Do What Makes You Happy?

I saw this shirt on Old Navy’s website a few months ago. I love buying kitty shirts for my 6 year old kitty lover, so this one caught my eye. I was sad when I read the words.

There is just no way I am going to encourage my child to “do what makes you happy.” I have observed the philosophy of “do what makes you happy” destroy a lot of lives. When I wake up every morning, I have to do a lot of things that do not make me happy. Namely, waking up! This night owl would gladly doze until mid-morning and drop the kids off at school when I feel like it. It definitely doesn’t make me happy to get all three kids out the door on school mornings!

Guess what? If I do what makes me happy all day, I will be a selfish, spoiled mess. I know discipline and sacrifice are not popular words in 2022, and I am not implying that I am an expert in these skills. I am a work in progress. I recognize the importance of working on both of those areas in my life. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to then communicate to my children that they should pursue whatever makes them happy when I know that philosophy will not serve them well in adulthood.

I think we should all pursue our God-given talents. We should discover the ways He has uniquely designed us. By doing so, we can find how best we add value to the lives of those around us. Pursuing joy by seeking to make an impact in the lives of others is very important to me. If you want to say that is “doing what makes me happy,” I guess it could be that. But it’s much more than what makes me happy. I want my life to matter. I want to find fulfillment in my calling. I want to encourage my kids to do the same things as they discover their unique gifts and talents.

I didn’t buy this shirt for my daughter. Being happy is short-lived. We tend to fill our desire for happiness with temporary pursuits that don’t give us long-lasting joy. When someone asked Jesus what the most important commandment was, this was His answer.

““The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.””
‭‭Mark‬ ‭12:29-31‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Love the Lord. Love others. I don’t see much “do what makes you happy” in those words.

It’s something to think about as we raise our kids and consider our own life’s focus.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Neurodivergent. Brain health. These are newer terms working to remove the stigma of mental health struggles, and I am grateful for them. Some of you are really familiar with this terminology, and others have never before heard it. And that is okay. I’m not convinced that we don’t all struggle with brain health at some point in life. Some just spend a lot more time with it. I know people who have ear/nose/throat issues for much of their life, and others who seem to always have digestive problems or respiratory troubles.

But mental health/brain health has struggled to be recognized as a real, physical issue. It’s been seen as something over which the sufferer has control. They can fix it. Think about something else. Just stop acting that way. If only it was that simple. We don’t tell the asthmatic to just breathe normally.

I am very grateful that in 2022, resources are greatly expanded for neurodivergent people. Kids who don’t fit into the neurotypical mode are able to receive help that meets them where they are. They can be treated according to their abilities and their struggles, not expected to fit into a typical box. It is a lot more work to understand the neurodivergent child. Once you think you get them, then they grow to puberty and you have to start all over again.

I sat in a meeting today to help define ways my child needs assistance to succeed in school. That’s a really nice way of saying that we had to list many “shortcomings” or ways in which this child is not neurotypical. I cried when it was over. These people care for my child and want to give her the best possible chance at success. At the same time, focusing on all the ways she is not typical was…well, sad. I was sad that she has so much to overcome in the school environment. I am so grateful for the people who stand with me and fight on behalf of this child. I really could not do this all alone. Their insight is valuable. Their care for her is beautiful. It takes a village. I have always embraced that, and today it was a gift once again.

Today I cried. Because we are fighting hard for this child, fighting to give her tools she needs and help to succeed. And I pray that she continues to find the niches in which she fits well, the skills she has that enrich her life and the lives of others, and the ways God has gifted her whether they fit into a typical mold or not.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭139:13-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

When It’s Too Much

Some days, it’s just all too much for me. We took a little trip with the kids, and I now need a vacation from my vacation. I am exhausted, overwhelmed by the behavior of one child and the sickness of another. At the same time, I am filled with beautiful new memories of a 6 year old whose stomach bug made her vomit four times, and after one of them, she immediately prayed for Jesus to heal her tummy and help her feel better.

As I walked through the indoor waterpark, I was hit multiple times with grief for the best friend of my sixth grader whose mom is now in heaven. He will never have another fun trip memory with her, and my heart just can’t keep the tears from falling for him many days.

One child argued with us relentlessly in a restaurant. The sweet lady who brought us refills said, “Is she 12?” I said, “She sure is.” She said her granddaughter is the same age, and the mood swings are…well, in full swing.

Medical bills are due from all sides, and I struggle to keep up with everyone who wants money for something, to keep trusting God to provide, to find time to fill out paperwork and make all the phone calls and everything else needed.

