Category Archives: Grace

Compelled By Love & Shaken Free

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At this time in 2007, only 7 little years ago, my family had just taken a huge, scary plunge of faith. After thinking about it and praying about it and talking about it every which we way we could, we finally just did it. Patrick quit his job so we could work full-time with an international missions organization.

We’d raised some support, but not enough. We didn’t know for sure how we’d make our house payments. But detail after detail had lined up and prayers had been answered, and we just knew it was time to go all in. So he quit his job and we put all our time into calling and writing and visiting churches and getting our house ready to sell and packing up everything we owned.

During those months, a lot of people wondered why. Why would a man with six little kids quit a good-paying job? Why would we leave the community we loved? Why would we subject ourselves to poverty to do this? Why would we leave our network of support? Really, truly, I think many people wondered if we’d up and lost our minds.

The answer we gave then, and the only answer I can still summon, is we felt compelled by the love of Jesus. Patrick and I grew up in loving families, in the church, in relative comfort. We had each had little tastes of hardship, but nothing earth-shattering. We had been blessed with such advantage. And we knew from our own travels and from the stories of our friends that so many people in the world have not known the blessings we have known. Weighing especially heavy on our hearts were the stories of people who live feeling enslaved to and frightened of the spirits their culture worships. So many of these people live in constant terror and horrible oppression. We and our friends have heard their stories first-hand. And Patrick and I felt our hearts stretched and pulled to help these people experience the joy and freedom that can come from knowing Jesus.

And so we went. Though we had hoped to go somewhere far, far away and foreign, God aligned circumstances so that we only went so far as Florida. There, we lived in an apartment on the mission property and worked in the communications department of the home office, partnering with more than 3,000 missionaries around the world.

Our four years there were wonderful and awful and sweet and sad and everything good and everything bad all rolled up. We were disillusioned and encouraged and broken down and built up. Though we had traveled to foreign countries, it was our time there in Florida, living outside the Bible belt and among people who did not grow up in the protective casing of a church-going, Christian home, that truly expanded our view of the world and, really, our view of God Himself. Separately and together, Patrick and I found ourselves in conversations that challenged us to examine our beliefs and hold tightly only to the very core essentials, loosening our grasp on the things that were mere traditions and preferences.

As we were deeply hurt by believers, our co-missionaries, who held their pride and their right to be right more strongly than they held love, we grew angry. And then, layer by layer, God’s Spirit pointed out to my heart the ways I was guilty of the very same thing.

During our four years in Florida, we were completely shaken from every sense of security. In the very beginning, we had no strong friendships, no church family, no financial security. Then Patrick got very sick and almost died, and we spent more than a year facing a very uncertain future and praying for miracles and hoping for life and time. And I am not, by nature, a risk-taker, and I really don’t like heights. And for the last half of our time in Florida, I felt like our family  was walking on a very thin, very high bridge without a harness or safety net. Most of the time, I was either setting my focus on Jesus and clinging tightly to Him or I was nearly hyperventilating and feeling like my foot was about to slip off the bridge at any second and trying to remember to have faith.

And then, three years ago, as our fourth year in Florida was beginning to wind down, we wrestled with whether or not we should stay. Ironically, the decision we made because we felt compelled to make a difference in the world had taken us to a community of people who already knew Jesus. We knew people from church and Bible study and the mission organization. Those were our circles, for the most part. Though we certainly tried to show love and light to the homeless people in our neighborhood and the doctors and nurses we met and the people we communicated with through social media, our personal interactions with people outside our circles were limited — because of our finances, because of Patrick’s health, because we spent so much time in survival mode. We did not doubt that our work was important for our missionary partners in foreign countries, but we were no longer convinced that our service there was the best way to respond to the pull we felt on our hearts.

Add to all of that some serious misgivings about some situations involving our children and some major personality clashes with some of our co-missionaries, and we ultimately felt released from our work there and urged to move on to the next thing.

When we packed up for Florida in 2007, we were compelled to get a message of good news to people who were living in fear and holding tightly to traditions and beliefs that oppressed them and narrowed their world. We felt sorrow for these people who were afraid and who were performing to appease their spirits. As we packed to leave Florida in 2011, we realized that God had used our time there to free us from so many fears and to show us how we held tightly to traditions and beliefs and preferences that oppressed us and narrowed our world. He showed us how we often thought we could appease Him or please Him by performing the Christian act. He shook us from false senses of security. And He brought us to the freedom in Jesus that we thought we were going to show others.

