Tag Archives: motherhood

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

Life Lately: Routines Edition

16 Oct

I’ve never been much of an intentional-routine type person. And even when I’ve tried to implement more intentional schedules or routines, they usually fall by the wayside within a week or two because #life and because it just doesn’t come naturally to me or my hubby. We are very spontaneous, game-time-decision kind of people.

But having four kids has forced us to get better about routines. For the past 4-6 months, we have doing a few things that have made a big difference in our home life. We developed these routines over time, based on what we were actually kind of already doing (it has never worked for me to decide on a routine and then try to implement it).

  • The kids do chores after dinner. Emma loads the dishwasher and wipes down the kitchen table, and Annabelle cleans up whatever area of the house or yard is the messiest (usually it’s the upstairs living room). Corbin picks up all the shoes left out and puts them by the front door.
  • The kids each have a calendar where they keep track of checkmarks for following through on their morning and evening routines, and they earn rewards for certain amounts. But we also expect them to do their chores regardless, so if they don’t do their chores, they not only don’t earn a checkmark, they lose one as well. It has helped keep them motivated.
  • Either Travis or I do the hand-wash dishes and set up the coffee maker for the morning after Emma has loaded the dishwasher. Having coffee ready right away in the morning is so amazing! We set it when we’re in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner so that we don’t forget about it.
  • I unload the dishwasher and dish rack every morning while the kids (especially Neola) eats breakfast (otherwise she just wants to play with the clean dishes).
  • I do at least one load of laundry every day. I used to wait until each person’s hamper was full to do their laundry so that I’d have a full load of just their clothes to wash. I kept everyone’s laundry separate because I found it a pain to fold a load of laundry that had a little of everyone’s stuff in it. But then my kids went through a period of time where they all four had their clothes upstairs, and the dirty clothes were getting put in whichever laundry basket was the most convenient, so I was just naturally washing everyone’s laundry together. Once I figured out my system of sorting clean, dry clothes into a separate laundry basket for each person, thus making the folding process much more streamlined, I decided to just always wash everyone’s clothes together. So now I just do the laundry as it gets dirty. Everyone’s dirty laundry from the previous day pretty much makes a full load, and I usually run a load of towels or sheets each day too. I do still get a little behind frequently, but I love loading the washer at night — makes it so easy to start right away in the morning. I fold the kids’ clothes when their laundry baskets get full — usually about once a week (I put Travis’ and my clothes away a little more often). I really like this laundry system for now!
  • Since the fall of 2021, we have had a housecleaner come twice a month for two hours to clean our bathrooms, kitchen floor, and some other odds and ends. It has been a lifesaver! Some day I will go back to cleaning my own house, but that day is not today. However, there are still plenty of other things that need cleaning that our housecleaner doesn’t get to. As often as I can, I try to clean one of those things each day for at least five minutes — even just cleaning one thing here and there makes a difference.
  • I try my hardest to plan out lunches and dinners for the week on either Sunday night or Monday morning. Then I either put in a pickup order for Monday on the way home from the girls’ gymnastics class, or I take Corbin and Neola grocery shopping during gymnastics (their class is an hour long in a small community so it actually works out about perfectly). I used to only plan out dinners (and sometimes not even that…) but having a plan for lunch is so helpful. I don’t have to rack my brain every single day, or end up making the same thing all the time, or decide on something only to discover we don’t have a key ingredient, or buy a different vegetable in the store and forget about it until it has gone bad. I want to start planning breakfasts eventually too, but mornings are rough for me right now (#sleepdeprivation), so that will have to wait. The kids all have their own favorite thing for breakfast too (Corbin — toast, Annabelle — yogurt, Emma — English muffin or oatmeal), so I’m not even sure they’d be amenable to me making one specific thing for breakfast.
  • Corbin just started going to preschool three days a week this fall. On those days, Travis and Neola take him to school (it starts at 8 AM), and I get 45-60 minutes of school in with the girls. Travis has also been taking Neola on a walk during/after lunch so I get another chunk of time to do school with the older girls then. I’m still figuring out which subjects are best to do when, but overall, the routine is working well. Doing school with Neola around is tough — because she’s in a cast/brace for hip dysplasia, she is much needier than normal. I am hoping that things get much easier when she’s done with her treatment!

I think that’s all the routines I can think of. Two areas of life that Travis and I have not been able to figure out a good, consistent routine or system for are Bible study and working out. Probably the biggest challenge with that is Neola’s nighttime sleeping habits. She wakes up 4-6 times a night, so I am beyond sleep deprived. After bedtime is tricky (though not impossible) because usually I am completely dialed, and I am often nursing or holding Neola in the morning before she completely wakes up, so mornings are tricky too. But the long and short of it is that I just don’t want it badly enough.

Just this past week, I did have, and tried out, the idea of me working out for 20-30 minutes right away in the morning when Travis leaves to take Corbin to school (M, W, F). Then I don’t have to wake the girls up to do school either (because they’d be up by the timer I’m done). Travis can work out on Tuesday and Thursday (and sometime on the weekend) when I am out of the house with the kids at Homeschool Group or BSF.

I also am planning to either get up early to do my BSF study or do it on my phone during Neola’s naps. I did it in the app last week, but then the app or internet wasn’t working during BSF so I couldn’t access any of my answers, and it looked like I hadn’t done my lesson. 😬

Anyway, that’s our daily routine with four kids right now!

