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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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.

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)

Thirteen Years

February 14. Of course, I have many thoughts about this day, but this year I am particularly reminded of February 14, 2002. My dad helped me pack up every last belonging in my little apartment, and we drove from Springfield, MO, to Waverly, IA. A few men from the church met us at my new apartment and helped unload my stuff (thank God, because my dad’s back was hurting, which is in no way related to my stockpiling tendencies or the two flights of stairs down which every possession of mine were carried).

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My last day in the Springfield apartment! February 14, 2002

I cannot begin to recall every emotion of leaving a place I had grown to call home for 7 years, of leaving two amazing sisters and friends I loved dearly and venturing to a small town in which I knew 3 people. Not even a handful. I simply adored my youth pastors Jim and Sharon Brewer (still do), and when the door opened to work with him at his church in Waverly, I knew that was my next step. I expected to live here for a couple of years and then move on to something “cooler,” or at least a bigger city with better shopping.

Fast forward thirteen years. I am still here. I am married (I was pretty certain THAT would never happen in this tiny town). I have two little ones and one on the way. It boggles my mind to think of the steps that occurred to get me from miserable, lonely single woman searching for something better to overwhelmed, exhausted wife and mother who can barely remember the days of singleness even when they were the bane of my existence. It’s true. I didn’t believe my friends who said, “You won’t remember what it was like to NOT have kids.” Seriously? I won’t remember our fun days of traveling and doing whatever we wanted at any time of the day? Okay, I do remember them faintly. But they barely seem possible in light of my current reality.

What happened in thirteen years? I think what didn’t happen would be easier to list here. I have felt heights of joy I never knew possible. I have experienced soul-crushing heartbreak that literally took my breath away. I have felt used by God in the greatness of ministry and relationships. I have felt completely alone and wondered if God had a clue what I was going through in my misery. I have made friends with deeper connections than I ever thought possible, friends who held me and loved me when no one else knew my pain. I have said good-byes that ripped out my heart and every hope and dream I thought mattered.

Who am I after thirteen years? The changes are both minuscule, tiny little differences that others might never notice, and at the same time they are huge shifts in the way I live, love, and relate to those around me. I understood so little about grace and God’s great love thirteen years ago. I have much more to learn, so very much. I am so grateful for how far He has brought me in this faith journey. I look forward to sharing the big and small ways in which God has opened my eyes to see Him more clearly. He has never let me go. He has made a way where there seemed to be no way.

Today as I thought about the past thirteen years, I smiled to think of the next thirteen years. It is a different season right now, different than I have ever been in and different than I ever thought it would be. Marriage, motherhood, raising children as my life right now…even if someone told me the “real” story about this life, this season, I would never have believed it. I have so many dreams, thoughts, ideas, and even plans for the next thirteen years. They are tucked away in my heart, many days they are not brought out at all. Other days, the longing for dreams to come true is physically painful. God knows them all, just as He knew everything that was in my heart thirteen years ago on this day. My heart soars to think of all the next thirteen years could contain. I know the dark days will come as well, but I also know the God who walks through each of them with me.

With that, I start my new blog! I would love for you to join me as I look forward to writing about marriage, motherhood, faith, ministry, and all the mess and beauty they contain.

“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 the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

I sang this in church on Sunday morning, and it seems fitting for this day and this post of reflection.