When Life Poops on Your Party


emotional control during crisis

Adorable guilty dog photo (my dog-nephew, Huckleberry) courtesy of my sister Alexandra, of A Loves J

 

The minivan smells like French fries.

Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome looks at me from the driver’s seat and pulls into our driveway. “Home sweet home! Are you ready to unpack?”

I grunt. (Translation: No. Eight hours of road-tripping have left me too exhausted to unpack. But seeing as our household servants only exist in my Downton Abbey dreams, I have no choice.)

Mr. Positive grins. “If we hurry, we can get them all in bed in an hour, and just… sit on the couch. Doesn’t that sound amazing?”

Yes. Yes it does sound amazing. Amazing and impossible, considering all the unpacking and laundry-ing and removing-of-gas-station-bathroom-grime-from-children’s-bodies that lies ahead. But we can fantasize. I take a deep breath and match his grin. “Let’s do it. You. Me. Vacant expressions on the couch. One hour.”

He punches the button that opens the minivan doors. Four children, eighteen suitcases, and thirty-seven empty Happy Meal containers explode onto our driveway.

A tornado of luggage and flip-flops, we stumble into the garage. The children are giddy: “Let’s go see Cole! He’s missed us so much!” Cole, our graying black Lab, has had fun with dog sitters in our absence, but even so, he hates it when we leave.

The kids sprint ahead of us into the house. Their supersonic shrieks make me smile as I wrestle with suitcases—Aw, they’re so happy to see Cole, how sweet—and Kevin goes in ahead of me. I hear more shrieking, but now it’s Kevin’s voice: “No no no no nooooooo!”

Kevin never shouts. Heart thumping, I drop my bags and race inside. Kevin heads me off in his office, boxing me out, blocking my view. “It’s bad—the dog—it’s so bad. You don’t even want to look.”

Horrible scenes flash though my mind on fast-forward: What’s so awful I can’t even look? Disemboweled couch cushions? Vomit? Gore? Has the dog chewed off his own paw in despair?

For a moment Kevin just stares at me, mouth working, eyes huge, trying to find the words. It’s Avery, the extremely loud and descriptive seven-year-old, who bursts in, shrieking: “Poop! Poooooooooooooooooop! There’s dog poop EVERYWHERE!”

I’ll spare you the details, because Avery has told you all you need (and want) to know. (I’ll just say this: Avery chose the word everywhere for good reason.)

Kevin and I have a longstanding deal: He handles pet poop and vomit; I handle human. I have never been more thankful for that arrangement than right here in this dark moment.

So poor Kevin quietly shuffles to the laundry room for a bucket and rags while I sprint past the Disaster Zone, shielding my eyes, trying not to see. (If I don’t see it, maybe it didn’t happen.) I start unpacking and de-gas-station-germing the children, while he sets about de-poop-ifying the carpet.

An hour later, as I’m in the bathroom scrubbing the youngest child, I hear him announce, “Well that was awful, but it’s done.” I shout an encouraging yay. I hear the door squeak open and the dog gallop back inside. Two point five seconds later—I am not exaggerating even a tiny bit—I hear Kevin shout again: “No no no no stoooooooooop! Coooooooole!”

I don’t ask.

I don’t want to know.

But Kevin calls the update through the house: “Cole just threw up on the carpet I JUST CLEANED! Aaaaaaahhhhhh!”

I shout something sympathetic back at him, close my eyes, and dream of Downton. Where oh where are Bates and Anna when we need them? I wait, expecting more shouting and moaning, but all is quiet from the Disaster Zone. Poor Kevin has shut his mouth and gone back to scrubbing.

Somehow, an hour later, all the kids are in bed and Kevin and I are sitting on the couch as planned. The carpet is hopelessly stained but semi-clean—as clean as carpet can get without professional help (which, by the way, we called the next morning).

As we prop up our feet, Kevin starts chuckling to himself. He is laughing—laughing!—about the absolute horror of the evening. At first I just sit there twitching and trying to breathe only through my mouth—my house’s new aroma, Eau de Bleach with Lingering Hints of Poop, has my head spinning—but then I sit there pondering what an amazing man this is, sitting beside me on the couch.

