How’s the Weather Where You Are?

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I recently texted a friend with these words in moment of desperation with a particular situation in my life.

“I feel like I’m watching a storm roll in. I can see it coming, I know there is nothing I can do to stop it, and I wonder if this will be the one that takes me out for good.”

 

Some of us are experiencing an emotional and spiritual hurricane season. (If you live in an area of LITERAL hurricane season you are in my prayers). We know the atmosphere and the weather patterns. We can feel a shift in the air even before we see the dark clouds. Then we see the swirling storm on the horizon and the feeling of powerlessness comes. There is nothing we can do to stop the storm except batten down the hatches and wait.

Sometimes it just all feels like too much and we wonder if we can weather another storm. There are two pieces of truth that I have been clinging to.

 

“And the rain fell and the floods came and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on the rock.” Matthew 7:28

 

This is the theme verse for our church’s kids program this year, but every time I hear it, I’m reminded that it applies to me too. The storms will come. It is part of life. How we weather them is based on how strong our foundation is. If we build our lives on the rock, the rains and winds may come, but we will withstand it.

 

“The disciples went and woke him, saying,
‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’ He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.
‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another,
‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’  “
Luke 8: 24-25

 

I also need to remember that I serve the one who makes the wind and waves obey. I am, in fact, powerless, but He is all powerful. Sometimes in my fear and frustration, all I can see is the storm. But I forget that I am not standing alone in it.

 

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Hope for the Financially Frustrated: A Review of More Than Just Making It

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From the time we were first married, my husband and I always had a budget. In fact,we had to make a list of all our bills to prove we could pay them each month before my parents would agree to let us get married. We were very young and I had never really known a life of financial struggle. For the majority of our marriage we were just making it. Most of the time, it didn’t worry me much. We had each other and if something terrible happened (which fortunately rarely did) we had family nearby. Certainly we were a bit naive but we also had faith that if we honored God with our lives and our money that he would be faithful, and we always had what we needed, if not a bit extra. I remember what it’s like not to have any financial margin, and many ways, I’m still there.

 

 

Tomorrow morning, More Than Just Making It by Erin Odom will be officially released by Zondervan publishers. I had the opportunity to preview the book and share my thoughts. I wasn’t positive what I was expecting from this book. I was expecting some budget tips, though I know that wasn’t the primary purpose. But the best feature of this book is Erin’s incredibly encouraging story. Yes, she has found success after years of struggle but this is not a how-to book. It’s not a step by step guide on how to get out of debt and build a financially healthy life. But it is filled with encouragement on how to slowly crawl out of a financial hole, no matter how you got there.

 

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I really appreciated the chapter on creating more income, though not for the reasons I expected. Some of her suggestions were good ones. But I was especially drawn to her wisdom not to select a side business that doesn’t mesh well with your personality. There are many times I’ve been tempted to take on a side gig that I knew wouldn’t work well for my personality of lifestyle but I felt desperate. There are times to be desperate. But truly, we weren’t there. Our kids were eating. We were surviving. We just had mountains of student loan debt that seemed insurmountable. We couldn’t seem to build our savings without it being drained every other month by the next crisis.

 

However, Erin did inspire me to take a hard look at the financial state of our household. I redid my budget and managed to scrape a couple dollars from each category to make sure we have SOMETHING going into savings each month instead of spending virtually every dollar as it comes in, toward the goal of rebuilding our savings account after a lot of moving expenses at the beginning of the year. We even tried a No Spend Month. While that didn’t net us the large amount of excess I was hoping, it did help to fill a few holes in my budget and helped answer some questions about how much we really can do without.

 

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Most significantly, I feel inspired to try and expand my blog further. I’ve always been nervous about doing this. Because sometimes the words just don’t come. It seems easier to stay in the holding pattern of low readership and a trickle of income. I don’t necessarily plan to build a full time income or anything. But I need to start taking some major growth steps, some of which will eat into the tiny income that we are currently making and mostly need.

