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Do I Trust God at His Word?

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve entered my book in several contests over the last few months. Tinsel in a Tangle was the runner-up in the Selah Awards Debut Novel category (yay!), but I’m still waiting for the calendar months to flip a couple more times to find out the results of the others.

One contest, however, has nothing to do with my book. Some of you might be familiar with the magazine, Guideposts. Every two years, they hold a short story contest in which twelve winners are chosen to join their week-long writing boot camp in Rye, New York. I first heard of this contest about four years ago, but never bothered entering because short stories and I gel like oil and water.

But after a gentle-yet-firm nudging this spring from a woman in my Bible study, and feeling like I had a story in me to tell, after all, I decided to go for it. If I’m not one of the twelve winners, I’ll post my entry here sometime next month (I find out mid-August). If I am one of the winners…then I’ll let you know which Guideposts issue to look for. 😉

The point of this post, however, isn’t about contests and winning, but rather about losing…and how that’s not always the negative thing we think it is.

streamer-1194567_1920See, it was just a few days after I entered the contest when I indulged in a small-scale pity party. (I’m happy to say I’d barely gotten the streamers hung before I called it off, though the cake ingredients were out on the counter…) At that time, I had already learned the outcome of the Selah Awards, knew I had very teeny-tiny odds of winning the Guideposts contest (I never got a confirmation email from them, so did they even receive it??), and felt overwhelmed by the minuscule odds of winning one of the other contests…so, yeah, I was lamenting the fact I might never have it all-together to win a writing contest.

Because when we win a contest—whether it be in the creative arts, or music, or sports, or any other skill we’ve taken the time to hone—doesn’t that prove to the watching world that we’re good, maybe even exceptional, in that area? It definitely gives us a boost of validation, right? So, during my “party,” I figured if I never won at writing, then that meant I wasn’t exceptional—maybe not even good—and then I began to wonder (again!) if writing was what God wanted me to be doing—

—when He stopped my thinking in its destructive tracks and whispered to my heart:

“NOT winning a contest doesn’t mean you’re ‘less than’ in some way. It means you’re available to do and concentrate on what I have for you in that moment.”

Oh. Huh. Really?

On the heels of His whisper, I had to ask myself:

Do I truly believe God wants the best for me in all situations? Do I believe what Romans 8:28 says, that “…[He] causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them,” even when it feels painful?

Because if I claim to believe it, then I must conclude that not winning in the Selah Awards was God’s best for me in that particular situation.

This doesn’t mean I’ll necessary understand why that is, but if God is worthy of my trust and fealty, then it behooves me to believe He has the best in store for me, regardless of my emotions.

cropped-trust-in-godIn the case of this Guideposts contest, if I’m one of the winners, I get to go to NY for a week in September. A good boost for my writing. A bold “check” on the validation scale. Yet both my girls start new schools this year—one heads into high school, the other into middle school. This new chapter in their lives could come with a lot of emotions and anxiety and behavioral issues, and understandably so. Thus, if I don’t win, then I’m physically present that particular week to support my girls in ways that might seem mundane and unimportant at times, but which could be the “best” God has for me this September. Because maybe His best in this situation has nothing to do with me as a writer and everything to do with me as a mother. Or as a wife (Sept is the beginning of hunting season; gotta support the hubs). Or maybe even as a friend. Who knows? The possibilities are endless, really, yet I’m so good at limiting God to only what I see and know at any given time.

But when it comes down to my plans, my comfort, what I think is best, God isn’t about pleasing me. He’s about growing me. His best isn’t to make all my wishes and dreams come true, but to mold me into a woman who reflects more and more the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Yeah, my family will be the first ones to tell you I could use growth in all those areas!) God stands outside of time and knows which outcomes will strengthen my character and draw me closer to Him…and which ones would only serve to ratchet up my selfishness, jealousy, pride, etc.

So if I never win a writing or book contest, that doesn’t mean I’m not a good writer. It doesn’t mean I’m not supposed to be writing. It just means God has something better for me, either down the writer’s road or in a different area altogether. And I pray I have the eyes to recognize it and thank Him for it when it comes around.Signature

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What Do We Expect?

This started out as a Facebook post, but I changed my mind in the end. Did I take the coward’s way out? Maybe (although I did link this to my home page). FB is such a volatile place these days, I don’t want to add to it. But does that mean I stay completely silent? Sometimes, yes. This time, no. Will I get a backlash from some? Possibly. I have to take that risk.

