I was pregnant with our middle daughter, Claire, the first time I stepped inside the beautiful Harbor House Inn in Grand Haven, MI. Our extended family was watching the musical fountain show over the water on a beautiful July evening, and I had to go to the bathroom. (I was in my second trimester with my second daughter which meant I had to go to the bathroom every five minutes). As soon as I walked through the front door I was in love. The Victorian Inn was beautiful, charming, and felt more like my Aunt Carol's house than a hotel. And when the Innkeeper graciously agreed to allow me to use the powder room I decided my husband, Bernie, and I needed to return -- as guests.
That fall we did just that. Shortly before Claire was born, we dropped our firstborn, Kate, off at my mom's and celebrated our anniversary at our first (and only) bed and breakfast. And over the last twenty years we have visited this inn more than a dozen times. It has changed ownership and management. It has gone through some significant renovations. But they still provide the same homemade caramels in little longaberger baskets in the rooms and serve the same cinnamon bread for breakfast. They still have a DVD library of classic movies we've never seen and DVD players in every room. They still serve tea and coffee and freshly baked peanut cookies every afternoon, and the view of the bay is breathtaking every time.
Kate now goes to college in West Michigan, about twenty minutes from Harbor House Inn, and Claire has recently finalized her decision to attend the same school in the fall. So as we are navigating the challenges and joys of launching our daughters, we are finding a gift in proximity. Brenna, our youngest, is happy to stay with her sisters on campus which means Bernie and I are enjoying overnights at HHI more and more often.
Our most recent visit during spring break left me overflowing with gratitude. As Bernie and I enjoyed a beautiful dinner at Snug Harbor with a gorgeous view of the bay, as we watched the sunset sky change from gold to orange to pink to purple, I was overwhelmed by God's goodness to us. Having the girls leave home has been hard. As we are launching our kids into the world, time seems to be launching Bernie and I closer and closer to the empty nest season of life. I'm finding a mix of emotions, including sadness, excitement, and anxiety. But mixed in with all those emotions is a deep sense of gratitude that we are moving into this next phase of parenting together.
Harbor House Inn is a romantic place. And Grand Haven, MI is beautiful and picturesque. But the honest truth is that our visits over the years have not always matched the lovely ambiance. We have gone through some extremely painful seasons in our marriage, and I can remember the decor of the room we stayed in one year when our visit was marked by pain and tears. After that visit we considered not coming back. We felt like maybe those hard conversations had tainted a place we had loved so deeply.
But we came back. Because in a life-long marriage that is what you do. You come back to the hard places. You revisit the hard conversations. You pull back the bandage to expose the wounds so there can be healing. And as you grow and mature and heal, you find you are able to extend more grace and see the gifts that have always been there.
Bernie and I are far from perfect. But I am thankful beyond words for our history in this Victorian Inn. I'm thankful for God's work in us and in our marriage. I am thankful for the friends and family who have walked with us through some hard seasons. I'm thankful for our daughters who have given us reasons to persevere through hard times. I want to tell young couples to not give up. I want to tell parents in every season to fight for your marriage. I want to encourage you if you feel hopeless. And for those of you who find yourselves heading into the empty nest season (or another season) without your marriage intact, without your spouse by your side, I want to remind you of God's grace. Even in your most profound disappointments, God is with you. He walks with you. He will never leave you. He splashes His love and faithfulness in vibrant colors across the sky for you and for me.
Recently I got a massage. - a birthday gift I've been waiting to use for two months. For me, getting a massage is a an indulgence, and one I am not entirely comfortable with. No judgement here; it's just that I am not at all used to pampering myself in this way. As I tried to relax and breathe through the paper-lined donut that cradled my face, my thoughts bounced around like marbles in a pinball machine. It went something like this...
What a wonderful birthday gift. Today is the perfect day for me to enjoy this...it's been such a busy week.
Oh my gosh! I forgot that Bernie is at a class and Claire has to take the car to work which means that I can't pick Brenna up from school for our special date like we planned. (Insert Mom guilt over having to cancel special date here.) I'll need to call the school as soon as I leave here so they can get a message to Brenna to take the bus home.
Relax, Becky. You are supposed to be relaxing. It's all OK. Brenna will understand.
