Things Hoped for but Not Seen

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

Time also flies when you are having no fun at all. I have had no idea what to say here for the past month, so I have said nothing at all. I believe I am rather transparent about my life and it’s challenges, but I also have a pretty consistent pattern of clamming up when life gets really tough. I go to my closest friends in those times, but I am not comfortable letting loose with the deepest hurt and pain of life as it is happening. I’m not sure that a lot of people are, really.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the past month because I could write for much longer than anyone wants to read. One of the things I don’t like to admit about having a strong-willed, difficult child is that it brings me face to face with my own shortcomings in a hurry. I say it regularly, but I am so glad Isabella was born first. I heard on a Dr. James Dobson podcast series recently that many parents have an easy first child, convincing themselves that they have this parenting thing down and can easily handle another one. Number two comes along and blows them away with a much different, stronger personality that challenges them at every turn.

This is not how it worked out for us, and I am very glad. It would have been VERY easy for me to convince myself I was an incredible mom if Jack was my first child. It was very difficult to have Isabella first in many ways, but I am so glad God chose to do it that way. I am much more grateful for Jack’s personality and easygoing nature than I would have been if I thought that’s how all children are. (Now that he is 2 1/2, he is picking up more of Isabella’s stubbornness than I hoped for, but it’s still completely different and not even close to what we have faced with his sister.)

The past month has been incredibly challenging for this mother, and pregnancy hormones are in full effect for me, which means I am easily frustrated, easily brought to tears, and overall feel much less equipped to deal with the challenges Isabella brings. I feel very inadequate for this task right now. I know we all have those moments, but when day after day adds up to week after week of incredibly challenging days with nary a break in the stress, it takes its toll on me. I have been thinking about some of the challenges she presents in her attitude and behavior and what God wants to teach me through it. Today I read a quote that summed it up so nicely (and painfully) for me:

“It is no abstract thing – the state of your heart is the state of your home. You cannot harbor resentment secretly toward your children and expect their hearts to be submissive and tender. Uou cannot be greedy with your time and expect them to share their toys. And perhaps most importantly, you cannot resist your opportunities to be corrected by God and expect them to receive correction from you.” (Rachel Jankovic, Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches)

This is what I have been thinking about this week, but she wrote it so eloquently. God wanted to speak to me about a few things, and I was not really interested in listening. A couple of days ago, I finally heard what He was saying and was convicted that I had been pretty much choosing not to slow down and listen to Him. Reading this today put two and two together for me.

I am well aware that much of my child’s behavior is her own choice. I am amazed that I can ask her to do something on different days, same tone of voice and the same situation, and she will respond in wildly different ways depending on…her. On Thursday, I said, “Isabella, please come here so I can finish doing your hair.” She screamed and called me a name. On Friday, I made the same statement, and her response included no screaming or names and she made her way to me after finishing something she was doing. I work hard at not blaming myself for the days when she has a terrible attitude, sassy mouth, and all that goes with it. But I would be lying if I did not admit that I fail at this all the time and deep down, something in me believes I should be able to “change” or fix her. This small passage was so helpful in that it helps me to realize what I can control, my own attitude and my own response to God, can in fact help set the right tone in my home to foster cooperation and obedience in my children. I can in no way control my child, but I can allow God to work in my heart and pray that He would do the same in hers.

It takes a lot of faith to believe in something you cannot see at all. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV) Some days I struggle with hope. Other days, I get a glimpse of something that gives me a surge of hope. Then there are the days when all hope is gone and I turn to despair. I first heard Matt Chandler speak of this passage with the great reminder that we don’t need hope if we can see something. Faith is only necessary when things are not able to be seen. What kind of faith does it take to believe God will provide when you hold the miracle check in your hands? It sure takes a lot of faith to trust in His provision when you hold all the bills and have no idea how they will get paid.

Isabella had a few great days this week. It was refreshing for this mama. I have struggled to enjoy the good when it feels like the bad is coming right around the corner. I am getting better. My focus in prayer is that God would change her heart and use her incredible personality for His glory. I don’t see the finish line yet. I have faith but no idea how He will get us there. I do know that He is faithful beyond what I can imagine.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

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Numbers don’t lie…or do they?

  Do you like quantity or quality?