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.

Hope: Don’t Give Up {2022 Focus}

23 Mar

My word for 2022 is HOPE. The subtitle for that word is Don’t Give Up. The Scripture God gave me for the word HOPE is Lamentations 3:21-23 —

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

An alternate translation of verse 22 is:

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.”

It is God’s mercy to me that I am not consumed by this season of life (parenting four young kids and homeschooling). It is because of His compassion to me that I haven’t given up and curled into the fetal position indefinitely. There are so many moments, even whole days when I am tempted to. Because it all feels like too much. From my viewpoint, I am falling short in every area — parenting, homeschooling, homemaking, personal goals.

When one is trying so hard to do something right and well, but still meeting with failure, it would be understandable to just give up, right?

But God’s steadfast love prevents me from giving up. He sustains me by giving new mercies every morning, mainly in the form of HOPE.

The way I’m viewing HOPE is this: Hope doesn’t give up. Hope doesn’t look at the challenges before it and grow discouraged. Hope isn’t cynical or pessimistic. Instead, Hope continues to believe that things can change. Hope keeps showing up, pressing forward, living faithfully into God’s calling for that day. Hope accepts what God allows, even if it is not what was wanted.

I can’t count how many times I’ve had to “call to mind” God’s mercies for HOPE so far this year.

When I want to work out in the morning, and be productive after the kids go to bed, but sleep deprivation from baby Neola makes extra sleep the greater priority, I have to remind myself of hope.

When I feel incapable and daunted by the thought of and need for potty training Corbin and sleep training Neola, I remind myself of hope.

When the girls are showing troublesome attitudes and Corbin is throwing yet another tantrum, and I am tempted to feel like I’ve failed them as a mother because of what I’ve allowed them to do, or acted like myself, I remind myself of hope.

My natural human reaction to these discouraging and overwhelming situations is self-pity. Like Oswald Chambers writes,

“Most of us collapse at the first grip of pain. We sit down at the door of God’s purpose and enter a slow death through self-pity.”

(Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

But HOPE reminds me that I don’t have to give up, or collapse in the face of these challenges. God gives new mercies. I can trust Him to keep providing, day by day, what I need. I can trust Him even if I don’t meet my goals, if I lose my temper again, if my house is a mess, if I can’t figure out how to get Neola to sleep better. My purposes may remain unfulfilled, but HIS purposes will be accomplished.

God’s provision of new mercies every day won’t mean that I wake up in the morning or enter different situations feeling competent or on top of things. I hardly ever feel that way, and I actually think that is intentional on God’s part. Jesus fed 5,000-plus people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. He didn’t produce a banquet table laden with food. He just stretched the existing food farther. He takes the little that we have, and He makes it enough, as we need it.

As I’ve been digging into Lamentations 2:21-25, I read in a John Piper sermon transcript (from almost exactly 28 years ago),

“Our task today is not to have the strength needed for tomorrow’s burdens. Our task today is to live by the mercies given for today, and to believe that there will be new mercies for tomorrow. Today’s mercies do not include strength for tomorrow; they include faith that tomorrow’s unseen mercies will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

(John Piper, “Today’s Mercies for Today’s Troubles,” March 13, 1994)

I love that. Like the manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness, God gives just enough for each day. I must live in moment by moment dependence on Him. And because His provision of mercy for this day, this moment is always sufficient (and abundantly so!) for my need, I can always have HOPE.

Here’s to a hope-filled year.

2 Ways to Take Back Your Day Without a Schedule

17 Oct

takebackyourdayA year ago, I went to a conference for moms in Rochester called Hearts at Home. It was awesome, and I took away a lot of thoughts, but one of the biggest was the idea that I needed to get our family life on a schedule. Staying home full-time with a 2.5-year-old and a 6-month-old meant that our days were big on crazy and low on sanity. I thought getting on a schedule would help some at least some of my woes.

The only problem was that I’m a spontaneous person. I can’t commit to the same schedule day after day, week after week. I like change! I like doing things differently! I like lazy mornings some days, and a fresh shower and dressier clothes other mornings. I like having the girls take a bath at night some days, and during the day other days.

Emma (now 3.5) is a wild card like this too. I tried and tried to get her to be more predictable and routined as a baby, but she wasn’t having it. It wasn’t until she was over 2 years that her naps finally became a consistent 2.5-3 hours long. Before that, she’d nap anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours. Drove me crazy! To cope, I stopped having any plans of what I would accomplish during naptime because then I didn’t get frustrated if her nap was too short.

Annabelle (now 18 months) was a lot more predictable as a baby than Emma was. She actually put herself on a schedule! Some babies are just like that. We were so thankful that it seemed we had gotten a mellow baby to balance out our first-born spitfire. Then Annabelle learned to walk and WOW, she has even more energy and chutzpah than her sister did at this age. She’s a climber, and doesn’t take No for an answer without a fight.

My desire to take a crack at homeschool preschool this year with Emma inspired another attempt at implementing a daily schedule/routine. An attempt that also failed almost before it began. Which got me thinking… do I really NEED a schedule?

