Things Hoped for but Not Seen

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

Time also flies when you are having no fun at all. I have had no idea what to say here for the past month, so I have said nothing at all. I believe I am rather transparent about my life and it’s challenges, but I also have a pretty consistent pattern of clamming up when life gets really tough. I go to my closest friends in those times, but I am not comfortable letting loose with the deepest hurt and pain of life as it is happening. I’m not sure that a lot of people are, really.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the past month because I could write for much longer than anyone wants to read. One of the things I don’t like to admit about having a strong-willed, difficult child is that it brings me face to face with my own shortcomings in a hurry. I say it regularly, but I am so glad Isabella was born first. I heard on a Dr. James Dobson podcast series recently that many parents have an easy first child, convincing themselves that they have this parenting thing down and can easily handle another one. Number two comes along and blows them away with a much different, stronger personality that challenges them at every turn.

This is not how it worked out for us, and I am very glad. It would have been VERY easy for me to convince myself I was an incredible mom if Jack was my first child. It was very difficult to have Isabella first in many ways, but I am so glad God chose to do it that way. I am much more grateful for Jack’s personality and easygoing nature than I would have been if I thought that’s how all children are. (Now that he is 2 1/2, he is picking up more of Isabella’s stubbornness than I hoped for, but it’s still completely different and not even close to what we have faced with his sister.)

The past month has been incredibly challenging for this mother, and pregnancy hormones are in full effect for me, which means I am easily frustrated, easily brought to tears, and overall feel much less equipped to deal with the challenges Isabella brings. I feel very inadequate for this task right now. I know we all have those moments, but when day after day adds up to week after week of incredibly challenging days with nary a break in the stress, it takes its toll on me. I have been thinking about some of the challenges she presents in her attitude and behavior and what God wants to teach me through it. Today I read a quote that summed it up so nicely (and painfully) for me:

“It is no abstract thing – the state of your heart is the state of your home. You cannot harbor resentment secretly toward your children and expect their hearts to be submissive and tender. Uou cannot be greedy with your time and expect them to share their toys. And perhaps most importantly, you cannot resist your opportunities to be corrected by God and expect them to receive correction from you.” (Rachel Jankovic, Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches)

This is what I have been thinking about this week, but she wrote it so eloquently. God wanted to speak to me about a few things, and I was not really interested in listening. A couple of days ago, I finally heard what He was saying and was convicted that I had been pretty much choosing not to slow down and listen to Him. Reading this today put two and two together for me.

I am well aware that much of my child’s behavior is her own choice. I am amazed that I can ask her to do something on different days, same tone of voice and the same situation, and she will respond in wildly different ways depending on…her. On Thursday, I said, “Isabella, please come here so I can finish doing your hair.” She screamed and called me a name. On Friday, I made the same statement, and her response included no screaming or names and she made her way to me after finishing something she was doing. I work hard at not blaming myself for the days when she has a terrible attitude, sassy mouth, and all that goes with it. But I would be lying if I did not admit that I fail at this all the time and deep down, something in me believes I should be able to “change” or fix her. This small passage was so helpful in that it helps me to realize what I can control, my own attitude and my own response to God, can in fact help set the right tone in my home to foster cooperation and obedience in my children. I can in no way control my child, but I can allow God to work in my heart and pray that He would do the same in hers.

It takes a lot of faith to believe in something you cannot see at all. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV) Some days I struggle with hope. Other days, I get a glimpse of something that gives me a surge of hope. Then there are the days when all hope is gone and I turn to despair. I first heard Matt Chandler speak of this passage with the great reminder that we don’t need hope if we can see something. Faith is only necessary when things are not able to be seen. What kind of faith does it take to believe God will provide when you hold the miracle check in your hands? It sure takes a lot of faith to trust in His provision when you hold all the bills and have no idea how they will get paid.

Isabella had a few great days this week. It was refreshing for this mama. I have struggled to enjoy the good when it feels like the bad is coming right around the corner. I am getting better. My focus in prayer is that God would change her heart and use her incredible personality for His glory. I don’t see the finish line yet. I have faith but no idea how He will get us there. I do know that He is faithful beyond what I can imagine.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

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In the Silence

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I am a pretty firm believer that you don’t wake a sleeping baby. I feel like I am in the minority here, but I rarely check on my children while they are sleeping. I have no desire to accidentally wake a child from peaceful slumber, and I certainly need the quiet time myself, so I have chosen to just stay out.

Matt and I listened to a podcast by Dr. James Dobson a few years ago regarding strong-willed children, and a lot of it stuck with me. I have gone back to it on some of my really difficult days. Some of the mothers told great stories about their strong-willed children that reminded me I am not alone. I don’t know if it was that podcast or another, but I believe one of the moms talked about going in after her daughter was in bed and praying over her. That came back to me a few months ago, and I decided to try it with Isabella as I can use all the help I can get with her.

I was amazed at how much easier it was to speak words of prayer over her when she is in her peaceful sleeping state. The frustrations of the day and even the impatience of bedtime routines have faded, and I love to look at her sweet face as she slumbers. It helps me to remember that her obstinate behavior throughout the day is only a part of who she is. The truth is, most of the time I just stare at her and pray, “Help me, help me, help me.” I love to read and listen to experts on parenting and children, but many days I still feel I am doing nothing right and this stage of constant discipline and correction will never end.

Experts don’t give me hope. Jesus gives me hope. He reminds me to look hard for the blessings in each day, and over and over I am reminded that this time is short. She will not be a small, slumbering pre-schooler for much longer. Every once in a while I get a tiny glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. She will demonstrate that she is learning so much about Jesus and the Bible, and my heart swells with the knowledge that things are sinking into her mind that will impact her soul.

I will add that I do not do this with Jack. My two children are so different, and I have many moments throughout the day in which I connect with Jack and feel close to him. Those times are few and far between with Isabella. She is and has always been a much more independent child who rarely wants to cuddle or have a quiet moment with me. I am grateful I can take those moments even when she is sleeping and be encouraged by them.

I press on, day after day, and those small glimpses certainly give me the fuel I need to keep going. Kneeling beside Isabella’s bed, looking at her sweet face, I am reminded whose child she is and how grateful I am that He gave her to me.