An Act Of Worship.

My Life Class leader was praying this morning, and he lifted up motherhood. He prayed that each mom would be encouraged today, knowing that each act of motherhood that they do is an act of worship to God. I’ve kinda pondered over it all day.

Each act of motherhood is an act of worship to God. That statement alone is stunning to me. It encompasses the biggest events, like giving birth and adopting, to the mundane events of endless nights helping with the math homework you don’t even understand and breaking up fights and wiping sticky fingers and changing diapers, to the unseen moments of sweeping crumbs and preparing tomorrow’s lunches long after the kids have gone to bed, and stumbling in the dark to tend to a crying baby, or the prayers you pray while tears stream down your cheeks as you beg God to rescue your son from his addiction.

It also encompasses those times you don’t feel like mothering. But you do it anyway. When you had plans to go out of town with your best friend but minutes after you leave you get a call saying your kid is throwing up. And you turn around, and you go home. Or when your daughter tells you at 9pm that a project is due tomorrow and she forgot about it (also right here let me drop a quick mom hack: always have five to seventeen extra poster boards hidden in your home for such a time as this. You will thank me at 9pm on a Tuesday evening.) and you have to skip your show and help her do a science experiment and you let her go to bed and you finish noting the changes in her chemical reactions of her Coke every hour until your eyes fall out and you want to disown her. And when your four year old throws herself on the floor because she doesn’t want to wear pants even though we wear pants every time we leave the house, it’s suddenly a surprise to her. And she screams until your ears bleed and she makes you want to drive your car off cliff. But instead you wrangle pants onto your baby octopus during the weeping and gnashing of teeth while every explicative runs through your brain and you smile freakishly big and tell her she doesn’t have a choice, she has to wear pants when she goes in public, and she can do it with a happy heart or an ugly heart but she’s WEARING THE PANTS.

Those moments. The noble ones and the frustrating ones. Those acts of mothering are acts of worship to God. And the ones you think are unnoticed and unappreciated… are noticed and appreciated by the One being worshipped while you do it. Mothering is hard. It’s painful and messy and broken. But it’s so beautiful. Your acts of mothering are not in vain.

To my loved ones whose arms are aching for a little one… your acts of motherhood are very much acts of worship to God. The longing in your hearts, the anguish every month, the hot tears streaming through your fingers as you cry out to God… the way you face each day bravely and keep going.. you have a strength I will never possess. You have a love for your babies lost and babies wanted that I strive to have for my own. Your mothering heart is an act of worship to God, and while you may feel unseen and unnoticed today… you are very much seen and noticed.

Don’t Walk Alone.

Hey you. The one who is seeing everyone’s Top Nine Instagram posts of 2018 with their exuberant experessions, and reading everyone’s Facebook Diary of resolutions.

I see you. You’re “liking” their posts and maybe dropping an encouraging comment here and there. I see your fingers tapping out feigned joy… but your shoulders are slumped and your face is expressionless.

You aren’t looking forward to 2019. In fact, you may not be looking forward to tomorrow. Because there is a giant you are facing… seemingly at every turn. It’s there when you wake up, and there when you go to sleep.

You’re overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, and terrified. You feel trapped and are suffocating. But you don’t show it. You have to put on a facade at work, at home, at church, and pretty much everywhere. It feels like you don’t have a safe place to be you anymore. You want to run outside, tear your clothes, and scream at the top of your lungs the horrific crap you are going through. But you don’t. You put your make up on, fix your hair, step into your heels, and go about your day like you have every other day. Perhaps the most important thing you put on is your smile.

I see you. I have been you.

Someone telling me “I see you” in my deepest, darkest trenches was enough to break the dam and shatter the facade. Being seen is invaluable. A friend and I were talking the other day and all she had to say was “I know you’re exhausted” and I burst into tears. She saw me.

To you, the one who is exhausted and overwhelmed, hurting and fearing the giants in your life… reach out. To those who can be trusted, invite them into your trenches and into your mess. The enemy wants you to fear their rejection, and wants you to walk this alone. But that is the exact opposite of what God wants for you.

