On vacation and returning

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Well, we were away.  My in-laws bless us greatly with a vacation each summer and this year we were at the beach.  It was wonderful, and glorious, and all of the things that are good.  Our lives are fairly hectic, so to get away is HUGE.  I was able to spend one on one time with each of our girls, and so was my husband.  School starts in a week, and I wanted to end this summer strong.  Our oldest is in middle school this year and has sports and youth group-she’s beginning her foray into this crazy world.  Our middlest is headed into second grade, and is playing sports this year as well.  Our youngest is starting half-days and doing dance, and it all feels like it’s going too fast!  It’s not that they’re perfect or I’m perfect or that we don’t yell or get frustrated with each other…it’s just that I love them so much and I love the people they are becoming and school season takes away so much time with them.  There are negatives and positives to their being away, so I will enjoy the long walks I can take, the laundry I can get done, taking Grandpa to visit Grandma without kiddos, and just the quiet.

As a young mom, I used to think school would be AWESOME.  I figured that it would mean we all get a break from each other, but that they would return happy.  The reality of it is that school is actually hard, and kind of stressful for kids. So even when you get the time away? You’d better be ready to absorb the stress when they get home.  I guess I prefer stress we cause each other over the external stresses of school and sports schedules.

Anyway, vacation was everything we needed.  It’s a big deal to get away because it always means others covering Grandma and Grandpa’s care while we’re gone.  We are so, so grateful for family who stayed here at the house and spent time with the grandparents while we were gone.  Respite is good for the soul.

We have one more week til school and, while I wish it was filled with fun stuff, it’s just looking like a mad dash for the finish.  We have some shopping to do-despite my best intentions, I couldn’t get everything I needed online for school supplies.  We have hair appointments and I have reams of paperwork that was due last week while we were on vacation.  We have sports equipment to buy and lunch foods to prep and also an eclipse to survive.

I always made fun of those moms that got all sad at the end of summer but it looks like I’m turning out to be one of them.  How did your summer go?  Any vacations or staycations?  Love to hear what your thoughts are!

On significance

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We were sitting around our table with friends a few nights ago when the conversation turned to significance. There is such a push in this celebrity culture we live in to seek applause, build a platform, brand yourself, brand your lifestyle, be noticed, make an impact, leave a legacy, all of the things.

I have struggled with this. There was a time when I was writing and really wanted to be published. I had a few rejections and then a well-known blogger shared one of my pieces and the traffic to my old blog exploded. In about a week, that traffic diminished.

During a recent time of protests and marches, I was feeling disappointed that I couldn’t join with others who were making a stand. I wanted so badly to go and make my voice heard and stand together.  But kids and school and grandparents and well, it just couldn’t happen. At that time, another friend encouraged me by reminding me of the importance of what I am living day in and day out within our four walls.

And around our table, the conversation a few days ago brought me back to that point. So, listen while I tell you what I need to tell myself often…

Loving the people you are with-THAT is significant. Maintaining your walk with Jesus, choosing daily to choose Him-THAT is significant. Remaining faithful and committed to your spouse, putting in the hard work of actual love-THAT is significant.

The most significant things you will do are things that you will likely never get a thank-you for and perhaps no one else will ever see. It’s easier to make a poster for a cause and march than it is to make a poster at 10pm with a child who “forgot” about their project. It’s easier to chant down a street than it is to hold my tongue at home.

And even more-the reason I can hold my tongue at all or do the work of a mom-the deepest significance I have is through Jesus. No performance of my own qualifies me, it’s through grace alone. It all flows from Him, and is through Him. Praise be to God.

On self-care

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Anyone who has ever been labeled a caregiver has heard the term “self-care.”  I suppose most moms have heard that word, even labeled themselves as such. I’ve had some seasons of caregiving that have been difficult, and I always read about the importance of self-care.  Whether you love a child from a hard place, someone with an addiction, someone who is medically needy, or just have a very demanding life, your health and well-being is super important, because you can only offer from what you have.