Those lessons did not come easily. Like I said, it was awful and good and hard and sweet and sometimes dark and sometimes lonely and beautiful and scary and painful. But as we loaded up our stuff and headed back to Virginia, we came compelled by the love of Jesus to offer our light and love and service to our people here. And He has expanded our circles so very much! Sometimes I just cannot believe the wide circle of people God has given us to love and offer hope to! Three big public schools full of teachers and students, soccer teams, basketball teams, cheerleading squads, neighborhoods, a church full of teenagers and children, so many friends on Facebook and Twitter and this blog, rooms full of moms needing any bit of light and hope I can hold out, and on and on. So many people. And now I can truly offer a message of freedom and grace and love because I have been shaken free from all the other stuff; and when I try to grab back hold of it all, He gently shakes me free again. All I have to offer now is Jesus and His great love and mercy. This is all I know, and I am compelled by love to tell you.

If God urges you to take a giant plunge of faith, let me encourage you to do it. Take big risks for the sake of love. If He places a passion in your heart, pursue it. And if it seems like everything is falling apart, hang on. He may just be shaking off the traditions and fears and false securities you are holding onto so that you can hold onto only Jesus and His love and mercy.

Getting rid of the expectation of perfection

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When I notice an underlying grouchiness in my spirit, a tendency to criticize all the people around me, that feeling that I can barely stand to be around anyone – then I know it’s time for me to do a little attitude-adjusting.

Lately, I’ve been feeling bristly. My kids have been accusing me of being too critical; they feel they can’t do anything right. They are bickering, fussing, pointing out each other’s every mistake. Sometimes I’m a little slow on the uptake because it just dawned on me this morning that they are nit-picking and tattling and criticizing because of the tone I am setting in our home. Oh, I know – they can behave that way all on their own with no help from me. Trust me! I know that. But negativity and criticism are contagious, and I’m afraid I am the one who started spreading it.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been a bit stingy with grace. Or rather – maybe I’ve been a bit lazy with actual instruction and guidance. So it felt like I was giving lots of grace and then their disobedience and arguing and sloppiness and disrespect piled on and piled on until I lost it. Sometimes this process took a couple hours or an entire afternoon, and sometimes it took fifteen minutes of spiraling out of control. As it turns out, ignoring bad behavior or horrible attitudes — hiding in my room to sip coffee and nibble on dark chocolate while reading a novel, pretending I don’t have six children — is not a feasible long-term parenting strategy. It’s also not grace.

Instead of patiently and methodically and gently teaching my children, I’ve expected perfect behavior. And then I’ve lost my ever-lovin’ mind when they haven’t delivered.

For some reason, I got it in my head that because I have told them their whole lives to handle conflict by kindly speaking to the person and then calmly coming to me if that doesn’t work, I expect they will always handle conflict this way. Because I always handle conflict in a calm, level-headed way. Right? Ha!

I want them to do their chores with no reminders and not ever forget to plug their phones in my room at bedtime. Yet I get busy and forget to pay a bill, and by December I’ll forget to sign a homework agenda several times a week! And, trust me, my kids are old enough to know I’m not perfect. And they are old enough to resent my double standards.

When I expect perfection from my children, I rob our relationship of joy. You see, nothing can kill a relationship like the expectation of perfection. And, more than anything else, I want authentic relationships with my kids. Every time I hold up perfection as the standard and withhold grace, I sabotage my true happiness, my true joy in knowing and loving my children.

When I expect perfection, my children feel the need to hide and guard entire parts of themselves for fear of my criticism. But when I create an atmosphere of grace, my kids feel safe to be themselves in my presence.

So this morning, I am praying for grace to wash over me and fill up every crevice of my dry, crusty, critical heart. I want to soak in grace so that I can pour out grace, so that I can re-set the tone in my home.

 

My Heart Knows

originally posted in December 2011. 

Last night, I was singing to this boy, Jackson, at bedtime. I don’t often sing to them at bedtime any more.
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Sometimes we read. We hug and kiss. And we pray. Always, we pray. But I don’t often hold them and rock them and sing to them as I did when they were smaller.

