Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

Browsing Category Grace

Family / Grace

Grace for My Children // 6

You would think that with as much love as I have for my children, it would be easy to have grace for them. I mean/intend/purpose to have grace for them, but I often fail at it. Maybe it’s because I am a horrible mom (I don’t really think that) or maybe it is because having young children demands more grace than meets the eye (especially when you get into the two, three, and four-year-old zones).

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One photo a week of our family throughout the year. 38/52 

Parenting young children is a big job. There are many joys, many messes, and many opportunities to practice the art of having grace for one another. Children are a gift from the Lord (Psalm 127:3). There is no match for the wonder, innocence, adventure, and honest faith of a child. Children are great teachers, and if we watch with open eyes, and listen intently, we learn a lot about how to experience the best of life. They are also capable of driving a perfectly well-adjusted adult to the brink of a total breakdown if the right recipe of chaos comes together. Mamas stretch their arms and lives wide to love their little ones, and the stretch is often uncomfortable.

Mothering little ones is life in the trenches. Our kids see the best and worst of us. They see us when we’ve had disrupted sleep for months on end. They see us toil through meal prep and cleanup, laundry mountains, and toy tornadoes. It is tough to have grace for their kid shenanigans in such a physically demanding and emotionally draining season of life. Because of the challenge, it is important to have a game plan before we bump up against the struggle. How can we practically have grace for our children?

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I made myself a list of ways to show grace, so I can remember them during the moments I am at risk of forgetting.

Make space for their personalities and interests even if they are not convenient for me. This is a big struggle for me. In a big family, there are certainly limitations on our time and resources, so it is not possible to pursue every interest. There are so many things to be done in a day, I sometimes find myself barking out, “No, you can’t get that out. No, you can’t paint right now. No, that just makes a big mess,” all because it doesn’t work for me. I still say no when I have to (sanity is important, yes?), but I try to say yes whenever I can. If it’s about the mess, I tell them so. I teach them what I need them to do in order to clean up from an activity that I would otherwise decline if I had to do all the cleanup myself. If it is about going to the park when the house is a mess and I’m already spent, I tell them about what (age-appropriate) tasks need to be done at home before we can go and let them have at it. If they complete them, we go, if they don’t, we stay. I look for ways to make things work for all of us.

Setting appropriate boundaries and doing everything in my power to consistently and compassionately enforce them. Kids are looking for guidance. They are looking to know that they have met our expectations, that we are pleased with them. Children will feel insecure and act out when boundaries are too loose, or the boundaries we have set have been tested and found to be…not boundaries. I think consistency with our children is one of the most gracious things we can do for them. It grows trust in our relationships, and builds their confidence in themselves when they know where the real boundaries are.

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Taking time for each one independently. I know life is busy. This might seem like an impossible thing for some, but it is important that our children receive our individual attention, even if for just a few minutes a day. They need our hugs. They need to be heard. They need our encouraging words for their developing hearts. It doesn’t have to be a ‘date’ or something that takes us away from the house (although, it can be!). It can be reading a book together on the couch. It can be unexpectedly tackling a 6-year-old and tickle-wrestling him to the ground with kisses all over his face when he is least expecting it. It can be sitting at the kitchen table making watercolor pictures together.

Respond to their needs and mistakes in a loving way. This one challenges me at times. Every time someone spills a cup of milk, their eyes dart straight to me. They are looking for my response. Will I yell and make them feel awful for a momentary mistake or will I offer a towel and clear, level-headed instructions instead?  When one child has repeatedly disobeyed, will I act as patiently and calmly as I did the first time they stepped out of line or will I give my power to influence away with impatient words or inconsistent discipline? I psych myself up for this battle every single morning. Plan my steps in advance, commit myself to patient and loving words, and pray for God’s help through the day.

Remembering that home should be a refuge. While I have dozens of friends I could call if I’m having a tough day my children have no one else but me. They are young enough that as of yet, they do not have the freedom to call whomever they choose, whenever they choose, and if they are short on encouragement, this is where they will get it…or not get it. Cultivating peace in the home starts with me and my own attitudes, and while I am not always perfect at it, I actively try to make our home an emotionally ‘safe’ place for them.