 

I’m also trying to get back on track with my book. I’ve been working for several (we won’t say how many) years on my Lenten devotional. My Advent devotional, As We Wait, came so easily that I thought a devotional for Lent felt like a natural extension. Except it hasn’t been easy, it’s been like pulling teeth and most days it’s easier to just tap out another blog post or get caught up in the general chaos of my life homeschooling with three small children and helping to run multiple church ministries.

 

 

This book also helped me recultivate gratitude on my heart. Too often I focus on what we are lacking or the size of our financial difficulties than on all of the good things. Earlier this year, we were finally able to move into a home that is better suited to our growing family. Even just three years ago that seemed impossible. I am able to continue to stay at home and homeschool my children, yes it takes great financial sacrifice to do this, but it is nice to have the option at all. I know not all families do.

 

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It has also renewed my commitment to generosity regardless of our circumstances. Many times over the years we have benefited from the generosity of others, whether it be personally or anonymously. Sometimes it was random money, other times it was an item at a time we needed it most. When things rare tight for a season it can be tempted to be less giving because it feels so difficult. But I think maybe those are the kind of times I need to hold much more loosely to what I am and realize that it all comes from God.

 

No matter where you are in your financial journey, you will find encouragement in Erin’s book. If you have a spending problem or an income problem, have survived hard times or are only just now coming into difficulty; there is hope for you. If money is so tight that you can’t even think about purchasing this book, then try going to your local library and requesting that they purchase a copy. If you have the means, consider purchasing a copy for a friend that doesn’t and ask that she pass it on to another friend in need when she is done.

 

There is hope for a better future, not because of any magic formula or special method but through trust in Jesus and a little bit honesty and logic as we assess our financial lives. Someday, we will be more than just making it.

Read the first chapter here!

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I received this book for free in exchange for my review but my opinions are my own. This post may also contain affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

Lead & Guide: Five Minute Friday

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Photo Credit: Thomas Beck Photo Flickr via Compfight cc

 

I like to follow directions. I don’t know if it’s the way I was raised or just a part of my personality, but I don’t like winging it. (Ok, that’s not entirely true, but if there is a right way to do something and a proper procedure, as long as it makes sense, I prefer to use it).  But many of the best things in life come without a user manual, marriage and family come to mind.

Not that I haven’t tried. My husband and I read all kinds of books while we were dating and engaged as well as in the early days of our marriage.  In fact, I still regularly have a few marriage books on my to-read list. Those books have definitely been helpful but they are only tools. I still have to figure out how to apply them. Because no one has as yet written a book called “How to Be the Best Wife to Rob” or “How Rob and Bethany Can Fall More in Love Each Year.”

Then there is parenting. My shelves are loaded with books of how to be a better mom. Most of my reading is devoted on how to keep a better house, be a better teacher and how to improve my parenting skills. After eight years as a parent, I’m lost count of the number of books I’ve read on the subject. Some of these books have been useful, others discouraging but in the end they aren’t a how-to guide. They can’t be, because no one has written “How to Be the Best Mother to the Vitaro Kids” or “Raising My DNA Without Losing My Mind.”

The truth is, I wish it was that easy. Instead I am forced, one argument and tantrum at a time to figure out what they need most from me. With a tongue held and words bit back, I silently pray that I’ll  some how get it right. Yet, I have to remember that am not in this alone. Help is available, if I only ask. I’m not going to get the whole map, but I may get the next step.

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Psalm 31:1-3

“In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
2 Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
3 Since you are my rock and my fortress,
 for the sake of your name lead and guide me.”

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Speak to Me, I’m Listening: Five Minute Friday

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Photo Credit: emiel bleidd Flickr via Compfight cc

 

When my first child was born, I was so anxious for her to talk. I wanted to know what she was thinking and better able to understand her needs. She may not have been an early talker, but by 18 months she had more than 100 words. Then the second child arrived. He was a later talker, but once he started, he wouldn’t stop. Even at 5, he is the loudest of the house and barely pauses for breath. (I realize this may be a genetic feature I contributed to his DNA).  By the time my third arrived, I didn’t worry much anymore about when he would talk. I knew he would and sure enough he does. Much of it is unintelligible but as he approaches his second birthday, I definitely find myself wishing that it was a little quieter at my house with a whole lot fewer words.

