When I’m not “Enough.”

Last Sunday was one of THOSE Sundays. You know the kind where you have somewhere to be after church and you’re scrambling to get everything prepped and packed but no one can find what they need and the toddler is busting out the after-church snacks you packed and ripping them open with his teeth while simultaneously squirting the bottle of sunscreen all over the inside of your bags and another kid is hollering from the bathroom that they need help and when you run to help them, the youngest escapes out the front door…

No? Sundays don’t look like that at your house?

Ok, then. Carry on. Forget I said anything.

(in fact, don’t read on, the rest of this will probably be horrifyingly shocking. I mean, fair warning).

But for the rest of you, when you also pull into church late with your frazzled looks and your tired eyes and your kids also pulling your only clean, nice outfit into a stretched-out tent, one of them crying, one of them running, and one you’re calling because you can’t FIND THEM. . . I get it. Oh, I get it.

Sundays are hard, man.

Last week was no exception.

And to top it off, when we pulled into the parking lot, our youngest began to scream. Scream. He knew where we were and didn’t want to get out of the car, because: NURSERY.

Sob.

I almost stayed in the car.

“Forget it. Forget all of this. You guys go in.”

Sam assured me we should try it. So we did. And it went as well as I expected, at first. You know when you try it and they cling to you and cry and then set off a chain reaction and other little kids stare at yours and also start crying (and you want to hide your face in shame for even trying and risking such havoc but the nursery workers and other moms assure you it’s all good and you still kinda just want to grab him and run outta there as fast as you can)?

Yeah. It was that.

But then the miraculous happened and within two minutes he had settled down and was playing happily (and so were the other kids he had upset) and we snuck into the service.

And then.

Then, I SWEAR someone had clued our Pastor into where I was at and he gave a sermon JUST for me. I mean, it was timed so impeccably that I wouldn’t have been surprised had he stared directly at me or called me out from the front:

“Everyone, especially Bethany, please open your Bibles to. . .”

I’m not kidding.

Because, that week, the Sunday chaos wasn’t the exception, it was the rule. It was the norm. Sunday was the tip of the iceberg on what felt like a very hard, hard week as a mom. A week of trying desperately to finish home school – which is going longer than I had originally planned due to unexpected events, like moving and surgery, that pushed back our schedule. And my firstborn is just so done. So ready for the year to be over. So over schoolwork. So onto summertime and nice days and anything and everything other than math worksheets or phonics. And we had a stressful potential health situation with my middle child (and I blamed myself for not being more watchful or noticing something sooner), and our youngest was just, well, his normal mischievous self in the midst of it all. And I have a couple of photo projects to finish up for people and just can’t seem to do so because every night one of my kids can’t sleep or there’s some pressing issue, or groceries to buy, or my computer gives me a blue screen of death (true story) and then on top of all that, Sam got a notice for jury duty.

And here it was, Saturday night, and I had apparently missed some things when I had initially done the laundry a couple days prior and I was sitting up late that night washing yet another load because somehow one of my kids had NO UNDERWEAR?? for the next day. And I was just feeling so, so defeated.

When Sam asked me if something was up, I poured out my frustrations at how the week went, how behind I felt at absolutely everything, and how it never changes; week to week.

He listened for a bit and then said: “What perfect standard are you holding yourself to?”

“Perfect?  PERFECT?!??! ” I retorted. “Pshh…I’m not talking perfect, I’m talking essentials. I’m not talking some pinterest-perfect mom jealousy, I’m talking ‘there’s no milk for breakfast’ or ‘we can’t go to church, we have no underwear to wear’ or ‘sorry, New York State, I did not complete the required paperwork, please don’t make him repeat 1st grade, ok?’ or ‘shoot, I didn’t thaw anything for dinner. . . who wants cheese and crackers?’ or ‘We’re all behind on routine medical/dental checkups’ or ‘what if this becomes a major issue and I didn’t catch it because I was so dang busy with ALL THE STUFF’ or even: ‘my child ate poop.’   (Trust me. You don’t want to know).

“This is NOT me wanting to be perfect. This is me not feeling like enough at the bare minimum of things. I’m always behind. Behind on pictures, behind on laundry, missing something on my list every dang week at grocery shopping. . .scrimping at things I know I can do better  – Clorox wipes instead of deep cleaning my bathroom because I don’t have TIME in between chasing Lawrence. Cutting corners on something. Putting the laundry in a basket. Dumping it on the bed so that I have to put it away before bed. Crawling into to bed later than I wanted to and putting it back in the basket. Dumping it on the bed again the next day. Putting it back in the basket at 10pm.”

I’m a planner. I’m an organized, schedule-driven person. And I literally feel like I accomplish NOTHING on most days . Most weeks.

Unless you consider “I kept my children alive and partially clothed and owe $7.45 in library fines, oh, and also I ran that same load of laundry 6 times over the past two days because I KEEP FORGETTING IT” to be “accomplishing” something.

I have a very hard time seeing it as so.

And then I get so frustrated, so overwhelmed, so swallowed up in the never-ending cycle of not-enough, not-done, not-right, and NOT. NOT. NOT. That I just want to throw my arms up, toss it all out the window along with my sanity and ask God why he created me this way.

I mean, why?

Why can’t I be more laid back? More of the “whatever, just roll with it,” mom. Maybe I’d be happier then. Maybe I’d be less stressed out about the stuff I’m NOT doing because I just wouldn’t care!

Instead, I feel like I’m set up for failure. For frustration. For burn-out. I’m caught in this overwhelming, never-enough kind of cycle that no amount of “mom’s day out” or “early-morning running” or “forget it, lets order pizza” or “here’s a new day planner” or whatever kinds of things I try to use to give myself a leg up or a “break” or to keep me sane can fix because I JUST CAN’T DO ALL OF THE THINGS.

