you.”

“Uh-oh,” I said. “What’s that?”

“No more writing group for you! I am putting up a big sign that says, “No Mommies Allowed at Writing Group!”

“What?” I said. “Why would you do that?”

Aletheia looked at me and replied, “It gives me a bad attitude.”

For almost a year now I have been taking one evening each week to attend writing group. For the most part, Aletheia doesn’t seem to mind my absence, but every now and then she struggles when it’s time for me to leave.

But mommy, I don’t want you to go to writing group,” has become a common protest in our house around 6:00 on Thursday evenings.

I feel for her, I do. But I also know what she is too young to understand. Writing group doesn’t just make me a better writer, it also makes me a better mom.

As Aletheia stood before me, hands on her hips, nose scrunched, brow crinkled, I smiled and calmly replied, “How bout’ I keep going to writing group and together we work on your attitude.”

Later, as I thought of our exchange, I realized that I do this too…a lot! Just like my daughter, I’m guilty of having a bad attitude when things don’t go my way, and I am certain that God would love to have the same conversation with me.

I can imagine it would go something like this:

Me: “Lord, it’s not fair! Why can’t my child sleep through the night? She’s two years old for goodness sake! I think we need to put up big a sign that says “No bragging on Facebook about babies who sleep through the night at only three weeks of age!”


Me: “Lord, I’ve had enough. If my husband makes me pick up his socks off this floor One. More. Time. I’m Going. To. Scream. I’m going on strike! I think we need to put up a big sign that says, “No socks (or underoos) on the floor, ever again. Period!”

I can see God smiling as He calmly replies: “Jennifer, how bout’ we leave the proud parents and socks on the floor alone and together work on your attitude.”

Ouch! Sometimes we mommies have far more in common with our little ones than we care to admit or see.

When my attitude revolves around whatever it is I’m not getting, what I’m losing, what I’m missing out on I want to change my circumstances or other people to fit my ideal. But God wants the opposite. Instead of changing my circumstances he wants me to change my attitude. Instead of changing other people he wants me to change my heart.

I can’t control my circumstances. I can’t control other people. But I can control the focus of my heart and I can control my attitude.

Instead of dwelling on what I’m not getting, I can choose to dwell on what I’ve been given. Instead of dwelling on what I’m losing, I can choose to dwell on what I have. Instead of dwelling on what I’m missing out on, I can choose to dwell on what I’m gaining through each situation I face.

Just as my daughter may not understand my reasons for going to writing group, I may not understand God’s reasons or ways He works in my life. But I can understand that His ways are perfect, that He is for me and that He is always working for my greater good.

Whether it’s crying toddlers in the middle of the night, a husband who will never learn to pick his clothes up off floor or other grievances both big and small, the truth is I am never loosing. Through Christ, I am always gaining for I am always given grace.

With hands on my hips, nose scrunched, brow crinkled, I’m following my daughter’s lead. (Sometimes we mommies can learn from our little ones.) I’m putting up a big sign that says, “No more bad attitudes.”

A Ledger of Grace

Ledger 1Last Thursday my mom and I spent the day cleaning out closets, cabinets and a bit of our basement. As we worked we came across a drawer full of my grandmother’s belongings.

My grandma, Nana, died almost twenty years ago, but before she passed away she lived with my family and was nursed, in our home, by my mother after she suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed on one side.

While sorting through the crowded drawer of Nana’s old wooden hutch my mom discovered Nana’s banking ledger. Living with Nana, for as far back as I can remember, gave me the distinct privilege of knowing her well, but as my mom and I stopped our work and leafed through her ledger, I learned something new and precious about my grandmother: My Nana was a woman of grace.

Years ago, when my mom was still a child my grandma and grandpa ran a general store in rural Mississippi. For years, Nana kept their books by hand, and even after their store closed she continued to keep track of debts and transactions between her and a myriad of people throughout her lifetime.

Ledger 2Carefully my mom and I turned the ancient pages of her ledger. In her elegant handwriting I read the names and accounts of clients, friends and relatives. There must have been a thousand entries each recording the ways that Nana loaned money or gave aid to people in need.

Along with names, dates and figures, I noticed that each and every page of the ledger was covered with an “X.”

