How to have and maintain a healthy relationship with yourself

Let’s start this post with this statement so that we don’t get it twisted that this is just yet another self-help post:

Any healthy, sustainable relationship with yourself must be deeply rooted in a healthy, sustainable relationship with God. It cannot hang on the balance of what the world has to offer. – Jessica McHugh

There you have it. The secret behind finding and maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself stems from a healthy relationship with your Creator.

Many of us fall into the trap of unhappiness because we chase the things the world tells us we need in order to find happiness: money, status, followers, careers, perfect bodies, etc.

Although most of us have everything we need, Americans have steadily become more and more unhappy since our peak in the 1990s, according to the World Happiness Report:

“Even as the United States economy improved after the end of the Great Recession in 2009,” that report noted, “happiness among adults did not rebound to the higher levels of the 1990s, continuing a slow decline ongoing since at least 2000.”

What also came around in the 1990s?? DIGITAL MEDIA. The article linked to above sheds a light on how digital media has contributed to the steady decline in our happiness.

What does digital media bring to the table? Highlight reels.

You hear it all the time: STOP COMPARING YOUR BEHIND-THE-SCENES LIFE TO SOMEONE ELSE’S HIGHLIGHT REEL. But we can’t. We compare and compare and compare ourselves to others and their things until we absolutely loathe ourselves and where God has us.

Have you ever heard the saying “comparison is the thief of joy?” Do you know why that is?

Isaiah‬ ‭40:18 asks us, “With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken Him?”

It’s because we were never designed to idolize anything other God, and when we do, we settle into unrest. Sometimes so unrelated that it consumes us and becomes a stronghold.

If we were to only judge ourselves the way God does — if we only compared ourselves to His vision of and for us — what would we find? What would life be like if we focused our gaze on Him and trusted His word instead of constantly comparing ourselves to others?

Isaiah 58:11 gives you that answer. “The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

That’s right…. when you only compare yourself to the One who created you, the One who gave you His same spirit, you will realize that YOU ARE:

Continuously guided.

Satisfied.

Made Strong.

Bountiful.

Fail-proof.

This is where I land every single time I need reminded of who I am. When I know who I am, I stop comparing myself to the world, helping me have that healthy relationship with myself. A constant inner peace if you will. The way we were to designed to feel.

Tips for achieving this:

  • Forgiveness.
  • Grace.
  • Mercy.
  • Patience.

The kind that God shows you, you need to show yourself. Every single day.

Want to hear more? Listen to the podcast – How to have and maintain a healthy relationship with yourself.

Looking My Triggers Straight in the Eye…

This week school started back up, and we were prepping to pack for lunches when one child asked for SunButter. No big deal, right?

Well, thanks to God, it’s not anymore.

You see, SunButter was a binge food I relied heavily on at the peak of my disordered eating. I could easily down an entire jar (if not more) without blinking an eye. It got so bad that, on a couple occasions, I found myself dumping dish soap into the jar so that I couldn’t eat any more of it. I haven’t had it in the house since because I wasn’t 100% sure that I could resist bingeing again.

Bingeing, for me, was a symptom of a deeper issue. It was a symptom of my stronghold, and my stronghold of choice was/is self-loathing. I would restrict myself because I loathed myself, which led to bingeing and then more loathing, rinse and repeat. I stayed in this very unhealthy cycle for many, many months before I knew I couldn’t handle it on my own.

Through prayer, petition, and surrender, God rescued me when I was at my lowest. When I felt the most unworthy, He showed me just how worthy I was, and I truly haven’t looked back since. He has used my wounds to glorify Him and has lead me to speak of my journey so that others who are fighting the same battle can see His light at the end of the tunnel.

My days aren’t perfect — I still struggle — but I wrote this blog post to say that they are SO MUCH BETTER!!

I bought the kid the SunButter!! It has set untouched by me in the cabinet for almost a week. That is such a milestone for me! It may seem trivial to you, but this is a praise-Jesus moment in my recovery. I can look that trigger right in the eye and know that it has no power over me. All the glory to God!! Absolutely anything is possible!

If you are interested in my story and would like to hear more, don’t forget about The Whole House Gathering on September 7th!! I will be speaking about having and maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself. You can grab your tickets here https://m.bpt.me/event/4240478

Make sure to register by September 5th!!!

Also, mark your calendars for October 19th. I will be speaking at a women’s workshop about God carrying me through my weaknesses to find my worthiness.

Hope to see you at both!!

Jess

The Spiritual and Missional Aspects of Adoption/Foster Care

*This is an excerpt from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos for Adoptive/Foster Parents by Kathleen Guire

A few months ago, I wrote an article titled “What If We Treated Foster/Adoptive Parents as Missionaries?” I got lots of flack from non-Christians (which is understandable, to an extent), but I was shocked to also get some negative comments from Christians. So I started asking adoptive/foster parents what they thought about the subject. Then I took it a step further and created a survey that asked all the questions I was curious about. I shared it with my adoption/foster care support group, and several friends did the same. I’ll be sharing the results throughout this article along with some of the feedback via quotes.

Your Home as a Mission Field

Before I began the season of homeschooling in my life, I hadn’t thought of my home as my mission field or considered the far-reaching implications of family to the third and fourth generation. I pretty much thought about whatever seemed to be going on at the moment or what the church was putting on the calendar that I needed to attend to. 

When Jerry and I were married, we were just getting our sea legs when it came to Christianity. We were both sorting through the theology and doctrines handed to us by our parents. (You can read the whole scoop in A Positive Adoption Story.) I had a general sort of doctrine — don’t get divorced, don’t commit adultery, go to church regularly.  My beliefs about family were muddled somewhere in the middle of all that, but I had taken my cues mostly from the culture around me. These are just a few of the assumptions I picked up:

  • Having children is a choice and sometimes (even in the church) viewed as an impediment to true ministry. 
  • Ministry happens at the church, out in the community, or in some third-world country. 
  • If you have children, you can’t (or shouldn’t) bring them along to things that are holy or have the word “ministry” attached to them. You farm them out or wait until they are grown before you do anything of real value. 

I followed the church culture like it was the Pied Piper of Hamelin. I filled my schedule with church ministry activities and shooed my kids out of the way. I needed to do holy work, and they were obstacles to that — until Denny Kenaston planted a seed in that set of tapes, A Godly Home. That seed grew into the vague, unsettling idea that I was growing the wrong sort of ministry. In response, I began researching other authors, listening to other teachers, reading the Bible, and questioning everything I knew about family. 

Although I’m the type of person who likes systems, facts, and formulas, I have learned the hard way that without a foundation, these things aren’t effective. I was that way with family. I thought if someone could just give me the general formula — stay married, don’t commit adultery, feed the kids, etc. — then everything would be alright. But the how alone doesn’t work. There has to be a why. The Bible puts it this way: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Families are destroyed because we don’t fully understand their importance. 