But last night I did. I sang You Are My Sunshine and Jesus Loves Me.

And then I started in on Te-ell me why the stars do shine. Tell me why the ivy twines. Tell me why the ocean’s blue. And I will tell you just why I love you. 

Jackson leaned in closer against me and started humming along, singing a word every line or two. As I finished, I do be-lee-eve that God above created you for me to love. He picked you out from all the rest. Because God made you, I lo-ove you best, Jackson sighed and smiled up at me.

My heart knows that song, but my brain doesn’t know all the words, he said.

Tears sprang to my eyes. All the nights of holding a baby Jackson, whisper-singing that song to his tiny ears. All the nights of standing over a crib, patting his back, hushing his cries with this song. The naptimes I held his chubby toddler body and sang about God making the blue ocean and the climbing, twining ivy. The nights I cuddled in next to his preschool body, worn out from running and climbing and playing with his brothers, and I sang this song. All of that. All of it settled its way into his heart.

My heart knows that song, but my brain doesn’t know all the words.

Sometimes I feel that way about God. My heart, my soul responds to his song, but my brain doesn’t know all the words.

I see a beautiful sunset or the shadow of birds flying over a lake. I watch ducks bobbing along on the choppy water and feel the wind tickling my hair around my red cheeks. I sense His protection as that 18-wheeler swerves back into his own lane and the accident is narrowly averted. I sing that old hymn asking Him to bind my wandering heart to Him. I read a Psalm reminding me that I cannot flee from the Lord. I taste a juicy clementine. I see the redbuds blooming on the mountainside. I wake to my children’s giggles that turn to roaring laughter.

And my heart leans in closer to Him. Snuggles up against His side. And I hum along, unable to put it all in words.

My brain may not comprehend it all. I can’t explain it all in logical, scientific words. I can’t even explain it all in long, multisyllabic theological words.

But my heart knows this song. My whole life, my Father has been singing over me. And His song has settled its way deep into my heart.

Some days or weeks or months, I rush about or busy myself or go my own way. I don’t slow down and take time to sit with Him and listen to Him or maybe I even avoid Him, preferring to do my own thing for a while.

But when I finally do stop and listen, my heart sighs and leans in to the familiar tune. My heart knows that song.

Do you hear it? Does your heart respond? Do you lean in a little bit closer to Him? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift of “Me Too!”

The more I learn about people and the more I learn about myself, the more I am convinced that one of our basic needs is to not feel alone. We are not meant to be alone. Not physically. Not emotionally.

In the dailyness, when I’m doggie-paddling and hoping to stay afloat, I long to hear a Me too!, to know I am not the only one. During moments of crisis and despair, I seek out the friend who says, Me too! I’ve been there, and I’m making it through. And her words wrap around me like a life jacket, hugging me tightly and keeping me afloat.

Are you sleep-deprived? Did you stumble out of bed, bleary-eyed, to lift a crying child from a crib or fix breakfast for the preschooler who rises with the dawn? Does your house look like the Fisher-Price factory exploded all over the place? Do you even remember the last time you ate hot food? That was me. For years and years, when I was in the thick of having babies and nursing babies and chasing toddlers. That was me. I’ve been there, and it’s hard and the days seem long, but I made it through. You are not alone, Momma.

Do you feel like the worst potty-trainer in the history of potty-training? Sister, you are not alone. And trust me on this one, if there were some sort of contest for this parenting skill, you would rank higher than I did. At some point in the middle of it all, I realized that one of my life’s purposes was to make every other mother feel better about her potty-training skills. But you know what? It’s all good. All of my children have complete bathroom skills now, and we have no idea which of their school friends and soccer teammates were potty-trained a month or six months or even a year before mine were. Hang in there, Friend, you are not alone. 

Is your house a mess? Does cleaning house feel like trying to bail water with a teaspoon from a sinking ship? I have been there. Children can make messes faster than parents can clean up messes. It’s part of the law of thermodynamics or something. You may see staged Facebook photos of immaculate homes or peruse Pinterest ideas for organizing your clutter and feel as if you are the only person with piles of mail on the counter and crumbs around the table and an entire Little People zoo overtaking your living room. But believe me, you are not alone. 