 

Humans want to connect, it is in our nature. But not all of us want to connect with words. But communication, both written and verbal has always been such a central part of who I am. It was surprising to no one when I grew up to enjoy middle school and high school theater products, speech meets and took up writing. When my husband and I read the Five Love Languages together it was apparent very quickly that one of my primary languages is the dialect of quality time called quality conversation. I need to connect with someone through words to feel truly close to them.

 

Spiritually, this is no different. So often in the cacophony that make up my days I find myself wanting to hear God. I want to connect with him through words. This is why prayer and reading the scriptures is so important for me, even though both are something I’ve struggled with over the years. Because without those words, I can’t connect, I don’t feel close.

 

Yet, I have also felt called, especially lately, to spend time in silence. This seems to go entirely against my communicative nature. How can I connect with God without words? For me, I need the silence to better let my heart be my ears. To let the spirit of God impress himself on my soul and find my spirit renewed. This can’t always happen when I’m constantly full of words.

 

It is in those moments when I am too tried and worn out for words that I have no choice but to lift my silence up as an offering and see what He has to say.

 

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Speak to me, Lord. I’m listening.

I Belong Where I Am (And So Do You): Five Minute Friday

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Photo Credit: RStonejr Flickr via Compfight cc

 

It’s another one of those days. The ones where I was up in the night with a child who is old enough not to be up. So I drag myself out of bed much later than intended and already the world seems a wreck and I wonder if it’s even worth trying.

 

I’ve been asking a lot of questions lately about where I fit. Motherhood has this ability to make you feel both indispensable (as in, would anyone in this house be able to find their shoes without me) and useless. (They don’t listen, they constantly complain, and they tell me straight out they wish they were orphans). When the budget numbers won’t add up at the end of the month and the needs outstrip the resources, not even accounting for the wants; sometimes I wonder if this isn’t where I belong.

 

I gave up a job, rather than a career, because it seemed the easiest and best thing to do. In fact it was the dream. To be that stay at home mom. But now when there is more month than money I sometimes question my choice. She screams in my face about how she wishes she didn’t even have a mommy, when he flails and kicks and says I don’t love him and even the toddler gets in on the action. I wonder whether all these hours a day are worth it.

 

I could be being paid and potentially appreciated somewhere. Even if I didn’t love the work at least I’d have something to show for my days besides puffy eyes and weary shoulders.  But I always come back to the same thing: I am needed. I realize needed isn’t the same as valued. I also know that children rarely value their parents but I’ve seen the pain it is to be without them, so I choose to believe that this is my place.

 

I would like to offer some kind of pithy encouragement that makes it all better for those mamas in the trenches like me, wondering if this has all been a terrible mistake.  But all I have to offer is this.

 

This isn’t a mistake. Your life isn’t a mistake. Being mom to this kids, in this place at this time is what you were meant for.

 

It is paradoxical. We have these little creatures that we would die for but at the same time won’t share out secret dessert stash with. We want to give them the moon and yet, if I step on one more pile of toys I’ve asked them to clean up I may sell them to the zoo.

 

This is where I am. It is where I belong, even when I wish I didn’t. When I want to run, I can’t even comprehend where to go.  Because for better or for worse, and mostly some of both; I’m their mother. At least for now, I’m the educator, dishwasher, laundress, house cleaner, sibling fight referee boo boo kisser, and sometimes emotional punching bag.  But it’s my place and I move forward in the belief that somehow all if this is preparing me for what is ahead, both the beautiful and the difficult.

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It’s Only The First Day

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Photo Credit: brodieguy Flickr via Compfight cc

 

Today was our first official day of school. As year round homeschoolers there is always learning going on around here. But we took the first part of the summer off from formal school like stuff to help us reset while the kids did VBS, swim lessons and we look a trip to see friends and family. But I knew we needed to get back into a routine and get started.