The Stay-at-Home Missionary

I sat on a comfy couch in the Chi Alpha room at Trinity. The smell of rich, brewed coffee permeated the air as the Keurig hissed for the tenth time. Women filed over and filled couches, chairs, and the floor. Soon, coffees were abandoned on end tables in favor of pillows to hug. Women cried as they poured out their woes, insecurities, and failings. This wasn’t a group therapy session. It was a Mom’s Tea I led every Friday at our homeschool co-op, THESIS. These women were my friends. 

The overarching theme was “I’m just a mom.” Some of these women had left nursing, accounting, teaching (in a public school), and other careers outside the home. The message culture was hissing at them was toxic: “The job you are doing is not important.” 

And we were not alone in that belief. As I mentioned earlier, only 56.9% of people I surveyed said they think of family as a mission or ministry. Meanwhile, 25.9% said family is not a ministry or mission, and 17.2% said maybe. I shouldn’t be surprised at the results, but I was!

But this idea of family not being a ministry couldn’t be further from the truth. The acts of raising, teaching, praying for, and attaching to our children are among the most important things we will ever do. Moms are stay-at-home missionaries. One survey-taker noted: “I believe God created our family to be together to minister to other families and our community — both with our own gifts and with our experiences. Plus, as a mom, raising my kids to know God is my greatest ministry.”

I agree. That’s why I love the movie Marley and Me. Jen, who has decided to leave her career as a journalist and stay home to raise her kiddos, says something like, “No one told me it would be this hard.”  Her husband John agrees and gives her an out, saying she can go back to work, but she won’t bite. She wants to raise her own children. 

Jen alluded to the fact that her career outside the home was easier than raising kids. I cry every time I watch that scene because it resonates with me so much. It’s as if the culture tells us women that we bring no value to the world if we “just stay home.” The world wants us to raise children who are well-rounded, emotionally stable, educated, and contributing members of society — but often looks down on those who leave a career outside the home to focus on that responsibility. 

Our society is full of therapies, counselors, and facilities designed to help people heal from childhood trauma and its long-term effects. We have an army of women willing to stay at home and raise kiddos so they don’t have trauma or help them heal from past trauma, and the voice they hear is, “You aren’t worth. You aren’t doing anything of value.” In Parenting is Your Highest Calling and 8 Other Myths that Keep us Trapped in Guilt and Worry, Leslie Leyland Fields shares:

“The intense spotlight on the home comes to us at this point in our history for good reason. All of us know, the traditional family is under serious attack. Family units now include same sex couples and three parent families in which children’s needs are sometimes less important than the rights and whims of adults. Child abuse is rising so fast that it is described as an epidemic by the Child Welfare League of America. As families fracture and states scramble to fill the gap, more and more children are entering foster care. Against the backdrop of such moral fragmentation, surely we can assert that our highest call is our families!”

Leslie goes on to say our highest calling is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). While I wholeheartedly agree with her, we cannot overstate how important raising your family is. This mission is a big part of our highest calling. I point this out because the feminist pendulum has swung so far to the left that it can actually damage and divide women. It often leaves the impression that being a stay-at-home mom is an second-class, almost subhuman role.

Foster Care as a Ministry or Mission

Out of the families surveyed:

  • 70.7% said that yes, foster care/adoption is a ministry.
  • 17.2% said no.
  • 12.1% said maybe.

If your family is a mission, isn’t it a natural progression that foster/care and adoption is? If we categorize being a mom as a mission, why wouldn’t we include foster care and adoption? 

Let’s be clear: We don’t adopt or foster to create a ministry. We don’t have children to create a ministry, either. God puts us in ministry. Often, we’re not even aware of it until we look back and see His handiwork. Our job isn’t to create a ministry; our job is to be obedient. Ministry exists in every area of our lives when we are obedient to Christ.

Ministry draws us closer to God. When we walk in obedience, our relationship with Jesus is fuller, more dependent, and more intertwined. Our relationships are affected and enhanced. That is true ministry. It’s not a plaque on the wall or a saying on a tee shirt — it’s relationship. Through our relationship with Christ, we become new creatures. Our old habits and ways have passed away, and we live with His light shining through us. That is the ministry we engage in and that the world longs to see. This sort of ministry isn’t planned in your Google calendar or written into a mission statement. It’s found in your everyday life with Christ, led by the Holy Spirit. 

As foster or adoptive parents, our home is a long-term (forever) mission base. We bring these kids who have been discarded by the culture, hurt by their parents, and harmed by trauma into our homes. There is rarely a respite.

I talked to Elizabeth King, a full-time missionary with twenty-two years under her belt. When she and her husband were presented with the opportunity to adopt two girls, they said, “More ministry? Yes!” They were up for it. Hadn’t they been practicing this for years? She says:

“But we were not really ready for the total onslaught of doing ministry right from the very core of who we were. Always before we had ministered outside of our home or had temporary visitors in our home. Our residence was a place of refuge from the rigors of ministry. But now, by accepting these broken girls into our lives – there was nowhere left to retreat to. Nowhere to relax. No escape from the desperate needs and destructive behaviors of the two hurting souls. We found that all our weaknesses, which we could hide pretty well in the course of normal ministry, were now staring us in the face every day.”

Rachel Judd, another adoptive parent, said this:

“I didn’t have that mentality when we started adopting, but when we brought home two from Ethiopia from traumatic backgrounds, my views shifted. I could no longer be involved in certain things as I needed to keep my focus on these children and the rest of our family. I knew our family was different from most and people didn’t understand. I didn’t even have the energy to help with VBS most years or simple volunteer work at church. I was burned out. I had to shift my thinking and see that we were parents and caretakers to some very traumatized children and that one day our season would be different.”

Another said: 

“I believe anytime that you walk with the Lord in your calling, it is a ministry. Google defines ministry as ‘the spiritual work or service of any Christian.’ Foster care and adoption is a beautiful display of bringing one into the home and trusting the Lord with the process.”

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include some of the opposition: 

“No, it is not for us, and it irks me when I hear it referred to as such by other foster parents. With all the faith-based agencies I see that for the majority of foster parents it is a ministry. I feel like calling it a ministry or mission makes it less about the children and more about the foster parents’ religious commitment. Calling it a mission sounds like it’s an obligation and the foster parents are checking off a box to ‘get into heaven.’”

I kind of get her point. I might agree if I were only fostering/adopting to have a mission. Like I said earlier, it was in hindsight that I saw it as a mission. I didn’t set out to adopt so I could have a mission. I became a Christian, and then everything became a mission, because as the Word says, “Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

I love what Rich Mullins said in an interview with 20 The Countdown Magazine: “A spiritual thing is folding your clothes at the end of the day. A spiritual thing is making your bed. A spiritual thing is taking cookies to your neighbor that is shut in or raking their front lawn because they are too old to do it. That is spirituality.”

