Thursday, October 20, 2016


- originally posted Monday, October 24, 2011

Underlying the monumental endeavor of rearing and schooling a house full of kids, there exists a constant tension. As a mom, I want to push my children to do their best, but I don't want to be overbearing. I want them to strive for excellence...but don't want them to be enslaved by perfectionism. Structure to our day and to our activities is essential...but I must not be obsessively bound to a calendar or a clock. I want to respect their personalities...but I don't want to cater to their personal sins. Add to all of this the struggles I have with my own sinfulness, my own wrong attitudes and motives.

Always, in the back of my mind, there is the question, "Am I doing what's best? Am I asking too little of my children, or am I asking too much?" This question is a thin blanket over the fear that all my prayers and good intentions and hard choices and personal sacrifices and lifelong labor are working not to build up my children and encourage them on the path to godly adulthood, but rather are warping and twisting them into self-absorbed, perverse, angry malcontents who know nothing of the holiness, grace, and mercy of God.

There are good days and bad days in this mothering journey.

What makes a particular day "good" or "bad"? Maybe it's just that today is gray and cold, whereas yesterday was warm and sunny. Maybe it's the anticipation of a fun weekend ahead, or the emotional come-down after a holiday. Maybe it's a particular day in my monthly cycle. Maybe it's that we all are well-rested and well-fed...or exhausted and due for some comfort food. Maybe it's unresolved issues with my husband, or undesirable influences of my neighbor.

So today is a bad day. Oh, we got all our schoolwork done. The laundry is caught up. Dinner is in the oven. I even got to go for a walk back on the farm - but I spent most of it crying, wondering what on earth I'm doing, and why am I doing this, and did I just totally misunderstand what I thought was God's direction in my life so many years back, and am I just screwing up all the people I love most? Praying, God help me! Make something clear! Show me what You want, and help me to obey!

What's to be done with the bad days? With the heavy emotions?

Before starting supper, I checked Facebook. A dear sister had posted this quote from Lydia Brownback as her status: "Real prayer includes letting go of your insistence on a particular answer or timing. If you have really prayed, you can simply rest and wait for God. Trust Him with your concern, and your anxiety will clear away."

Rest. Wait. Trust.

So it comes back to that again, to the Gospel. Where I have erred, Christ must redeem, in His own way and in His own timing. He died to cover my wife-ing, my mothering, my home-schooling...because I just keep smearing those precious things with sin. But, yes, I am confident that His grace is sufficient to redeem all of this.

And I must trust that His grace is sufficient to redeem the children that, as a sinful and twisted woman, I am mothering with a fallen, broken heart.

Trust. Wait. Rest.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


When I was a kid, there were these cool markers that wrote with magical disappearing ink. You could write a secret message, then watch the words on the paper vanish right before your eyes. To make the words reappear, you simple colored over the apparently blank paper with a different magic marker. Voila! Your secret message was revealed!

And then there is the reverse kind of magic. Instead of disappearing until summoned forth, a thing reappears spontaneously, no matter how hard you try to remove it. Like the blood stains on Lady Macbeth's hands: "Out, damned spot!" No matter how thoroughly she scrubs, the spot reappears.

That second kind of magic is the kind infecting all my housework.

I washed all the laundry today. Washed, dried, folded, put away...all the laundry baskets were empty. Were empty. Now, magically, before the day is done, dirty clothes again occupy the baskets in the laundry room.

I washed dishes last night before I went to bed. This morning, magically, there were dirty dishes in the sink.

I cleaned the bathroom last Thursday. Today, toothpaste spatters the mirror and soap scum rings the bathtub.

I swept the floors Saturday evening. This evening, the floors are crunchy.

In the words of Gilderoy Lockhart, "It's just like magic!"

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Last night for dinner, we ate meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green peas. It was delicious. I ate more than I should have. As I began cleaning dishes afterward, I thought, "Okay, that's it! I am so stuffed! Starting tomorrow, I am going to eat less!"

Has anyone besides me noticed that it is SO EASY to decide to eat less right AFTER a big meal?

My resolve lasted all the way until this morning. Actually, I completely forgot about it. Fortunately, I remembered just in time to not eat second breakfast. I forgot last night's resolve again about an hour before noon, when I caught myself reaching for a bag of tortilla chips to hold me over until lunch.

Ergh! Not overeating would be so much easier if I always felt as stuffed as I did last night after dinner!

I have noticed that a similar thing happens concerning housework. I spend half an hour digging through clutter to find something I need, or I shift piles and boxes when company comes over and then shift them back again when company leaves, or I haul a ton of junk off the floors so that I can mop this week, only to haul all that same junk off the floor again next week. While I'm digging frantically or hauling boxes, I think, "Okay! That's it! Starting tomorrow, I am going to begin decluttering!" And when tomorrow dawns, I forget.

