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Thirst {2023 Focus}

14 Jan

Last year, my “word for the year” was Hope, and it was sooooo applicable, and helpful, and I probably reminded myself to Hope in God and Not Give Up at least once a day, if not multiple times a day. Because it was a haaaaaaarrrrrrrrddddddd year. Like, the hardest of my life. Not the hardest in the sense that at any one thing really hard happened — for example, not like the year my mom died, or the year I had a miscarriage, or the year I had emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy. But hard in the sense that Travis and I were both stretched beyond our limits, every day, without reprieve. A quote from Madame Hohlakov in The Brothers Karamazov says it well, “What’s killing me is no one thing in particular… but everything together, that’s what is too much for me.”

It wasn’t just having a fourth child, or just that she slept (and still sleeps) terribly at night, or that she wouldn’t (and still won’t) nap on her own, or that my preschooler was (and still is) stubborn and contrarian, or that my husband works from home while we also homeschool, or that we homeschool period, or that my husband’s job was really stressful (for the last several years), or that our fourth child needed surgery for Hip Dysplasia and then to be in cast and a rhino brace for four months. It was all. of. it. together.

But we are, finally, starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. Neola is out of the rhino brace during the day and started walking right before Christmas. She can handle the stairs now, so we took our stair gate down. Corbin has grown a lot in preschool since September, and can now actually sit through an entire church service (which he has done twice!). Emma and Annabelle are learning how to make basic meals like quesadillas and mac & cheese in the kitchen, and often include Corbin very well in their play, which is especially helpful when I’m holding Neola for a nap. So the kids are gaining independence and getting easier to manage on the whole.

A consistent struggle our family still has, though, is dealing with messes. Because we homeschool, we are home. A LOT. And things get messy. Fast. We are still following the routines I mentioned in a previous post, but there’s still so much stuff to deal with on a daily basis—toys, hair brushes, dirty dishes, water cups, laundry, papers from preschool and church, winter gear! I decluttered and organized a bunch last year. And we changed our Christmas gift-giving this year to decrease the amount of new toys received. But we still struggle!

My order-loving personality thinks that true happiness would be found if I could just once and for all solve the problem of house messes and clutter. I thrive in a tidy, peaceful, welcoming, cozy environment. But trying to keep the chaos at bay in a house of four young kids while homeschooling makes me feel like I’m spinning my wheels and going in circles.

So when thinking about what I wanted for this year, I really wanted to choose a word like Tidy, Order, or Predictable. I’ve been yearning, desiring, thirsting for more order, balance, peace—less mess, confusion, stress. But I knew choosing a word like that would be missing the point. True, lasting, deep-seated happiness isn’t found in a clean, tidy house (and a clean, tidy house isn’t realistic anyway!).

I thought about what was beneath those urges and yearnings, and realized it was a thirst for more. Last year, I had a lot of desires and wishes that I didn’t have the ability (energy/time/hands) to carry out. I am so thirsty to engage with more of life.

As I thought and prayed about the word Thirst, God brought these verses from Isaiah 55 to mind:

Isaiah 55:1-3

The Compassion of the LORD

[1] “Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
[2] Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
[3] Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.

Everyone who thirsts…

That’s me.

He who has no money…

That’s also me, bringing nothing to the table.

Come to the waters! Come, buy and eat!

God provides generously, abundantly, compassionately, intentionally, initiatively.

Why do you spend… your labor for that which does not satisfy?

That’s a good question. I don’t want to spend my labor on that which doesn’t satisfy. God, show me how to not waste my energy, time, attention, moments.

Listen diligently to me… incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.

God, it is Your ways that lead to life. Help me choose Your ways over mine. Help me prioritize prayer more this year, in my own walk, in my homeschool, with my husband, and in our family. I want to listen diligently.

Thirst.

This year, I want to thirst for the better thing. If something isn’t serving me well, or increasing my thirst for God, His Kingdom, and eternity, out it goes! I have finite time — I need to use it wisely on the things that satisfy.

To that end, I have made changes to my social media habits. I took the month of December off from Instagram and Facebook almost completely, and I am not planning to reinstall the apps on my phone. I can view the sites in a web browser, but it’s kind of a pain, so it’s not as enjoyable to scroll. I also am not posting to my stories any more, will only post to my wall (or whatever you call it) about once a week, and I unfollowed almost all accounts of people I don’t know in real life. I do better in my own life with less social media.

I have also already used my focus word when deciding between chores and family fun. One night, we decided to go on a flashlight hike in our neighborhood after dinner. (It actually ended up being the night of the full moon in January, which was super cool, and meant we didn’t really need flashlights!) Going on the hike meant that the house didn’t get tidied up like normal, but I thought about the verse, “Why do you spend your labor on that which does not satisfy?” Needless to say, I chose memories over routine. And it was amazing! One of my favorite memories with the kids of all time.

I’m excited to see what God has in store for us on 2023. I also hope it involves a little—make that a lot—more sleep.

Learning Some New Things

19 Nov

To follow up my last post about relearning the same old things, I thought I’d share a couple of the new things I’ve been learning over the past six months or so.

Bad Days Don’t Have to Turn into Existential Crises

Recently, all my kids (9, 7, 4, 18 months) sat through a church service with minimal drama or chaos. I was pleasantly surprised. This past week, I planned out meals Sunday night, picked up a Walmart order on Monday, and we had non-frozen-pizza dinners the whole week. Bedtime on Monday night with my husband gone actually went really smoothly. Our three older kids all share a bedroom right now (their choice); I nursed Neola in the chair in the room while singing songs, and everyone zonked.