Whatever we do for God and others is ministry, whether it is making peanut butter sandwiches, reading a Magic School Bus book to a child, singing a nursery rhyme with a toddler, cleaning up the kitchen, or adopting an orphan. It’s all ministry. 

To address the last point of the survey-taker, I would add that Christians don’t earn their way into heaven. The only way to heaven is through Jesus — it’s by grace alone that we are saved. No ministry work we do will secure a place in heaven.  

And as far as it not being about the child, raising a child is about the child. It has to be, because anything else is unsustainable. Fostering or adopting can’t be about some lofty ideal, checking something off your to-do list, or making yourself feel good or important. None of those motivations will survive the everyday realities of parenting kids from hard places. I can’t imagine telling my kiddos — as I serve up the third batch of chocolate chip pancakes on a Saturday morning before spending the rest of the day at swim meets, birthday parties, or whatever else they have on the agenda — that it isn’t about them. Raising children is about children. There’s no other way around it unless you are the worst-case scenario in the system: an abuser, neglecter, child molester, or pedophile. 

One survey respondent summed it up well: “The Bible says religion that is pure is caring for the orphans. Children in foster care are modern day orphans [with] parents that are absent in their lives. Providing a safe and loving home for these kids to enjoy their childhood with their basic needs (and beyond) met is fulfilling Scripture!”

Want to hear more about the Spiritual and missional Aspects of Adoption?

Listen to the podcast interview with Sandra Flach of Orphans No More Podcast.


When You Have to Disrupt the Adoption

People always say life never happens the way we envision. Despite our best efforts, things turn out differently than we anticipate. 

When we felt the Lord calling us to adopt, we didn’t even know dissolved adoptions were a thing. Yet we ended up living out our worst nightmare. We had to educate ourselves about mental illness, therapies, medications, doctors, lawyers, how to document every little detail, and eventually the ins-and-outs of the CPS system. Weekly therapy sessions, constantly changing medications, and researching the options available to us became our new normal. It was most definitely the furthest thing from how we envisioned our life would be. 

In 2010, along with our 13-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, we embarked on a journey to bring a brother and sister sibling group home from Ethiopia. By the end of 2011, the time had come to travel across the world so that they could join our family. At the time of the adoption, they were 5 and almost 9. 

All we knew was that their biological mother had passed away, and there was no one available to care for them. We would later discover that the youngest, our Ethiopian son, had severe PTSD and anxiety among other mental illnesses that would take years to sort through. 

Our Judd clan had grown overnight to include an almost 15-year-old, an almost 9-year-old, a 6-year-old, and a 5-year-old. Our newest two children spoke no English and were reeling from some deep loss and trauma. It was overwhelming and exhausting. Before we knew it, we were operating in survival mode.

I would be remiss to go any further without pointing to Jesus. Each chapter of our family’s story has God’s fingerprints on every page. Even the darkest days were illuminated by Jesus’ love for us. No twist or turn was traveled alone. He promises in Scripture to never leave us or forsake us, and I am here to testify to that truth. 

Between the years of 2011 and 2016, our family walked roads that were almost unbearable. We noticed from the beginning that our Ethiopian son (whom I will refer to as H) was carrying the scars of trauma. He would have meltdowns that lasted hours. 

Although his meltdowns finally calmed down after a few months of being home, the PTSD and anxiety were still in full swing. He could not take a shower with the curtain drawn and could not use the restroom with the door closed. He was terrified of the dark and wasn’t sleeping well. He would walk with his back against the wall because he was afraid of who might come up behind him. He refused to be in a room with a closed door and often struggled with paranoid or irrational thoughts. 

Over time, other behaviors came to the forefront. He was very jealous of our other son (whom I will call C) — to the point of trying to hurt him in retaliation for things C was doing well. Fun time spent burning off energy on the trampoline became a time to try and injure C. H began showing signs of very dangerous behavior. We found hidden shanks he had made by whittling wood and throwing stars cut from old CDs that were sharp as glass. 

The overtly violent behavior started with little things, like putting thumbtacks in C’s doorway “so they would go through his foot when he got out of bed” and sleeping with items that could be used as weapons “to hurt C if he comes in my room.” We managed these behaviors as best we could, but our home was no longer a safe haven. It had become a war zone as we tried to keep things to a manageable level. 

Our oldest daughter (whom I will call A) was developing severe depression and anxiety as a result of the constant chaos. She was a competitive swimmer, and we were thankful she had an outlet outside of the turmoil that was our home. However, no matter the temporary distraction, our home life was having a negative impact on her mental health. 

By 2015, H was in and out of short-term psychiatric hospitals. We had exhausted every avenue available to us. We had tried 5 different types of therapies that were unsuccessful — including TBRI (trust-based relational intervention) and equine therapy, multiple psychiatrists, multiple medications, and a couple of months in a residential treatment center. 

We had EMS sedate him to safely transport him to a hospital after an hours-long fit of rage that included hitting police and EMS officers. H had told us that he had plans to kill us and proceeded to give me a very detailed description of how he would do it. At one point, he even came up with plans A and B to kill us in ways he thought he would not get caught. 

His rages were in full force by this point and would last 3 to 5 hours. He was extremely violent and would hit, kick, bite, and spit. We had to monitor his every move and keep him constantly in our line of sight to  protect the other children. We had alarms on doors and video monitors in rooms. No one was safe, and everyone had to be protected and watched at all times. 

Thankfully, the only ones to actually get hurt physically were my husband and me. Between the two of us, we experienced cracked ribs, kicks to the jaw, and an ER visit for lower back trauma from being repeatedly kicked by H while trying to restrain him. Our lives had turned into a nightmare beyond nightmares. 

While we struggled to keep everyone safe, our oldest daughter (by now an older teenager) began self-medicating in an attempt to mask the helplessness. We were so overwhelmed that we kept chalking it up to curiosity. No parent wants to come to terms with the fact that their daughter is struggling to cope. Her drug use eventually ended with a stint in rehab — yet another word I never envisioned having in our family vocabulary. 

Our goal during the beginning of 2016 was just to survive until the end of the school year. Once school ended, we would try to figure out what our next steps would be. 

June rolled around, and all hell broke loose. After an extremely long and violent rage with H, we knew we could no longer keep our other children safe while simultaneously parenting him. He had begun hitting the other children while making known his plans to kill us all. We would have to hide the other children in a bedroom with the door closed and a noise machine running in an effort to minimize the trauma they were enduring on the sidelines. 