It would be so much easier to remember to de-clutter if I could maintain the feeling of frustration that sets in when I am searching through junk for something I need or when I am moving boxes again so that I can mop the floor.

I have adopted a small thing/one thing strategy that has helped a little. I really want to get a lot done at once, so that I can step back and admire the fruit of my labor. Doing a little at a time produces such slow, underwhelming results. It is difficult, sometimes, to persevere.

Today, I emptied a laundry basket that has been sitting on my bedroom floor for over a year. It was full of clothes that needed to be ironed, clothes that no one wears because no one wants to iron them.

People only iron their favorite things, those items that float briefly at the top of the basket for a day, two days at the max - that one pair of pants, those two shirts. Everything else gets piled in the basket, pressed down, buried, forgotten.

My house doesn't look any cleaner for my having emptied that one laundry basket. I am not any thinner for skipping the tortilla chips and eating a salad for lunch. I can't point and say "Ta Da!" and no one else is going to say, "Wow! You cleaned out that laundry basket!" or "Your pants look the tiniest bit less tight! That is awesome!"

So, I'm telling you HERE, right now, because I want to celebrate. If I don't celebrate small accomplishments, I may not get to celebrate at all!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


My "baby" is seventeen years old. It has been several years since I had a small child living in my house.

I remember those days, though - the days of endlessly cycling through meals and laundry and playing games and picking up toys and reading storybooks and naps and meals and more laundry and...At the end of the day, you fall into bed exhausted because you've been on your feet going full-throttle for 15-16-18 hours, and you're disheartened because, as tired as you are, when you look around at your messy house and the unfinished ToDo list, you feel like you haven't accomplished one darn thing!

I remember...except that I don't. Not really. Time has erased some of the fatigue and much of the sense of futility.

I kept baby Lizzy yesterday while her mom attended a class in Martin.

On my Monday ToDo list were: Write two articles (one, 2000 words; one, 500 words); research marketing; read other writers on writing; catch up on emails and write two letters; clean out email inbox; catch up on laundry; exercise;...

What I actually did was: play with Play-Doh; color; read books; fix snacks and lunch; make multiple trips to the potty (I lost count); play outside in the yard; swing on the porch swing;...

When Lizzy and her mom finally headed down the driveway toward their home yesterday afternoon, I headed back inside and pulled out my neglected ToDo list. "I did not get a single thing done today!" I lamented.

But then I caught myself. "No, that's not right," I corrected myself, "I got a LOT done today!" (Just not anything on that ToDo list!)

Later, I was talking with my youngest - the seventeen-year-old - and I commented how easily I had slipped back into that wrong thinking that says play and parenting (or grandparenting) aren't "real" work because they don't enable you to check off boxes on a list of objectives.

That got me to thinking about how tired I so often felt as a young mother of many children, and how so often I felt like I hadn't accomplished anything visible/measurable at each day's end. No matter how hard I worked, there were always more dirty clothes in the laundry room floor, more dirty dishes in the sink, more books and toys scattered over the living room floor, more noses and bottoms to wipe, more boo-boos to kiss...

So today, fresh on the wake-up call I received yesterday, I want to say to all you young mothers out there:

Yours is a high and holy and honorable calling. It may not look like it, and it often won't feel like it, but you are accomplishing great and glorious things in your messy, ordinary, exhausting, day-to-day existence. You are nurturing eternal souls and raising up a new generation of warriors and warrior-princesses.

Young mother:  you are a queen among women.

Yesterday, I did not accomplish anything on my ToDo list. No, I had far greater things to do instead.
Lizzy found Uncle Thomas's cool sunglasses. "Take my picture and send it to Mamaw!" she exclaimed.

You are as much serving God in looking after your own children, training them up in God's fear, minding the house and making your household a church of God as you would be if you had been called to lead an army to battle for the Lord of hosts. - Charles H. Spurgeon

Sunday, October 9, 2016


In no particular order, here are ten things I am thankful for today:

1. Sunshine and cooler temperatures.
2. Morning coffee and time to read my Bible on the front porch swing.
3. I have gas in the van and groceries for the week ahead.
4. Helen and I knocked out some overdue schoolwork this morning - woohoo!
5. My wonderful next-door neighbors.
6. Dennis, Justin, Abby, and Carly - because you love my children well, and because you are awesome people.
7. Geneva, Lizzy, Felix, Jules, and Baby P - blessings upon blessings!
8. Opportunities to write - not just for myself, but for others, too.
9. The encouragement and support of my children - Wow. Just, Wow.
10. Friends and family who have crossed over to Glory, whose memories tug my heart toward home.

