Starting Over

IMG_20170605_132750_502{He’s pretty sure he still fits in the infant car seat}

In a few weeks we welcome our daughter and transition from a family of three to four. A double stroller sits in the box waiting to be assembled and loaded into the SUV we bought to make room for two car seats instead of one.

Life already seems busy and full and I try to imagine what it will be like adding a newborn to the mix.

I’m excited. And I’m scared.

But I’m not scared about the right things —well, at least not the things I expected to be. I’m not afraid of labor —I know it will hurt and it will be a rough day but it’ll end with holding my baby on the other side.

I’m not afraid of sleepless nights —they’re still rather sleepless as it is and I know the bleary eyed haze of the first few months won’t last forever.

IMG_20170605_133102_598What I’m afraid of is being left behind.

I’m afraid of starting over with a newborn while most of my friends move forward with older kids.

This has been a consistent problem throughout my adult life —this being at a different stage at a different time than most of the people I’m closest to. Right now I stand in the middle with half my friends not having children and the other half with children already in school and decidedly out of the baby/toddler days.

Many of the women around me, even the ones who previously stayed at home, are going back to work as their children are more independent and spend their days at school or other activities rather than constantly at their side.

I like seeing these women find themselves again outside of their children and watching them pursue work and interests they’re excited about beyond the home.

IMG_20170605_132924_571But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it stings a little to watch everyone around me move onto the next step in life while I’m still years away from much beyond newborns and toddler tantrums.

Now I know this is a choice —I choose to stay home with my babies and even being able to make that choice is certainly a privilege. I could find someone to watch my kids while I go back to work but it’s important to me to be home with them for these first few years and we have the freedom to make that choice so that is what I do.

IMG_20170605_133234_951{Just the three of us a little longer}

But just because you believe something is right or best for your family doesn’t make it easy. Nor does it make it any easier to set aside your other hopes and dreams for a time while you focus on something else instead.

I know the day will come, and probably much sooner than it feels like right now, when my babies are taking off to school rather than crying at my ankles about something r.i.d.i.c.u.l.o.u.s. while I try to make dinner. This is but a chapter in the journey and a chapter I will probably often look back at and long for after it’s closed and done.

But today, today just weeks before I begin all over again with a brand new baby, I’m learning the importance of speaking truth to my heart and mind when the temptation is to dwell on fear or being left out while everyone around me moves on.

IMG_20170605_133412_231I need the truth that I’m doing what I’m doing for a reason —this whole making babies and staying home thing —it matters and it matters enough to put other opportunities on hold for a time.

I need the truth that God sees and cares about the life he’s given me and the work I do even if it feels silent and invisible.

I need the truth that babies and children are important —soulful and eternal —and it’s my privilege to influence and shape their tiny souls for a time on their journey back to God and all he desires for them.

I need the truth that life is made up of seasons and this chapter of babies and toddlers is just that —a chapter in the full story I will tell with this life I’ve been given.

I need the truth that God is walking beside me —when I’m tired, discouraged, feeling left out or left behind —God is there and will give me strength and love for each new day until all my days melt into his eternity.

I need the truth that my identity is found in Christ and who he says that I am —not what other people think of me, not what the world thinks of me and the work I do but in Christ and Christ alone. He is enough and I am enough in him.

I need the truth.

I need to daily strengthen my heart and mind with true thoughts to guard against the temptation to believe all the lies swirling around me that would pull me down and leave me defeated.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

Tis the Season…of Consumerism

When Thoreau was living at Walden Pond and writing his work of the same name he said that “men have become the tools of their tools.” He wrote that in the mid 1800s so I imagine he might have had a mental break had he ever met the internet.

Just imagine Thoreau with an iPhone for a minute; it makes me smile.

I went to Walden Pond once. I drove out with a friend and together we sat by the water’s edge with journals in hand and wrote about the beautiful, quiet place we found ourselves in.

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walden journal

We walked in the replica of the tiny cabin Thoreau built for himself and I snapped a few pictures of Mr. Thoreau reading my very own copy of Walden Pond :]

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walden book

I like Thoreau. I like what he stood for and what he did by example. But I’m not very good at following that example. I’m much better at online shopping and Angry Birds, truth be told.