First, let me say that what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida is horrific. As I read the newsfeed in the privacy of my home yesterday, I sobbed for the futility in it; I cried for the families who have needlessly lost loved ones. I prayed–and continue to pray–God shows up in amazing ways; that His presence is felt; that His children in the area and beyond pour out love and support to those hurting families; that in the end, it will be shown that good did triumph over this evil.

But I do have a question in light of the following…

*Since the early 1960’s, we’ve slowly but surely taken morals, values, ethics, and the sanctity of life out of schools.

*We’ve torn apart the foundations of the family unit.

*We’ve taught children that evolution is fact…which means, to be consistent with this belief, that people are nothing more than random particles stuck together…which then means people have no real purpose in life.

*We’ve allowed children access to video games that desensitize them to the act of hurting or killing a person (video games the military uses to desensitize their troops in the case s/he must take a human life).

*We’ve allowed little kids access to pornography through the internet, as well as R- and X-rated movies (Deadpool, anyone? Fifty Shades of Grey? No, I haven’t seen them. I don’t need to, to know their negative effects on a developing mind)…which means seeds have been planted for a future addiction to porn, a desensitization to sex, and warped thinking about women and sex, as these children grow into adults.

*We’ve taught teens that if it feels right, do it; abstinence is futile; girls need to put out; guys need to act on it; and we turn a blind eye to the sex-fest that goes on in many colleges & universities (dare I say all?). We hide the statistical repercussions for such behavior–emotional, mental, physical, spiritual–and then wonder why marriages and other relationships are falling apart. To top it off, once these kids grow up and enter the work force, or even worse, should they land a government job, we then penalize them for the very actions we once condoned.

*We’ve glorified Hollywood and its on-screen actors, most of whom live broken lives off-screen.

*We’ve encouraged the love of Self above Others with the tsunami of social media.

*We’ve taught children that all truth is relative…which means, to be consistent with this claim, that for some people, adultery is considered allowable; it’s their truth. Rape is considered allowable; it’s their truth. Stealing & lying? It’s fine; it’s their truth. Murder? Why not? People are just random particles stuck together, anyway, and it’s their truth. On and on I could go. Does this sound harsh? Not if we’re being consistent with relative truth. Who has the authority to say these things aren’t allowable, if there is no absolute truth? “But it’s against the law in this country.” Says who? The government? Who sets up the government? Man? What is man? We just learned man is nothing more than random particles stuck together. Where do random particles get the authority to tell other random particles what’s considered right and wrong? Let’s be consistent if we’re going to claim relative truth.

(Er…guess I touched upon one of my hot buttons with that last one.)

Here’s my question:

Given this kind of upbringing, what do we expect these younger generations to look like once they’ve reached adulthood?

Hint: They won’t look like law-abiding, respectful, considerate people.

If the adages are true, that “you reap what you sow,” and “you are what you eat,” then the older generations have sown disrespect, a lack of accountability, a lack of self-control and self-worth, dishonesty, hypocrisy, promiscuity, a sense of hopelessness, greasy grace, among so much more…and the younger generations have eaten from that harvest. We’re beginning to see the results. It will get worse.

It could get better—if we start by re-instilling those morals, values, ethics, sanctity of life, and yes, absolute truth. It starts there. (And I would argue it actually starts before that–with the Church on its knees.)

But are we willing to make the sacrifices required, in order to weave those threads back into the fabric of society and mend the brokenness?

Getting Off This Roller Coaster

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I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster these last few weeks and months. I must be rising toward the peak today, because I feel excited and jubilant, though I couldn’t tell you why. Nothing has physically changed in my life. My circumstances haven’t changed. But my view of some things is slowly changing. Maybe that’s the “why.”

If I’m on a roller coaster, then two Saturdays ago, I was at the lowest point of the deepest plunge, a place I hadn’t been in a long while. Although I hadn’t planned to write that day, I ended up with a little bit of time after breakfast and thought I’d quickly write for 30-45 minutes and pound out maybe 500 words or so. They didn’t have to be stellar words. Just something to slide me a little further along on my WIP. Easy, right?

I couldn’t do it.