“In her will, Nana forgave every debt,” my mom said. “The “X’s” show that the debts were cancelled.”

My eyes filled with tears at the memory of my sweet Nana, of her generosity and goodness, and I said softly, “This is a ledger of grace.”

There on every page in the form of an inky blue “X”: Grace.

Mom and I went on with our work but as I worked I thought of Nana. Not only did Nana cancel the debts of many, she chose to leave an inheritance. Even when significant amounts of money were never repaid, Nana chose to leave monetary provisions for people she wanted to bless, for people who were in need.

Ledger 3Isn’t this what grace does? Grace doesn’t just cancel out debt, it gives beyond. Grace always comes as an undeserved gift and is always followed with love.

Nana’s ledger isn’t just a record of her banking transactions; it is a picture of Christ. Just as Nana covered each debt that filled the lines of her ledger with an “X,” Christ took the sin that filled the entire world and covered it with one wooden cross.

Imagine the pages of God’s ledger. Every page a person, owing the debt of sin. Every page covered with a blood stained “X,” that speaks one word: Forgiven. He gave us the gift of grace and loved us with the opportunity to live in relationship with him. This is our cancelled debt, this is our inheritance.

Finding Nana’s ledger has helped me to remember her legacy of grace and has also challenged me to consider the ways in which I can give grace, the ways in which I can go beyond, the ways in which I can follow grace with love. Every time we model grace, we model the cross. Every time we give love, we give God.

If ever I need a reminder of grace I can turn to the pages of Nana’s ledger. I can read the debts, I can see the “X’s,” and I can remember, just as she did, the cross.

The Four P’s of Summer

It’s summer! While this fact comes with many good and wonderful things for us to enjoy, (For example: cookouts, camping trips, beach trips, vacation) it also comes with just as many things that can be incredibly overwhelming (For example: cookouts, camping trips, beach trips, vacation.)

Everywhere I turn there are people in my life who are approaching meltdown status due to an overloaded summer schedule.

One friend, who is a teacher and mom of two small children, is already counting the priceless days she has with her kids before she goes back to school. With two overseas trips in her schedule these special days will be over before she knows it, and this knowledge ways heavy on her heart.

Another friend shared with me that she is booked solid every Monday from now until September. Mondays are the one day of the week that her family has to themselves, and she wonders how she will ever be able keep the pace of their hectic summer schedule.

Summer stress is definitely running rampant, so what are we to do? I can’t claim to know all the answers, but I do think I’ve narrowed in on four important actions that will help each of us make it to fall with our heads and hearts intact.

No. 1: Pray

I don’t mean to sound trite or overly spiritual on this one. Prayer is something we all talk about, a lot of the time; it’s something we all know we should be doing. But I know, firsthand, that when life gets busy, prayer is often the first thing to go.

When summer stress creeps in like the tide, invite God in through prayer. Ask Him for wisdom, peace, and perspective. Ask Him to be a part of your day, your schedule, your activities. Ask Him to be at the center of it all.

No. 2: Plan

Grab your calendar, your husband, your family, and together begin to make a plan for summer. Put everything on the table. Look at everything you have to do, need to do, want to do, and be realistic. What can you reasonable and realistically do this summer? What can wait for another time, another season?

Once your plan is set, do your best to stay in the present. Enjoy what’s happening now. And when your plans go array (because they will go array) ask yourself this question: Are you controlling your plans or are your plans controlling you? Because summer days are fleeting and they are meant for joy. Don’t rob yourself of the joy by falling prey to your plans. Choose a plan that works for you and your family. Search for what brings life, avoid that which burdens.

No. 3: Protect

We all know the importance of sunscreen. SPF is vital if we don’t want to end up getting burned. But how often, in the midst of summer stress, do we take the same precaution for our hearts? Hectic schedules can burn our hearts faster than noonday sun can burn our unprotected skin. Our hearts need protection too.

To protect your heart from the soul burning effects of a crazy summer schedule take time to nurture your heart with the things you love the most.

