Happy #NoFilter Mother’s Day 

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It’s about to get real. 

This week I may or may not have opened my phone to find approximately thirty pictures of myself hanging out at the kitchen sink, resting my belly on the counter while washing dishes. Which, hypothetically, might look something like this:

Of course, this is just a highly-paid stunt double, posing for what such a photo *might* look like. You can’t prove this is me. That could be anyone’s belly.

Seriously though, it is me. Not pregnant. Just… lettin’ it all hang out. Taking a load off, if you will.

My mother was right. I have got to work on my posture. Or, better yet, I have got to hide my phone from my five-year-old, who is a little obsessed with photography. She seizes any opportunity to snap pictures of anything and everything. She’s a sneaky one, and oftentimes she’s so quiet I have no idea she’s turning an ordinary moment into a full-on photography session. I’ve deleted countless photos of chairs, rocks, flowers, toys, bugs. You name it, I’ve deleted it.

This belly-resting-on-the-counter photo is one in an infinite series of unflattering photos of myself, and it doesn’t even make the list of top ten worst photos. Not even close. For some reason, I seem to be her favorite photography subject. I’ll be honest, going through my phone and deleting her photos can be a real confidence killer sometimes. Her height and sneakiness make for some dangerously bad camera angles. 

Yet every once in a while—every once in one thousand photos—I’ll come across something like this, which she took when I was buckling her into her car seat:


Or this, which she took when we were playing in the driveway: 


Or this, which she took when I was doing her hair before church one morning:


Seeing these moments through her eyes makes me realize why she’s so intrigued with photographing me in my natural habitat. 

It’s because she thinks I’m beautiful. 

It’s because she doesn’t see a stretchy belly resting on the kitchen sink. She sees the pure comfort of being in the presence of her mama on a nothing-special kind of day. It’s because she doesn’t see the increasingly deep crow’s feet around my eyes. She sees the smiles which created them, and she’s especially fond of the smiles reserved for her. It’s because when she sees me get the box of hair dye which I now need to cover my grays, she watches me with great interest and talks about one day getting to be “fancy” just like mommy and cover her gray hairs, too. 

Kids think their moms are beautiful. They just do. I can remember thinking this about my own mom. Even in the early nineties, when she experimented with her hair and ended up with an orange perm (it was supposed to be blonde)… beautiful. I can remember sitting on her bed and watching her get dressed, seeing her fluff those orange curls and give herself a final check in the mirror before spraying on her perfume. I’m sure she might not have felt particularly beautiful some days, but I thought she was especially beautiful then. Even when she was in the last week of her battle with cancer and she sang the Doc McStuffins song with her grandchildren from her hospital bed, just so they’d feel a little better about being in such a scary place. Beautiful.

Why is it that we can so easily see beauty when we look at our own mothers, and yet be so very hard on ourselves?

In a world where we have instant access to everyone’s best moments, it is all too tempting to wonder if we’re measuring up. If we’re beautiful enough, patient enough, loving enough, fun enough, doing enough, there enough. 

Enough already! Enough with wondering if you’re enough. 

This Mother’s Day, I won’t get to see my own mother’s particular brand of beautiful, but—oh—I get to be that kind of beautiful to someone. Let me not waste or diminish it by lamenting over the belly-on-the-counter moments. Let me instead celebrate that even a moment like this is beautiful, and let me lean in close to the moms who are in the trenches with little ones this year and remind them that real-life happens without a filter.

I want to remind you, my fellow mama, that your #nofilter moments are so much more beautiful than you realize. That there is no one who could ever take your place in your child’s eyes. That there’s no one on the planet who could compare to you. That you’re beautiful. And that the moments which feel the least beautiful are probably the most beautiful moments of all. 

Lastly, and most importantly, I want to remind you that the Creator of the Universe sees you like that, too. 

You’re beautiful. 

Happy #NoFilter Mother’s Day!

You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way. Song of Songs 4:7 NLT 

To The Woman Who Wants To Quit

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“Mariah Carey lied to us,” I said.

She looked at me quizzically.

“You know, that song she sang about being a hero.”

