On an honest picture

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“Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.”  I saw this African proverb recently, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  It came at a time when I was feeling like my writing didn’t have a purpose, that it was just a silly hobby.  I’ve also been seeing and hearing from people in ministry who are tired of presenting a false self to others and are ready to be open about the struggles they’ve been facing.  The timing of these things?  Totally God.

There is a hunter in this world- one that stalks our joy, chases our peace, tries to shakedown our hope.  I often get asked, “How do you do it? ”  Our life is a full one, and most of you see only filtered glimpses of it, sanitized and captioned.  The beauty is that I get to be honest and tell people about Jesus-He’s the why of it, and so much of the how of it.  Polite conversation really isn’t the place for the next piece of the puzzle, which is the medication I take to treat depression.  I have experienced the hunter, but the hunter will not write my story.

I need to write about this, to share this truth, because if I don’t the hunter still wins.  You get an easy to digest version of me that seems like someone you may want to emulate (I get nauseous just writing that), but not the actual me.  I tried to be so good at so much and it fried me.  Anxiety went untreated and depression came to the party. I got there because I tried to be someone I wasn’t and didn’t rely on the grace of my Father to carry me.

So this story gets written because the hunter doesn’t win.  I’m sharing my own imperfections without fear or shame because of the redemption from all of this is found in Christ. Praise God, it is not on me.  He is taking the girl who tries too hard and giving her a story, one that tells others of His power made perfect in her own weakness.  

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit,
Christ when I stand,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Amen

(a traditional Irish prayer)

 

 

 

On making memories

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A few years ago, my husband and I read a smart book by Bob Goff that changed the way we chose to parent.  It’s not a parenting book, but in Love Does Bob talks about creating capers and making memories with his kids, allowing them to explore the world, and being intentional and fun. My husband creates fantastic obstacle courses for our kids at any playground we are at.  Five times around the merry-go-round, down the slide, around the tree, make some coffee in the playhouse, and back to mom or dad.  He does the same thing in our backyard, or in a boring parking lot while waiting.

One time, on the way back home after picking a friend up for a sleepover, I mentioned getting a picture of the kids and my daughter said, “That’s my mom, always wanting to make memories.”  One of the best things she could have said about me!  It’s more of a struggle for me to put aside laundry or meal prep to do fun things, but my husband really encourages me to that end.  I’ve learned that our girls love to bake and deliver their products to our neighbors. When we were at the beach this summer, something our oldest loved was just late night walks on the boardwalk.  Our middlest loved early morning bike rides on the boardwalk, just taking in the beach life and dodging the people as we rode.  We didn’t do anything crazy, just made space to experience life with our kids.  My husband made it a point to do something fun with each girl while we were they and they cherish those times.

I can sometimes have a hard time with just enjoying the moment… On a recent trip to our cabin, I wanted to get our family out on a short hike but one child’s boots didn’t fit anymore and another child didn’t feel like it and I was just forging on ahead.  After about 10 minutes of misery, and with the help of my husband, I realized that I was more interested in the hike than in making memories with the kids.  It wasn’t awesome, but it was a great lesson for me.

What are some ways that you create memories with your kids?  How do you make the time in your schedule to be intentional with them?  I’d love to hear from you!

 

On choosing calm

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A few weeks ago, I was in a very minor fender bender.  It happened in a convenience store parking lot.  I was in a rush, having picked our youngest up from K4 with Grandpa in tow so that we could see Grandma that afternoon.  My daughter asked for a Lunchable, and since I wanted the afternoon to go as well as possible, I said yes.  I am not above it, people.  We pulled into the convenience store and I was waiting for a parking spot to open up and someone back into our van.  The man immediately jumped out of his truck and began cursing at me.  I knew that any reaction I gave would only fuel him, so I just put my hands in my back pockets and waited for him to finish and  calmly asked if he had his insurance information once he was done.  It stopped him in his tracks and as soon as he came down from the heat of the moment, he was apologetic and agreeable.

This is what we refer to in our house as being a thermostat.  We can either be a thermostat or a thermometer, setting the temperature or reacting to it.  I tend to be a thermometer on school mornings, reacting to tired and grumpy kids instead of setting a more calming tone.  When there’s a rough morning and I choose calm, there are high fives all around.  In a home with three daughters, choosing to set a mood instead of react to it is essential.  My head would be spinning (and has!) if I didn’t control my reactions.  Every once in awhile, my husband needs to just glance at me in a moment and say, “Thermostat, honey.”  I don’t always react well to that prompt because I, of course, usually feel justified in my anger.  Ha!  Bless his patient and loving heart.

This has been a simple and effective way for my husband and I to practice self-control and set a better tone in our home.  What are some of the things you find helpful?