When am I going to go to the grocery store? I am working the next two days.
Wow...this feels so good. When she was working on my back and shoulders a couple of minutes ago I thought that was the best, but who knew that having your arms and hands massaged could feel so good? And she is not in a hurry. She is taking her time.
The deadline to order Claire's senior pictures is in eight days. (I'm a mom. This is how my brain works.)
As she gently worked the tension out of my body, I thought about how, over the last week, my arms had carried bags and boxes, lifted my suitcase in and out of the trunk, pushed a shopping cart, swept my hardwood floors, and wrapped themselves around those I love. I thought about how my hands had mixed and measured ingredients, prepared food for customers and family, shook strangers' hands during introductions, held a microphone, and cleaned up dog puke from our family room floor. I pictured my fingers moving over my keyboard, typing words and clicking my mousepad, holding a pen while writing up invoices and writing down appointments, never-ending to-do lists, and prayers in my journal. I pictured them scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, texting messages to people in my tribe, moving over and under as I braid my daughter's hair.
This woman's job is to pamper and nurture people, to give them a retreat from their work and rest from the busyness of their days. I wonder what she does for a retreat? I wonder who pampers her?
Suddenly a memory comes to mind of being with my mom in the hospital, the day before she died. Or was it the morning of? I had massaged lotion onto her legs and feet and arms and hands. I will never forget how it felt to pour out my grief and love in those moments. I didn't want to let her go. But I knew I had to.
Now I am softly crying. The woman is massaging my legs and feet, and when she touches my right foot I jerk it away. "You're ticklish! So sorry." For some reason I picture my daughter Kate's face, and I cry some more. She is a sophomore in college and I miss her. A lot.
What on earth is wrong with me? Only I would turn a massage into some sort of deep, reflective, emotionally charged activity. This is why I shouldn't do stuff like this...
Slowing down is hard for some of us. Maybe one of the reasons some of us don't slow down is because we are afraid of what I just described. We are afraid of what is there, just beneath the surface, or maybe buried deep below. We don't want to remember the sad. We don't want to feel the hurt. We don't want to feel angry or scared or have to deal with our own sense of failure or rejection. We have questions without answers. So we stay busy. We go fast. We avoid what is uncomfortable.
But hard-wired into our very DNA is a need to slow down: a God-instilled rhythm of work and rest, work and rest. We were created to go and stop, not just go go go. We were designed to remember and reflect, to connect. We were made to laugh and cry and breathe and feel all the feels.
I left my appointment feeling relaxed and calm. And at a deeper level, grateful and comforted and sensitive to all of life around me. Nothing came up during my 50-minute massage that God did not tenderly hold with me. I'm grateful for meaningful work and opportunities to grow. I love my family, my tribe, and even my dog who makes messes for me to clean up. It's been almost six years, and I still miss Mom every day. I miss Kate, away at college, every single day. Claire will be graduating in May and heading to college in the fall. Brenna will be starting high school and honestly, it's all breaking my heart a little bit. I need to slow down enough to feel it. Why? Because whether or not I'm aware of it , I need comfort.
In Matthew 5:4 Jesus says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." We cannot experience comfort without mourning. And we can't mourn what we refuse to feel.
My guess is you've got some stuff that's honestly breaking your heart just a bit, and I'm wondering if maybe you need to slow down enough to feel it, too? It doesn't have to be a massage. Go for a walk. Sit with your coffee in the morning, just you and God. Turn off the radio when you're driving alone in your car. Turn off the TV and Pandora. Tell Alexa to take a nap. Just. slow. down. Let yourself be still. Don't be afraid of what may surface. Whatever it is, you won't face it alone. God will hold it with you.
I am a member of a Chicago-area speaker group - a group of like-minded women who write and speak and are passionate about sharing messages that resonate with and encourage women. At our last meeting, after sharing some discouraging news I received about a writing project, a couple of these friends encouraged me to start blogging more regularly. Like every week.
"Every week?!? I can't do that! I don't have time," I pushed back because what they were suggesting felt overwhelming to me. One of the women graciously shared her observation that if I continued to write blog posts the length of a book chapter that are perfectly edited and polished, then no, I probably couldn't pull off a blog post a week. But if I were to write short snippets, to write about moments as a mom and a writer, as a wife and a friend, and just put them out there, then I probably could write one post a week. They encouraged me to connect authentically and not worry about doing it perfectly.