I had several things that I wanted to change about the way things ran in my house as a full-time, stay-at-home mom, that I thought having a schedule or routine would address. I wanted to be more intentional with how I spent my time–my time with the girls and my alone time. I wanted to stay caught on cleaning, laundry, meal planning, grocery shopping better, instead of waiting for bathrooms to reach an unprecedented ICK factor and the refrigerator to contain nothing but olives and maple syrup. I also thought that being on a schedule is what successful, got-it-together moms do.

But you know what? There’s more than one “right” way to do things. The real question is, is the way we’re doing things right now working for our family? The answer to that is Yes. Things aren’t as tidy or clean or straightforward as they would be if I were more disciplined in the Art of Structure, but I’d be constantly fighting an uphill battle against my spontaneous personality–and for what? Part of the benefit of being at home full-time is the flexibility and relaxed pace of life!

That said, I have noticed that there are two things that I not only enjoy doing, but that truly promote the goals I had with a schedule. Those are:

1. Get up before the kids.

When Annabelle regressed to waking up 1-2 times a night around 6 months (and ever since), I stopped feeling like a morning person. I was a zombie until at least 10 am and two cups of coffee. But for the past couple of months, I have been forcing myself to get up around 6 am anyway because I know that it is SO worth it. My day goes so much better when I’ve had time to drink some coffee and think some thoughts before kids start screaming, whining, and demanding cereal.

I also have more energy for Bible study, blog posts, and pretty much everything in the morning. By naptime, my energy is at about half-power (and I often take a nap with the kids if it works out), and after putting the kids to bed, I only have the energy for zoning out with Netflix, or talking to Travis. So the morning is my time to “get er done.”

2. Don’t get distracted by projects or technology.

I am notorious for thinking, “Oh the girls are playing so well together right now. I’ll just spend a few minutes tidying/organizing/sorting/assembling this thing over here.” ::45 minutes later:: “Mommy’s almost done! Then we’ll go outside!” I say as both kids are crying because they’ve started hitting one another out of boredom and their need for attention.

I’m also notorious for picking my phone up to text someone about something timely or important. ::45 minutes later, emerging from the Facebook and Instagram vortex:: “Mommy just has to text my friend about getting together tomorrow. Then we’ll go outside!”

I’m learning that even though organizing and tidying are good and necessary, and Facebook and Instagram are fine when used wisely, there’s a time and a place. Trying to do those things while the girls are awake almost always spells disaster…or at least a house that’s a disaster because the girls tore it apart while I was distracted.

What this one really comes down to is discipline and trusting God: discipline to wrangle my spontaneous and time-sucking habits into spending my time intentionally and wisely; and trusting God that when I prioritize what He prioritizes, I get joy and He gets glory. Even if that means I get nothing done but spending time with my girls because they were clingy. Even if that means I forego dishes and laundry to spend time reading the Bible. Even if that means I hardly ever blog anymore because I’m reading books about parenting instead (this is true).

Doing these two things gives me the foundation for the day that I need to manage the chaos and challenges of being home full-time with two young kids… without being on a schedule!

Why I’m Living My Book, Instead of Writing It

7 Sep

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about how I felt God was calling me to BEHOLD Him this year. “I need new eyes and new ears to see and hear God’s glory and power in my life. The glory of His presence already surrounds me; I just need help recognizing it.”

IMG_20160105_153553It has been AWESOME seeing God answer that prayer all year long, and I have plans to share all the different facets here on the blog. But today, I want to share about how God just recently answered this prayer of beholding Him, and of having new eyes and ears to see His glory in the life I already have.

I won’t mince words—this summer has been hard. Yes, full of fun things too, but mostly hard. See my meltdown post. See my posts on grief over my mom dying. Then one day, I was praying. I don’t even remember about what—maybe my desire to write a book? Feeling like I don’t have the time or energy for doing the things I’d like to do? Anyway, God spoke to me. He challenged me by asking, “Is this about My glory or is it about your glory?”

And I realized…

All this time I have been praying for the opportunity to write and publish a book because I feel so passionate about what I’ve been learning, and think that a lot of other Christians would benefit from these ideas. But truth be told, it has also been a lot about my glory. I spent years trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and finally a year ago, I had the courage to declare that I wanted to be a published author more than anything else. And the book I want to write is about how joy is found in embracing the life circumstances God allows.

I didn’t need my book to be a bestseller, or to make money, or be a household name, and I surely didn’t want to end up being a speaker to big audiences. I just wanted to hold a tangible book in my hand, containing my unique words with my name on the cover. Of course, I hoped that at least a few people would read my book, but I really just wanted to be faithful to God’s calling on my life. Whatever He chose to accomplish with it was up to Him. A noble, worthwhile purpose, right?

A few weeks ago, though, God showed me that even that noble, worthwhile purpose had to be surrendered to something bigger: His will. It may be His will that I am a published author someday, but the reality of my life is that I already have two daughters. I am already a mom. And in this stage of life, my girls demand it all. I have tried for a year to write a book in my free time, and I have discovered that for me, right now, it’s not possible. Trying to write a book only made me bitter, and made me feel like I spent all my time doing crap I didn’t want to do, with no time or energy left over for doing what I did want to do.

Because I have two kids, God has called to be a mom. And I feel strongly that He has called me personally to be a full-time, stay-at-home (and possibly homeschooling?) mom. Instead of viewing my two precious blessings as preventing me from what I am called to do, I need to see them as being what I am called to do.

