My Five-Year-Old Character Builder

Picture it. We’re sitting in church–in worship. Everyone else is wading into the presence of God. They’re wading deep now, and I’ve just noticed that my five-year-old has left his chair. Now he’s motioning to me for something. I shake my head slowly and calmly, and I’m careful not to upset him. No, I didn’t pack any granola bars.

Now give me back my purse. 

I’ve decided to stop with the whole granola bar sham. I just fed him before we left. I do feed my children! He doesn’t eat them because he’s hungry, anyway; he eats them because I don’t feed him junk at home. He won’t eat just one, he’ll eat them all. He’ll eat the ones I packed for his brother and sisters, and I’ll let him. I’ll let him because their guilt-inducing “I knew you loved him more!” stares are significantly less annoying that his in-public tantrums. So, no, no more granola bars. You can lie down under the chair and color, and that’s it.

(I wouldn’t make him go under the chair, but he likes it ’cause it’s a fort.)

About ten minutes later, he’s no longer under my chair. He’s under a chair…but it’s five rows back. I shoot an apologetic look to the man who’s been waiting for me to notice. Sorry, I was trying to worship.

I put my head between my legs, and I shoot my son the look. He army crawls back to our row. No, I don’t have any granola bars. I have crayons!

At this point one of two things happens: either I win, or he keeps trying to win.

Now, let me explain: I have five strong-willed children. The first four are strong-willed as depicted in most of those “how to handle a strong-willed child” books. They’re fun. And it’s funny that I used to think they were difficult. Not ha ha funny…but still. My fifth child is a gift from God meant to crush me beyond recognition. He’s my twin (he says so). He’s amazing.

That being said, he usually tries to win. He’s rarely satisfied with the crayons, and I’m sent searching for plan B. I might threaten him with consequence: “Sit still or you’re losing five tickets…six…seven.” I might give him a choice between or b. I might try to stall him. But there’s a point when humiliation becomes inevitable. He’s getting loud. We can’t stay here. Head down. Deep breath in. Scoop the kid and start mall-walking…now. 

We head for the restroom. If it’s a bad fit we go outside for a walk. But this is Missouri, and apparently it’s icy in the winter and blazing in the summer, so we usually head for the restroom.

“Put me down! Put me down! Let me go!” 

I’m dying.

Once in private I can talk him down. I usually convince him to return and sit nicely until it’s time for his class to start. During the process of our discussion, though, others come and go. I smile. I greet the ones I know. I try to act unphased, but I’m not fooling anyone. Then it happens…not every time, mind you, but enough times that it warrants a blog post (at least once a month for the last five months). I reach my wrist to my forehead to wipe the exhaustion-induced layer of sweat; some sweet face smiles at me from the mirror as I’m leaning hard against the cold restroom wall. She says, “Oh, I know you! Aren’t you Sarah? I’ve read your book!”

I quickly rehearse the last thirty seconds in my mind. I wonder just how bad I look(ed). I smile and reach out my hand to shake hers. And I die a little bit more.

Here’s the ironic part: Very few people have read my books. Let me clarify that number: VERY. FEW. But my tiny audience is primarily made up of Christian-roots/Hebrew roots Torah keepers, and my small church is a popular hub. This is the only place on the planet where I’m likely to be recognized by a stranger. I’m a writer because I like  not being seen. It’s a big jump from those days in my twenties when I wanted to be an actress. But I’m here now…all comfy in my sweats with my hair in a messy bun.

Somewhere in my life I got the idea that people wanted me to be perfect–that they expected me to be. I don’t expect others to be perfect (I just assume they are). My assumptions about others expectations have led me to a form of hiding. I don’t hide when I write (I don’t tell it all, but I feel much more comfortable being “real” when I’m behind my computer). In person, though, I still want to present an above par, semi well-adjusted mother who is not handicapped by the fact that she is single. This is especially true when I’m meeting a stranger who already knows who I am.

As I was pondering this today, I had to smile. The Father knows me; He knows me so well. He brought me here because He knows me so well. He continually provides me with opportunities to embrace His holiness. He’s relentless, actually. He does want me to be perfect, but His idea of perfection has nothing to do with my hair, my clothes, the disposition of my children, or the dryness of my forehead. The kind of perfection He’s seeking is void of me and completely chock-full of Him. He’s just breaking me down and building me back in His image. Don’t mind us. He does this in public because I need to let go…to stop the stupid striving that was never from Him to begin with. So the next time you’re privileged to witness the Father refining someone else, especially through their children, say a little prayer for them…and feel free to introduce yourself (even if that someone is me).



That’s Not Funny

I walked into the laundry room carrying an armful of sheets just as he entered the adjoining bathroom. He was laughing to himself over something he’d just said, and he giggled out a, “Mommy, aren’t I funny?”

