Doing What Only I Can and Watching God Do More

Being a single mom is not an easy task. There are so many challenges that come with it. And so many different messages that are given about how to be a single mom.

I am blessed that my kids’ dad and I have chosen to co-parent. But on days when I’m solely responsible for the kids and I don’t have their father here to do the dad thing, it can be easy to buy into the idea that I need to be Dad too. I don’t want the kids to feel any lack when it comes to parental input. But the reality is, try as I might, I will never be able to fill the role of Dad. It’s not how I was created. And frankly, it’s exhausting to even try.

I am Mom (or Mommy or Mama, depending on the day or the mood)! That’s who I am. From the moment life was given to my babies, I became a mom, their mom. There are things that only I can impart to them. There are lessons that only I can teach. And there are conversations that only I can have.

But I’m often burdened with the idea that the kids are somehow lacking something in me–that I’m simply not enough. The fact of the matter is, I’m not enough and never have been.

When my kids were born and their dad and I were still together, it was easy to believe that between the two of us, we had everything covered. But the reality is, even then, there were gaps in our parenting. And back then, whether we realized it or not, it was just as essential to rely on the Holy Spirit to fill those gaps as it is now. Our shortcomings are highlighted by single parenting, not created by it.

And I guess that’s where I find myself–with more deficiencies than adequacies. The good news is God doesn’t want my self sufficiency. He wants my dependency. Second Corinthians 12:9 says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (ESV).

I’m reminded of the story of Jesus feeding five thousand with loaves and fish from a little boy (John 6:1-15). Andrew, the disciple who found the boy, said, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many? (v. 9, ESV, emphasis added). That’s often how I feel. Lord, what can you do with the little that I have to offer? But most of us would remember what happens next in the story. Jesus takes the boy’s meager offering and multiplies it to feed five thousand. And at the end of the meal, where everyone ate “…as much as they wanted” (v. 11), the disciples filled twelve baskets with what was leftover.

God isn’t looking for me to be able to do it all. He just wants me to do what only I can do, be the mom He created me to be. Then He will take my paltry contribution and do what only He can do–multiply it and make it more than enough.

There’s a line in an old song my mom used to sing, called “Ordinary People” (originally recorded by Danniebelle Hall) that captures this perfectly:
God uses people who will give Him all
No matter how small your all may seem to you
Because little becomes much
As you place it in the Master’s hand

A Lesson in Humility

I consider myself to be a pretty smart person. I’m no genius. But I like to think I have pretty good common sense and the ability to apply it properly. I also like to consider myself to be pretty wise. I don’t make decisions haphazardly. You can pretty much be assured that when I make a decision about something, I’ve considered all sides and thoroughly thought through my options. That’s why, when someone disagrees with me, I have a hard time accepting it. Enter co-parenting.

As their mother, I am used to having the loudest and most influential opinion about the welfare of my children. When I was married, my husband often deferred to my judgement when it came to things about the kids. It’s not that he didn’t care, he just knew I was down in the trenches with them more than he was and therefore had a better vantage point. But in the process of divorce and shared custody, he too has had to crawl down into the trenches with the kids.

And while I say I respect his opinion, I’m learning that I actually esteem his ideas as long as they are the same as mine. It’s hard, when I’ve considered all sides of a situation and come up with what I think is the best solution, to be challenged with a different viewpoint.

I find myself becoming indignant and judgmental, thinking that somehow I must love my kids more. After all, any one who would advocate for that idea must not love their kids as much as I do, obviously! Then that still, small voice rises up and asks, “Are you really upset that his suggestion is not what’s best for the kids or is it because he doesn’t agree with you?” Ouch!

As I think about my prideful attitude, I’m reminded of Proverbs 16:5: “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished” (ESV, emphasis added). What does it mean to be “arrogant in heart”? Well, I don’t know about you, but I know I can often display humility outwardly, but inwardly I am full of pride. I’ll say out loud, “Okay, if you don’t think that’s best, we can find another solution.” While inside I’m seething with anger at the opposition. But we must remember, “…the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7b ESV).

The word “abomination” means, “something regarded with disgust or hatred” (merriam-webster.com). I grew up hearing that word associated with sexual sin. I don’t remember anyone telling me my pride was an abomination to the Lord. That puts it in a whole other category of sin. To be clear, all sin separates us from God and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But somehow knowing that my pride, no matter what it’s based on, is considered disgusting to God, is upsetting. It’s no wonder James 4:6 says, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble'” (ESV, emphasis added).

There is no shortage of verses on pride in the Bible. Here are just a few:

  • “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2 ESV).
  • “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 ESV).
  • “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Proverbs 29:23 ESV).

Did you notice the negative consequences associated with pride: disgrace, destruction, being brought low, punished (Prov. 16:5)? But with humility comes wisdom, honor, and, according to James 4:6, grace.