“I can be your hero, baby?” she asked.

There was a pause in the conversation as we both proceeded to hum I can be your hero baby, then tried to remember who sang it. (I Googled it later—it was Enrique Iglesias.)

“Not that one,” I said. “The one about you being your own hero. It says if you just look hard enough inside of yourself, you’ll find a hero. I mean, it’s a great song and all. But it’s not true. We can’t be our own heroes.”

We were sitting in a diner just after the sun came up. She had her hands wrapped around a coffee mug that was an exact replica of the one I drank out of countless times when I sat with my mother in the early morning hours. The diner served coffee out of totally random mugs. Mine was a freebie from some sort of medical office. The fact that hers was a carbon copy of my favorite mug from my mother’s cabinet gave me an indescribable feeling of comfort. It was a small but distinct reminder that God knows us personally and can orchestrate the most intricate details in our lives.

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We didn’t know each other very well, but we were already talking as old friends. She’d asked me to meet with her because she was going through something unimaginably difficult. She was counting on something to change, and she’d just confessed that if things didn’t change, she wasn’t sure she had the strength to go on.

I empathized. And when I say I empathized, I don’t mean I nodded in understanding. I mean, I felt her pain—the real, raw pain of looking into the future and not knowing if you can physically withstand what you’re facing. I’ve felt like that before.

That’s how we got to talking about heroes. I reminded her that she wasn’t operating on her own strength to get through this unimaginably difficult thing. Her own strength wasn’t going to cut it. She needed to cling to something much larger than herself. She needed God to show up in a big way and be her hero. So we prayed, then and there, for God to do just that.

Her story is still unfolding, but I’ve had the joy of seeing her hero move a mountain for her already. I am hopefully expectant that He will continue to redeem her circumstances.

I’ve been thinking about our conversation a lot, and I keep thinking of it as I interact with all sorts of women in my life who are dealing with incredibly difficult things—women who are working the nightshift and being fully-engaged moms during the day; women who are fighting for their marriages and aren’t sure if there’s anything left to fight for; women who’ve been abused and abandoned and left to pick up the pieces; women who’ve been ripped apart by a painful loss but still go to work and drive soccer carpool like always; women who seem just fine on the outside, but are battling loneliness or anxiety or depression. I’ve been thinking about all of these women, who—if they’re being honest—probably have times when they feel like they don’t have the strength to go on; times when they just want to quit.

I’ve been wanting to sit down with each of these women and have a conversation with them. Because I think the woman who wants to quit desperately needs to hear something. So let me use this platform, today, to speak directly to the woman who wants to quit. Let’s have a pretend cup of coffee together so I can tell you these two things. (Hey, but if you want to have a real cup of coffee, you know where to find me!)

1. You’re not strong enough. I want to tell the woman who wants to quit that she needn’t struggle to be strong enough anymore. She needn’t try to be her own hero. Just so we’re clear, I’d say the same thing to the man who wants to quit. This isn’t a gender issue. It’s a human issue. This idea of needing strength outside of our own capacity is a very countercultural thing. We have this false sense of complete power and control over our environment. Maybe technology is feeding into this. I mean, according to a recent Hyundai commercial, you can literally unlock your car from space now. Admittedly, it’s pretty cool. But try stopping the wind and you’ll soon see there are limitations to what we can do with technology. The truth is, we aren’t all-powerful. When we find ourselves depleted of strength, we must look outside of ourselves. If I ran out of bread, I couldn’t find more bread by willing it to appear in my empty pantry. I’d need to go to the source. I’d need to run to the store and get more. (Or go outside and start harvesting wheat if I lived hundreds of years ago.) Speaking of living hundreds of years ago, here’s a very old writing that’s still highly relevant:

“As long as you rely entirely on yourself, you are bound to come to grief. You still have a most important lesson to learn: your own strength will no more help you to stand upright than propping yourself on a broken reed. You must not despair of me, You may hope and trust in me absolutely.”