Would you rather buy 15 pairs of sandals from Target or one pair of more expensive, high quality sandals? Do you like to have 30 different t-shirts hanging in your closet or a handful of higher quality, longer-lasting t-shirts? Do you buy the expensive, high quality cell phone case or go for 5 of the cheapest ones that look cute and break after a month or two?

I will admit that I tend to like quantity. I like choices, options, and if I buy one really nice thing, I am afraid I will get sick of it before it wears out and just be stuck with something I don’t like anymore. I have changed some over the years, but my closet is still filled with cheap clearance finds that were worn once. I have learned that if I am patient and wait until I find a shirt I really love, I will wear it more and feel better when I wear it, too.

There is something about numbers that can get to us before we realize it. Unfortunately, I think Facebook has made it much more obvious to me than it was in the past. In high school, it was pretty clear who the popular people were – those who were elected to student council, those who performed well in sports or other clubs, those who always had a crowded table surrounding them at lunch. High school ended 20 years ago for me, but Facebook and Instagram have kept the popularity contest alive (just in case you were missing it) I notice how many people like my pictures or how many visitors read my blog. And yes, if I’m going to be honest here, I wonder why that friend always gets so many likes or why this person has dozens of comments on everything she posts.

What is it about numbers that makes us feel important? Why do I think that if a larger number of people read my blog, then I will really make a difference? I don’t see this anywhere in the teachings of Jesus other than the fact that we are to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19 ESV)

Jesus spoke to large crowds, and He attracted lots of people wherever He went. But He also surrounded Himself with a few chosen disciples with whom He shared the days and nights of His ministry. When Jesus spoke the Sermon on the Mount, I don’t see any indication that those who speak to thousands of people regularly or who have large Facebook or blog followings will be blessed. I read blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the peacemakers (selections from Matthew 5 ESV).

Hmmm. Do the poor in spirit, the meek, and the peacemakers have a lot of Facebook followers? Some of them do. But when Jesus says that He came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45 ESV), He was encouraging His disciples to follow in His very footsteps.

I served in ministry positions in both a local church and a national denomination for 10 years before I became a mother. Even in the quest to share the gospel, the tendency to count the numbers is always there. Do we have more than we had at this event last year? Did our district give more money than we gave last year? Did our church rank higher this year than we have in the past? It is exciting to reach more people with the Good News of Jesus, and we can feel that our work and our efforts matter more if they reach an increasing number of people. The more people we reach, the more souls will be saved, right?

Except that saving souls is God’s business, not ours. We fulfill our calling with humility and grace, and we remember that God is the one who brings the fruit of salvation.

In mothering and parenting, we fulfill our calling with humility and grace, and we remember that God is the one who brings the fruit of salvation. Except in this case, our efforts are concentrated on a handful of souls into whom we pour our very lives. I honestly think this is one of the toughest underlying challenges of motherhood. This is the most concentrated effort of servanthood you or I will ever experience. No one else gets the full weight of our efforts in the way that our children do. Yet those efforts are seen by just a few and acknowledged sparingly. There are no large, ever increasing numbers to count and impress ourselves or others unless you want to count the hours spent scrubbing dishes, folding laundry, buying groceries, and changing diapers.

I am too easily impressed by numbers. I am too easily disappointed by the lack of them.

Jesus, please change my heart. Make me grateful for what you have given me and where you have placed me today. Encourage me to be faithful in my calling and responsible with the gifts you have given to me. Thank you for glimpses that remind me that I do make a difference, and that is why I am still here on this earth.

New Life (or, I am the worst pregnant woman in the history of ever)

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I am terrible at being pregnant. I feel like a zombie. An exhausted, hormone-riddled, angry, crying zombie. I think for 9 months that something has completely taken over my body and I will never be the same. Okay, so those things are both true. Due to my extreme hormonal surges and intense anger at, well, everything, I rarely sit around and bask in the joy of being a part of the creation of a new life.

A new life is growing inside my body right now. I can hardly think that thought without simultaneously being completely amazed and terrified. I do not spend a lot of time considering what an absolute miracle this is. It is hard to believe that God would choose to use me to be a part of the creation of an entirely new life, one with a heart and soul and an eternity. As I write this, I feel her kicking me and think about how much she is growing right now. I wonder why I am tired all the time, and I miss having more energy. I have to regularly remind myself that growing new life is hard, hard work. Even though no one can see the work, that doesn’t diminish its value. Others may not know or remember what it feels like to carry a child inside your body, so I have to be wise enough to set my own boundaries and to give myself permission to rest as needed. I am 23 weeks pregnant, and the next 17 weeks will be gone before I know it. I will not be a pregnant or a nursing mom forever, so I do my best to give myself grace and compassion in these short months.