Realize that I’m setting an example, whether I recognize it or not. When I have grace for myself, I am modeling for them how to have grace for themselves, which is something that will only help them when they encounter the world outside our home. When I lose my patience and yell, it is up to me to own my wrong choices and apologize for not having self-control in the situation (even if there are real reasons for my frustration). There is no excusing our own poor behavior–unless our aim is to teach our children how to not take responsibility for themselves. When we humble ourselves before our children, they learn valuable lessons about what it looks like to own our choices, apologize honestly, and make things right with others.

Those are just a few tidbits, but hopefully they help you think about how to show grace to your children. Grace is an important ingredient in a happy home!

http://solacearts.com

“You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

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Family / Grace

On Grace and Trust // 5

I meant to write about this last week…the day after I wrote about Grace in Marriage. Life happened.

I am sad over the loss of another beautiful soul to a battle with cancer. An artist and encourager, gone at age 31. I wouldn’t say we were close, and it might be a stretch to say we were anything other than acquaintances, but we did have a shared history and I feel the hole where her voice has departed from us. I never did tell her how much she inspired me and how courageous I thought her to be. I meant to, and feel a pang of regret there. We always think there is time, but sometimes there is not. We have no way of knowing what tomorrow holds.

It seems important to follow up my last essay with a few more thoughts about grace in the context of conflict, which could easily be in marriage (holla, married folk) or any other relationship. What does grace look like when you’re at odds with someone you love? What does it look like when you feel hurt by the actions or words of another?

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One photo a week of our family throughout the year. 37/52

The thing about grace is that no one deserves it but everyone needs it. If we wait to offer it until someone deserves it, we’re going to be waiting an awfully long time. I can think of a lot of wrongs that can never be made 100% right again after they’re done, and what of those? Is there no grace for those transgressions?

Looking at the life and ministry of Jesus, I see that grace is freely given to every last one of the people who acknowledged their need for it. Grace is a gift that should be freely given, if we identify at all with the example Jesus has set for us. Offering grace freely keeps us from being trapped in a prison of bitterness, because grace doled out looks something like hacking down the thorns of bitterness and tearing it up by the roots. If we can’t forgive, we can’t find freedom either.

Extending grace to someone who has hurt us might be as simple as quietly passing on the opportunity to say the first thing that comes to mind in a heated moment. It might look like treating the other person with respect that speaks to the value of their personhood, even if we do not otherwise esteem or look up to them. Giving grace might be a commitment to speaking with a civil tone and edifying words, or listening with an open heart instead of through a filter that vilifies the other party.

In all of this, I have to point out that giving grace to someone who has hurt us does not mean that broken trust is immediately restored, if it is ever restored. While grace is freely given, trust is earned. Every ounce of trust is painstakingly earned by consistency, commitment, honesty, vulnerability and good will. I’m sure a number of other things could be added to that list. Rebuilding broken trust is serious business. One must discern through prayer how to proceed in a healing process such as this.

Trust in relationship is a fluid and ever-changing thing. With every relationship, we build trust by our attentiveness, transparency, flexibility, and connection, or we break it with secrecy, disengagement, insensitivity, and pride. Trust can be fragile. It’s one of those things we have to build on purpose…and something that we can shatter in an instant. May you be a trust-builder, and a grace giver to those in your life.

I hope these thoughts helpful. Guard your heart and give grace freely. Both can be done at the same time.

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“Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23 NASB

321. beautiful art, 322. the life and inspiration of a beautiful soul, 323. pancakes that make everything better, 324. heartaches that find peace, 325. playtime in the forest

Grace / Life & Faith

Grace in Marriage // 4

We married young. Twenty-one and twenty-two at the time of our vows. We were all in, committed with our whole selves, and somehow completely ignorant of what marriage would really look like on the other side of the celebration. To be fair, even our first bumpy years were pretty enjoyable all-in-all, but they were not without conflict. Our most dramatic and ridiculous argument to date was over a chicken nugget and who would get to eat it. So petty. But we were in that messy place of bringing all of our broken selves to the table, and figuring out how to connect across our miles of differences, longing to be loved, and learning how to speak a whole new language.