It is the most humbling, soul-aweing challenge for God to show me:

If I truly desire to live for His glory, if I truly believe that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him, if I truly believe that God is the one orchestrating my life circumstances, then I will be okay with whatever God has for me.

Being satisfied in God means wanting Him above everything. Even above my dream of being a published author.

God’s challenge revealed to me:

Is my life goal truly about getting more of God? Or is my goal being an author?

Nothing less than God Himself will satisfy.

So if my goal of being an author is causing me to be discontent in my current life, being bitter about the circumstances God has lovingly handpicked for me, I must lay even this good desire of telling about God’s glories in a book down at my Savior’s feet.

I must truly surrender all to get more of God. That’s the amazing truth in all of this: I can experience and enjoy God in any and every season of life, even amidst the challenges and mundanity of motherhood. The experience of God is not limited to doing big things. In fact, it might even be easier to experience God in the small things, because big things have a way of distracting. Even as “just” a stay-at-home mom, I can have as much of God as I want, because the curtain has been torn in two with Christ’s death and resurrection.

I was surprised to discover that surrendering this lifelong dream of mine into God’s hands was not discouraging or depressing, but freeing. I didn’t realize how heavy a weight I had been carrying around, feeling like every free moment I had needed to be productive because of all I was trying to accomplish. I felt jealous of other moms who seemingly had lower ambitions. Why couldn’t I be like them?

With the laying down of this dream came the freedom to just focus on mothering well. And as I focused on that, I realized it was what I had desired all along. Of course, I would still love to write a book, or ten. If it happens later in life, in a different season, great. And if not, that’s ok.

I have often found great comfort in the story of King David’s desire to build a temple for God’s presence and the Ark of the Covenant. In 1 Kings 8:17-19, King Solomon says, “Now it was in the heart of David my father to build a house for the name of the LORD, the God of Israel. But the LORD said to David my father, ‘Whereas it was in your heart to build a house for my name, you did well that it was in your heart. Nevertheless, you shall not build the house, but your son who shall be born to you shall build the house for my name.’”

David had a desire to do something noble, selfless, BIG for God. But God told him no. David’s desire was good, but it wasn’t God’s will for him. The American Dream is still alive and well in our country, even in Christian circles. Somehow, the notion is that if we’re passionate about something and good at it, it must be God’s calling on our lives. And if we’re not doing something with those gifts, if we’re not using them for growing God’s kingdom, we’re not fully living out our faith. We’re taking our light and hiding it under a bush.

But even the desire to serve God doing good things must be subordinate to our love for and enjoyment of Him. Because often, God’s chosen circumstances for our lives don’t align with what we would choose, or what we envision. Am I serving God less by being a mom instead of an author? Am I serving Him more? No, I am just serving in a different way. I am serving God in the way He has chosen for me to serve Him.

The Christian life is not one size fits all. It is not rules across the board, applicable to every and all circumstances. We want it to be! We want the Christian life to be so cut and dry that we can take the rules and run off to accomplish the Christian life on our own without God. God knew that. So He made it necessary for the Christian life to be walked out in faith by depending on the Holy Spirit. The New Testament contains only general principles built on the solid foundation of the gospel; we need to walk with God daily to uncover what those principles look like specifically in our own unique lives.

God has called me to lay down my dream of being an author to truly embrace my calling as a mother. But He might be calling other mothers to take up their dreams and pursue them wholeheartedly. It is not about WHAT we do, it is about WHY and HOW we do it. Are we surrendering our lives to God?  Are we offering up everything we are, every dream, ambition and longing, to God and allowing Him to be the answer? Are we glorifying God by being satisfied in Him? The fleshed-out specifics will look different for everyone. There is a time for everything under the sun, and we are all in slightly different seasons and stages of life and sanctification. But we will united under the banner of:

SATISFIED IN GOD ALONE

The ironic thing in God asking me to lay down my dream of being an author is that He is calling me to put into practice the very ideas that I want to write my book about.

So for now, I’m living my book, instead of writing it.

 

“No good things does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11)

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

“The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” (Psalm 138:8)

A Perspective for the Messiness of Motherhood

18 Jul

I am hemorrhaging sanity.

And it’s not just that I can’t remember to do things, or recall basic facts. Or that I can’t think a coherent thought or accomplish anything requiring adult mental capacities.

I’m talking complete psychosis. A full mental breakdown. Like I’m one horrible day away from pulling a stunt like Vivi Abbott Walker did in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood: just up and leaving one day, telling no one where I’m going, or for how long. Except I’d probably escape to Canada instead of Mexico, simply due to proximity.

Motherhood is relentless. And truth be told, it’s full of a lot things that are just plain boring, and other things that are actually odious. Stay-at-home moms like myself work all day doing things that immediately get undone. There is no actual task that is ever completed once and for all. My job is to simply keep the chaos at bay. If my house looks exactly the same at the end of the day as it did at the beginning, I have been productive.

In my finer moments, I actually don’t mind doing dishes or laundry. I don’t mind grocery shopping or meal planning. (I do hate cleaning, and it shows.) But after a while, doing the same thing over and over to simply maintain the status quo starts to wear on you.

And that doesn’t even touch the tip of the parenting iceberg. Take the never-ending loop of household chores, add in a screaming toddler and whiny preschooler, subtract any time for yourself—that’s the recipe for total mental meltdown.