It took an hour to wring less than 100 c.r.a.p.p.y words from my cottage-cheese of a brain. And then…time was up. Had to move on with my day. Tears pooling in my eyes, I stood, gathered my cleaning supplies, and as I started for the master bathroom, I began to pray for God’s help—

Wait a minute. His help? He’d had the last hour to help me, and He’d remained silent.

Something black and rancid shifted inside me. I dodged it before it became a full-fledged thought. Couldn’t go there. That wasn’t “Christian.”

Then again, God knew all my thoughts, so what was the point in avoiding what He already knew?

“I hate You, God.” The words rasped against my tongue as the nylon scrubber grated against the porcelain sink. “I hate You. I thought I was a writer. Didn’t You and I have some kind of heart-to-heart a few months ago where You pretty much confirmed I was on the path You wanted me to be? Then why has it been almost a year since I’ve written anything of significance?”

Oh, sure, I’d brainstormed, I’d mulled around different ideas, I’d written a couple thousand words over the last ten months…but none of those things were enough to produce the next book.

Why, God?” Scrub, scrub, scrub. “Whywhywhy did You give me a desire to write but not equip me with the ideas needed to fulfill it? You could have taken away this passion—I’ve begged You so many times to do just that—yet still, crafting stories is how I want to spend my days. So what’s the deal? What am I doing wrong?”*

In one breath, I said I hated him, in the next I asked for forgiveness, in the next I begged for help. I tore myself down, compared myself to others, and shook my fist at God.

I had probably cried for at least two hours by the time I sank to the bedroom floor, my chest aching, my body so empty, it should have caved in on itself. “God, help me. Help me.” Over and over, I repeated those words, incapable of much more than that.

Then my phone rang. Swiping at tears, I rose to grab my phone from the bed.

My father-in-law? Calling me? A tiny part of me hoped he hadn’t dialed by accident, intending to talk to his son, instead.

“Hey, there,” I answered, pushing all kinds of “happy” past the tears clogging my throat. “What’s up?”

Now this is a man who I’ve respected all my life, the one who’d been my pastor throughout my childhood and college years, before he moved on into a new ministry. When he talks about God, I listen. And when he shares the things God’s shown him, I lean in closer.

You know what he said to me that day?

“Laurie, I just called because God wanted me to tell you something. He wants you to know how much He loves you.” My father-in-law’s voice broke with emotion. “He loves you. You can’t please Him any more than you already do right now. He. Loves. You.”

It took longer than it probably should have, but eventually, the weight of his words caught up with me.

There I’d been, throwing my little private tantrum, telling the Creator of the Universe that I hated Him, but instead of smiting me (or spanking me and sending me into a time-out), He tapped my father-in-law’s shoulder and said, “Laurie needs to know I love her.”

God loves me. My Abba—Daddy—loved me in that ugly state, and because of my father-in-law’s sensitivity to His spirit and his willingness to obey, Abba was able to wrap me in a hug that day.

There’s nothing like a Dad’s hug to begin melting a stubborn heart.

Jesus has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, so I don’t have “before Christ” and “after Christ” snapshots of how I used to live and how He changed me. But this…this comes close to it for me. To tell the Creator-God I hated Him, and for Him to hug me in return? I don’t ever want to forget that.

I’m done with this emotional roller coaster ride. I’m getting off and driving a stake in the ground. Yes, there will be days I’ll falter and succumb to the fog of depression; there will be times I take three steps forward only to take two steps back; but may I never retreat farther than this stake today.

God loves me.

If He can love a hater,

If He can love a BFF that denied Him three times,

If He can love a zealous Jew bent on destroying followers of the Way,

If He can love a king who committed adultery and murdered an innocent soldier,

If He can love a coward with a speech problem,

If He can love a drunk,

If He can love and welcome into Paradise a thief on a cross,

If He can love and hang out with the fallen, the imperfect, the hopeless, the broken,

Then there is nothing stopping Him from loving you, too.

Now it’s time for us to own it and move forward, ever closer to Him.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~Romans 8:38-39, NLT

 

(*Just want to point out my messed-up theology back there. My knee-jerk reaction when I’m stressed or depressed is to think (incorrectly) that God won’t bless me if I’m doing something wrong. Hello! Fallible human being here. I’m always going to do something wrong. God doesn’t withhold or dole out blessings based on our (in)ability to get something “right.”)

