The other day I was talking to one of my daughters, and I misunderstood something she was asking me to do—midway through our conversation, I realized I had handled the whole thing wrong. She had needed my help on a school project, and I’d been absent and unhelpful. When I realized what she was asking and how unhelpful I had been, I felt awful. So midway through the conversation I stopped her and said, “Hey, I just realized I have been completely misunderstanding what you were asking me to do and why. I’m so sorry—I didn’t say what I should have said. Can you forgive me and can I please have a do-over? I really want to help you on your project, and I’d like to respond a totally different way.” You know what’s amazing about kids? She grinned and forgave me and we started the whole conversation over again. The next time, I got it right.
We are big fans of do-overs in our house. Mom is impatient? Let’s have a do-over. A kid is whining? Let’s have a do-over. Siblings get too mad too fast? Let’s have a do-over. Husband and wife get snippy with each other? Let’s have a do-over.
If we can learn to offer each other swift grace with no time spent in the dog house, what a happy place our family becomes. Instead of hurt feelings, we enjoy gracious forgiveness; instead of stuffed feelings, we allow quick repentance. We learn to believe the best in each other. We fill our families with the forgiveness, trust, and kindness our heavenly Father so generously exemplifies for us.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash. Photo credit TJ Holowaychuk.
My husband, Mr. Dreamer, loves this time of year with its resolutions and new beginnings; I, Mrs. Over-analytic and Fearful, find the whole new-year-new-you thing kind of exhausting. Scary. Overwhelming. We have a running joke in our marriage: Kevin likes to live in the future; I can’t get out of the past—so somewhere, between the two of us, we find a way to live in the present.
Every January, we get pummeled by the same message: Look ahead! Dream big! Pray brave! But sometimes it’s hard to look ahead. Tiring to dream big. Scary to pray brave.
And that’s where remembering comes in. Remembering what God has already done: love already shown, gifts already given, prayers already answered. Sometimes we become so consumed with the future, so eager to move on to the Next Big Thing, that we forget to celebrate what God has already done. The astounding miracles we have already witnessed. The crazy prayers that have already been answered. The progress we have already made—imperfect progress, sure; incomplete progress, yes; but still—progress! Forward motion! Growth!
The other night we had a fun talk as a family. We intended to make a list of family prayers for the new year, but then we went off on a tangent. Kevin and I started telling the kids our favorite stories about times when God has answered crazy prayers for us—prayers that once felt impossible. We talked about everything from our miracle Christmas baby story after years of infertility (a story the kids have already heard ten thousand times and will hear ten thousand more because it’s the greatest God story of our lives); to the time when, after decades of unbelief, Kevin’s beloved relative turned to God, thanks to a run-in with a falling oak tree; to the “smaller” stories, like a time when we were working like crazy but still couldn’t pay our bills, and Kevin and I both secretly and independently begged God to mail us money—and when we went to the mailbox there was a check for the exact amount we needed!
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How to Find God—and Joy—When Life Is Hard
Reliving these stories, the miracles big and small, was a powerful reminder for me and Kevin, a reminder that we have already seen God perform staggering, “HOW DID HE DO THAT?!” deeds many times; a reminder that even when the road ahead feels scary, our problems overwhelming and impossible, we already have so many reasons for great faith. . . It made me—me! faithless, scaredy-cat me!—get excited about daring to write down big prayers for the new year. It made me faithful that the powerful God who has done great things in the past can—and will—do great things once more—in His own time, in His own way. It made me confident that God hears us even when His answers come more slowly—or in different form—than we had imagined. And it reminded me just how loved—how deeply, personally loved—we are by our heavenly Father. Best of all, as we recounted these stories, we watched faith light in our kids’ eyes. I could see their faith blooming even as we spoke. They laughed, they grew wide-eyed, they stood in awe of God.
As you ponder your hopes and prayers and needs for the new year, I hope you’ll first take an hour to sit down and remember. To remember all the prayers God has already answered, all the miracles you have already seen. To celebrate and thank Him once more for gifts already given. To bask in His love, which He has proven time and again. If you have children, sit them down and tell them your God stories in the spirit of Exodus 13:14: “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.'”