As our saga continued to unfold, the Lord orchestrated every detail so that we knew we were never alone. He placed just the right people in our lives at just the right moments. He opened doors for us that we didn’t even know existed. What we thought were obstacles, He used to strengthen our faith and trust in Him. He paved a way where there was no path. 

The following days, weeks, and months following that last violent rage with H were a whirlwind. In June 2016, we had H admitted to yet another psychiatric hospital (sadly, we knew the packing list by heart at this point) and proceeded to call CPS to turn in our own child. We told CPS that our family was in danger and that we would not be picking him up from the hospital. They opened a case on our family and interviewed all of us. We were told they would file charges against us for failure to take responsibility for H. 

Within weeks, we found ourselves staring at a stack of documents in a mediation room full of lawyers and case workers. We were given instructions on all the various times we would be expected to be in court over the next 12 months. It was overwhelming. We were encouraged to hire our own lawyer and informed that one had been appointed to represent H. Due to God’s faithfulness, we found an amazing lawyer with whom we formed an instant bond. She had compassion for our family and kept us informed every step of the way. 

A year later, we chose to terminate our rights in the hope that he would get the treatment he so desperately needed — treatment we sought over and over again, in the face of every imaginable obstacle. 

During the year H was in CPS care, he had to be removed from his foster family due to violent behaviors. After bouncing from placement to placement, he was finally adopted out of foster care, though we know his problems continue and likely always will, even with ongoing treatment. The damage was done long before he made his way out of Ethiopia. There are some things that love, no matter how strong, cannot “fix” on its own.

Our hearts will never be the same. We fought with every fiber of our beings for H. We loved him then and will always carry love in our hearts for him. But the point of this story is not us — or our children, or even “the system.” 

The point is that, in the short-term, there is help. You can and must keep your family safe. In the midst of the storm, that may seem impossible, but it isn’t. And in the long-term, there is healing — through therapy (individual and family), counselors, and the grace of God. In the midst of the storm, this too seems impossible, but it isn’t. The fact that you’re reading this is a testament to both of these truths.

We wanted to let others who find themselves traveling this difficult journey how we knew it was time to let go. We found ourselves caught in the cycle of “surely there is something we haven’t tried yet.” We allowed ourselves to feed into H’s cycles of rages and manipulated kindness. 

As he got older, the rages became more and more violent and dangerous. Because of my husband’s job, sometimes he wasn’t able to drop everything and head home to help with a rage. It was very difficult to protect the other children while keeping the destruction at H’s hands as minimal as possible. H had begun throwing things during rages, especially things he knew would shatter. Sometimes these episodes would end with glass all over the floor.

The immense amount of stress we were under had also begun to take a toll on our health. I had PTSD/secondary trauma that resulted in extended periods of heart palpitations, rapid breathing, anxiety attacks, hair loss, and a year of suffering from gallbladder attacks that led to gallbladder removal. My husband also had a miserable case of shingles that his doctor said was likely triggered by stress.

The last straw with the final rage we endured was that H started to turn his violence towards the other children. That last night, he hit and kicked one child and punched the other in the back. This would have continued had we not immediately intervened. We were unable to maintain a good quality of life for anyone in our home, nor was our home safe for anyone at that point. The mental health of two of our children was also rapidly declining as a result of H’s violence. 

In order to protect our family, we had to come to terms with the reality that we were all in danger. If you find yourself in a similar situation, please do not hesitate to reach out.  


About the Author: I am Rachel Judd — Jesus follower, wife to my wonderful husband of 23 years, and mother of 3 through birth and international adoption (Ukraine and Ethiopia). We also do foster care relief work through a local children’s home.

I am a stay-at-home homeschooling mom. I am also on the leadership team for a foster/adoptive mom retreat called Together in the Trenches Texas. My husband is an Air National Guard chaplain and engineer for NASA, so I also help with marriage and family retreats for military families when the opportunity arises.

We LOVE to travel. We are always on the lookout for our next adventure.

We have had a lot of experience with reactive attachment disorder and many other challenges along our journey. It has given me a heart for reaching out to others in similar situations. I help run a small Facebook group of “trauma mamas” here in the Houston area.

You can find me on Facebook and Instagram.

Being Like Christ

“Be like Christ.” We hear that message a lot in Christian circles. We all need to “be like Christ.” Sometimes it’s phrased “be the hands and feet of Christ.” But how do we actually do that?

Are we being like Christ within the comfortable confines of the church walls? Or do we need to go to a foreign country on a mission trip to be like Christ? Do the only lost and hurting people live halfway around the world? Does being the hands and feet of Christ require a plane trip to a foreign country?

All of the above things are great. We definitely CAN be Christlike inside the church building or during a missions trip to a foreign country. But I think we can also live out the gospel by showing Christ’s love in our own community, and many people forget that.

Most of the time, we overlook the needs of our neighbors. It’s easy to do. We live in our own little bubble because it’s comfortable (I am SO guilty). So many people are hurting in our own backyards, in need of help and hope. All we have to do is open our eyes.

I work for a local non-profit organization, More Grace Outreach, that just recently hosted a local missions week. With the help of around 170 volunteers and private donors from multiple churches and states, we were able to help 6 local families and 3 local non-profits with projects — none of which would have been possible without Christ showing up and regular people being the literal hands and feet.

Yes, going to church is important. Yes, foreign missions are important. But so are the people in your own community. The people that other people choose to look the other way when they meet on the street. The people that are probably on drugs or rely on food stamps. The people that make most of us uncomfortable. They live next to us, and they are loved by God as much as you and me.

I pray that God gives us the eyes to see these people like He sees them so that we can give them hope and show them the love of Christ.

8 “Instead of” Tips for Parenting Kids Who Have Experienced Trauma

Are you parenting a child who has had trauma?

Are you parenting a child who has a capital letter syndrome — such as ADD, ADHD, FAS, SPD, or Autism Spectrum Disorder — or another special need?

If so, then this is for you!

When it comes to parenting kids who have had trauma, I  struggle with imposter syndrome. I often ask myself, “How can I help other parents when I couldn’t do it perfectly or even well myself sometimes?”

We must let go of the myth that perfect parents exist. They don’t. And raising kids who have had trauma means a huge learning curve for us parents — especially if we have parented our bio children okayish with great results.

Traditional parenting is for securely attached children — kids who want to please. Any sort of parenting requires a foundation of connection with the child. That connection comes more easily with kids who haven’t experienced trauma. For those who have, the foundation is absent or shaky, and as a result, the child feels no need to follow commands or listen.

Traditional parenting tends to swoop in and fix the immediate problematic behavior. It is a short-term approach that doesn’t work with kids who have trauma. Instead, you need to take the time to consider the need behind the child’s behavior and focus on the ultimate goal of connection.