That’s My Girl

Several years ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to delve into the world of smartphones shortly after the iPhone 5 had been released. Cut to four and a half years and one battery replacement later, the antenna in my iPhone 5 finally went kaput last week. Though I can’t receive or make phone calls, I can still text and use Safari, so we were a bit slow to mosey into a Verizon store.

But it eventually happened, and my new phone arrived this past Friday. While I anticipated the FedEx truck rumbling down my driveway, I scoured Amazon for a new case. It was almost overwhelming, with all the choices available these days. Did I get another Eiffel Tower case…or maybe something with fairies? Those Christmas designs looked like fun, but several inspirational quotes had appeal, too.

This quote, in particular, stood out to me:

“You don’t have to wait to hear ‘Well done.’ If you do it right, you can know every day that God is smiling and saying, ‘That’s my girl.'”

I love that last part. Love the idea that God could be so informal as to say, “That’s my girl.” I know it in my head—that He’s with me every day, that He’s my friend (Romans 5:11)—but when Life takes a curve I wasn’t expecting, it’s hard for my heart to sense the reality of those intimate terms.

However. I do not like the part that says, “If you do it right…”

As a perfectionist and one who is sometimes overly concerned with making sure I’m following God’s will and doing it God’s way and careful not to step a toe out of line, I’m very much aware of my shortcomings and inability to do things right (parenthood, anyone?). How do we know if we’ve done things right, anyway? There’s no sign that flashes above us in reassurance. Sometimes He’ll whisper encouragement, but more often than not, all we can do is try to do things right. (I’m not talking about black and white moral issues. I’m talking about the gray areas. The areas where I can find examples for both sides of my argument/decision/situation, but it’s a matter of what God wants me and my family to do, not what He asked the Joneses to do once upon a time. Make sense?)

On occasion, my father-in-law has said, “The desire to please God pleases God.” And while that is a hard concept to believe when my head is full of murky, depressing thoughts, it gives me a sense of relief when I’m in my right mind. Plus, it correlates to parenting our children, doesn’t it? If my kids desire to please me, to obey me because they love me, that, in turn, pleases me. I’m far more understanding and patient with their blunders when I know their hearts are in the right place.

My heart is in the right place when it comes to following the Lord. I will not always get it right. I will lapse in moments of weakness, say and do things in moments of impatience or anger or when I’m on the defensive. But I’m trying my best.

So, I’m switching this saying around a little. Here’s what I think it should say:

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Image courtesy of Braelyn Germaine.

Now that’s something I wouldn’t mind splashed across my phone case.

But in the end, I went with a different inspirational quote that sums up everything in just a few words:

“If God is all you have, you have all you need.” John 14:8

What about you? Do you have a case that reflects part of your personality? If so, what does it look like? (I admit, I also went with the dancing fairy.) Or are you more sensible (as we all should be when toting around full-blown computer!) and use something like an Otterbox? If that’s the case, what would you rather see covering your phone? 😉 Leave a comment below–and if you have a brand you love, share that, too.

Did You Call Me or Not?

Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to become a published author before the age of forty. Never did I expect that dream to be such a thorn in my side.

Having grown up in a Christian home and coming to faith in Christ at a young age, I’ve long understood that God has a purpose for my life. That He has a calling for each of His children, and while the general calling looks the same—spread the life-giving news of love, forgiveness, and saving grace found in a relationship with Jesus Christ—He asks us to live it out in countless ways according to the unique gifts and talents He’s given us.

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Therein lay my problem. For over three decades, I have heard one story after another of writers feeling called by God to write, whether that was writing in general, or a specific book or series. But for me, I never felt called. I just knew I had a passion for it. On good days, I could write without worry, without second-guessing myself. On bad days, the doubts would creep in and I’d wonder if I was listening to my own selfish desires or if this passion was, in fact, from God. Oh, how I’ve wrestled with it. I’m sure you could find many posts on my blog under the “Writer’s Refuge” tab filled with my questioning, agonizing, pleading with the Lord to just tell me. Just tell me if You want me to write or not. I will give it up if You want me to.

Recently, one of my good friends and local writer buddies, Leah, started a new blog, justwriteinspire.com. Stoked for her, I visited the blog and clicked on the “About” page. The following is a little of what she had to say. (I’ve already shared this with her, so no worries I’m saying something that will hurt or offend her. 🙂 )

“While growing up, I never dreamed I would write. I wanted to be a singer and teacher–not an author.