“Nah,” I kidded with a grin on my face…only he couldn’t see my face.

The bathroom door shut about the time I stuffed the first sheet into the washer. Faintly, over the running water, I heard him burst into tears. He wouldn’t have asked me if he was funny if he already knew for sure that he was. The sobs were quiet; they’re always quiet when he’s broken. I dropped the sheets onto the floor and I ran into the bathroom to find him sitting atop the toilet lid with his feet up on seat. Knees to chest he sat whimpering softly; I swept him into the air and quickly into my arms. I cradled him like he was much younger, because broken hearts need to be held.

“You’re hilarious, Baby! Do you hear me? Mommy thinks you are so funny. I was only playing with you. It was my joke that wasn’t funny!”

The incident was over quickly for him, but it lasted all day in my mind. How could I have made a joke that had the potential to break his heart?! I’ve tried to teach my children that a joke only counts as funny if it’s funny to everyone in the room. And this rule does not apply if you’ve controlled the room’s population: i.e. racists jokes at a White Power meeting are still not in the least bit funny.

I’m not attempting to rid the world of sarcasm (I don’t even plan to rid my own life entirely of sarcasm), but it’s important to remember that most jokes make their way into the heart of the recipient–at least to a small degree. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us have fallen asleep wondering, “Were they really kidding?” And many of us have cried quiet tears because someone’s joke touched a raw place in our hearts.


What’s “not funny” to you? If you were brave enough, what things would you ask your friends and family to please not joke about?

The Big Smiles

Today I ate a long, leisurely lunch. Yes, I feel this is blog-worthy. I have no photo evidence of this lunch, or of my lovely, adult-luncheoning friend, because I ditched my cell-phone again about two years ago. I rarely take “the real camera” out unless I’m expecting some big-photo moments. When big-photo moments actually happen, I rarely think to snap a picture. It’s a conundrum I’m hoping to solve rather quickly, as I fear my head is running out of hard drive space–or however that works with brains. But my camera is rarely present for the big smiles, anyway. The big smiles come like an unexpected rain. And unexpected rains cause the big smiles, too.

Sometimes we get lucky and catch them.
Sometimes we get lucky and catch them.

When the sixteen chicks that I’ve raised for eight weeks indoors have to spend their first rainy night outside, I don’t think to grab an umbrella…I just gasp and run. When the downpour turns torrential as I’m coaxing chicks from under the stairs and into their shed-turned-chicken-coop, I smile. When I lean out of the coop, head directly in the runoff, to scoop frightened chicks and toss them into the hay, that’s when the big smile comes. And when I return to my front door, dripping from cold rain, my children’s wide eyes turn to big smiles, too.

When my nine-year-old princess-turned-farm-girl runs toward me with a frog in her outstretched hands, my big smile mimics hers. When she says, “Mom, now I’m awesome like my twin!” and I grab her face and smoosh her nose with mine and scold, “You’ve never been anything but awesome!” we’re both smiling ear-to-ear.

When I cuddle and rock my nine-year-old sunshine right out of a sullen mood, and she looks up at me and squeezes my neck with a “Mom, I really want to stay little!” Well, tears hide behind the big smile with that one.

When my seven-year-old daughter peddles her first two-wheel bike with the excitement of an Olympic event, my heart might burst from all the smiling.

When my seven-year-old son conquers math and ninja kicks his way through Bible drills, there are big smiles and high-fives for all.

When my daughters set up chairs outside and invite us to their moonlit performance…

When my sons sit side-by-side being brothers when no one is watching…

When I wake up in the morning and see new little sprouts in the garden…

When I pull up in the driveway after my long, leisurely lunch, and my five year old gets his first glimpse of me as he looks up from playing with caterpillars on the porch, his big smile answers all of the questions of my life in one sweeping, joy-filled blow. And there aren’t any cameras around to catch it…but somehow I don’t think I’ll forget.



Children’s Church

{Originally posted on July 10, 2009. Still true today.}

While Cuddle Bug and I were discussing her smart mouth, she blurted, “I’m Cuddle Bug. I hate things.”

Now, as her mother, I know how untrue that is. She is one of the sweetest, most grateful, most loving children I have ever had the privilege of meeting. But it’s interesting, because we (my Bible study group) have just been discussing the fact that Satan doesn’t come at us saying:

You’re stupid.

You’re fat.

You’re lazy.

You’re a failure.

No, he says:

I’m stupid.

I’m fat.

I’m lazy.

I’m a failure.

He’s trying to convince my Cuddle Bug, at four years old, that she hates.

And that makes me mad.

