I was the perfect mother before having kids.

I remember thumbing through pregnancy and parenting books at Barnes and Noble while expecting our first baby—a girl. When stumbling across an expert piece on raising strong-willed children, I quickly placed it back onto the shelf.

Surely that won’t be our princess,” I thought to myself while nudging my growing belly.

Our Hallie made her grand debut with chunky cheeks and gummy smiles, making life a million times sweeter. She was everything we had dreamed—and more. Those soft baby coos and itty bitty toes eventually turned into babbly words and wobbly steps.

Then toddlerhood hit like freight train, colliding into our world at a breakneck speed. Everything happened fast and furious and ahead of schedule: Conversations. Potty-training. The infamous “terrible twos.” And while it was a beautiful season for endless reasons, it was also hard.

Beautifully hard, you might say.

By 18 months old, she had mastered the fine art of digging in those heels and standing her ground with grit. She was fiery and stubborn, spicy and determined, gutsy and resilient.

I remember… fighting her tooth and nail over ordinary things like: wearing a coat to play in the snow, putting on sunscreen for a day outside, coming in for bedtime, and buckling her ever-loving seatbelt.

I remember… leaving playdates only for tears to unleash in the car (me, not her). She had not been content to sit and play dolls with the other girls. She did not want to listen, she did not want to share, and she did not want anything but her own way.

I remember… locking myself in our bathroom, sinking down onto the cold tiles (while curious fingers wiggled under the door), and praying screaming desperately at God.

When it came down to it, I wanted her to be good. And—embarrassingly enough—I suppose I wanted to look good too. I wanted a compliant child; a tame child. Maybe even a robot that resembled a child…

Lord, forgive me.

Because God is not after some flimsy mask like behavior modification. He’s after us.  

And He didn’t go to all that trouble—making the entire world, sending His own Son as our redeeming sacrifice, and dealing with our junk—just to assemble “good” boys and girls, then hushing them into a corner to be quiet and still.

He’s constantly teaching us, urging us, pleading with us, molding us, encouraging us, refining us, and drawing us to Himself. But He never forces us.

The will is something that’s been exercised for as long as the Garden of Eden is old. And though a strong will harnessed to the wrong things can certainly cause damage (as can a passive will), a strong will funneled toward the right things—Kingdom things—can literally change the world.

Where the heart is captivated, the will will surely follow.

“…For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)

We’re still in the trenches over here, but God has graciously redefined our understanding of “strong-willed.”

Hallie is now seven-years-old and full of that same spunk. But—oh—how I can already see her growing into her strength. She’s a mama bear and a natural leader and an avid planner. She loves to do and love and serve, not just sit. She’s courageous, hilarious, brave, thoughtful, and creative—constantly thinking outside of the box. She’s ferociously loyal (don’t mess with her brother) and full of joy. She’s an encourager, an includer, and a spark in this increasingly dim world.

She is the greatest earthly gift to her daddy and me (along with her brother, Jack).

Speaking of Jack. If you’re wondering where he falls on the fiery spectrum, Jack was arguably the most mellow, joyful, and content little giant on the planet through the twos. But then came three—along with a rowdy, opinionated, rambunctious, and adventurous boy—who melts plastic cupcakes in my real oven, will tackle you to the ground in one of his superhero costumes, might claw you to pieces if you take his Lovey, and has been caught peeing on random cars in the church parking lot.

I guess we all have a little fire in us.  

So, Mamas? Daddies? Grandparents? Foster parents? 

If this screen wasn’t in the way, I’d jump into your world—your living room, your car, your bathroom floor—and gently lift your chin. I’d remind you that a strong will is actually a great thing, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.

Parenting is beautifully hard—no matter who you are. It isn’t magically easy—no matter where you are. But it’s also one of the holiest and worthiest missions there is: to raise our kids to love like Jesus.

Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In fact, it’s often an indicator that something spectacular is in process. Athletes and artists know this truth well, but it’s no different with our kids.

Transformation happens in the trenches. 

God chose YOU to raise your feisty tribe. Not them, not her. You. You are the perfectly imperfect parent for your perfectly imperfect child.

God sees you. He knows you. He’s passionately in love with that miniature spitfire who’s currently giving you gray hairs. He knew you would feel inadequate/overwhelmed/underqualified at times, but that you’d eventually press into His strength. He knew it would take someone special to not write-off or break the spirit He put inside of your amazing child, but that you could lovingly—in your very own way—be a spark to ignite a blazing fire for His ultimate glory.

We will not be perfect parents, but we can be forgiven parents who share the grace.

We can love irrationally and forget the world’s standard of impossible perfection, all while tapping into His strength as we shine light into the next generation.

“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

And while it might not be the most fun thing for our children to go against the grain and test the limits, it’s an admirable trait in adults.

The strong-willed children of today will be the leaders and visionaries and pioneers of tomorrow. It will take strength, boldness, and resilience to scatter hope into a world that’s otherwise hopeless. It will take someone who isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo, when the status quo needs challenging.

Some of my favorite adult humans were spicy children—who now face injustice with a holy passion and righteous fight in their souls. This is why we should be careful not to squelch the purposely-designed spirit He’s put inside our kids, but to fan the flames that stir a desire for His ways.

But how? How on earth can we do such a thing?

By ourselves, it’s hopeless. But with Him, there’s always hope.

“He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” (Isaiah 40:11)

This verse isn’t just about sheep and lambs and flocks. It’s about Jesus leading us mamas (and daddies and whoever else) as we lead them. I don’t have all the answers—and my guess is, neither do you—but we have a God who does.

And He is the perfect parent.