The Sigh of the Most High

“Keep going. They’ll eventually get it.”

This was a pep talk from my wiser than her years 15 year old. I am that person who needs affirmation from their own progeny.

We both knew how rough the morning had been. No one could find what they needed for a successful day – despite my rule about having your things together the night before. Attitudes were not stellar. Mouths were moving and excuses were flowing, but ears were closed and sense was halted.

It was a frustrating morning to say the least. I’d be lying if I said it was the first one.

And I sat there doubting in my minivan. “They will never get it!” I told myself.

Something no one tells you when you start your maternal journey is that children don’t typically learn something the first time. Repetition is key to successful parenting. And it may drive you slowly insane.

“Did you brush your teeth?” “Don’t forget to put your homework in your bag.” “Did you remember you have practice tonight?” “Mommy said you can’t wear that to school.”

The reason gray hairs come fast and furious is because you must often be the brain for however many children you have. It’s exhausting.

Parenting is a plodding work. Results are not usually instantaneous. It can take a lifetime to see results. And you most likely cannot take credit for the end product. (I can honestly say it is ALL of Jesus!)

Before you go swearing off children altogether, let me say this: the raising of children is the most important work on planet earth. The time, energy and money you spend is an investment in the future. It is of primary importance.

But in the mire of everyday life, motherhood doesn’t seem so life altering.

I arrived home from dropping my sage off at school so she could procure more inspirational quotes. I plopped down and opened my Bible to the prophets. And as I read I realized something.

I am just like my kids. They are just like me.

God gets my frustration.

How many times does humanity have to be reminded of the same things over and over by our holy God?

The Lord chose Israel, not because of their own merit, but because He could show His power through them. He gave them a code to live by. He repeated it several hundred times. Even the kings of Judah would write out the Torah to have their own copy handy.

But they broke the covenant. “All you have commanded we will obey,” they vowed to Jehovah. It didn’t take long to go back on their word.

Time and again God would forgive His wayward, forgetful children. He was firm, but patient. True to His Word though, this rampant careless disobedience would have to be punished so they would forget no more.

There is an interesting and much debated response that God has for His wayward children throughout Scripture. He repents them. Literally, He sighs over them. How often have you seen kids making obviously bad choices and just… sighed?

I do it. I sorta get what God was doing in those instances. It isn’t regret for creating, but a holy frustration with continual error.

The interesting thing is, this repenting (or the ESV word, relenting) also gives the idea to let up on or turn. The notion is that despite our sin and stupidity God shows mercy. He does not give us the punishment we truly deserve. Ever.

Millennia later, not much has changed. I sit here forgetting often as the cares of life and my own sin blur God’s presence and practices in my mind. Oh, He is still there. My perception prevents me from noticing.

And just like my kids who think mom will never find out, I play the same game with God. The difference is, He sees not only my actions, but the thoughts behind them as well.

At this point, if I am at all serious about my relationship with God, I must run to His Word to see the reality of my life. To be reminded of what I have forgotten.

In the Bible, through the Holy Spirit’s enabling, I find the means to adjust my perspective because I am reminded of what is true about myself, my children and my God.

He knows we will forget. He has provided the Holy Spirit and Scripture to remind us. And what’s crazy is that He never goes crazy in reminding His wayward, careless children of His ways. But He may sigh.

Still, God sees something in us that seems unattainable- we will eventually get it. We will someday no longer need the reminders and drilling because it will all be written on our hearts and ever before us.

Until then, press onward and upward. Live in the knowledge that God understands the frustrations of reminders. He does the same for us.

The Reluctant Entrepreneurs

It was summer in the early 90’s. My dad did not want us sitting around, frittering our summer away watching mindless tv while waiting for our friends to come out and play. So he sat us down and presented us with an opportunity.

“I want you two to start a business. I will give you start-up money and it can be whatever you want.”

Now, there is a motto my dad had for us kids that you need to know: “You are free to make your own choices, but if you make the wrong choice, I will make it for you.” It was our safety net growing up. I see that now. At the time, we saw it as cruel mockery.

In other words, if Dad said to start a business, we were starting a business whether we wanted to or not.

My sister and I did not want to start a business.

Nevertheless, we dragged our feet and hemmed and hawed over what to do. Our “Shark” investor, aka Dad (Who will be known for the rest of this story as “Daddy Shark”. Just kidding.) pressed us until we finally committed to starting up a business making the most 90’s accessory out there- scrunchies.

The Proprietors years later…

Mom took us material shopping and got out the ol’ Kenmore sewing machine. Dad made scrunchie holders to present our wares. We even had a deal with our hair stylist to sell our product… it was a venture primed for success.