I just can’t. They don’t end. They’re never done. I’m never caught up. Never, ever, ever.

“Maybe it’s me.” I finally said, “Maybe I’m the weakest link in this equation. Maybe I just am not enough. And I’m at a loss as to what to do different, or how to be different.”

My poor, sweet husband looked a little taken aback, told me he hated to see me get so down on myself, assured me that I was a great mom, to stop putting so much pressure on myself, and we went to bed.

And there I was sitting in church while our pastor worked his way through a list of “50 things the internet says you should do every day” (which was hysterically funny – think drinking fair trade coffee and using paraben free shampoo and thinking positive thoughts and hand washing and yoga and no blue light before bed and…I mean, seriously, it went on forever and was so, so funny.), and then he posed this question:

“What if you aren’t supposed to be “enough? What if you can’t do it all? What if your life is designed in such a way to make you dependent on Him?”

Think about it. The Old Testament law was CRUSHING.

I mean, have you read that thing lately??

Talk about a to-do list.

No one, not even the Pharisees who professed to live up to every single bit of it, could do it. And even if they thought they could, as our pastor pointed out on Sunday, Jesus upped the ante. “Oh you think you’re following the law? What about in your mind? What are your thoughts? What is in your heart? It’s not just outward action here, your own thoughts betray you.”

Yeah. . . ouch.

If there was ever a picture of how we don’t measure up, the law was it.

But, friends, that’s the beauty of the Gospel. We can’t do it – on our own. We’ll never measure up – on our own. The law looks us in the face, just like the piles of laundry on my bed and the library fines on my card and my child’s face all smeared with…lunch, breakfast? How long HAS that been there?? look me in the face and scream: “You’re not enough! You can’t do this!”

And my “helps?” My planners and my running shoes and my to-do lists and all the things I try to add in to my life to help keep me on track, to help me do it well? They fail me too. Just like the stringent laws and rules the Pharisees tried to follow to make sure they were measuring up to every little detail of the law.

But the wonderful hope of the Gospel is that he did not leave us there then, and he does not leave me here now. Jesus stepped in and paid the price for all of our shortcomings. All of our failures. All of our sins. He took them ON HIMSELF. He bore the full penalty of our sins, FOR us. We were not enough. We were not ever going to be enough. And so he came, and he died, IN. OUR. PLACE. Once, and for all.

And maybe, just maybe, the overwhelming parts of my life, the things I can’t seem to get right, the ways I feel like I fall so short, the pressure I’ve placed on myself to be a “good” mom, a “good” wife; perhaps I’ll never live up to those either.

But maybe that’s on purpose too.

Maybe, if I could do it all, I’d feel like the Pharisees did. Like I’ve arrived. Like I’ve got it together. Like I don’t need His help.

Maybe it NEEDS to be too much for me, to send me running to Him.

Maybe my inability to keep track of every last detail in my kids’ lives is exactly what drives me to my knees, praying for HIS protection, HIS wisdom, and HIS guidance in their lives.

And what’s more, maybe my inability to DO ALL OF THE THINGS at home makes me more accessible to my kids. Maybe if I don’t look like perfect, super-mom, but instead like someone who is trying her hardest but also so desperately dependent on God for his help, it will help them to do the same in their lives. To also rely on Him.

Maybe ALL of this is how His resurrection, His Gospel, His glorious love for me comes and meets me in my mess, in my day-to-day. And then that resurrection power, that grace, that abundant love spills over out of my life and onto my kids. Onto my husband. Onto the store clerks and library fine-takers and everyone else I interact with throughout my week.

As Paul wrote in 2 Cor 12:  

But he [God] 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Maybe I don’t need to look like some “other” kind of mom at all. Maybe I just need to be the mom that I am. And to be ok with all the times that I do not measure up. All the times I feel not “enough.”

Because I’m not.

But He is.

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I can’t have surgery! I’m a mom!

Note ** I originally wrote this post a couple weeks ago but am just getting to posting it now.  See end of post for surgery update!

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I’m looking at a season of medical appointments in the near future. Nothing that should be life-threatening, but when you’re listening to words like “biopsy” and “surgery” and “reconstruction” being thrown around, it’s a little bit daunting to say the least. I had someone ask me how I was doing with it all as a mom. “That must be hard,” she said, “Given that so much of your days – of your life, really – is given to taking care of your little ones, and now you’ll need to spend some time taking care of you. How are you doing with that?”

Not great.

Though she did hit the proverbial nail on the head, so to speak.

It’s not the medical side of things that’s so daunting. It’s not even dealing with insurance, and finding the right doctors (though, that has been a nightmare trying to get sorted out). It’s doing all of it with the kids. It’s hours and hours on the phone while my kids stare at a TV screen or scream in the background, or I bust out snack after snack in hopes that they can just stay quiet enough for me to hear what is being said on the other side of the phone. It’s the questioning from them – trying to figure out how much to say, the babysitters needed for appointments, and, what’s more, all the what-if’s that seem compounded by the three pairs of eyes that look to me as their mom.

I’m mom, body. Get in line!

I don’t take days off.

Not physically, not mentally, not emotionally.

They need me. To cook, to make sure our house is clean and orderly so that we can function in it. To kiss and bandage boo-boo’s, to answer a myriad of questions day in and day out.  I think about the reasons why I’m a stay-at-home mom, why we home school, why I spend so many of my waking hours, sometimes even driven to the point of frustration, doing exactly what I do. Because we’ve decided that my role, as their mom, is crucially important. It’s irreplaceable. And not to negate the role of their dad in any way, but for most of the hours in the day, they have me. Just me. Me as coach, me as teacher, me as confidant, me as nurse, snuggle-er, house cleaner, fight-breaker-upper . . . the one who helps them process and understand their world.