And then the needs I don’t share. The words I can’t speak. The loneliness I don’t like to acknowledge, the many friends I miss and wonder why they must live so far away. It’s all too much for me. It’s too much for my mind to contain.

I fall to my knees. Three days with no time alone is a lot for me. Not even 10 minutes to think or pray…I feel it. So I pray and ask for fresh strength, for rest to feel refreshed tomorrow and the chance to find Him in each circumstance as they rise again.

I find myself drawn to worship songs that remind me of the truths I need tonight.

“I belong to Jesus. When the rain fell, when the floods came, when the wind blew, I was okay. You were right there, You’re in every step I take. When the night falls, when my heart aches, if I stumble, I will not break. You’ll be right there, You’re in every step I take.” (https://youtu.be/hgRxjHLRfw0)

One of my favorite chapters to read when life comes at me from all sides is Romans 8. This particular verse always brings me back to truth when lies invade my thoughts.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:31‬ ‭ESV‬‬

He is for me. He is with me. He will never leave me or forsake me. He has the answers, and He will show me in just the right time. I share my jumbled, overwhelmed thoughts tonight because I am guessing that at least a few lovely people reading this will have similar trains of thought steamrolling through your brains, too.

I happen to believe that it is really, really comforting to know we are not alone in the hardships we face and the struggles that seem to have no end. If you need a little comfort today, please know that I always have a listening ear, and I love to pray for others.

Let’s not waste one more day entertaining the (admittedly numerous) troubles of this world. He is greater, and He doesn’t want us to try to solve them all on our own. Lots of love to you, friends.

Mending the Fence You Didn’t Break

Mornings in our house are not always pleasant. Some of us are not morning people, and others seem to wake up on the wrong side of the bed every day (maybe it’s our fault we pushed her bed up against the wall…).

Early last week, we had a particularly painful car ride to school. I think I have blocked out many of the offenses, but when the kids get out of the car, I always say “I love you, have a great day,” no matter what has transpired that morning. I tried to give one child her lunch, and she spewed, “I’d rather starve then eat something you made.” I said, “This is your chance, I won’t bring something for you later.” She slammed the door and stomped off into the building.

I can usually let the morning go and not worry about it at work. This wasn’t the case that day. I was frustrated. I even emailed the teacher and told her that she chose not to bring her lunch, so she would have to go without one. I didn’t want them to bail her out with an applesauce and crackers. I wanted her to be hungry, to pay the price for the way she treated me.

But as I often do, I prayed about this child and this attitude and what exactly God would want me to do in response. I don’t naturally bend towards grace. But I started to get the feeling that bringing her lunch would be a good thing. Letting go of the offense and not letting her spend lunch time getting angrier and angrier with me for “starving her.” (Obviously this is not reality, but this child’s view is hard to change.)

I wasn’t completely comfortable with going against my word that I wouldn’t bring her anything. But I felt God nudging my heart in this direction, so I drove through and picked up a couple of her favorite things. I was waiting when she came in for recess, and she looked confused. I said, “I want to start over. Let’s forget about this morning and just start over.” She hugged me. Her teacher said we could have the classroom to eat together if we wanted since they had other plans. So we were able to spend a little time talking as she ate.

This is a tiny glimpse into the struggles that occur daily in our home. I rarely share publicly, but I do want other parents and moms to know they aren’t alone when a bad morning, bad week, bad month plagues you and it’s hard to get past it. I didn’t really want to offer grace to my daughter. It was risky. She could have easily said, “I don’t want your lunch, I’m fine.” I risked rejection, but I believe God softened her heart at the same time He softened mine towards her.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

God’s strength fills in the weakest parts of me. Any strength I might have is no comparison to the strength He has. And that power is perfect, and is made perfect in my very weakness. Some concepts in the Bible go against our human understanding (the last shall be first and love your enemies are a couple others that come to mind). Strength in weakness doesn’t sound right to us, but when we trust God, He makes something beautiful out of our surrender to Him.

The rest of our week wasn’t in perfect. Behavior didn’t magically become wonderful. But when I think about that lunch, I have peace in my heart that I heard God and obeyed Him. I pray that moment will stick with my daughter, that she will see in it a reflection of the love and grace that Jesus has for her, too.

Dead of Winter

The dead of winter. It is cold. It is dark. It can make you want to grab a few blankets and a heater and hibernate for a few weeks. When I lived in Missouri, almost any amount of snow was cause for great alarm. I have been in Waverly for nearly 20 years (excuse me, what?), and I know by now that the cold and snow do not phase Iowans. Life goes on, people still go to work and church and sports and shopping and whatever else they feel like doing.

