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How to Pray When You’re Hanging By a Thread

Welcome to the Overflow!  Whether you’re an old friend or a new one, I’m glad you’re here. This is a place where faith is spilled and souls are filled. I hope you’ll pull up a chair and stay awhile.

I’m over at Proverbs 31 today telling about a time I found myself dangling above a swirling sea and talking about how prayer is a bit like rock climbing. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, you can find it here. But before you go, I’d love to tell you how I’m learning to pray even when I don’t know what to say…

I should never have done the math.

I’m a word gal, after all, not a numbers guru.

And, really, what good does it do a desperate mama to calculate the number of days she’s foregone a full night’s sleep?

Blame it on a mind numbed by years of inconsolable infants or on the sheer monotony of wiping faces and bottoms and floors, but on that gray winter’s day long ago, I tried to tally my exhaustion.

2,920 days. That’s how long it had been since I’d slept through the night.

Four kids and forever  buried in diapers and wails, midnight feedings and midday meltdowns, I hadn’t clocked a full night’s sleep since we’d brought home our first wrinkled bundle of wrinkles and wiggles.

Never mind that the experts claimed babies should be sleeping through the night by six months old; mine preferred to embrace the moonlight hours with eyes open wide.

Never mind that my friends told tales of quiet nights and contented cuddles; my wee ones came wrapped in colic and wired with wails.

Never mind that everyone knows that sunrise signifies a fresh start, my toddlers woke in the dark of night and begged to start their day beneath the starlight.

We’d read parenting books and consulted experts. We’d monitored eating habits and routines, schedules and stimulus. We’d established consistent nighttime norms and expectant bedtime prayers, yet nothing seemed to change the fact that our children resisted sleep like a cat runs from the swimming hole.

“They’ll sleep when they’re teenagers,” a well-meaning mom once told me with a wink.

But in the fog of exhaustion and exasperation, I’d stopped wondering if my offspring would ever sleep through the night, and I’d begun to wonder if I’d be alive to celebrate the momentous day.

“Can a woman die of sleep deprivation?” I asked my dear husband after I’d catalogued my fatigue with a senseless sum.

My husband was a doctor beyond the walls of our home, but once he walked through the door, he was just”daddy” beneath our roof. But for a rare moment, I needed my man to don his physician hat and assure me I wasn’t losing my mind. Or my life.

So, I cornered him in the coat room and voiced what any woman who had just calculated eight years of sleep deprivation might be compelled to ask.

He  scanned my face to see if I was joking.

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When You Don’t Want to Miss the Christmas Miracle

Hello!  Welcome to all who are stopping by from Proverbs 31Ministry today. And merry Christmas to my new friends and old!clip_art_illustration_of_a_chair_with_a_flower_pattern_0515-0811-2017-1316_SMU

I’m always honored to share a few minutes with you here at the Overflow! If you like what you find and would like a little inspiration to dribble into your inbox now and then, feel free to subscribe to my monthly posts on the side bar or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter. Over at Encouragement for Today, I’m telling a tale of a naughty toddler, an exasperated mama, and a lesson I learned about Christmas while huddling in a cramped corner.  But before you go, let me tell you about another little girl who helped me recover my waning wonder many Christmases ago…

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It happened thirteen years ago in a grocery store in Lincoln, Nebraska, but when I think about that awkward moment in the check out line, I can still feel the red hot embarrassment that rose from my neck to my cheeks. The store was bursting with holiday shoppers and my one-week-from-due-date belly was bursting with our third child. And my three-year-old daughter Lizzy was bursting with excitement as she anticipated the arrival of her new sibling and the thrill of the Christmas season that was unfolding in lights and color all around us.

Maybe it was the giddy gladness of those the tinny Christmas tunes streaming from the speakers overhead or the giant inflatable Santa Clause that had greeted us as we’d hurried through the doors of the grocery store that morning, but for whatever reason, my daughter could not contain her joy on that winter’s day long ago. So, as we in a slow, snaking line waiting for our turn at the check out counter, my curly-haired girl flashed an endearing smile to the gentleman behind us.  She sidled up beside him as if they’d been best friends for ages. Then, with a twinkle in her big blue eyes, she asked the silver-haired senior, “Do you see my mommy’s BIG tummy?”

Right on cue, the poor man’s eyes bolted from the smiling face of my little girl to my bulging midsection. I felt the burn of a rising blush as Lizzy drew nearer to her captive audience. She stood on her tiptoes and craned her neck so she could loudly whisper something in that poor man’s ear.

“You won’t believe what God is GWOWING in there!”  She paused for dramatic effect, batted her long lashes and then fired the punch line with breathy glee:  “I know it looks like a basketball, but it’s weally A MIWACLE!”