Here’s the thing about self-care, though.  When self-care becomes too self-focused, it’s not doing me any good.  Ultimately, there is still a level of performance involved in it and a whole lot of self-indulgance.  I’ve read any number of self-care articles… there are loads of great tips but they’re missing the big picture.  As a Christ-follower, I have a much more holistic approach to this whole self-care scene.

You see, my spiritual well-being needs to be the first thing I seek.  That’s the headwaters.  Everything flows from there.  I say this with certainty because I spent years serving and loving without refueling and it left me depressed and burnt out.  How can I serve and love when I am empty?  Being positive and upbeat works for so long until you’re just plain done.

The beautiful, complicated, hard truth of following Jesus is that the more you follow and are filled, the more you are asked to pour out.  And here’s the crazy thing…when you’re in a close walk Him, even when it’s hard, it’s good.  Not because there is no sacrifice, not because it never hurts, but because being in step with Him is so filling.  It doesn’t make much sense but the ultimate acts of self-care turn out to be acts of self-denial.

Self-care teaches me to seek myself and my own pleasures.  Jesus tells me to seek Himself, and promises that He will offer me true rest.  Of course I read to relax, of course I know that taking long walks is therapeutic.  Listening to good music, having some coffee, savoring some chocolate-all of the yes.  But those things only go so far.  Ultimately,  my deepest satisfaction comes from knowing God.  Jonathan Edwards has said, “the most pleasant accommodations . . . fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the Sun.”

Kids find the chocolate stash, the husband makes the last of the coffee and doesn’t mention it, it’s too rainy to walk outside, and none of the music can scratch that itch…but one timely word from the Word can change the trajectory of the day, the week, the season.  I hope this encourages you to take some time to be with Jesus today.  He’s all that satisfies.

 

On life right now

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So, July came and went and it’s August.  Here we are, August.  We are wondering what happened to summer and why the thought of going back to school is causing the rubber band to tighten around our chests.  Or maybe that’s just me.  Our July has been intense, to say the least.

August me is in survival mode.  I just kind of want to appear to have stuff together for the school people in September so I try to get all of the forms filled out and all of the sports registered for, and all of the children delivered to the first day of school in good health.  Something that has made me very happy is this whole capsule wardrobe thing for the kids.  I talked more about it here.  I’m hopeful that this will streamline life and laundry and minimize morning drama.  We’re squeezing in some last play dates and a vacation and family time this month, and I’m realizing I’m going to really miss our youngest when she goes to school!

I’ve fallen off of the exercise/vegetable eating bandwagon over the last two weeks and climbed on the caffeine and carbs truck.  Turns out roasting  spaghetti squash and eggplant is not high on the priority list during hard times.  But you learn a new normal and I think those things will come back around.  I’m making  walking a priority (as in, waking up before 8 to do it) because I have discovered it’s key to my mental health.  Pop in some tunes or a podcast and it is some therapy on the pavement.

Speaking of such things, I want to tell you what I’ve been keen on lately.  I would link to things if I could but right now that just feels like a lot of work, so y’all can google some things, ok? As is well documented, I love listening to the Big Boo Cast featuring Melanie Shankle (Big Mama) and Sophie Hudson (BooMama).  Southern and funny and comforting.  Also just got Nichole Nordeman’s new album (Every Mile Mattered).  It’s one for more mature believers, I would say, but it’s resonated deeply with me.  It’s really beautiful.  I just finished reading Love Lives Here by Maria Goff.  So good.  It calmed my mind and allowed me to see my home and my family in a new way.  We are still reading through the book of Luke over here, and I continue to be more enthralled with Jesus.  He is stunning to me.  I am changed by our time in this book, and getting to process thoughts together with my husband is just IT.  Another podcast that is just fun for me is the Popcast with Knox and Jamie.  It’s a grown-ups discussing pop culture and I enjoy this immensely.  Also, southern.

Well, there you go.  That is life right now.  August and I have had a chat and I have told her (him?) that she (he?) had better behave or I’m going to have to be unkind.  Happy end of summer, you guys.   A friend of mine told me the other day that she thinks we are living a hard, holy, and beautiful life.  I thought on that and replied that I think you have to live the hard to get the holy and beautiful. I hope it’s been a good one, and that even if it hasn’t been easy, you’ve been able to see some beauty along the way.