But. In all of this, I’ve realized that it’s also something I can tend to put on a pedestal. This all-important mom-dom of mine. I’ve read the studies, I’ve read the books. I’ve talked to other moms, doctors, educators, and professionals. We’ve made the decisions that we’ve made along the line with much prayer, and much research. I don’t take these things lightly.

But I’ve made it too weighty. Too heavy. I’ve taken on a burden that is not mine to bear.

And I feel the soul-crushing weight of it when I’m laying awake at night having nightmares where I do not come out of surgery and my sweet babies are left without me and I picture all that would entail and wake up weeping uncontrollably.

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I tried to explain how I felt to my husband a while ago but couldn’t quite put it into words. I told him I was afraid. But I think that was only a partial answer. I’m not afraid of the medical part of things, not really. I’ve had three c-sections and an appendectomy. I’m no stranger to surgeries. I’m not even afraid to meet my maker, (though it seriously is NOT that dire of an issue that I even need to be going down that road). It is something I’ve thought of these past weeks with Billy Graham’s passing though; and just how incredible his homecoming must have been. To finally be in the presence of Jesus, whom he has served faithfully all these years. And the peace that he had in knowing his own mortality, that his time here on earth was temporal, that eventually his home would be heaven.

I’m not afraid of death.

I’m afraid He’s ASKING me to die.

Not a physical death. A dying to my own self-importance. A realization that I’ve been putting my role as mom up as this indispensable, all-encompassing thing; taking the “burden” of my children’s lives as my own, when it is HIS. They are his. They have been all along.

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Sure, I care for them and watch them and meet their basic needs. And beyond that I’m called to train them, to guide them, to shepherd their hearts, to show them Christ, to help them walk with Him, and to be faithful in what God has given me to do.

 

But I know that, way down deep, what God is getting at in my heart and exposing in all of this, is my tendency to hold them too tight. To elevate my role too much.

I find myself wanting to plead with him to just make the medical stuff go away. “God, they need me.”

And I feel his spirit saying: “They’re mine.”

“They’re so little.”

“They’re mine.”

“Lawrence isn’t even fully weaned”

“They’re mine.”

“I need to. . .”

“They’re mine.”

And I want to trust him. I want to relinquish my hold on them. I want to be able to release them, send them into all that God has for them. In time. But for now, for today, I look down to what I think will be hands open in surrender and instead I find them clenched tightly.

“They’re mine too!” I want to scream. But the words catch on the lump in my throat as the tears pour down my face.

All at once, images flash in front of my eyes, plain as day. Tests and blood draws and doctor consultations during pregnancies. Meeting a specialist. Their births. I can see their tiny little toes, their questioning eyes as newborn babies.  Nights up singing and rocking them as little babies or teething toddlers. Days of holding their weak heads up to sip water or holding the bucket while they vomit. Their tentative steps, chubby little arms up in the air for balance, or their little hands tucked into mine as they skip along beside me.

“I’m their mom.” I sob.

I hadn’t realized before now how weighty that had become for me. How much all of my research and all of my decision-making and book reading and all of my well-intentioned wanting to do it “right,” had caused me to clasp my hands tighter and tighter around my little ones. Oh, it sounds good. I’m making the best decisions I can for our family. I’m giving all that I can, all that I am. Making sacrifices and “dying to self” every day and all that.

It looks good.

From the outside.

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But in doing so, I’ve elevated my position as their mom as higher than His position as their Savior. My love for them, my care for them, as THE essentially important ingredient in their lives. When the truth of the matter is that His love for them will always exceed my own.

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I’ve elevated my position as their mom as higher than His position as their Savior.

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He created them. Not me.

His love for them is perfect. Mine is flawed, at best.

He knows them through and through. I’m still learning about them; still trying to understand them. Daily.

They. Are. Not. Mine.

They’re His.

I know He holds them in His hands. I know He loves them, that He has already been leading and guiding them, speaking to their hearts. I know that His eternal purposes for them run deeper than even I can see. I want them to know Him. To love Him. To serve Him.

But I’m realizing that I have seen myself as altogether too important in this equation. Slowly, over the last few years, as we’ve added more children to our little family, my hands, once-open in surrender, have begun to close tightly around them. Around my role as their mom. What started as a well-intentioned desire to protect them, to shelter them, to meet their needs, to fulfill my calling as their mom, has become a burden that is just so, so weighty.

I feel crushed by it and yet I don’t want to let it go.

I don’t know how to let it go.

I don’t know how to let them go.

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And in this season of uncertainty in my own life, I know that he’s asking me to surrender. I know he’s asking for ALL of me. Including the part of me that’s “mom.” The part of me clinging closely to my kids. The part of me that’s terrified that I’d lose them. That they’d lose me. To surrender my kids, and my hold on them, to him. To open my clenched fists and let him do his work in my heart, in my life. To take down my lofty ideals of what it means to be their mom, and let HIM take his rightful place, in my life, and in theirs.

This. This is what he is asking of me. This is why my dreams have been plagued with nightmares. Why I cannot sleep at night. What is really causing my fear.

I think I’ve known for a couple of weeks now, really. Though I couldn’t have put it into words. I knew deep down – in fact, I feared, deep down —what He was asking of me. But I didn’t want to face it. Didn’t want to face Him.

Trembling, I can’t hold my head up. Somewhere, deep in the recesses of my mind I expect to see disappointment in His eyes. Disappointment in my clenched fists. In my lofty opinion of myself. In my lack of trust. In my fear. In my reluctance to even talk to Him about any of this, because I knew what he was asking of me.

And yet, instead of disappointment, I only see love. I only see grace. My reluctance to un-clench my fists is not met with anger, it is met with the patient understanding of one who has ALSO given His Son. One who’s love for me – and for my kids – is extravagant and relentless and perfect.

