It’s Supposed to Be Hard

I’ve been wrestling with God lately—pushing hard against him as he pushes right back. I’ve asked him why things have to be so hard. Why, if I’m doing what I believe to be right and best, am I struggling so much? Being where you think God wants you to be and doing what you believe he’s asked you to do is supposed to bring peace and joy, right? Well, yes and no.

I didn’t recognize the answer to this wrestling until I said it out loud in a conversation with my husband. We were talking about parenting—about all the well-intentioned advice we get and all the books we’ve read looking for answers. So much information is available saying, “Do A, Get B.” Only none of those formulas work on our son and we’re starting to wonder if we’ll ever figure any of this parenting stuff out or if we should just start saving bail money now (I’m kidding…sort of 😉 ).

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I told Darren I knew parenting would be exhausting and a ton of hard work—and I can handle that part of it. It’s all the not knowing what we’re doing and fearing that we’ll never reach our son’s heart that really scares me.

And that’s when it hit me—I can handle the hard work and exhaustion—so God gave me a little more than just that to remind me of my need for Him—to draw me close to his heart as I turn to him for the help I’ll find nowhere else. I need wisdom that’s beyond me and the advice others offer. I need strength beyond my physical ability and fortitude. I need hope and encouragement beyond the easy answers and quick fixes people offer to make me feel better. I need Jesus and struggling with my son reminds me of that every single day.

There was a time in my life, before I was a mother, when I very clearly remember thinking, “I can do this without consciously needing the Lord’s help.” I didn’t mean it to be an affront to God; I was simply in a place in life where I could ride the waves and do my job and everything went pretty smoothly whether or not I chose to include the Lord in my day-to-day. After I thought, “I can do this on my own right now,” I also thought, “but God’s not going to let that last forever.” I knew my comfortable status quo would change and I would likely come into a place of need that I didn’t really want to experience.

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Enter motherhood.

From his incredibly difficult birth right up until today, my son is God’s hand of change in my life. Every single day I’m made aware of my failings, weaknesses, and need. Every day I fight to start at the feet of Jesus because I know how much I need his help to get through each hour before me.

So why does it have to be so hard? Probably because I’m stubborn and self-sufficient and can handle a lot of pain. Probably because God knew this level of frustration and insufficiency is the only thing that would get my attention and draw my heart close to his.

So its not punishment or God mocking my efforts as I have sometimes felt. It’s mercy, it’s grace, it’s God reaching into my life, grabbing me by the shoulders and saying, “I’ll help you every step of the way but first, you need to know you need me.”

As I’ve wrestled though these thoughts, I’ve pictured myself not so very different from my son. Struggling against God as my son struggles against me. Twisting and fighting and demanding my own way. I see God’s arms around me as constraining and confining—just as my son sees me. But God is not constraining me; he’s fighting to hold me close. Not crushing my will or spirit but leading me to surrender willingly out of trust and obedience. All the same things I try so hard to communicate to my son only to have him fight back in anger—yes, how very much we’re alike and how profoundly patient is my God.

I see his Father’s heart now and finally, I think I’m learning to be at rest in his arms—not twisting and fighting his power but seeing his good plan for me; his love and care in not giving me my own way. My need is my greatest asset because it opens my heart to the all-powerful, all-sufficient God who loves me and desires good things for my life. Just like I want to give good things to my son if only he will listen and trust me, so God desires the same and so much more for me. So my prayer remains, “Lord, help me trust when I can’t see. Help me hold on when I don’t understand. Help my unbelief”

Unraveled

After a night of winter rain, I watch the dawn break in pink clouds and sunshine. The morning sky deepens into cobalt blue set off by gray clouds moving fast to the east. I’m thankful for the sunshine; for the hope of a bright, clear day to contrast the dead winter palette.

All day I watch the sky shift moodily from crisp blue to heavy gray clouds. The changing light plays games in my living room, dancing across the floor where my children play. It feels like life—sunshine and rain, sunshine and rain.IMG_20180131_223914_609.jpg

I’m an orderly person. I like to see everything in terms of black and white—manageable, predictable. The good times purely good. The bad times purely bad. The two never mingling together to confuse or interrupt the other.

Only life is not at all that way. People are not at all that way.

Winter is a hard season. The cold, the gray, being cooped up in the house with restless, unhappy little ones. Everyone I’m close to is busy with work and school and I’m doing my best to pass the long days and short nights with heart and mind intact. I feel frayed, unraveling—like my hands are full of beads falling all over the place and I’m unable to gather them back up before they roll away.