Now that I have a 2 year old and a 5 year old, I don’t get to spend a lot of time contemplating this new sweet baby and what she will be like. When I do consider that I will soon be the mother of three children under the age of 6, I remember that many, many mothers have gone before me in this three-child land. If they can manage it, I certainly can, too! My mom had three pre-school aged children for a full two years! I am looking at about two weeks between the time the baby is born and Isabella goes to kindergarten. I am certainly planning on awarding my mom some sort of medal for her heroic efforts to keep herself and us three girls alive during those years.

Even as I have these thoughts on pregnancy, it breaks my heart to have very close friends who cannot and will never have this experience of carrying a baby. I wish I could change this for them, I somehow wish I could share it with them. One of my dearest friends told me that she recognizes God gives each of us a different path with different struggles to work through, and she didn’t want me to feel inhibited or worried about sharing my struggles in motherhood with her just because she is not in that position right now. Her wisdom really blessed me and challenged me to remember that perspective when jealousy wants to get the better of me.

My challenge for the next 17 weeks is to keep a perspective on pregnancy and the things I will miss when it is over. Pregnancy is interesting because experiencing it for the third time gives me a perspective that I did not have the first time. I know that parenting multiple children is the same way, and I am really grateful for the opportunity to learn from my mistakes and actually get another chance at it.

So if I look mad or weary when you see me, I am. I really, really am. But the end result will be worth it.

In the Silence

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I am a pretty firm believer that you don’t wake a sleeping baby. I feel like I am in the minority here, but I rarely check on my children while they are sleeping. I have no desire to accidentally wake a child from peaceful slumber, and I certainly need the quiet time myself, so I have chosen to just stay out.

Matt and I listened to a podcast by Dr. James Dobson a few years ago regarding strong-willed children, and a lot of it stuck with me. I have gone back to it on some of my really difficult days. Some of the mothers told great stories about their strong-willed children that reminded me I am not alone. I don’t know if it was that podcast or another, but I believe one of the moms talked about going in after her daughter was in bed and praying over her. That came back to me a few months ago, and I decided to try it with Isabella as I can use all the help I can get with her.

I was amazed at how much easier it was to speak words of prayer over her when she is in her peaceful sleeping state. The frustrations of the day and even the impatience of bedtime routines have faded, and I love to look at her sweet face as she slumbers. It helps me to remember that her obstinate behavior throughout the day is only a part of who she is. The truth is, most of the time I just stare at her and pray, “Help me, help me, help me.” I love to read and listen to experts on parenting and children, but many days I still feel I am doing nothing right and this stage of constant discipline and correction will never end.

Experts don’t give me hope. Jesus gives me hope. He reminds me to look hard for the blessings in each day, and over and over I am reminded that this time is short. She will not be a small, slumbering pre-schooler for much longer. Every once in a while I get a tiny glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. She will demonstrate that she is learning so much about Jesus and the Bible, and my heart swells with the knowledge that things are sinking into her mind that will impact her soul.

I will add that I do not do this with Jack. My two children are so different, and I have many moments throughout the day in which I connect with Jack and feel close to him. Those times are few and far between with Isabella. She is and has always been a much more independent child who rarely wants to cuddle or have a quiet moment with me. I am grateful I can take those moments even when she is sleeping and be encouraged by them.

I press on, day after day, and those small glimpses certainly give me the fuel I need to keep going. Kneeling beside Isabella’s bed, looking at her sweet face, I am reminded whose child she is and how grateful I am that He gave her to me.

It’s the Thought That Counts

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Philemon 1:4 “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers.” (ESV)

As a woman, I am used to a large number of thoughts passing through my brain every day, many at the same time. As a mom, it has risen to a frenzied level. I no longer sit at a desk every day, and I do not currently have a good way of organizing my life or thoughts at this stage. So I hold a lot in my head, but that doesn’t mean I get a lot done.