 

On the life you choose

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I’m sitting here this morning, surrounded by a heap of mess.  There’s folded laundry in front of me waiting to be put away, bags and boxes from last night’s concert waiting to be unpacked and organized (Home Edit, please come and fix my life!) and a floor that hasn’t been mopped in two months (just being real, folks). We woke bleary-eyed kids up this morning and I drove them to school while they asked if we can’t write notes to their coaches excusing them from practices today (from our oldest two) and  if school everyday is a real thing and when does she get to stay home(this from our youngest).  Between living with Grandma and Grandpa, my husband’s schedule as a pastor, and all of the typical life stuff, we often wonder if we’re asking too much of our kids.  We chose this life.  We chose to go a different way.  We prayed, we considered our kids, but we ultimately said yes to all of this, knowing it would have both sacrifices and blessings.

The majority of you who are reading this have the privilege of choice.  We were born with options, and born with resources.  We have been able to choose if we will go to college, if we will marry, if/how we will have children.  We’ve been able to choose between split level or Cape Cod, even choosing the custom finishes for the home.  We choose SUV or minivan, full-time, part-time, or work from home.  Public school or private school.  We have goals and are working towards them.  My friends, we have been given many choices.

I had a conversation over the weekend with a dear woman who hasn’t.  I had never met her before and honestly, had a terrible attitude about the interruption in my day. I wanted to watch a soccer game, not talk to a stranger. But as I listened to her story, my heart changed.  She came here alone, as a fourteen year old. Life has not been easy, but that’s her story to tell, not mine. As I listened  I was struck by the contrasts in our life.  How few options she had, and how difficult this life had been for her.  She lives within a mile of the private school our children attend.  We buzz past her house regularly in our minivan, with our fast food and our sports equipment and our iPhones.  We often choose ourselves, thinking about ourselves, doing what we think is best and if we’re honest, easiest.  But if we’re saying we follow Jesus, the challenge issued calls for us to spend our options on behalf of others.  It means falling into the back of the line and pushing others to the front.  I don’t think God has much to say about which backsplash we choose or what upgrades we’ll get on our cars.  He does have a lot to say about how we love others, and where our position ought to be-something about the last being first and the first being last?  It is so against our natural self to choose this, so counter to the culture we live in.

This way of living is only sustainable through Jesus and the power of the Spirit of God in you and in me.  It is a deeper call to a deeper life, and though it is messy it is RICH.  Left to my own devices, I would choose comfort and convenience every time.  I am so glad God pulls us away from that and into His redemptive story!

We can’t really know how our kids are going to process all of this.  That’s hard sometimes.  But I hope that they’ll see their mom and dad wrestling with a faith that asks us to do hard things.  I hope we’re showing them that this isn’t an easy faith or a cheap grace we’ve been given. I don’t want to sell our kids a fake version of the Christian life, this version we’re so often sold that tells us to ask for more, more, more but no sacrifice is required.

Let’s press deeper, friends, and give more.  Let’s use our homes and our lives to serve and be generous.  Let’s leverage our voices for the ones who need it.  What are some ways you’re already doing this?  Does it scare you to really think this through?  Brainstorm with me…what does this look like in real life?

 

On the school drop off

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We recently began allowing our eleven year old daughter to wear mascara to school and church.  This has been a very big deal to her.  She has been asking for a year or so, when some of her classmates began wearing it.  We thought entrance to middle school was a good time to say yes.  She just couldn’t understand why on earth I didn’t get how important this was to her.  “Mom, how old were you when you started wearing mascara?  Seriously?”  I gave her my honest answer which was, “Either nineteen or twenty…not sure.”  Her jaw about hit the floor, but this was the honest truth.  When most girls were getting dressed up to go out on a Friday night, I was hanging out with my older brother and his friends, drinking sarsaparilla and playing cards and ping pong and watching them shoot bats (the ones that fly in the sky, which as we learned was not legal and so they stopped).

Anyway, I tell you all of this for a reason.  It’s a funny story, and it gives you some background as to why the concept of being up and ready and looking good for school drop off is not in my wheelhouse.  There are moms who work outside the home who drop their kids off and look so good.  There are moms who are going home who also look so good.  AND THAT IS AWESOME. And then there’s the moms like me, who pray the whole way to school that they don’t hit traffic that will make them late because then we’ll have to walk the kids into the school.  Last year, I could get by with a decent looking shirt paired with my finest pajama pants. This year, though, our youngest is in school and she needs to be walked in.

Well.

Getting three girls dressed and out the door with breakfast and all of their things is quite the feat, but getting myself dressed too?  This required strategy.  I had read a post a few years ago from Kristen Howerton over at Rage Against the Minivan about her mom uniform.  I decided to try it out, and it’s been great.  I have two cardigans that match a ton of different tees and tanks, and I have a fleecy pullover that does the same thing.  The girls joke with my about my “uniform” but it works.  I am very organized with this and try to keep these items handy by either leaving them on the floor or casually draping them over the ironing board that is always set up but yet never used in our room.  5 star all the way over here, you guys.

(I also try my hardest to get my teeth brushed before drop off because my middlest has informed me that my breath smells like poop in the morning, and I can’t talk to the staff at drop off with poop breath. A handful of Tic-Tacs in the center console also help on the mornings the brushing of teeth doesn’t happen.)