I learned something from Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome that night. A lesson he’s taught me a thousand times in our marriage, but I still never seem to master as beautifully as he does. What’s the lesson?

When life hands us a mess, we can choose how we respond. We can choose how we respond.

Me? My first response to mess is not pretty. It usually involves some kind of emotional mess of my own: frustration, anger, self-pity, catastrophizing (What’s catastrophizing, you ask? This poop on the carpet incident is the worst thing that’s ever happened to anyone anywhere. No human has ever suffered like this. Moreover, this moment represents my entire life: all my life, every day of my life, people (and dogs) have been pooping on my party. But wait! It gets worse! It’s not just me! It’s everyone. Whenever any poor soul on this rotten planet tries to be happy, look out, here comes poop! Life stinks. LIFE IS POOP.)

I know. It’s sad, this brain. Probably the worst brain, ever, in the history of—wait, there I go again.

Kevin? Well, he pretty much thinks the opposite of the way I think. Kevin assures me that he feels most of what I feel in any given life crisis, but he chooses not to act or dwell on those feelings. Sure, some of our differences come down to personality, hard wiring, and—ahem—hormones, but most of it is a matter of perspective, attitude, and choice.

Perspective. Attitude. Choice.

Three things we can control, no matter how our brains are wired.

Kevin’s example shows me that when we face a mess, we face a choice. We can freak out, stomp around the house, wail, shout, and abandon our Christianity for a period of temporary insanity. Or we can choose a better way.

When life poops on our party, our initial emotions and thoughts will be all over the place, because we are normal human beings and we hate poop and we feel things. But with practice, we can learn to maintain control even in the middle of a crisis. We might not be able to tame our feelings at first, but even in the heat of the moment, we can tame what we say and what we do.

A simple strategy that helps me mid-crisis is to find one simple truth and repeat it to myself until I calm down. It could be a Bible verse, like Be slow to speak or Love is patient. Sometimes I need something more convicting: Don’t say something you’ll regret. Don’t say something you’ll regret. Or this humdinger: Your children are listening. Your children are listening. (That one always gets me.) Sometimes I choose something that gives me perspective, like, This will be funny later. THIS WILL BE FUNNY LATER.

When it’s all over, we get to choose how long we dwell in darkness, how quickly we start climbing toward light. What perspective will we hang on to? What attitudes will we allow to linger? What will we dwell on when the dust settles?

Maybe one day, if we practice long enough and gain enough big-picture perspective, we can find a happier viewpoint even before the crisis ends. Maybe we can learn to laugh our way through the mess: at the mess, in spite of the mess, in the middle of the mess—even kneeling there on the carpet, up to our elbows in filth.

I don’t think I’ll ever be as even-keeled in a crisis as Kevin is, but I’m working on it. So far, I am learning to shut my mouth when I want to say very un-Jesus-like things. To recognize those moments when I should not take my own roller-coaster feelings seriously. To give all the poor people in the potential blast zone fair warning: Hey, I’m having a MOMENT here. Let me go hide in a corner and get this thing under control.

Kevin makes me laugh when I should be crying. He makes me want to be better, and shows me the way. I’m not all the way there yet—I may never reach his level of self-control—but with his help and God’s help, I’m making progress.

P.S.

The next morning, our wakeup call went like this: four kids storming into our bedroom shrieking, “Cole threw up! AGAIN!”

Which just goes to show you: Do not leave your dog home when you go on vacation. The dog will get the last poop vomit laugh.

Want some scriptures on this topic? Try Philippians 4:4–8, James 3:1–12, and Proverbs 25:28.


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When You Want to Have Faith, But You Have Questions


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When You Want to Have Faith, But You Have Questions


when Christians doubt the Bible

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Confession: Faith has never come easy for me.

I have lived most of my Christian life with a constant voice in the back of my head saying, “But what if it’s not true?” These days, the voice is mostly just a whisper (some days I don’t hear it at all); at other times, it’s been a full-on shout.

The voice started in high school, in Mr. Gus’s class, where we explored the great thinkers of the Enlightenment. Mr. Gus dared us to answer hard questions, to prove why we believed what we believed. His questions made me stop and think, “Why do I believe these things? Is this really my faith, or have I blindly adopted my parents’ faith?”