It seems like simple living should be, you know, simple. But the world we live in is awfully glittery and I choose consumerism and material things far more than I would like you to know.

walden birch

I think about this a lot this time of year. Not only because of Christmas shopping but also because my birthday is a month before Christmas and Darren’s is a month after. So for three months straight we are thinking about buying and getting things. I have nothing against birthday and Christmas presents; I think both can be thoughtful demonstrations of love for the other person and that is certainly what we hope to accomplish by giving each other these gifts. Still though, it’s easy to get carried away by it all, by all these shiny, glittery, latest and greatest things that we convince ourselves we simply must have and give each other.

Fortunately this year we are broke.

Not really, but we are building a house…in the woods…with a big garden beside it…with all the hope in the world that it will help lead us to simpler, more meaningful living. But even houses in the woods built with good intentions cost money so this year we have to really stop and think about every dollar we spend.

And you know what? It’s been super wonderful. Seriously. I like not worrying so much about what I’m giving and getting for birthdays and Christmas. I like that every single gift I bought for Darren this year was picked out based on what I know he’s good at and will love. I like that this year feels a little slower, a little less about things, and more about building dreams together. I like that on my birthday Darren gave me a remote-controlled monster truck because every time we end up in the toy aisle I drool over them. That’s a nutty thing to give a girl but he knew I would like it and it made me smile that he remembered and did something that felt hugely thoughtful to me.

I’ve read a lot of stuff lately about how hectic and frantic these last few weeks before Christmas are. About how people are stretched and stressed to the max by all the shopping and parties and decorating. And I think that’s really sad. Because the shopping and the parties and the decorating are not what this is about. I’m a Christian, so foremost I think this is all about Jesus. But even beyond that, this really should be about people and love and thoughtful, heartfelt giving–giving of gifts we picked out with something special and specific in mind, gifts of our time just to be with people and to enjoy each other….gifts that matter for more than the glitter.

Walden Pond

I’ve let the beauty of Christmas get away from me many times before by focusing on all the wrong things. But this year–this quiet, slower year–is teaching me something I hope I won’t forget.

Let’s not be the tools of our tools, okay? Okay :]

The Comforts of Home

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Today we are home, curled up on the couch watching football. The cat is curled up on the other couch, because obviously, he needs a whole couch to himself…diva. The Pats are playing the Dolphins. I would rather be watching my home boys, the Chiefs, but they don’t show their games out here. We were in Kansas City a few weeks ago and were almost late for our flight because I just had to see the Chiefs finish their game while I had the chance. They normally lose, you know, so watching them win for once is a lot of fun :]

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We had big bowls of hot soup for lunch today and dipped thick chunks of warm bread in it. The heat is on because it’s cold, cold, cold outside and we are sipping mugs of hot coffee to warm up. I sprinkled cinnamon over the coffee grounds before brewing it; between that and the pumpkin creamer, it’s just about the perfect mug of coffee for a crisp fall day.

The whole house smells like the jasmine and sandalwood incense I’m burning…I love how the tangy, sweet smell of the smoke permeates everything in the house.

Fall Hike 2008-6

This morning we went to church and I worked in the nursery. There’s a bit of a baby boom going on among my friends right now. Every time one girl has a baby, another announces she’s pregnant. It’s fun…all these kids and babies and watching families grow and change. Sometimes working in the nursery is completely exhausting because all the babies melt down at once and you’re left wiping tears and noses and wondering what on earth you did wrong. But this morning, it was fun. The kids were mostly good and it was nice visiting with the moms and watching them visit with each other. It made me really thankful for my church family and the little group of girls I hang out with here; their friendship means so much to me and I was reminded of that this morning.

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Last night we had dinner with Darren’s brother and sister and their families. We all live within 15 minutes of each other and I love the way we are able to spend time together and move in and out of each other’s lives. My sister in law made a big batch of chili and my brother in law made an apple pie. We all sat around eating and talking while the kids played on the floor. Our new baby nephew was passed around and held while the bigger boys climbed all over us and wrestled with each other on the floor. It was nice.

Fall Hike 2008-13

I tell you all these bits and pieces because together they remind me of one thing…comfort. Our little home and mugs of hot coffee are comforting on this Sunday afternoon. Spending time with our friends at church was comforting this morning. Dinner with family was comforting last night. Even the cool weather and hot meals are comforting. And with all these bits and pieces that make up our normal, everyday lives–I’m thankful. Thankful for the comfortable, familiar things that settle our hearts and minds and for the weekends that give us a chance to rest and regroup before heading into another busy workweek.