That giant you’re facing? It is powerless to the God you serve. In the Bible, David approached Goliath with his staff, some stones, and a sling. The giant mocked him and said, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” and David answered, unwaveringly, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts… this day the Lord will deliver you into my hand… that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.” (1 Samuel 17:40-46, emphasis mine).

Goliath was over nine feet tall. He had been a warrior since his youth. He never lost. David was a shepherd, young and untrained. But his trust was in God, not in his strength or might. He approached Goliath in the name of the Lord. That’s all he needed to fight the battle and win, because the name of the Lord is that powerful. You can face this giant in your life. Your God will go before you, stand behind you, and fight for you. “…With confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). His grace and mercy will meet you in your mess and cover you and sustain you.

For those of you who “see” that person… the one you know is hurting. I implore you to reach out. Don’t expect anything. Just reach out and simply say “I see you.” As my friend said the other day, “Let me help you. Let me love you.” She made it clear there was no pressure, and didn’t press for a single detail. She just wanted me to know she was available and that she loved me. So— reach out to that person. [Side note: nosy people need not apply. Just don’t. You make things worse. And you think you can fool us. But we can see it a mile away and literally no one likes nosy people so just stop. Thanks.]

I’m going to wrap this up with what is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I know I don’t know how to stop writing sometimes but for real just pay attention, I’m almost done, and this is important.

In Exodus 17, the Amalekites came up against Moses and the Israelites. Moses had men go out to fight this monstrous army, and said that the next day he would go out and stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in his hand. While Joshua and the Israelites fought with Amalek’s army, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill with Moses. As long as Moses’ hand was raised with the staff, the Israelites would win. But he grew weary and had to lower his arm, and the Amalekites started to overpower the Israelites. Aaron and Hur found a stone and had Moses sit, and they each grabbed an arm and held it up for him, and they held them up until the sun set, and Israel won (Exodus 17:8-13).

Be the Aaron and Hur your friends need. Be there for however they need you in their weakness. Show them they are not alone. Fight with them and for them. Hold their arms up when they can’t.

And if you are the Moses in this story, let them hold your arms. God doesn’t want you walking alone.

From my trench to yours,

Emily

When It’s Hard To Celebrate.

There’s nothing remarkable about it, and I certainly wouldn’t notice it among other bracelets if I were jewelry shopping. But I can’t remember her ever not wearing it. I slipped it on this morning as I got ready for church, the same way I do on those days I need to feel her close.

If I’m honest, Mother’s Day is a weird day for me. Its supposed to be about celebrating moms. I have four kids. But I don’t like a fuss being made about me, my Mom has been gone for seven years (the exact number of years I have avoided the card aisle at Target), and I have too many family members and friends who are hurting today. And every time I looked at my mom’s bracelet today, my heart broke a little more. I don’t have her, and they don’t have their babies. For me, Mother’s Day has become a proverbial elevator encounter with a stranger. It is so painfully awkward, and I just want to get off.

But getting off won’t fix things. It won’t give me back my mom, and it won’t give them their babies. It’s not fair.

I don’t have all the answers. All I know is that God is grieving, too. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. The reason it’s so hard to experience death and pain is because we were not created to ever experience it.

We live in a broken world. Sin has stolen, killed, and destroyed so much. The pain we experience is God’s beckoning to trust Him and show us that His salvation is better than our losses and griefs.

I’ve shared this quote before, but it is so profound that I need to share it again. “God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” Dear one… God is with you in your loss, your pain, your grief. He knows full well what you feel, because He felt it when He watched His Son beaten and hung on a cross for something He didn’t do. He allows these things so that ultimately we might seek and find Him.

If you’re one of the ones hurting today… I see you. I see your brave face as you sit in the church seats while all of those babies are being dedicated. I see you breath in deeply and hold your head up to smile for a picture with your sister who has children. I see the wind get knocked out of you when you find out yet another friend, who wasn’t even trying, announces she is pregnant.  I see your eyes glisten when you watch a friend and her 65 year old mom grabbing lunch and pedicures… and it has been months, or maybe years, since you’ve heard your mother’s voice. I see you reach for your tissues when you see a young man who looks just like your son did before he unexpectedly passed away. I see you. I’ve prayed for you multiple times today. Through tears I have asked that the Lord meet you wherever you are. Whether you’ve buried your baby, or buried your Mama. There is nothing quite like the pain of aching arms longing to hold a child or to be held by a mother.