We were only missing a name. This was still extremely unexciting to us, but we had to come up with something. Anything. We both liked the hymn “Face to Face.” There is a line in the song that says, “Far beyond the starry skies…” Or was it because of the famous artwork of the notorious Vincent Van Gogh? I don’t exactly recall, but Starry Sky Scrunchies would forever be emblazoned in our memories.

So our days went like this: Wake up. Eat. Cut out and sew scrunchies while watching Matlock or Andy Griffith or Beverly Hillbillies. Eat lunch. Play with friends. Repeat.

The part of the day called “cut out and sew scrunchies” was not relished. Cutting material and elastic. Sewing and figuring out how to close the end. It was something we did because we had to- we had an investor and distributor to think of, after all. But we did it with the gusto of a toothless man trying to eat corn nuts.

I think I can safely say we hated it. We were so unenthusiastic about it that our production rate was maybe, MAYBE, 5 scrunchies a day. With my expanded knowledge of sewing, I know now we could have easily pumped out 4 to 5 times that amount in a morning.

Lack of motivation is all it takes to make a successful business model a complete failure. Our hearts weren’t in it. I don’t know how long that hairstylist left our scrunchies in her shop, but we didn’t sell many. They were really ugly.

Eventually my Dad let up on us. We should have been embarrassed or disappointed in ourselves, but we were only relieved. We were not entrepreneurs.

So let’s fast forward about 7ish years. My dad decided to start his own business- a sign company. We learned how to look at signs from an early age and were glad to help him get started.

We drove around picking up neon, looking for broken signage in need of repairs, mastering fear of heights in a bucket truck. I was once handed a book bigger than any college textbook I ever had, and told me to learn graphic design. Ha. Ha.

But I watched and learned as he worked so hard to provide for us and build this dream with God’s leading. He made it work when it looked like failure because he wanted it to succeed. He cared.

Dad always knows how to make us laugh.

My sister would eventually get married and move away, but I stayed. I remember telling my Dad before I got married, “I am done working for the family business.” I am no entrepreneur, remember? I’m pretty sure I even brought up Starry Sky Scrunchies.

But my husband caught the bug. He had the drive. He had the willingness to learn. So my Dad took a chance on a bike mechanic with a college degree in Health and Fitness.

This will be their 17th year together. It has had its ups and downs, but God has been so unbelievably good to us. And yes, I still play a part in this 20 year old venture, albeit small.

Those epic fails as a kid helped me for this life I live now. I now know if motivation wanes, business will fail. I now know that putting all of yourself into a project is a rewarding experience. I now know when an opportunity is handed to you, you owe it to the giver and yourself to give it your all.

This is just one lesson of many Dad has taught me over the years. Some lessons I had to learn over and over and some took right away. And right now, I am watching my Dad- our business partner, the Scrunchie Shark- fight for his life as cancer is trying incorporate his body. I am still learning from him.

While I am still no entrepreneur, I am willing to take what he has given to our family and give it my all. I may not be able to weld, or wire, or even operate a crane, but I can cheer and motivate and send invoices.

Who knows? Maybe I will start making scrunchies again… I hear they are back on trend.

Why My Kids Aren’t “My Whole World”

I love kids. You don’t have seven of them if you hate children. For as much as they can drive you up the wall and challenge everything you ever believed about humanity, they are amazing!

We love their sense of humor and their imaginations and the funny things they say. We adore the snuggles and kisses and “I love yous”. We breathe deep each stage, enjoying their milestones and cherishing the memories of their better moments.

Seeing as these little sweeties need so much of our time and attention- especially at the beginning of their lives- it is so easy to let their little lives consume us. They can become our whole world.

My kids have been my whole world many times. The most obvious time was after the twins were born. It seemed for at least a year that there was time for nothing else but them! Feeding two, changing two, bathing two, cherishing two… and then add the other five that still needed a mom as well.

There are seasons where we must spend a majority of our time wearing the hat of Mom. It is a worthy and God-blessed position to hold. But there does come a line where motherhood and family becomes idolatry.

Idolatry is when we put any person or thing or idea above the Creator. The basic commandment is Exodus 20:3- “You shall have no other gods before me.” The sentence presupposes that something or someone else can be put before God.

Sure, there are obvious examples. Wooden or metal sculptures representing lesser deities being bowed to and venerated. In Luke 16:14-15, Jesus calls out the Pharisees for making money an idol. Verse 13 points out that money can be served instead of God.