Kids who have trauma care more about control and survival. When a child has a disorganized attachment style born out of trauma, he will want to control his surroundings. Control will trump following instructions every time. In fact, the very thing that would make him feel more connected, he will fight.

As the authors of The Connected Child explain, “Children who encountered deprivation or harm before they were brought home lack many types of connections. They can lack social connections, emotional connections, neurochemical connections, cognitive connections, and sensory connections.” Because these connections do not exist, traditional parenting will not work. We must change our parenting to adjust to the fact that it will be different with these kiddos.

“Instead of” Parenting Suggestions

  • Instead of a lecture, use simple language (8- 12 words total).
  • Instead of waiting for behavior to intensify, respond quickly.
  • Instead of giving orders, offer simple choices.
  • Instead of just correcting, give immediate retraining and a “re-do.”
  • Instead of expecting a child to know, clarify expectations.
  • Instead of isolating when a child is dysregulated, keep the child near you.
  • Instead of only noticing the “bad” behaviors, offer praise for success.
  • Instead of taking it personally, remember there is a need behind the behavior.

Instead of a lecture, use simple language (8- 12 words total).

Many of us grew up with the lecture approach to parenting. For every infraction, Mom or Dad had a carefully selected and time-tested sermon they could pull from a database in the recesses of their mind. “If your great aunt Mary knew that you turned on a show in the middle of the night, [insert stories of monsters, bible verses, sticks in the eye, etc.].” You get the picture.

After a while, all our brains heard was the sound of a grown-up talking on Charlie Brown: “Wah, wah, wah, wah.” No matter how eloquent you are, your child may only hear the first 8 to 12 words. If you waste those first words, you have lost them. And long lectures aren’t the best way to get your child to listen and learn anyway.

Choose and use your words carefully. Aim them at the behavior, not the child — and there’s no need to bring other family members or what your parents would have done into it. Try instructions like these:

  • “Walk, don’t run.”
  • “We don’t hit.”
  • “Use your words.”
  • “Try that again.”

Instead of waiting for behavior to intensify, respond quickly.

We’ve all done it. We see the precursor to a meltdown or a potential fight brewing over a toy, but we wait. We wait because it isn’t that bad yet or hasn’t gotten violent. Next thing you know, the situation is out of control.

Sometimes it helps to stop and ask yourself: Why wait? Would you rather spend five minutes addressing the behavior and reconnecting now, or spend the next two hours living with the fallout? It’s a pretty simple choice in my mind. I’ve learned from experience how draining the two-hour or day-long fallout of a complete meltdown can be. As a result, I lean toward addressing an issue while it is a tiny seed instead of waiting until it grows into a giant oak tree.

Recently, my daughter and I were on our way to the zoo with her kiddo. We were meeting her sister and her kiddos for a day of fun (four grandkids + zoo = fun). As usual, we talked about our trips together when she was growing up —  zoo trips, field trips, vacations.

My grandson had been watching a show on the iPad while we talked, but it ended. “I can start a new one,” I offered. We had been hoping he would fall asleep during the first one, but no go.

“Are you sure you can get back there?” my daughter asked.

“Remember who you are talking to,” I reminded.

“Nevermind,” she said, and laughed. “You used to climb back and sit with us to get us to calm down.”

“Yep, I did.”

Some super safety-conscious parents are shaking your heads right now in disbelief. Yep, I crawled over seats and sat on the floor of the suburban to calm kids down or interrupt a fight before the trip turned into a giant meltdown.

Instead of giving orders, offer simple choices.

When I was a young and naive parent, I thought I needed to have control all the time. There were no choices. My first child blew that theory out of the water. She was very much an “I can do it myself” child. If I didn’t offer her choices, she offered them to me. I got a lot of flack from family members for not being more strict, harsh, or punitive with her.

The funny thing is, I was judged for being too strict with my kids with trauma just a few short years later. That’s another story for another time.

The point is, Audrey taught me the value of giving choices. I’m not talking about moral choices. I mean giving kids simple choices like:

  • Do you want to wear black tennis shoes or purple?
  • Do you want a peanut butter sandwich or a ham sandwich?
  • Do you want to read this book first or that one?
  • Do you want to give Uncle Bob a hug or not?

Instead of just correcting, give immediate retraining and a “re-do.”

A re-do is simple. Remember when you missed five on your spelling test and your teacher had to write the ones you missed each five times? Or when you were in gym class and missed the basketball hoop on the first shot but kept trying until you made it? Or when you got married and were trying out your cooking skills for the first time and something didn’t taste just right, so you called Mom and with her help tried again? Those are all re-do’s.

As the Empowered to Connect training manual explains, “Offering your child a chance to “try it again” and get it right — what we call a re-do — is often an ideal way to respond. In addition, this approach provides your child with body memory for doing the right thing and offers an opportunity for you to then give praise and encouragement once she re-does the task, follows the instructions, or interacts in an appropriate manner. This approach can help your child to experience doing the right thing and deepen your connection with her as well.”

Practice Outside of the Moment.

When teens or adults start a new job, they go through training. Usually, this training is practiced outside the moment. Training is not introduced when an employee is melting down over not knowing how to use the computer system (although that can happen). Practicing outside the moment allows you to teach a child when his upstairs brain is activated, instead of waiting until he flips his lid.

The authors of The Whole-Brain Child explain the concept of your upstairs vs downstairs brain: “Imagine that your brain is a house, with both a downstairs and an upstairs. The downstairs brain includes the brain stem and the limbic region, which are located in the lower parts of the brain, from the top of your neck to about the bridge of your nose. Scientists talk about these lower areas as being more primitive because they are responsible for basic functions (like breathing and blinking), for innate reactions and impulses (like flight and fight), and for strong emotions (like anger and fear).”

The downstairs brain is survival mode. No logic or reasoning is applied — just illogical, knee-jerk responses. When a child gets stuck in their downstairs brain, his body shoots cortisol through his system, and he lives on the edge. A simple request sounds like YELLING.  IN FACT, EVERYTHING IS AMPLIFIED. A CAR THAT PASSES THROUGH THE NEIGHBORHOOD IS A THREAT. A COMPLIMENT IS TWISTED INTO A CORRECTION.

You get the point. Scary, huh? It’s no fun to live there.

I did lots of practicing outside the moment with my kiddos before we went somewhere. My funniest story using this tool is practicing to go to the library. My newbies had recently come home from Poland, so I had kiddos aged 12, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, and 1. Four of them had never been to a public library before, so we practiced at home. We pretended the bookshelves were the library. I showed them how to get a book, whisper, sit down at a table, and look at the book they had retrieved.

Our town had a small library with an unusual practice. When you got a book out, you replaced it with a ruler to mark your place in order to return it if you didn’t check it out. My kids loved this practice a little more than I realized. When we got to the library, they used all of the rulers to mark places and got a giant stack of books — which ties in nicely with my next point.