But these things don’t mean that I am a great mom or that I have it all together — mostly it just means that the stars have aligned, and things have fallen together in such a way as to work out swimmingly. Case in point: Bedtime Tuesday night (with my husband still gone) was a total cluster. Same mom, same kids, different outcome.

Sure, there are some routines and preparations that have gone into those situations, but any parent knows that you can prepare or you can not prepare; you can teach or you can not teach; you can do your darnedest or you can wing it; and you really have no control over the outcome. Because your kids are their own persons, and they have their own experiences and factors going into every and any situation.

Sometimes things go really well.

And sometimes they just don’t.

It was fairly easy for me to learn that just because a certain situation worked out well didn’t mean that I was super mom. No sooner had I had thoughts like that than one of the kids threw a tantrum or hit their sibling, and it was painfully obvious that no, indeed, I am NOT super mom with angelic children that I have perfectly raised.

But it has taken me longer, much longer, to learn that those bad days, those stressful situations, also don’t mean that I am a bad mom, with bad kids. Carrying a screaming child out of a store because I told them I wouldn’t buy them a toy, or having a child wander off in church or a store and be brought back by a helpful but slightly judgmental adult, or losing my sh!t on my kids while they fight about who gets to play “delivery” with the groceries we just bought while the toddler is screaming full-bore — any and all of these situations threaten to prove to me my worst fears: I am a bad mom; I can’t handle my kids, let alone homeschooling; other moms are way better at this job than I am; and why did God entrust me with these souls?

But bad days or stressful situations do not have to turn into existential crises. Just like the parenting triumphs, they can be viewed as circumstantial. Like the saying, “Bad days don’t make bad moms,” stressful situations and bad days don’t need to be interpreted in the light of who I am or my worth as a person/mom. Having a rough homeschooling day where we did not even scratch the surface of what we needed to get done because of kids with bad or whiny attitudes, or mom’s own meltdown, often tempts to me wonder, “WHY am I homeschooling? How did I think I could handle this? These kids would be better off in school.” But a bad day doesn’t mean that the lifestyle you’re living is the wrong one for you. A bad day means a bad day. Period. Get up the next day and try again.

And for the love of Pete, don’t make any big decisions about your life while you’re having a bad day! Do something that makes you laugh or takes your focus off how frustrating things are. Get your kids outside. Watch a funny show. Take a nap with the baby. Then, when you’re in a better place and mood, if your lifestyle choices really are the wrong ones for you, God will reveal that to you then. Things always look worse at night and in the throes of a bad day.

Do the Hard Work of Healing

It’s hunting season here in Minnesota, which has been the annual nadir of my mental health since my husband is an avid hunter. I’ve blogged about that here and here. My husband and I joke (but it’s not a joke) that hunting is a four-letter word in our household. I have a love/hate relationship with hunting. I love that my husband has a hobby that he really enjoys, and that provides fresh, wild game meat for our family (95% of what we eat for red meat). But I hate that it takes him away from the family on top of his full-time job, for hours and often days at a time.

I have prayed and prayed about this issue, asking God to help me have an encouraging, positive attitude about his hunting. But year after year, I feel the familiar grip of bitterness and resentment. Back in 2016, this feeling led to me getting a part-time job. I thought that having something outside the house would help me better deal with being “stuck” alone with child duty for what felt days upon days. And it did… somewhat. It also added stresses and challenges of its own. (A big reason why I think moms, whether they work in the home, work from home, or work outside the home, all have unique challenges and hardships! None is on the whole easier or harder — they’re just easy and hard in different ways.)

Now I am a stay-at-home, homeschooling mama to four, and I can honestly say that I really enjoy all this time with my kids. Do I love every moment? Absolutely not. Do I love the constant messes (when your kids are here all. the. time., the messes!!), the whininess, the juggling, the constant at-home-ness? Not always. But it is worth it in so many ways.

Nevertheless, it has increased the challenge of my husband being gone hunting. As I was praying about this issue again this fall, God brought to mind the story of the paralyzed man lying by the waters of Bethesda (recorded in John 5:1-15). This scene was powerfully portrayed in the show The Chosen. “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked the man. “Do you want to be healed?” God was asking me.

So often, we want deliverance from a hard situation, but we are clinging to certain things that hold us back. We cling to excuses, lies, and fears. In the case of hunting season, I had an expectation of what it would look like for God to deliver me from my bitterness and resentment. And when He didn’t do that, I wondered why He was allowing me to continue to struggle with this year after year. Would it always be this way in our marriage? (Which led to the slippery slope of, “Doesn’t my husband care about our marriage? Why would he continue in a hobby that causes so much strife?”)

This year, there were two specific instances when I was on the verge (and even sliding over the edge) of a self-pity breakdown. I went to God in prayer, and wrestled with the truths He had given me through my recent Bible study. In my mom-dazed brain, I honestly cannot even remember what specifically they were right now! But the gist was that if I really wanted to be free from this struggle, if I really wanted to get well, then I had to do things God’s way. And doing things God’s way in this situation was letting go of all the excuses and justifications I had for why hunting season was so hard and overwhelming; trusting God to supply every thing I needed as I needed it; and support my husband in hunting with a positive attitude.

