Don’t you love summer? I do…well, mostly. I live in Florida, but I can honestly tell you I was not created to live here. Summer is HOT! Not just hot; sweltering. Like my skin is just going to melt off and all I can think about is sitting is the shade, drinking an ice cold Diet Coke, and hoping that a breeze will kick up that is slightly less humid than the air that is presently trying to boil me alive. Yep, that is pretty much how I feel about Florida summer.
SummerTIME, however, is something I look forward to every year. No more schedules, no more teaching, just me and my
bored amazing kids. Even though I always start off summertime thinking that I will just do whatever I want, whenever I want, it never seems to quite work out that way. Our schedule tends to fill up quickly with all kinds of travel. This last summer was no exception. Brian went to Alaska for work in June, followed by each kid having their turn at summer camp. We then wrapped up the summer with a family trip to Alaska, a piece of this earth that is quickly taking up residence in my heart. It was a sweet time of ministry and family time which none of us wanted to see come to an end.
Transition is hard for me. I don’t know exactly when it happens but somewhere between coming home from vacation and having to start real life again, I get beat down emotionally. There was some of that this year, but as I started looking toward the fall and thinking about my goals, my mood shifted. The Lord gave me an idea and anyone who knows me will quickly see that this did NOT come from me.
I am calling it “The 5am Experiment.”
Yep, starting today, for one month I am going to get up at 5am on the weekdays and watch how this effects my life.
I have been talking for years about writing a book on “Surrender” and what better way to start the writing process but from a place of surrender in my own life. As a self-professed “NOT a morning person” it was the first thing that God impressed upon me as I began thinking about what I needed to surrender in my life. I’m always saying, “I don’t have enough time!” Well, if I go to bed earlier and wake up earlier I just might find the time I have been looking for.
My posts over the next month will either be about this experiment or about something the Lord taught me during my time with him.
As I planned and prepared for this first morning, I found my excitement growing for what was to come. To sit with the Lord in the stillness of the morning. To hold a warm cup of tea in my hands, close my eyes, and just be still. To feel a sense of calm come and fill my anxious places. To study His Word and let His knowledge fill me. To seek his plan, to pray about how I can be used as I come across people who are in need of Him. This is what it’s all about. And as all of this came true this morning I realized…5am isn’t so bad after all.
Summer pretty much equals a lack of routine for our family, which means my writing took a little hiatus. But I’m back! And I’m pretty excited about it, too! I have had the honor of guest posting for a fellow writer on her blog. She features a post once a month titled, “Your Story.” August is my turn. 🙂
Some of you already know that we traveled the infertility road for many years, but this is part of the story that you might not know…how we almost gave up and how God intervened in an astounding way.
Join me at: http://kristiwoods.net/2016/07/yourstory-terah-lites/ as I tell “my story.”
And look for regular posts to resume right here in September as I continue to be A Faithful Influence right where God has me.
I have known for years that writing makes me come alive, but it wasn’t until last fall that God gave me a clear purpose for it.
Since the weekend that He first gave it to me, that word has rooted deep and is woven throughout everything I write. Every part of my life, the good and the bad, has the potential to influence those around me. What kind of influence do I want to be? How can my influence make a difference? And how can I spur those around me to make the most of their influence as well? The answer to these questions and others came down to a single thought.
By being faithful.
God is my reason for all of it. Serving Him, loving Him, and glorifying Him are why I am on this planet. I am passionate about my love for Him, and about passing that passion on to all the lives I am privileged to touch. That is why this past weekend was very special to me.
An event took place at my church…”Sew Powerful & The Purse Project.” This wasn’t just another event for me. It is very near and dear to my heart, and I will tell you why, but first a little about what we did.
The project was two-fold.
First, gently used purses were filled with necessities and gifts for the homeless women of our local area. These purses will be distributed by women in our own church, one of which who was homeless herself and knows the depth of that struggle. She is now acting as the liaison between us and them. Talk about a powerful and faithful influence!