Matthew 6:21 tells us that what we place the most value in is where our heart is. Now, don’t mistake me here- our kids are precious. More precious than possessions and fame. Worth the investment of our time and energy and prayers…. but should they be our entire heart? Our whole world?

It really comes down to this: who do we love most and how is that apparent in our lives? In one of the harshest portions of Scripture, Jesus seemingly puts off his flesh and blood and declares that whoever follows God wholeheartedly is His family. (Luke 8:38-39) Never mind the countless times He talks about leaving family to take His cross.

So let’s set this straight. Your kids are an eternal work. They are precious souls you have been loaned to bring up in the ways of their Creator. You are a steward of souls-just as your parents were for you. You teach them the ways of God through your lifestyle, speech, and behavior towards them.

This is a vital calling. It is crucial to civilization and the eternal purposes of God. But parenthood is not the only calling you have. And I think, amidst the pouring of ourselves into these little ones, we need to remember God comes first.

When God comes before kids, we are going to make time to learn more about Him. We will make corporate worship a priority for every member of our family instead of making our kids the excuse for sitting out. We will say yes to the non kid tasks God has for us: whether it is discipling that new believer, or singing in the choir, or cleaning the church. Even if it takes time away from our babies.

This is all part of your training of their souls too- they need God first to be patterned in your life so they know what it looks like for their lives. They need to know that they are not the center of anyone’s world, and if they want to be great in God’s Kingdom, they must become a servant.

We have raised a generation that is, by and large, convinced that they are the center of the universe. They believe their parents are there for them alone. When diminished in any way- which will happen- their self worth crumbles. And the rest of the world is held hostage to maintaining their fragile egos.

You see, this idea of family idolatry isn’t an either/or situation. You can and should love your family. They ought to have your time and attention and affection in ways that no other earthly thing should. But not above God. And your utter devotion to God is not to the detriment of you family, but to their ultimate benefit.

I say that as someone who has been there. I have made my kids the excuse. I have not modeled a servant of Christ for them perfectly. And God gives grace… so much grace. But I fooled myself into thinking that my only job on earth was to be their mom… nothing else. And, eventually, the prospect is maddening because I knew that I was created to be their mom- and other things as well.

I’m a wife. I’m a very part-time accounts receivable person. I’m a writer. I’m a Sunday school teacher. I’m a comedian (in my head). I’m an Uber driver (for the kids). I’m a sewer and baker and historian and counselor and…. I’ve got other callings. They help me to be a better mom to my kids, but ultimately they help me to be a better servant for my Lord.

But guilt. Guilt will do a number on you. Make you do things that make no sense. Create a martyr instead of a mentor. I have thought that it is selfish of me to need a break from the kids. I have thought that getting together for a Bible study or coffee with friends was not something I needed. That my kids needed me more.

Truth reveals. It reveals that, in my case, I have plenty of time with my kids. I’m a stay at home parent. The few hours they are out of my sight are not likely to undo the countless hours I have poured into them. They need a mom who has her cup filled with Jesus more than they need her to watch another movie or play another game with them.

Another truth revealed: I am not raising children to stay children forever. They will become adults before you know it. And yeah, we can share lessons and formally teach them things about being an adult. The most they will learn is from the patterns you show in your own life. So what kind of adult do you want your kids to be? Model that, as best you can. You want them to make no time for individual pursuits? You want them not to be a faithful church member? You want them to be a taker and not a giver?

And since we must raise kids to be adults someday, we do have to teach them independence from us, painful though it is. Why? I, personally, want to be able to sleep when my kids leave the house. If I don’t start giving them independence at appropriate intervals, I will always doubt that they are able to handle the real world. Brief separation is healthy. Most seasoned parents never share this difficult but real part of raising children.

So, yes, I’m going to say it: Your kids shouldn’t be your whole world. It isn’t healthy for them and it isn’t healthy for you. Point your kids to the One we should be doing all things for- let Him be everything to you.

Why Being “The Cool Mom” Isn’t the Goal

I don’t try to gain accolades from Gen Z-ers. Really. I’m a geek if there ever was one. A middle-aged minivan mom who watches Great British Baking Show and knits and has a great fondness for plants and quilts and documentaries. As I write this, I am wearing elephant pajama pants, an “I ❤️Coffee” sweatshirt and a fuzzy pink bathrobe. Not really a cool mom wardrobe.

And if you have ever been around me, you know that I’m am not out to make friends with my kids. I’m the mom, and that relationship should be more than a mere friendship for my kids. The months I carried them and the hours of labor and the extra weight I’ve gained on their behalf means we are more than friends. We are family.