Have I done this perfectly? No. Well? Probably not. But I have made progress. It has been a personal sacrifice to support my husband in hunting. But I think the difference this year is that the sacrifice was made for God, not for my husband. But in submitting to God first and foremost, I have also been enabled to submit to and support my husband.

(Lest you get the wrong impression, part of our continued journey in figuring out how we can incorporate hunting into our family life in a healthy manner is also figuring out how I can get more regular breaks from the kids to do things that bring me joy. Hence why I am in a coffee shop right now typing this post!)

If you are reading this, I encourage you to look at a challenging situation in your life and honestly ask yourself, Do you want to be healed? Are you willing to do the hard work of healing? Are you willing to do things God’s way, despite any excuses or justifications to the contrary you might have? God’s ways are always best.

“This God — his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30).

Relearning the Same Old Things

17 Nov

Do you ever feel like you keep learning the same lessons over and over again? Like you have a certain struggle, pray about it, journal about it, and finally have an “aha” moment, only to discover some time later than you had actually learned that same lesson six months earlier?

Just me?

It happens to me all the time. Just tonight, I was going through old files in my Dropbox account, and read a gem from 2014. Here’s the context:

“The first 3 months of the year were spent getting our house [in Denver] ready to sell, selling it, and moving 1,000 miles. The next 3 months were spent living with Travis’ parents while Travis worked, studied for an engineering exam and we found a house. For the next 3 months, Travis worked long hours and traveled a ton, while Emma and I unpacked, visited family and friends, and got settled into a routine. These last 3 months have continued the trend of Travis working a lot (50-60 hours/week at home; 60-70 when traveling), which means he’s often unavailable on weeknights and weekends. He feels spread too thin in every area of life and I feel like we never see him. He feels hounded and I feel bitter. Additionally, we’re still feelings the effects of moving to a new place, and the time it takes to settle in and feel ‘at home’.”

Emma (1.5 years old at the time) was also dealing with tantrums, refusing to nap without being held, and fighting going to bed at night. We had to bring our two dogs outside on leashes because we didn’t have an in-ground fence installed yet. And my mom had been diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer and given 2-3 years to live (she died in February 2016, about 14 months after I first wrote these words).

This is what I want to make sure has a spot on the blog, (because I do come back and re-read blog posts often, to remind myself of all the truths I’ve learned, and need to relearn!):

{originally written November 2014, some minor edits made November 2022}

I was just reminded of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11, where he lists all the trials he has endured as a servant of Christ. At the end of them, he says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

It takes faith to believe that Christ’s grace is sufficient. Because in the face of my current trials, it honestly does not feel sufficient. My trials feel a lot bigger. My endurance and hope feel small, growing weaker by the day, and I find myself wallowing in self-pity.

But that’s because I’m focused on my own ability, my own sufficiency. “How can I handle this? How can I make it through this?” Paul welcomed the opportunity to realize his complete and utter lack. He knew that his need, fully and frankly acknowledged, would open the door for
Christ’s glory and sufficiency to be displayed.

Notice how Paul doesn’t deny his weaknesses, or the difficulty of his situation. He’s not living in LaLaLand or completely immune to his suffering. But he also doesn’t go to the place of self-pity. He retains his hope and determination because of Christ’s power in him.

So instead of self-pity, my response to trials can be one of realism and humility. I can still acknowledge that the situation is hard, but instead of my joy hinging on the need to feel capable in and of myself, or having the circumstances change for the better, I can sit in the feeling of need, and the hard situation, and humble myself at Christ’s feet.

Hard things happen in life. Hard things are made even harder when I refuse to look for and see the good. When I refuse to offer God the sacrifice of thanksgiving, I destroy my own joy with my selfishness, greed, discontentment and impatience. It is not circumstances that bring happiness – it is my reaction to those
circumstances.

And that’s where the supernatural, transforming power of the Spirit comes in. I am incapable of making the sacrifice of thanksgiving without God
enabling me. Like Ann Voskamp says, “Ingratitude was the fall — humanity’s discontent with all that God freely gives.” My natural bent is ingratitude. In my natural state, I only tell God that “It’s not enough” and “This isn’t what I
want.”

I have to admit, some days, in my sinfulness I’d rather have my own plans realized than find joy in accepting what God allows. But it is a losing battle to fight against the circumstances of life. If I truly want joy, I must instead fight against my ego, my pride, my selfishness, my impatience, my expectations, my demands, and my standards. I must even fight my dreams and desires, because all I am must be surrendered at the foot of the Cross. And regardless of when or how I am made weak, I can trust God to meet me with His strength.

“O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress. My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on
my enemies.”
Psalm 59:9-10

“Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Psalm 34:10b

“Steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.” Psalm 32:10b

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” Psalm 50:23

Thoughts on Marriage After 15 Years

1 Jul

Do you, Kathy, take Travis to be your husband, your partner in life and your one true love; will you trust him, respect him, laugh with him and cry with him; loving him faithfully through the good times and bad, regardless of the obstacles you may face together? Do you give your hand, your heart, and your love, from this day forward, as long as you both shall live?

On my wedding day, I answered “I do” to that question.

After 15 years, I still do.

But it’s not without sacrifice. On your wedding day, you acknowledge that the future may not be all sunshine and rainbows, but you have no idea what that will entail, and honestly, you are so in love with your new spouse, it’s hard to imagine a time when your marriage vows could be put to the test.