The old man feigned a look of shock to satisfy my daughter and then grinned over her bobbing head at my crimson face.  I flashed him a paltry smile and sighed with relief when the cashier gave me the go-ahead to unload my groceries on the moving belt. Of course, I tried to pretend that the cashier was just chuckling to herself because she had a joke running through her head, but the way she kept glancing furtively at my belly, I knew she’d overheard that my little girl’s declaration.

I sighed and wished my own excitement matched my daughter’s ever-growing sense of wonder. Lizzy’s awe had grown with each added inch of my skin-stretched middle. But sadly, as the press of the holidays hovered close and the aches and pains of pregnancy clamored loud, my wonder was waning fast.  And on that day in the grocery store, the miracle beneath my heart felt heavy and cumbersome rather than wistful and wondrous.

Please understand, I was incredibly thankful for the blessing of my third born. I’d hoped and wished and waited for the child in my womb. I’d walked through the treacherous waters of infertility with too many friends not to be keenly aware of the lavish gift I’d been given. But the closer the calendar inched toward the arrival of the baby, the more my eyes were fixed on the must-do’s in front of me instead of on the miracle inside of me. And when my eyes shifted from the baby to the busy-ness, my zeal was zapped.

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The Reason I’m Shrinking (And if you’re a mom, you might be, too!)

IMG_2824Mom, I think you’re shrinking.”

My firstborn stands beside me, the tip of his blonde head occupying the space above mine. He casts me one of his infectious grins as he puffs out his chest and holds his shoulders tall to prove the truth of his declaration.

I stretch myself up on tiptoe so I can look my fifteen-year-old in the eye.

I return his goading with a playful punch and remind him that “sometimes the best things come in small packages…”

But what I really want to tell my firstborn is that it’s his fault.

I’ve been shrinking ever since the day that tiny pink cross on a pregnancy stick declared his existence.

Before I willed him from my womb with pushes and prayers, before I held all slippery seven-pounds-seven-ounces of him in my arms, before I knew his name or the sound of his fast feet racing across the floor, I began to shrink.

Before I’d even scheduled my first O.B. visit, the chocolate-loving, Diet-Coke sipping, breakfast-skipping me dwindled away, while a calorie-counting, milk-drinking, broccoli munching mama stepped soundlessly in her place.

I read and re-read every page of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, underlining diet plans and exercise regiments while bidding farewell to my firm abs, my bladder of steel, and life without heartburn. I read how big my stomach should be measuring each week, and how much sleep I should be getting every night. I scanned lists of what to pack in my hospital bag and what to purchase for the nursery.

But there was no mention of how the me that had always been me would begin to shrink. 

No one told me that, day by day, pieces of the woman I’d been would quietly disappear, as if that bump growing just beneath my heart was elbowing her out, making space for another life that would forever change mine.

I didn’t know it then, but I was learning the timeless dance of motherhood, a selfless sway that moves with the heartbeat of Heaven. 

And, in time, I’d discover that this dance isn’t an ephemeral boogie or an occasional bop. It’s more like a perpetual game of limbo, an arduous blend of  bending low and stooping steady.

So, I grew and I shrunk all at the same time, my stomach stretching thin and taut while the woman I once was waned and changed.

I dreamed new dreams. And learned to pray. 

I worried and wished and wondered. 

My waistline disappeared and so did my stride. And as I waddled into that ninth month of pregnancy, even the very air I breathed seemed to be shrinking as an unseen tangle of legs and life pressed hard against my ribcage.

Then when my water burst right there on our ugly plaid couch in that little apartment we called home, and the contractions swept me away on waves of hot pain and cold sweat,  I didn’t understand that I was giving birth to far more  than my first baby boy. I was  giving birth to his mother, as well. 

And  when the doctor finally placed that warm bundle of wet wrinkles and soft flesh in my arms, I assumed that I’d lived through the hardest part of the dance. Surely labor is the ultimate act of bending low.

But after bearing five children and clocking five thousand sleepless nights, after wiping bottoms and blotting tears, after kissing skinned knees and praying over bruised hearts, surviving potty-training and driver’s training and all the commonplace moments in between; I’ve discovered what every other mother on the planet has learned– that the labor never ends.

Oh, we can leave the delivery ward and those babies can grow six-feet tall, but mothers spend a lifetime birthing hope and delivering dreams, bearing down in prayer and pushing forth in faith. 

It’s painful. And messy, letting ourselves contract into smallness so that Jesus can grow bigger within us.

All the bending low and becoming less, the dying to self and being emptied of expectations and agendas, this is a limbo that demands grace and second-chances.

