“Ok, let’s play a game. Look at me and watch me make a silly face. Keep your eyes on me and make the same faces I’m making. It will be so funny! Then it can be your turn and I’ll make whatever silly faces YOU make!”
This is a game I’m trying to play with my son on a regular basis. We have recently found out more details about how his difficult start to life has affected his brain. We have learned that he is looking at the world through a lens of fear. Early childhood trauma (which also includes trauma in the womb or in infancy) is no joke. It literally messes with a person’s mind. That mind then needs to be taught how to love and how to be loved; it needs to be nurtured and rewired so it can trust.
My son is sweet and special. He is also really struggling in some areas because of what happened to him as a baby. He has a really hard time making eye contact because his brain is constantly telling him he’s in danger and he can’t trust anyone or anything. His eyes dart back and forth, to and fro. And so we play this game. We play this game so he can look into happy eyes and know he’s safe. Know he’s loved. Know he’s protected. For us, making silly faces at each other is building bridges between each other, teaching a little boy how to be a little boy, to let go of trying to control everything and trust that the grown-ups in his life will handle the details.
I also have a sweet little girl. She doesn’t have the struggles my son has. She’s been loved, cherished, and protected since conception. She’s strong and secure. But she needs my love, attention, and training, too. She needs to know her mommy is there for her, too. And with a little boy who is requiring constant watchfulness, training, love, and focus, sometimes my little girl takes second place.
So I have been in the throes of it. I have been learning to surrender to this season. On the days when my son is in school and my daughter is not, I’m learning to fix my eyes and my heart on her, to give her the love and attention she needs so that when her brother comes home and I need to focus on him she won’t feel abandoned or ignored. I have been desperately clinging to the grace of God to be able to lay down my feelings and my pride in order to have the patience to parent my children in the constant, present, kind, hands-on way they require in this season.
I’m going to be very honest: this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But it’s also something that is breaking me in a way that has me on my knees thanking God – for His mercy and kindness toward my son, His care for my daughter, and for His chiseling and molding of me.
Though the special needs challenges we are facing have become the practical reasons why spending time with my children has taken priority in this season, I am also very aware that God kind of had to work things out this way in my life so that I would learn to surrender to this focus. It is not my natural inclination. My natural inclination is to multi-task the living daylights out of every single moment, to do as much as humanly possible in the span of an hour, and to be a rock star at all of it. But now – now I know that if I don’t focus here, if I don’t do what’s right in this time, the ramifications for my future and my children’s future could be massive.
Months ago I was going through the Beth Moore study Entrusted, which is based on 1 and 2 Timothy. I’ll never forget what she said in one of the sessions in response to a question from a lady asking her how to juggle all of the responsibilities in her life. Beth’s response to this question was not, “You’re a powerful woman with a lot of God-given grace – you can do it all!” although I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what the lady was hoping she’d say. No, instead Beth responded, “Boy, I tell you what – you better choose. You can’t do 1000 things to the glory of God.” Then she went on to explain how early on in her ministry she had so many things vying for her time, attention, passion, etc., and how she had to choose what she was going to do. She chose just a couple of things: her family and her ministry. She had to say no to many opportunities and even people. She had to let some friends go who didn’t understand her commitment. She had to be firm in her decision and not compromise, even if it hurt and required sacrifice.
I’ll always remember this lesson from Beth, and I’m heeding this advice to “choose a couple of things” for these reasons:
1. Even though sometimes it may feel like my family is “distracting” me from what I “want” to be doing, their hearts have been entrusted to me in a way that nothing or no one else has. The people in my family are absolutely NOT a distraction, they are my focus. I want my husband to know that we are a team and I Love him and support him. I want him to understand in his heart that he doesn’t take second place to my success, my career, or my ministry. When my kids grow up, I want them to want to hang out with me, to be near me, to let me watch their grandchildren, and to know me better than the people I’m “ministering to” in any kind of professional ministry situation. I want my grandkids to know me in person, not by reputation or stories. I want my children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren to know that Jesus Loves them with an unconditional Love and to choose to follow Him all the days of their lives and share this Love with their children and grandchildren. My family is my #1 mission. These people are my people on purpose for a purpose.
2. There will always always always always ALWAYS be opportunities to do MORE. Despite what our culture, our media, our friends, and our own minds may tell us, doing MORE is not the measure of our success. Having faith is (Hebrews 11:6). And really, honestly, it often takes a deeper, grittier, more fought-for FAITH to stick to the couple of things and let the rest go. So it’s worth it. It’s worth it and the “good works” we will accomplish (Eph. 2:10) will be those borne out of lives of faith, not self-determined grit, and therefore the fruit of them will be eternal, not temporary.