Instead of expecting a child to know, clarify expectations.

Traditional parenting often relies on assumptions. We assume that the child should know how to behave in an environment or know what to expect. We say things like, “You should know better” or “Be quiet! This is a library,” as if a child who has never been to a library would know that information. Just like my kiddos didn’t recognize the implied rule that you should only get one book out at a time.

You can practice outside the moment for about anything:

  • Going to a restaurant.
  • Going to a ball game.
  • Flying on a plane.
  • Shopping.
  • Skating.
  • Visiting a friend’s house.

Not only does this help your child know what to expect, but it also alleviates fears. Many kids need to know what’s next, and if you have informed them and practiced with them, it will be a smoother ride for both of you.

Instead of isolating when a child is dysregulated, keep the child near you.

One of the popular parenting tools frequently used is time out. As the authors of The Connected Child explain, “These isolating strategies may be useful for biological children who are already connected and emotionally bonded to their families. But isolating and banishing strategies are extremely problematic for at-risk children because these kids are already disconnected from relationships, attachment-challenged, and mildly dissociative because of their early histories of neglect and abuse. Isolation is not therapeutic for them.”

Instead of isolating, keep the child near you so that you can co-regulate for them. Your presence as a calm center can help them become calm down more quickly.

While a traditional time-out may not be a good idea, you can still have a “calming corner” in a public room (such as the family room or kitchen) with a pillow and a few toys for toddlers. This is a think-it-over place and can become more sophisticated as the child gets older. You can say, “Sit here and think it over. When you’re ready to talk, let me know.”

Just a caution — your child will not turn into Pollyanna just because you created a think-it-over space. When the child is ready to talk it over, he may say “ready” with the voice of a Balrog. That’s okay. Meet him where he is. Let him tell you in his own words what he did wrong, and if he doesn’t know, give him the words. Lead him through an apology or a redo or both. Make sure you finish connected. Then it’s done.

And when it’s over, it’s over. Don’t keep bringing it up. Saying things like, “Earlier today, you did that thing so I don’t trust you” or “You couldn’t handle yourself earlier, so never again” or any other broad statement makes the child feel less-than. If you know a child can’t handle participating in whatever brought on the meltdown, keep that to yourself and parent. Arrange the environment to give him something else to do.

For example, if the child has had too much screen time and it caused the meltdown, play a board game together (even if you don’t want to). You are investing in your child.

Instead of only noticing the “bad” behaviors, offer praise for success.

When parenting a child from a hard place — i.e. one who has had trauma — it’s easy to get into a pattern of only noticing “bad” behaviors. Because the child already believes he is worthless or of little value, harping on the negative only solidifies his belief.

When my newbies first came “home,” they were in a state of disorganized attachment. At times, I felt as if my home would never stop feeling chaotic.  My kiddos had a survival-of-the-fittest mentality, and finding something praiseworthy was difficult in those beginning stages of “family.”

Instead of waiting for my kiddos’ behavior to rise up the bar I had set before I offered praise, I set my sights on something other than measuring up. I began by praising them for playing with Play-Doh, creating something with LEGOs, putting on a puppet show, eating food — pretty much anything I could praise. The kids sometimes bristled at the praise. They may have wondered what my motive was, but eventually they began to accept it and even expect it. “Mom, look what I built!” This is connection.

Imagine if you never received any praise at all. Imagine if your life was just a fight to survive, and everything you did was wrong. You couldn’t sit right, eat right, speak right, or behave right in general, and people pointed those things out constantly. How would you feel? How would you feel if suddenly you started receiving some praise for things? Wouldn’t you keep doing the things you received praise for?

Instead of taking it personally, remember there is a need behind the behavior.

When we look at behaviors as needs, we are less likely to take them personally. For instance, when we remind ourselves that the child can’t regulate — not won’t regulate — we can set our personal feelings aside. When we set our personal feelings aside, we can take the reins and parent. It’s not us against them; we’re all on the same team.

So before taking a behavior personally, ask yourself what the child needs. Is the child. . .

  • Hungry?
  • Tired?
  • Over-stimulated?
  • Triggered?
  • In his downstairs brain?
  • Unsure of the expectations?
  • Unable to adjust to a change of plans?

It’s our job to be the emotionally stable person in the relationship. In an article for PBS, Katie Hurley explains one thing you can do to help your child become aware of their emotions: “Express your own emotions. Parents have a tendency to hide their own emotions from their kids. While kids don’t need to be involved in the fine points of adult problems, it’s okay for them to see you sad, mad or overwhelmed. When you label and talk about your own emotions, you show them that we all have big feelings to cope with and that you trust them just as they can trust you.”

Two of my kiddos struggled with recognizing emotions in themselves and others. I made flash cards with different expressions on them: happy, sad, angry, afraid, frustrated. We practiced recognizing emotions with a mirror and with the cards.

Sometimes, the things we take so personally are emotions the child isn’t equipped to express. In that sort of situation, the child often reverts to anger — the go-to for kids in survival mode.

Using the IDEAL Approach

For all interactions with your kiddos, use the IDEAL response as a guide. The IDEAL Approach is among the best tools for parenting, teaching, or supervising kids who have had trauma:

I: You respond immediately, within three seconds of misbehavior.

D: You respond directly to the child by making eye contact. Get down on their level.

E: The response is efficient and measured. Use as few words as possible.

A: The response is action-based. Lead the child through a re-do.

L: Your response should bed leveled at the behavior, not the child.

One final note: The suggestions in this article are simply tools for parenting. Not every tool is useful in every situation or with every child. You must find which work for your child. In extreme cases, a child may be so violent that he is a danger to himself and others the home. In that case, you need to get professional help. Don’t try to go it alone.

4 Reasons to Be Real – Even When It’s Uncomfortable

We’ve all heard the call to be real — to stop putting on a show and let the “real you” shine through. To be open and honest about the struggles we face, because we’re all human. To really put ourselves out there so that we can form deep, genuine connections with other people.

Of course, the problem we run into is that being real is uncomfortable. It involves risk and vulnerability. When you let others see the real you, you risk rejection. You risk judgment, criticism, mockery, and hurt. So why do it?

The good news is that being real is worth the risk. Here’s why:

Keeping Up Appearances Is Hard Work

Often, we assume it will be simpler and safer to fake perfection than to deal with all of the risks that come with being real. But is that really true?