When all that is done, then you’ll be ready to start dreaming for the future, drawing hope and faith and confidence from what God has already done for you.
As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long— though I know not how to relate them all. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. Psalm 71:14–16
Happy holidays, right? Fa la la la laaaaaaaaaaaaa! It’s amazing how quickly the beauty of family bonding time can sour into family grump time. And it’s not just the kids who turn into grumps—Grinchiness can attack us all, no matter our age or stage in life. We can get irritated with roommates, spouses, extended family, annoying pets…
Every Christmas, my family relies upon the passage I call Old Faithful, a.k.a. Philippians 2. It has seen us through many a grumpy moment on holidays, vacations, and—well, even on regular old days when we have descended into selfish funks.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very natureGod, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very natureof a servant, being made in human likeness . . . .
Do everything without grumbling or arguing,so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”Then you will shine among them like stars in the skyas you hold firmly to the word of life. –Philippians 2:1–7, 14–16
The way of Christ is humility, sacrifice, and selflessness! Putting others’ needs before our own. Forgetting what we want and what would make our holidays great, and putting others’ needs first. Choosing gratitude over discontent, speaking thanks instead of complaint. When we become selfless, a funny thing happens: We get happier! We have more fun! We find joy in the midst of chaos and stress! Isn’t it amazing how wise God’s ways are? Our heavenly Father—our Designer—knows how we function best…and he made us to give! We thrive when we serve.
(Ahem. I hereby interrupt this blog post for a Public Service Announcement addressed to those of you who never stop: Please do not read this and think, “I should run myself ragged serving others this Christmas.” If that is you, please read Have a ‘Mary’ Christmas: More Sitting, Less Stressing! End of PSA announcement.)
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Kevin and I read Philippians 2 with our family all the time (in fact, we discussed it for the umpteenth time yesterday). With young kids, try reading this passage in the New Living Translation; it’s a little easier to comprehend. After we read, we like to give our kids lots of practical, specific examples to “hang” these scriptures on. We encourage them to think about things like, “How can I make my sister happy today?” and “What game would my brother like to play today?” and “What if I let everyone else choose which cookie they want before me?” (In our house, volunteering to be the last cookie-chooser would be a sacrifice of saint-like proportions.)
Here’s to defeating the spirits of Scrooge and Grinch and Grump, and having a holly-jolly Christmas through the Spirit of Christ!
When my daughter Avery Grace was six, she turned her big brown eyes up at me and asked, “Why does Santa check his list twice?” She paused, then said, “Wait, I know. Is it because anyone can change?” I stood dumbstruck for a moment, awed that such little-girl cuteness could offer such old-soul wisdom.
Anyone can change.
I’ve been thinking a lot about grace lately—how it’s so much bigger than we think. How it can cover everything and make us new over and over again. In late October my mother and I had the privilege of spending a weekend with 800 wonderful women in the Midwest, talking about “Overflowing Grace.” And earlier that month, I spent a Saturday afternoon with 200 vibrant ladies in West Palm Beach, Florida, seeking God’s kindness and grace in our waiting seasons—along the way we found quite a few laughs and tears. (Scroll down to see pictures and to find information about speaking availability in 2018—next year’s calendar is filling up fast!)
How are you doing with grace lately? It’s hard, right? We want to accept it, we ache to feel it. . . but so many times, we walk around still haunted by guilt. And when we’re dogged by guilt ourselves, we show less grace to others, a painful cycle. This holiday season, I pray you experience God’s grace more fully—and share it more generously.
Here are three simple ways to experience more grace this December (and always!):
-Have an encouraging devotional time with your family. So many times we focus our family devotional times on areas where our families need to grow, highlighting our weaknesses—not this time! Your only goal in this devotional is to encourage your kids like crazy. Go around the room and be as specific as you can with each child, praising them for who they are—what you love and like in their personality and character; all the ways you enjoy and admire them—and also tell them specific ways you have seen them serve or grow or give. Kevin and I had a devotional time like this with our kids a few months ago, and it was wonderful.