When I was single, I spent a good amount of time writing encouraging cards to friends and family. I really enjoyed it, and it was so fulfilling to know that I was used by God to bring encouragement to someone in a moment of need. I remember a few times when I woke up in the middle of the night with a specific encouraging word for a friend. When I married my husband, it was a shock to realize how my life changed. I am not sure it occurred to me that he would be there all. the. time. At the same time, I really wanted to be with him, and that limited the amount of time I had to spend on writing cards like I previously loved to do.

Isabella joined our world, and I have barely had a chance to look back. I still spend a good amount of time thinking about the people I love. I have been incredibly blessed with a lot of friends who are scattered across the country, serving in big and small places. I interact on Facebook, I see them on Instagram, but I think so often of the things I would say if I grabbed a pen and paper to write a special note.

I think of those who could use an encouraging word in a tough stage of life and what I would like to say to them (or what podcast I would recommend). 🙂

I think of a friend whose birthday is around the corner, and I promise myself I will get a card during nap time and write that note.

I think of someone who encouraged me and helped me through a tough season in life, and the words of thanks roll around in my brain.

I think of all the fun, thoughtful notes and surprises I used to do for my husband before kids, and I have more great ideas in between putting away laundry and getting glasses of ice water that I hope to work on soon.

I have heard “it’s the thought that counts.” I don’t really believe that the thought counts if no one knows about it. But I desperately hope they do. I hope the quick texts and short Facebook messages can convey the depth of feeling that is behind them. I do my best to not feel guilty about all the things I’m not doing at this stage of life. The list is long, but the time is so limited. One day my children will be more independent, and I will be able to finish a task without being interrupted or maybe write a card or two while they do homework.

If God has placed this longing in my heart, I know He will provide a way to fulfill it. In the meantime, I do the best I can with the time I have and trust that God can use others as well when my time and energy is limited.

If you have an unfulfilled longing as well, I pray today that God would encourage you in your season of life. He is not finished with you yet, and He still wants to use you today and in the future. Don’t let go of dreams He has placed in your heart. Some are big and others may be smaller, but His timing will bring His plan to pass.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV

Somebody Doesn’t Like Me

It’s true. It even pains me to see it in writing. Someone does not like me, and I am not even sure why. I could get into the whole story, but it’s really not the point. The best I can determine is that I left a place and this person was really unhappy that I did so. I knew that she was unhappy, but I could not change my mind and would not have, anyway. I tried a couple of times to make amends. I wrote a card and apologized for anything I may have done to hurt her. I saw her a few weeks later, and she ignored me completely.

This happened 12 years ago. With the advent of Facebook, I am reminded of her and our situation more regularly, and it hurts. I wish it did not hurt. I wish I could pretend it didn’t hurt or I don’t care, but love causes me to care. I loved her, and she loved me. God gave us an incredible relationship for the three years we shared, and I am so grateful for it.

This is a fallen world. When I think about it, there are a few people that I would prefer to never see again. It is my sin nature that does not desire restitution of relationship and would prefer to think about the hurt and pain they caused in my life. I convince myself that if i knew what I had done to hurt this woman, I would somehow be able to fix it and mend a relationship that meant a lot to me. But I am fully aware that is unlikely.  It’s just my way of wanting to be in control of the situation.

Sometimes I think I should be strong enough or confident enough to not care what she thinks. I have no desire to harden my heart, though, and choosing to love means there will be pain when someone I love hurts me. I am not perfect, and I am responsible to make amends when I have wronged someone. I choose to keep loving, to be thankful for those who love me back, and to trust that God will work in the hearts of those who have a hard time seeing past their pain.

Today I need to remember that Jesus loves me, and He is perfect. He does not reject me for my imperfections, and He has blessed me with many amazing people who love me as well. I cannot control those who do not like me. I am sure there are others who have not made their dislike quite as obvious to me, but I must be grateful for those who offer grace and forgiveness when I need them.