Because  Growing up into smallness is never easy.

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When You Forget Who You Are

When my firstborn was just a toddler, we often began our dinnertime routine with a silly game.

“Whose boy are you?” I’d ask my son as we gathered round the table when Daddy got home. 

The answer changed from night to night, but Luke’s irrepressible delight did not. 

Baby blues ablaze, he loved to hold us in suspense as he decided his momentary allegiance.

“I’m Daddy’s boy!” he’d declare, while my husband cheered and I feigned grief. 

But on another night, he’d pucker his lips into a drippy kiss and change his answer. 

“I’m mommy’s boy,” he’d say with a giggle as my rowdy applause drowned out his daddy’s moans. 

One evening while we engaged in the customary charade, God interrupted our juvenile game with a question of His own.

“Whose girl are you?” my Maker whispered to my heart. 

It was a question I hadn’t considered since I’d allowed a pink cross on a pregnancy stick to redefine my life.

After nine months of partnering with God in the making of a miracle, I’d been anxious to be called by my new name. 

Before my firstborn traveled from my womb to my arms, I’d dreamed of the day when my little one would look me in the eye and call me by mommy.

I had no idea just how much of my life would be swallowed up by that name. 

I had no idea that in the days and years to come, I’d lie awake at night, too weary to sleep, and wonder if I’d ever be able to find the me beneath all that mom again.

Maybe that’s why I was silent when God invaded my daily grind and asked me who I was.

As time passed, my baby changed and grew, but my world seemed to be shrinking. 

No one validated my sacrifice as I stumbled from bed in the middle of the night to calm my fitful baby.

No one applauded me for changing a diaper or flattening the mountain of laundry before noon. 

No one hailed my amazing stamina as I read Green Eggs and Ham for the thirteenth time in one day.


I’d worn the name mommy like an Olympic ribbon when my new life as a parent had begun, but somewhere in the midst of toddler tantrums and laundry piles that name began to feel like a noose around my neck.

The name Mommy was no longer a description of who I was, but a constant reminder of who I wasn’t.

The mommy I’d dreamed I would be deserved a cape with a crimson S.

She was an immaculate homemaker, a creative playmate, and a passionate wife. 

But the me in the mirror felt more sapped than super.

The me in the mirror wondered how her soul could feel so empty when her hands were so full.

After our second child was born, my husband and I stood before our church family and humbly proclaimed our desire to dedicate our new daughter to the Lord. 

Our pastor prayed for our little girl, and then my man stepped up to the microphone to sing a song to our newest offspring.

Eyes fixed on the pink bundle in my arms, Rob sang about God’s timeless heart for His children. 

Tears mingled with my mascara as my husband crooned about growing up, yet never outgrowing God’s arms. 

On the outside, I was simply a proud mother moved by her husband’s offering of praise.

But on the inside, I was a grown woman moved by God’s timely reminder.

“Whose girl are you?” my Heavenly Father asked once again as I dug in my purse for a tissue.

I glanced at the delicate gift in my arms and finally offered Him an answer.

“I’m your girl,” my heart responded.

And suddenly, I remembered who I was.

The me under all that mom isn’t just a woman who spends her days scrubbing dishes and bottoms and floors,

She is…

  • the righteousness of God in Christ ( 2 Cor.5: 21)
  • the temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 6: 19)
  • the apple of His eye (Zec.2: 8)
  • an ambassador for Christ. (2 Cor.5: 20)
  • free from condemnation (Romans 8: 1)
  • more than a conqueror (Romans 8: 17)
  • the salt of the earth (Mathew 5: 13)
  • the light of the world (Mathew 5: 14 & Eph. 5: 8)
  • A masterpiece. (Eph 2:10)
  • complete in Him (Col.2: 1)
  • accepted in Him (Eph. 1:6)
  • redeemed (Gal. 3: 13)
  • treasured (Dt. 7:6)

I may not have a cape with a crimson S, but I’ve got a super hero who has written my name on the palm of His hand.

A savior who has declared my worth with those crimson scars from Calvary.

And when this mama becomes a child again, she can see it clearly from her rightful place on His knee—

And that’s good news for the mommy in the mirror.


Linking up with Rachel as I celebrate my small place on His big lap… one of my favorite things!