We went to a restaurant for my birthday dinner last week, and even though it was Friday night, I figured it wouldn’t be that busy. It was a bitterly cold evening,and I imagined that most people wouldn’t want to go out. I was wrong! You never would have known it was deathly cold from observing the restaurant that evening.

In the years that my children were little, we didn’t venture out a lot in the dead of winter. Bundling up kids, warming up the car (no convenient attached garage), buckling in car seats all for some meaningless errand or even just for mental health were a giant undertaking. So I avoided it. I also suffered with a lot of depression in those years. It took me longer than I wish it had to realize that it was worth getting out of the four walls of our house, seeing some sunshine, getting Starbucks, and even just letting them nap in the car. My mental health was worth it.

The dead of winter outside is sometimes mirrored by a wintry season of the soul. Often we keep those dark and cold situations to ourselves. We struggle within the confines of our own minds but never step out and bravely share with another soul.

Is it the dead of winter in your heart today? Is it hard to see what’s coming in just a few weeks? I promise that our God has not abandoned you. I use the dead of winter to remember all the amazing summers and beautiful things God has done through winters past. None of them were fun or enjoyable, but they drew me closer to Him and led me to lean hard against Him. He is big enough. He can handle my winter and my hard stuff and all the questions that linger on for years without answer. He may not answer when or how we want Him to answer, but He is working in ways we cannot see. Deep underneath all the layers, He is healing and restoring, and when spring comes, it is going to blow your mind. You can trust Him.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭5:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬
https://bible.com/bible/59/1pe.5.10.ESV

2021 Reading in Review

My goal for 2021 was to read 40 books, and I am happy that I ended up with 43 and some partials. I really enjoy holding a book in my hands, but I have been borrowing a lot of library books through the Libby app and reading them on my Kindle app on my phone. It’s a good option for me so I can fit in some reading while waiting in the car line, doctor’s office, or while I’m supposed to be falling asleep in my dark bedroom.

It is hard for me to pick favorites, but here are some they really stood out to me this year.

1. Life Is in the Transitions, Bruce Feiler. A friend quoted this book on social media, and I was so intrigued by the quote that I added it to me list. This book turned out to be very impactful for me this year. It talks about seeing your life as a whole, and what you can learn about yourself (and others) through the process of considering life and the transitions between stages of life. It makes me want to interview everyone and compile life stories. I absolutely love this book.

2. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom. This is the first time I read this book, and it was very powerful. I honestly did not realize how slowly the Nazis changed things when they took over. I assumed it was more obvious, but it started small and just continued to increase in hostility against the Jews. It was hard to read at times, yet their faith and boldness was so inspiring. I highly recommend this book if you have not yet read it.

3. Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin. This is an excellent treatment on how to study the Bible.

4. The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah. This was a bit out of the range of my typical contemporary fiction reads, but I really enjoyed this book. It was interesting and hard to put down.

5. We Were the Lucky Ones, Georgia Hunter. This book follows the members of a Polish family during World War II. It was a little hard to follow the changing perspectives at first, but it was a very good book. I have been drawn to the WWII fiction this year and last year.

My goal for 2022 is 50 books. Here are a few on my list to read:

  • The Book of Lost Names, Kristin Harmel
  • Gentle and Lowly, Dane C. Ortlund
  • Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop
  • Firefly Lane, Kristin Hannah
  • The Explosive Child, Ross Greene

I would love to know what is on your list to read for 2022!

Something is Broken

The first house my husband or I owned is the one we live in now. It’s a very old house, although we did buy new appliances when he bought it (a couple months before we were engaged). Some of you know that it was originally a church. It is a unique place, and when Matt started remodeling the basement, he discovered that nothing was square. I am not a builder, but I can see where the walls and floor not being at right angles would make it challenging to add trim and many of the other parts of remodeling.

We soon learned the rule of old homes: everything breaks. And good luck figuring out how to fix it. I am very glad that I married a man who is smart and talented at fixing things. He is good at finding helpful videos on YouTube, too. I’m sure he has saved us thousands of dollars with the appliances he has fixed and repairs to our cars and house. It certainly feels like we just move from one broken thing to the next. When Matt came home from the hospital this summer, our dryer broke within a week or two. After that, my car has been struggling with one issue or another. Now our washer is broken, but we are focusing on the car for the moment. I don’t even want to guess what will be next. I don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow; today has enough trouble of it’s own. 😉

Broken things are stressful. I feel the same way about broken relationships. There is tension with a friend or family member. Someone at work gives the cold shoulder. I need to talk to my husband and I keep putting it off. If something isn’t right in a relationship, I feel it all day long. I can’t relax. I’m on the verge of tears. It is always in the back of my mind and often, it’s right in the front.

