Parenting With Grace (For Yourself)

Parenting With Grace For Yourself

When I got married at the age of 27, Stephen and I knew it wouldn’t be terribly long before we would start our family. We knew we wanted two or three kids and we had no idea if getting pregnant would be easy or difficult for us. So with only about five or six months of marriage under our belts, we started trying. By God’s grace, after only a few months we found out we were expecting our first baby, and the following May our Bishop Anthony arrived. A perfect 7 lb. 11oz. bundle of pure joy. I remember just sitting and watching him sleep. At different times, Stephen and I would look at each other and say, “What did we ever do before he was here?”

Well fast forward nine and a half years and two little brothers later, and I can list for you about 364 things we used to do before he was here. Things like . . . go see a movie after church every Sunday, eat at a restaurant for under $25 and with almost no meltdowns, drive little cars with 2 doors and tiny gas tanks, and sleep uninterrupted ‘til 10:00am every Saturday. I wish I could say that there’s never a single moment that I wouldn’t give anything to go back to those days, but I’d be a liar. Because the bare-naked, raw, honest truth is that over the years we’ve moved from “What did we ever do before they were here?” to “Why did we have children again?” We are just in a really hard and trying season of parenting. I realize that every season of parenting has it’s own struggles, but for us right now, with energetic boys who are 9, 7, and 4, even the thought of going out in public with all 3 of them sends me into the fetal position. Just about every night I go to bed disappointed that I let another day go by without managing to control myself and my responses to the boys. And just about every morning I wake up praying that maybe this would be the day I don’t let them push me over the edge.

Right now we are wrapping up a three-week stretch of winter break from school. Their old school in Texas got out a week earlier than their new school here in Tennessee, which means their new school starts a week later than their old school. So for 21 solid days we have had zero structure and to make life crazier, we made the biggest move we’ve ever made in the middle of it. And I don’t know about you, but we are a family who thrives in structure and without it we sort of fall apart at the seams. Needless to say, Monday morning could not come fast enough for me . . . I mean, us.

Lately I’ve been going to the Lord and pleading for Him to show me how to be a better mother to these boys; to give me more patience as I deal with their defiance, more understanding as I mediate their arguments with one another, and more of a desire to enjoy them during this season. Something I felt Him say to my spirit is that I’m way too hard on myself. I’ve set my expectations for myself, and for the boys, way too high. I compare our family too often to other families. Then it hit me . . . I give myself zero grace so why on earth would I have any grace left to extend to our children? I strive every day to parent on my own strength, by my own standards, with my own expectations. Until I can get to a place where I’m willing to lay that down, nothing will change.

Biblical Pouting

Biblical Pouting

Let’s talk for a minute about disappointment. We all experience it. It may look different in frequency and intensity for each of us, but it’s certainly a universal experience nonetheless. It’s a very personal thing too, so trying to compare circumstances as some kind of gauge for how disappointed one should feel about a given situation isn’t fair. At the end of the day, there was an expectation that didn’t get met and oftentimes it creates a series of inconveniences, frustrations, and extra work – hence the disappointment.

The journey my family has been on for the last 3½ months has been nothing short of chalk full when it comes to disappointing moments. And each time I’m met with a choice – to wallow or not to wallow. I would love to be able to say that as each moment came, I received it with grace and patience. But it was quite the contrary. Sometimes it was as simple as a hefty grunt of irritation. Other times it took a good venting session with a friend or family member to be able to move on. And then there has been a time or two where I went full throttle into pout-mode and had to dig my way out to see reason.

So how does this God-given emotion fit into the Christian walk and testimony? One of the best pouters in the Bible has got to be David. He did not hold back in his feelings of disappointment, fear, anger, and hurt. Yet he did it in a way that challenges us today to feel what we’re feeling, but keep our eyes fixed on the Lord whilst doing so (don’t you love a good “whilst”?). That second component is so important because it is what dictates the outcome of our disappointment. Let’s look at a few examples of how David handled himself in disappointing situations.

95 Days (And Then Some)

95 Days (And Then Some)

On the evening of August 30, 2016, Stephen and I took what we thought was the last big step to launch our family’s transition from Texas to Tennessee. Our house was officially on the market. We braced for a quick sell and looked forward to making plans for our move. The only other time we’d sold a house, we had 4 offers by day 12, and everyone we knew kept telling us that this house would probably sell even faster. We had no reason to think this step would drag out for over 3 months. Nevertheless, day 12 came and went, then month 1, then Halloween, then Thanksgiving. Then, it happened. After 95 . . . NINETY-FIVE . . . days, 4 price drops, and almost 40 showings, WE GOT AN OFFER!

As you know from my previous posts, by this point my brain, heart, and even body are completely exhausted from the toll this one step has taken. It also wasn’t the most cut and dry process to finalize all the contract details. So celebrating didn’t come quite as easily as I thought it would. But still we gave thanks to a great God. We slept a little harder. We recognized that this was the release we had been waiting for, whether it looked the way we thought it would or not. So it should only get easier from here, right? Not so much.