One that sees me, that knows me, and that is calling me ever deeper.

 

“ok,” I whisper.

It comes out as a sigh. A barely-audible sign of surrender.

But it’s enough.

I take my hands and slowly place them in my lap, palms open. I open my mouth to say more, but no words come. Tears stream freely down my face as I stare at my hands. Stare at how worn out they look. Stare at the deep cracks that lotion has not helped, dry from washing them so many times throughout the day for diaper changes and food prep and cleaning. And I let the image of them, rough as they are, open in surrender – complete with dirty dishes and kids toys and a mop propped against the wall slightly out of my line of sight just beyond them – burn itself deep in my soul.

And as peace once again settles in my heart, I know that we are not done here at this altar. I know that He and I will meet here again. Probably many, many more times.

But for now, for today, it’s enough.

 

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**For those who are wondering, I may type out the whole story at some point, but the short version is that I had surgery last Thursday to remove what they believe to be a (benign) cyst in my jaw bone under my teeth (still waiting on official biopsy results). Through a seriously crazy series of events, we ended up assigned to a top oral surgeon in the area (after being scared out of our minds by the initial consult with a different surgeon), she was able to get me in much faster than we anticipated, surgery went flawlessly, and recovery is going very well so far (as long as I can keep Lawrence from socking me in the face, that is!)

 

 

Advent 2017

One of the things that we want to do each year as the holiday season approaches is to spend some time as a family building the anticipation for Christmas in a way that keeps Christ as the focus. That allows us to step back from the hustle and bustle and business and gift-wrapping and family-gatherings and santas at the mall, and to focus on the real reason we celebrate – the birth of our Savior.

A few years ago, I set out to find something to help us do that. Something easy enough to do with young kids, but something that also pointed to the holiness of the season we were in, not just a jolly man in a red suit. One of the ideas I came across was that of an advent calendar.

Growing up, my home church did an Advent wreath. And I can still hear the words read by a different family each Sunday, year after year. . . “This is the first Sunday in the season of Advent.” It was then followed by a candle lighting (in which the lighter usually wouldn’t work for some reason and there was a good amount of chuckling as my dad – the pastor – or a trustee would have to step in and help) while each member of the family read a short verse or prayer.

And while I don’t love the idea of flame attached to a wreath in our house with rambunctious young kids (eeek!), an advent Calendar was something we could totally get behind.

Advent, by definition, is the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event. In Western Christian churches, it is celebrated as a time of expectant waiting and celebration in anticipation of the nativity of Jesus, and ultimately his second coming (via Wikipedia).

SOLD.

But, none of the advent calendars quite fit the bill for what we wanted. Many had just a trinket or a gift each day, with no explanation. Or they contained a single piece of candy (what do you do, split that between your kids? Buy three calendars?). Ultimately, we really wanted something that focused more on the Christmas story and the holiness of the season, and less on just the daily countdown and just couldn’t find what we wanted.

So we made one ourselves. And have absolutely loved it. LOVED it.

Since we started using ours, I’ve had a lot of other moms ask me for the details, so this year I decided to write a post with instructions (and a free .pdf download of the daily advent cards I wrote for our family to use)! So, here goes!

I got series of small (5×7″) cotton muslin bags that I purchased from Amazon. (The ones we purchased are no longer available, but they are similar to these).  blog-4667

I used fabric paint and a stencil to put numbers on each of the bags: the first year we did them in numerical order, in subsequent years we decided to count “down” from 24 to 1 (Dec 1 through Christmas Eve), which I think I like better. But you can do it either way.

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You can put whatever you want inside the bags: we set aside 24 ornaments when we put up our Christmas tree and let the kids take turns placing that ornament on the Christmas tree each day. But you could also include a small treat or prize or coloring page in each of the bags instead of the ornaments. (Side note: look how little they were the first year we did this!! Ahhh!)

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The first year I split the Christmas story into a verse per day, but that ended up feeling a little disjointed. So I wrote a series of cards that tell the whole story – of our need for a Savior, the promises foretold in the Old Testament, his birth and his life and his death as payment for our sins. On some days, we sing or listen to a Christmas carol. And on other days we set up the pieces to our nativity set (or play with the kids’ set).

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Our kids adore it. And, even though I loved the way the calendar turned out, and had really hoped that the kids would get a kick out of it each day, what I hadn’t anticipated was the impact that it would have on me. Some mornings, I find that I can barely read the words on the card past the lump in my throat. As I stand there, looking at my children, their faces illuminated by the tiny white lights of the tree, excitement evident in their eyes as they look at the new ornament and listen to the words of the precious, life-giving story.

“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Agustus…”

It doesn’t matter that I’ve heard it over an over again. The verses still echo in my heart with such truth as I read them – such piercing, awe-inspiring truth. What a remarkable, remarkable story.

It’s been such an unexpected, priceless gift to our family year after year. It takes just a few minutes to take down the new bag, look at the number, read the card, and place the ornament on the tree. But, oh, the story. Oh, the wondrous gift. The remarkable fulfillment of promise.

God with us. Emmanuel.

So, for those who have asked what we use, here is the printable file for the advent cards that I wrote:

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I’ve divided it into 24 days (4 days worth of cards fit on one sheet of paper so that they fit in the drawstring bags), but if you wanted to do it in less time, you could double up the cards each day, or omit the songs/etc. It’s written primarily for a pre-school/grade school age level, but you could easily adjust the content/discussion for your family.

If you do end up using it, let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear/see how your family uses it! My hope & prayer is that it blesses your family as much as it has mine!!

–Bethany

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The Re-Set Button I Least Expected

Do you ever wish for a reset button?