A Letter from Jesus Christ, written by John of Landsburg, a sixteenth-century monk

2. Your story matters. I want to tell the woman who wants to quit that her story, even right now in the messiest part, matters very much. My friend at the diner is a beautiful example of this. Even as she’s been waiting for things in her life to get better, she has said “yes” to serving and helping others. That’s how I met her, in fact. We were serving together. I was amazed at how much God used this woman, even while she was hurting, to reach others through a selfless act of service. Right now, she is reaching others just by allowing me to share this story with you. You don’t have to be whole to make a big impact. You just have to be willing. Remember that we serve a God who fed five thousand people out of one little boy’s willingness to offer up his lunch. A little goes a long way.

To the woman who wants to quit: please don’t. Your story matters, and it’s still unfolding. Look to God as your hero, and then look for Him in the everyday details, because He cares for you very much. Right down to your coffee mug.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. – Psalms 46:1

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Romans 10:13

Ugly-Side Up

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A while back I enjoyed a glorious mom’s night out at a local Board and Brush design studio. It was especially glorious because I got to use a power drill. See?


I appreciate a good power drill. I also appreciate anything which involves seeing a task through from start to finish, because not many things in my life feel neatly finished these days.

I caught a different perspective on beauty during this process. It was so counterintuitive, I couldn’t help but remember it. When arranging the boards to form a pallet, I learned to keep the wood ugly-side up. My natural inclination was to turn the boards over to hide any imperfections. I learned, though, that the ugly parts of the wood—the nicks and dents and scratches and knots—were what made for the most beautiful finished products. I was skeptical at first, but willing to give it a try, so I turned my boards ugly-side up before drilling them together to make the pallet. Sure enough, with some sanding, staining, and painting, all those “ugly” places on the wood served to enhance the beauty of my completed project.

This particular experience was months ago, but it came to mind again just the other day, when I found myself in a room surrounded by ugly-side up faces.

When I say I was surrounded by ugly-side up faces, I do not mean that these people were ugly. I’m not saying that at all. What I mean is, many of these people were not concerned with hiding the pain, anger, hurt, and brokenness on their faces. Nor should they have been. I’m being purposely vague about where I was and why I was there, because it doesn’t matter. I’ll get right to the part that does matter.

Though the room was packed, people weren’t looking at one another. Then a two-year-old entered the room, accompanied by his mother. He was lifted into a seat, and as the minutes passed, his little eyes filled with excitement. When he couldn’t contain himself any longer, he hopped down and began working the room. He walked right up to as many ugly-side up faces as time allowed, extending his hand and offering an enormous smile.

One by one, I watched these ugly-side up faces turn absolutely beautiful. There were smiles and laughs. People began looking around and talking to others near them. It was amazing to see how this little child completely changed the atmosphere in this place. He didn’t take away anyone’s problems. He didn’t have the power to do that. He just showed up and fearlessly offered love. In doing this simple thing, he made the faces in this room beautiful. He broke down walls. He made it look so easy.

I’ve been thinking about this kid ever since and kicking myself for not being more like him. I’ve been wondering what it would look like if I stopped avoiding ugly-side up faces and started boldly and genuinely and compassionately loving them instead.

There is a good chance we will all encounter at least one ugly-side up face today. (Again, can’t clarify this enough – not ugly people, but people who act and present themselves in angry, hurtful, and otherwise “ugly” ways.) Perhaps the ugly-side up face you encounter will belong to a stranger. Or, perhaps you come across a particular ugly-side up face day after day, and you’re finding it really hard to see beyond those ugly places.

What would be different if we saw every ugly-side up face not as something to fear, dismiss, or avoid, but as an opportunity to put in some effort to uncover something profoundly beautiful?

I suppose if this child has the ability to completely change the atmosphere, then we all do. Something to remember as we step out into the world this morning.

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. (Romans‬ ‭12:10‬)

The Weirdest Bill Ever

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I’ve developed a special cringe-face which I use solely for opening bills. This is a result of having both the electric and gas bills double recently. A while back, we signed a two-year contract with a market supplier for gas and electric. This saved a great deal of money for the first two years, but the rates skyrocketed when the contract ended. Hence the doubled bills. I had every intention of watching for this increase and switching suppliers before the rates hiked up, but I got distracted by things like cutting crusts off PBJ sandwiches, attempting to potty train, and trying to find a single matching pair of socks in the laundry pile. (Seriously, where are all the socks going?!)