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This is why God gave us a Sabbath–because he knows us and knows we need rest and refreshment. It has been good this weekend to be reminded of the simple gifts of home and family and to enjoy this day of rest in our little home.

Out of the Mud

I have long loved the Scripture that reads,

“I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” {Psalm 40:1-2}.

I have seen God in my life bring me up out of the pit, out of the miry clay and set my feet upon a rock. Often when I pray, I pray that verse back to God—thanking him for bringing me up out of a pit and building my life today on a rock. What I never exactly thought about though was the remainder of the passage which reads:

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see it and fear, and put their trust in the LORD” {Psalm 40:3, ESV}.

God has been good to me. He has brought me out of dark places into the light. He has brought me out of a pit and built my life on a rock. This is beautiful and humbling but it’s not all for my benefit. It is so people may “see it and fear [stand in awe], and put their trust in the Lord.”

God’s goodness to me is meant to reflect back on him. He has given me good things and brought me to a good place because he loves me and because such love and goodness are meant to reflect back on him, meant to draw people back to his love and the goodness he offers us all.

I often think of the verse,

To whom much has been given, much more shall be required” {Luke 12:48}.

I have been given much in my life and much is now required of me in how I use what’s given. Does my life reflect back to the giver of all life?

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On Time Before Time

I sit here tonight all cozied up on the couch with a book and a mug of hot chocolate—the real stuff, not the store-bought packets. Cocoa powder, sugar, and milk warmed together on the stove top. Heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar and vanilla whipped together into a fluffy cloud of heaven melt into the hot chocolate and I think I might be complete now.

I ran out to the car for something and had to put my weight into pushing open the front door against the snow that has accumulated on the porch. The snow is already up to the tops of my boots and the wind is swirling around like a sort of snow hurricane. It’s exciting {so long as you’re safe and sound inside with a good book and a proper mug of hot chocolate, that is}.

I’m reading Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. She writes:

“I stomped out the door, back into the car, still in my pajamas, and as I opened the garage door again, I stopped in my tracks. In the park across the street, one of the tallest trees, twice as high as a two-story house, was the brightest, most insane, lit-from-within red I have ever seen. And it took my breath away, for two reasons.

First, because it was so beyond beautiful, and second, because I had not noticed one step of its turning. I had been in and out of my driveway a zillion times in the last two weeks and could not have told you if the tree was even still standing or not. As I stood there in the driveway, I realized that I had stopped seeing the most important things to see.”

Reading that I was struck by how God had that tree ready just when she needed to learn something from it. God didn’t zap the tree and turn it red at that moment, no, he slowly, carefully turned it red one week at a time until it was just right at just the right moment. That took some thinking ahead and I think it interesting all the work and preparation that goes into the moments that stop us and teach us something about life, or God, or beauty just when we are most in need of such a lesson.

And I wonder what God is preparing right now while I sit here in a snow storm sipping hot chocolate. I wonder what tree he is growing or what person he is teaching that will someday cross my path and guide me when I most need some guidance. I wonder what God is planning ahead before I have any concept of a need that will someday be met, seemingly, in the nick of time.

God is working, he is moving. He is growing trees and people and directing so many paths and patterns and working all things out and together to meet up in just the right place, at just the right time.

And I think that is beautiful.

Don’t Waste Your Pain

 

If you go through something terrible and don’t learn anything from it, you are wasting your own heartache. I believe everything that happens in my life, good or bad, is meant to change and instruct me.

The way I grew up was not easy, not terrible, but certainly not easy. Sometimes I look back and think life was unfair; I think I would have been better off if everything had gone differently.

On better days I look back and realize that all those hard times helped me become who I am. Not only am I stronger but I know now just how strong I can be. I know what I can do without. I know what life looks like from the other side and can better empathize with people. Yes, life could have been easier, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would have been better. I would not be who I am today had I traveled any other road.

Sometimes pain is the only teacher able to speak loudly enough to get my attention. C.S. Lewis said,

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

He’s right. The good things in my life keep me going but the bad things bring me to my knees and force me to grow and change in ways beyond my comfort.

I have a very good life but sometimes I get caught up in the things that are difficult, the things I would like to be different. Today I am reminded that every season of life is filled with purpose. There is something in today’s troubles that will instruct me in tomorrow’s troubles if I’m willing to learn and be made better by whatever I’m going through.