So what does it mean to be humble in my efforts to co-parent? It means not always assuming my way is the right way. It means being able to consider someone else’s opinion as valid. It also means not getting my knickers in a bunch when I don’t get my way.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he will exalt you.”

1 Peter 5:6 ESV

It’s a work in progress. I’m a work in progress. I have to ask the Lord to forgive my prideful attitude a lot. And I have to fight against negative assumptions when there’s a difference of opinion on how to address an issue with the kids. But I’m learning it’s a much easier path when I choose to humble myself. Just as 1 Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he will exalt you” (ESV).

If you would have told me that co-parenting and shared custody was going to be part of my refining process, I would have scoffed at the idea. But God, in His infinite wisdom and love uses everything, even the unpleasant stuff, for our good and His glory.

Raising Strong Kids

As a mom, it’s my instinct to protect my kids from the hard things in life. I want to keep them safe and protected from the harsh realities of this world. However, I’ve learned I simply can’t protect them from everything.

Last weekend, Faith fell and chipped her front teeth. As we walked through yet another challenge, it broke my heart to watch her process through this disappointment. She was upset and worried and embarrassed to show her teeth to anyone. But within a day, she was back to her smiley, joyful self (and this was before she had them repaired). Watching her, I realized something about my kids. They are tough. They’ve got a bounce back that is admirable.

Isn’t that ultimately what I want for my children, to be strong and resilient? But I don’t just want to raise strong kids. I want to raise kids that are strong in their faith–able to trust God no matter what. As I’ve seen in my own life, that kind of strength and steadfastness doesn’t come through easy living. It comes through adversity. Their faith is built by going through trials and challenges, and watching God answer their calls for help.

Romans 5:3-5 speaks about the upside of hardships: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (ESV).

James 1:2-4 also says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (ESV). This is the fruit I want to see produced in my kids’ lives.

As their mom, I never want to see them hurt or face hardships. But I must remember they’re not mine. They belong to our Heavenly Father and He loves them more than I do. He would never allow them to walk through anything that wasn’t designed to conform them into the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29). Everything they experience is helping to prepare them for the assignment God has for their lives.

It is my hope that, as God continues to meet them in the hard things of life, they can say as Job did, “I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes” (Job 42:5 NLT).

Learning to Forgive Yourself

Recently, I had a huge parenting failure. I lost my temper and unleashed every emotion I had been keeping bottled up on my poor, unsuspecting child. Looking at the tears in his eyes as I ranted, I knew I had crossed the line. Once I gathered myself, I apologized and, as kids are prone to do, he forgave me right away. I prayed and asked the Lord to forgive me too. Then came the really hard part, forgiving myself.

When my former husband and I first separated, I struggled with self condemnation then too. I would recall all the ways I had failed in my marriage, all the ways I had been selfish and self-serving. I didn’t need anyone to punish me. I was doing a fine job of it by myself.

We all know how important it is to forgive others quickly (Matthew 6:14). But why does it seem okay to somehow keep beating ourselves up over our mistakes? When God says in Psalm 103:12 (ESV), “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us,” we counter with, “No, you’ve got it wrong, God. This time I’ve gone too far. This time I can’t be forgiven.” When He says He “… will cast our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19b, ESV), we grab our fishing poles. Why? Why do we somehow think we know better than the God of the Universe when it comes to forgiving our own sin?

David knew what it was like to have an epic failure. He committed adultery, then tried to cover it up with murder (2 Samuel 11). Psalm 51 was written after the Prophet Nathan confronted him about his sin: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (vs. 1-3 ESV, emphasis added). I’m sure David felt as I have felt, unforgivable. I’m sure he kept replaying in his mind the errant choices he made. That’s why he says, “my sin is ever before me.”

When we are in self-condemnation, we hide from God, feeling unworthy. That’s exactly what the enemy of our souls wants. He wants us to feel shame for our sin and hide just like Adam and Eve did in the garden. But when Adam and Eve sinned, God came looking for them. He didn’t storm in with bolts of lightning and cracks of thunder, ready to condemn. He simply came looking for His children (Genesis 3). He does the same for us. While we’re busy trying to cover up our mess, He comes with arms wide open, ready to forgive, if we would only come to Him.

That’s what David did. He went directly to God, without covering up: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgement” (Psalm 51:4 ESV). He goes on to say, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12 ESV).

Forgiving ourselves is really just learning to receive the forgiveness that God has already given us through the death of His Son. We need to take God at His word when He says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 ESV).

In the immortal words of Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5b). Now “pick up your bed and walk” in that forgiveness (paraphrase of Mark 2:11).