“However…one day, a plot downloaded into my brain. I thought, someone should write that book. A year later, God planted an idea in my mind, ‘You write it.’ I fought the concept for years. I did not believe I could do it.

“God never gave up on me. He continued to whisper–over and over–‘You are a writer,’ until His words seeped, profoundly, into my heart and soul.”

~Leah, from justwriteinspire.com

At the time I read her words, the irony was not lost on me—how she had felt God’s calling in the area of writing when she hadn’t even been looking for it, while I had prayed for years and continued to question. But still, I smiled, genuinely happy for her.

Come the next day, dark thoughts had descended upon me, and I wasn’t smiling anymore.

I had planned to write that day after cleaning the bathrooms, but as I sprayed and scrubbed sinks and bathtubs, it occurred to me I didn’t have anything to write about. The characters in my two current WIPs weren’t talking, and I was plum out of ideas plot-wise. By the time I finished mopping the floors, I was a mental wreck. If I was supposed to write, why was it harder for me to make up stories than other writers? Maybe I was just fooling myself. Maybe I was a square peg trying to shove myself into a round hole.

So I cried. Hard. And I begged God to speak to me.

I. Needed. To. Know.

Did He want me to write or not?

In late March, I had been sharing my frustrations at Bible study about how my inner critic looks like Jesus, making it difficult for me to always know who’s talking: the critic or Jesus. Sitting beside me, one of my girlfriends promptly texted me this pic from Pinterest:

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I can’t begin to tell you how helpful it has been for me to see these differences written out so I can refer to them whenever I’m questioning the words inside my head. That day cleaning bathrooms, after reading how Leah had felt called to write her story, I remembered this picture and tried to reject the condemning, discouraging words rattling around inside my brain.

But I was weakening.

At last I fell across my bed, my chest aching in that deep way that makes you curl into a fetal position and sob from the core, sob without tears.

How?” I cried to God, glaring at the ceiling. “How can I fight these negative feelings about writing—how can I fight the devil’s lies and deceptions and attempts to bind me—when I don’t know if You want me to do this? How can I combat these attacks with Your promises if I don’t know You’re fighting with me in this area? I’ve wanted to write and be published since I was a kid. Have wanted to write to please You. So many others have felt called by You—why don’t I feel like You ever called me?”

I didn’t expect an answer right away. Hadn’t I pleaded with Him countless other times and received silence in return? Maybe if I kept an open mind and continued to lift up this specific prayer over the next several weeks, I’d recognize His answer…if it ever came.

But that day, God met me in my need, and almost before the question left my lips—“Why don’t I feel like You ever called me?”—a calm, comforting, gentle voice whispered to my spirit.

“Because it was what you already wanted to do. I didn’t have to call you onto a path you were already traveling.”

Oh.

Really?

In my case, yes, really.

And it makes me wonder if other believers can resonate with this.

Often in Christian circles, we get so focused on finding our purpose, finding our calling, our gifts, how we should edify the Church…but for the person who searches for that answer with a pure motive and comes up empty, this quest can be extremely frustrating and lead to feelings of inadequacy.

If that’s you…could it be you might already be on His path for you? Pray about it. Test it. Press into Him with an open heart. And be ready for when He answers.

Yes, I will still have bad days, moments when Negativity wants to tear me down and immobilize me. But now I can resist those thoughts and Satan’s attacks. Now I know writing is something God has called me to do.

And that dream of becoming a published author before the age of 40? Well, I signed a contract with my publisher a month before I turned forty, and my debut novel releases two months before I turn forty-one.

God’s timing is always perfect. And in this case, I’m thankful my timing wasn’t too far off. 😉

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The Writer’s Desert

This past November, I traversed into new territory when I signed a publishing contract with Clean Reads. Setting my sights away from the sparkling, intoxicating metropolis of Accepted Manuscript, I ventured down an unfamiliar, inconspicuous path: The Second Book.

Funny thing about this path. The Second Book doesn’t take two authors in the same direction. Some find themselves in a thick jungle, wrapped in an overabundance of words, swathed in the heat of a luscious plot that can’t wait to be written. Others enter the succulent haven of a coffee shop, drawing inspiration from the lives unfolding around them, tears splashing onto plastic lids, laughter bubbling up toward the ceiling tiles.

