Summer is in full swing, and I’m stuck finding the balance of being a fun, spontaneous, and carefree mom and struggling with the daily challenge to purposefully engage our children’s hearts and minds amidst their expectation of total relaxation and lots of screen time. Yes, our kids have more free time on their hands, and I have lots of work deadlines to meet. Honestly, it’s just easier to make summer a free-for-all, but I know that’s in no one’s best interest. The struggle to find balance is real, my friends. Please tell me I’m not the only one.

My own mom must have wrestled with something similar because I’ll never forget her simple declaration to me when I was fifteen. “Honey, with summer break beginning, I’ve signed you up as a weekly volunteer at the nursing home.”

You did what? I didn’t say it, but I thought it. Dread, discomfort, and nerves set in. I wasn’t comfortable around old people. This was not how I envisioned my summer break. Yet my mom knew her high school daughter and knew what I needed more than I needed television and endless free time.

My mom was (and is) a studier of my spirit — a wonderful lesson I’ve gleaned from her and applied with my own children. By stripping away my comfort zone and cracking open the door to a God-sized appointment, she knew my selfish heart would soften.

It took two weeks for me to get past the bad attitude.

Two weeks of complaining, two weeks of discomfort, and two weeks spent attempting to change my mom’s mind (sorry, Mom), but then it happened: a whole new world opened for me. A self-absorbed high schooler crossed generational lines and experienced fully what Psalm 78 talks about: the “things we have heard and known and that our fathers have passed down to us” (v. 3). I sat at the feet of wisdom and soaked in stories that breathed of lives well spent, as well as desperate cries from those whose paths held soul-wrenching regret, who longed for a do-over.

It was as if the Holy Spirit whispered, “Listen up, young thing. Open your heart to what I have in store for you this summer. Tear off the blinders and learn from the past generations. Heed their words, share their stories, and remember.”

I remember all right. I remember the hard mixture of smells — of sickness and fragility and disinfectant and lots of sweet, soft perfumes and tobacco. I remember the juxtaposition of sounds — of love and laughter from a grandchild’s rare visit, hidden amid cries and cursing during physical therapy. Those sensory memories never quite leave you.

But more importantly, I remember the transforming power of their life stories.Stories that opened a door through which He boldly stepped and carved a new path. Stories of chivalry and war-torn loves. Stories of sacrifice through service. Stories of loneliness and loss, of burying both child and spouse. All summer long, I soaked up sentiments shared by generations who had gone before, wisdom weathered through decades of life and death, gleaned from people who could never accept an invitation to come to the house but who could be part of my life if I’d only go to theirs.

That summer marked me. In fact, being pushed, or more like catapulted out of my comfort zone, marked me in such a way that this summer I’m passing on a similar gift to our fifteen-year-old daughter as I invite her to expand her boundaries. Here’s the reality for us all. Our natural instinct doesn’t call us to step out of our comfort zone and choose to serve when it’s hard or hot, dirty or discouraging, but we get to. In fact, minutes before finishing this post, my daughter and I had a huge argument “love spat” about summer expectations, goals, and chores, so don’t assume it’s always cupcakes and glitter. We regrouped and shifted our “have to” mentality to a “get to” partnership with God’s plan. (Do you remember my story of the berry pancakes and my friend’s grief?

We brainstormed ways to serve and one option included volunteering at a multi-generational, special needs horse camp. Months into it, the stories written on her heart are too numerous to include, but I’ll leave you with this.

She second-guessed her ability, her age, her experience, her gifting. Se felt so uncomfortable since she didn’t know anyone, but after her first day, she jumped in the car with joy on her face and horse manure on her shoes exclaiming, “I get what you mean when you said, ‘As you pour out, He’ll pour in and fill you up’ because He did it, Mom. You know how nervous I was, but it was amazing. As I spent time with them and learned their stories, it made my heart come alive.”

Are you experiencing that kind of excitement in your own life? Does your heart come alive?

It’s often hard, yet I continue to preach to myself, “As I pour out, He pours in and fills me in ways I could never expect.” That’s abundance.

Can you join me this summer as we step our of our comfort zone? Trust me. I’m still working on it. 

(Posted at my favorite site for women: (in)courage)