On the importance of fun

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Left to my own devices, I would be an all work/no play kind of gal.  The older I’ve gotten, the stronger I have felt this pull.  Our life is very intentionally full… our home is a shared home, and it’s a place we serve lots of people.  My natural inclination is not towards rest. There is always something to be done around here-laundry, counters that need de-cluttered, rooms that need cleaned, floors that need to be washed…you know the drill. Every once in awhile (like, oh, every day maybe) I will get a glance from my husband that says, “Hey-you need to sit and be with the people that are here.”

My husband is the kindest, most caring man I know.  He also knows how to have fun.  He’s the one who can look at our backyard and figure out an obstacle course for our girls to run through by using a hula hoop and the play equipment we have set up.  He’s the one who has taught me to look for fun and engage our girls in it.  Because of the nature of our life, we have to be so careful that we don’t allow our daughters to shoulder burdens they shouldn’t.  All three are very caring, sensitive girls and pick up on needs and want to meet them.  But they’re 11, 8, and 4.  They need to just be kids, too.

All of this to say, we try to take our fun pretty seriously around here.  We love to vacation-our parents bless us with a few trips each year where the kids get to make memories with us and with their extended family and let loose.  We go to my family’s cabin, we go to the mountains or the beach with my in-laws, we have even done our own overnight at a nearby hotel with a fun indoor pool.  Getting away, getting a break-terribly important.

Last night, I took our youngest two to our county fair.  My husband and oldest daughter were away for the week on a missions trip, and the week had been pretty intense around here.  So I had someone come to stay with Grandma and Grandpa, and we went to the fair.  The girls each picked a ride and a snack, saw every single one of the animals, and got to play a silly game.  For me, it’s easier to focus on the kids when I’m not at home.  Getting away from the house (which, for any stay at home mom, is their workplace) is so key.  I’m not resting my eyes on the piles or the dirt or worrying about anyone but the kids.  Watching the girls giggle and run and giggling with them-that was some good stuff for this mama.

Harder for me is sitting to play games with the kids.  It is not something I love, but the older they get, the more I realize just how brief these windows will be open.  So we play games and read books and bake and watch movies.  I am grateful for girls who want to serve and meet needs where they see them, but I also want them to know that resting and laughing are just as important.  They see my husband and I sit with our Bibles open, discussing what we’re reading through, and I want them to see us laughing and creating those spaces for them as well.

What are your biggest challenges when it comes to having fun?  How can you create space for fun?  What might need to wait so that you and your family can make some great memories together? Or, how do you already create that space?  What are your successes in this area?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

On perspective

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I’ve loved Jesus for nearly all of my life. When I was 5, I knelt down on the shaggy carpet in Mrs. Miller’s living room.  A friend from school had invited me to this Good News Club, and I received that good news wholeheartedly.  We always went to church, but I can’t recall ever receiving an invitation to Christ until that moment.  So I heard that call and it stuck. I’ve learned some things so far, and have a feeling there’s a whole lot more learning to do.

I’ve learned that leading with opinions will close more doors than it will open, and that those doors are very hard to earn the privilege to knock on again.

I’ve learned that pain and miracles can both bring me to my knees, and somehow…somehow, God is present in both of these places.  I’ve learned that, a lot of the time, listening is better than speaking.

I’ve learned that even in my messiest, most disobedient place, God was still pursuing my heart.  And that’s what gives me hope, because if He would do it for me, He will most certainly do it for another.  and another.  and another.

And I have learned, in my weariest of moments, how faithful God is to draw me to Himself.

Sometimes I still feel like that little girl kneeling in Mrs. Miller’s living room, not having a clue but going for it anyway.  Yeah, there’ve been lots of miles put on this faith over the years…some of those miles have caused some pretty serious wear and tear.  I’m grateful I didn’t know about them, or I would have avoided them.  So glad I couldn’t, and so glad I said yes all those years ago.

On grace and idols

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I feel like my husband and I hold on to things very loosely.  We try to live in a posture of surrender and submission to the Lord, aware of what He is asking of us and how we can serve Him.  Recently, though, He showed me there’s something I have been holding onto a little too tightly.  You know how I know?  Because the thought of losing this particular thing caused me great anxiety.  Fear, even.  It cost me sleep and threw me back into some old, unhealthy habits.

