Apr 23, 2014

Loving Imperfect People

Mornings like this see me staggering into the kitchen in search of a large cup of coffee. And I don't even drink coffee. Up all night with my teething baby and then awake at 5 a.m. with my energetic toddler has me running low on energy and even lower on grace. On days like this, it's all I can do to get my husband off to work, take care of the kids, and try to do at least a little housework. I'm exhausted. And all I want to do is crawl back into bed.

I don't feel like calling that friend who had a rough week and needs a word of encouragement, because how can I encourage when I feel completely drained and have nothing left to give? I don't want to walk across the street to invite our lonely neighbor over for a cup of tea, because that would require cleaning the house first, and I just don't have the energy. I try to ignore the tiny voice in my head telling me that I really should send a message to that new mom to offer to watch her baby so she can take a shower and sleep for a couple hours, or take her out for coffee so she can have some adult conversation for a change. It's been a rough year of one-sided friendships and trying to serve without receiving anything in return and feeling so exhausted that even the thought of trying to make one new friend leaves me in a cold sweat. Surely God wouldn't ask me to keep giving of myself during these months when I'm too exhausted to even remember to put on deodorant in the morning!

All around me, I see other moms with smiles on their faces and circles under their eyes. And I recognize the weight of the world on their shoulders because I feel it, too. We have this ideal of what a perfect mom looks like. You know, the one with the spotless house and supermodel abs even after five children, the one who buys all organic food and has a romantic weekend get-away with her husband once a month, teaches her children to read by the time they're three, and goes on a missions trip to China, where she adopts two more children and starts a fund to help a orphanage in Uganda. We feel threatened by her – and she doesn't even exist. 

Let's just be honest with each other for a minute and face the brutal truth: we are not perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect mom. Or a perfect wife. Or a perfect friend. Our tummies will always droop a little over the top of our jeans. And sometimes we leave the house without brushing our teeth because the kids slept in late and running the water in the sink would have woken them up too early. It's okay to admit that some days all you want is to have fifteen minutes to pee by yourself without your toddler peering between your legs and asking if you're going to poop so you can have a cookie.

Because some days are harder than others and we're still trying to figure out how to wear all of the hats that make us who we are as a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter, a friend... the list goes on. And there are days when friendships are lost and hearts are bruised and we feel like we're losing ourselves from giving so much and not getting back. These early years are rough, and it's tempting to use that as an excuse to take a break from the rest of life. To hide ourselves away because loving others is messy and not everyone will love us back, and chances are, there will be more bad days than good.

But then we read about when Jesus went to rest to get away from it all and ended up feeding five THOUSAND people who were hungry for more. And He didn't turn them away. He never said He was too tired. He was carrying the heaviest weight known to man and yet He never used it as an excuse to stop giving. Even in the desert after fasting for forty days, when it would have been so easy to speak a word and turn the stone to bread. Even at the cross, when it would have been so tempting to save Himself and end the agony and suffering. But He didn't.

So how can we?

How can we keep giving and opening our hearts and trusting when people aren't perfect and there's no guarantee that any of this is worth it? How can we love and forget our selves and be content in a world we know is not our home? How can we muster the strength to serve when there are days when we can barely crawl out of bed in the mornings?

We do it because that's what we signed up for when we said “Yes, Lord.” We do it because He chose us first before we ever knew Him. We do it because ours is the God of Redemption and He can redeem even the hardest days and bring something beautiful from the ashes of our mistakes. We do it because Jesus never turned us away and never stopped loving us even when we betrayed Him and nailed Him to a cross. We do it because He cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” and kept on giving and forgiving right until the very end when His own Father had to turn away and He was utterly alone. And yet still He chose to love us.

In the face of such truth, how can we not give every ounce of our being to show that kind of selfless love to everyone we see? How can we stop giving of ourselves when He gave EVERYTHING to save us and to give us hope?

We can't.

And it's hard.

On His last night, Jesus' first request of His disciples was, “that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) If it was important enough to repeat three times in two sentences, it's important enough to live out.

Jesus knew that imperfect people love imperfectly. And so He interceded on our behalf that last night. Always thinking of us. “I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:23)

So what would happen if we stopped comparing and started loving? If we started seeing ourselves and others through His eyes? Started spreading grace instead of hate? Started forgetting offenses and choosing to see the good in others?

What would happen if we gave of ourselves with no thought of return? If we truly loved each other as much as we love ourselves? If we opened our hearts and allowed others in, to go deeper than our comfort levels allow?

Living with an open heart is not easy. It's hard and there will be days when our hearts will ache and we'll wonder if all this is worth the pain.