Secondly, using the model that Sew Powerful has laid out for us, we sewed purses for girls in Zambia. In a nutshell, from the Sew Powerful website, this is why:
“The purses you provide are used in local schools and clinics in Lusaka Zambia as part of Menstruation Hygiene Management (MHM) programs. This simple gift – combined with re-usable sanitary pads and health information can make a tremendous difference in the lives of adolescent girls. Read about our Sew Powerful Purse Project here. Our ministry partners work hard to educate and inform the girls in their community so that they stay in school and grow in confidence and self-esteem. It really is sew powerful!”
So, on a Saturday morning, at our little corner church a few women and a lot of helping hands came together in a very unique way. My 10 year old daughter, and a couple of her friends, were there as well and I couldn’t help but think of the influence this was also having on their lives. The girls cheerfully gathered up supplies and stuffed purses for the homeless, and when they were done with that they babysat for some of the younger moms who wanted to help with the Sew Powerful part of the project. And all those who were sewing had an abundance of options to chose from thanks to a generous donation from Calico Corners in Vero Beach, FL. Sometimes a simple opportunity is all it takes to find the servants in our midst.
As I reflect back, I am still overwhelmed by all the different ways influence intersected that day. You see, Sew Powerful was founded by my sister and her husband almost 5 years ago. (This is the very “near and dear” part that I mentioned earlier.) Their vision is already reaching hearts and lives that I’m sure they will never know about. But the stories they do know about, like this one, the one where their 10 year old niece was part of an event that is something bigger than herself, or the one where their use of purses gave someone else a spin-off idea that purses could also be used to reach the homeless, or better yet, the one where awareness grew, and those who were there only wanted to do one thing when it was over. More.
This is what influence is all about. Being faithful in your part, however small it may seem, knowing that it will be magnified through the lens of God and spread in directions to numerous to count. It always starts right where you are. It’s that child who needs a little more attention. It’s that pencil you need to pick up and use to write the first word. It’s that idea that keeps rolling around in your head that just needs to be put into action. God is calling you to be a faithful influence, and trust me, if you answer that call the only thing you will want to do is more.
Mother’s Day is right around the corner and while many will be enjoying breakfast in bed and crayon family portraits, many others will be slowly dying inside. For years, that was me. I dreaded Mother’s Day. My arms were empty. The most natural thing in the world, that thing I had desired most of my life…motherhood, was remaining just out of my grasp. It felt like all I ever did anymore was wait. I was angry, hurt and devastated, and those feelings were only magnified every time Mother’s Day rolled around.
I still remember the crushing defeat I felt the day we found out that not only was my Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome to blame, but that my husband also had contributing factors that were keeping us from conceiving that child we so desperately wanted. I didn’t know if the tears would ever stop. My world came crashing down. It was a defining moment for me. The road would be long. The dream might never become reality. This was 1996. We had been married for 3 years.
The details of our journey from that time on will be saved for another post. Today, my heart is heavy for you who are living this right now. You, who want nothing more than to hold your very own baby in your arms. You, the women who have to face, yet another childless Mother’s Day. It’s hard, extremely hard. And even as I write this I know my words will not change your situation, but I hope they will be like a salve on your open wound.
As I think back on all those Mother’s Days that I would have rather skipped altogether, those Sundays where my smile did not reach my eyes, and my heart felt like it was being ripped out of my chest, I wonder…how did I make it through? What words did someone say to bring me comfort? The more I look back and reflect on this, the more I see one constant that helped me through. I did not need someone to say something. No one’s words could change my situation. I needed someone to listen. I needed to know that someone cared about the stabbing pain in my heart as I watched another childless Mother’s Day pass me by. The difference was made by the ones who took the time to notice, stopped to ask and stayed to listen. When you are in that place where the sight of a pregnant woman feels like salt on an open wound, it is hard to breath, let alone smile and make small talk at church. But when someone makes time for you, lets you sit and grieve through the feelings swirling around in your soul, while they listen and “be Jesus with skin on” for you, that makes room for God’s grace to wash over you and bring peace to your weary soul and your tired body. He sees you and knows about the ache that never goes away. I wish I could tell you that the ache goes away. Mine didn’t. But when I took it to God, he met me every single time. And when I was around someone who knew…really knew…how I was aching inside, somehow the ache was a little easier to bear.