God is with you. It may not feel like it. But He is. I pray that you would feel His presence and know His peace. That in your pain, and possibly anger… you would learn to lean into Him. Knowing He will not waste your pain.

One day there will be no more pain and no more tears. And everything will be made perfect and whole. In your grief, let your pain compel you to long for Heaven for which you were made. Where the broken will become unbroken, and your aching arms will ache no more.

The Frailty Of Human Love.

Crap. I thought to myself. I need three cups of flour and I only have two. It was 1:00 this morning and I was baking Valentine M&M cookie bars for the kids’ lunches today. I wasn’t going to the store because of one cup of flour. I had already mixed together the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and two sticks of room-temperature butter. I was too far in to back out. So, I took a scoop of the pre-floured goop out, crossed my fingers, and hoped the mixtures would even out and bake properly.

While my cookie bars were baking, I finished setting up the kitchen table for this morning. Cute little decorative plates, a vase of tulips, a smattering of pink, silver, and red Hershey’s kisses, little mailboxes for each kid with their favorite candy inside, and little wooden paint sets (Target dollar spot never disappoints). Finished with a cake plate of freshly baked muffins and store-bought chocolate Valentine’s donuts, and handwritten note cards to each of my babies. It was late, I was still in my scrubs from a busy day at work, but I loved looking at my decorated table. It took quite a bit of work, but it is so worth it to see my kids’ faces in the morning. It felt like Christmas Eve all over again!

Why go all out for Valentine’s? Of course, I want them to know how much they are loved. But if there is one thing I want to teach my kids about Valentine’s Day, this is it:

“God allows us to feel the frailty of human love so we’ll appreciate the strength of His.” -C.S. Lewis

Think about it. One portion of the population is all about roses, rings, and chocolates. Then there are parents running around looking for that blessed box of Star Wars cards with glow stick light sabers in them that little Timmy HAS to have. And not just one box, he needs two. Because his class has 20 students in it and there are only 18 cards in a box. FOR THE LOVE!!! And then another portion of the population just wishes it was the 15th already.

We all have reasons we love, tolerate, or hate Valentine’s. And I’m willing to bet, many of those reasons are other humans.

Maybe this is a good year for you. Maybe you have a boyfriend on Valentine’s Day for the first time, or maybe the first time since whatshisname broke your heart a few years ago. Maybe you received a bouquet of roses at work today, and your dinner plans included candlelight and wine.

Or maybe this isn’t a good year. Maybe Valentine’s just reminds you of just how lonely you are. Maybe it stings to log on to social media and see all the gushy posts about “I’m married to my best friend and soul mate and I would die for him!” while you’re *still* single. Maybe it hurts to see pictures of Father-Daughter dances because you never got to experience that with your dad- maybe he wasn’t around, or- maybe he was, but emotionally and verbally abused you, and otherwise completely ignored you. Maybe your spouse left you. Maybe you’re happily married, but your significant other doesn’t do anything to make you feel important on days like today, so you steel yourself and put on a front and “Oh I just don’t even care about Valentine’s Day, it’s just a commercialized Hallmark holiday that people just waste too much money on. Really, it’s stupid. I would rather pluck my eyelashes out one by one.” (Calm down Susan). But really, there’s a part of you that really, really hopes there will be flowers when you get home… even though you know there won’t be.

The last thing I did before crawling into bed at 2 this morning was cut out red, white, and pink hearts. On each heart I wrote a Bible verse about love. And then I placed them on the wall next to the table in the pattern of a cross.

The Bible says that God “has set eternity in man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) What that means is there is a God-shaped void in every human heart. Every human has a longing for God- but we all fill that longing with other things. Often times these are good things. But if we keep filling a God-shaped longing with other things, that longing will never be satisfied. And those things have a nasty way of dictating our self-worth.