Still others, alas, take a journey such as mine and step into the barren wasteland of the Writer’s Desert.desert-790640_1920

 

Unlike an earthly desert, it stays cold here even during the day; the sun might shine, but it emits no warmth. The dry ground remains firm beneath my feet, unforgiving in its hard surface, wicking away what little optimism I had armed myself with when I first started this journey.

I thought I was prepared for it. I had my laptop for communication—you know, for those several rounds of edits expected from my publisher, and for that finicky thing called a platform I need to spend time thinking about. But more importantly, I had a canteen of liquid words—others’ words—that were supposed to keep my writing muscles limber and supple until I reached the other side of this empty landscape. Serving as one of several judges on a few writing contests. Swallow. Involvement with an online critique group. Gulp. Offering my help as a beta reader for two different manuscripts. Sip, sip, sip.

But while my muscles stay quenched with others’ words, my soul has become parched at the lack of my own.

Sure, I’ve come across an oasis now and then. Broad ideas for a new story here; a one-paragraph summary for another story over there. Scenes for a sequel to my book that releases in October. But for the majority of the time, it’s just me and my canteen of somebody else’s work.

Oh, and the devil.

He likes to come alongside me at those times when I’m stumbling across the sand and taunt me. Tell me I don’t have what it takes, because other authors—better authors—are thriving in the jungle and there’s a reason I’m stuck in the desert. Better authors are on book #20 after eleven years of writing, and I’m on book #2 after seventeen. Better authors always have ideas cooking on the back burner, and since I don’t, that just reaffirms I lack what it takes to be successful in this field. Better authors have better blogs, more followers, a larger platform, a stronger backbone, a more persistent nature.

Sometimes Jesus is able to edge the devil out of my peripheral vision. For a few moments of time, maybe even as long as a day, I breathe in His clarity. He’ll take my hand in his and with the other, he’ll point to the horizon, and whisper, “Do you see it?”

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And with my flawed incompetence wrapped within His limitless capabilities, I glimpse something hazy on that horizon, something shimmering with promise and strength, purpose and fulfillment. And—

Then the devil shoves his snout in my face and I lose hold of my precious Jesus.

Why is Satan’s voice so much louder than my Lord’s?

Why does Hate have a better grip than Love? Why does self-deprecation feel more comfortable than self-confidence? Why are lies easier to believe than the truth?

The devil, I’ve come to realize, has been leading me in unnecessary circles to keep me floundering in this desert so I don’t gain the promise on that horizon. I reached a certain milestone despite his lies when I signed that publishing contract a few months ago, and he hates it. He knows my fundamental desire—once the selfishness and narcissism gets pushed aside—is to write for the Lord, whether that’s in the form of a Christmas fantasy or inspirational romance, so what better way to keep me from accomplishing anything further as a Christian writer than to blast my negative qualities on “repeat” in this desert that offers no diversion to silence the noise? Wallowing in negativity is a stronghold in which I practically have a doctorate, so long did I once study it.

Once. Several years ago. I’m not where I was several years ago, and the Lord certainly doesn’t want me making a U-turn to head back there.

So this time, I’m on to the devil. I’m on to his pranks, his condemnation and discouragement. It might have taken me a few months to slough through his deception, but better that than several years. I’m learning to tune him out again; to trust, instead, the voice of my precious Jesus, and to believe what He sees as good in me. I’m taking steps toward that shimmering horizon, and while I’m not there yet—I still have weeks of travel through these cold, hard-packed sands—the oases ahead of me look more abundant than those along the trail of my last four months.

I’m confident I’ll be filling my canteen with my own words soon.

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Ah, the joys of motherhood. Not.

I frowned at my youngest daughter, sure I’d heard her wrong. “No? But you’re taking a shower later today. Your body’s going to be clean and—”

“No! I don’t want you to change my sheets. The more you wash them, the more pilly they get, and then it annoys me when I go to bed.”

“Okaaaay.” So the dirty sheets remained. But later that night, minutes before she had to slip into bed, out popped her question: “Did you wash my sheets?”

Seriously?

Up went my eyebrow. “You didn’t want me to.”

“Nooo!” Her face crumpled and her fists clenched. “I just took a shower. My sheets are dirty.”

“You told me you didn’t want your sheets washed—”

“I never said that!”

Seriously?