TAG! It's your turn now - what are you thankful for today?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


"Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you." - Exodus 20:12

I had joined my youngest daughter and a couple of her friends for lunch on campus yesterday. We were sitting around a conference table in a large study room that opened into the main hallway of the science and engineering building.

A man passed by the door, then stepped back and looked into the room. Crossing to where our lunch group sat, he looked at me and asked, "Are you Benjamin Kendall's mom?"


He smiled and thrust his hand toward me. "I thought so!" he exclaimed. The engineering professor told me his name as he shook my hand. "It is a privilege to meet you, Mrs. Kendall!"

(Yep, I'm the mother of a celebrity!)

* * *
"Honor your father and mother..."

Dad and Mom and I have been through some rough patches over the years. There have been times when I've thought, "Yes, I love my parents, but how on earth am I supposed to honor them? What does that even mean in light of present circumstances?!"

During one of these difficult periods, a friend challenged me this way: Honoring your parents, he explained, does not mean always agreeing with them. When you are an adult, it does not mean always doing what they say or want. What it does mean is that you strive to live in such a way that others assume very good things about your parents. It means, you endeavor to be an honorable person, one whose life reflects honorably on her parents.

My friend's words were so freeing. At the time, I couldn't "fix" what was wrong in my relationship with my parents. I could, however, try to live in a way that brought my parents honor.

As if to confirm my friend's counsel, God blessed me soon after in this way:

Dad had just arrived at our house from out-of-town for a visit. Stopping by on an errand, my pastor pulled up in the driveway right behind Dad.

When I introduced the two men, my pastor's face lit up and he held out his hand. "It is such an honor to meet you, Mr. Stricklin!" 

"You shouldn't say that, young man," Daddy teased, shaking the younger man's hand. "You don't know a thing about me!"

"No, but I know your daughter," my pastor explained, "and so I can truthfully say, it is a great honor to meet you, Mr. Stricklin."

I almost burst into tears on the spot, grateful that my pastor thought well of my dad without having even met him, simply because of the things he assumed about my dad from having known me. It felt like I had both been given and been the giver of a precious gift.

* * *
"Honor your father and mother..."

My own kids have honored their mother greatly - not by always doing exactly what I would choose or by giving me fancy gifts or by winning prestigious awards, but, in a strange sort of way, by covering my nakedness.

I have failed abysmally at times as a mother, as a teacher, as a mentor, and as a friend. But instead of letting my failures define how they relate to me, my kids have chosen to relate to me with forgiveness, gratitude, and affection. Out in the big wide world, they have lived in such a way- in all their great variety of ways! - that others assume (not always rightly so) good things about me and incredible things about my role as a mother.

I could go down the entire list, name my seven children one by one, and tell you about all the times someone has said to me, "You are ------'s mom? Oh! It is such an honor to meet you!"

No. The honor is not yours, dear person that I just met - oddly enough, and not because I merit it, the honor is mine. I am overwhelmed.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


Yet she will be saved through childbearing - if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. - 1 Timothy 2:15

I am not a theologian.

No, that's not right...we are all theologians, every single one of us.

What I mean is, I am not a theologian in the sense of someone who has learned Hebrew and Greek and who has studied for years at distinguished seminaries and who has multiple advanced degrees.

I was too busy learning nursery rhymes and relearning Algebra and studying how to feed and clothe an army of children...too busy to even think about higher education. (Would I be called a Mom-ologian, maybe? No, that's not right either.)

I am not going to try to exposit the above verse - what it does and does not mean for an individual woman, for women in general, for humanity, for the church. But I am going to say, with a very full and grateful heart...

I have known dark days when I have wondered exactly how fast I would need to drive into the concrete base of an overpass to put an end to my toil...but the thought of my children brought me safely home.

I have blindly drunk poison - ignorance, self-righteousness, bigotry, passivity, bitterness, despair - and my children have time and again dashed the cup from my hand.

I have had my heart broken so completely that I thought it incapable of loving anymore...only to have my children nurse my wounded heart, gently, patiently, until its faint pulse grew strong once more.

My children have taught me to see with new eyes, to hear with new ears, to love with greater passion, and to look ahead with more fervent hope.

They have made my sorrow small and my joy BIG and my heart very, very full.

Emily, Reuben, Nate, Tom, Ben, Martha, and Helen - thank you, thank you, thank you!

Thank you, Dennis and Justin and Abby and Carly.

Thank you, Geneva and Lizzy and Felix and Jules.

Thank you, Jesus, for the children - and through them, for the life - you have given me .