“Noooo!” I said. “You are Cuddle Bug. You are a child of God! You love the things that God loves and you hate the things that God hates! Is Satan telling you that you hate everything?”

“No,” she quietly shook her head.

“Is Satan telling you, ‘I am Cuddle Bug. I hate everything.'”?

Her eyes widened and she nodded “yes”.

“Oh, Sweetheart,” I said as I pulled her close, “You’ve been listening to the Devil!”

“I’m a friend of the Devil?!”

“No, but the Devil wants to keep you from being a friend of God,” I said.

“But I love God and my family so much,” she replied.

“I know you do, Sweetie. But if we really love God, we have to obey Him.”

“But I hate the Devil, right Mama?”

“Yeah, that’s right Baby.”

Why We Want to Keep Them Little

{Originally posted on December 9th, 2008}

I’ve been reading post after post lately about the pangs of LBS (Last Baby Syndrome). And I’ve been doing my share of pining too. With one still in the womb, I feel silly even thinking about being sad. And this might not even be our last baby. But then again, it might be. What if this is the last time I am 25 weeks pregnant?

One way or another, whether she has one or eleven, every mother will have a “last baby”. Someone will be last. Sometimes she’ll know it at the time of conception, sometimes she won’t grasp the reality until years later. But the sadness will most likely come. It’s really just a matter of time.

For the past week or so I’ve been consciously trying to identify the source of the last baby sadness. Is it wrong? Should we fight it? Shouldn’t we just be so grateful that they are alive, healthy, and growing that we cherish each new stage?

Well, yeah, I think we should feel that way. But we also have the right to be a little sad.

“And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

God, in His complete perfection, really just wants us to stay little too! Now that’s a vast oversimplification of the passage, but I do think it’s relevant. Of course He wants us to grow and change. He desires us to move past milk to solid food. But there is something in us, as babes, that He wants to protect. And I think that thing is very much at the root of our last baby sorrow.

He wants us to be totally dependant on, and completely loyal to, Him. He wants us to need Him with every fiber of our being.

Today I was sitting with the Lil’ Prince, cuddling in a chair. He started to get down to play, and I laughed, “Oh, where are you going?” He laughed, too, and he and settled back down beside me.

“Come play!” His sisters coaxed.

“No, I’m cud-ling mama,” he replied contentedly.

My heart leapt. “He wants to spend time with me!”

And really, isn’t that the whole point?

It’s My Night

It’s Saturday, and Saturday is my night. It’s a short night because we don’t get home from church until pretty late. But it’s my night, and I love it.

Each of my children get a night, every week, where they stay up later than the others so we can talk about their lives. As a homeschool mom who has just survived a long winter inside with my children, you’d think I’d know all about their lives without any extra effort…but you’d be wrong. I mean, I know the visible stuff. What I don’t know is the invisible stuff. And the invisible stuff is infinitely more important. On each of these talking nights I learn things I would never know if I didn’t take the time to pry…if I didn’t ask the questions they were dying to answer. I shudder to think of the doors left cracked for the enemy if some small secrets remained hidden to quietly grow and grow. Every night I am shocked, amazed, stunned, and proud to get to know the warriors I am raising. I ask them…


“How was your week? What was the best/worst thing about this week?”

“How is your thought life?”

“Have you had any good/bad dreams this week?”

“What are your sin struggles? How can I pray for you?”

“How are you working to improve _____ (something that was mentioned the week before)?”


Saturday is my night. It’s the night I take special care to approach the Father as His daughter…and to tell Him about my week. He already knows the invisible things, but He likes to hear from my heart. I know, because He’s a parent, too.



Widows Who Raise Kings

Though it’s the oddest question one might pose to a single woman, women want to know how to get their husbands to lead.

“When is my husband going to become the head of our home? When is he going to study Scripture? When is he going to teach us? Time is passing…the kids are growing up! Is this ever going to happen?!”

This is my answer to that.

Godly women are constantly reminded by well-meaning preachers that children need godly fathers. Of course, this is a very real need. Satan works tirelessly to take out male leaders not despite but because of their strength. Their wives are belting out Sanctus Real at every possible opportunity. The problem is, to their husbands, “Lead me, please lead me! Please bless me and bless our children! Please be a godly man!” sounds an awful lot like nagging.

Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife. [Proverbs 21:19 NIV]

I’ve heard it said that mothers [alone] are not equipped to raise up and send out sons and daughters as men and women—that it’s impossible for them to do so. Well, we don’t believe in impossible around here. We do believe in ideal, and we know full-well we’re not living it yet. Ideal is a mother and a father functioning together in the same home; and where you have two spiritual parents, the father will and should lead. No, our family isn’t the model, but we’ve asked God to shine brightly through us and to work through willing vessels. He has. I’m not a father (my children already have two—one heavenly and one earthly), but I am a willing mother. And I sing a quiet song with Deborah [Judges 5:7-9 NIV].