Everyone has a different story but mine did not include a moment where I “arrived.” I did not all of a sudden learn what God wanted me to learn and then magically conceive. I wrestled with God all the time. I doubted. I trusted. I cried. I rejoiced. And a thousand other emotions, all while waiting on Him. It was a perfect mess, but God wove it into something beautiful.
And on July 22, 2000, when we received the phone call that would change our lives forever, the one where my husband and I, along with his parents, experienced a moment we will never forget, the one where my hand flew up to my mouth as I tried to contain the sobs of joy that wracked my body, the one where I stood there holding the phone in disbelief, while my husband, who was sitting next to me, flung his arms around my waist, laid the side of his head on my belly and cried, yes…the one where the nurse told us that after our second round of in-vitro we were finally pregnant, God graciously took my ache away.
My friend, I don’t know how your story will end but that’s the thing. It isn’t the end. In fact, as I look back it feels like that was just the tip of all that God had, and continues to have, in store for me. And today, as you navigate the unknown, and the waiting seems to be swallowing you up, know that God is weaving your story. Mother’s Day is hard and it hurts. There is no way around it. But that doesn’t mean you have to do “the hard” alone. Take the ache to God and watch how He cares for you. Watch how He will intimately meet your needs. And watch as his plan for you unfolds…trust in spite of the pain…It is worth it.
And if this story isn’t one that resonates with you. If infertility was never your battle. This Sunday, while smiles and greetings are being exchanged, look for the one whose smile doesn’t reach her eyes and ask her how she is. It is also worth it.
Something odd is happening between us and our kids. We all seem to like each other…and I have teenagers. It is a weird phenomenon, I know. I keep wondering, “How did we get so lucky?” Why is it that in a day and age when it is so common to hear about parents and teens battling it out, do we seem to be escaping that fate? Now, don’t get me wrong. We have our moments for sure. Days when instructions were not followed, rules were not obeyed, responsibilities were shirked, and consequences for each were plentiful. But when it is all said and done, at the end of the day, when we say good night, we are all friends. How does this happen? What are we doing right? Well, luck has absolutely nothing to do with it.
As I thought about writing this post, I decided to ask my kids what they thought. They had a couple of answers that included things like, “we do things together that are fun,” or “dad made time to wrestle with us when we were kids,” but in the end they weren’t really able to articulate reasons why our relationship with them is so healthy or why we actually enjoy each other’s company. And although I don’t have all the answers, I do have a guess. Maybe the reason that they can’t articulate why we like each other is because they have never known anything different.
A good relationship with your teenagers doesn’t start when they are teenagers. It is something that grows out of a foundation that has been poured for years. So, while this is not a comprehensive list, here are some ways that we have invested in our family from day one:
- They know we love each other. My husband and I have been married for almost 23 years and our choice continues to be “until death do we part.” We make sure that we love and serve each other in front of our children all the time. They have also seen us argue, but in the end, apologize, forgive and make up. They have seen us hurt, they have seen us laugh, they have seen us love. But what has always been our desire is for our kids to see the real us, and know that through it all our commitment did not waiver. In the end we would always chose each other. In that they were secure.
- They are listened to. When that toddler walks up to you for the millionth time and says, “Mommy, look!” and you actually look, instead of rolling your eyes, something happens in their heart. They begin to feel validated. This is where it starts. If you want your teen to talk to you, you must be willing to listen to it ALL. I don’t always listen, but when I do, I recognize the door that is being opened and I don’t take that for granted. When they know they are being listened to, they will talk. They will know that what they have to say is important to you. You will earn their trust.