But there are things that I think and do intentionally to keep an open line of communication for my kids. I try to learn their lingo. They think it is dorky when I throw shade, but I remind them that they are just recycling trends from my day. Word.

Photo by Neringa Šidlauskaitė on Unsplash

I do sniff around social media to understand trends and fads and things that I notice the kids take an interest in. The Biblical challenge to be “harmless as doves but wise as serpents” I take to heart.

The realization is that I am not training children to be reclusive. While I do not want them adopting every societal more out there, I do need to train them to engage the culture we live in to reach them for Christ. It requires hard conversations about personal standards and self control and spiritual discernment.

My husband and I do not talk down to our kids. We let them have opinions and ask their ideas. We value their thoughts within reason. We use the knowledge we gain to have meaningful discussions about music, social media, modesty, relationships and more.

Photo by Blake Barlow on Unsplash

Because of my acquired knowledge, I have often heard that I am the “cool mom.” I am honored that my kids’ friends think of me that way. Not because I was a dork growing up (true) and am looking for validation in the next generation that insists on wearing socks with sandals. (Just. No. Not again.)

No, the reason that I will accept this badge is because I know that they know I am a mom they can talk to who will listen. I will not shut them down. We parents spend a lot of time eye rolling and dismissing our kids without trying to understand the whys. Ironically, we spend a great deal of mental energy trying to pass along traditions that they don’t understand because we don’t share the whys.

And there is balance here. Be Biblical. Be the parent. You do know more about life than they do and always will just by nature of your 20+ year age gap. Your kids ought to respect you as an authority. Rules you have for them have purpose.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

But do keep a door of communication open. Don’t just bury your head in the sands of time and refuse to see or know anything about this current generation. That is dwelling in ignorance instead of knowledge, and it does no service in cultivating a good relationship with your children. It does nothing to help you disciple them to reach a world that desperately needs Jesus.

You don’t have to start wearing joggers and socks with sandals (please don’t.) or use a hydro flask or randomly spew out the word “yeet.” (Although it can be fun…) The basic challenge is to learn about the world your kids live in so that you can effectively help them navigate it according to God’s Word.

On My “Lump ‘o Kids”

I wrote this piece two years ago and never got around to publishing it- thought today might be a good day to share! ~Leah

“When are you due?” I think I’ve been asked this question everyday for a month straight. Several times over. And I’m okay with that… it reminds me there is something (or ones) wonderful on the horizon.

“May.”

Awkward silence and gaping mouth.

“I’m having twins.”

“Oh! Wow! Congratulations! How many do you have already?”

“Five. This will be six and seven.”

Aaaannd then it starts. A too-long conversation while waiting for our order at a restaurant. Asking if we are done. Asking if I know what we are in for. Assuming my sainthood and that I will make my older children my perpetual slaves in raising the younger ones. Counting the price for schooling and basic necessities. (I am not joking.) Quipping on how happy we will be when they are all gone.

God gives me grace- Stephen slowly backs away to go “check on the kids.” Such a good father…

I’m going to be honest- I hate the question about how many kids I have or will have.

Now, before certain of you call me an ingrate, let me say I love my kids. I love my family and know, without a doubt, that despite my “family planning,” God’s plan has been so much better for us. I know that there are mamas with empty arms who would love to be in my place, and I think about you and pray for you often.

I dislike the question of how many children I have because the reaction is always the same- I go from being that reasonable lady who has been thrown a curveball to merely a breeder or irrational person. My children become a herd in their eyes, without personality or relationship.

When they hear we will have seven, strangers don’t know how funny my two oldest are together. They don’t know how much my Sophie-girl loves to dance and always has a song in her heart and on her lips. They see my son whir by and feel validated in believing I am crazy, but don’t know his ability to draw awesome pictures or his knack for mechanical things. They don’t see how Evie loves to snuggle with Mama.

That hurts. Because I am not merely sitting here breeding children. I’m enjoying their unique personalities and attempting to build solid relationships with each of them. I’m also dealing with spiritual and behavioral issues as different as they are.

They are not just my lump ‘o kids. We are praying and hoping and nurturing them to turn the world upside down for Christ.  Not as dispensable minions, but the men and women they were created by God to be. We aren’t perfect at it, but full effort is put forth.

So please, if you are at WalMart or a park, and you see a mama with a large crew- do not assume insanity or that they live on another level. At church, do not treat their children like a mass of humans from the same source. They are individually loved by their parents and God Himself. Each is precious. They are not a burden, but a blessing.

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