Do you have a baby who won’t gain weight? A toddler with a developmental delay? A precocious preschooler? A child who can’t read yet? A child whose temper erupts spewing the hot lava of ugly words and broken toys and slammed doors all over your home? Are you struggling to parent a child who might be smarter than you are? Or a child who thinks she’s smarter than you are? Do you spend your late nights researching neurological disorders or medical conditions or curriculum options? Do you love your children more than a hundred-thousand delicious squares of Ghirardelli chocolate but wish they’d leave you alone long enough to enjoy just one square in the dark solitude of your closet? Oh, Friend, we are practically twins! 

If horribleness is raining down on you and your world is falling apart, let me hug you and -if you live close enough- offer you a casserole. I have been there. Me too, Sister! If all your dreams are coming true and life is sweet and the sun is shining, I have been there. Let me celebrate with you. Me too, Me too! If all your dreams are coming true, but it just feels blah and you feel guilty for not feeling more grateful, for not feeling more joy, then hear me say, Me too, Friend.  I have been there as well.

And whatever it is that you are feeling or wrestling with or wallowing in or hiding from or bravely conquering, if I haven’t been there, I’ve probably been close-by. Or I probably know someone who has been there. And you probably do too. You are not alone. Actually, someone you know is probably feeling or wrestling or wallowing or hiding or conquering or frantically doggie-paddling and is longing to hear your voice, your Me too! Me too! like a life jacket, wrapped tightly, hugging her above the waves.

One of the best things – the kindest, the most loving, the true-est things – we can offer each other is a Me too! Because none of us is made for being alone. And we need to know we aren’t.

 

Repurposed Pain ~ My Messy Beautiful

This essay is part of the Messy Beautiful Warrior Project. To learn more about this project, click HERE.  To learn more about Glennon Doyle Melton’s bestselling memoir, Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, click HERE

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No pain is ever wasted. Years ago, one of my mentors told me the story of losing an infant son. She said one of her friends had told her those words as they wept and grieved together. God never wastes a thing. He won’t waste your pain. And He didn’t. Again and again, throughout the years, this woman comforted and encouraged grieving young mommas with an empathy born only of enduring a similar pain.

I never forgot that story. And in my hardest, most trying days and weeks and months, I have remembered those words. That promise – God won’t waste this. God won’t waste this. God never wastes a thing. – has reverberated through my soul, weaving a web that holds me together even if everything around me seems to be falling apart.

The messes of life, the hard, hard times, the things we would never in a million, jillion years choose to endure – those messes can transform into amazing beauty when, later, we receive an opportunity to help or encourage someone going through a similar mess.

Five years ago, my husband nearly died when his heart decided to go a little berserk. What an emotional earthquake that was! For a couple years, the medical battle was intense. The hospital stays and expensive diagnostic tests, the information overload, the medication and surgeries – all of it was frightening and formidable. But the emotional battle was even worse. My young, strong, seemingly healthy husband suddenly confronted his own mortality. This independent, active man abruptly became dependent and unable to do most of the things he had always done. He was angry and depressed — understandably so, but still anger and depression are not much fun to live with. I shouldered the burden of extra work and extra care-taking and quickly grew exhausted and gradually grew resentful. Resentment isn’t exactly fun to live with either. Or so I’ve heard. His emotions, my emotions, the children’s emotions, the fear and stress and constant presence of the potential for death. It was a mess!

A few weeks ago, a friend’s husband had a stroke. And just like that, the emotional earthquake shook their lives. Rocked their world. Through a quickly-typed Facebook message, I shone my little light into the debris. My friend crawled to that light. And our shared pain yoked us together, my friend and I. Kindred spirits. Warrior wives. God never wastes a thing. My pain, my mess, beautifully recycled into hope. No pain is ever wasted. The other day my sweet friend wrote, “Thank you for going through this before me.” Well, it was not my pleasure. That’s for sure! But knowing that my messy dark days have been repurposed into a beautiful comfort for her – well, that is a pleasure, a strange kind of joy deep in my soul. None of it was wasted.