So, the cross shape on my kitchen wall and the verses on each heart are significant. Because even though I want my kids to know how much I love them, I’m also going to fail them. A lot. I want to point them toward the One who will never fail them, leave them, or forsake them (Deuteronomy 31:6). I want their hearts to stay steadfast in assurance of the love God has for them- that He loved them while they were yet sinners and had nothing to offer Him. He saw every dirty and nasty sin they could ever commit, and He said they were worth dying for. He sent His Son to live a perfect life that they could never live, to pay a debt they could never pay. And He did that because He loves them. He did that because He loves YOU.

Having a date on Valentine’s is wonderful. Sending your daughter with her daddy to a dance is precious. There’s nothing wrong with flowers and cards and candy. But ultimately, where are your longings for love being directed? Are you filling that God-shaped hole in your heart with other things, and other people? From my own experience, the more I fill that longing in my heart with God, the less I fill it with other things and other people.

Filling your heart with what God says about you will be an anchor for your self-worth, so no matter how you experience the frailty of human love, your soul will find rest in God alone and in the strength of His love for you.

It’s Time To Move.

February 2nd is a hard day for me. She didn’t pass away for 12 more days, but the 2nd is the day I found out she wasn’t doing well, and didn’t have long.

For me, this day is actually harder than the day she passed away. I relive exactly where I was and what I was doing when I found out… the confusion and shock followed by gut-wrenching sobs. Then the frantic gathering of my things- hair still wet, no make-up, no shoes, as I calmed myself just enough to press a quick kiss onto my then-three year old’s forehead before running out the door. I flew down Falls of Neuse Road, driving like a bat out of hell- weaving and passing in turn lanes and running lights. I was only six miles from Duke Raleigh Hospital, but it felt like an eternity getting there in the middle of lunch time traffic in Raleigh. My mom was dying.

I ran into the waiting room, and the front desk could tell by my face exactly who I was there to see. My sister appeared, her red nose and splotchy face giving away what her older sister brave face was trying to protect me from. I followed her to the back, and saw my mom curled in a ball on a gurney, her frail frame looking more like a 12 year old than a 61 year old. I curled up right next to her, getting as close as I could, tears soaking her pillow. Weak and barely able to speak, she quietly said, “Oh honey…”

Once my brother arrived, I excused myself. I couldn’t watch him fall apart, and I couldn’t watch her trying to comfort him. He was always the favorite… the bond between him and my mom was unmistakable. Just seeing her looking up at him was enough to drive a stake through your heart.

They moved her to a private room at the hospital, and the pain meds began to work. She was able to sit up, cuddle with her two grandbabies, and entertain an endless stream of visitors. She received a call from her nephew that his son had been born, named after her beloved grandfather. She faded in and out of sleep for two days, but managed to keep us laughing. My favorite story was when she went to the bathroom to “take a shower”, turned the water on, and suddenly we smelled cigarette smoke. I went and found the nurse, because what else do you do when your dying-but-stubborn mother lights up in the hospital?? The nurse looked me in the eyes, smiled, and said “Honey, she doesn’t have much longer. I ain’t about to tell her to stop now.” And I watched in amazement as the nurse knocked on the door and called out, “Ms. Marcia? You may want to put a few towels at the crack under the door so your shower steam doesn’t get out.” Followed by a surprised, “Thank you” from my mother. I swear she got away with everything.

Those two days were filled with friends and family, and visits from mom’s lawyer, signing the power of attorney papers, and making decisions about hospice care. We began the 12 days of saying goodbye and letting our sweet and stubborn mother go.

I was 26. I was too young to lose my mom. We had only just begun to heal from many painful years of estrangement. All of my teen years and the beginning of my twenties, I held on so tightly to the ways I felt she was wrong, and the things she did that I didn’t agree with. I wasn’t able to process them maturely and allow her to just be herself, agree to disagree, and not let it affect our relationship. Finally, after having my first baby, I realized how much I needed her. By the time I had my second, she had become my on-call doctor, my seasoned counselor, and my comedy relief. My love for my children showed me my mother’s fierce love for me and my siblings… and broke down my guarded walls as I realized that a mom can mess up, but still be a good mom.