I don’t want to wish this season away—the days when both my kids mostly just want to be in my arms and half the battle is figuring out how to meet all the needs for attention and affection. The days when my three-year-old climbs on everything and walks around with his toy moose ever tucked under his arm, feet dragging on the ground. I don’t want to forget the stories he tells or the way his big brown eyes look so wild and intent as he does. He sits beside me as I type these words, intermittently trying to push buttons and asking a million questions about the words I’m writing and why.IMG_20180207_203806_458.jpgWhy? Because these days are hard and I’m tired and these words are scribbled in a fog that settles over my mind after one relentless night after another of almost no sleep. But still I want to remember. I want to record these words and this gray season so I might look back and remember these days gone by and the lessons I learned and the ways I changed when I thought I might never be myself again.IMG_20180122_190739_449.jpg

Motherhood is the hardest, most humbling thing I’ve ever done. Sunshine and rain. Never could I love more. Never could I be more discouraged, unsure, or afraid. I want to read a book and know the right answers but instead I find a million times over that the answer remains: Watch, wait, and try again tomorrow. I will get some things right; I’ll always get some things wrong too. I don’t know anymore if there is a right answer or if the answer is simply to trust and pray and grow through all the hardness of these years.IMG_20180125_161516_767.jpgPerhaps the best lesson I can teach my children after all is simply obedience one step at a time, day by day, doing the next right thing. Maybe this lesson will teach them more than having all the right answers packaged up and tied with a tidy black and white bow. They will see me struggle; they will see me fail. But I hope in all of it they will see God’s relentless mercy and grace. I hope they will see me get back up and learn to do the same.

That’s all I can offer for today in this hard season of gray.

God Made Me: Permission to Be—A Guest Post by Lydia Vogt

Today I’m excited to introduce you to my long-time friend and fellow writer, Lydia. Lydia is someone I’ve always felt thinks deeply through an issue rather than simply taking someone else’s word for it—and I can see that’s exactly what she did with this post. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into her beautiful heart and words ❤

thought-catalog-214785Hello, there! I’ve known Kari since the age of hide-and-seek in summer cornfields. She is my younger sister’s lifelong best friend, but Kari and I have always had the writing itch in common. It’s my privilege to meet you here, in that refreshing Outside Air.

I have to confess, though, that when Kari suggested I write about how I “maintain personal interests and pursue ‘things’ outside mommyhood,” I literally laughed out loud; the kind of incredulous laugh I imagine 90-year-old Sarah belted when she first heard the promise that she would give birth to a son.

I can’t write about THAT! Seriously, I don’t have the foggiest idea how to do that well! I need to read that miracle blog post, not WRITE it. Sheesh. Come back to me in 10 years.

But Kari kindly insisted that maybe I do a better job than I think I do (generous soul), and I also decided that if I truly don’t have anything to contribute on the subject, then maybe I should spend some solid QT with the question.

And I did. But I wasn’t really prepared for the web of nuanced beliefs, shame, fear, and hope it would uncover.

So I did what I usually do when something feels too big: I tabled it. I kept jotting notes, but the more jotting I did, the more complex the issue became in my heart, and internal door after door seemed to fly open, begging an attentive walk-through.

That is how this little blog post became a beginning place for me, a sort of baseline premise bolstering my personhood during this very demanding chapter of mothering.

I sincerely hope these thoughts are a useful springboard for you too, as you make space for yourself, His beautiful creation:

WHY DID GOD MAKE ME? (CLUE: IT WASN’T FOR YOUR UTERUS)tanaphong-toochinda-267381

Did you notice the subtle shift? It starts in pregnancy when people begin to swap your given name with “mommy” before the baby even arrives; when people completely bypass you to get at your bundles of cuteness as quickly as possible; when casual conversation completely revolves around the welfare of your husband and children; when people start sharing comments suggesting that your life actually began with motherhood: “Now, now you know what life and love is all about.”

Can I just stand up to all this well-intended nonsense?

Being a mother is wonderful, but it doesn’t make you more human than you were before. Hear me: it doesn’t make you more capable of love than you were before. Because love comes from God, and that means every one of his children (mother or not) has equal access to both experience and extend God’s love. That’s because God designed you to be a life-receiver before you ever became a life-giver. He cares about who you are becoming, not just who your children are becoming. If you slip away from conscious connection to His love for you as His bride, daughter, and friend, mothering becomes overwhelming, dull, and discouraging really quick (I know).

The love we have for our kids is the fiercest kind of natural affection. But true love is SUPERnatural; we need true love to empower our affection, otherwise we become the source of our affection battery, and our mom affection batteries do fritz — don’t they — but we can’t afford for them to fritz, right? So what do we do? We start sucking the life out of our relational attachments to try and get more juice back in our natural affection batteries, so we can pour it back into our relationships, but the cycle never leads back to life and true love. It leads to disappointment and desperate dissatisfaction (again, I know all about it.)

So what does all that boil down to?

How are you receiving life?

How are you welcoming the love God and others have for you?

If your answer is “I don’t know,” well, what a beautiful invitation to open! Start looking for little moments of life and love coming your way, and nourish them the same way you nourish life and love in your children. And if you feel life and love aren’t coming your way, take just a teeny step toward Him, and you’re facing life and love itself.

WHAT IS HAPPENING? BEWARE THE DEATH DECOY!

If you also happened to grow up in a circle that elevates motherhood to sainthood, in an effort to offset its devaluation elsewhere, you’ll hopefully understand what I’m about to say.

Sainthood is usually accompanied by martyrdom, literal or figurative. If your motherhood feels like relentless martyrdom, the wrong parts of you are dying.