When it comes to writing, I am a perfectionist. I painstakingly labor over every word, send my "book chapter" off to a few people to proof, sit with it for several days, make edits, and then often mentally debate back and forth over whether it is worthy of posting. I want my writing to be clean. More importantly, I want to say something of value. I don't just want to be another voice in a sea of voices.
My friends convinced me to give it a shot. They know my journey. They believe in the work God is doing in and around me. These women are some of the "Mordecais" in my life. Remember him? In the story of Queen Esther, he is her cousin who was really more of a father figure in her life. When she is taken into the King's harem, Mordecai keeps his eye on Esther. And he keeps his ears open to the sinister plot developing from inside the palace to destroy the Jewish people (which included Esther and Mordecai.)
Esther may be able to do something. But it is risky. She could lose her life in the process of trying to save her people. In some of the most beloved words of the Old Testament we read this charge to Esther:
"For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14)
We love these words filled with inspiration and courage. These words have been the theme of women's conferences, have graced the covers of books, have been written into song lyrics and sermons.
Who knows whether everything that has happened to you in your life, the good and the bad, the blessing and the suffering, has led up to this divinely-inspired moment, when God may do something beyond what you could ever imagine?
We so love this verse, but have we considered who said these words? It wasn't Esther; it was Mordecai, her watchful, wise, faith-filled cousin. He challenges Esther to see beyond her life in the palace. He encourages her - which literally means "to fill with courage" - to consider the possibility that God may be up to something. That maybe He has been working His plan in all of the circumstances leading up to this moment, and maybe He wanted to use Esther the queen to save her people.
Now to be clear, few of us will ever impact a nation of people the way Esther did. Mordecai's words held immeasurable influence over Esther's life, and her brave actions changed the course of history for the Jewish people. And, I am certainly not comparing myself, my influence, or my platform to Esther's in any way. But I believe that we can, in big and small ways, be Mordecai to the people God has put in our lives.
Several friends have been Mordecai to me over the years, in various areas of my life. Truth-tellers and encouragers have helped me be brave in parenting and marriage, trust God in the most heart-wrenching situations, and find courage to say yes to things that terrify me.
We can fill others with courage. We can say, "I know your story. I've been with you through the ups and downs. I see how you have struggled and the ways you have doubted God's work in your life. I see the fear and insecurity you have about stepping out and speaking up. It's understandable. But I also see the beautiful ways God has gifted you. I see what you've overcome. I see your faith and your surrendered heart. And I just can't help but wonder if maybe God has been working in your life in ways you haven't been able to see? I can't shake this feeling that maybe He wants to use you and your story for His purposes. Take courage! Be brave! Be bold! Together, let's see what God might do."
Who are the Mordecai's in your life? And for whom can you be a Mordecai? To whom can you speak words of truth and faith? Whose heart can you fill with courage today?
Categories: for such a time as this, encouragement, courage, brave, Esther, Mordecai, God's plan, words of truth, fear, anxiety, discouragement, friendship, writing, speaking, faith, Christian blogs
My daughter, Kate, is in her second year of nursing school, and she decided not to come home from college for spring break. And I am happy. It's not that I wouldn't love to see her -- I miss her and sooo would love to have her home. I would love to have tea together in the morning and catch up on...everything. I'd be thrilled to set an extra place at the dinner table. It would warm my heart to hear the sisters talking and giggling in her room. But she has chosen, for the second year in a row, to go with her cousin, Britta, on a road trip to visit extended family.
First stop: their cousin Rachel's house. They will spend a few days with Rachel, her husband, and their two kids. (Their dog is at the kennel because he is as huge as a horse and my petite daughter is legit scared of him.) Then they will head upstate to visit my sister, Kari, and her husband, their five kids, and their two dogs. (Their dogs are harmless little yippers, so they get to stay.)