One thing I know for sure, I don’t want to go through a hard time for nothing. If I’m going to struggle then I at least want to come out on the other side having learned and changed into a stronger, more mature person.

Don’t waste your pain; use it, grow from it, be made better by it…just don’t ever waste it.

“I want to keep my soul fertile for the changes, so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it is time for things to die. I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently.”

Donald Miller

Grow Towards the Son

I have a basil plant sitting in my kitchen window. He’s a survivor, that plant, for he’s lived here for months now and hasn’t been killed. Plants generally come to my home only to meet their maker. I don’t mean to kill them…I just forget to keep them alive.

But that basil, he fights on and on. When I first brought the basil home he was bushed out in all directions with his fragrant leaves going everywhere. After months in the window he’s grown bald on one side with all his leaves growing only on the other side—the side facing the window. His leaves face the glass, soaking up the sunshine (as much as can be had on a short winter’s day) and watching him stretch towards the light makes me think—he grows toward the sun.

He reaches for the light, the warmth, the food that foods his green little veins and watching him makes me wonder—shouldn’t I too be growing towards the Son? Toward the light, the warmth, the food that feeds my soul?

It’s a simple thought wrapped up in a hard lesson and I’m reminded to turn my back on what doesn’t feed my soul and turn my face towards the only light that does.

I’m reminded to grow towards the Son.

Confidence and Insecurity

I struggle a lot with insecurity. I worry about how I look and what people think of me. I’ve been thinking about why I feel so insecure and care so much about other people’s opinions. What I realized was pretty simple: I worry and feel insecure because I’m filled with pride.

Here’s the pattern I see:

{1} I’m filled with pride so I worry about what other people think of me.

{2} Because I worry about what other people think of me, I feel like I need to look and act a certain way to be good enough.

{3} To look that certain way I spend too much time, thought, and money on clothing and my physical appearance.

{4} Then I end up comparing myself to other people to see if I’m good enough.

{5} If I don’t feel good enough, I get jealous and competitive and try to outdo other people.

{6} If I compare myself to someone and decide I’m actually more attractive or talented than they are, then my heart is filled with pride and an I’m-better-than-you attitude.

{7} Because I’m worried about what people will think of me, I hide behind silence. I’m afraid if I start talking I’ll say something stupid and people won’t like me. I only say what’s safe. I only write what’s safe. I don’t really let people in or share my heart.

When I base my value on the opinions of other people, I end up feeling like I’ll never be good enough. I’ll never be as smart, funny, or talented as that other writer or as thin and put together as that other girl.

I tell myself if I could just have that outfit, or more friends, or a more popular blog—then I will be good enough. Then I will be confident and satisfied. Then I can be the person I’m supposed to be.

But these are all lies I tell myself.

Because the problem isn’t my outfit or personality or anything else about who I am.

My problem is in what I look to for security.

If I’m looking to myself or to other people I will never find satisfaction or peace in my heart. My heart will only ever be filled with pride and jealousy.

The problem isn’t who I am. The problem isn’t who I’m not. The problem is when I try to find myself in anything but God.

Donald Miller said,

“None of us are here by accident. We were born because God loves to create. And He was pleased when you were born.”

He’s right. And if I could just believe he’s right then maybe I could finally have peace in my heart about who I am. Because who I am is exactly who God wanted me to be.

I’m not perfect, but I’m complete in Christ.

I’m not the outfit I’m wearing or how much I weigh. I’m not the number of friends I have or the amount of money I make.

I’m a part of God’s creation, a chapter (or line) in his story. The story isn’t about me and I’m not the author. This is his story and I’m here only to play a part.

God has a plan for me and a part he wants me to play in his narrative. It would be a sad waste to spend my whole life trying to tell a story about myself instead of him.

It would be a sad waste to worry more about what people think about me than what they know about my God.

It would be a sad waste to spend all my time and thought trying to be the prettiest girl in the room so people will look at and admire me rather than helping others look at and admire my God.

What a waste of words to write only the safe things that will make people like me rather than the scary things that might point someone to something so much better than anything I can offer.

What a waste to spend my life silent and insecure because all I think about is the story I’m telling rather than the greater narrative in which I play a part.

As long as I look to myself and the opinions of others, I will remain proud and insecure. But if I will look to Christ and find my small place in his great narrative, then I can live with the confidence and security I need to accomplish all I am meant to do in this life.