I came home asking questions—lots of them. I am forever thankful for my parents’ wisdom. They didn’t freak out: “How dare you doubt God and the Bible?!” They didn’t panic: “Oh, no! Our daughter is falling away from God!” They didn’t blow me off: “Huh. Those are hard questions. Good luck figuring things out.” They didn’t write me off: “You’re just going through a weird teenage phase—it will go away in a week or two.”

Bible holding hands

Photo credit: Sara Engel

They took me seriously, and let me dive deep. They didn’t offer quick, shallow answers. My dad, who has wrestled with a number of faith questions himself, said, “I understand why you have those questions—I’ve had them too! So let’s study them out together.” He gave me books to read, and gave me freedom to ask all my questions. We worked through them one by one, step by step. There was no pressure, no guilt, and no rush. I went back and forth on some of these questions for months—some for years—and Mom and Dad were always there to listen, to discuss, to reason, and to point me to helpful resources. And it’s not like I grew up and stopped asking questions—I still ask a ton of questions, but now I know enough about the Bible and apologetics that I know where to turn when questions crop up.

Here are a few conclusions I’ve come to over the years—maybe they will encourage you if you find faith difficult:

1.It’s okay to have questions about faith—in fact, questions are good. Doubt means you are thinking. Doubt means you don’t just blindly accept everything you hear from the pulpit or from popular Christian culture. God encourages us to love him “with all [our] minds” (Mark 12:30)—he doesn’t want us to check our brains at the door when we become Christians! Thinking and study are an integral part of our faith. Doubt only becomes a problem if we don’t take the time to address it—if we are lazy and unwilling to put the time in to read and study and seek answers.

bible (1 of 1)

Photo credit: Sara Engel

2.I’m not the first person to have this question. Whatever question I am asking, some other Christian has asked it before me. Which means: 1) I’m not weird or sinful for having this question, and 2) I can find helpful writings (and podcasts and videos) on this topic. Chances are, great Christian thinkers and apologists have already produced a wealth of material on this exact question, and somewhere in their words, I can find the help I need. (My go-to person for faith questions is my longtime friend Dr. Douglas Jacoby, whose website is a vast resource for Christians with questions.)

3.Faith is a long journey—embrace the twists and turns. There will be times in our lives when faith is harder: maybe a painful experience is bringing up doubts; maybe a disappointment or loss has rocked us; maybe God seems distant or silent. Times like these don’t need to destroy our faith—in fact, they can strengthen it if we tackle our questions and doubts honestly, and with Scripture. (Random shout-out: If God feels far away, read Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer: Does It Make a Difference? MIND-BLOWING. LIFE-CHANGING.)


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4. We don’t have to accept the easy answer. Some questions about God and the Bible do not have quick, easy answers. Warfare in the Bible? Senseless suffering? Predestination? These are hard, complex topics. Simple blanket statements like “Just have faith” or “Just trust God” won’t do it for questions like these.

I need more than pat answers to keep my faith healthy: I need Scriptures. Logic. Honest analysis of the contradictions and difficulties. And you know what? God designed me this way! He made me to think. To question. To explore. He doesn’t expect me to settle for easy answers to hard questions. If you’re like me, and you’re a thinker, a questioner, a wonder-er, that’s not a bad thing. Let’s embrace who we are, and take joy in the journey of working out our faith.

5.It’s okay to live with some questions and uncertainty. I have come to realize that some of our faith-related questions may never be completely resolved. The big questions are resolved: Do I believe in God? YES. Was Jesus really the Son of God, and did he die for sins and resurrect from the dead? YES. Can I trust God with my life? YES. (But even in those questions, doubt can occasionally resurface, and we have to go back and remind ourselves: This is what I believe, and why.)

But some other questions—about tough topics like suffering, or predestination, or how God’s will works in daily life—are up for debate. God hasn’t explained every nuance of who he is and how he works—if he tried, the Bible would be a gazillion pages long (plus, our brains might explode). We can keep thinking, keep reading, keep debating and discussing, but we might have to settle for “This is the best answer I can come up with for now. And I reserve the right to change my thinking on it over time.”