Here is why I am happy: Rachel and Kari each texted Kate and Britta to ask them what food they want served during their visits. I know the girls are going to be welcomed and pampered and loved on. They are going to sleep late, hopefully take a break from studying, and get their college-sized buckets filled while spending time with these families. There will be lots of laughter, deep conversations, probably some tears, and a fair amount of inappropriate humor. Rachel, Kari, and their husbands will speak words of life and truth and encouragement. The kids will splash light and love the way kids do, and for all of it, I am so, so grateful.
I am happy that my daughter has good people in her life. I'm glad she invests in life-giving relationships and that she knows where to go to get filled up. She has been watching me do this for years: coffee dates and walks with friends, phone conversations that keep me grounded and authentically connected, trips with sisters and friends, nurturing relationships that fill me up. God has healed me and loved me through the good people in my life. And to see Him doing that in the lives of my daughters and my nieces makes my heart so very happy.
I hope that my three daughters will make time to nurture their relationships in the coming years. I hope that when they are married and have children, when the craziness of family life is in full swing, wherever they may be, that they will take time for themselves. I hope they will invest in their relationships. I hope they will learn what fills them up and then be intentional about scheduling those activities into their calendars. I hope my daughters will plan get-aways together and not invite me. (OK, maybe sometimes they can invite me.)
I think our daughters are on their way, because when my husband and I asked the younger two what they wanted to do for their Spring Break (which is in a couple of weeks), they both said the same thing: "Let's go see Kate at college."
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:12
Categories parenting, motherhood, relationships, letting go, self-care, family, spring break, parenting adult children, love
I am a mother of three teen daughters. Make that two teenagers and a 20 year-old: college, high school, and middle school. My daughters have grown up in a Christ-centered home watching their very imperfect parents struggle and grow and hold on to their faith during life's ups and downs, including some really difficult seasons. They memorized Scripture in Awana and went on youth retreats every year with our church's student ministries. They have gone on multiple global service trips. Each of them have a genuine, growing faith -- a faith that began when they were children and they are each now owning as teens and young adults.
This is good news. This is really good news. And yet, I am finding myself in this interim season, especially with the two older girls, where I am trying to figure out how to engage and have conversations about faith and culture when we don't always agree on things. I am quite clumsily navigating discussions that sometimes don't go very well as I seek to listen and understand, be heard and understood, and continue to guide and come alongside my daughters as they develop their world views and faith perspectives.
For moms and dads, these are challenging times. Our culture is profoundly influencing our children, and if I'm honest, it is profoundly influencing me. More than ever I am aware of my need to be rooted and grounded in the truth of God's Word, and to be alert and watchful. I will be the first to admit that I feel like I'm in over my head. Sometimes it seems like our powerful cultural current is sweeping us all off our feet, carrying us along, and we may not even be aware of its pull and the direction in which we are headed. We float along as if in a lazy river, and maybe that is part of the problem. Maybe we've become lazy when it comes to seeking and upholding truth and the process of spiritual transformation. We prefer quick fixes. We want what feels good.
Here is where it gets tricky: there is a brand of modern, progressive Christianity that calls into question the validity, reliability, and relevance of Scripture. Some groups emphasize and elevate certain parts of the Bible over others: some disregard the Old Testament or parts of it, others focus only on the words of Jesus, and some reject various passages because they do not align with twenty-first century thinking. Instead of preaching the gospel of good news that Jesus came to rescue us from sin and transform us by His Spirit so that we can know His will and live lives that please Him, another gospel is being preached. It is a gospel of self-reliance, self-promotion, and the self-seeking pursuit of happiness. Rather than calling us to discipleship, to taking up our crosses daily and following Christ, it is an ever-evolving, ear-tickling message that fits into our culture nicely. Choose your own path. Make your own rules. Interpret the Bible however you think it should be interpreted and essentially, make up your own version of God. Because the God of the Bible confounds us and confuses us at times, and we need to make Him behave. And people are eating it up.
"I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people." Romans 16:17-18
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
2 Timothy 3:16, 17
It is good to ask questions. It is healthy to engage our minds and our hearts as we study Scripture. But if in our questioning we are demanding answers that we agree with and approve of, answers that make sense to us and seem right in our own eyes, then we are in serious danger of creating our own version of God - one who acts and speaks and does what we think is right.