It’s a miracle, if you think about it…that two unique individuals are able to sync up and travel together through life with any sense of cohesion or shared vision. We are so different in so many ways, sometimes I laugh about what an odd pair we are. And yet, the shoe fits in a mysterious way that only God could orchestrate.

On the front end of marriage, I thought I knew a lot about what makes a marriage work. Nearing ten years in, I think the answer to that is a bit more simple than I originally thought. That’s not to say that relationships are not complicated. They are. But at the bedrock of a healthy marriage is a foundation of grace for one another. Find a couple who strives to give grace to one another at every turn, and you will find a couple whose love is growing by the minute. The reality is, the person you have married or will marry will be flawed, broken in their own ways, and not able to live up to the knight-in-shining-armor image at every moment. If there is no grace, within time, there will also be no love.

There are high-highs and low-lows. Stresses and heartaches and curveballs and grumpy attitudes. There is no hiding all of the ways that we are not lovely…not from a spouse. Spouses see what very few others do, including the good, the bad, and the really ugly.

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Married about 1.5 years and with our first sweet baby…now 8 years old. 

My husband’s love for me baffles me. The man is a gracious man when it comes to loving his wife. I have been the slow-to-learn part of this equation, and I doubt that I could recall all of the ways he has extended grace to me over the years. What I do know, is it is the very grace which he extends to me is what compels me to love more selflessly; to respond with grace myself, which has not always come easy.

I think grace in marriage has everything to do with tenderness. The way we talk to each other matters. It is easy to criticize. It is easy to railroad over the other person’s feelings. When we take the time to really listen and be tender with our words, there is a sweetness to be discovered that does not disappoint.

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“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” Proverbs 15:1 NLT

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

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If you’re interested in a thoughtful theological exploration of marriage, feel free to watch the last two sermons from Eastlake Church, titled “Becoming One” with Dan Allender. I’m told a third installment in this series will be added to the website this week, and I’ll be watching! I appreciated many of the thoughts shared in both the talks from 8/31/14 and 9/7/14. In both videos, the message begins around the 15 1/2 minute mark and last about 35 minutes. These will likely only be available to view for about the next 3-4 weeks.

Family / Grace / Life & Faith

Grace for Me // 3

Nothing is ever completely done. Not dishes, not laundry. Not cleaning, not cooking. There are always more tasks that can be done, and new ones that show up like clockwork. I learned some years ago that if I want to feel satisfied with what I’ve accomplished in a day, I have to think about what must be done, do it without complaining, and put what should be done on a ‘for later’ list. For many mamas, all the tasks we don’t complete in a day are all we can remember when we are falling asleep at night. All that we failed to complete picks at the heart like a constant nag that tells us we are not enough for our children, for our husbands. Not organized enough, not tidy enough, not present enough, not creative enough, not fit enough. It is a serving of inadequacy that no mama needs.

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One photo a week of our family throughout the year. 36/52

Truthfully, for all the Pinterest homes and Facebook highlights we see these days, it is no wonder that we often feel overwhelmed with the pressure to have ours lives together as much as everyone else obviously does. Except for every photo you see, there are all the photos that are not taken of the mess, the challenges, and the things we struggle through that we would rather the whole world not see. Add that to the reality that we do not live life together in community the way women did in the past, supporting and encouraging one another through the challenging and mundane parts of life, mostly because we are too busy to see anyone else face-to-face on a regular basis, and we typically don’t share those struggles on social media. The standards we aspire to are not always grounded in reality of what is possible for us, or even what is realistically expected of us by those who matter in our lives. We can’t do everything. We are perhaps capable of anything we put our minds to, but not able to do everything together without dropping a ball somewhere. The pressure can feel crushing at times.

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I’m guilty of expecting way more of myself than God expects of me in certain areas. I’ve had that problem for years. With the best intentions, I want to be as productive as humanly possible, sometimes at the expense of truly important things. It has taken me years to realize that I will never live up to what I once believed was the ideal mother, the best wife, the perfect friend…and I am learning to be ok with that. I think we sometimes fail to give grace where God gives it generously. To ourselves.