I mean, for real. Something that just takes everything that has transpired throughout your day (or morning, or the 40 minutes since you woke up – depending on the severity of the day and how soon you need such a button) and gives you a re-do. A fresh start. A blank slate.

Today I needed one of those.

One of our pastors mentioned during his sermon on Sunday that he and his wife are coming out of a season of little kids where you’re so exhausted and so sleep deprived and so emotionally depleted that you feel like you just have absolutely nothing left to give.

Boy are we in that season.

Last night, for instance, went something like this:

6:00: put Lawrence to bed

6:30: read stories to the older two and do the bedtime routine.

7:00: clean-up from the day. Sort/organize/dinner dishes/put away the rest of the groceries we didn’t get to earlier in the day

8:00: finally sit down. Attempt to watch a show. Decide we were too tired. Head to bed.

9:00: baby wakes up. Convince him he doesn’t need to actually nurse and put him back to bed

9:30: finally fall asleep

9:50: baby wakes up. Give in and just nurse him out of sheer desperation to just be able to sleep tonight. He’ll be 18 some day and grow out of this, right?

10:30: child A wakes up from a dream. Comfort them. Attempt to go back to sleep.

11:30: child B needs to go potty. But instead of coming and telling you they wander in the hallway and whimper for a while until they can’t hold it any more. Roll back out of bed. Get everything cleaned up. Change child’s sheets even though they didn’t wet the bed because they’re convinced they MIGHT have.

12:15: finally go back to sleep.

2:00: baby wakes up again.

2:30: go back to sleep. Or, well, attempt to because:

3:00: Thunder wakes up older children. Check radar on your ridiculously bright cell phone screen with bleary eyes. Convince them it’s almost done. Fall asleep laying on their floor.

3:30: wake up, stiff from sleeping on a floor and go back to room and attempt to sleep again.

3:35: Thunder wakes up older children again. Go back in their room. Talk to them until it quiets down.

4:00: Go back to bed.

4:30: More thunder and more screaming.

4:45: Husband gets up to get ready for work, so you scrap the idea of sleeping on the kid’s floor and pull them in bed with you instead for hopefully another hour of sleep. (Or the first full hour of sleep you’ve had all night?)

4:45-5:30: Say “be quiet and go to sleep” 14 times per minute.  Get kicked, scratched in the face, hear heavy breathing right in your ears. . . get kicked some more. Fix the blankets. Fix pillows. Go back in their room in search of a beloved stuffed animal that got left behind and must be “scared of the thunder.”

5:40: finally, FINALLY doze off

6:00: baby wakes up for the day. Scrap the idea of ever sleeping ever in your life and get everyone breakfast.

And then from 7:00am – 1:00pm deal with repeated arguments, fights, unkind words, a baby who refuses to nap, and everything else that goes along with little sleep and a dreary, rainy day stuck inside with three children under 6.

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1:00 pm: sit down at your computer (with your second cup of coffee, that doesn’t seem to be doing much more than your first cup did for your exhaustion) to edit some photos while the kids rest and consider posting something on Facebook about needing a re-set button in an attempt to have someone, anyone, understand just how terrible this whole day has been and how desperately tired you are, when the Holy Spirit inexplicably and distinctly brings the following verse to mind:

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

I kid you not, mid-typing this is what I think of. This verse, of all things.

Sigh.

Really, God?

Really?

. . . . . . . . . oh – kay.

Sigh.

<–Backspace <–Backspace <–Backspace

Because, you see, today I don’t NEED a reset button; I AM the reset button. ME. My words. My responses. My answers. How I deal with the over-tiredness of today.

A GENTLE answer turns away wrath, but HARSH words stir up anger.

And there it is.

There has been plenty of anger today.  From all parties.

Sure, I could give a million excuses as to why:

I’m short on sleep too, after all. I didn’t even get a chance to shower. I haven’t had a single moment of space to myself in the last 24 hours.

Or I could (unfairly) displace my anger somewhere else:

My husband goes to work and sits in a tiny cubicle away from all these demands while I get to deal with the fighting and the bickering and the over-tired kids in a tiny house non-stop. For HOURS and HOURS and HOURS.

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Or, I could lay all of the blame on the kids for everyone’s sour moods, including my own.

I could feel sorry for myself. Justified in my irritation. I could beg the universe for a re-set button.

But, what did that verse say? A gentle answer turns away wrath.

And the truth of the matter is, despite my lack of sleep, I’m called to have that gentle answer. To BE that gentle answer. To shepherd the hearts of a 5 year old with so much pent up frustration and energy from being cooped up inside that he’s taking his boredom out on the house and his sister and anything in his path JUST to cause problems and the almost-4 year old who gets emotionally overwhelmed when she’s overtired and begins to overreact and snip and whine, and the baby who knows that everyone is on edge and begins to fuss and fight and demand attention, banging his chubby little fist on his tray and hollering with the rest of them.

A GENTLE answer.

A gentle answer.

Some of the seasoned moms that I know and greatly respect seem to have that quality. The “gentle answer” quality. The quiet, peaceful, steadiness-in-the-midst-of-the-storms gentleness that I just don’t feel like I have today. Today I have the: “beg someone to take my kids for an hour and run screaming from my house quality.” Not exactly the same thing.

Granted, they probably had their moments when their kids were toddlers too. But I think of them sometimes when I’ve got a baby on my hip and have exerted every ounce of my patience in the past two hours and find myself hysterically shrieking:

“JUST STOP!! STOP! EVERYONE STOOOOOOOP!!!”

Yeah, not moments I’m proud of. But believe me, I have them.

A gentle answer turns away wrath.

And just like that, there’s my re-set button. It starts with me. It starts with MY answers. MY reactions. My guidance and help when they’re overtired and at their wit’s end.

“But, God, I AM too! What about MY wit’s end?”