While there is plenty of death-TO-self in motherhood, don’t confuse it with death-OF-self. To make a distinction we have to know what we mean by self, right? We always have two selves in play: flesh (false self) and spirit (true self).

God the Father made you in His image, and although sin corrupts, it could not destroy His own image in you. You are hard-wired for abundant life, and that’s exactly what Jesus is bringing you. There is plenty of sin to come to light, but your imagination, and creativity, and gifts and abilities, are not sin and are not useless. They are very good, because you are good in God. And God gives you great permissions to practice and share with Him and others all of who you are.

True death of false self (flesh), always results in more life in our true selves (spirit). 

God does not intend for your spirit to be crushed alongside sin, so if “death to self” in your mothering is leaving you fearful instead of free, and paralysed instead of purposeful, it’s man-made religion whispering in your ear, not the true Lord Jesus.

 TEMP PLACEMENT: PREPARE FOR THE END AT THE BEGINNINGjenna-norman-292397

We are eternal beings on temporary assignment with eternal beings.

Erich Fromm says it well, I think:

“The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent.”

Motherhood is not a permanent place for me, even though part of me refuses to even “go there” emotionally. My boys are already taking baby steps further away from me, as quick as they can. Because living always means growing, doesn’t it?

They will always be my heart beating outside my body, but I will not always be their everything.

You know what comforts me with that pending heartbreak looming in the distance and keeps me from making them the perfect little love gods of my mama heart?

God doesn’t love children more than adults.  

Wait, what?! What in the world? How does that have anything to do with anything?

Well, we love puppies more than dogs, and kittens more than cats, don’t we? At least I do! Babies are precious and trusting, children are filled with light and wonder. We can still trace innocence and generosity in them, before the broken world and cursed sin-seeds begin to really entangle them, mandating bloody redemption and restoration.

Do you think God loves children more than mothers? I did. I didn’t know I did. Until I did. Do you think he sacrifices you, for them? He sacrificed Himself for you.  

To accept my motherly responsibilities as a temporary investment with eternal dividends, I need to believe God will love my boys as young men just as much as He loves them now. And to believe that, I first must accept that He didn’t stop loving me, or withdraw from me, or resent me for growing up broken.

The crux is this: we can only pursue things outside mothering when we know our children are safe. And we can only know that when we trust that they are safe in Him. We can only incrementally release them from a place of freedom. And we can only give freedom that we’ve first received.

What does it look like to walk in that freedom? It’s beginning to look like me living out of my true self while engaging my little lovelies. To be honest, I don’t know exactly what will begin to form and take shape as I continue to pursue personal growth and joy opportunities in my life, but I am learning that I have so much more internal space and permission to be me and a mom, than I ever knew.

So let’s be mothers and babes growing up together in love, shall we?


lydia_vogt_200pxLydia Vogt is a Kansas City native living in Northern Virginia with her husband and two little boys. She is a Jesus-loving former HR professional who has been writing for the joy of it since she could hold a pencil. Lydia is a Compassionate Entrepreneur with Trades of Hope, a self-professed second-hand interior decorator, and a sorry-not-sorry Pinterest party planner. You can find her arranging words about life and love on her blog: BeforeTheAfterBlog

Follow along on Instagram and Facebook to see more.

Why Inspiration Matters

IMG_20171022_221813_524.jpgOnce a week, Darren takes the kids out of the house so I can sit and write. It’s magic and I’m so thankful for his help. Occasionally though, this doesn’t work out and if I want to write, I find myself doing so in all the moments I can find in between—like right now.

The house is quiet for a few more minutes before my son wakes and starts his day like a hurricane. He’s equal parts motion and noise so any activity requiring concentration or quiet must be done during the precious early morning hours before he wakes or while he naps in the afternoon (both assuming his sister is cooperating at the same time 😉 ).

Sometimes though, when the house is quiet and I have these valuable minutes to get things done, I feel a little guilty using the time to write a blog. I could be doing many other things, like pulling my life together for instance.

Is this a waste? Am I being selfish? Avoiding more pressing responsibilities? All of these are questions I’ve grappled with while hiding away with the laptop to tap out words. Words I write mostly for myself and will share with only a handful of people. Certainly I’m not changing the world over here so am I right to use my time in this way?

The answer and release of guilt I needed came for me after a few weeks of that evening alone I mentioned. I found that having a few hours to myself to do something I love refreshed me and filled my heart and mind with new inspiration. I’ve found too that being refreshed and inspired helps me be a better wife, mom, and homemaker.

Why?

Because burnout is no joke and can happen fast when all day every day you’re busy meeting the needs of other people (be it as a mother, teacher, doctor—whatever your vocation and calling may be). While our lives certainly shouldn’t be lived fully and exclusively unto ourselves—we are called to service and sacrifice without question. We also shouldn’t be so busy taking care of everyone else that we completely minimize the need for reasonable self-care.

I think we all know this, really. But I’m here to argue that finding and doing whatever it is that sets your heart on fire and fills your mind with energy and excitement for the next thing is a worthwhile endeavor and not a selfish waste of time.