I can’t help but compare myself to the women out there who seem to be unruffled by anything, who seem completely confident and competent in their parenting decisions, who have tuned their family routines to be a finely humming orchestra, and who still have time to get ready each day, make elaborate and fun meals, blog, write books, pursue hobbies, exercise, and take amazing Instagram pictures of it all. I mean, who are these women?!?!

That’s not me. I’m just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. My life is a total crapshoot. I don’t have the confidence or insight to know what routine or rhythm would work well for our family, and even when I do have the slightest hint, I lack the discipline to carry it out.

It’s right about here that the voices in my head start piping up. One says that I should just extend grace to myself because I have two young kids, one of which has not slept well for the past 9 months of her life, and the other is a very high-energy, high-need child. The other voice says that making changes to our family routine isn’t about increasing productivity or trying to run a business on the side. It’s about survival. Because I am literally losing my mind, and that is not working for me.

I haven’t even figured out how to accomplish the basics on a regular basis. I frequently find myself completely over grocery shopping and meal planning, so I just don’t do it. Travis asks what’s for dinner, and I shrug. What I want to say is “I don’t effing care, you figure it out.” Instead, I stumble to the kitchen on the fumes of willpower and hodge-podge something together using frozen vegetables and a box of pasta.

I clean bathrooms about once a month. I change sheets about every two. I can’t remember the last time I vacuumed downstairs and we have never washed windowsills in our current house (even though they are disgustingly filthy).  The girls can sense whenever I’m mustering up motivation to accomplish something out of the ordinary because without fail, that’s when they unleash their most unruly tantrums.

All my fantasies lately are about relaxation. It’s me, a good book, and a bed. I check out of my life by reading some brain candy. Reading transitions into naptime. After naptime comes leisure time. Remember leisure time, time to do the things you enjoy? Does that still exist somewhere in the world?

Instead, I find myself trapped in a life that requires me to spend all of my time and energy on things I don’t want to do, like change poopy diapers, fix 10 snacks a day, clean up messes and spills every five minutes, schlep four armloads of stuff to and from the beach for an hour of play, and my favorite, deal with two screaming, tantrum-y kids simultaneously while my husband is out fishing.

The cherry on top of the crap sundae is the nitpicky bickering in marriage over NOTHING and EVERYTHING caused by both spouses being overextended and stressed out. Somedays I’m *this close* from going to bed for the rest of the year.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a wonderful husband and my marriage is actually in a pretty good place. Even so, it often echoes the theme of my life right now: EVERYTHING IS A BATTLE. It’s a battle to be a loving spouse. To let things go in the name of unity and love instead of demanding that things be done or said how I want them to. To find time and mental energy for doing thoughtful, kind things for my husband.  To view him as more than just the replacement babysitter or the impediment to doing what I want.

It’s a battle to parent. To control my own emotions and use wisdom instead of anger and heavy-handedness. To balance spending time with the girls and getting things done. To just get enough freakin’ sleep.

It’s a battle to manage my household. To maintain the necessary energy and level of giving a crap to keep up on all the monotonous chores. To not compare my house organization and decorating style to other women’s, or to at least not feel like mine’s a bag of lumpy cheese compared to theirs.

It’s a battle to be a Christian. To find time for Bible study, prayer, evangelism, serving, and all the things I think I “should” be doing.

It’s a battle to have personal time. Actually, let’s be honest, the battle is to be ok with not having personal time, with having a long list of things I’d like to do but don’t have the time or energy to do after having spent all of my time and energy herding toddlers, completing the basic tasks of survival, and preventing our house from being condemned.

But in the midst of all this “NESS” (as my old boss Carol Ann Kelly used to say), you want to know what’s awesome?

Jesus came for messes like me.

We Christians often say to unbelievers that you don’t have to clean yourself up in order to come to Jesus. In fact, “if you tarry until you’re better, you will never come at all.”

What we don’t often say is that this is a message for us too. Because even when you put your faith and trust in Jesus, you don’t stop being a mess. You don’t stop being a sinner in need of a Savior. In fact, sanctification–the process of becoming more like Jesus in your character and spirit—almost always involves seeing more of your sin, admitting your mess, and humbling yourself through repentance and apologies. Sanctification is sacred work, yes, but it is borne of blood, sweat, and tears. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

I usually think of discipline as “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience,” but it can also be defined as “the practice of training oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.” Learning to repent and apologize for my own sin is discipline, but so is spending my days doing things I don’t want to do. It is painful in the moment to persevere in the cycle of clean, wash, organize, tidy—especially when my flesh is screaming “I don’t want to!”—but this verse in Hebrews reassures me that IT IS ALL WORTH IT. In my unbelief cloaked by twilight, all I can see is despair, discouragement, and the lie that It Will Always Be Like This. But at the faintest hint of dawn, when tendrils of sunlight touch dewy grass, my languid soul is revived and I am reminded that God is using even this to accomplish His purposes, “…that he who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

So then, the truth of God’s love and redemption remains the same. It is just as true on the days when the refrigerator is bare, I’ve lost my temper three times before noon, and I never change out of my pajamas, as it is on the days when I sneak in a run and Bible study before breakfast, the girls are getting along, and I am caught up on chores.

And that’s the challenge—are we willing to come to Jesus at all times, in our competence or in our mess? Are we willing to surrender our life, whether it’s going well or it’s hitting the fan, to God and His purposes? Or will we stand far off, demanding control and wishing life were different, unwilling to let ourselves rest or be healed because of our pride and stubbornness?