I can’t get those lost years back. I wish I had known then, what I know now. That messing up and making mistakes doesn’t make you a bad mom. It makes you human. I have wept in sorrow over my judgemental years and how the plank in my own eye caused me to miss out on so much. But like the good mom she was, she loved me when I loved her least. Once I let her back into my life, she never held how I handled things against me. She acted as though it had ever happened. Her ever-present love was the forgiveness I never knew I needed.

How about you? Are there lost years? Maybe not with your mom, but perhaps someone else? Dear one, you never know when you will get that call. I never expected my mom to die at 61- and she had had cancer for 17 months. I am forever grateful to the Lord for softening my heart so I could have those three short, but precious years before she died.

But we don’t always get those chances. Don’t wait for that person to apologize, or apologize the exact way you want. Often times when we dig our heels in and want God to move someone else, He is waiting on you to move. To first, get that plank out of your eye, and then move toward forgiveness and healing. You may never get an apology… but you don’t need one to offer forgiveness. Don’t let your bitterness and stubbornness eat you alive and steal your joy, and rob you of precious years.

Make the move. Today. The enemy doesn’t want you to. He wants you to stay comfortable in your misery and indignation, and remind you of all the ways you have been wronged that the other person needs to right. Don’t wait. If you do, it could be too late. I know it’s hard. Forgiveness is costly. It’s costs you your right to be the judge. When you have a hard time forgiving, look to the cross. It was costly for Christ. But He willingly was beaten and nailed to a cross, to die a sinner’s death that He didn’t deserve… all to bring you to God. You were worth it to Him.

If you believe that, and you have been forgiven of much… then you have the power to forgive much. The more you see what all you have been given grace for instead of punishment, the more you are able to extend grace to those who sin against you. If you are struggling, know that you can ask God to soften your heart. Forgiving doesn’t make what that person did okay. Forgiveness simply takes the burden of being the judgment-bearer off of you, and rightly places it on God.

Don’t lose one more minute. Whenever your February 2nd happens, you will be eternally grateful that God softened your heart.

Because He Loves Us.

I got my first tattoo a year ago. I had decided a few months prior that I wanted to get the outline of North Carolina, my home state. I had to build up my courage to actually go and get it (you can read about the ridiculous debacle here, if you dare). I was going through some pretty painful things, emotionally speaking, and distinctly remember thinking, “I’m going to get my tattoo this weekend. I’m actually welcoming the physical pain.”

That likely sounds crazy. But I think the reason I wanted to experience that physical pain is because I knew it would hurt like crap, but then it would be over. And it wouldn’t hurt anymore.

Emotional pain isn’t like that. It hurts, then hurts some more, then weaves its way into every other area of your life. It can threaten to swallow you whole… and you wish it would. But it doesn’t. It just keeps hurting, and it’s a feeling that won’t end. You go to bed with it, sleep restlessly because of it, and wake up with it right in your face.

Maybe you’re in that season. Maybe it’s not like Winter or Summer, that only last three months each. Maybe this is a season that doesn’t feel like a “season” at all… but more like a life sentence. There are countless reasons you may find yourself in pain, left feeling like you’re in the dark, not knowing which way is up, or which way is out.

I read a Bible story with my kids every night. A few weeks ago, one of the questions at the end was, “Why does God let bad things happen to His people?” My 8-year-old son answered, “Because He loves us.”

Now, I don’t know if he just misheard me, or if what I’ve been teaching him is actually clicking. But I. was. floored.

His answer doesn’t seem right, does it? It actually is.

When we think of “good”, we naturally think of happy things, pleasing things. Things that are of gain, advancement, approval. But what is our standard of “good”? If you are a believer in Christ, then your definition of good should be “God”.  Myrna Alexander writes about some of the attributes of God in her book, Behold Your God. Here is an excerpt from her book from the fifth chapter; God is Good:

“When Scripture proclaims, ‘God is good’ (Nahum 1:7; Psalms 25:8; 86:5; 119:69), the absolute declaration being made is that God is the source of all goodness in the universe. Therefore, good cannot be found apart from God.