I shared the picture of my daughter asleep in my lap, computer open, because this is often what writing looks like for me in this season. I write in the scrappy moments in between all the living and doing. And every word I tap out here gives me a little fresh energy and excitement to invest back into my family. My people are my top priority but I’m a better person for them when I take care of myself as well.

For me, this looks like getting up early so I can start my day slowly and quietly with a cup of coffee and my Bible. This gives me a minute to collect myself and prepare my heart before the day is underway. I get dressed in real clothes and put some mascara on because as tempting as yoga pants all day may be, they really don’t help my self-esteem ;). And as I said before, I try once a week to have a few uninterrupted hours to write and create.

Creativity is really so instrumental in raising children and running a home. Have you ever considered how often you, as a wife and mom in particular, use creativity day-to-day with your kids and in your home? In the meals you serve, the way you decorate, how you dress yourself and your family, the projects you do around the yard, house and with your kids—all of these are creative expressions of yourself—of what inspires you and makes you tick. So how worthy an investment then is the time you steal away to nurture your own heart, mind, and creativity? You’re helping yourself for sure but the dividends get invested right back into your home and family too.

Trust me, your family enjoys a happy, healthy wife and momma a whole lot more than a depleted one—I should know because I’ve been both and the difference I see in my family is staggering.

So if you’re struggling with guilt over making time for yourself, feel creative pursuits are a waste when there’s so much else to do, or just feel burnt-out and depleted in general, I hope you will give yourself permission to pursue something you love. This will look different for everyone—for me it’s this little corner of the internet where I can tap my heart onto the page once a week and connect with like-minds. What is it for you?

I can tell you for sure that sitting here writing and having some time alone to think is the fuel that powers so many of my other creative outlets. Typically by the time Darren leaves with the kids, I have made several threats about never having any more children and burning the house down. By the time he gets back, I’m ready to try again with the whole wife and momma things for another week at least 😉

Go do it. Get a cup of coffee. Give your babies to someone else for a minute and find that inner whatever that sets your heart on fire ❤

On Being an Angry Mom

I’m soft-spoken, reserved, shy even. I’ve never thought of myself as an angry person or someone who yells. But motherhood has a way of breaking down all your walls. Both the walls you build around yourself with other people and the walls you build up inside to hide the things you’d rather not face.

My first year as a mother was really good—hard on the outside with difficult circumstances in life, but good on the inside with quiet days spent at home with my son. I didn’t understand then what all the fuss was about motherhood being so hard. Sure, I was tired. Sometimes I didn’t know what to do when he cried and I was very lonely staying home after leaving my job. But motherhood itself seemed pretty magical. I spent that first year with my son almost constantly in my arms or asleep on my chest and I loved it.IMG_20141112_195626Then he turned one and decided he was the Roman Emperor. He had always been busy but now he was defiant too. No problem though, I knew what to do—I had heard all about it and read all the books so I was all set, right? Hahahah. Tears. No.

I did all the things I was told and still he disobeyed and defied me. I didn’t yell at him then because he was just one and still basically a baby. Everything would straighten out once he was a little older and understood who was really in charge.

Then he turned two, terrible, TERRIBLE two. This is the part where I started yelling, where I exhausted all the stuff I “knew,” and started hating being a mom. I remember more than once when he sat on the floor and cried and I sat on the floor and cried with him. I didn’t understand. I had done everything I’d been told to do and still it felt like everything was falling apart.

That year started to break me down but eventually we made some headway with him and the terrible two’s seemed to be officially behind us. So I decided to have another baby.

He turned three. I brought his sister home. And everything went to hell in a hand-basket. I started yelling again, more than ever, actually. He pushed me harder than ever before and I pushed back every bit as stubborn as he is—determined to establish my authority and let him know who was in charge.

I knew having another baby would shake things up and be hard. I never imagined I would sink so fast or so deep in not only frustration, but FEAR. Fear that I actually had no idea what I was doing and that my children were going to grow up hating both me and God.IMG_20171107_090720_562.jpgThese last four months since I had my daughter have been hard. But the feeling of total loss and helplessness is actually what helped me see my true need and the source of my true help. A few things happened to help me leave anger and yelling behind:

I Prayed for Wisdom

Not just a quick, trite prayer for wisdom in general but a humbled, “God, I’m lost. I can’t do this. Please help me before it’s too late” kind of prayer. I’m not even sure if I actually expected God to hear and answer me or if it was just a desperate plea from the bottom but God did enter in and respond.

I Opened my Bible

Not just here and there when I had the time as I have off and on all my life. But every day with a heart searching and seeking wisdom and direction from the heart of God.

I Asked for Help

I got over myself a little and reached out to some moms I look up to and started asking for help and ideas on what I was dealing with.

I Read and Read

It’s amazing when you’re seeking wisdom how you realize how many resources are actually available. I started reading books recommended to me and listening to podcasts and sermons from people who have gone before me or are right in the trenches with me and can offer wisdom and insight into what felt like a hopeless situation.