The Tweens Have Landed

I have a tween! If that’s not a scary thought, I don’t know what is. Journey just turned 11 and will be going into sixth grade this school year. And it’s almost like an alien invasion. Where did my little boy go?! Suddenly, I can see the next six or seven years flashing before my eyes. Soon, he’ll be in junior high, then high school. And I don’t even want to think about what comes after that.

This is new territory for me as a parent. I’m trying desperately to keep up, but I’m having a hard time. It always seems to take me by surprise when one phase ends with the kids and a new one begins. I’m having to learn new ways of relating, new ways of disciplining, new ways of getting my message across, new ways of letting go.

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (ESV). It’s a wonderful promise until I start to think about whether or not I have what it takes to “train him up in the way he should go.” I can’t do this parenting thing on my own. I need support and encouragement. I need input from people who have walked this road before. And most importantly, I need the Holy Spirit.

As I was praying for my tween-ager the other day, I was reminded of what God’s word says in Isaiah 54:13: “All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children” (ESV). It’s inevitable. There will be things I miss as I parent my kids. But this verse comforts me by reminding me that God will teach them what only He can.

My prayer is that, as my children continue to grow and go through their phases, I will be able to meet the challenges with the strength of the Holy Spirit. Joel 2:28 says, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” I’m praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I need His power to parent in this new stage. But I also want to see the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of my children.

Parenting well is hard work. It’s not for the faint of heart. But I’m thankful that I’ve not been given this assignment to do on my own. I’m grateful for the people in my life, including their father, who are walking this road with me. And I’m most thankful for God, the ultimate Father.

How do you explain the unexplainable?

I hesitated to write about the social unrest that has been highlighted recently with the murder of George Floyd, among others. I didn’t want to be another voice in the cacophony of voices on this subject. But as I thought about it more, I began to think about what I want to say to my children as I try to explain to them the unexplainable.

How do I explain why people hate simply based on the color of a person’s skin? How do I make sense of the idea that not all lives are valued? What do I say to my son, who will one day be a black man, when yet another black man died senselessly?

The only thing I can do is call it by its name: sin. Whether it’s institutional or more personal and direct, racism is sin.

As much as it sickens me to watch the videos that have been circulating, at least the sin of racism is being uncovered. But as with all sin, unless there is a true heart change, it will not just go away. We can decry the injustice, and we should. We can say that things need to change, and they do. But until there is repentance, no real lasting change can happen.

I am reminded of what Isaiah 58:3-7 says: “‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast and a day acceptable to the Lord? Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?” (ESV)

God calls us to a higher standard than simple lip service. We need more than words or legislation from well-meaning politicians. We need true repentance, as a country and individuals. Only then will we heal and move forward.

My hope and prayer is that as more of the sin of racism is exposed, through social media and the news, we will not become indifferent to it. I pray it will begin to convict hearts so that real change can happen.

Common

Recently, the kids and I had huddled into a sort of hug prayer, with a child on each side of me. As I was praying, I was so distracted by their fidgeting with one another. And this wasn’t the first time my prayers had been interrupted by their playing. I remember my own childhood. My parents would have never allowed such frivolity and playfulness. They taught us to fear and respect God in prayer.

But we live in a different time. God is our friend, not some big, far-off being. We want our kids to like God and church and all things spiritual. But in my attempts to make Him approachable, have I made Him ordinary? Have I made God too commonplace?

The idea of the fear of God has somehow gone out of mode. It’s true, I do want my kids to enjoy church and feel like God is their Father. I’ve taught them that prayer is just “talking to God.” But I’m afraid in doing so, I’ve taken away some of the holiness, the sacredness of prayer.

God is nothing to trifle with. He is holy and deserves not only our respect, but our fear. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He said, “‘Do not come any closer’ … ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground'” (Exodus 3:5 NLT). Though God had called Moses to Him, He did not allow him to approach His presence casually.

When Jesus was crucified, the veil of the Temple was torn, permanently removing the separation between us and God (Mark 15:38). But that doesn’t mean our approach to Him should be anything less than reverential.

I’m not saying we need to pray formal, liturgical prayers all the time. But neither should we be distracted or irreverent. Prayer is talking to God. But we must remember that He is the Creator of Heaven and Earth, not our buddy with whom we are shooting the breeze.

So I’m doing quite a bit of backtracking and retraining with my kids. We are learning to “bow our heads and close our eyes,”–old school praying. We are learning that prayer is not the time to play and fidget. And most importantly, we are learning that God is to be honored, respected and feared.

Father Knows Best

The other day, I found my sweet little girl huddled in a corner with tears in her eyes. When I asked what was wrong, she said, “It feels like everyone is against me!” She had come to me earlier, expecting me to mediate between her and her brother. But when I didn’t agree with her on the matter, she believed that not only was her brother against her, I was too.