Anyway. Now I have this special bill-opening-cringe-face, because—I realize this sounds dramatic—I’m a little traumatized by the doubled utility bills.

In February, we received a bill from a healthcare provider. I had a major cringe-face when opening this bill. Healthcare provider bills, in my experience, are basically horror movies in an envelope. Imagine my relief to find this bill was only for $23.00. I perused the bill (which included detailed insurance adjustments) shrugged, nodded, and sent in our check—no questions asked.

At this point, you’re thinking, Wow. This is a rather boring blog post. I can’t believe I’ve wasted three minutes of my life reading about your $23.00 medical bill.

But stay with me, we’re going somewhere slightly more interesting with this.

Several weeks later, we received another bill in the mail from this same healthcare provider. Lots of internal panic and cringing ensued, because I naturally assumed this bill was for upwards of one million dollars. (Like I said, I’m traumatized.)

So I opened it up, ever so carefully, and peeked into the envelope with only one eye open. I peeked just enough to kind of sort of see how many zeros we were talking here.

And I saw the weirdest thing.

There, in the envelope, was our original bill, along with our original check, and a letter. The letter read: According to our records, there is NO balance on your account and I am therefore returning your check to you.

Weird, right? At some point, their records obviously indicated a balance on our account. Hence the original bill. But all the sudden, no balance. No need for us to pay anything at all.

This never happens. Like, ever. I was skeptical. I was weirded-out, if you will. A flood of questions entered my mind.

What is this all about? What should I make of this? What’s the catch?

Then, I saw the craziest thing of all.

There, on our original bill, someone had crossed out the Amount Paid section. When they crossed it out, they ended up making a fish symbol. The same symbol that has come to represent Jesus. No joke. I can’t make this stuff up. Look:


I don’t know if the person who did this meant to do it or not. But I’m confident God meant for me to share this simple illustration with you.

As Easter approaches, I’m reminded that this is what Jesus did for each and every one of us. He made our debt disappear, separating it “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).

I don’t know about you, but if I were left to pay my own debt to God, that would be one terrifying, cringeworthy bill. It would be something I could never, ever pay on my own.

Because of Jesus, there is no balance on my account. That’s truly something to celebrate.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteousness, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:8)

I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you. (Isaiah 44:22)

A Song on Repeat

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There is a special kind of humility that comes with driving around in a used, powder-blue minivan. Especially when said minivan also has a glitter finish. I know, because I’ve been doing it for the past few months.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for my minivan. And I wouldn’t trade it, glitter and all. It just doesn’t scream cool. There was a time when, through a series of opportune events, I drove a Mustang GT. It was a short time, because through a series of not-so-opportune events, I crashed it… but there was a time.

Something tells me the powder-blue glittery minivan will be with me for a long, long time.

Anyway. I’ve done my best to become fully committed to this less-cool phase of life. In fact, I like to enhance the overall minivan experience by playing loud children’s songs, often on repeat. (Truth: I don’t actually like to do this, but I do like when the kids aren’t screaming, so if they want to hear a song on repeat, I figure it’s a small price to pay for peace.)

For the past—I don’t know, three years it feels like, but probably eight days or so—we’ve been driving around with a certain song on repeat. It’s from a cd we received as a gift, which is really a great thing, because it takes simple Bible verses and puts them to a catchy tune, so you can get the tune stuck in your head and have the Bible verses memorized. My kids have memorized lots of verses this way. The one they’ve been into lately is Philippians 4:13—I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. If you want to step into my world and listen to the song, here’s a link. Just play this over and over for about thirteen hours, and you’ll get an idea of how many times I’ve heard this song lately.

At some point over the past several days, I think I tuned it out. Moms can be really good at tuning things out. It’s a survival skill. Not the kids, though. They sang it enthusiastically every time it played. And every time the song ended they shouted, “Again!” Then they cheered with delight when it came back on.

One morning this week my little girl woke up and asked for a piece of paper and a pencil. She was determined to write down those words—I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me—first thing in the morning.