I Learned to Deal a Different Way

One of the things that helped me the most was this post by Allie Casazza. So much of what she said resonated with me and helped me stop and think about why anger and yelling had become my knee-jerk reaction to stress and frustration. She gave me pause and helped me understand that learning to react differently actually takes practice and a very conscious choice every time I’d normally lash out in anger.

She also helped me understand that trying to gain control and demand respect by yelling was completely counter-productive. Yelling only shows my children how out of control I am of myself. Demonstrating unkindness and disrespect through raised voices and angry words is never going to produce kindness and respect in my children.

For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:20 (ESV).

I Began to Grasp How Dangerous Anger Is

This podcast by John Piper and the Scripture he shares was a big help to me in realizing that anger isn’t just a “struggle” or a “weakness”—it’s deadly serious. Not only is it sinful to lash out in anger, but if unchecked, it could destroy my marriage, home, or relationship with my children.

I Saw the Difference in my Family

Not that I master this perfectly all the time even still, but the difference in my relationship with my son in particular, and my family overall, is massively different when I leave anger and yelling out of things and deal with issues in a controlled, loving manner. Wild and busy as he may be, my son has a soft heart and my anger and yelling did nothing but shut him down and teach him to react with plenty of anger and yelling of his own.

I Saw the Heart of God

A passage I often run over in my mind is Lamentations 3:22-23

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (ESV).

His mercies are new every morning—are mine? I have a patient, loving, forgiving God who greets me with new mercy for every single day yet how easily I forget to be merciful with the people I love most.

The heart of God towards me demands a loving, controlled response from me towards the people he’s so graciously placed in my life—including my children.


This was a hard post to write. I thought several times about sharing something else today instead but my heart and mind kept coming back to this not so pretty topic. I don’t like to admit I’ve lost my temper or especially that I’ve yelled at people I love. But I share all this to offer hope to anyone else, mom or otherwise, who’s struggling as well. It’s easy to feel alone in this. No one wants to admit they freak out, lose control, and take anger and frustration out on other people, especially our own children.

But trust me, you aren’t alone. And there’s hope.

One thing I’m learning every day as a mom is if God requires something of me, he also enables me to do it. If I’m expected to deal with the stress and frustration of raising children without anger, then God will give me what I need to do that. I may need to humble myself first. I may need to slow down, dig deeper, or ask for help—but if I’m required, I’m also enabled.

While I don’t like what I found in my heart as a mother, I’m thankful it was brought into the light because only there could it really be dealt with and rooted out. God’s not through with us yet. Don’t lose hope in the struggle.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 (ESV).


And if you’re looking for resources to help, the following are some of the best books I’ve read on parenting (no affiliate links, just helpful resources). And if you have any recommendations, I’m always looking for good books and podcasts so feel free to leave those in the comments as well.

Boundaries with Kids by Cloud and Townsend

Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Hubbard

Love Lives Here by Maria Goff and Love Does by Bob Goff (not parenting books but deeply influenced my perspective on living out love in our home in both words and actions).

Duties of Parents by J.C. Ryle

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (a strange recommendation for parenting books, I know. But this book helped me think through the myriad of ways Satan would like to hinder God’s good work in my heart, home, and family and I have thought of it often when struggling through hard days as a mom and homemaker).

❤ ❤ ❤

 

A Legacy of Love

I’m at the stage of life where you drink all the coffees and read all the parenting books. Parenting books are great except they all say different stuff.

Lately, instead of reading all the books, I’ve been watching all the parents. Again, every family is different but I’ve noticed something: The families I admire the most and see the most hope and happiness in are the ones brimming with love. They may have different rules, live in different cultures, go to different types of churches, educate their children differently—on and on. But they have love in common.

So what is love, exactly, beyond a feeling or a nice word?

I opened my Bible to the “love chapter”— 1 Corinthians 13 — and read through the detailed description for a better idea. After explaining how you can do everything else right and have all the ability in the world but if you don’t have love, it will count for nothing, Paul goes on to detail what love is action by action.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.

As for prophesies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (italics mine). 1 Cor. 13

Just about every word in this passage convicts me. When I look at our home and my mothering in particular, I see how poorly I live out the actions of love in our family. This is not meant to heap on mom guilt when it’s already so easy to feel like we’re failing and can’t keep up with all that’s required of us. But it does give me pause to think over how often I’m patient or kind with the people I’m with the most.

20626962_10154761931351517_5291673004939242159_oAfter praying over this passage and asking God to specifically help me live out love in my home, I noticed all the more how often love is the last place I go with my husband and children.

When love asks me to be patient, I am so often impatient with the dawdling and explanations of my three-year old.

When love asks me to be kind, I catch myself being sharp in moments of frustration and fatigue.

When love says not to envy or boast, I find myself scrolling through social media wondering why everyone else is doing a better job and having more success than me.

When love is not rude, I’m biting with my words and attitude toward my husband and kids after a long or disappointing day.

Love doesn’t insist on its own way but how often do I, either openly or overtly through quiet manipulation?

Love bears, believes, hopes, endures and never ends. It’s as if Paul is saying, if you just do first what love requires of you, you will later see the fruit in that love never ending in your heart and home.