My conflict style is none. No conflict. Ever. That would be great. It’s not a healthy style, unfortunately, so I have had to work on honest communication even when it is uncomfortable. The thing that gets me is these two verses here:

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:26-27‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We hear the first verse regularly, but the second one struck me. “Give no opportunity to the devil.” I’m guessing most of you reading this don’t want the devil to have a way into your relationships. When I avoid conflict, I give space for my mind to roam, and it absolutely lets the devil get in and tempt me with worst case scenarios and worries about what might happen in the meantime. My choice to honestly face conflict is one way I can smack the devil in the face, giving him no room in my relationship to taunt and tempt me or the other person.

I am still working on this, but it motivates me to be more honest in my relationships when I think of it as a chance to push the devil out of the way. Let’s be a pain in the devil’s neck today!

Boxes of Hope

I walked into our storage unit a few weeks ago. The kids needed winter clothes, and I had packed them all away in the hope that we would be listing our house for sale and hopefully bringing those boxes back to a new home when the colder weather rolled around.

I opened the door, and right there was our Christmas tree bag. The feelings from 6 months ago flooded over me. Hope. Excitement. Anticipation. Joy. We had rented this storage unit on the advice of a realtor who said we needed to get the house cleared out so we could list it. I had started on this task months ago. The me from 6 months ago was excited about the possibility of finally moving into town and passing on our project house to someone who wants a project. (Our project is three kids for the foreseeable future.)

I took some winter clothes boxes and put them in the back of my car. As I drove away from the unit, sadness overcame me. I remembered the hope I had when I put these boxes into storage. I had hope that the months to come would hold some big steps for us: preparing the house, selling it, buying another one, and moving from the only house we have lived in for our entire marriage. A verse popped into my mind.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭13:12‬ ‭ESV‬‬
https://bible.com/bible/59/pro.13.12.ESV

This hope has been deferred for years. I thought we were finally there, finally ready to make this happen. I certainly had no concept of what we would go through this summer with Matt’s sickness, hospitalization, and complications. I never saw it coming. Who would?

The God who knows our days from beginning to end knew. He also knows what the coming days and months and years will hold for us, and I can trust Him. I have already learned and grown so much from this season. I know it isn’t wasted time. It is not in vain that we walk this road and defer the hope of moving out of our house for yet another year.

So I will hang on to Him. I love the imagery of this Psalm, in the shadow of His wings. I have no doubt He can keep me safe just as He always has.

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭57:1-2‬ ‭ESV‬‬
https://bible.com/bible/59/psa.57.1-2.ESV

Four Tips to Avoid the Winter Blues

Wrestling a toddler into a car seat is not fun. Doing it when the icy wind is whipping around me, freezing my extremities in seconds, is a level of torture I never dreamed of as a pregnant mother. When I combine this reality with living in the country, the snow drifts across our driveway blocking me in, and nowhere we had to go when the kids were little, I spent a lot of their winters as little kids at home. It might sound nice and cozy to be in the warm house, it was easy to get depressed stuck in the same four walls with no view of anything (our old frosted windows kept me from seeing anything outside during the cold months).

I began to dread winter long before it came to pass in those years. With the first sight of a leaf changing color or the chill in the air, great fear hit my heart as I anticipated months stuck inside the house with little kids. I loved fall for years, but it quickly turned to a season that just signaled the beginning of winter to me. And winter was as dead for my heart as it was for the lilacs in my front yard.

I worked at home for a couple of years when Isabella was little. Then when Jack was born, I knew I could not do that job with two little ones, so we worked to pay off our vehicle loan and be able to live on one income. It would be a few years before Isabella started preschool, so we didn’t have a lot of activity filling our lives. I tend to be a homebody anyway, so the idea of staying home in the winter and not dragging the kids out of the house definitely appealed to me. I failed to recognize the toll it was taking on my mental health, unfortunately.

I did not learn this lesson as early as I wish I did, but I hope I can help some moms to keep this in mind when the kids are little. These are my four tips to help moms avoid the winter blues.

1. Leave the house! I know it’s hard, but even putting the kids in car seats for a nap or a movie while I drive around and drink a coffee gives you a little break from the norm, some sunshine (hopefully), and the opportunity to look at something other than the same four walls.

2. Have a play date. It doesn’t sound fun to bundle up the kids just to listen to them whine at someone else’s house. I get it. But the chance to get together with another mom friend is worth the effort. You can even read a chapter of the Bible or a book together and talk about it. We have a gym that opens to parents and kids with some fun activities and just space to run around, and we met there a few times as well.