I was reading through my Twitter feed this morning and came across something that stopped me in my tracks.  Paul Tripp tweeted these words…”Grace is not always comforting, sometimes grace is painful, but that pain is the pain of spiritual surgery done by our loving Savior.  Grace doesn’t deliver what we want, but what we need.  Sometimes we need the destruction of things in our life that have captured our hearts.  In the zeal of grace, God will faithfully do what is necessary to rescue and deliver us, so we’ll finally serve Him and Him alone.”  And I was all RETWEET and FIRE EMOJI because that just dropped real strong for me.

That was it!  I saw in that moment that my gracious Father was revealing something I had begun to love too much, place too much hope in.  By His grace, He kept me from careening down the path of disappointment.  Now, I’ll be honest.  In my head, at first, I was all, “Yes!  I totally get You on this.  I’m good with having to give it up.  And since I’m good with that now, I am sure You’ll let me keep it amirite?” …wink wink nudge nudge…

Then the Lord nudged me and showed me THAT RIGHT THERE meant I was still holding on.  And I sat in our kitchen and had a very honest talk with God about why this particular thing would be so hard to let go of, and all of the reasons why He shouldn’t ask this of me, and He asked me, “Do you trust Me?  Do you trust Me-that even if you need to give this thing up-that I know what is best for you?  That I know what is best for your family?  Can you let me do this how I want to do this?”

Just, silence.  This is the hard stuff.  I wrestled, He won.  As hard as it was, I knew I needed to trust Him.  There’s no resolution in sight, not in mine at least.  I have chosen to trust Him, and let go of this thing that I thought I needed.

If you are wrestling, you’re not alone.  Know, though, that we are in the hands of a loving Father who is gracious enough to give us what we need instead of what we want, and continually rescue and deliver us.

On life offline

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I took a long break from Facebook and now I’m back.  I left for lots of reasons, and I shared about them in this post.  I’m back, for a few reasons.  One of them is convenience-lots of people use Facebook to stay in touch, of course.  One of them is my mom-she posts great family history stuff and I’m a nerd for those things.

But as I enter back into this land, here are my thoughts.

My offline life is infinitely richer and more complicated than what you will see on my Facebook page.  I don’t participate to be known or truly know others.  That kind of relationship can only happen offline.

Our significance can only be found offline.  Likes and laughs and loves on a status do not equal your true identity.  Online arguments and presentations of opinions do not, for me, change the world or constitute dialogue.  If I am going to actually change things, I need to look my kids in the eyes when they talk to me.  I need to love my husband.  I need to give care to the ones God has placed in my path, in my life-my husband’s grandparents, our parents and extended family, and a small handful of close friends.

There is a beautiful, God-ordained life to be lived.  That life is centered around spending time with living, breathing members of God’s creation.  It’s richest when we experience His creation wholly-getting outside, reading good books, listening to the music that He made for us to hear (whether in a studio or the birdsong), eating foods created by Him for our enjoyment…whole hearted living, and whole hearted loving.

What this lacks in efficiency it more than makes up for in experience.  This kind of living is messy and kind of hard, but some days the heart just explodes with the goodness of it all… and other days the heart leans so hard into Jesus as we wade into the brokenness of it all.

I will love my little family history lessons from mom, and I will love being connected more with out of state friends and family, but they are firmly placed in their right positions… behind the beautiful, messy offline life that God has given me.

On everything not being awesome

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Our girls are 11, 8, and 4.  It would be very easy for me to fill every waking hour of their days with screen and games and treats because it would make them happy and keep them busy.  However, we decided early on (and somewhat out of necessity) that those things would not be the norm in our house.  Some of it due to the special needs our girls have, and some of it due to financial limitations, but most of it due to what was best for the kids.  And parents, let me just say this-what is best for the kids is not what is easiest for us. Am I right?  I’m not saying there haven’t been stretches where the TV was used more than it should have been, or I didn’t morph into entertainment mom, but the norm is not those things.