Because God is absolute good, He has never done nor can He ever do one thing to you that is not good. God also cannot change, and so has never been more or less good to you than He is right now.”

If you are a believer in Christ, then you know that God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

You may be wondering, “If God works ALL things for my good, then how can my infertility be for my good? My job loss? My son’s drug addiction? My mom’s cancer?”

Believer, if you believe that the definition of good is “God”, then here is your answer:

Anything that makes you more like Christ is good.

If your infertility drops you to your knees to cry out to God and in doing so, you draw near to God… that is good.

If losing your job makes you pick up your Bible and lean on Christ through prayer and tears… that is good.

If your son’s drug addiction makes you constantly come to the Lord, praying protection over your son and deliverance from his addiction, and asking God to guide you and give you peace in the process.. that is good.

If your mom’s cancer diagnosis breaks you to the point where you give up and tell God you don’t know how to handle this, and causes you to cling to Him for peace and hope… that is good.

My pastor was preaching on Jonah back in June. Brian stated that God uses two methods to draw believers to Himself. Theology and affliction. First, He uses theology. When that doesn’t get our attention, He allows the painful circumstances. But His sovereignty in our storms is always directed at a purpose: to break down our self-reliance. To draw us near to Himself.

I just read an article from The Gospel Coalition this week by Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic.  She said a Bible study friend of hers from the 70s said ten words that set the course for her life:

“God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”

The article continues, “God hated the torture, injustice, and treason that led to the crucifixion. Yet He permitted it so that the world’s worst murder could become the world’s only salvation.”

Friend, understand this: God hates your infertility. He hates all the crap you have to go through while trying to bring new, precious life into this world. God hates that you are in financial distress and are fearful of how you’ll pay your mortgage and provide for your family. God hates that your son has a drug addiction. God hates cancer. Yet, He is permitting it for the sake of Christ in you. To draw you close to Himself.

Yes, God allows bad things to happen to His people because He loves them.

It hurts God to see His people in pain. But, I’m going to say something that you may not like. God is not for your happiness. He’s not. I have not seen a single verse in all of the Bible in the years I have been reading it where God says He is for your happiness. No, He is for your joy. Happiness is circumstantial, but joy can be yours in the darkest hours of your life (James 1:2, Romans 5:3-5) and produces perseverance, character, and hope in Christ. Steward your pain well, knowing it is not in vain.

This world is broken.. our lives are filled with hurt. Sometimes God moves mountains… and sometimes He makes mountains unmoveable (my life song right now is “Even If” by Mercy Me… have a listen if you are going through pain right now). Let your pain compel you to the feet of Christ, knowing He is for your good (Christ in you!). Know that Jesus is the Light of the world, and whoever walks with Him will never walk in darkness (John 8:12). Cling to the Lord and yearn for the hope of Heaven, where one day all the brokenness will become unbroken.

 

His Good Heart.

I have been a stay-at-home mom for over nine years. My babiest baby is not even two yet. I had zero plans of changing my at-home status until she was in Kindergarten four years from now. Even then, I would look for a part-time gig.

Things change. God opens and closes doors at will, and we can either resist or follow. Following doesn’t always mean glitter and gold… in fact it can downright suck. But there is purpose in the suckage.

The second-to-last week of August, we moved into an apartment (after owning a home for 7 years, this has been interesting to say the least). The next week, I walked my second and fourth graders into their classes. The week after that I walked my pre-K and toddler into their preschool classes. The week after that, I suited up in my old faithful scrubs, donned a mask, picked up a scaler, and was launched back into the working world as a full-time orthodontic assistant. Just like that, I went from being home 24/7, to being gone until 5:30 every day.