The messiness of motherhood reminds me of a beloved quote from Joel Warne’s book Soul Craving:

There are times, though, when transformation simply doesn’t come, times when our hunger for a new way to be remains unfed. At those times… simply rest with God in your problem. Simply be with him in your sin, your emptiness, your failure. Rest quietly with him in your confusion, your paralysis. Sit next to him in the wound that won’t heal, the pain that won’t subside, the desert that never ends… Here the still center of your love affair with Jesus Christ rests steady, unmoved, unquenched, unconquered by your unresolved messes. Here your love for God really does take precedence. It is no longer a means to an end, a kind of convenient tool to work your own liberation…

Sometimes, our very desire to be transformed into the new creation God wants us to be must be considered rubbish in comparison with simply knowing Christ. Is it enough for you to simply love him? To draw close to him, to offer him your affection? If intimately abiding with Jesus produced no change at all within you, could you be satisfied to simply remain with him in all your painful, unresolved stuff? (199-201).

Even in the messiness of motherhood, we must come to Jesus. We must keep our eyes fixed on Him, and Him alone. Not on Pinterest or Facebook. Not on “other moms” or “other bloggers.” Not on what we “should be able to handle” or what life was like before kids. ON CHRIST ALONE. On His provision of mercy and grace for this moment, right now. He wants us to live in continual dependence on Him and His Spirit, and He will use the circumstances of our lives to get us down on our knees in humble submission.

How does one reclaim sanity amid the never-ending demand and crisis that is parenting?

I don’t know.

But I do know that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) and “the LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever” (Psalm 138:8).

And with promises like that, who needs sanity?

Make Time for Yourself by Trusting in God

21 Jun

IMG_20160621_105344An idea that seems rather ubiquitous right now in the online and book world for women, moms in particular, is “Prioritize yourself.” What they mean by that is to intentionally carve out time for yourself to pursue your own interests, to do things because you want to and not because you have to, and to get sufficient rest instead of running yourself ragged.

That this common theme is being touted by many sources in a variety of contexts shows that this is a message moms need to hear. If my experience proves anything, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you always need to “be on”—that if you don’t do something, it won’t get done; and if it doesn’t get done, all hell will break loose.

Just the other weekend, Travis and I took the girls to a nearby waterpark. Usually I’m the one who packs the suits, towels, change of clothes, sunscreen, etc. But that day, Travis remarked that he was packing a bag with our clothes. So despite the weird feeling of not being in control, I let go and let Travis pack. When we arrived at the waterpark, however, I discovered that he had meant he was packing our changes of clothes, and we had brought nothing for the girls—no clothes, no regular or swim diapers, and no swimsuit bottom for Annabelle (we had put sunscreen on before leaving the house). My initial reaction was anger and “See! If I don’t do things, they don’t get done!” After 5 minutes and with diapers loaned from our friends, I settled down and could admit that it really was just a breakdown in communication—Travis had thought I was packing the stuff for the girls.

It’s incidences like that that make us moms feel justified in our “Woe is me, I never get a break” attitude. I often feel bitter at Travis for his asking to do stuff on his own or for himself (like running errands alone, going fishing alone, etc.) but the truth is, I could ask to do things for myself too, but I don’t. Why is that? It’s because of this idea that I need to continually manage things, or they won’t get done.

The bigger and more truthful truth is that they most likely will get done… they just won’t get done the way I do them, or when I would do them. There are those times they really don’t get done, but you know what? The world keeps spinning. All hell doesn’t break loose. And I hate to admit it, but there are even times when I realize that… certain things aren’t even necessary. (Shocker, right?)

That means it’s ok for me to use a naptime for writing, even if it means the dirty dishes and Mount Laundry remain untouched. It’s ok for me to leave the girls with daddy on a Saturday to go on a run instead of run to the store, even if it means we scrounge through the fridge for a hodge podge dinner that night. It’s ok for me to head to Bible study even if Annabelle isn’t down for the night, and it means Travis will have to handle putting both girls to bed on his own (like I have done many times).

The more I’ve analyzed my reluctance to take a break from being the mom and adult, the more I realize that that reluctance comes from pride. It comes from me thinking that I’m indispensable. That no one can do what I do, or more accurately, no one can do what I do exactly the way I do it. And My Way is the Right Way.

Last week, Travis and I had a dinner date to talk through some challenges and communication issues in our marriage, and we realized that all this time, we’ve been thinking that to be on the same team as parents, we needed to handle situations exactly the same way. What a ludicrous thought! We don’t need to be the same parent to be on the same team—we just need to agree on overarching principles and have one another’s back on in-the-moment decisions.

This is why it’s good to remind moms—especially Type A, OCD, control freaks like me—that it’s ok to take a break, and that the world won’t fall apart in their absence.

BUT…

We are humans, which means we are sinners. And there is an aspect to this idea of “Prioritize yourself” that could prove to be unhelpful. Satan knows that we are, by nature, selfish. In his sermon “Splitness” using Romans 7:1-9 and 18-25, and the classic book “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson, Pastor Tim Keller agrees with Stevenson that all the evil in the world is caused by self-centeredness: “Every thought centering on the self.”