But in the 15 years Travis and I have been married, our vows have been tested. In every conflict and season of bad times, we have been faced with the question: were we serious about the promise we made that day?

The truth is that there are times when you don’t like your spouse. When you feel like there’s no possible way you two could be any different. When their quirks and idiosyncrasies drive you up the wall.

Many in our world hold themselves apart from their spouses, and when things get hard and their love grows cold, they cut bait and move on.

God willing, Travis and I won’t. We will continue to go to battle for our marriage. Whenever we find ourselves fighting against each other, and not for each other, we will regroup. We will humble ourselves, have the vulnerable conversations, and be willing to sacrifice and change for the good of the other.

And it is a battle. There is a spiritual war going on in every Christian household, with Satan and his demons trying to destroy, or at least disarm, the powerful picture of Christ and His church that is marriage. Satan wants the husband to pursue his own interests at the expense of his wife and family. He wants the wife to disrespect and mock her husband behind his back. He wants disunity in parenting decisions. He wants lack of intimacy. He wants two people who pass like ships in the night, orchestrating a chaotic life, with neither love nor friendship between them.

So Travis and I cannot be content with drifting apart. We can’t just focus on other things and let it happen. At the first hint of distance and disunity, we have to take action. We must apologize and admit, when the other confronts us with ways we’ve wounded and harmed. We must swallow our pride and insults. We have to refuse to bring up the past in begrudging ways. We have to choose to believe that the other person is sincere in their love and desire to change. We need to be willing to learn and grow from our mistakes, or to at least try imperfectly to do things differently. We must extend grace to the other person when they fail again.

Those things are not easy to do. In fact, they are the very opposite of easy. They are the hardest work. Fighting for my marriage requires fighting against my natural human instincts of self-righteousness and pride, of feeling justified and without blame. I must be able to admit when I’m wrong, and to see my husband’s side. Even when I think I’m right, I must be willing to allow that I could be wrong…

Because I am a sinner just like my spouse.

And that is really what it all comes down to. Do I really believe that I am a sinner, in need of a Savior? That I am just as much to blame for the problems in my marriage as my husband is? Maybe even more so? Do I believe that I am hopeless and helpless without the intervention of God in my life?

Or do I grumble against my husband, focusing on what he should be doing differently? “If only he had a daily quiet time… If only he worked less… If only he put his tools away… If only his dirty socks were taken off right-side-out… If only he contributed to household chores more… If these things were done my way, we wouldn’t have an issue. Therefore, my husband is the problem.”

I confess that I am often tempted to think that way. But he could say the same about me. “If only she didn’t care so much about the house being clean… If only she didn’t let the kids watch so much screen time… If only she didn’t buy the kids so many treats and toys… If only she gave me more physical affection and intimacy… If only she supported me more in my hobbies and time away… If these things were done my way, we wouldn’t have an issue. Therefore, my wife is the problem.”

This way of thinking will destroy a marriage if left unchecked. Like John Piper illustrated in one of his marriage sermons, when we discover that the landscape of our marriage is littered with cow-pies (all our problems and tensions and disagreements), we must get out our pitchfork and scoop all the cow-pies into a pile. We don’t pitch our tent in the middle of, or even next to, the cow-pie pile. We go find a clean area, no matter how small. That’s where we pitch our tent and live our lives. When we have to revisit the cow-pies, we will. But we will not live there.

Practically speaking, that means that I have to practice gratitude and focus on the positives. What does my spouse do right? How does he communicate love and commitment? He might be showing love and respect in a way I don’t recognize. Even if it’s not my love language, I can affirm what he is doing, while also respectfully reminding him of what does make me feel love and respected.

Finding a clean area free of cow-pies means finding some way to have positive interactions with my spouse. If all we talk about when we’re together are stressful things like work and parenting decisions, or if the only time we see each other is when the chaos of home life is bombarding us, no wonder we’re having a hard time!

Not living next to the cow-pies also means that I lay down my demand that things be the way I want them to be. If I get mad at my husband every time I’m doing laundry and have to flip his socks right-side-out, I’m living next to the cow-pies. If I rehearse over and over in my mind a careless word he spoke to me without bringing it up with him, I’m living next to the cow-pies. If I am angry and bitter at him for saying he wants to do something differently, or for making a different parenting decision than I would have made, I am living next to the cow-pies.

So I must believe that I am a sinner just like my spouse, and be willing to admit that just because something is my way doesn’t automatically make it the right way. Humility is willing to admit fault and to change.

On the flip side, do I also believe that because Jesus died for me and I now have the Holy Spirit, I am empowered to change? That I am not captive to my personality or habits? That God is able to grow my spouse and me together, and bridge our chasm of differences (or at least use our differences together in a divine balance).

As Christians, we should never say, “That’s just the way I am” or “I can’t change.” We can recognize that we have unique personalities determined by God, but we must submit even our personalities to God and allow Him to sanctify them. That means we have natural tendencies, but we can fight against them if they are causing sin or strife in our lives.

In my own life, I have long struggled with anger. When I am hurt or sad, I don’t cry or mope; I get mad. When I feel overwhelmed and flustered, I get irritable and impatient. When I am tired and clumsy, I get frustrated. When I am too hot or too hungry or have to pee really bad, I get angry.