As scary as it is to let yourself be real and vulnerable with other people, in the long run, it’s actually easier than the alternative. Keeping up the illusion that you are infallible, invulnerable, and self-sufficient is hard work. It is stressful, exhausting, and dangerous (more on that in a moment). We think we’re protecting ourselves, but in reality, we’re perpetuating a myth about our lives and our selves. Brené Brown explains it well:

“Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

The problem is, we can’t control what other people think, say, or do. No matter how “perfect” we manage to look, we cannot guarantee we won’t get hurt. We subject ourselves to the monumental strain of keeping up appearances, and in the end, we’re not really any safer than we were before. Don’t we have enough to worry about, without adding to our list the unnecessary and futile attempt to maintain a perfect image?

Dishonesty Can Become a Lifestyle

You’ve probably heard that practice makes perfect, but life isn’t that simple. A more accurate saying is “practice makes permanent.”

Here’s where the danger of perfectionism lies. Even if we manage to fool others into thinking we’re perfect, we do so at great risk to our souls. Eventually, that dishonesty about who we are, what we’ve done, and where we stand can become second nature.

In Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You, John Ortberg explains:

“We fake it in life to bolster our ego. But the result is, we feel like phonies and become more deceptive and cynical with others.”

No act of dishonesty is truly insignificant, because it shapes how we view ourselves — which, in turn, affects the standards we hold ourselves to and the choices we make. You’ll drift further and further into the fakeness until you lose sight of not only yourself but also God.

We need to ask ourselves (in the words of Brené Brown):

“What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think – or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?”

Your Kids Will Get the Wrong Message

We’ve all heard someone say, “Do as I say, not as I do” — and we all know that’s not how life works. If you won’t follow your own advice, why would other people listen to it? No one respects hypocrisy.

Kids, in particular, can spot hypocrisy from a mile away, and they are far more likely to follow your example than your instructions. As James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” No matter how good you are at faking perfection for other people, you won’t fool your kids. They see what you say AND what you do, and when the two don’t match up, the message your kids hear loud and clear is that being real isn’t worth the risk.

Set a good example for your kids by being real with them and with others, even when it’s uncomfortable. Let them see your flaws and imperfections. Your kids need to know you’re human. Perfection is an impossibly high standard that neither you nor they can ever live up to. There is great freedom in allowing yourself to be real. Give them that gift.

God Made the Real You for a Reason

Finally, remember that you were made in the image of God — and God doesn’t make mistakes. In Philippians 1:6, Paul wrote:

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

In the meantime, our struggles and imperfections serve a purpose. They allow us to better empathize with others and demonstrate God’s grace and love.

None of us will achieve perfection here on Earth, and it doesn’t do anyone good to pretend we have. After all, perfection isn’t very relatable or approachable. The heaviest burdens people carry — post-partum depression, miscarriages, childhood trauma, grief, abusive relationships, cancer, chronic pain — are often accompanied by feelings of shame, guilt, and fear. They worry that no one will understand. They wonder if there’s something wrong with them. They agonize over whether it’s their own fault.

By cultivating the illusion that we ourselves have never struggled with anything greater than skipping a day of devotions, we send a message loud and clear: “Don’t come to me for help. I have already arrived. You could be like me, if only you tried harder. I don’t understand what you’re going through.” It’s like closing a door. Being real, on the other hand, is an invitation. As Brené Brown put it, “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”

I can guarantee that if you choose to be real, you will be uncomfortable at times. Some people will judge you. Some people won’t understand. Some people will think less of you. They may gossip behind your back or say hurtful things to your face.

But for every woman who uses your vulnerability to make herself feel superior, there will be one who sees your realness as the precious gift that it is. Who hears your story and feels relief because she’s not the only one. Who feels hope because someone else has been where she is and come out the other side. Who realizes it’s ok to ask for help and finds a community of women to support her.

And that is worth the risk.

My Mission Field Is a Fitness Mat

When God called upon my husband and me to open a fitness studio, I knew there was a greater purpose than just fitness. I knew that God was giving me an opportunity to let others see His works through me. I knew that I could be an example of the perseverance and strength His grace provides and a reminder that after storms, with Him, there’s always a rainbow.

My Journey

Just a few years ago, I was fighting against myself in a spiritual battle over my self worth and self confidence. I was suffering from a major stint of disordered eating, and I didn’t think I’d ever find my happy self again.

But God has perfect timing, and my story is proof. I mustered up enough confidence in the beginning of my recovery to take a fitness certification workshop. I had been putting off this workshop for years because I just didn’t deem myself worthy, but I knew that I owed it to myself to see it to completion. I had been doing the format, POP Pilates, for 6 years and knew that it was the one thing in my adult life (outside of God) that always just made me believe in myself.

The workshop did not disappoint, and it left me feeling more confident than I had felt in a while. At the end of the workshop, we had to say one word to describe how we felt, and mine was WORTHY. It was a full-circle moment for me.

I prayed and prayed and prayed that God would use this new, unleashed passion for His purposes alone and that I would remain grateful no matter what that looked like or how hard it was. I started to focus more on God and less on my appearance, and that was my second major step in my eating disorder recovery. I quickly realized that where He was leading me, a six pack wasn’t required.

Today

Six short months later, my husband and I jumped feet-first into our studio. We knew that God was going to provide a space for me to help women feel loved and worthy — and that’s exactly what He continues to do. It has never once been about anything other than that for me. Does that make me a savvy business owner? Probably not, but it does make me a content one. Week after week, I get to “minister” to women by simply loving them and encouraging them to love themselves. That’s what Jesus Himself does.

“Ministry could simply be about loving the person in front of you.”

This past week, I was humbly presented the POP Pilates Instructor of the Year Award, and I’m again taking this passion to the Lord to allow His work to be done as a result. Let whatever light shines on me reflect straight back to You. Let me never look at this mission field with anything other than faith, hope, and love. Let those three traits be felt by anyone who encounters me. I know that you did not bring me this far, just to bring me this far.

LEAD ME WHERE YOU NEED ME.

All I did is praise. All I did is worship. All I did was bow down. All I did is stay still. (Shout out to that song, Defender.)

Photo credit to Kassia Phoy

When My Home Became an Idol

In a culture that worships perfection, we women struggle with creating perfection in our homes. We follow Instagram accounts, hang on Joanna Gaines’ every word, and watch HGTV to make sure we are keeping up with the latest trends. (Raising my hand here.)

I love home design. I love making my home look beautiful. But here’s the catch: I can get caught in the trap of thinking the only thing my home can or should be is perfect. Or I can go to the other extreme and think my home is completely utilitarian. It’s just a place where the food is stored, our beds await, and the TV resides. Either extreme will leave me feeling empty and frustrated all the time.

Our culture has lost sight of a home’s purpose. It’s all too easy to put interior design on a pedestal and worship it. (God forbid we have an outdated avocado colored bathtub!) We get embarrassed when our home doesn’t look like the Instagram accounts we follow, so we don’t invite people over.