All of this challenged me, as I said. But what really caught my attention was the latter part of the passage where Paul talks about all these other impressive things eventually passing away—the knowledge and wisdom of the day (uh parenting books for instance 😉 )—these things are only limited, partial knowledge that will eventually fade in light of the full knowledge of eternity. They’re helpful, but they’re not necessarily the most important thing.

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What will last though, is love—the greatest of all these things. Greater than knowledge, greater than ability, love will be the lasting legacy.

I want to be careful not to rip the passage out of context and away from Paul’s intended purpose but I thought what he said about thinking like a child was so helpful too because I forget sometimes that my three-year old is just that, three years old—like he’s been alive for only three years and sometimes I expect so much of him. Perfect, immediate obedience. A level of calm and self-control that probably no three-year old boy has ever had. Understanding of big concepts and words that are still quite new to him—respect, responsibility, consequences.

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Yes, these are things he needs to know and learn but he’s a child—he speaks, thinks, reasons, and acts like a child because he is one. Eventually, like Paul, he’ll become a man and give up childish ways. But until then, what he needs is love coupled with truth and correction

So what does this look like? It’s patience with a little boy’s energy and learning curb, it’s kindness and gentleness when I’m prone to lose my temper and ere on severity. It’s words that build up and instruct when I’m tempted to be sarcastic and rude. It’s being steady and self-controlled when I’m prone to react in the moment and let my emotion and frustration rule. It’s bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring whatever life may bring to our home and family because if we do—love never fails. Love wins. Love brings the child in his childish ways into the man who puts childish ways behind him. All the rules and frustration in the world can’t produce that and all the other knowledge I might gain along the way is partial and fleeting in light of love and the eternal imprint love leaves on a heart, home, and family.

The greatest of these is love. I see it in the families and people I look up to and I see it laid out so clearly in Scripture—love—above all method and knowledge, let our homes be built on love for this is the one thing that will not fail in the hearts of our children and families.

Because He Loves Us

IMG_20170917_151032_292.jpgI look at my daughter and I’m reminded anew that God really does love me. She’s an answer to prayer, right down to her mop of black hair. I’ve always wanted a dark-haired baby girl. The dark hair didn’t really matter, I knew that, but I thought it would be so cute.

When I found out with my first pregnancy that I was expecting a boy, I had a really hard time with it. God changed my heart after I held my son and I wouldn’t trade him for any other child in the world. He’s my buddy and I’m so thankful for the unexpected gift he has been to me. But still, when I found out I was pregnant again, I so wanted a daughter. I grew up with all boys and have always hoped for a bit of girly fun in having a daughter of my own.

When we went for the ultrasound to find out the gender of our second baby, I waited with nervous excitement telling myself it would be fine either way and willing myself not to be disappointed if we did, in fact, get another son. All through the ultrasound, the technician used gender-neutral terms, “it,” “the baby.” But just once she slipped up and said, “his foot.”

His foot. My heart sank. So it was another boy after all. I was glad she had slipped up, actually—that gave me a minute to get my head around it and move past the initial disappointment before she made the big announcement.

Soon, the lead technician came in and asked if we were ready to hear the gender. Yes. Tell me it’s a boy, I thought. But instead she said, “it’s a girl!” and Darren and I both practically yelled at the poor girl, “it is?!?!?”

My heart was so full. I went from being frustrated trying to talk myself into the idea of another boy to being so grateful and excited that I was getting my girl after all.

My girl.IMG_20171022_221449_326.jpgFast forward to her birth several months later…it felt like about 14 months later with her being so late 😉 I was induced and sat there nervously waiting to do the hard work of bringing my little baby into the world. Roman’s birth had been so hard and left me so uncertain about ever delivering again. But there’s no going back, only knowing what you must do to hold that precious baby in your arms.

I put my earbuds in and fixed my mind on Ed Sheeran’s smooth voice in my ears. Soon though, even Ed couldn’t talk me off the ledge of that pain and I knew it was time to bring my daughter into the world.

I pushed for 7 minutes, I think, and then this screaming, dark-haired baby girl was placed in my arms and she had so  m u c h  hair!

IMG_20171003_121438_849.jpgEvery time I run my hand through that head of hair or dress her in another girly little outfit, I’m reminded of the very specific gift she is. In giving her to me, dark hair and all, I’m reminded how God delights to answer both our very specific prayers and the deep desires of our heart.

Does this mean God gives us everything we want right when we want it? No, of course not. I had to wait for her and God’s timing. And there are other desires and prayers that haven’t yet been granted and may never be.

I want to be careful because I have dear friends who are trying for babies or praying for a spouse or working through other difficult circumstances and I by no means intend to say that if God just loves you enough or in a special sort of way, then he’ll grant all the desires of your heart right now. This side of heaven, our hearts will always be broken to some degree about something.

God is complex, as is each of our individual relationships with him. And we often learn as much or more in the waiting and the “no’s” as we do in the ‘yes'” and the gifts. So while it’s good to stop and consider his blessings and the ways he chooses to show love to each of us personally and individually, it’s also important to remember his love in the no’s and the waiting. Both are from God and both are able to draw us to him if we allow it.