But living with an open heart is also pure joy. Because we if we can reach even a few people in our lifetime, it IS worth it. If we can be courageous and allow ourselves to love others as He first loved us, how great our reward will be!

This doesn't mean that God wants us to be that perfect mom who doesn't exist. It just means we have to wake up every day and look for opportunities to extend grace and love to those around us, whether it's to our children, our husbands, our friends, or someone we just met at the grocery store. We are imperfect people who will never be able to love perfectly, but we have to try. And when we fail, which we all will, He'll be there to redeem the broken pieces and help us try again.

Oct 10, 2012

Tiny breaths. Dark hair stuck to sweaty skin under the quilt. The sweet smell of lavender. Long eyelashes fluttering as my dreamer sleeps. Rosebud mouth open and making soft sucking sounds. Perfect fingers clutching my thumb.

The morning light stretches warm across my feet as I sit rocking my sleeping son. A yellow afghan wraps him warm and safe in my arms as he curls against my chest. One hand clutches my thumb, the other curls around his favorite teddy bear.

Groceries sit in the hallway, waiting to be put in the fridge. But I don't care. Today, for just a little while, my son has found peaceful rest in my arms.

I smile as he shifts slightly in his sleep, snuggling in closer to me. At 16 months old, this is the first time he has chosen to take his nap in my arms in nearly a year. My little man is often so busy that he just doesn't have time to sit still and rest. There are rooms to explore, toys to play, life to live.

My eyes close, trying to capture this memory and engrave it in my mind. This sweet moment, this evidence of God's grace in the midst of morning chaos. I think of how glad I am that my son has finally decided to rest. How much happier he will be when he wakes, renewed with energy to take on the world once more.

In this moment, I hear a quiet voice saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

I am struck by the vision of my Heavenly Father, watching me rush through life with my packed day-planner and my independent need to do all and be all to everyone. And all the while He whispers, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

I hear myself telling my sweet son daily how much better he will feel if he would just lie down and rest for a while. And I see the thumb go into his tiny mouth, resisting, because there is so much he wants to do. So I carry him, tuck him into bed, and kiss his sweet forehead. He frowns at me, thumb still in his mouth, and puts his other hand over his eyes. In a few moments, despite his best efforts, he falls asleep. A few hours later, I hear a sweet voice singing, “Uh oh. Uh oh. Mama?” He is all smiles when I pick him up, his batteries recharged and running at full speed. He holds his mouth up for a kiss, and then squirms to get down, anxious to continue the adventure of life.

How often does our Father watch us run ourselves into the ground with our busy schedules, just wishing that we would come to Him and find rest? And how often do we resist, confident that we can do everything by ourselves?

Sometimes, like little children, we resist His offer of rest. We fill our days with meetings, appointments, and outreach ministries – never taking time to just be still in His presence. Instead of choosing to climb into His lap and find peace, we run.

Patiently, the Father watches our frenzied pace and waits for us. And when we fall in exhaustion, He carries us in His arms and whispers, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

Wouldn't it be better to choose instead to take a rest from our busy lives and rest in Him? “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” 


Verses taken from Matthew 11:28 and Psalms 46:10.

Aug 27, 2010

Thoughts of a Grateful Heart

God is good.
All the time.
Even when we can't see how He could possibly bring something good out of the turmoil in our lives - He does.

I was struck by this fact in the wee hours of the morning as my husband gently kissed my shoulder and whispered, "Good morning, princess" in my ear. Although it sounds cliche, words really cannot express how grateful I am that God brought this wonderful man into my life. Getting to wake up every morning to his gentle kisses and quiet smile is such a privilege, and I am reminded every day of how much I have been blessed.

It hasn't been an easy road. We went through a lot of trials during our relationship that threatened to pull us apart. I can't even begin to count the number of times I found myself crying into Reese's shoulder and telling him that he should just walk away. But he would only hold me tighter and assure me that he wasn't going anywhere. And it is because he stuck with me through it all that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loves me and will never leave me. His constant support and love were a picture of Christ's unconditional love.

I remember being told that the first year of marriage would be difficult. In fact, it seems as though whatever stage we are in, people always tell us that the next stage will be the hardest stage. When we were dating, we were told to enjoy it while it lasted because after that, it would all go downhill. When we were engaged, we were told to enjoy that stage of life because the first year of marriage would be awful and full of fights. Now that we're married, we are told to enjoy this part of our life because once we have kids "all hell breaks loose." I wonder why most people can't seem to enjoy the life they are living right now, but always seem to be wishing for the next stage. I suppose it has something to do with the saying, "the grass is always greener on the other side." How sad it must be to live life like that . . .

