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.

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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)

Courage Part 2: In the Waiting

courage2aWait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14 ESV)

Moses. David. Joseph. Abraham. I could keep going, and maybe you could, too. The Bible contains in-depth, fascinating stories of waiting that simply amaze me. Forty years in a desert? If you have waited anything close to that, I want to hear about it. Many of you have experienced waiting for something valuable, something amazing. Something that was really worth the wait.

I am pregnant with my third child. I know how this 10 month wait works. It still is not easy, though. Every picture of a tiny newborn, the sweet sleeping eyes, the chubby cheeks…it just stirs up a longing to meet my own baby. Thankfully, my wait has an end date. I am certain I will not still be pregnant with this child in September. That certainty is really helpful on the exhausting, uncomfortable, frustrating days.

What about the wait of the adoptive parents? They fill out paperwork, look through pictures, and they can still wait for months or years in the hope of finding a child to call their own. The single man or woman who longs for marriage has no idea when or if the wait for love might end. I myself have not forgotten the loneliness of waiting for a simple date, waiting through college and then after college, watching while it happened for seemingly everyone else. The parents of a child who is lost in the world, stumbling in the dark with no apparent desire to serve God at all…their wait is excruciating no matter if it lasts for a few months or many, many years. The man who holds close the dream of a career he loves is in the meantime doing his best in work that feels unfulfilling and even meaningless.

David penned the above words from Psalm 27:14. David understood waiting with no idea of what the future might bring. I read David a Man of Passion and Destiny by Charles Swindoll many years ago. I own the entire Great Lives series, and this volume on David was the first one written. I came back to this book as I remembered the time David spent as a cave dweller, hiding from King Saul who wanted David dead. In chapter seven, “For Cave Dwellers Only,” Swindoll says the following:

“David has been brought to the place where God can truly begin to shape him and use him. When the sovereign God brings us to nothing, it is to reroute our lives, not end them.” (pg. 73)

Waiting feels like the end. Waiting is the end. As Swindoll points out, it is usually not the very end, but it is usually an end that also brings about a new beginning. My wait for this baby will end. When it does, our lives will completely change once again as they should when a family grows and welcomes a new member.

I am a mom who stays at home with preschool aged children. I was not always a mom, and for a while I was a mom who worked from home and cared for my daughter. Before I was a mom, I had a “career,” a fulfilling occupation in full-time ministry. I had to leave that career before I was ready to do so. I did not have a back-up plan or an equally fulfilling option around the corner. I spent a couple years working in a job that used some of my skills but was completely different from ministry. I waited, but my waiting did not in something even better than I expected.

I never spent a lot of time thinking about whether I would be a stay-at-home mom or a working mom during the early years of my children’s lives. I now cannot imagine having to leave my kids every day, and I am grateful for this blessing during this short season. However, while many moms may consider this a dream come true or the fulfillment of a great longing, I have not had those feelings many days. I miss my ministry colleagues. I worked with people who were much more like family than friends. I often wonder if I will ever experience anything quite like that again. I am now blessed to have an opportunity to serve at a small church plant with many people who I consider to be my Waverly family. The dynamics of serving as a volunteer, working from home, and squeezing in a few minutes of work here and there after bedtime or during naps are very different from the days of brainstorming meetings, planning retreats, and endless details (yes, I love details).

My life will never be the same as it was 7 or 8 years ago. God chose to reroute me, and I do not yet know how He wants to route me in the future. I believe each season will be different, and I am learning to accept that, to find the ways I can minister and be the love of Jesus wherever I am. It is primarily to my children right now, but I am also thrilled when I can bless others and feel that joy as well.

If you are waiting and unsure of how to find courage in that process, draw near to God. James 4:8 (ESV) says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

I think we usually like to skip over that second sentence. Sinners? Double-minded? That doesn’t feel good. But if I want to draw near to God, that is an essential component to doing so. Cleansing your hands and purifying your hearts will only come from seeking Him.  I have grown the most in my relationship with God when I am the most honest about my sin – my pride and selfishness and jealousy and the list goes on.

Find the courage to be honest with yourself, and you will find God in a deeper way than ever.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

Courage: Part 1

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I have never jumped off a diving board. EVER. I took swimming lessons as a child, but I was not a big fan of swimming in the deep end at all. At some point in time, I heard a story about a kid who jumped off a diving board, landed the wrong way, and broke his neck. That pretty much sealed the deal for me.

I am…risk averse. If I have time to weigh and measure the odds, I will do so. If not, I will lean towards the safe route, the path that requires the least amount of risk. For me to write about courage is not natural. I have done some things that take courage. I left home at age 17 to attend college 6 hours away. Most of my extended family still lived in Des Moines. I tried out for a popular ministry team that took only 12 members (a number of whom were returning). Last week, I wrote about how I moved to a small town where I knew three people. I have led worship for hundreds of people, spoken in public enough to overcome my fear of it, and have continued to do those things even after some intense failure at doing so. I think it takes more courage to stand up after falling down and to try again.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines courage as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” It defines brave as “having or showing courage,” so I will use these words interchangeably.

I have so many friends who have exhibited enormous levels of courage through their life circumstances. I previously wrote about my friend Maggie who faced breast cancer with such peace and joy and now lives with Jesus. Another friend survived breast cancer and gave birth to a precious boy despite all the odds against her. Two very dear friends have experienced the deepest pain and betrayal in marriage and emerged on the other side with the story of God’s great grace.

I can go on and on. The pain of this life has at times completely taken my breath away. How do I find the courage to get out of bed in the morning, to live life and continue to function, to find ways to deal with the pain so it is no longer debilitating? How do you? You have certainly faced danger, fear, or difficulty. How did you move on from it? DID you move on from it? Are you still stuck in the fear, slave to the difficulty that you cannot get out of your mind? What situation has so captured your mind that you cannot see through the mess?

You are not alone. It takes great courage to face the difficulty and decide that it will not rule your life. Maybe your difficulty right now is not cancer or death or betrayal. Maybe your difficulty is deep loneliness. Your difficulty could be a loveless, lifeless marriage. These may not be obvious to others on the surface, but it requires great courage to face loneliness and rise above it. It takes incredible courage to be the wife or husband who chooses to invest and inject life into a marriage that feels like it is dead.

I will spend the next few posts on the subject of courage. I can think of a couple of areas in my life in which I need more courage. I need to make the choice to be present, to enter in and face the situation instead of hiding behind a phone or a book or a computer screen. I would love for you to join me if you need a little courage, too. Or even a lot.

You can subscribe to this blog on the right side of the page. I would love to have you join me.

2 Corinthians 4:6-9 (ESV) “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him.”