-Take time to notice God’s encouragements to you—His small graces—each day. Pay closer attention to his small gifts and kindnesses. They are always there, those gentle signs that say, “I’m here and I care,” but we rarely slow down long enough to notice and appreciate them. Did He give you peace when you were anxious? Did He prompt a friend to send you a reassuring text message just after you prayed for encouragement? Did He help you find your lost keys? Try writing down three ways God showed you kindness at the end of every day—I bet you’ll have a hard time stopping at just three!
-Share some of the grace God has given you. Write a card, share a meal, give a gift. Or offer grace of the forgiveness kind, forgiving someone who has hurt you even though they don’t fully “get” how much you hurt. (Can any of us fully “get” how much our sin has hurt Jesus?!) We all know it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)—Jesus taught us that—but something beautiful happens in our hearts when we give grace. Giving grace softens us, humbles us, and opens us up. The more we give grace, the better we are able to receive it from others. Try it. . .you’ll see what I mean!
I wish you a grace-filled, joy-filled holiday season!
If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:
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I only have a few speaking slots left for this winter/spring (only one date left in January/February; March is full; April and May have a few openings), so please contact me ASAP if you’d like me to come visit your church or group! I’d love to meet you in person. You can finda list of speaking topics here.
Here are a few pictures from October’s events, “Grace Overflowing” and “When God Says ‘Wait'”:
They’re delightful one minute, demonic the next. One moment their mantra is “By Myself”; the next they are the helpless baby again. One of the most important things we have to do for our two-, three-, and four-year-olds is help them develop emotional self-control. They have to learn to handle disappointment, frustration, and delayed gratification—all of the feelings—without flipping out (ahem, screaming, kicking, hitting, falling on the floor in a writhing heap).
Emotional self-control is not something kids achieve after a one-time punishment or conversation, and kids don’t just automatically “grow into it” without guidance—it’s one of those things they only develop with consistent, patient help from us. Which means that we, the parent, must also learn a whole new level of patience and emotional self-control, ha!
How to Handle Temper Tantrums
So if you’ve got a three-year-old in the throes of throwing him- or herself on the floor screaming every time they don’t get their way…keep working on it. Be firm and consistent every time they shout, or flop on the floor, or hit, or stomp their foot—if they realize that tantrums NEVER achieve what they want, over time they’ll give up the tactic. But don’t just discourage tantrums; encourage patience and self-control (encourage them with praise, reward, etc.). Try equipping your child with simple strategies to help them get control of wild feelings (count to ten and breathe; go sit in the other room for a minute and calm down; squeeze your hands together).
But we can’t just deal with them in the crisis moment—if we want to see real growth, we have to take it deeper. In calm moments, talk to them about patience, sharing, being calm, about explaining their feelings in words rather than acting them out, about good and bad ways to deal with big feelings. Teach them, in simple terms, about the deeper, heart-level concepts of patience, not always getting your way, being unselfish and loving, and not being mean to others. Use simple scriptures to reinforce these principles. Preschoolers are smart, and they really do understand when we talk to them about these things—we just have to catch them in the right moment. They often “get it” in their heads, but then we have to help their feelings and self-control mature and catch up. (And watch “Daniel Tiger” together—seriously, that show and its little songs help!)
If we hang in there, our preschool days will be more delightful than demonic, and one day, this crazy emotional roller coaster ride will flatten out…at least until the preteen years…but that’s another post another day.
I recently spoke about helping kids with whining on Facebook Live—you can watch the recording here!
Where is God when life gets hard…and…what to do when kids whine!
Hi! I'm Elizabeth, and Lizzy Life is all about clinging to Christ in the chaos of daily life. As a minister, speaker, and novelist (The Thirteenth Summer), I love finding humor in holiness and hope in heartache. I live in North Carolina with my preacher husband and four miracle children. I believe the recipe for a happy life is simple: laugh-cry daily, pray continually, caffeinate constantly. My new books, When God Says, "Go" and When God Says, "Wait," are now available. READ MORE.
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