Honestly, compared to what we had just been through, the first year of our marriage was incredible. We have never been happier, and enjoy every possible moment we get to spend together. I think part of this is because neither of us are confrontational, so we have never had a real fight. That doesn't mean we agree on everything, but we are both committed to working through our disagreements in a logical manner and finding a compromise. Usually whatever we're disagreeing about is something so minor that the whole discussion is over in 20 minutes. We vowed to put each other first above ourselves. That kind of selfless love takes a lot of work, but is so worth it!

The last year of my life has been full of blessings. I moved out on my own for the first time, graduated with honors with my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with an option in Management from MSU Billings (and yes, we often joked about the fact that the abbreviation for this started with 'B.S.'), married the love of my life, got my first professional full-time job, took a wonderful trip to Italy with my husband, and this week we bought our first house! I have also seen God restore relationships after years of prayer. It has been a delightful year full of surprises that challenged me to redefine my concept of who I was supposed to be.

I realized this year that for most of my life, I had been living to please other people rather than daring to be the person God meant me to be. At the root of my being, I have always had an intense desire to make everyone around me happy. And, let's be honest: some people are impossible to please. No matter how hard I worked, or how much I sacrificed, I could never make everyone happy. I couldn't solve every problem, and I just could not live up to everyone's expectations at the same time. I felt like a failure so much of the time that I would cry myself to sleep, begging God to let me move to an isolated island where the only person I needed to please would be Him.

Instead, He sent a very dear friend into my life. After listening to my frustrations over a cup of coffee one day, she looked at me and said: "Erica, you cannot control anyone's happiness but your own. As long as you are listening to God and obeying Him, the only opinion that should matter is His. If other people choose to go through life taking offense at everything, despite your best intentions, that is their choice. Not yours."

That concept has taken a long time for me to accept. I was so used to feeling responsible for the choices of other people that it has been difficult for me to accept that sometimes my best just will not be enough - but it's okay. I can't control the happiness of anyone else. All I can do is try my best and let God do the rest.

I love this quote from one of my favorite books*: "It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else's life with perfection. Imperfect and clumsy as it may look, my life is resembling me now, thoroughly."

And I have never been happier.

(c) 2010 Erica M. Holle. All rights reserved.
 * 'Eat, Pray, Love' by Elizabeth Gilberts

Jun 2, 2010


A journey through unfamiliar terrain begins, simply, by beginning. But perhaps not so simply, for the alien path always look terrifying from familiar highways. Yet, what are familiar highways except alien paths, journeyed by travelers who once stood at the beginning and wondered how they would ever make it across the ruts and manholes without failing? The greatest amount of courage is always needed at the beginning of things strange to us. Courage is our proverbial compass to charter us through unfamiliar terrain.

And after the beginning comes the journey - a learning and growing process, an attempt to reach a destination, that shapes us as a sculptor would an uncut stone. At first, the chisel hurts us as it chips away dross fragments of ourselves we have lived beneath our whole lives. But then, when the sculptor reveals the finished, chiseled remainder of ourselves, we discover precious stones had been concealed beneath the granite, but we had to take this journey to reveal them.

Finally, we reach the end of our journey, only to find our destination still far away. We look back at the pieces of granite chipped away from us, and wonder how we can go on another journey like the one we have just finished. We wonder how anything more beautiful than the precious stones we discovered can be found within us.

But we begin, just the same.

This time, the journey isn't quite so hard; we've been through it before. And as before, the sculptor patiently chisels and chips away at our newly-found precious stones, convinced, as we are not, that something more beautiful lies beneath. And so, once again, we reach the end of our journey. We look back at the precious stones left behind us on the path, angry that the sculptor would allow something so seemingly beautiful to be left behind.

And then we look at ourselves and see what the sculptor has revealed. We hardly recognize ourselves anymore, for there, instead of the granite, instead of the precious stones - are diamonds. We stand in stunned silence for a moment before looking up to see a new path before us. Our destination is still yet to be revealed.

And so, we begin again.

 (c) 2005 Erica M. Holle

Apr 3, 2010

You are There

In the darkness I cry out,
Your arms are there to reach for me.
When I am in pain, and my heart is broken,
Your words are there to comfort me.
You whisper to me, and I am healed.
When I am lonely, You hold me in Your embrace.
The sweet sound of Your voice, fills my soul with gladness.

I need not be afraid of the darkness,
For in the dark, Your light shines ever brighter.
You are my comfort and my source of strength.
You calm the seas with a word,
Your breath stirs the leaves of trees.
Hold me ever closer, my God,
In Whom I place my trust and joy.
You alone are my God and Friend,
You alone are my comfort.


(c) 2003 Erica M. Holle

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