Everything I Ever Wanted

I realized recently that God has given me everything I ever asked for and I never even thanked him.

What I did was complain about everything he’s ever given me.

What I did was come up with a new list of things I wanted.

I wanted to love and be loved; so God gave me an incredible husband—who I complain at when everything doesn’t go my way.

I wanted to get out of our downtown apartment and live in a real house; so God gave me a beautiful home—that I can’t wait to get out of.

I wanted a better job with normal hours and better pay; so God gave me an ideal job with amazing hours—that I complain about because I work too much.

I saw it all laid out before me this morning—the pattern that keeps repeating itself. I want something different, something better. God gives me what I ask for. I fail to thank him or enjoy his good gifts because I’ve already moved onto the next thing I want—the thing I know will finally make me happy.

I am humbled by this realization: God has given me everything I ever asked for and I never even thanked him.

Using Prayer as an Excuse for Inaction

It’s easy when we hear about needs and problems in each other’s lives to promise we’ll pray for one another. Prayer is of course a very powerful and important resource in our lives. But sometimes prayer can be misused as an easy way out of taking action in the lives of those who are hurting. We misuse prayer when:

1) We fail to see how we can help each other by taking action: We mean well when we promise to pray but it’s easy to overlook the practical ways we can help on a physical level too. In addition to our prayers we could:

  • Take a meal toa new mother, someone who is sick or injured, someone who is grieving, or to a family struggling financially.
  • Listen to someone who just needs to talk through feelings and be heard.
  • Volunteer time to help around the house or yard or to run errands.
  • Babysit for a busy mom or someone who is sick or grieving.
  • Write a letter to encourage and let someone know they’re being thought of and aren’t alone.
  • Say yes as much as possible when asked for help or a listening ear.

“I learned that faith isn’t about knowing all of the right stuff or obeying a list of rules. It’s something more, something more costly because it involves being present and making a sacrifice. Perhaps that’s why Jesus is sometimes called Immanuel—‘God with us.’ I think that’s what God had in mind, for Jesus to be present, to just be with us. It’s also what He has in mind for us when it comes to other people.” Bob Goff (p. 8 Love Does)

2) We use prayer to turn a blind eye: Sometimes we don’t want to get involved in other people’s lives or in problems that seem too big for us. We hear about kids being run through the foster care system needing loving homes and families but we’re afraid or overwhelmed by the idea of bringing a child into our own home—so we say we’ll pray instead and never really stop and consider if there’s more we should be doing. We notice the mom who always snaps at her children in public and never stop to consider if she needs rest, help, or encouragement. We don’t want to get our hands dirty. We’re too busy and too tired to get involved in the messy lives of others so we say we’ll pray (and perhaps we even do) all the while turning a blind eye to the physical needs all around us.

“Jesus told the people he was with that it’s not enough to just look like you love God. He said we’d know the extent of our love for God by how well we loved people.” Bob Goff (p. 15 Love Does)

3) We use prayer to guard ourselves from heartache: Getting involved in people’s lives can get messy. When you open your heart up to love and action, you open yourself up to the possibility of getting hurt. It’s so much easier to say, “I’ll be praying for you” than it is to get in the trenches and ask, “What can I do to help?” But the love of God is a love deep enough to take action—to take risks and offer love in spite of the potential for heartache. God did not guard his heart from us; we should not guard ourselves from others. God’s heart was broken for us—will we let our heart be broken for him?

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves

4) We use prayer to cover wrongs rather than dealing with them: Sometimes when we say we’ll pray, all we really need to say is, “I’m sorry.” I know of a situation where someone has been wronged and hurt by someone else. The wrongdoer tells the wronged that they’re praying for them but those prayers (however sincere) are falling on deaf ears. Until the wrong has been made right, prayers will only add insult to injury. The person hurt does not want to be prayed for; he wants only to be apologized to. And until an apology is made, prayer comes off as arrogant and insincere. If you have wronged someone, make it right with them—not just in your prayers to God but in your actions toward the one you have hurt.

“We don’t like to put hands and feet on love. When love is a theory, it’s safe, it’s free of risk. But love in the brain changes nothing.” Donald Miller

God’s love is played out in verbs as should be the love we have for each other. So, the next time you tell someone you’ll pray for them—do so—and then ask what else you can do to demonstrate your love in action.