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2
"Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. " 2 Timothy 4:2-4
I love what Peter says regarding the reliability of the message he and the early Christian leaders were proclaiming:
"For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:16-21
I am in the thick of this, and I'm learning some things about my kids and about myself. I'm discovering some "what to do and what not to do" behaviors and responses (through trial and error), and I'd like to share a few of them here:
1. Don't freak out. (I have freaked out A LOT.) It can be alarming to hear your child say things or do things that go against what you believe to be true and right. My most common reaction in these situations is to over-react. I get emotional. Sometimes it comes out in frustration and even anger, but I'm aware that under the surface I am scared. I am worried my child may be deceived by false teaching, and on a deeper level, I am scared at the realization that I am not in control. I actually have zero control. My children will make their own choices and forge their own faith journeys. I do, however, have influence. But my influence will be severely hampered if I am reactive and emotional. My kids do not feel safe talking to me about their questions and opinions when I interrupt them and don't listen. Trust me when I say that I have messed up on this point and have botched many conversations because of my emotional responses. But it is not the end of the world, because there is this thing called grace. When I circle back and acknowledge my failure to engage well in a conversation, when, in humility, I admit when I'm wrong, when I am honest about the fact that I don't have the monopoly on absolute truth or know the answers to all or even most of our hardest questions, and when I vulnerably admit to my child my fears that lurk under my frustrations, I've seen something pretty remarkable happen. My child sees my struggle. She sees that I am trying. She sees that I love her. By grace, we get to try again. And again, and again.
2. Don't not freak out. It's true that we should not freak out. (See point #1). But if not freaking out means that I throw my hands up in the air like I just don't care, that I remain silent when I hear things that don't align with our faith and values, that I trust somehow it will all work out in the end, and I give my children all the space in the world to figure things out on their own, then I think we need to freak out a little. False teaching should alarm us. Red flags should go up. Like a warning light on the dashboard of our car, we should pay attention and heed caution. We should pay attention to what our kids are reading and read some of these books ourselves. We should study apologetics and dig into the hard stuff. It is a huge mistake for us as parents to be silent when our kids need us to be involved. To look the other way when they still need our guidance. Even if they don't agree with what we are saying, I truly believe they want connection. There will be times when we need to back off and, for a time, maybe stop discussing certain topics or issues. But we can still engage and be present in our actions and by example. Even as our kids become adults, we can be some of the most influential people in their lives. Hanging in there, being sensitive to timing and non-verbal cues, and showing respect by how I handle myself in the conversation goes a long way in protecting and preserving the relationship. And this is of utmost importance. Because without relationship I have no influence! When I demonstrate that our relationship is more important to me than proving a point or getting my child to see thing's the way I do, her heart towards me softens. She sees that I am not willing to give up or walk away. She sees that because we love each other and are on the same team, we keep jumping in. We keep engaging. And in my human, flawed, imperfect way, I will keep trying to be the best mom-mentor I can be.
3. Do trust God -- deeply, unswervingly, from the bottom of your heart. And pray for your children. Pray for their friends. Pray for your nieces and nephews, It really is true that God loves these children even more than we do. He cares about the state of their hearts and their faith journeys even more than we do. And unlike us, He does have control over a whole myriad of factors and influences we may not think about. He orchestrates people to cross their paths. He brings to mind truths in just the right moment. He uses anything and anyone to do His holy work, and most importantly, by the work of His Spirit, He convicts, reveals, heals, and transforms. And even if it is sometimes hard for us to imagine and believe, He uses us as parents, in all our shortcomings, to illustrate and demonstrate the gospel. He uses us in our weaknesses to showcase His strength and perfection. He uses us in our deficits and in our lack to show our kids that what they need most can only ever be found in Him. By His grace, God redeems, restores, and redirects. He holds us in His hands, and His love never fails.
4. Demonstrate biblical dependency and a commitment to live under the authority of Scripture. This speaks volumes. Living the Christian life is not about following rules and being a good person. It is about following THE person who gave His life in exchange for mine. It is about submitting myself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, surrendering my life to His will, and placing all of my trust in Him. It is about holding Scripture higher than my own desires, opinions, and will. None of us does this perfectly.
By His grace, may we be found faithful.
A resource that has been extremely helpful to me: www.alisachilders.com/