Today, I’ll kiss my daughter’s chubby little cheeks and thank God for her yet again. I hope you too, will take the opportunity to consider how God is showing his very personal love to you. And if you’re discouraged in the waiting, take that to him as well. Tell him your hurts and see what he will do even in the aching, broken parts of your story ❤

Life in the Middle

Fall is slipping through our fingers as October, in all her orange and golden glory, is coming to an end. I watch the seasons pass in the field across from our house. A hill of evergreens is met at the bottom by maples, birch, and oak—each presently showing off in orange, red, or yellow with just a few green leaves left here and there.

Each morning, I slip downstairs early and open the dinning room curtains. I sit at the table with espresso and my Bible and watch the fog lift in feathery strings of magic up out of the lowlands before mingling in wispy bands with all those colorful trees.

I’m having trouble comprehending how it can almost be November, how so soon we’ll be grabbing coats and boots before stepping outside in what right now is absolutely perfect weather.

Having a baby warps time a little bit, I think. The sleepless nights and relentless days bleed one into another and for a girl who loves her day planner, I’ve been surprised at how often I’ve had to ask what day it is or stop and think before I know for sure what month we’re in. Time both flies and trudges on achingly slow. Somehow, my baby is three months old and I’m both happy at watching her grow and heartbroken by the same.

20170926_213610.gifTime is a trickster, making us feel we’ve got all of it we need and might even just be stuck in the same place forever yet all the while slipping through our fingers and only being realized in the fallen leaves at our feet after months have gone by.

Darren and I sat talking the other night, a rare feat these days. Our conversation centered around the season of life we’re in, where so much seems out of reach and down the road. We are very much in the middle.

In the middle of sleepless nights and long days with little ones who need us endlessly. And though our children absolutely fill our hearts to overflowing, my gosh, I could use a nap too.

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IMG_20171007_135249_637.jpgWe’re in the middle of jobs and business plans that are neither just beginning nor anywhere near done. We’re past the initial excitement and miles from the finish line.

We’re in the middle of our marriage—being neither newlyweds nor all that far down the road of our relationship at nine yearsIMG_20170916_165423_400.jpgIn the middle (though hopefully closer to the end) of remodeling our house with a zillion big and little projects still needing to be done.

We’re working and planning and moving forward day by day by day. But the years and miles stretch out before us and it’s easy to get lost and discouraged here in the middle. I find myself wanting to start a new venture or take a big trip—just to be at the beginning of something exciting again instead of stuck halfway through all the work that eventually brings those exciting beginnings to a fruitful end. IMG_20171022_221723_349.jpgGod is teaching me a lot about my own character right now, showing me the areas in need of refinement. When I’m stuck with the hard work of doing something I began, will I have the patience, discipline, and contentment to keep plugging away day after day? Or will I quit because I’m bored and tired and it’s really, really hard here in the middle where the dust likes to settle and Satan likes to whisper so loudly in our ears about what could be or could have been if I’d just stopping wasting my time on the same old drudgery?

Fortunately, God whispers too. He whispers to my heart through his word and his people that there is a harvest to be gathered at the end of this journey if I just keep going, if I just keeping doing the same hard task over and over again. You don’t stay happily married for fifty years by walking away when the excitement grows thin. You don’t successfully raise children by giving up on lovingly disciplining and instructing them when you’re only half-way there. You have to keep going. You have to keep working all the way to the end to reap the harvest you sowed so many years ago.  IMG_20170919_132033_449.jpgSo I’m learning to endure. To keep getting up early each morning with hope that this day, so very much like the day before with all the same work needing to be done, will build slowly but faithfully into something worth having. My marriage is worth working for, as are my children, my home, and our ambitions and endeavors—all these things are worth the slow, faithful work of beginning again each day with the belief that what I do counts and will be blessed by the Lord if I stay faithful to the very end.

I hope you will be encouraged to believe and live the same. Let’s not give up in the hardness of the middle.

 

 

 

On Jesus and Motherhood

I open the dining room curtains to a pink dawn and crisp pre-fall morning. Espresso simmers on the stove top—admittedly the only thing that gets me out of bed some mornings. Laptop and coffee in hand, I slip away into the guest room hoping to eek out a few minutes of writing before my babies wake up.

I think about Jesus, His twelve disciples, motherhood, and social media—a mixed bag of old and new, of timeless truths, and human nature.

The world we live in today begs for attention and thrives on the affirmation of virtual likes, comments, and shares. Likely, people have always looked for this sort of approval in one medium or another regardless of the day in which they lived. But this need for notice and approval seems so very quantifiable today with actual numbers of “followers” and thumbs up to tell you just how popular (or unpopular) and noticed (or unnoticed) you really are. IMG_20170716_093307_819I follow a lot of moms on Instagram and read many a word written by moms of littles just like me. But they aren’t really like me at all, are they? Most of them run their own creative business on the side, are publishing books, homeschool half a dozen children or more, pull the weight of a public ministry, or simply rock life as a domestic diva with a perfectly curated home and gourmet meals on the table. That’s not exactly where I’m at, no not really.