But does that mean my anger is ok? “It’s just the way God made me.” No, it does not mean that it’s ok. The way God created me does not give me license to sin. I must be willing to place my whole self on the altar, to allow the Spirit’s sanctifying power to cleanse all of me — my quirks, my interests, my strengths, my weaknesses, my hobbies, my tendencies — ALL of me.

Marriage has revealed so many layers of sinfulness in my heart over the years, and often the process of sanctification seems incredibly slow. Like, so slow that I seriously wonder if anything is even happening. But I cling to the promise in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 regarding sanctification that “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” He WILL change me!! As I look back on 15 years of marriage, I see how He HAS changed me. I’ve matured and deepened in my faith and in my relationship with Travis. So often it didn’t feel like I was growing. But the Spirit was indeed at work. The key is to keep pressing forward, and keep desiring to change. Like A.W. Tozer says in The Pursuit of God:

“Let us beware of tinkering with our inner life in hope ourselves to rend the veil. God must do everything for us. Our part is to yield and trust. We must confess, forsake, repudiate the self-life, and then reckon it crucified. But we must be careful to distinguish lazy `acceptance’ from the real work of God. We must insist upon the work being done. We dare not rest content with a neat doctrine of self-crucifixion.”

The promise of 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 is so great that I’ll quote it again to end this post (using the Phillips translation):

“May the God of peace make you holy through and through. May you be kept in soul and mind and body in spotless integrity until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is utterly faithful and he will finish what he has set out to do.”

Ask God to be faithful and present in your marriage, and watch Him finish what He has set out to do!

The Raw Struggles of a Homeschool Mom

2 May

I make plans. They look so good on paper. I feel optimistic, like maybe I could actually get all the stuff done that needs to get done. I’m not being unrealistic. Maybe ambitious, but not ridiculous, right?

Then life happens, and I am forced to admit that yes, any ambition in my season of life with my specific kids is ridiculous. If it’s not the baby crying or needing a nap, it’s the toddler/preschooler throwing another tantrum and becoming the wedge pulling me in multiple directions. And if it’s not him, it’s my big girls complaining about school or whining about my making them clean up the messes they’ve made. And if it’s not them, it’s the dog chewing up a poopy diaper or my husband venting frustration that he can’t find the tools that HE moved. NO ONE COOPERATES. NO ONE UNDERSTANDS THE ASSIGNMENT.

I feel good on the days we actually do more for school than just math and reading. Not just because I feel like the girls are learning more, but also because those extras are fun. They’re creative, and not just the “bang it out so you’re done” school.

But those days are few and far between. 

This season of life — baby who won’t nap without being held and wakes up 4-5 times a night (on a good night); preschooler who is intense, loud, and over-dramatic; homeschooling 1st and 3rd grade; husband who could be (and should be) working 60 hours a week — is breaking me. Both Travis and I are being swallowed up by so much stress and chaos that we might go down with the ship, and never recover. 

What does God want? Put aside the voices of other homeschooling moms, and even my own standards, and ask, What does God want from my day? Does He want me to follow the schedule I’ve laid out in my planner, forging the path no matter who I mow down or flatten? Or would He rather me walk in obedience, which looks like trust and patience? No yelling, no forcing, no threatening. Just clear expectations, and appropriate follow through.

I can’t live that way. That’s my first response. Because how would anything get done? And how can I keep my cool when they are so stinking disobedient?!

But what if, just like tithing is an expression of trusting God to materially provide what we need, acting in love and patience was an expression of trusting God to multiply the time? Trusting that what He wants us to get done WILL get done. And whatever does not get done, didn’t need to be done.

But I don’t want to surrender control to my schedule, and my agenda. I have surrendered everything else! I have surrendered my body, my time, my sleep. I have given up my hobbies, my lunch, my sanity. Must I also surrender this?!? 

“I just want to…” The death knell of those words. That’s what I was thinking this morning. “I just want to do school so we can be done!” And “I just want to go on a freaking walk!!” Those words are my discontentment. Those words are me saying to God, “I don’t want this life. You are not enough for me.” 

After studying Jesus’s awe-full sacrifice on the cross, how could I possibly say to my Lord that He’s not enough for me? I am not enough for Him!! He is everything for me, and more. 

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. I am so overwhelmed by emotions, by frustrations and feeling thwarted by my kids in every aspect of life. Help me see and believe that YOU ARE NEVER THWARTED. Your plans are ALWAYS accomplished. Do I believe that? Do I believe that Your plans for my kids will be accomplished? 

I don’t want to admit that I’ve been wrong. I don’t want to go back to my kids, with my tail between my legs, and say that *I* was the one in the wrong this morning. Because THEY…!!! But I must. I must repent. I must choose God’s way. I must surrender. If I want true freedom, true peace, true contentment, I must do it God’s way.

Give me the strength, Lord. Give me the kind of strength You had during your trial, beating, and crucifixion. Strength borne out of complete trust in the Father’s plan.

Comfort and Deprivation {Lent 2022}

27 Mar

We’re about halfway through the Lenten season. I don’t always give up something for Lent (I don’t believe it’s biblically necessary to do so) but I do like how it increases the anticipation of Easter, much like Advent does for Christmas.

Often when someone gives something up for Lent, they use the time or resources they would’ve spent on said thing and focus on God instead. Instead of scrolling social media, they pray. Instead of buying Starbucks, they donate to a charity. Travis and I gave up grains for Lent, which hasn’t really resulted in either a time or money savings (in fact, it has cost more money and taken more time to prepare foods that don’t contain grains).