3. Serve someone else. Sometimes you can’t take on one more thing without losing your mind, but other times you might be wondering what a mom with little kids can do when she’s stuck at home. Make a meal for someone who is sick or in a tough stage of life. Write cards. Help the kids draw pictures and write cards to mail. Visit an older person who doesn’t get out much.

4. Take a break! This is much easier said than done. However, any time I make the effort to arrange child care so I could do something that feeds my soul, I have never regretted it once. It can be a couple hours or a couple nights, but taking the time to get away in the winter months is a great reminder that life is short, the season will not last forever, and you will be refreshed and ready to keep going.

The older my kids get, the less daunting the winter season feels to me. They can put on their own coats and boots, buckle their seat belts, and play in the snow without my help to bundle up. It is hard to believe in the little years, but they do grow up. It gets easier and harder all at the same time.

Joyful in Hope, Patient in Affliction, Faithful in Prayer

This sign hangs in my hallway. Romans 12:12 challenges me all the time, and this current season is no exception.

The past few months have been full of highs and lows for our family. I remember sitting in the hospital with Matt and asking the physical therapist about what he would need to do once he was released to go home. She said he would have no physical therapy required, and I was amazed. A few friends in the medical field and another who personally experienced sepsis herself had warned me that physical therapy could last for a while. I thought he was so lucky to get through this ordeal with none required.

That wasn’t the end of the struggle, though. The follow-up appointments with a variety of doctors were the new norm, and every time it seemed something new arose. We learned within a week or two of his release that he had developed blood clots in his chest and leg. That was an unexpected complication. A week or two after hearing those words, I sat at a lunch where someone had just attended the funeral of a young man who died from a blood clot in his chest. Matt was eventually seen at Mayo, where he visited three or four weeks in a row, once for two and a half days of appointments, tests, scans, consults. It was hard to stay home, but with three kids in school and no one working to pay the bills, I didn’t have much of a choice. I learned about each appointment afterwards, but Matt did a great job keeping track of the details, the medications, and the schedule.

Almost two weeks ago, he was at Mayo for another day of appointments, and he texted from there saying that he was being checked into the hospital for observation for two nights. He was not expecting an overnight stay, his phone battery was almost dead so I couldn’t call him, and all I knew was that they were worried about his heart. It is not exactly the thing you want to read as you pull up for school pickup! I shot a quick text to my Bible study group, and my dear friend Steph hopped out of her van in the pickup line and ran over to pray with me. I sure needed that hug and prayer in that moment.

As I got ready to drive up to Mayo to be with Matt on Saturday morning, he texted that they were releasing him to drive home a day early. He finally got a phone charger and called me on the drive home. They believed the inflammation in his heart was due to the septic shock, and it would return to normal.

Unfortunately, one of our kids had been exposed to COVID that week as well, and we learned on Monday that he was positive. He had almost no symptoms. Somehow the rest of us all tested negative, which was a great blessing considering we did not want Matt to contract COVID with the current lung and heart issues he is facing.

Patient in affliction. I would hesitate to ever describe myself as patient, but it has been a good reminder in this season that I must trust God as I patiently wait for the resolution to Matt’s health issues. I have some experience with this patience in affliction through other seasons of life, but I can see the Lord continuing to work in my heart the deep and abiding peace that comes from patiently waiting on Him.

Joyful in hope. I know it seems counterintuitive, but God has chosen to also send many blessings our way in this season of suffering. The people who have blessed us with phone calls, prayers, meals, money, yard work, child care, lunches for the kids…sometimes I just sit and cry when I think of all the generous people who have lavished love upon us. These blessings have given us much joy, and they have also served to remind us of the hope we have in Christ. If He thinks so much of us to send a group of hard-working men to take care of the yard work we are unable to do right now, how could I not also trust that He is working out His plans for our future, our family, our ministry even when I cannot see it?

Faithful in prayer. Praying for others is a passion of mine. In this season, I have relied greatly on the prayers of others. I know that on the darkest days, those prayers have held me up and kept me from falling into despair. I have felt like our family is the man on the stretcher whose friends carry him to Jesus. He can’t get there without help, and his friends gladly do whatever it takes to get him an audience with Jesus. I believe God has used this season of relying on the prayers of others to further kindle my desire to be the stretcher-carrying friend as often as possible.

I know we are not the only ones in a hard season. If you are facing struggles and looking around for your stretcher-carrying friends, please look here. I would love to pray with you, to help you find support wherever you are, and to see you find the ways God wants to bless you even through this unexpected struggle.

I have never been left alone to navigate this season, not by God or by my family, friends or church family. He is faithful.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭10:23‬ ‭ESV‬‬