But even as I ask that question I already know the answer. Because I serve a God who’s strength is shown in my weakness. Who has promised to guide, lead, and help me in my walk with Him, and in my role as a mom. Who’s love for me is perfect. Who’s love for my kids is perfect.

“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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Cor 12:9)

And it’s that grace that allows US to be our own reset buttons.

It’s not as glamorous or as easy as an actual button would be. But, since when did this mom gig, or our spiritual walk for that matter, come with buttons that did the hard work for us?!

So today my gentle answer is a walk to collect acorns. Letting them pile them in the stroller (that I JUST CLEANED OUT FROM ALL THE SQUIRREL-LIKE KID-NESS AND STICKY HALF-CHEWED PUFFS, YESTERDAY. YESTERDAY. IT WAS CLEAN FOR LESS THAN 24 HOURS!) . . .But, yes, I can clean it again.

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A gentle answer.

It’s stopping to admire the bugs and the rocks and the treasures along the way.

A gentle answer.

Making them something special for a snack for after nap/rest times. Physically getting on their level to talk to them about what is going on. Talking through how they’re feeling. Sitting on the floor, ignoring the laundry for an hour or so, and just BEING.

Being that quiet answer.

Reining in my frustration, re-aligning my heart and my attitude to what God is speaking to my own soul and letting Him use ME as the reset button for my house today. Yes, sleep tonight will help everyone. So will me actually finding time to shower later. But for now, for me and for them,

A quiet answer turns away wrath.

And that, that is enough for our today.

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My Mother’s Day Photos 2017

A few years ago, I asked Sam if he would take my camera and get some pictures of the kids and I for me for Mother’s Day. It’s something that we’ve done again and again and though we’re sometimes realllly late in doing them (Mother’s Day in July anyone?!) I always treasure them. We did this year’s a few weeks back but I had some other photos to finish up for clients before I could process our own.

And, Oh. My. Goodness.

Despite the fact that they were cutting wet grass that morning and our shoes all turned green, and – I mean – have you ever tried to get kids to pay attention to pictures when there’s a LAWN MOWER IN THE BACKGROUND?!!

But we still managed to get some good ones and I’m so very glad we did them again. (And I’m sorry if this is a total pictures overload, I just can’t pick favorites!!).

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While we were at it, I took some pictures of Sam and the kids and we attempted a family photo using my tripod & timer. . . you can probably imagine how THAT went. Haha. But we got a couple that mostly worked, and with three kids under 6 and taking them ourselves, that was as good as it got.  Haha.

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The other funny (er, frustrating) part this year was that we had forgotten Lawrence’s stroller and couldn’t trust him to not turn totally green in the freshly mowed, wet grass, or to not eat – and choke on – everything he could reach if we set him down. . . so both Sam and I took many of the photos with Lawrence on our hip and the camera in our other hand.

And I’m not sure if that gives us major mom and dad points or photographer points or what, but we rocked it. Even if the man with the lawn mower DID seem to shake his head at the spectacle at times. 😉

But hey, we did it, I love them, and the kids – who may or may not have been bribed with a special snack afterwards – stuffed their faces with the frosting-iest donuts Wegmans had to offer that morning, so it was a win all around!

 

 

When the Days are Wearying

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Yesterday was an extremely discouraging day for me. I went to bed thinking about all that I did – or tried to do – and how much it all felt pointless.

The laundry that I worked so hard to get done that will just need to be washed again. Tomorrow.

The 12,000 things that I picked up off the floor every minute of the day so that the baby wouldn’t find them only to have him choke on a minuscule piece of dried, crusty food that he picked off the side of the chair leg.

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The long conversation that I had with my older two about kindness and the way we do and don’t treat people in our family that I felt like they finally really “got,” only to walk upstairs to nurse the baby and hear them start shouting at one another and hear the telltale SMACK as one hit the other in retaliation for whatever the perceived wrong was.

The food that burned to a crisp on the stove while I changed the baby’s diaper.

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Yesterday (or, let’s be honest here, a LOT of days), it feels like I work so hard, so long at so little. What I teach is forgotten, what I clean is messy again, what I try and prevent, 4 other things happen in their place. For someone who is very good at working towards a GOAL, it’s so incredibly frustrating sometimes.

And yesterday, I felt totally defeated.

Totally and utterly defeated.

But today I woke up with Galatians 6:9 on my mind – so much so that I’ve copied it down and posted it on the fridge next to the sink.

“Let us not grow weary of doing good. . . “

And as I let those words pour over me this morning as I scrubbed the breakfast dishes, I was reminded that I’m not in this for an end-of-day result. On some days, I may not see the “good” from what I’ve done. It may not feel like I’m accomplishing anything. For days. Or weeks. Or months. Or years. Sometimes it will, but sometimes it just won’t.

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But in this shepherding of little hearts, in these busy days with little ones, in this so important task that God has given to me called motherhood – and all that goes with it, I cannot grow weary. Even when I don’t see the good. Don’t see the results. Don’t see the reward.

The promise is that I WILL reap.

And I’m clinging to that today as I wring out my mop water. As I walk for hours with a teething, fussy baby who refuses to nap or be put down, bouncing him on my hip as I do schoolwork with my oldest. As I, for the four millionth time, help my older two learn how to resolve their differences, how to process their emotions. As I attempt to lead these little hearts – and my own – to the cross, to His grace. Over and over again. Day in and day out.

Today, instead of choosing to feel defeated, I’m clinging to the words echoing in my heart:

“Don’t be weary, mama. Don’t give up. You WILL reap.”

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The “Knee Step.”

It’s a simple thing. A simple request. But it’s bedtime. And there are a zillion requests.