Days later, with twenty minutes to spare before heading to school, she was still in her pajamas. I pointed to her room. “What are you doing standing around? Go get dressed.”

“I don’t have anything to wear.”

“Your bureau is full of clothes. Pick something.”

“I can’t. They’re clean and I’m not.” Pause. “Do you have any of my clothes hanging in your closet?” (It’s where I hang the wet clothes to dry.)

I jammed my hands onto my hips. “Let me get this straight. You refuse to wear clean clothes out of your drawer because you’re dirty, yet you want to wear clean clothes that might be hanging in my closet?”

These are just two snapshots of dozens of scenarios I deal with every day from daughter #2, who insists on arguing over almost anything, whether tangible, intangible, or choice of words. Heaven forbid I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went when trying to defend my position (and if I don’t use the exact same phrasing, then “you never said that!”). This is a child who will insist the sky is green and the grass is blue just for the sake of argument.

I’m mentally exhausted.

If I didn’t know I was in my right mind, I’d think I were going insane.

(My apologies to her grandparents reading this post. Just love on her all the more, please.)

For some reason, God in His infinite wisdom chose to pair up this mother with that daughter. Not only does He believe I’m the best mom for her–and that mothering her will iron out some wrinkles in her character–but He knows that having her as my daughter is the only way to iron out some wrinkles in my character. Because if it weren’t for daughter #2, I wouldn’t have realized I have such a problem with impatience. And anger.

See, scenarios like the above typically go on too long and end in a power struggle. And on really bad days, you’ll want to retreat along with daughter #1 into another room. Though it may seem like I’m being glib about this behavior from both myself and daughter #2, I’m not. I’m not proud of my actions and reactions. A yelling, angry mom is not the motherhood I envisioned when I was a child, myself.

But I share it with you because I suspect I’m not alone in this. I’m guessing many parents share my inner conflict. We think we’re decent people—kind, considerate, easy-going, polite—until we have children. Until we come up against a strong-willed mini-me who doesn’t want to obey and instead demands to do things his/her own way. Then out come our fangs, our insides curl and boil with heat, and we start doling out punishments and consequences as our voices rise in volume until it’s not one child throwing a fit…it’s two!

Lately, it’s gotten worse in this household, since my and my hubby’s tolerance threshold for her behavior is at an all-time low, and daughter #2 does not like that. So she’s pushing back. And it. Is. So. Exhausting.

Yet even this has a positive side when examined in the calmer hours of the day. In the Bible, James writes, “Consider it pure joy…when you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Really? Count it as joy?

Yes, because trials—if we respond to them correctly—are supposed to draw us closer to God. It’s in our distress we cry out for His strength, His patience, His wisdom. We are reminded yet again we can’t go it alone; we need the Holy Spirit to intervene and pull us along when we can’t make our feet move on our own. My walk with the Lord will be stronger tomorrow for the strong-willed child He’s placed in my life today. And if I press into Him now, then years later my patience will be mightier because I will have had so many opportunities to practice it, and my anger will not run as hot.

If I press into Him.

Lord, may I continue to press into You.

I’ve often prayed that He would help me love my kids the way He loves them, but recently one of my girlfriends recommended a more specific twist: to pray that God would help me love those qualities about my children that drive me crazy. Because He has plans for these kiddos and their unique quirks that I know nothing about. Daughter #2’s first and middle names combined mean “defender of the faith,” and the same defiance that rears its head against my parental authority is probably just the thing she’s going to need to wield in the future against a society that’s becoming increasingly antagonistic toward Christians.

Now if I can just make her realize it’s not me she needs to defend against! 😉

Lest I leave you with an unbalanced view of this precious child of God, however, here’s an incomplete list of her awesomeness:

She’s hysterically funny.

She’s extremely intelligent.

When she’s determined, nothing can stop her.

She can be compassionate, loving, and considerate.

She loves little kids.

She loves the Lord.

She’s got a fertile imagination. It’s quite possible I got the writing talent just so I could pass those genes on to her.

She can draw amazing pictures with her tattoo pens.

She enjoys school (don’t think I could manage mornings if she hated to go).

She’s a loyal friend.

She’s overflowing with possibility.

When she’s in a happy mood, she’s an absolute joy to be around, and she loves to make people smile.

Thank you, Jesus, for my children. Give me wisdom and patience to parent them. Grow me, even as You grow them. Amen.