So what’s the purpose then? Well, not eating grains has prevented me from eating the usual low-hanging fruit of cereal, bagels, quesadillas, toast, mac & cheese. And those first few days were rough, because it felt like I was hungry all the time, but couldn’t just go grab something. I had to slow down and make something to eat. As I reflected on that, I saw how my soul is constantly thirsty, but I often try to appease it by grabbing the easiest thing — another cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a movie, a book, shopping, social media. My real need is to slow down and nourish my soul with God’s word.

After those first few days, we adapted and it wasn’t as big of a struggle to not eat grains. But as the days went by, I noticed how much comfort I usually derive from my food. Not that I was emotionally overeating before, but I never felt deprived. Now I felt deprived, because certain foods that I enjoyed and wanted to eat were off-limits. The feeling of deprivation is the reason why I don’t do diets, but for the period of Lent, I let that feeling remind me that I’m not supposed to feel comfortable and satisfied here on Earth. This world is not my home. I am a sojourner, an exile.

Because we stopped buying bread, tortillas, mac & cheese, etc. during this time, the kids have also been “deprived” of their normal foods (though they do still eat some grains in the form of crackers and stuff). They have done well overall with the difference, but it gave us an opportunity to talk with the girls about the anticipation of heaven, and how we shouldn’t feel completely at home here, because the world does not love Jesus.

I will confess that I haven’t stuck to no grains 100%. There have been a few times when I was so. hungry. (breastfeeding mom here!) that I caved and ate a bowl of oatmeal. It’s also birthday season in our house (all our kids’ birthdays are March, April, and May), and we had Neola’s dedication. So there’s been some cake. But giving up something for Lent is about the heart, not some legalistic requirement. Since it has caused me to reflect on and examine my desires for creature comforts and the lack of deprivation in any area of my life (except sleep!), I would say that it has accomplished its purpose so far.

It has also shown me that while I don’t plan to continue the no-grains thing indefinitely, I do differentiate between grains that are worth eating, and grains that are not. A grain that is worth it for me is a burger bun. Eating a burger without a bun is just soooo not the same. Another would be pizza — I love me some pizza (though the cauliflower crust kind from Costco is great too!). A grain that is not worth it for me is spaghetti, or really any type of pasta. I don’t ever crave pasta, so I don’t feel deprived not eating it.

Only 3 weeks to go until Easter!

Life in Quarantine, and the Start of Homeschooling

10 Apr

C4D178A9-47D8-4694-94C8-EECB4357C3D1April 12–Easter– marks one month since our family started voluntary quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It started with cancelling our plan to stay at a local hotel/waterpark for spring break.

Then school was closed.

Then Minnesota’s governor announced the shelter-in-place order, which has now been extended until May 4.

Our school district gave teachers two weeks to figure out distance learning. I stopped going in to the office, instead working from home for a couple hours in the afternoon. My kids and I read books, played board games, practiced counting and writing, measured things, put together puzzles, and colored pictures.

My girls have done a LOT of imaginative play. They first set tents up in the living room and pretended they were camping for a few days. Then they moved into the bedrooms and pretended they were staying in a hotel. For a day, they played surfing with their Lego Friends. Then for a few days, they were moms taking care of their baby dolls outside. The last few days, they have been playing Barbies, playing for 4-5 hours straight.

Sometimes they let Corbin play with them (he colors when they color) but most of the time, they don’t, so he wanders. He looks at books for a while, gets out a few board puzzles, plays with a car or blocks, then grabs his “cakey” (blankie) and lies on the floor, staring into space and sucking his thumb. When he tires of that, he comes looking for me. He loves books and iPad inside, and he loves water and sticks outside. He has his own loop outside–he wanders into the neighbor’s yard on a path through the woods from our front yard, walks through their yard (they only have a garage there as of now) down to the river, walks through the woods along the river to our dock, then throws sticks into the water off our dock.

Then came distance learning. It took us only a few days to realize distance learning was tough. And it took us only a week to give formal notice to our school district that we were going to start homeschooling.

We had actually been planning to homeschool next year already before schools even closed, before I even knew about coronavirus. I had already given my notice at work–I work for a church and knew that 1) they would appreciate a long head’s up and 2) they wouldn’t let me go before they found someone else. I was planning to be done working on May 19–the day before the last (early out) day of school. We told our girls’ teachers. We told our son’s daycare provider.

Even though homeschooling was our plan, it is still hard to have the school year end this way. The only times during this quarantine month that I have either cried or been close to tears (I am not a crier in general) was emailing my girls’ teachers and my son’s daycare to let them know that we were opting to homeschool now instead of continue distance learning. I feel for the teachers. I know their hearts are hurting. My kids loved their teachers. And it just hurts for it to end with no closure.

And then there’s the reality that instead of having all summer to get a plan in place, I am now homeschooling on a wing and a prayer. Fortunately, I had already been listening to podcasts and reading about homeschooling, and knew the general approach I wanted to take. It also helps immensely that my kids are young (my oldest just turned 7) so schooling at this age is more of a bonus than a necessity.

Just like Minnesota has had all the weather these past four weeks, I’ve had all the emotions. Gratitude, discontent, stress, simplicity, less hustle, no time to sit down, panic, overwhelm, savoring, organization, utter chaos, routine, frenzy, grief, joy.