What I’m trying to say is: our sinful, selfish selves could take this bait of prioritizing ourselves and use it to our detriment. We can fall into the mindset that we “deserve” to have time to ourselves, that we “need” to pursue hobbies for our own mental sanity, and that we’re “losing our true identities” in the throes of motherhood. Some of the most dangerous, discontentment-breeding words for a mother are “All I want is…” “All I want is some peace and quiet.” “All I want is to drink my cup of coffee before it gets cold.” “All I want is to read a single paragraph without being interrupted.” “All I want is for the kids to go the eff to sleep already!” Let’s be honest, we really don’t need anything tempting us to be more selfish. Because we do a fine job on our own, thankyouverymuch.

But, you might say, moms are being reminded to rest and pursue their own hobbies because they are pouring out every single drop of energy and focus on their families! That’s not selfish.

Or is it?

As I’ve already pointed out, my own reluctance to taking a break comes from pride, from a self-concerned need to control everything. In those instances, I’m refusing to do what I really need to do for my own mental health and energy levels because I’m more concerned about the laundry getting done, or Travis not feeling abandoned, or the girls not being a handful. I have a puffed-up estimation of my own importance.

Those are the two extremes. On one hand, there is the extreme of playing the martyr and running on fumes to serve your family. On the other hand, there is the extreme of thinking that we are entitled to our own time and need it at all costs.

But there is a third way. It is a delicate balance between the two, and only possible by depending on God’s guidance through the Holy Spirit.

We humbly come before God and relinquish our indispensable mother role. We admit that He’s got our family in His hands, and we can rest and sleep because He never does. We can see the reality that we have been doing too much, and trying too hard, because we were depending on ourselves to get it all done. We receive the gift of rest, and of pursuing hobbies, and of doing things that simply delight us, and we appreciate the people who enable it to happen.

But we also hold those gifts with open hands, so that on the days that naptimes don’t overlap, or daddy feels sick when he’s supposed to watch the kids, or kids don’t sleep well so our morning routines aren’t possible, we have grace. We don’t mumble or grow frustrated that we were robbed of the time that we needed for ourselves. We believe that God will provide for us exactly what we need. Some days His grace comes in the form of time to rest or pursue hobbies. Some days it comes in the form of sustained energy and patience in the face of kids throwing tantrums and babies who won’t sleep.

Yes, it is good for moms to rest. Yes, it is good for moms to pursue their hobbies, or simply get time away. But let us pursue these things in faith, trusting in the God who “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17) and who “[supplies] every need of [ours] according to his riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).


“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24)

“‘Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.’” (Matthew 6:34)

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:3-11)

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Grief.

21 Mar

My mom is dead. My mom died.

I keep repeating those words in my head, unable to comprehend this truth. We knew it was a possibility, even a probability, for so long and yet now that it’s happened, it doesn’t feel real.

Other times it feels like a stab in the heart. Or like an elephant sitting on my chest. Like a nightmare I can’t outrun. Like someone else’s life I am observing. Like the whole world is different. Like the world is the same and I’m different.

With two young kids, I don’t have the option of sitting around grieving. And to be honest, even though spending extra time in bed or on the couch sounds appealing, I want to keep moving forward with life – if for no other reason than my mom would’ve wanted me to. Even in her last weeks and months, she was worried most about how her death would affect us, how we would handle the gaping hole she left in her wake. She was concerned about other people so much that it drove me crazy sometimes!

She loved being a mom, and for the past four years, a grandma. There is hardly any aspect about mothering now that does not remind me of her. When I nurse Annabelle, I think of my mom nursing me until I was over 2 (so she said, I don’t remember it). When I rock either girl in my arms, I think of my mom, who loved, loved, loved rocking babies (no sleep training for that woman!). When they cry, I think of how she wouldn’t have been able to stand it—her momma bear instinct was too fierce.

Those reminders of her make me want to be a better mom. A mom who is more patient, loving, kind, gentle, self-controlled and self-sacrificing. I want to “major on the majors” and make sure I find time for the most important things, not let my days get eaten up with things that don’t really matter (even if they’re things I enjoy). I want to live my life with joy and passion, to pursue my dreams, to make the best use of my days. I want to enjoy being a mother, to truly embrace my role and not just view my girls as impediments to my freedom and personal time (which I do sometimes because I’m selfish). I want to be compassionate and patient with my girls, to hold them when they’re crying, to get on their level and understand what’s wrong instead of getting mad that they’re being difficult. Because life is short, and I want to look back on these years able to say that I loved deeply and lived well.

As we sat by my mom in her last hours, my dad, older brother Jeremy, sister-in-law Jen, younger brother Chris, and I all took turns rubbing her arms and hands. Her freckled hands were as familiar to me as my own. They were her instruments of serving and healing. Those hands cared for us, patched wounds, massaged backs and legs, changed diapers, blew noses, washed bodies, applied sunscreen, dried hair, cooked meals, wiped tears.

I find myself wishing I could talk to her in prayer like Jesus. Even though we were blessed with time for saying goodbye in long, heartfelt conversations, I find myself replaying what I said and wondering, “Why in the world didn’t I bring up more fond memories, instead of her being left alone with all the kids for hours by my dad and grandparents, and her throwing the hairdryer in anger at me when I was being extremely difficult? Did I even tell her that I thought she was an amazing mom and friend, and loved her to the core of my being?” So I ask Jesus to tell my mom that I love her and miss her, and that those aren’t what I think of when I remember her.