And then the craziest thing happened. I went to drop this precious girl off at school, prepared to engage in the usual routine of peeling her off my leg and gently pushing her into the classroom while she’s desperately clinging to me. But I didn’t have to. For the first time in her life, she walked away from me with complete confidence.

She looked over her shoulder, gave me a smile, and said, “Bye, Mom.” Then she was gone.

I was stunned. When I picked her up, we celebrated a little and I asked her about it. I said, “You had so much courage going to school today! Where did that come from?”

She told me, “I just thought about the words in that song. And I thought of them so hard that nothing could distract me. And I knew I could be brave about going to school.”

Every day since, she’s walked right into the classroom with the same confidence. There’s been a drastic and remarkable change in this child.

A few days later we were out at a play place, and there was a tall green tunnel slide there. The thing about tall green tunnel slides is that they seem dark inside, so my kids avoid them. I asked my daughter if she wanted to try the slide, and she said, “No way.”

After a little while, out of nowhere, she climbed the stairs and went right down. Then she did it over and over again, squealing with joy each time. This went on for at least thirty minutes. At one point her little brother joined in the fun.

We were recounting the experience that evening, and again she told me how the words in the song gave her courage. Then she said something I will never, never forget. It’s something I just have to share with you.

She said, “That song changed my whole life.”

That song changed my whole life.

It’s adorable, of course, when a little kid talks about something changing her whole life. Because the giants in her world are small right now; preschool drop-offs and tunnel slides. Nevertheless, those words did change her whole life. I saw it happen right before my eyes.

She didn’t do these big brave things because I talked her into them or bribed her to do them. She did them because God’s Word settled into her heart, and she was changed.

God’s Word changes people. That’s what it’s done for thousands of years, and that’s what it will continue to do until the end of time.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)

I suppose there’s no better gift I can give my kids than the gift of letting them listen to God’s Word over and over (and over) again as we cruise around town in our glittery minivan. To the person who introduced my kids to these songs in the first place (you know who you are), thank you.

I don’t know what the giants are in your world right now. If I had to guess, I’d say they’re probably bigger than tunnel slides and preschool drop-offs. All I know for sure is this: God’s Word changes things.

If you find yourself in need of a change today, my prayer for you is that you’ll have the courage to look in the one place where true, lasting change can be found.

…and you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32 ESV)

Late to 2018

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It is January 10th, and I just got the calendar switched over. More on that in a moment.

First, I want to gush for a little bit and tell you that I see the Lang Folk Art calendar as the equivalent of comfort food hanging on the wall. My mother always kept one around when I was growing up. She didn’t use it to keep the family organized with important dates and appointments, though. My mother used these calendars as something like a prehistoric Facebook feed, complete with hand-drawn emojis, because she was ahead of her time. Twenty-five years ago, my mother’s January calendar would’ve been peppered with entries like this:

Courtney built a snowman (hand-drawn smiley face)

Or, Christmas break is already over (hand-drawn crying face)

One day a couple years back I was sitting in a girlfriend’s kitchen and I caught a glimpse of her Lang calendar hanging in a frame. All the memories of my mother’s calendars came flooding back – like I said, comfort food on the wall. Ever since then I’ve had one on my wall, too.

Our calendar is kept in a place where we can see it as we come and go. I took down the 2017 calendar today and flipped through it. A quick glance told me that we use our calendar to manage relationships and to plan the sharing of our lives with others. Our 2017 calendar is crammed with names of the people we were blessed to do life with over the past year. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Of course, this new calendar is empty right now. That’s because I’m a little late to 2018. Ten days late, if we’re counting.

I didn’t burst into 2018 when the ball dropped. There were quite a few reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest was the fact that the stomach flu came roaring through the house. So I missed the time when people everywhere were making fresh starts and feeling more motivated than ever to tackle new challenges, finally get organized, and be healthier. While all this was transpiring, I was setting my sights on getting up off the bathroom floor and out of the pajamas I’d been wearing for three days straight. And quite frankly, the goal seemed far too lofty.