I was listening to a podcast (The Shauna Niequist Podcast) with  Tsh Oxenreider … She and her husband planned for years, packed up their young family, and traveled the world with them for a year.  Something she said in this podcast really stuck with me.  She said that they had times when excursions and special experiences were planned, and they found that the kids were complaining during those times.  The kids were most contented when the family stayed in the same spot for 6 weeks, and they could roam the grounds and make friends and just play.  She said that she and her husband had a phrase…”When everything is awesome, nothing is awesome.” Raising an amen hand over here, sister.

Parenting is a crap shoot. We try our best, course correct, and begin again.  We’ve had times where we’ve made things awesome for our kids and the been shocked-SHOCKED-at the entitled attitudes we see (but we’ve made them that way, right?).  We have found that the less we meet every whim of our kids, the better they are at actually seeing this world.  They see people as more than vending machines for their desires.  They see needs and meet them.  They fight with each other and learn how to resolve conflict.  Sometimes there are long stretches of fighting and going in circles and I turn in my ticket for the crazy train.  We have learned the hard way that fixing their problems doesn’t actually fix their problems.

There is, of course, this whole deeper end of things.  If our kids are never made to face conflict, if they are never allowed to feel discomfort, if they can never be shown their own lack, then they never really understand their need for Jesus.  If everything is awesome, then nothing really is.  And the same goes for me as a mom-I need to allow my life to be interrupted for the sake of my kids.  If I never feel that tension, I’ll never really rely on Jesus to help me.  We each need to lean into the imperfect so that the Perfect is made known.

So, it’s July.  We’ve had wins and losses this summer.  I can say that we’ve grown closer as a family with all of the school stuff stripped away, and that was my goal.  I don’t know what the next month and a half will bring, or what the next 10 years will bring, but I am finding that leaning into the imperfect and leaning ON the Perfect has helped me in the last 2 hours, so I’ll keep on keeping on.

There is so much grace for these parenting days.  I am so grateful for that!

On back to school things

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Every year, at the school our kids attend, we get a long list of supplies we need to buy before school starts.  I used to print the list and take each girl to the store, scouring the aisles for fine-tipped dry erase markers and the exact amount of primary color crayons and odd dimensioned pencil boxes and folders and pencils and all of the things, because bonding. But we always ended up getting frustrated with each other, not finding everything at one store, and just hating the whole thing.  This did not include shopping for shoes and clothes, because that was a whole other inefficient and emotionally exhausting trip.  Shopping with my girls is a demanding experience.

I’m changing how I do things this year.  Most other moms probably already do a lot of these things, but I can be a little slow on the uptake.  This year, for the school supplies,  I’m printing out that list, sitting down with a seltzer, and Amazon Priming the heck out of things.  We will not go to the store unless Amazon cannot magically deliver something to my doorstep.

For school clothes, we’re also doing things differently.  I am going to be going through their clothes (and there are many-particularly for the youngest two).  Thanks to some sweet blessings, our oldest has a pretty streamlined wardrobe and lots of great neutral things.  The others, though…their closets are a mishmash of hand-me-downs, thrift store finds, and the occasional new thing here and there.  This is where the biggest changes will happen.  We have tubs of clothes saved in the basement for different sizes.  These will be sorted through and much will be donated.  Because this year, I am doing capsule wardrobes for the kids.  It sounds very chi-chi but it’s actually a cheap way of making sure your kids have what they need and also cutting down on the insane amount of laundry that I have to do.  I am very excited about this.

I’ll do a one-on-one trip with each girl to choose the items we need to fill in their clothes, and pick out their backpack and lunchbox.  Last year I tried to have awesome coordinated containers for their lunch boxes but they kept forgetting them or losing them so we’re back to using empty lunchmeat containers this year.  You can pin that if you want to.

Also, I am fully aware that I am my best school-mom self in September and October.  Once Thanksgiving break hits, I am counting down to the end of the year.  Did I mention that I was runner up in high school for biggest case of senioritis?  Yes sir and yes ma’am.  Not proud, just honest.

What are your back-to-school plans?  It will be here before we know it, and I’d love to hear from other parents on this!