Seriously, though, all of us mama’s-whether we head to work or head home or whether we put the kids the bus…we have all lived an entire lifetime before our kids even hit the hallways of their school.  Whatever your situation, the best tip of all is to make sure there is some coffee (or tea, I suppose) waiting for you when you have that one sweet moment of time before you’re on to the next thing, and some good music or a podcast waiting to encourage you.  Keep up the good work, and may your Tic-Tac supply be plentiful.

 

 

 

On the discipline of gratitude

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We recently walked through a season of hard things.  The hard things haven’t all resolved, but the onslaught has slowed and now we’re more adjusted to this new “normal” that we have been given.  I was feeling so discouraged, asking God to just show me that He cares even in these times.  And do you know what?  He did.  We are talking literally things delivered to our doorstep, placed in our hands… phone calls of encouragement, cards, notes… Jesus showing up through family and friends.  It was really, really beautiful.

We received those blessings and I promised God that I would honor Him and remember those moments when I was feeling discouraged.  Whenever I read the Old Testament, I’m always a little judgey of the Israelites.  “How could you ever doubt God when He gave you an actual pillar of fire to follow?  What about the burning bush?  What about the Red Sea actually parting?  When He has done these things, how can you ever doubt Him?!”

Ha.

Within hours of receiving some of these blessings, I found myself feeling discouraged and even angry at God because of a certain situation. Why was He allowing this?  Why didn’t He fix this?

But that’s the thing, isn’t it?  He’s going to grow us in everything, the good and the hard.  He asked me to slow down my own thoughts and turn towards Him. He reminded me that the Israelites were human, just like me.  He showed me that the root of the problem wasn’t Him-I mean, of course, but sometimes we forget.  The root of the problem was my own ungrateful heart.  I get frustrated with our kids when they have just received something and still ask for more.  They like the new shoes, but oh, what about that sweatshirt?!  Finished with one birthday and already making a list for the next…

That’s me, you guys.  And maybe that’s you.  Thanks, God, now what about this?  Maybe if we sat in gratitude a little bit longer, our perspective would grow a little bit wider.  I’m in it with you, friend.  I understand.  I’ve been trying since then to slow down, be grateful for His showing up in different ways, and meditating on His goodness.  It’s been helpful.  It doesn’t take away the hard times, but it encourages me through them.

There is a longer arc to what we are living than we can understand.  Just like with the Israelites, just like with our children.  He’s got us.  Hard things to the blessings, He’s got us.

 

On being back to school and the “good enough” life…

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So, school is back in session.  All three are at the same school, and all three are involved in extracurriculars.  Every single day, these young people of ours hand me paperwork and expect me to do something about it.  Like, read it.  And sign it.  And I wonder…how long do I have to skim it to make it look like I’ve actually read it?  Also, I hope I haven’t promised anything crazy by signing.

I shared in another post that I was doing the capsule wardrobe thing for the kids, and two weeks into the year, I am pleased to say it’s been a great choice!  The kids always have something to wear that matches and I don’t have loads of laundry.

I have a deeper well to pull from this school year-I don’t think I understood how much depression affected me last year.  Little things, like packing lunches and even the paperwork or the after-school information download, don’t feel so overwhelming.  I love that I am able to be more present and helpful for our kids.

My husband, meanwhile, is the homework ROCKSTAR.  Our middlest strruggles with spelling and reading, and he has been the absolute best at working on things with her every night.  I love it.  I love him.  Today is our 11th anniversary!  He’s away with a bunch of youth leaders this weekend leading a retreat for them.  I’ve been running around to soccer and volleyball and the rehab home (for Grandma).  My anniversary dinner tonight may consist of leftovers I eat after the kids are in bed because silence is the only gift I need.  Amen?

I feel like things around here are demanding, but good.  I haven’t written in awhile for lots of reasons.  I have many politically related thoughts I am swallowing and not sharing because I’m working on being a unifier.  I have many theologically related words I am weighing before I write them out for others to see.  And also, I am just so exhausted.  Not a bad exhausted-been there, know what that feels like.  An accomplished exhausted.

Launching kids is the real test of what we try to enforce around here, and while we have good days and bad days, good choices and bad choices, I’m ultimately really proud of our kiddos and love seeing them step out.  I’m praying for boldness for them this year, and I’m praying that for myself, too.  Also, every night I pray over the girls.  “Jesus, we know that You have not given ________ a spirit of fear, but You have given ________ the spirit of power and love and a strong mind.  We receive those things for her and are so grateful for Your work in _______’s heart and life.”

What I am finding is that I have to be ok with “good enough” in certain areas.  The floor needs cleaned, but at least the laundry is done and folded and put away.  Good enough.  The dishes need done but right now my child needs me to listen to her.  Dishes can sit for awhile, even until the next day.  Good enough.  We like to make family dinners a priority but our schedules rarely allow for me to make a big meal right now.  Ham and cheese three ways this week (on a pretzel roll, wrapped in crescent rolls, grilled ham and cheese) but sitting around the table together? Good enough.  Getting out the door a few minutes late because I knew yelling wasn’t going to help but patience would?  Good enough.

Keep at it, mamas and papas.  Back to school is no joke!

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.