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Today, I’m typing this from a hospital room. Yesterday, my Silas, my 11-year-old boy, tried to go sledding down our basement stairs in a giant cardboard box. Because somehow in Boy World, that seems like a good idea. In the doctor’s words, “He broke the heck out of his arm.” What a mess! He snapped both bones in his forearm. One of the bones was an open fracture. Do not Google up pictures of open fractures. Trust me. You can’t un-see those images and you don’t want to hurl all over your laptop.

At midnight last night, some people in green scrubs and cloth shower caps wheeled my little guy into surgery so he could get some titanium rods inserted into his arm. I might have gotten three hours of sleep last night on the green, industrial, plastic couch in his room. My husband stretched out in the vinyl, floral print reclining chair. Relief from the pain medicine has come up just slightly short of the allowable dosing times. When Silas isn’t sleeping or engrossed in a television show, he is ranging from very uncomfortable to near-writhing in pain.

While Silas was getting a dose of morphine today, his friend Sierra was shopping for gifts for him. Two weeks ago, Sierra fell off a horse and broke her arm. In this same hospital, a doctor inserted rods into her arm and Sierra’s parents stretched out on this same vinyl furniture. Within the past 24 hours, Sierra’s mom has prayed for me and texted me, comforting and encouraging me with an empathy born only of enduring a similar pain. In that first text, she shone her light into our debris. And I crawled to the light. God never wastes a thing. No pain is ever wasted. Their mess has been beautifully transformed into a consoling help.

This is one of the cycles of life – we comfort others with the same comfort we ourselves have received. My mess metamorphoses into beautiful salve for someone else’s mess and pain, then her mess metamorphoses into beautiful salve for someone else’s mess and pain, and on and on and on. Beauty drawn from the midst of mess. A beautiful mess. A messy beautiful. No pain, no mess, is ever wasted. God never wastes a thing. He won’t waste your pain. Let this refrain reverberate through your soul, falling together and weaving a web that holds you together when your messy beautiful life seems to be falling apart.

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If they’d had Facebook, would Paul have unfriended Barnabas? (or Disagreements Among Christians)

Are you ready for the understatement of the year? Here it is — Sometimes Christians disagree with each other. As if you could spend any time on the internet and not realize that! Right?

We can read the exact same passage of scripture and pray over it and wrestle with it and come away with two (or three or four . . .) very different meanings. And I don’t claim to know how that happens. And the peacemaker middle children everywhere would probably much rather have God spell everything out exactly so there is nothing gray anywhere, then we’d all just get along already.

It’s not only our understanding of scripture that differs but our perspective and preferences and approach to life can also be quite diverse. Some of that can be chalked up to being at various points along the path of spiritual maturity, but some of it is simply because God doesn’t have one specific mold he presses His people from. We come from different places. We have different personalities. We have different passions and interests. We come at scripture from different backgrounds and with different mindsets.

Disagreements among Christians aren’t new. Believers have disagreed with each other ever since being a Christian became a thing. In the book of Acts in the Bible we can read about the very first followers of Jesus disagreeing with each other. You know, I love that the Bible isn’t a PR-spin for God showing the good and hiding the bad, but a book about real people with real quirks and warts and three-dimensional personalities. Sometimes those real people didn’t see eye to eye – which is refreshing and encouraging because I don’t always see eye to eye with every other Christian.

Early on, the first followers of Jesus were Jewish, and they thought the Church should reflect the Jewishness of Jesus (and themselves). These believers wanted new converts to be circumcised. Other believers reminded them that God was more concerned with a person’s heart than with his . . . you know. Some early believers wanted everyone to follow Jewish dietary laws. Others believed all food was fair game, so to speak, and people could eat what they wanted with freedom and a clear conscience.

Two early Christian leaders, Paul and Barnabas, even had a big argument about whether Mark could come with them on a mission trip. Paul thought Mark was an unreliable quitter; Barnabas wanted to show him mercy and give him a second chance. They had such a “sharp disagreement” that Paul took Silas and went one direction and Barnabas took Mark and went another. And the Bible doesn’t say who was right and who was wrong. It really doesn’t even seem to matter to God. He used Paul and his team and Barnabas and his team and got twice the work done in the same amount of time. Because God has that amazing way of using everything to bring good.