My Confession

Can I share something with you? That was me. I cried over a shower color and shape. Yep. Actually cried real tears and begged God to replace the gold shower/tub combo in my master bathroom. My home had become my idol.

An idolater is someone whose soul is devoted to any object that usurps the place of God.

After living in a new home and then a farmhouse that we remodeled ourselves, we bought a home that needed a lot of work inside and out. A job change, a Job syndrome, and now limited finances had landed us here. The things we fixed first on our non-existent budget were not visible things. They were necessary fixes that didn’t make the home look beautiful — things like safer outlets in the kitchen. You get the picture.

So, here I was, crying over a gold bathroom. One morning, I was getting ready for church and showering and blubbering about not being able to remodel, and the Holy Spirit prompted me to thank God for the gold shower/tub combination. I did it with tears dripping down my cheeks.

Thanksgiving

In the fall of that year, I hosted Thanksgiving (as per norm). I was embarrassed to be hosting in a home with one brown bathtub and one gold one. Wallpaper was peeling off the walls. An avocado shower sat in a basement bathroom that was more like a cave.

Despite my embarrassment, it turned out to be one of the best holidays ever. My house was full of immediate and extended family from near and far away. No one complained about the wallpaper or the color of my bathroom showers/tubs. We enjoyed our time together.

All the days of the desponding and afflicted are made evil [by anxious thoughts and forebodings], but he who has a glad heart has a continual feast [regardless of circumstances]. – Proverbs 15: 15

The point? God needed me to tear down the idol of my home. It needed to be knocked back into place.

When your home becomes an idol as mine did, then perfection becomes the goal instead of comfort. Ask yourself this question right now: Have I made my home an idol?

Remember Your Home Has a Purpose

Homes are gathering places. Places of connection. There is a science to running a home, and there’s an art to keeping a home. Believe it or not, your home can be a work of art when you have a gold bathtub. In case you are wondering, it was another ten years before I was able to replace the gold and brown in my bathrooms. And yet, I hosted holidays, birthdays, cookouts, book clubs, swim days, Bible studies, and more during those ten years.

Making my home an idol impaired my ability to make my house a haven. It became a shrine. That day when I thanked God for my gold bathtub/shower combination while crying was a starting point. It was a seed.

I used to believe that my home had to be perfectly put together in order to invite people over. For many years, I was able to achieve that in other homes. I believed that lie and practiced it until it became truth. When my world bottomed out and we moved into a home that I couldn’t make look perfect (according to my standards), I felt empty. Useless. Unable to function. I ranted, raved, and cried.

Take what you have and make it beautiful

Here’s the thing: My personality didn’t change. I learned to live with a gold shower, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have a desire to have a beautiful space. I think it’s an innate feature in women. We love beauty in our homes. We each define it differently, but the desire is there. It’s a god-like attribute.

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*These are some photos of my home now after years of sweat equity. I couldn’t find a picture of the gold bathtub or get a great picture of updates in bathrooms!

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God makes all things beautiful in their time. God gave each of us the desire for beauty. To answer that desire, He has created beauty all around us in nature, from the flowers and trees in your backyard to the diverse geography around the world. In The State of the Arts, Gene Edward Veith Jr. says that art is simply copying the Creator. He adds:

“The God-given capacity to make things is the essence of art.”

When we desire to surround ourselves with beauty, we are copying the Creator. Some religions would argue with this and say that we are supposed to deny ourselves any joy in our surroundings. I disagree. When we surround ourselves with beauty, it makes us feel alive. We feel refreshed after a walk in the woods — why wouldn’t we want to bring that beauty into our homes?

So what are some simple ways to beautify your space?

One of my favorite things to do is rearrange my furniture. This habit may be attributed to the many times we moved in my childhood, but I consider it a great habit. Rearranging my living room gives it a fresh look and gives me a new perspective. It only requires some muscle on my part  (and a little help from whoever I drag into the mix).

Rearranging is a simple way to refresh your space. Try it!

Get a new perspective

After living in the house with the gold tub for a few years, I was still despairing over the fact that it would never look “good.” My kids and I had done a lot of projects that required little or no money. We took down wallpaper. Painted walls. Cleaned the basement. Scrubbed the tile in the basement that hadn’t been cleaned properly in a long time.

In my mind, I still had a picture of a dilapidated home — more of a shack than a home. But it wasn’t a shack at all. It was a solidly built colonial. The mind can play tricks on us!

My sister-in-law was in for the holidays and she mentioned a course she was taking. One of the assignments was to take pictures of each room in your home. The goal was being grateful and getting a better perspective. I was intrigued by the idea but didn’t think I would see anything different than I saw in my mind’s eye.

After the holidays, I cleaned each room, making sure there was no clutter on surfaces. I pulled out my camera and got to work. I took photos of each of the rooms from many angles. I loaded them on the computer and scrolled through. The rooms looked amazing. Beautiful. I was shocked. Astounded, really. How could this be? My home looked nothing like the pictures I had imprinted on my brain.

I wanted to make sure what I was seeing was accurate so I called my husband over. I scrolled through the pictures without saying anything. I wanted his reaction to be his own, not based on what I said.

“Wow! That’s gorgeous. Whose house is that?”

“That is our house.”

“No way!” He clicked through the photos again. “I had no idea our house looked that great!”

His perspective had been skewed like mine. In our mind, we were seeing the baseboards that needed fixing, the marks on the hardwood, or the infamous gold tub. We didn’t know what other people were seeing until we looked at those photos.

Perspective makes a big difference.

Try the exercise yourself. Maybe your home is not clean right now, so don’t stress. Wait until it is, or make an appointment with yourself to clean and take photos. If you have lots of littles underfoot, try one room at a time. Shove everything into another room or corner if you have to.

The purpose is not to be fake for an Instagram account. The purpose is to get perspective. Try to wait until you have all the rooms photographed and then look. I know it’s tempting to want to look as you go. Try to wait. Look at each picture and record your perspective. Let your hubby look too. Then go ahead and post it on Instagram and see what your friends think.

I can’t promise you it will look like something straight from HGTV, but I can promise it will give you perspective. Looking at your home through the lens of a camera can give you fresh eyes. You can replace the hypothetical you have floating in your mind with actual photos and move on from there. Maybe the pictures will give you ideas about what things really need changing (and which things look fine the way they are).

I’ll admit I still struggle with the perspective issue. When someone is coming over for the first time, I have a case of last-minute panic. I suddenly see the grime in the faucet creases or the spot of coffee on the floor. Instead of looking at my house as I whole, I see the little bits of dirt or imperfection. It’s silly, but worth mentioning.

We do the same thing with ourselves. When we become more comfortable with people, we don’t mind our imperfections as much. So, if you come to my house regularly, you know where the coffee and mugs are. You can even make yourself a peanut butter sandwich if you want.