So yeah, I didn’t propel into 2018 with enthusiasm and zeal. I crawled into 2018 like a swamp monster; not even the cool and scary kind of swamp monster, but the pathetic kind from the old movies, back before special effects could make them seem truly scary, so they just looked kind of sad. I crawled into 2018 like that, only to be met with the numerous unintended consequences of being a sick mom. You know, mounds of laundry and empty refrigerators, those sorts of things.

I’ve been climbing out of the pit. I have a little way to go, I suppose.

This isn’t meant to be a depressing post, however. So let’s shift tones a bit.

Here’s the important thing I want to share with you today. This is what I’m hanging my soggy-swamp-monster-hat on as I (finally) enter this year:

“New” isn’t something to be grasped on January 1st. New is something to be grasped each morning.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‭‭(Lamentations‬ ‭3:22-23‬ ‭ESV)

Sure, I missed the chance at the iconic “fresh start” of the New Year. But in thinking it over, I’ve realized something much bigger: All too often, I miss the daily fresh start that’s mine to take hold of every morning, simply because of who Jesus is and who He calls me to be.

In a weird sort of way, I’m grateful for how this year started, because it helped me to realize how important it is to welcome each day with the new mercies and renewal that only Jesus can offer. To let go of any burdens or negative attitudes from yesterday instead of carrying these things around for days and weeks at a time.

I can testify, now that I’ve officially missed the start of a New Year, that missing your chance at a fresh start leaves you feeling a little behind, a little sluggish, a little grumpy. A little swamp-monsterish, if you will. That’s no way to wake up each morning.

Look out, 2018, I have officially arrived! I don’t come resolving to get healthy or get organized. I simply come ready to wake up to the new mercies I so desperately need each morning; ready to put on my new self; ready to be transformed. Ready to let others do the same.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a pit to dig out of—and a calendar to fill.

And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you. (‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:23-24‬ ‭MSG‬‬)

I Told My Kids They Belong on The Naughty List. Here’s Why…

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Two Decembers ago I took this photo of my son and captioned it: Wait… what naughty list?  


The expression on his tiny face still makes me laugh every time I see it.

The other day, I saw a similar expression on his face when I told him (along with his older sister) some harrowing news about the naughty list. Here’s what happened:

I was reading the kids some cutesy Christmas book about a little boy who dreamed he was on the naughty list and woke up to a stocking full of coal. When the story was over, my daughter asked, “How do people get on the naughty list?”

“What do you mean?” I was buying some time. I do this a lot when answering her questions.

She proceeded to ask if her brother might be on the naughty list. “Because he does naughty things sometimes,” she said.

I nodded. Valid point. (Almost-three-year-old boys can be a bit of a handful.)

It could’ve been such an easy conversation. I could have said, “No, he’s not on the naughty list.” Then we could have moved on.

But I didn’t say that. Because apparently I’m not one for easy conversations. Instead, I felt a tremendous burden to take this opportunity to tell my little girl something. I asked her, “What does the Bible say about this? Does the Bible say we’re naughty?”

You could see the wheels in her head spinning. After a long time she answered, “The Bible says we’re… nice? Right?”

I shook my head. “No, sweetie. The Bible says we have all done naughty things. This is called sin. And we all have sin. We all belong on the naughty list.”

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23 ESV)

My son, who had been shoving fistfuls of Cheerios into his mouth this whole time, paused, mid-bite. His eyes widened.

“Even me?” my daughter asked. “Do I belong on the naughty list?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Even you?” she asked.

My mind went back to a few days earlier, when I dropped a 42-pound double jogging stroller on my foot while unloading it from the van in a crowded parking lot. The pain was so fast and intense, without thinking I let a word fly out of my mouth that was neither holly nor jolly. I remembered a whole lot of other things, too. Things from long, long ago, that still have the power to make me cringe if I let myself dwell on them.

“Yes,” I said. “Even me. We all have sin. Every last one of us.”

“Does even Jesus belong on the naughty list?” she asked, her voice louder than before.

“Well, no, actually. That’s the whole point. Jesus did not have sin. But he took the sin of the whole world onto himself, and he died so that we could be free from the penalty of our sin.”