Instead, I’ll think of how she was my favorite person on earth next to my husband and babies. I’ll think about how familiar and dear she was to me, and how genuinely I enjoyed being around her. Yes, it’s true her worrywart tendencies drove me crazy sometimes, but isn’t that a mark of true intimacy? I’ll think about the weeks last summer that the girls and I spent with her while Travis traveled. Precious memories. I took them so very much for granted. If I had known then that she’d be gone by now…

But here’s the thing about watching someone die from cancer or disease: you often don’t know what to do or say. Even as a Christian with the greatest hope in the world, I stumbled through conversations and interactions because I just didn’t know. You can’t fully understand what the other person is experiencing, and you’re dealing with your own hard, mixed emotions about the whole situation. You want to be positive, but not Pollyanna. You want to be encouraging, but realistic. You want to empathize with their sorrow and fear, but not contribute or add to it. You want to ask about the situation, but you also want to distract them from it.

What I decided early on, especially since it was my mom, was that I was just going to show up and be real. I was going to try hard to point her to Jesus, and remind her of the hope she had in Him, but if I didn’t have the words, or know what to say, I’d just be there anyway. And I’d say, “I’m not sure what to say.”

Same with being by her side in those last days. What do you do in that situation? I wasn’t sure, but before I even left my house, I determined that I would not let my weird hangups or fear of awkwardness make me regret not doing something for her or with her at the end of her time on earth. So I sat by her on the bed, holding her hand. I hugged her, and rested my head on her shoulder when I saw tears in the corners of her eyes as she listened to a music therapist named Julie sing Beyond the Sunset with just her voice and an acoustic guitar. I wiped her mouth, dotted chapstick on her dry lips, and told her through sobs that this wasn’t the way I’d remember her—that there was this picture from the Mexican family reunion where she was playing a guitar made out of a skewer and aluminum sheet pan and laughing. That’s how I’ll remember her.

My brother Chris called the Tuesday before she died. “They don’t think she has long left,” he said. Even though I had visited her in the middle of January and said what I wanted to say, how do you not rush to the bedside of one you love so dear? So I packed up and hit the road with Annabelle (Travis would follow with Tina Tornado on the weekend so that I could have some quiet time with my mom), arriving in Rochester Tuesday evening. As I was unloading the car, my dad took Annabelle up to see my mom. He said she just lit up when Annabelle entered the room.

That night and Wednesday, she was alert for 30 minutes or so every few hours. Wednesday night, my dad woke up Jeremy, Jen and me in the middle of the night, thinking that the end was near. But her heart was stubborn and held on for all of Thursday too. That was a long day. Some extended family came to visit. The music therapist and hospice nurse came for a bit. Several times, we thought the end was close, but she recovered, heart beating, lungs breathing.

Thursday night, we went to bed around 10:30. About 12:15 am on Friday, I woke up to my dad nudging me and he simply said, “She’s gone.” I got up and followed him into the hall, where we talked to my brother and sister-in-law a bit. We said good night and headed back to bed, but the second I got under the covers, I was like, “What am I doing? I can’t go back to sleep right now!”

So I headed upstairs and asked if I could see her. And it was true: she was gone. Just the shell of her earthly body remained. Her soul, the real her, was in heaven with Jesus. Chris said truthfully, “Now we’re the ones to feel sorry for.”

My dad called the funeral home and they said they’d be out in 30 minutes to take her body. So Chris went and got Jeremy and Jen, and we all stayed in the bedroom until the funeral home people arrived.

While they carried her body out of the house, the rest of us moved into the kitchen and Chris jokingly suggested taking shots of pickle juice (one of my mom’s favorite things) in her honor. “Let’s do it!” I said. So the five of us said, “Cheers,” and drank shots of pickle juice at 1:00 in the morning.

Early afternoon on Friday, Travis and Emma arrived, and the rest of our time down in Rochester was a blur of funeral preparations, seeing extended family and chasing wild kids. That was one of the hardest weeks of my life, and I was relieved when I could finally retreat to my own home and familiar comforts. I see vaguely now that part of the reason was that I wanted to escape the relentless reminders of her absence, a luxury my dad doesn’t have.

Two weekends ago, I returned to Rochester for the first time since my mom died. As I walked in the door of my parents’ house and saw a peace lily from the funeral my dad had placed on the piano, it hit me afresh that my mom was gone. It was just his house now. Little by little, evidences of her decorating, organization, presence will disappear. We boxed up unused medical supplies and sorted through her clothes, personal items, jewelry, shoes, and purses while I was there, making piles of things to keep, things to sell, things to throw. I know it’s time to do these things but it still just feels too sudden, too soon.  I haven’t been able to delete her contact from my phone because it feels like I’d be erasing her. I know it’s not… but still.

Grief is a process, and as the hospice chaplain told us, it’s different for everyone. When I focus on this earthly life, I am devastated my mom died. But when I remember the hope of heaven, and the fact that she’s there now, I feel peaceful. As one of the wonderful sympathy cards we received says (in the words of M.B. Anderson): “God confidently assures us—in the great symphony of life, the final refrain for the believing heart is triumphant, everlasting JOY.”

We’re sad on earth, but my mom is celebrating in Jesus’ presence. We saw her earthly life end, but she is living a glorious beginning.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:54-57)