Proverbs 16:9 says, In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

Boy, are we learning this lesson in a real way. And yet, I’m proving to still be that stubborn, hardheaded, pouty child I revert back to when things don’t go my way. Every morning for 95 days I prayed for that to be the day we got an offer. We finally get an offer and at the first sign of struggle, I start whining and complaining. “Well that’s just great, all the houses we liked are now gone . . . but we need to be up there before our Texas closing date because Stephen has to start back to work on January 3rd no matter where we are  . .  . blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Nevertheless, we came up with what we thought was a good plan, then the bottom fell out when on day 99 we got the call that every seller dreads. Our buyer’s financing had fallen through so she had to back out of our contract. Well, super!

You can imagine the flood of doubt and questions that came rushing in almost immediately. At this point, any confidence I had developed in our ability to tell the difference between God’s voice and that of our flesh is shot. Is this the enemy trying to wear us down, or is the Lord continuing to build our faith? Is Satan pulling out all the stops to break us, or could this be God trying to tell us that we’ve been mistaken this entire time?

Away In A Manger

This is a guest post by Lauren Sparks who is “a wife, mom, fitness instructor, proud Baylor Bear, and grateful believer in Jesus Christ.” She shares the ups and downs of the faith of a special needs mom at The Sparks Notes and Facebook. If you are interested in writing a post for us, visit our Guest Post page. You can also view other guest posts by clicking here.

Away In A Manger

“No crib for a bed. The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head.” In my opinion, it’s one of the sweetest Christmas carols. Small children learn and sing it; and it brings to mind the gentle and serene picture of the new family our Savior was born into on a peaceful night (whether or not it really happened that way). But I heard a sermon on heaven at church that made me think about what God’s Son really gave up to be born here on the first Christmas morning. That manger – the feeding trough for horses and cattle – became an altar. To me, now, it’s a symbol of the sacrifices of Christ.

Revelation 21 gives us the vision of heaven given to John. We know from his account that there is no death, mourning, crying or pain there. It is described as brilliant, of pure gold with a wall of jasper adorned with every kind of precious stone. The “glory of God has illumined it”. Philippians 3:21 tells us that Jesus had (and now has again) a glorified body. I long for heaven and love to picture the magnificence of it all. The presence of God is everywhere, with nothing that can hinder communication and fellowship with Him.

Back to Basics

Back to Basics

It’s back to basics for me.

When my daughter turned 4 years old, the same age where a lot of my early memories start picking up steam, it prompted a nostalgia-laden look at what life taught me during those early years when a younger me wore Toughskins jeans and carried a Big Red Chief tablet and metal Star Wars lunch pail to school.

There is a book titled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”

I know the sentiment. From age 9 to 11, I thought I learned everything I needed to know about God the Father from the Old Testament, deeming Him a scary, hard-to-please overseer that doled out the 10 Commandments and a book full of Levite rules that made life hard for the Jewish people to live by.

I am not Jewish by blood, however, even as a gentile boy, I had a little taste of Judaic law.

My grandparents’ church, the only church I was familiar with, didn’t believe in the New Testament and didn’t teach it. For me, the Bible stopped at the conclusion of Malachi. Jesus wasn’t talked about. Christmas and Easter weren’t celebrated.

Instead, I remember “celebrating” the Feast of Unleavened bread around Easter, where every single possible crumb of bread was eradicated from the house for a week as a purification ritual. This meant I had to take matzo sandwiches to school for a week. Have you ever tried to keep baloney and cheese together while munching on two sheets of stale Manischewitz matzo crackers?

Back to Basics: Sabbath

In this series, Back to Basics, it’s my hope to shed some insight about the freedom I found in Christ through some personal stories from my early years of wrestling with fear of Old Testament law.

Back to Basics: Sabbath

When I was eight, I had a mesh baseball cap featuring Garfield the cat saying, “I live for Saturdays.” It wasn’t true. I survived Saturdays.

I lived at my grandparents’ house. They belonged to a church that I later learned was designated as a cult. I wasn’t forced to go to the church, but I was expected to obey the house rules.

One of those house rules, the Sabbath, was a doozy for a kid to handle. The Sabbath lasted from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. The Sabbath meant no television, no video games, and no playing outside or inside with friends. Basically, it meant no fun.

My grandparents went to church. I stayed at home. Alone.

Being a resourceful kid, I read all day, played with toys and listened to the radio (securing 80’s song lyrics in my head that stay with me today). I even went so far as to tape record the audio from Cheers episodes when they aired on Thursday nights so I could listen to them again on Saturday if I wanted to.

The hypocrisy. I was “obeying” the Sabbath, but I was audibly hanging out with a bunch of boozing adults at a Boston bar.

Beating the system felt good. But, I felt guilty. If Saturdays weren’t supposed to be fun, what did God think of my actions to disobey even though I was never officially told not to do something? I sure wasn’t going to tell my grandparents what I was up to. They just might take me with them to church if so.