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Lessons from the crib

Lessons from the crib
 
 
It was one of those “mommy moments” that increases a mother’s heart rate on the spot and later causes her to consider the unseen angels that must have stepped in when she could not.  I was rounding the corner of the kitchen with a laundry basket in hand when I glanced into the adjacent room and noticed my toddler squatting precariously over her eight-week old brother who was lying on a blanket on the floor. 
“Hannah?”  I hollered as I heaved the laundry basket onto the kitchen counter, “what are you doing?”  
“I’m sharing my snack with Joshua,” she replied proudly.   
With a sharp, “No!” I dropped the clean clothes on the floor and sprinted to my five-week-old infant’s side just in time to pull a large chunk of granola bar out of his mouth. I did a quick finger sweep in my tiny son’s mouth and marveled at the fact that I had actually remembered something from the baby CPR course I’d taken eight years ago.  
“Don’t ever feed baby Joshua again,” I chided my three-year-old as I hugged my crying newborn to my chest. “You could really hurt him.”   
Hannah’s proud smile immediately turned upside down as giant elephant tears dripped from her wide blue eyes. “But Mommy,” she said with a sad confusion, “All you give Joshua is plain ol’ milk. He’s bored of that. He wants something different.”  Realizing my daughter’s innocent intention, I drew her close and whispered, “I know you were just trying to be nice to your brother, but milk is all he needs. It’s the perfect snack for a baby. So how about next time you share that granola bar with me, okay?”
A teary smile resolved the issue and Hannah turned her attention to her Polly Pocket dolls that were hungry for a granola bar crumb picnic.  After one more quick finger sweep through my infant’s mouth to check for any lingering evidence of the near miss from which I’d just saved him, I relaxed and settled on the couch to offer my fourth-born the milk his sister had been trying to replace.  Later that day as I recounted the frightening incident to a friend, I managed to laugh at my young daughter’s assumption that her brother was getting bored with his simple menu.
“What would make her think that?” I asked my husband later as I retold the story for the third time that day while we got ready for bed.  
“Hmm..” my husband teased as he caressed my hair that alters styles by the month, “Maybe it’s because she lives with a mom who thrives on change!”  I gave him my best “you’re so funny” roll of the eyes and climbed into bed, intent on catching a few hours of sleep before the two A.M. feeding. 
As I sat awake just hours later with my nursing infant, I used the time of peaceful darkness to pray for my children. I giggled as I asked God to protect my youngest from the innocent antics of my three-year-old.  Unexpectedly, in the silence of the post-midnight hour, an unsettling thought passed through my mind. “You aren’t much different than your toddler.” While I have never had the privilege of hearing the Lord’s voice aloud, I have begun to learn that if a thought is placed on my heart that I would not think on my own, it may be a quiet whisper from my Heavenly Father.
“What?” I asked incredulously to my unseen midnight partner.
 “I am all you need,” was the quiet reply that passed through my mind as my newborn suckled contentedly in my arms. 
The next morning, as I again settled in to feed the baby, I noticed the devotion book my   husband had left lying open on the couch. Thumbing through the worn pages, I stopped at the one marked with the day’s date.  The verse printed in bold at the top of the page caught my eye.  “Like newborn babies you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation.  Cry out for this nourishment…” 1 Peter 2:2   I didn’t even need to read the commentary to know that God was trying once again to get my attention.  Conversations from the past twenty-four hours ran through my mind.
            ”But Mommy, Josh is bored with milk!”
“Maybe it’s because she lives with a mom who thrives on change”
“You aren’t much different than your toddler…” 
In my mind’s eye, I saw Hannah stuffing the granola bar into her baby brother’s mouth and then I watched as simple snapshots from my own daily life followed like the old-fashioned slide shows I used to suffer through in junior high science class.
I saw myself pacing the room with a colicky baby and seeking energy for the day ahead in the hot pot of coffee that waited for me on the kitchen counter. I watched as I fielded the not-so-abnormal phone call from my husband telling me he had to work late once again and witnessed my knee-jerk reaction to call a friend who would indulge my pity party over another long night of parenting alone. The “personal slides” continued, and for the first time, I thought about my response to life’s little disappointments and challenges:  A phone call to a friend to fill the long night hours, a good book that could provide a momentary escape, a cup of coffee to keep me moving through the demands of the day. While none of these responses would be deemed inappropriate, I realized that not once in the parade of memories had I watched myself turn to the Lord in the times of daily need. Oh, yes, if the reel had continued to roll, I would have certainly seen pictures of myself curled up on the couch with Bible in hand or head bowed in prayer. I would have spotted myself at the weekly Bible study I attended or worshiping each Sunday in church. God was an important part of my daily diet. He just wasn’t the ONLY diet I offered my hungry soul. Like my young daughter’s dangerous attempt to supplement her baby brother’s diet with a granola bar.  I was quick to stray from the pure milk of God’s Word and fill my immediate needs with granola bar-substitutes.    
 “Do you really believe I’m all you need?” the question seemed to pop out of thin air,
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