I love orthodontics and love assisting. I was trained on the job as a measly 18 year old, fresh out of high school in 2003. I worked at this office for four years, until I had my first baby, and stayed home after that. I filled in here and there for a while, but home was my calling. This summer, when it became evident that going back to work was the next stage in my life, I immediately got in touch with my former boss. I didn’t want to be away from my babies. But if I had to, then I had to love my job. There was no other way. I was hired back immediately, welcomed by my boss, a new boss, and an entire staff eager to have me working with them again. I won’t go into all the details, but it was very clear this was exactly where God wanted me. I tear up any time I think of it. I love LOVE my job.

But its not all sunshine and butterflies. My job is fantastic. But I am struggling in so many areas. I am used to being on top of things, over-preparing in advance, and moving at my own pace. Now, life is mostly dictated by a clock (and traffic. Raleigh drivers, get your crap together). There aren’t enough seconds in a minute, hours in a day, or ounces in a coffee cup.

The hardest part? The mom-guilt. In no way have I ever looked down on or judged a working mom. But myself? Well, I guess it’s true that we are our own worst critics.

On Thursday morning, I had a 7:40 conference with my son’s teacher. His teacher and I hadn’t really clicked yet. Which I, of course, internalize and blame myself for. If I wasn’t working, I would be more involved with his class instead of just hastily initialing his weekly behavior sheet and clipping Box Tops. I knew I needed to be up front with his teacher from the get-go of the conference. I owed it to her, to myself. Within two minutes I broke down in tears and apologized. She thought I was apologizing for throwing a take-home-reader book away (#ihaveitalltogether #allthetime) and tried to encourage me that it was no big deal. I sucked in my breath and squeaked out, “No. Not that. Well, yes, I am sorry for that. But that’s not what’s going on.” She waited patiently and let me lose it for a minute. I shared with her a few things, none of the least of these, were my failings as a mother. I had never been away from my kids, and am struggling. Struggling with being away, with not being able to stay on them and their assignments, not being intentional with reading, not being involved with class, not knowing the kids they talk about. My life has been thrown into overdrive, and I get home and after I smooch all over my kids and hear three excited stories and one excited jibber jabber, all at the same time… I begin dinner. While dinner cooks, I’m prepping four lunches for the next day. In the middle of slicing strawberries, I’m signing permission slips and behavior charts, writing notes to a math teacher, reading through paperwork, throwing books away by accident, forgetting to pay for school photos, forgetting water bottles, burning the (frozen) pizza, all while holding my baby who doesn’t want to be put down and listening to a fifteen minute shpeal on a Wax Museum Project and asking my son if he read to his nanny, and getting my four year old out of the Halloween candy at the top of the pantry, and stepping on goldfish (internally screaming as I type this by the way), suddenly smelling a poopy diaper, breaking up an argument, sending kids to get their pjs on… then dinner. Then clean up. Then bed time. I’m trying to balance a very busy job, errands, chores, the gym, relaxing, and being with my babies. I told my son’s teacher that I feel like I am failing as a mother. In every. single. way. Not being home is ruining my kids for the rest of their lives. Through tears and sniffles I told her, “I promise I’m a better mom than this. I promise I’m not this horrible of a mother.”

Mrs. G was so gracious. As I went through eighty-seven of her Finding Dory tissues, she encouraged me and told me that I was doing the best that I can, she understood.. and was ready and willing to help on her side of things in any way I needed. We proceeded to the actual conference, instead of my therapy session. Levi was doing extremely well in math, which didn’t really surprise me. Math clicks with him (he did not inherit that from me). But the reading that I was sure was spiraling downward because of my absence… he is already at the level 2nd graders need to be at by the end of the year. I was further surprised when his teacher told me that he gets taken out of class with a few other students in the grade to be in what they call a “Book Club”. That’s the PC way of saying he’s in an advanced reading group. I was floored. Utterly floored. I had no idea. His reading log is crumpled up at the bottom of his backpack, and I don’t remember the last time he wrote an entry (never mind that he’s supposed to log it every single night).

We were wrapping up the conference when his teacher closed her notes. She said she wanted to tell me something else. An unnamed boy in the class had recently been identified on the autism spectrum. He had been struggling. But Levi… my sweet boy. Mrs. G informed me that Levi talks with this boy all the time (mostly about Pokemon), doesn’t ever seem to notice a difference about this boy, and sits with him every day at lunch- that the boy always saves him a seat. She wanted me to know that Levi’s character was amazing and it was obvious that whatever he was being shown or taught at home was making an impact on him.