6.Faith is an adventure. I used to feel guilty when a new doubt or question cropped up; now I see those moments as opportunities to study and grow. Questions are a chance to dig in to Scripture and some new books, and to have some deep conversations with trusted thinker-friends. Doubts are an opportunity to be honest with God about what we’re working through, and to ask him to point us in the right direction.

Let’s take comfort and joy from Jesus’ words to Thomas, our fellow doubter, because they are written about you and me (how cool is that?!): “Because you [Thomas] have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:28).

Okay, your turn: What faith questions do you have? Do you view doubt as a weakness, or an opportunity for growth and exploration? If your kids have questions about God, how do you plan to handle them?


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Staying Close to God When You’ve Got Young Kids


staying close to God when you have young children

How can we maintain a thriving relationship with God as busy parents?

How can we impart a lasting love for God and His word to our children?

What are the biggest challenges faced by Christian parents today?

Is it a good idea to have three kids in three years? (Short answer: NO. Heh heh.)

And how in the name of all that is good and holy can moms find ten minutes to ourselves to read and pray?!

I recently had the chance to sit down and talk about the joys and challenges of Christian parenting with Jon Sherwood, of JonSherwood.com.

You can watch the video here. (It’s only 16 minutes long, so I recommend giving the kids a bowlful of Cheerios, and locking yourself in the bathroom for some extended “me time…”) 

Hope you enjoy! And check out Jon’s website while you’re there—it’s a fantastic, faith-building resource!


For more on Christian parenting and family life, check out: 

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The LizzyLife YouTube Channel 

5 Bible Stories Boys Love

13 Scriptures to Read with Your Daughter

13 Back-to-School Scriptures

How We Helped Our Son Overcome a Gaming Obsession


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5 Bible Stories Boys Love


Bible stories for boys

Whenever I read the book of Exodus, I can’t help but picture a scene like this:

God and Jesus are hanging out in heaven, watching Moses step up and challenge Pharaoh. Moses thunders, “Let my people go! Or else…”

God rubs his chin and asks Jesus, “Or else what? Hmmm. How can I save My people AND tell a story that gets the attention of nine-year-old boys from every culture and generation, forever and ever, amen?”

Jesus leans in with a grin: “Three words, Dad: PLAGUE OF FROGS.”

how to help boys love the Bible

Boy reading Bible

Images courtesy of Pixabay.

The Bible is amazingly boy-friendly, if you know where to look. Its pages are packed with stories of flawed superheroes like Samson, exciting warriors like David, noble men like Joseph, and epic tales of battle, bravery, and adventure. By book two (Exodus), we’ve got gag-worthy plagues of frogs and bugs and blood. (And yes, I realize that not all boys love sword fights and bugs and such, but…humor me. I’m writing in broad strokes here, based on the boys in my life. And while we’re at it, yes, lots of girls will love these stories too—I sure did (I still do!). So there you have my politically correct disclaimer, ha!)

(And hey, if you have daughters, check out 13 Scriptures to Read with Your Daughter.)

But first, we can’t talk about teaching boys to love the Bible without recommending The Action Bible. And by recommending, I mean BUY IT TODAY, IT’S THAT AMAZING! (No, I’m not getting paid to say that.) The Action Bible is comic-book-meets-graphic-novel-meets-Bible-superheroes-with-huge-muscles. My kids ADORE this Bible—my older kids have both devoured it cover to cover.

I could list scores of exciting stories here, but for now, let’s start with five, all from the Old Testament. (Heads up: All of these stories have some violence in them, so you’ll have to decide what is appropriate for your child.)

Here are five Bible stories boys love, with some simple questions for discussion and application: 

1. Moses and the plagues (Exodus 7–12)  

These five chapters cover the plagues, but the chapters leading up to the plagues make for thrilling reading, too, and chapters 13 and 14 will get you to the mind-blowing Red Sea crossing. For younger kids, think through how you want to handle the plague of the firstborn—it’s heavy, and may be hard for sensitive kids to handle.

Questions for discussion: Why was Pharaoh so stubborn? What do these plagues show us about the patience of God and the power of God? Do you think it was scary for Moses to stand up to Pharaoh? Does God notice when his people go through hard times and ask him for help? (Take a quick peek at Exodus 3:7.) Do you think God notices when you go through hard times and need his help?