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To put my money where my mouth is today, I picked up my camera and snapped photos of the untended messes all around my house. I hope that you’ll see behind my sweet family photos, I do not have it all together. I am not ‘doing it all’. I am leaving undone what is less important, and learning to let God’s grace be my strength while I strive to love and keep my eyes on the more important things. It’s not easy to do, but grace really does fill in the gaps.http://solacearts.com

I hope you enjoy the creeper Ironman mask under the table.  Courtesy of our almost 5-year-old superhero.

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

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Grace / Life & Faith

Grace By Definition // 2

After a look at a personal definition of grace a few days ago, I want to take a peek at how grace is officially defined in the dictionary. I love words and their meanings. I love the nuances that alternate meanings and synonyms lean into, and I will admit, reading the dictionary (and thesaurus) are among my geeky pastimes. And present times. Feel free to roll your eyes. But really, the stuff is good!

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One photo a week of our family throughout the year. 35/52

Of grace, Webster says it is:

  • The unmerited love and favor of God toward mankind.

Unmerited, meaning something that is not deserved or earned. Favor meaning the state of being approved or held in high regard. Can I ask you to read that over again for a moment? The grace of God is something that we do not deserve, did not earn, and God holds us in high regard when we receive His grace. I don’t know about you, but something about that equation seems on the incredibly generous end of the scale…to our benefit. Grace is a serious thing that side-steps our inadequacy to make the grade, but lifts us out of the pit anyway. That humbles me!

He loves us so much that He gave His only Son. I’m sorry, but I can’t think of anyone I hold in high enough regard that I would offer one of my children in exchange for their life. That is unthinkable. And yet God has done it for us.

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

  • Divine influence acting in a person to make the person pure, morally strong, etc

God is presently at work in our lives to strengthen us for the work He calls us to do. He is not disinterested or disengaged. He is near, present, invested, and involved in ways that we see only faintly, if we see them at all. Some people have not recognized God’s work in their lives, or have rejected God’s way (which He gives us the freedom to do). He promises that nothing will separate us from His love, if we want Him in our lives, even if it takes us a while to recognize what He has done for us. Everyone who humbles themselves before God and seeks Him is welcome into His family.

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT

“No power in the sky above or in the earth below–indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39 NLT

  • A special gift or help given to a person by God

There are little ways that God helps in my days. I get comments often about how busy I must be with five kids, or how do I do it? Honestly, God helps me. Seriously. Some people talk about coincidence or stars aligning when things go well in life, but I am convinced that God literally helps. He gives me just what I need at the right times to get me through a tough day or a tough season.  I hope to share some examples of how God has helped in my life as the month goes on.

  • To bring honor to; dignify

Can I be honest about something? It completely blows my mind that God, Creator of all things would be interested in me. What greater honor is there than God’s attention? God’s care for me? The honor has no match.

And for another dose of geekery, some synonyms of grace: kindness, mercy, benefit, blessing, service, clemency, pardon, amnesty, indemnity, absolution, redemption, exoneration, reprieve, respite, regeneration

Those are some big words. And they are weighty words too. Start talking about amnesty, redemption and regeneration and you will have my attention in a quick minute.

Amnesty – Forgetting or overlooking a past offense. I need God to overlook a whole lot of offenses in my life. Overlooking it doesn’t mean He dismisses it. He knows what we’ve done and what has been done to us. Everyone will give an account for what they have done with the days given them, but isn’t it a comfort that what we have done, though acknowledged by God, will not be counted against us because of Christ? This is hope I hold on to, sometimes by my fingernails.

Redemption – Deliverance, rescue. I know better than anyone where it is I was headed without the transformative work of Jesus in my life. There is hope for more than loss, brokenness, and hurt. So much more.

Regeneration – Spiritual rebirth, or in biology terms, the restoration or new growth of tissue that has been lost or injured. Way nerdy and maybe a stretch, but how cool is that?