You guessed it. I cried like a baby.

Suddenly, his math scores and reading level didn’t seem to matter. My son befriended a boy who many would label “different”. My son intentionally spends time with him and loves him like Jesus does. Every single day. I sat Levi down later when I had some time. I told him that I was proud of how well he was doing in school, and asked him why I didn’t know about the Book Club. Then I grabbed him in my arms and looked into his huge blue eyes,  and I told him I knew about his special friendship. He didn’t seem to think it was a big deal (which, actually, I’m glad about)… but I told him that though I was glad he was smart and works hard, nothing made me prouder than knowing he was loving others and showing them Jesus. I didn’t care if he was the smartest boy in his class, or if he had to repeat second grade- the most important thing was loving others well. That that was enough. He was enough.

I was so thankful for that conference with his teacher. Beyond academics, I needed that conference for my soul. It was encouragement I didn’t foresee, and certainly struggled accepting. I beat myself up constantly for not being able to do it all. I’m in a season of my life where just about nothing is in my control. And a lot of the time- it is dark for me. I’m trying to balance my priorities- which, FYI- dishes are low on that totem pole now. I’m trying to keep up, and most days I feel like I am absolutely drowning.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. Other than to share that I’m struggling. Maybe someone else needs to know they aren’t alone with the balancing and the mom guilt and the thoughts that they are ruining their kids’ lives. My facebook would probably make people assume that everything is hunky-dory. Dressing up as a hotdog and dancing around Target, or riding a bike with a unicorn helmet and life jacket on around the store, or chasing people with a light saber and a Ninjago mask on… it looks fun. And it is fun. But it’s not an entirely accurate picture of my life right now.

A more accurate picture would be if you followed me into Harris Teeter Friday afternoon with all four of my kids. One screaming that she wants to walk as I push her through the entire store, one asking incessantly if we can get this, and get that, and get those, and get this, and and and and (internally screaming again), one telling me every food he hates as we walk past them (which is about 98.6% of the store), and the four year old disappearing and climbing into shelves of toilet paper, touching every product at her level, running away, reappearing with apples she has already taken bites out of, the food-hater pressing the call button at the butcher counter over and over as I’m getting onto the apple eater for apple eating before apple buying. The baby screams when she sees food she wants (why did I go to the store at 4:30. That’s an amateur move, Emily). Everyone wants a different colored apple. We’ve lost a paci, so now we backtrack through the store because that stupid paci was $18 (it is a pink giraffe wubanub. It made sense when I was sleep-deprived.) and I refuse to lose that thing. We go to check out, and I forget a few items. But they are on the other side of the store so SCREW THAT. I made the mistake of going to self-checkout. Not only am I keeping up with four children, I am now arguing with a machine about my item in the bagging area.

Just when I’m about to snap, this older mom and her mother walk past me. I had seen them several times throughout the store. As they were heading out and I was shoving dollar bills into the machine, I hear, “You’re doing a great job”. And a kind smile offered by both women toward me.

You guessed it. I cried like a baby.

So. Here I am. Being honest with you about my struggle. My struggle of not being enough. My struggle of failing miserably as a mom, even as a person in general. I don’t have much to offer in advice right now. But if you’re struggling, just know you’re not alone. If the happy-go-lucky lady dancing in the hot dog suit is struggling, you’re allowed to struggle, too. I imagine you’re at the end of your rope. Struggling to keep your head above water.

The good news, and what I cling to- is that God is with you. A few weeks ago my pastor said something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. That you can trust God’s good heart when you can’t see His good hand. There are times we struggle or suffer, times we are in the dark and are hurting. We can’t see God’s good hand in the situation. But we know God and we know He is a good God- that He works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He loves us so much.. so much that He gave His only Son as a ransom for our souls. If He spared not His own Son to show us how much He loves us- we can trust His good heart when we can’t see His good hand.