Since this is the start of our homeschooling journey, my life will not go back to what it once was, before COVID-19. It will morph, adapt, change. We will get to see friends and go shopping and attend church again someday, but life as we knew it is gone. Even if I do go back to work one day and my kids go back to school, they’ll be older and I’ll almost certainly have a different job with a different employer.

But God. When I was dragging my feet about homeschooling, wanting to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was what God wanted us to do, instead of answering my pleas for clarity and understanding, God just repeated “Trust Me” over and over for 9 months through books, Bible studies, songs and devotions. “Trust Me.”

And even then, I just couldn’t quite step out in faith. I loved my job, and my co-workers, and I felt so useful in my role. And I didn’t know how to homeschool! And didn’t I get a job in the first place because I was losing my mind being home with my kids full-time? Would homeschooling now be any different?

Again, I didn’t receive answers to those questions. Instead, He reminded me that NO MATTER WHAT (even if homeschooling doesn’t pan out and my kids go back to public school and I feel like I gave up my favorite job for nothing), HE IS FAITHFUL. He has a plan, and His plan is to prosper me, not to harm me.

The bridge from the song Build My Life by Pat Barrett has been my anchor in this decision:

“And I will build my life upon Your love

It is a firm foundation

I will put my trust in You alone

And I will not be shaken.”

And this truth applies to all of us–those with kids or without kids, those doing distance learning or homeschooling, those weathering this storm with jobs and health, and those who aren’t: God’s Love for us is a sure foundation. When we build–nay, stake–our lives on His love for us, proven on the Cross and proclaimed in the Resurrection, we will not be shaken.

What does that mean practically speaking? It means we do not give into fear!

In our communities, we help those who need help. We say hi or at least look or smile at people on the streets and in stores. We talk about something other than the newest confirmed cases, or the latest projections. We do not hoard resources, but share with those who are in need, and leave enough for others.

With our kids, we do not worry about what gaps our kids will have in their education as a result of this, but encourage them to read, play, create, imagine. We do not isolate them from what is happening in the world, but we are intentional with how much we share, and we show them what it looks like to trust God in uncertainty.

And with ourselves, we leave room for all the emotions. We don’t demand that we have everything figured out right this minute. We recognize some days will be good, and some days won’t be. But we don’t let our emotions run wild. Instead, we run them to God. We build our lives on the foundation of His Love for us. And we remember that God has promised to be with us, in this life and in the next.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Freedom in Christ

29 Feb

I wrote back in November that I planned to start going to counseling. Here I am, on the cusp of March, with 5 sessions under my belt. Has it been helpful? Yes. Has it been what I expected? Not really.

I think I expected my therapist to overthink things like I do, and to give me deep, meaningful, existential explanations to my problems. Instead, the way she has been challenging my thinking has been utterly practical and no-nonsense. When I lament about mounds of laundry, kids’ messes, or frozen pizza dinners, her response is, “So what? Is anyone going to die if they wear dirty clothes or eat frozen pizza for dinner?”

Obviously the answer is no, so that begs the question – then why do I care so deeply? Why does it bother me so much when my house is a mess, or the laundry is undone, or I failed again to plan dinner? Even as I’ve been doing the hard work of trying to let go and be more relaxed about things, I find that there’s a tipping point. I can ignore the mess in order to go play outside with my family, but if I come back inside to find that they’ve made another mess, I lose my crap.

I honestly cannot fully explain why I have this neurotic need for everything to be in its place. And frankly, sometimes I feel fully justified in being neurotic, because isn’t this the way God created me?! This is just who I am. But sometimes it feels like my need for control is controlling me, and I can’t stop being controlled even when I try. I was expressing this to God the other day and He brought Galatians 5:1 to mind,

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

It stopped me in my tracks.

In Christ, I have freedom. Freedom from my own need for control. I do not have to be a slave to my personality that desires organization and tidiness! Armed with that verse, I have the confidence to declare that I AM NOT A SLAVE TO CONTROL. Because of Christ, I can refuse to be dominated by my need for order, and I can instead prioritize relationships.

I have long tried to wage this battle equipped with my own paltry strength. Is it any wonder that I’m still struggling with the same old thing? But this verse has given me something new, infused my soul with gospel confidence. This is my birthright in Christ. This is what He has won for me! I get to live in freedom because of my Savior!

I told my husband about this, and encouraged him, “Please, if you see me going off the rails, remind me of this verse.” I am staking my claim to freedom in Christ, and I will not submit anymore to a yoke of slavery.

Coupled with this promise, I have decided to give up yelling at my kids for Lent. That has, unfortunately, long been the way I deal with the feeling of overwhelm and stress caused by my kids either not listening to me or getting out of control. So, no more yelling. (I am hoping to continue that beyond Lent too.) Instead, I want to pray. Out loud. Instead of screaming at my kids, “We need to go NOW! Get in the car or you will be in big trouble!” I want to say, “Father, we are late. And these kids are not listening to me. Help me maintain my patience and grace, and help motivate them to listen. I trust that we will get to wherever we are going and it will be ok that we are late.”

There’s a quote from Connected Families that I have on my computer desktop – “When kids misbehave, make obedience a secondary goal, and make accessing and walking in the fruit of the Spirit yourself the primary goal.” That is the idea behind “no yelling” – instead of relying on my own power and effort to accomplish, I run to God, confess my inability, and rest in His power to accomplish.