Ok. I’m done now. For today anyway. My prayer is that you would understand grace just a little bit more today and going forward.

”We have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience.” Colossians 1:9-11

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Grace / Life & Faith

Exploring Grace // 1

This summer turned out a bit different than I expected, but I am realizing that plans must change when life turns around a bend you weren’t expecting.

I found myself more alone and more quiet than I have ever been. Don’t worry. It has been good, even though there have been uncomfortable moments. I’ve lived a lot of years of chasing and racing and striving and wrestling out my stuff, so it is only natural that there would eventually be a swing to the other side of things where life just had to get simple and I would need to sit still and listen.

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Grace has been on my mind.

Defining grace in my own words, I would say that grace is undeserved kindness. I am smitten with the word “kindness” for a number of reasons. Kindness is a buzzword in this house, thanks to all the people here who are constantly learning to exercise more of it with each other. Not just the kids. Me too. I’m not content with us merely tolerating each other…I pray and long for our relationships with one another to be unmistakably marked by kindness, which is no easy task in close family relationships. We are familiar, which means we see the best and the worst of each other.

Kindness requires intention, carefully chosen words and actions, and self-control. Kindness is a gesture that involves an element of putting oneself in a humble place in order to serve another, even in a small way. I show kindness to my children when I remain calm when I really want to yell instead. I show kindness to my husband when I plan, and shop, and cook a meal that I know he will enjoy. I show kindness to a friend when I show up in a time of need, putting aside other things to listen and pray and hug.

None of these things come naturally, and none of them come easily at times either. I am learning them from Jesus, who seems intent on making sure I understand the real meaning of His grace in my life…an example to follow. He came to serve me and give His life up for me, that I might be reconciled to God, and He calls me to do as He does. I am to put myself in a humble place and learn how to extend the same servant-hearted kindness to those who cross my path…to represent Him not as a billboard, but as feet that will go, and hands that will do the kindness that is desperately needed all around this messy world.

Has there ever been a time someone showed you kindness in a way that has stayed with you even years later? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

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Grace / Life & Faith

An Invitation

During my college years, I had a blue hand-me-down couch that moved with me from place to place. It was just wide enough for two people to curl their knees up and settle in cozy for some hot chocolate and conversation. Ever since then, I’ve had a fondness for that kind of time with friends…the drawing near, opening up, and sharing honestly about life in a safe space. On that blue couch, we spilled heartaches, adventures, laughter and prayers…and probably the hot chocolate from time to time.

The couch is gone, but the memories are not. It was during that season I realized that it is up to me to make space for what I long for in my life. Meaningful conversations are incredibly life-giving to me. My favorites are the gritty ones…the ones that are honest and real. I love the little things I learn about a person when we happen into that space.

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(taken out the window of our van on the Oregon trip….rays of light make my heart sing)

I have been searching for my voice as a writer for years. It’s silly, when I really think about it. The struggle really isn’t that my voice is missing…it is that I have been guarded. I’ve been afraid that if I really let all my personal weirdness passion hang out there, I would be met with rejection. It’s my abandonment issues. Those pesky things. It’s my wild imagination that allows me to dream up all kinds of horrible consequences for letting it all hang out, metaphorically speaking of course. I assure you, there will be nothing else hanging out over here. I’m all into mom clothes now, thanks.

So that said, with summer’s shenanigans behind us and autumn creeping in, I have decided to take this blog in a new direction for a time…to test the waters, if you will. I will be exploring a new theme each month (provided this new direction lasts for more than a month, which is never guaranteed in a house as busy as mine), and will be doing so without my usual over-thinking filter (I hope). I would love for you to jump right in with me. I might need some encouragement. I would cherish your thoughts, comments and personal stories. Really, I would just love to make space for conversations to happen, even if there is a great distance between us, because I heart great conversations.

For the month of September, I invite you to an exploration of the theme of “grace”. I’m going to be digging in to what grace is, what grace isn’t, where we find grace, how we receive it and share it and hopefully live it. A look from all sides, I guess. So put your hats on and let’s go, friends!

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