Villagers in Israel would not fight;
they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
until I arose, a mother in Israel.
God chose new leaders
when war came to the city gates,
but not a shield or spear was seen
among forty thousand in Israel.
My heart is with Israel’s princes,
with the willing volunteers among the people.
Praise the Lord!

I believe we live in a society much like Deborah’s was. There are godly men and fathers, but there aren’t enough of them. Satan has stolen our men by way of addiction, pornography, pride… Even two-parent, church-going families often lack a husband who leads. Praise the Lord this isn’t always the case! But where it is, there is hope for us as mothers–more than hope, there is purpose and joy. Because He molds us in our weakness (because He promises us wisdom for trials [James 1]), God equips us to be everything our family needs in the exact moments our family needs us (whether we are married or not). God sees us. He honors us, and He works through us (despite of if not because of our gender). We don’t have to try and be something we’re not. Mothers are leaders; He made us to lead…and in leading to shape generations.

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I love reading through the accounts of kings in the books of Kings and Chronicles. Many of the genealogies in Scripture give little or no reference to the mothers, but this is not true with the kings. Most of their mothers are named. First we learn the king’s name and at what age he inherited the throne; then we learn his mother’s name. Lastly we learn whether he was righteous or wicked and whether he walked as his father had walked.

Joash was seven years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem forty years. His mother’s name was Zibiah; she was from Beersheba. Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years of Jehoiada the priest. [2 Chronicles 24:1-2 NIV]

Kings rule countries and fight wars, they do not have the time to raise kings. We are told the names of these mothers (who were, for the most part, eventually widowed) because, for better or for worse, they can be credited with the deeds of their sons. This does not discount the importance of godly fathers, but it does make a case for strong, empowering, life-giving mothers who are not waiting for their husbands to father (or pleading with them to do so). A trustworthy queen does not usurp her king nor take any authority from him. But as his wife, she has authority. She is not weak; neither does she wait for him to do those things that could be easily done by her. He can trust her; he puts his faith in her, and that faith is well-placed.

 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. [Proverbs 31:11 KJV]

I am reminded of the Shunammite woman. If you don’t know her story, you can read it in Second Kings chapter four. The short version is that she spotted the prophet Elisha, she could tell he was a man of God, and she begged him to eat at her house. He did. Whenever he passed through town, he had an open invitation. Out of a desire to bless the work of the Lord that was so visible in Elisha, she talked her husband into adding a room onto their house just so Elisha and his servant would have a place to stay when passing through. All of this was her idea, but her husband didn’t seem to mind. I believe he trusted her.

After a time, Elisha asked the woman what he could do for her. Shunem must be south of somewhere, because she blessed his heart and told him she didn’t need a thing. Because his servant noticed the lack of children, however, Elisha promised her a child. This is a dream she had long since buried, and she was overwhelmed with emotion. But just as Elisha had said, the Shunammite woman had a son.

When her son was five years old, and outside with his father, he developed a terrible headache. The father sent him inside to his mother, and the boy died in his mother’s arms. The Shunammite carried her son up to Elisha’s bed, and then she asked her husband to fetch a donkey so she could go and visit Elisha. Her husband briefly questioned her reasons, to which she answered, “Everything’s fine.” In fact, “Everything’s fine” became her mantra until she was face-to-face with the prophet.

Elisha returned with the woman, and God raised her son from the dead. There is no further mention of her husband (who may have missed the entire ordeal while he was working in the field). One thing is clear, she did not tell him their son had died! Was he spiritually weak? Would he have lacked the faith needed for resurrection? Would telling her husband have simply been more than she was ready to bear? Scripture is not clear on this point. Whatever the reason, this earth-shattering need was a matter between the woman and God. The Shunammite woman did not throw herself at the feet of her husband; she did not beg him to lead or to do his job. She knew her role as a wife, and she knew her role as a mother.

While we should pray that God will raise up our husbands and empower and inspire them to lead, these prayers cannot be based in fear or in strife. We should be too busy raising up kings and queens without any doubt in our ability (or in His to work through us). He promises to Husband and Father where we have need or lack, but we have a job to do. It’s time to do it.

“I am a woman, but I am also the mistress of a large family. And though the superior charge of the souls contained in it lies upon you, yet in your long absence I cannot but look upon every soul you leave under my charge as a talent committed to me under a trust. I am not a man nor a minister, yet as a mother and a mistress I felt I ought to do more than I had yet done. I resolved to begin with my own children;”

— Susanna Wesley to her husband during a time of separation