We always do the same things at bedtime. We do jammies and teeth brushing and bedtime stories. Then we head to their room and sing songs (whatever is requested that night – usually anything from “I’m a little teapot” to “Edelweiss” or “Amazing Grace”). And then Sam and I each take a turn praying over the kids individually, listening to their prayers, and then tucking them in and kissing them goodnight.

Which all sounds sweet. And sometimes it goes off without a hitch. Sometimes it’s hilarious. Tonight, for instance, one of my children told God all about their boogers. And there were endless giggles when Daddy changed the words of “I’m a little teapot” to “I’m a little sneeze pot.”

But some nights, it’s so exhausting. And we’re just already so spent from the way the day has gone that we just want to check all our boxes and peace on out of there. I love my kids. But some nights by around 7:30 I am just at the end of what I have to give. The very end. And it always seems to be those nights that they woke up the baby on the way up the stairs and so one of us has gone in to calm him down and the other tries desperately to corral the older two who think jumping and running and shoving is suddenly necessary. Or they need drinks. Or they suddenly remember that they need chap stick or lotion or tissues, or that they left one of their beloved stuffed animals downstairs, or they’ve noticed that the pajamas that they’ve worn at least weekly for the past YEAR have a tag in them that’s now SO ITCHY they can’t possibly sleep in them!! . . . I’m telling you, I have heard it ALL. Bedtime is the great exposer of all sudden-emergency needs.

Someone please tell me this isn’t just at our house, right?!

Gah. Bedtime. Such sweetness and frustration all mixed together in an impossible jumble of “please, please just go to sleep. Please. I love you dearly. Please sleep. Please, please, please.”

And somewhere in the midst of it all, when we’re trying so hard to just be gracious and patient and yet we’re just so exhausted and want to get them tucked in so that we can, finally, for the first time since 6 am get just a few minutes of space from EVERYone and EVERYthing. . . Clara asks for a “knee step.”

She used to call it a “knee test.” Which made no sense at all. It has nothing to do with a test. And I have no idea where that even came from. But what she wants is for her daddy or me to kneel next to her bed with one knee on the ground and the other extended in front of us, foot flat on the ground to effectively make a 90 degree angle so that she can hold our hand and step on our leg/knee as she climbs her way into her bed.

She’s perfectly capable of climbing into her bed on her own. She does it to get her animals or her baby dolls in and out of there during the day, unassisted. I know she has the skill set required to do it. And yet, every night, without fail:

“Can I have a knee step?”

It is so very humbling to me, as a mom. This simple knee step.

“Mom, will you do this thing? Will you still, in all your tiredness and frustration, kneel down on the floor for me? Help me even though I don’t really NEED it? Am I important enough to you for this? Have I tried your patience too much tonight?”

I don’t really know why it’s THIS thing. Out of all the mommy-ing tasks that I do all day, it’s this one that strikes me every night. It’s this last request of the day. This thing that she wants when I’m at the end of myself, when I have no more to give. And yet, every time, every night for months now, the Holy Spirit tugs on my heart when I look at her eager face and hear those words:

“Can I have a knee step?”

And every night, kneeling there on my kids’ floor, amidst the toys and the shredded tissues and crumpled stickers suddenly feels like a holy moment. And I know, deep down, and for perhaps the first time in the midst of what has usually been an exhaustingly full day, that this is what serving the Lord looks like at this time in my life. At this full-time stay-at-home barely-showered, baby on my hip, dinner-cooking, band-aid giving, errand-running, crayon-coloring mommy stage.

I serve Him by serving them. In bending my knee for my daughter to climb on, I’m bending my knee to my creator. Submitting my will to His. And I may not get it all right. There are days when I’m distracted, days when I’m selfish, days when I’m just plain overwhelmed. Days where we’re sick and we watch Thomas the Train for a ridiculous number of hours. Days when I nail it and we do school and science projects and take a walk in the fresh air and eat freshly baked bread for snack and I feel like I’m rocking this mom thing. Days when I feel completely fulfilled and days when I feel like I’ve completely lost myself – or completely lost my mind.

But somehow the knee step, this simple, day’s end way of serving my daughter, shifts my perspective regardless of how the rest of the day has gone. And so, every night, I kneel down beside her bed and grab her hand – tuning my heart to His as I do.

“Sure, peanut. You can have a knee step.”

“I love you mommy.”

“I love you too.”

 

Lawrence Josiah (part II)

There’s this thing that happens when Sam and I sit down to choose names for our children. We make it about 4 minutes before the suggestions start to get a little ridiculous.

For instance, Sam kept insisting that we use “Annette” as Clara’s middle name (which, when said quickly together would make her sound like a wind instrument). I quickly ruled out anything star-wars related, and we laughed over the thought of using some obscure bible name. Ehud? Nebuchadnezzar?

The kids insisted, after seeing part of Cinderella, that we call the baby “GusGus.” (which we also decided against, haha).

All in all though, we tend to agree on names pretty quickly (or rule them out pretty quickly). Lawrence was one we thought of at the very beginning and it just stuck with us. We loved how it sounded with Oliver and Clara – it just seemed to fit.

Josiah, however, we picked not just because we liked it, but for it’s meaning: “Jehovah has healed.” As I went in for monthly blood draws to monitor the antigens in my blood, we prayed and believed for a miracle. Believed for healing. Believed that Lawrence would be unaffected.

And, the antigens that they had told me would ALWAYS be there did not show up on a single test. The name that we chose in faith all those months ago became such a testimony of God’s faithfulness in our lives.

And, what a beautiful testimony he is.

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I had my sister, Jen, snag a couple of family photos for us when she was here too.

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And of course my mom and dad jumped in some too:

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And then, while the big kids went bowling with grandpa and grandma, I snagged a few photos of just Lawrence.

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I’m hoping to maybe get a few more once I’m not so sore, but I knew I had to capture some early on before he changes too much!