Now please understand that though I am writing about this, it is not something I am at all a professional at. I write from a place of learning. I write from a place of hope that what God is teaching me will resonate with someone’s spirit and cause growth that can only be imputed by the Spirit Himself. Because THIS is one of my choices. I too have chosen my family and my ministry. I have described a bit of what the “family” choice looks like for me, but as for the “ministry” choice, the simple facts I know about it at this point are these:
“The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.” Isaiah 50:4
THIS is my calling. To know God and to make Him known, yes, but in this specific way – by leaning in to Him morning by morning, and then to trust Him to give me words to sustain people who are weary. Those are the guidelines I have been given. I don’t know the whole path or all the details. I have tried to guess at the specifics for far too long, but I am coming to understand that a simple surrendered obedience guides me to exactly who and where and how and what, because simple surrendered obedience puts its entire faith in God, understanding that anything good I accomplish is actually by the grace of God, and knowing that anything wrought by a disobedient, selfish, arrogant striving will not bear eternal fruit. This doesn’t mean I don’t work hard – it simply means that the hard work I do is powered by grace, chosen through obedient faith, and brings glory to God.
It’s not about me. It’s about Him. But then He also makes it about me, because what’s best for me is becoming more like Him and reflecting His glory. That is the place where my heart becomes truly whole and I become unified with His Spirit, which is how and who I was meant to be all along. His Love is so perfect and wonderful and extravagant and intimate that even the pain of the choosing, and the oft-experienced hardship that comes with simple obedience are being orchestrated by His mighty hand to work in us something beautiful and breathtaking – the reflection of Christ Himself. And oh how wondrous that is.
A couple of weeks ago, my obedience looked like leaving my kids for a week and going to Ecuador. I’m going to be honest, the leaving was hard because we are in such a full-on season with the kids right now. Leaving felt so wrong, but we KNEW that God had said, “Go!” So we went. And God was glorified. He was glorified in our marriage, in our hearts, even in our suffering. The most precious thing God allowed me to do while in Ecuador, the specific way He asked me to “strengthen the weary,” was by being vulnerable and sharing with the Ecuadorian team the things God had taught me and our family through suffering. The chance to testify of the goodness of God in the midst of a battle or a storm because of the storms He’s been walking me through made the pain of those experiences worth it. I have tears in my eyes even now as I remember and thank Him for the opportunity to share about His Grace in the midst of hardship to weary hearts who needed to hear those very words. That was for them and it was for me, because God’s Love is big enough to make it about us all, collectively and individually. He is too good. He is too kind.
Today, my obedience and surrender look like this: using these few precious moments of “free time” I have to lend some strength to someone on the other side of a screen who may be weary. And oh how I pray that even if it is just one, that that one will feel the Love of Christ intimately as He shows her that He sees her and is carrying her burden. And when I am finished here, I will pick up my daughter from preschool and put away my phone and look her in the eye and let her tell me all about her day, and I will shower her in kisses and tell her how precious she is to me. And then I will pick my son up from kindergarten and try not to pry too much into his day because it was probably tough since he has to work 5 times as hard as the other kids just to do the right thing. I’ll just tell him that I like him and everything’s ok and he’s ok and then let him rest a little bit, and then we’ll probably have a conversation about cars or go jump on a bouncy castle or something. And I’ll (try to) bite my tongue and swallow my pride when things get tough and there’s disobedience or disrespect or pushing of boundaries – or I might mess up and then I’ll apologize and recognize that being messy is part of being family, and learning how to forgive and be forgiven are some of the greatest lessons any of us will ever learn.
And I’m going to tell you all now that there are a lot a lot a LOT of things I want to do, and a lot of things I want to write, and a lot of work I want to put into this website and books and my podcast and my future, my friendships and my calling. But I also know that I need to step back a little bit and work out my simple surrender, to let God do His sanctifying work in my by being obedient, which means I have to stop trying to over-achieve, and I have to stop thinking that my value comes in what I produce or do. I will do what God has called me to do by doing just this – saying “I surrender” and then letting go of my agenda and grabbing hold of God’s, whether that means spending an hour playing Barbies or making silly faces or traveling to Asia or talking to a friend or looking at the sky and finding shapes in the clouds or reading a book or showing my kids the difference between right and wrong.
I can rest and know that He’s working it all out for good. My good. Which is His glory. That’s enough for me.