- They are given attention. We date each other all the time. But we also date them. We take time with each of our kids one on one, on a regular basis. We take time to do what they like to do. There is something very special about individual attention from a parent. Our kids still talk about some of the things they got to do with just one of us. Carving out this kind of time speaks volumes to a kid. They begin to feel respected at a very early age. They learn that they matter. They are important.
- They know we are human. We talk about our dreams. We talk about our fears. We always have. They have seen our silly side, but have also seen our tempers. Authenticity has always been something we strive for, not only in our relationship, but in the one with our kids as well. They know when we have had a bad day. They even know when I start talking about hormones, it is time to leave mom alone! When we share our struggles, they in turn, will share theirs. They feel understood.
- Their feelings are respected. We all know what it feels like to open ourselves up and become vulnerable in front of another person. It is so easy for us to dismiss our kid’s feelings and think they aren’t old enough to feel rejection. But that simply is not true. In fact, you can sometimes visibly see it on their face when you have dismissed them too quickly and crushed a part of their spirit. I know from experience. But by God’s grace, that experience has taught me the importance of cherishing my child’s heart. A cherished heart is a whole heart.
- They know we are not afraid to discipline. In today’s world this is a touchy subject, but I’m going to address it anyway. We spanked our kids. (gasp!) Guess what? It works. It is tiring, exhausting, and sometimes you feel like the discipline will never end. But guess what else? It does! I don’t remember the last time I spanked anyone, but I firmly believe we are much better off because of it. They probably don’t even know it, but a child who is held accountable for their actions appreciates it. They know that their choices matter and that they must make the right ones. A child who has boundaries, grows into a teenager that thrives within those boundaries whether they realize it or not. Mutual respect is the fruit of discipline.
- They know family comes first. We work with a missionary aviation organization and my husband’s hours are anything but normal. There is always some trip around the corner or late nights because there is a flight schedule to keep. But as soon as he steps foot in our house we all know who is most important to him. Sometimes we have to say no to other things just because we need some time as a family. We have taught our kids the importance of priorities and made it very clear that our bonded, tight-knit family is at the top of that list.
- They have forgiven us. We don’t always get it right. I wish we did. But when tempers flare and patience is low, angry words get said and feelings get hurt. As soon as we recognize that we could have handled it differently we have had to humble ourselves and ask for their forgiveness. They readily give it. Giving our kids the chance to forgive us teaches them that everyone makes mistakes, but taking responsibility for them is where the real character is formed.
- They have been forgiven. As our kids grow, explore, and test the waters of life it seems that “I’m sorry” becomes a part of their daily vocabulary. They are going to blow it. That’s just what kids do. But sometimes they make choices that just twist my gut and bring me to my knees. I know that I need the strength to forgive even before they ask it. When they see unconditional love and forgiveness freely offered, their guilt melts away and restoration begins. They learn what it means to be forgiven, what it means to be free from guilt.
- They know that it all comes back to God. We love God. This fact permeates everything our family is about. Our kids are now 10, 13, & 15 and we still pray together as a family every night before they go to bed. We don’t have it all together. We don’t have all the answers but we want our kids to know that at the end of the day, we know who does. We are here to bring glory to God. The more we teach this to our kids and live it out, the more we learn.
Parenting is hard. It is not for the faint-hearted. But as we are faithful in the little he gives us much. I am seeing the fruit of that, and what I see brings tears to my eyes and a gratefulness to my heart that is hard to put into words. God redeems it all. Don’t give up. In the hands of God, our mistakes become works of art, our successes are celebrated masterpieces.
I had my 15 year old son read over this before I posted in here for you. He told me that he remembers when he was younger not really knowing the meaning of “I forgive you,” but he just knew that it was something good. My heart smiles when I hear how he “gets it.” He recently had his first semi-formal event and as I stood there looking at this man in front of me, I couldn’t have been more proud. How did we get here so quickly? I could not end this post without adding a picture of this guy…What a heart-breaker, right?!!