Thank you, once again, to all of you who prayed and stood in faith with us – and for all of the congratulations and well-wishes this past week. I can still hardly believe he’s ours (except that he looks so much like his brother did as a baby that it’s uncanny!) and that we’re now a family of 5!

Lawrence Josiah (Part I of II)

I don’t think I’ve ever really written out our birth stories, though I have read many such posts from others. I suppose I’ve felt a little “out” of that club. My birth stories do not include tubs and exercise balls and my husband rubbing my back through contractions. Well, the first one did. For 30 hours. Followed by about three hours of pushing. Followed by my rings being cut off of my very swollen fingers as I signed surgery consent forms.

My birth stories include triage rooms and cold, sterile operating rooms with large lights. They include wall to wall cabinets of supplies, blue drapes, machines and computers, and teams of people in scrubs, hats, and surgical masks. They include sitting on the table, holding onto a nurse’s hands because my husband is not allowed in the room yet, while the anesthesiologist inserts a spinal block that numbs me from the ribs down.

It’s not what I had planned. Not what I had expected. Not what people usually write about.  But they’re our stories. And they’re still stories of God’s faithfulness to us, and graciousness to me.

This time around, I struggled with a lot of fear at first, laying on that table. But as they began their preparations and all the buzz of activity swirled around me and I waited for Sam to be allowed to come in, the verse that my mother in law had sent to me a couple weeks prior echoed in my heart in a continual loop:

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3

Perfect peace. What a promise while lying in an operating room.And yet, as Sam was allowed to come in the room, the oxygen tube was placed in my nose, and things began, that is where I found myself. Perfect peace.

I’m not usually an overly emotional person, but my tears started before our baby was actually born. Awash with peace and thinking about God’s incredible faithfulness during this pregnancy, I cried as they told me: “Not long now. He’s almost here.” The tears dripped onto my hospital gown as Sam squeezed my hand and we waited to hear that telltale baby cry.

I couldn’t have been more pleased with my surgical team at Strong. Every one of them. Having only had an experience at one prior hospital, I kept comparing it to what it had been before, and this time was just so, so different. The entire team joked in the room and took bets on how big he would be. The anesthesia team, sensing Sam’s and my nerves, struck up a conversation about kids shows and which ones are too annoying to actually let our kids watch. The pediatrician pulled up a stool by my head and chatted with us while the doctors worked, and I can remember laying there, holding Sam’s hand, laughing and joking with them. Until I got all emotional and switched to crying, that is…

But, really, I’m so grateful for the team we had. Not only that, but they used a clear drape this time so that they could peel back the blue drapery, the anesthesiologist could lift my head, and I could actually see the moment he was born. I was a little nervous about this option – not knowing exactly what I’d see and NOT being the nursing/doctoring/ok with blood type – but it was basically like a normal birth. I couldn’t see anything else besides that baby, and that first glimpse was incredible.

He screamed from the second they held his head, before the rest of him was even out of me, and everyone in the room laughed out loud.

“Check that out! He’s already shouting! He isn’t even fully out yet!”

“Where in the world have you been hiding this baby?”

“I bet I’m right! He looks over 10lbs!”

“Girl, I’m seeing this, but I can’t believe that baby fit in you.”

“He has knee rolls!”

“He’s perfect!”

“Gosh, just look at that face!”

“So, now he’s born…what’s his name?! It’s killing me! I won’t tell your parents what it is!”

Unlike at the previous hospital, where they took the baby out of the room immediately, the pediatrician brought him over to me to do skin-to-skin right away. And, not only that, he nursed right away too – while the doctors were still sewing me up. It was so much more peaceful, so much more settling to have him there with me than to have him leave with Sam while I stayed in the room alone as we had done in the past.

And, of course, I was in awe of him from the moment I met him.

In many ways, we still are. He’s SUCH a chill baby (unless he has to have his diaper changed in the middle of the night, then he can get worked up). But, he’ll just snooze next to me while the chaos of an older brother and sister and household noise goes on around him. He sleeps in the car. He’s been sleeping 3 hour stretches at night. He actually likes to be swaddled at night…which both of our other kids have fought and wiggled out of. He smiles as he’s falling asleep or waking up. And he just stares at his siblings with these bright, wide open eyes when he’s awake. He couldn’t be any more easy going. And he’s just so incredibly cute.

We’re completely smitten.

And feeling maybe a smidgen overwhelmed but also so very, very blessed as we settle into life as a family of 5.

Clara has been obsessed with him since the moment she met him at the hospital. She told me yesterday that “Lawrence is the best, most cutest baby I ever wanted.” And, I quite agree. 🙂

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I did a mini newborn photoshoot with him the other day – those pictures and the reason behind his name will be in part II, coming soon!!

September 2016 Rocket Launch

I knew going into this last unit for kindergarten, which focused on the sun and moon and all things space-related, that Sam just HAD to do a rocket launch with the kids. I mean, when that was daddy’s hobby in high school, why just make a rocket out of a card board box when you can build and launch the real thing? (It didn’t take a lot convincing for Sam to order a kit and some motors either).

So, last week, as we wrapped up our lessons, the kids got to help daddy put it all together in the evenings. To say they were excited is an understatement.

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The kids took a trip with us to the store for paint and decided on bright red, and the night before the launch they got to help put on the stickers and assemble the stand. They wanted their friend, James, from next door to come see the launch – so on Friday we all headed to a local park to set it off!

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What a crew! 🙂

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We had three separate motors, so each of the kids got a chance to push the trigger and then go running off to chase it down as it parachuted back. Oliver is already hooked, and keeps asking where we can get more motors and if we can launch a BIGGER one next time. Haha.

And it made for a welcome distraction as we count the days until our little one arrives!