As I stooped down to look in her tear-filled eyes, I told her, “I am not against you! I will never be against you. There may be times when you don’t like what I choose, but know that I am always working for your good.” As I spoke, my own words began to echo in my ears: Where have I heard that before? Just as I spoke tenderly to my hurting daughter, reassuring her that I would never do anything that would not be for her good, my Heavenly Father says the same to me.

The reality is, as much as I would like to always have Faith’s best interest in mind, I’m imperfect and even selfish at times. But God is the perfect parent. If He says He’s working for my good, I know I can trust Him. I was reminded of Matthew 7:11: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (ESV)

Circumstances and situations may not always feel like they are working for my good. But just as I can see the bigger picture that my daughter can’t, God can see the biggest picture of all–how my current trial fits in His eternal plan.

But It Still Hurts: The ongoing struggle to forgive

Has this ever happened to you? You bump into something and bruise your arm or leg. It smarts for a minute or two. But after a while, the pain subside and you move on. But then you bump that same spot again, and suddenly the pain of the original injury comes flooding back. You realize that there’s still a tender bruise there. That’s been my process of forgiveness. I’ve tried to be quick to forgive, not wanting bitterness to take root (Hebrews 12:15). But sometimes a situation will come up, unexpectedly, that will renew the pain and I find myself in need of forgiving all over again.

“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”
– C.S. Lewis

Keeping my heart free from unforgiveness hasn’t been easy.  C.S. Lewis said it best in his book Mere Christianity, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”

I’m reminded of a time when Journey hurt Faith. As I was mediating between them I encouraged Faith to forgive her brother. Her response was so innocent and real: “But it still hurts!” Years later, as I think back on that incident, I know exactly how she felt. How do you forgive when you still feel pain?

I think God must have had a similar dilemma. Over and over, from that first moment when Adam and Eve took a bite of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3), mankind has rejected God in one form or another. Yet even in the pain of rejection, He made a plan, through Jesus, to reconcile us to Himself: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).

I’m learning that walking in forgiveness isn’t pretending like the offense never happened or the pain isn’t real. I’ve found that it’s important for me to process through the emotions of the hurt. And as good as it feels to vent to my friends and family, I have found no better listening ear than my Heavenly Father. I can be ugly honest with God. I can tell Him that I’m hurt or angry or some combination of the two. I can tell Him that I’m having difficulty forgiving. Then I can ask Him to heal me and help me forgive by the power of the Holy Spirit. And He always helps me. It’s not always instantaneous. Sometimes it takes crying out to Him several times. But I’ve also learned that forgiveness isn’t an emotion, it’s a choice. It’s not a one-time event. But an ongoing, daily–sometimes minute-by-minute–decision to let go of my desire for retribution.

I’m hopeful that one day soon those tender spots in my heart will heal. And the enemy of my soul will no longer have a bruise to poke. But until that day, I will continue to cry out to God to help me forgive as He has forgiven me (Ephesians 4:32).

A (almost) Mother’s Day Tribute

I know Mother’s Day is usually set aside to honor the mothers in our lives. And I have several amazing moms I could laud, including my own. But this year I’d like to honor the two little people that call me mommy.

I have the special privilege of walking this parenting road with two incredible kids–Journey and Faith. In this new season of parenting, God has used them to make 2 Corinthians 12:9 a reality for me: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness…'” (NKJV). Through my kids, God has provided me with a strength that I wouldn’t have had on my own. They have comforted me, encouraged me, and waged spiritual warfare for me. They have loved me when I’ve felt unloved and unlovable–even when I’ve acted that way.

There was one moment, a few months ago, that I will never forget. It had been a difficult day–I had failed more times as a mom than I care to remember. In exhaustion and exasperation, I sent the kids to bed. I began crying out to God, telling Him I didn’t think I was going to make it as a single parent. I was convinced that I was messing up the kids somehow. The kids overheard me and came down to check on me. Immediately they began to encourage me. Journey stood behind me, and began commanding the lies of satan to be silenced, in the name of Jesus.

Just a few minutes before I had lost my temper and raised my voice. But here they were showing love to me as if I had just given them the greatest gift in the world. I was so humbled in that moment–by their love and God’s grace to me. It was as if He was saying to me, “I got this! You and the kids will be okay!” I was reminded of the promise in Isaiah 54:13, “All your children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.” God was instructing my kids on how to love me and fight for me, because I couldn’t do it for myself.

Before I became a mom, I remember a friend telling me that having kids would teach me so much. Being young and stupid, at the time, I thought I already knew everything I needed to know and didn’t believe parenting would be that impactful. I’ve since learned the truth. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is what true unconditional love looks like. Not my love toward them, but theirs toward me.

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” Psalm 127:3 (ESV)

I have been blessed with two amazing children. They’re not perfect and they get on my nerves sometimes. But at the end of the day, I can agree with Psalm 127:3, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (ESV). They truly are my undeserved reward and my Incredible Faith Journey!

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