A walk around the block in the cool of the day

An ice cream cone on a hot afternoon

Catching fireflies with your kids

Campfire smore’s and ghost stories

Reading in a hammock

Toes in the sand

Whether it’s big or small find a way each day to take care of your heart. I know it may seem like you don’t have time, but even five minutes can make the difference between a heart that is healthy and alive and a heart that is parched and depleted.

Don’t forget to wear sunscreen and don’t let your heart get burned.

No. 4: Praise

No matter how hectic, frantic, or stressed you feel in the midst of your summer activities seek to keep praise and thanksgiving on your mind, on your heart, on your tongue. I know this message isn’t new and I know it isn’t easy, but I also know it’s worth it.

Even in the eye of the storm, let the eyes of your heart see that He is good. And for His goodness, give thanks.

I’ve seen, in my own life, the difference praise and thanksgiving can make and it is the best stress fighter there is.  Summer comes with so much to be thankful for. Don’t miss it. Hunt for beauty. Hunt for joy. Hunt for reasons to praise.

Pray, plan, protect, praise and enjoy the gift that is summer.

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Speak UpExhausted but full; These are the words that best describe the way I feel after attending the 2013 Speak Up Conference in Grand Rapids, MI. Designed to meet the needs of both speakers and writers this conference has become a significant milestone in my writing life.

I’ve written before about the way in which God called me to be a writer. After trying for years to reconcile my desire to be a mom with my desire to write, I was about to give up on my writing dream, when God stepped in and showed me that it’s okay to pursue both my love for being a mom and my love for writing.

While this moment, in and of itself, changed my life, I have yet to share the rest of the story.

In the weeks that followed, I knew that God wanted me to start writing, but I didn’t know how to incorporate this passion into my already hectic life. I needed help and prodding to get moving.

The help came in the form of my friend, Amelia; the prodding came in the form of my husband.

Amelia, who was on last year’s Speak Up conference staff, knew I had recently developed a newfound interest in writing. When a last minute scholarship for the conference became available, Amelia gave me a call.

“Hey, Jen,” she said. “I know you’ve been doing some writing, and the conference leaders are looking for someone to fill a last minute scholarship. I thought you might be interested.”

Interested? Yes, please!

As I considered Amelia’s amazing news, my mind began to reel. What about my girls? My family? I can’t leave them, I thought.

Enter the prodding from my husband, Chris. To this day, Chris contends that any success I gain in the realm of writing will forever be traced back to him and the swift kick in the you-know-where he gave me when I hesitated to accept the scholarship.

You’re going,” he said, and that was that.

I went to the conference and while I was overwhelmed from beginning to end, I left with a heart and a dream that was renewed, affirmed and ready to take wing. I came home and got to work, and now, one year later, I am still committed to my dream and my calling to be a writer.

After years of beating around the writing bush, this milestone is huge for me.

A few weeks ago I received a summons for jury duty. While most people cringe at the thought of this civic chore, I experienced a special blessing while filling out the forms.

While going through a questionnaire of my general information I came across a box that asked me my occupation. For the first time in my life, I wrote: stay-at-home mom and Writer. And Writer! As silly as it may seem, I found such joy in writing these words and knowing them to be true. There in black ink, my two loves side by side, as real as real can be: Mom and Writer.

All of this is to show how a timid and reluctant mom with a big, but buried, dream can transform into a determined, focused and passionate lover of words. A Writer.

I owe everything to God, to Amelia, to Chris and to everyone involved in the Speak Up Conference.

When I made the decision to go to last year’s conference, I was scared to death, but God was faithful to me in providing the opportunity, He was faithful to me throughout every moment of this life changing event, and as I continue my writing journey, I know He is faithful still.

This is how our God works. Even when we’re scared, reluctant, or have a hard time understanding what He’s up to, our God is a God of big dreams; God-sized dreams beyond anything we can think or imagine, and He loves to affirm, to romance, to take our breath away with the glory of the unexpected. With the glory of His faithfulness.

So what’s tugging at your heart these days? What thrills your soul and scares you at the same time? What have you been called to do?

Whatever it is, run to it! Don’t delay. Do it with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. And watch. Watch with awestruck wonder at the ways He loves, the ways He affirms, the ways He provides. The ways He proves again and again that great is Thy faithfulness.

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