Matthew 6:14 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (ESV)

Colossians 3:12-14 “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one as a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (ESV)

Perfect Parenting…Is A Myth

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I decided to home school. Okay, I was not totally sold on the idea, but my husband and I were pretty sure that’s what we (I) should do for our children. As my oldest child turned 3 and 4, I looked into curriculums and considered the possibilities of what home schooling would mean for us. For me just as much as for her. Because my dear firstborn daughter is not a “typical” child. No, ma’am. God decided baptism by fire was the way to go for us, and we have been in the fire ever since day one. She is fiercely independent. Any time I tried to do a worksheet or a simple preschool assignment with her, she brushed me off as she chose to do her own thing. Her own way. It didn’t bother me as I wanted it to be fun, not work. I learned (fairly) early on to choose my battles. Worksheets are not one of my choices, so I didn’t worry about it. However, as school age neared, I became concerned that she would never be interested in “school” at home with me.

The picture of the perfect parent begins to form before parenthood is even a possibility. As a child, you take your own parents combined with those of your friends, other family members, and the idea of a “great mom” or a “great dad” starts to form in your mind. You get older, you gain experience watching other people’s children, and you decide how you want to be as a parent after observing them, their children, and their home.

Then, God willing, it happens. Ohmygosh, I’m going to be a mom. A MOM! This mythical creature I have watched, studied, loved, loathed, and dreamed about becoming is happening to me! And from the day you stare at that positive pregnancy test, the specifics of what it means to be a great mom dance around in your head night and day. You make decisions and form plans about breastfeeding, diapering, sleeping, working, vaccinating, and on and on.

When that glorious day comes and you finally meet your precious baby, you quickly learn that everything does not progress according to the plan. Some of your choices work out incredibly well, and others are painful, stressful, and not at all what you had hoped. These disappointments can cut deep, very close to the heart as every mom wants to do the very best for her child. I had made decisions about what was best, and some of them worked out very well and I was proud of it. Homeschooling…was starting to seem less than ideal for us.

In September of 2014, the year Isabella would have started preschool, we took a trip to Springfield. I took the kids there a couple times a year to spend time with my sisters and their kids. Between my two sisters and me, we had 7 kids under the age of 6 at that time. It was always chaos and very stressful for me, but I felt it was worth the sacrifice for my kids and their cousins to have time together.

This trip was no different than prior trips. There are many factors involved when you are out of town, sleeping in a different place, not on a regular routine, and not in your own home with your own stuff. I knew all these things were factors in Isabella’s behavior, but it was not helping me figure out what in the world to do with her. She was sassy, mean, screaming, yelling, acting crazy, and I felt control slipping from my fingers more each day. We had planned to leave on Monday morning. We visited my sister’s church on Sunday, and I was not going to send her in to a class with strangers based on her behavior that weekend. So I took the kids to the family room and tried to pay attention to the service (never possible in the family room).

Isabella flipped her lid a couple times, and that was the last straw for me. I took the kids back to the car, texted my mom that I was leaving, and I drove to get a Starbucks while and I cried and cried and cried. I had to go home, I could not handle one more day of this trip. My mom wanted to stay, but I begged her to go. We left, and as we drove home and talked, I decided that I needed to check into preschool. I was worn out, beaten up, and I needed to regroup. I felt bad that I needed preschool more than she did, but I felt that God was really leading me this direction, and that brought me peace. I was not concerned about her academically, but I wanted her to experience the structured environment and the opportunity to interact with other kids in a controlled setting. I needed the three hours, two days a week to get a little break. It’s true. I needed a break from my child. I know many of us mothers do not like to admit this, but it was (and is) very true for me. If I don’t get regular alone time and a chance to recharge, I am a wreck. With a child as demanding as Isabella, that break I need is vital to my mental and emotional health.

When I returned home, I called a local preschool. Within two weeks, Isabella had her first day of preschool. She was excited, and so was I. Within a couple of weeks after that, I knew without a doubt that we had made the right decision. She enjoyed it, I appreciated it. I was resistant to preschool because I myself did not attend preschool, and I turned out just fine. I knew she did not need it for the academics, but I learned that she needed it in a lot of other ways.

It is time to register Isabella for kindergarten, and that is another question with another set of circumstances to consider. I am due with our third child a mere two weeks before school begins. This time, we know that we can make a decision about kindergarten for Isabella without feeling “locked” into that decision for the remainder of her education. This is one year, and we will make the best decision we can for Isabella, her education, and for the whole family. I am thankful that God gave me a chance to reconsider my opposition to preschool this year.

Don’t be afraid to reconsider your parenting ideals. Pray and trust God to lead you to the right decision for each child.

Matthew 11:28-30 “‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.'” (ESV)