These women challenge and encourage me with their lives and words—that’s why I follow them. But who am I kidding if I don’t admit how small I feel in comparison as I just keep my head above water and am thrilled if I post a few words here each week.

The numbers tell me I’m not like them, that I’m not seen or heard, that in a world screaming for attention, I am silent and invisible, unseen and unheard.IMG_20170808_222639_248 This is where Jesus comes in.

I get stuck in my own head sometimes. Stuck filling my heart with lies instead of truth. I go to social media and try to quantify my purpose and meaning with little thumbs up and numbers of followers. But then I’m reminded, Jesus only had twelve. Twelve “followers”—the small group of men he invested in deeply with his time and words and the few he would send out to further the story he had to tell. Just twelve men.

I look at my life, my home, my husband and two children. It doesn’t seem like much sometimes, my impact in this life and world. What difference can I make when all I can do is keep four people (including myself) alive each day? If I were just one of those women who does it all and is followed by many, then I could make an impact and do something lasting. Then the numbers would tell me I have purpose and influence. The numbers would tell me I matter.

But Jesus…

He invested for a short time in a few, not many. He had twelve followers and that was enough for him. Jesus saw the impact deep investment in a few could make on many. Those twelve men went on to turn the world upside down and spread the gospel message to numbers unquantifiable. My world is small but my people matter immensely. I’m learning to look beyond numbers and to invest deeply and completely in the people and work before me. This isn’t easy, feeling small and unseen in a world shouting for attention. But who I am and what I’m worth is defined by Christ and not my sphere of influence on social media. Social media is fine. Having tons of followers is fine. But numbers are only helpful when they point us to Christ and his work rather than our own fame and glory.

So help me, God, to see you in the people and work before me however small and invisible my life may sometimes feel.

Soli Dio gloria.

What My Children Will Remember

A newborn asleep in my arms. A three-year-old playing at my feet and talking, talking, talking endlessly as he does. I love my children but they aren’t always the best company. I crave conversation and connection—real words with actual grownups.

I feed my daughter with one hand and scroll ad infinitum through my phone with the other. Though I’m endlessly busy at home, I’m bored at the same time. My hands are busy but my heart and mind aren’t engaged in the tasks at hand—changing diapers, cleaning bottles, filling sippy cups, and stacking blocks. My phone becomes an outlet as my heart and mind seek connection with adults and stories beyond the day to day routine of raising a family.IMG_20170822_104305_617But already, little as they are, my children notice my distraction and lack of engagement with their own words and activities. I look away from my phone to find my daughter’s eyes locked on me and I wonder what I’ve missed during this first month of her life while my eyes lingered a little too long and longingly at pretty pictures on Instagram. My son asks a million questions and eventually gets frustrated at my obviously not listening grunts and mmm hmms to his words and stories. He wants me to look up at him. He wants me to get down on the floor and play. He wants me to see him and not just what’s happening on my phone.IMG_20170717_145445_984It’s hard, this busy boredom. This always having more to do and needs to meet than I can possibly manage and yet being lonely and mentally stagnant all the while my hands are full and my feet are moving.

Sometimes I wonder what my children will remember about me when they think back to childhood. What will stand out in their mind from our days together here at home? Will they remember me loving on them and the games we played? Will they hold onto climbing into my lap with a book and reading a story together or the sunny days outside playing in the yard and dirt? Or will they mostly remember me on my phone, looking down and muttering delayed and distracted responses to their words and questions?IMG_20170717_092642_395I think about the things I want my children to love—being outside, reading, exploring, imagining and telling stories. And then I wonder how well they’re learning such things from my living example. How often do I go outside or pick up a book instead of my phone? How often do I explore or tell them a story rather than turning on Netflix for some easy entertainment?

I hate the answer. I’m embarrassed by the truth.

My children are watching, learning, and becoming and there’s no going back on the time already spent. I know I can (and must) do better so I started setting my phone down and picking a book up instead. How I’ve forgotten the pleasure of reading. The words of C.S Lewis pour off the page and I’m mesmerized by his words. My son sees me reading and wants to know what the words say so I read out loud. He brings me story books and we sit and read together.IMG_20170717_145652_951Outside on the porch, I feel the breeze swirling around me, baby snuggled against my chest. My son digs in the dirt, still talking endlessly. I can hear the birds, feel the warmth of sunshine on my skin. Since when was my own backyard so magical, peaceful, and quiet? I’d forgotten how quiet life actually is when you turn off the noise—the phone notifications, the TV, the endless searching for entertainment.

It’s hard sometimes, spending most of my time with little people who can barely communicate when I long for meaningful conversation and connection. But I think I’m starting to realize my children long for those things too—the conversation and connection—and they long for it with me. My son has stories to tell, boy does he. My daughter studies my face, eyes locked on me regardless of whether my gaze is on her or my phone.

These are the days they’ll remember and how they remember them is very much up to me and the example I set.