Sometimes, like in the case of the dietary laws and the circumcision issue, the early Church leaders met and talked it out and prayed it out and formed a compromise so as to protect and honor everyone’s backgrounds and preferences as much as possible. Sometimes God used men like Paul to encourage the people not to worry about who is right and who is wrong, but to focus on respecting each other and loving each other. He even advised the early believers who were right to give up their rights in order to better love others. It seems that being right about the nonessentials isn’t nearly as important to God as loving each other.

Paul, on authority from God, instructed those first Christians to stop judging each other in matters nonessential to the faith, to make every effort to get along, to be patient with the weaknesses and failures of others. He encouraged the believers to accept each other just as Christ accepted each of them. (Read Romans, chapters 13, 14, 15 for more on this.)

I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes I get caught up in debates. I want to be right, and I want to convince you that I am right. But when I read how those early Church leaders handled conflict and I read Paul’s advice, I want to do better. I want to be better. I want to remember that just as I am living out my beliefs to God, other Christians are living out their beliefs to God. We will all stand before God and answer for ourselves.

In the meantime, my job is to love my neighbor as myself and dress myself with Jesus — put on Jesus every day so it’s like I’m wearing Jesus, completely encapsulated in Jesus.

My job is to love, doing no harm to my neighbor. God’s job is to be God – to judge and to shake it all out for good.

The Grace Microwave ~ remix

When we moved to FL and crammed our 8-person family into an apartment surrounded by a bunch of other missionary families who were sometimes all up in our business, I quickly realized the beauty and humiliating pain of grace. In 2011, I wrote about it. 

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You know what’s the fast track for learning to live in grace? The microwave cooking version of learning grace? Living in an apartment building with a bunch of other missionaries. No, wait. Living in an apartment building with your children and a bunch of other missionaries.

Yeah, there’s no pretending. No putting on a show. It is what it is. You are what you are. And everyone sees. Or hears.

Shortly after we moved here, my girls were leaving their bedroom window open just a little. With no screen. It didn’t take long for the boys to discover this. And it took even less time for the boys to find great sport in tossing things from our third floor window to the bushes below. Legos, hair brushes, paperwads, Polly Pockets, the sisters’ panties.

I didn’t realize the boys were doing this until the girls looked out their window one day and spied their stuff, their embarrassing stuff, in the bushes. I don’t even know how many times I traipsed down three flights of stairs and around the building to retrieve army men and K’nex creations and American Girl doll shoes and embarrassing little girl underthings.

The boys also discovered tiny bubbles in the paint in the hallways of the building. Self-control is not the most natural character trait in most little boys — and certainly not in my boys. So they picked at the bubbles and peeled at the paint until we had a spot strangely resembling the state of Texas in our hallway. Yeah, there’s no hiding that.

When the fire alarm screams at midnight, there’s no pretense. We stand around outside with all of our co-workers in whatever we happen to be wearing at midnight.

If the children are asleep, I can hear my downstairs neighbor’s surround sound television. If my apartment is completely quiet, I can hear him sneeze. And you know what that means? He and his family can hear us. (Shudder!) Because I’m sure it’s quiet in their apartment a lot more often than it’s quiet in mine!

So when my boys run and jump and turn cartwheels and thump on the floor, the people downstairs hear them. And that very next second, when I shout, “Hey! No jumping! The people downstairs will think you’re falling through the ceiling!” Yeah, they hear that too.

When I completely lose it and go all DragonMomma and start breathing fire and smoking at the ears, the neighbors can hear that. People who don’t know me well often think I’m so patient and one of those have-it-all-together mothers. After living here for four years, I’m pretty sure nobody in my building believes those illusions of me.

When you live in a building like this, there’s no putting on the mask and playing perfect Christian family. There’s no way to pretend or act every hour of every day. Children behave like children; they make messes and noise and mistakes. And sometimes I am exhausted and out of patience and I react with lots of myself and very little Jesus.

And so I fall into grace. And there is something really freeing about not being able to pretend. I’ve had imperfect children and been an imperfect mother right in front of God and everyone, and the world hasn’t crashed down around us. Instead, grace abounds.

This living arrangement has been an intense tutor in my need for grace and in learning to give grace to others. (Because they aren’t perfect Christians either.)

We’ve also learned to fix windows so boys can’t throw their sisters’ panties into the bushes.

How about you? Have you ever been in the Grace Microwave?