I put this into practice this past Thursday when my oldest daughter was not wanting to go to school, and threw a tantrum. We were 20 minutes late to school, but I walked out of dropoff with a smile on my face. Because I hadn’t yelled, but had instead connected with my daughter and found out that she just plain missed me, which is why she didn’t want to go to school. I am really looking forward to seeing how God works in me over the coming months.

I’ll end with just the amazing feeling that I have of God personally ministering to my soul. I feel so unworthy of even His sideways glance, let alone of His speaking into my struggles. Counseling has been helpful, but the Spirit is the ultimate Counselor.

2020 Focus: Perspective

17 Feb

Can I write a post about my word for 2020 when it’s already the middle of February?

Too bad, I am.

My word for 2019 was Rest, and I’m not going to lie: I pretty much failed at it. Apparently, rest is not something that comes naturally to me (though I am a lover of naps). But since this post is about 2020 and not 2019, we’ll just leave it at that.

My “word for 2020” is Perspective. It’s actually kind of similar to my focus for 2016: Behold Your God, especially this quote from Glennon Melton: “I don’t want a new better life in [2020]. I just want new eyes to see that my life is already staggeringly beautiful.”  (Momastery, Best New Year’s Ever)

New eyes. A fresh perspective. 20/20 vision. (see what I did there?) Hindsight in the present.

November and December of 2019 were rough. ROUGH. I alluded to that here. And going to therapy has been helping. So has re-reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts again. Because what is my problem? What has it always been, and will always be?

The problem of all humanity — ingratitude.

Stomping my foot like a tantruming child, demanding my life be different. No, this isn’t the life I want. I want THAT one. The one I can conjure up in my head. You know, the one that’s only roses and rainbows, and involves none of the crap I have to deal with on a daily basis.

But that life doesn’t exist. I know this. The life I want is the glorified life, the life that only exists in heaven. I am yearning for heaven. And I will experience that one day, all praise to Jesus.

For now, I’m here, stuck in the catch-22. I can’t imagine a life without my kids, a life in which I am no longer a mom, and yet being a mom unhinges me some days. It’s this life of wife and mom that often threatens my sanity, but there is no universe in which I could just walk away.

So my biggest need, the solution to my biggest problem, is PERSPECTIVE. Do I view my family as a burden, a hindrance from my true potential, from the life I could’ve had? Or do I view them as my blessing, God’s chosen purpose for my life? My family are who they are. Parenthood is what it is. How am I choosing to look at it?

It is a choice. Gratitude does NOT just happen. Like Ann Voskamp says, ingratitude is humanity’s natural bent. Left alone, we are miserable messes, always focused on the thing withheld.

Gratitude is not just giving thanks, though that is valuable and necessary. It is above all looking for how God is at work in any and every situation. How God can use all things for good. When we give thanks to God for everything, even the hard things, we are demonstrating trust in Him. If we truly trust God, we will be thanking Him for every thing. “All is grace, because all can transfigure” (Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts).

We’re a month and a half into 2020 already, and I’ve already seen this practice of gratitude, of sleuthing for grace, infuse my life with renewed passion, energy, and yes, joy. Now the key will be: CONTINUE. Don’t stop being intentionally thankful.

So, 20/20 vision. Perspective.

A Still Winter Morning

5 Feb

IMG_5993This past weekend, I went to a Women’s Retreat at a place called Camp Lebanon. There were about 100-150 other women there, 20 from my church. I had an amazing time. The speaker was engaging and taught straight from the Bible, the worship music was powerful, and the weather was fantastic so I got to spend a lot of time outside.

Saturday morning, I went on a walk outside before breakfast. It was a quiet, still winter morning. The only sounds were a gentle breeze lightly touching the tips of evergreens, the crunch-crunch of my winter boots on the snow-covered roads, and an occasional sparrow singing its morning song of glory.

I was new to the camp, so I just set off adventuring, seeing what there was to see. I found the zipline (closed in the winter), the snow-tubing hill, a quintessential outhouse in the woods (complete with half moon on the front door), and a slope heading down to the lake.IMG_5995 I walked down to the edge of the frozen water, but didn’t dare venture further onto the lake without anyone else around. Fortunately, I discovered a trail that followed the shoreline. The snow on the trail was packed down enough that I didn’t need snowshoes.IMG_5994I amused myself by trying to guess which animal had left which footprints. I saw (I think) evidence of a rabbit, a turkey, and a deer. 

I stopped every now and then to look out at the lake and the changing colors of the sky.

The refrain from Frozen 2 was stuck in my head–“Show yourself”–and I realized that God was doing just that. Showing His glory, His power, His majesty.

My heart was so full on that walk. I rejoiced in the play of shadows and light on the trees from the sun just peeking over the horizon.IMG_6001 I stopped and gazed at a tree trunk with bark in a wavy pattern.IMG_5996 I took pictures, trying to capture the feeling I had so I could look back one day and remember. Remember how He met me out there.IMG_6005Later I read Psalm 96:11-13 and my soul said, “Yes! That is what I felt on that winter morning walk.”

“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
    let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12     let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13     before the Lord, for he comes,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.”

This practice of gratitude, this sleuthing for God’s glory (as Ann Voskamp would say), it transforms a life!