She furrowed her brow. I tried explaining it again, in terms more appropriate for a preschooler.

“Every last one of us belongs on the naughty list,” I told her. “There’s nothing any of us could do to earn our way off the naughty list. No matter how good we are, no matter how hard we try, we could never be good enough to measure up to God. The Bible says the only way to be right with God is to accept the free gift that Jesus gave to each of us. The gift is called salvation. Jesus saved us from being stuck on the naughty list forever. And even if you’ve done something really, really bad—even if you’ve done the worst thing you can imagine, you can still be saved because Jesus gave this gift to everyone. That’s what the Bible says.”

“So I belong on the naughty list?”

“Yes, sweetie. You belong on the naughty list, and so does your brother, and so does Mommy. We all belong on the naughty list, every last person. But because of Jesus, we don’t have to stay there. And that’s why Christmas is such a big deal. That’s why it’s so very, very special.”

We talked a lot more after that. My daughter learned a big new word, Redeemed. (Which, by the way, sounds super cute coming out of her mouth because she pronounces her R as W.)

And, as far as I can tell, getting the news that they belong on the naughty list didn’t ruin Christmas for my kids.

We focus a lot on that, as parents—on not “ruining” Christmas. We focus on making Christmas magical and perfect for our children. We feel this pressure to bring the wonder of the season to our kids. But I want to be ever so careful, in sharing the wonder of Christmas, not to miss the mark.

I want to be careful to avoid the cultural pressure to teach my kids that they need to strive to be good, because someone’s watching, and they’ll be judged on how well they strived to measure up to this standard of “good”. I want to avoid teaching them this because it’s just not true. The truth is none of us could be good enough. Ever. That’s the whole point of Christmas.

I want to be intentional about teaching them not to strive to make the cut, but rather to accept that they could never make the cut on their own. I want to teach them to embrace their spot on the naughty list, and my hope is that someday, they’ll embrace the Savior who was sent to rescue them.

Here’s the thing: I’ve talked to a lot of grown ups about this. We don’t use the phrase naughty list, of course. Instead, we talk about regrets, about shame, about feelings of not being good enough. We are living in a world that is very much focused on being good enough—on striving to be liked and accepted. Perhaps it’s because we start striving, as children, to be on the nice list. And perhaps we take this mentality of earning our way onto the nice list into our relationship with God. We think we first have to be on the nice list, and then we can have a relationship with God.

Then, this “try to be good” mentality turns into a very vague and dangerous lie: that if we’re generally a good person, we’ll hopefully make the team and go to Heaven.

That’s not what the Bible says at all. The Bible says the only way to go to Heaven is to accept that we’re not good enough, and that we need a Savior. The Bible is clear that our only hope is to accept the free gift of salvation that only Jesus can offer, because we can’t earn it, no matter what we do.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 ESV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9 ESV)

So let me be the one this Christmas to say something very important to you, if you haven’t heard it:

You don’t have to strive to measure up. You never will measure up. None of us will. Please don’t miss out on knowing Jesus because you think you’re not good enough. That’s the whole point! It’s why he came, and it’s why he died. Because you’re not good enough. Neither am I. We don’t have to pretend to be. I hear far too many people joke that, “If I walked into a church, it would burst into flames.” If that were true, there wouldn’t be a church still standing, because every person who will walk into a church this weekend has struggled and will struggle with sin. The truth is, all of Heaven rejoices when someone full of sin decides to drop the pretense, to stop pretending they’re okay, and come to Jesus, broken and real.

Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue. (Luke 15:7 MSG)

We all belong on the naughty list. But we don’t have to stay there.

If you haven’t embraced your place on the naughty list yet, if you’re still striving to measure up, and if you’re exhausted from all that striving, why not lay it down this Christmas? A good way to start is to head to church. You don’t necessarily have to be at church to get to know Jesus, but it helps. It helps to spend regular time learning about who God is and who you’re called to be. You might be very surprised at what you find out.

If you’re local, and you’re looking for a place to go, get in touch! I know a place, and you’ll even have someone to sit with… a fellow sinner who belongs on the naughty list, too.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17 ESV)