2. Aaron and Hur (Exodus 17:8-15)

When we were little, my parents did a fun devotional where we acted out this story. My brothers held up my hands (oldest kid perk—I got to be Moses!), while my parents pretended to battle each other (hilarious).

Questions: Why do you think God wanted the battle to be won like this, with Moses’ hands held high? (Hint: Do you think he wanted the Israelites to realize that they always needed to rely on Him to help them win their battles?) What can we learn about teamwork from Aaron and Hur? Even though Joshua was the one leading the army, would he have been able to win the battle without help from friends like Moses, Aaron, and Hur? How can you be a better team player at school, at home, or in sports?


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devotions for boys

3. Elijah and the Fire from Heaven (1 Kings 18:16–46)

If you are unfamiliar with this passage, I recommend reading 1 Kings 17–19 to give yourself the story’s context, and also James 5:13–18, which illuminates an important lesson. This will prepare you to answer any questions your child may have. This Bible story is wild, with some intense moments and bloodshed (for younger kids, you could stop the story at verse 39). But there’s lots of high-energy drama, and even some humor.

Questions: What did Elijah mean when he said “How long will you waver between two opinions?” Have you ever been tempted to do what everyone else was doing, instead of following God’s way? Why did Elijah get the sacrifice all wet? What do you see about how powerful God is in this story? How many times did Elijah have to pray before God made it rain? What do you need to keep praying about in your life? (Read James 5:13–18 if you want to talk more about the power of prayer in this story.)

4. Gideon (Judges 6–7) 

My son and I just read this story—he’s working on developing courage, and not worrying so much about what his friends think of him. He loved seeing how Gideon’s faith and courage grew over time.

Questions: Was Gideon brave when God first called him? How did God respond when Gideon had doubts and needed encouragement? Have you ever had doubts or questions about God? (If so, what are they?) Why do you think God kept making Gideon’s army smaller and smaller? How do you think Gideon felt when his army shrank from thousands down to 300? How do you think Gideon felt when God told him his battle plan? Who wins battles—people or God? Do you need God’s help to win any “battles” in your life right now?

5. David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17)

Of course, no list of Bible stories boys love would be complete without David and Goliath!

Questions: Why were all the Israelites so afraid of Goliath? What would have happened if Goliath had won this battle? Why was David so brave? How did David prepare for this battle back when he was just a shepherd boy, hanging out with sheep? How can faith in God give us courage? Are you facing any situations right now where you need God’s help to stand up for what’s right, or to be brave? (For another boy-friendly devotional that uses David’s story, see How We Helped Our Son Overcome a Gaming Obsession.)

I hope these stories help you teach your kids to love the Bible, and give them ideas for how to apply it to their daily life! If you try these discussions out with your family, let me know how it goes! I love hearing from you.


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When Life Is Uncertain


When life is uncertain

 

Some seasons, life is boring, predictable, uneventful: all the same things, all the same people. Same familiar road we’ve traveled a thousand times before, the view never changing.

We complain about monotony.

Dream of excitement and change.

no bends in the road

Photo credit: Marcelo Quinan, Unsplash.

And then…and then: A sudden bend in the road, a detour. The path unpaved, the future uncertain. We’re off-roading, exhilarated and terrified in equal measure. All in a rush, life takes us somewhere we’ve never been: New stages or roles, new places or people… Unfamiliar, intimidating territory. Situations and difficulties we’ve never faced before, in myriad forms.

curve in the road

Photo credit: Orlova Maria, Unsplash.

During times like this, I cling to Isaiah 42:16: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

Light to my path image

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Let us find comfort in this:

Where we are blind, God can see.

When our path is unmarked, He knows the way.

When the road is uneven, He can carve a smooth path.

When ankles turn, legs burn, and lungs cry out, He can grant strength.

Where shadows gather, our God—world-spinner, star-maker, light-giver—can shine sun.

And no matter how long the journey, no matter how winding or perilous the path, He never forsakes the ones He loves.

“Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10).

Wishing you safe travels, friends, wherever He leads you, now and always. 

(Want more from the Bible on this? Read Psalm 121, Psalm 23, Psalm 18:36, Isaiah 40:28–31, Psalm 119:105, Psalm 18:28, Psalm 33.)

A lamp to our feet

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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