 

I had all kinds of grand plans about being full prepared and a lovely day spent covering all the subjects. Fortunately I talked myself out of the extravaganza I had originally wanted and decided to phase in our subjects over the next three months. These last two weeks of July will be spent on the basics and then we’ll start phasing in new subjects (like formal spelling, American history and science) and special subjects (like art and music) over the next few months. Our co-op doesn’t start back up until September so I thought this would be a good time to get our bearings.

 

Except my planning day on Saturday turned into a clean out the garage day because we realized there was standing water due to all the recent rain. (Did I mention that our garage is still full of boxes left from our move 6 months ago?) I spent most of Sunday night desperately trying to clean up the living room so that it wouldn’t be a mess tomorrow when we started school and all the while feeling overwhelmed by all there was to do.

 

We started the day with French toast for breakfast, which the kids loved. Then we started with a family devotional I’ve been wanting to try. (The kids were less than fans, unfortunately). We read two new poems from this children’s season poetry treasury that I love. Then we continued on with reading lessons, language lessons, and our book of the week from Five in a Row. I began reading aloud Mary Poppins during snack time and then we moved on to math and copy work.

 

That may all sound really impressive. Except it also involved:

 

A stop for a diaper change of the toddler and trying to keep him from writing all over the house with the pencils.

 

Dealing with whining from my 8 year old who refused to do her reading lesson and proceeded to do a rushed and poor quality job with copy work.

 

I was hoping to do an audiobook during lunch but my children were so disappointed that I didn’t have Mary Poppins as an audiobook (apparently they don’t like the way I read it) that they refused to listen to anything at all.

 

The kids fought, the toddler disrupted

Some how laundry was also done, though I’m not exactly sure how and before I knew it, it was time to start dinner. I still had to cram in a workout before dinner was actually ready and I had to run to a meeting at church.

 

Not an auspicious first day. But I had to keep reminding myself it was just the first day. There are many days ahead. Some will be better, often they will be about the same as this. Yet there is room for growth and improvement. First days tend to built up as some kind of symbol of how the year will be. But really it’s just a day.

 

There are so many other times I let one day define me. The day my workout goes terribly. The day my children won’t behave at the store. (Ok, that’s most days, but still). When my husband and I fight. When unexpected bills arrive and it feels like we’ll never get ahead financially. But it’s not about that one day, it’s the decision to get up each and every day, and continue with the mantra “I need thee every hour.”

 

Tomorrow I will get up, start a load of laundry, and remind the kids to brush their teeth and empty the dishwasher. Make a less impressive breakfast than today and we will begin again, all the while praying for the strength and provision I need for the day and the hour, believing that the strength will arise as I need it.

Grievances and Grace: Five Minute Friday

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Photo Credit: LabyrinthX Flickr via Compfight cc

 

My children have always been collectors. Rocks, pine cones, colored bits of paper fashioned into pretend clothing for stuff animals, drawing, etc. My daughter especially is quite a pack rat. I frequently have to go through her stuff and try to get rid of it when she’s not looking. I try to be sensitive to her feelings, but she gets attached to EVERYTHING. I tell my husband that it’s his fault, because he too has a strange attachment to his things. It’s a weird kind of loyalty, that some how the item represents the person it came from and any positive feelings associated with that person.

 

I no longer have as much of an attachment to things. But I do my own kind of collecting: grievances. I never thought of myself as one to hold a grudge until I had children. Then suddenly every day was filled with a list of ways I’d been wronged. I hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in weeks or months, the children got into a stash of special snacks I was saving, a favorite item was ruined, unnecessary messes were made. Every disobedient act and refusal to comply seemed to be subconsciously recorded on a mental balance sheet. If there were enough of them, I deserved a break, a treat, something. Not just deserved, was entitled to.

 

I know that parenthood would be hard and would involve a lot of self-denial; but I didn’t fully anticipate how much dying to myself I would have to do. Does this mean I am a martyr? No. Or at least I shouldn’t be. There are definitely times when I resort to neglecting myself and blaming my family for it. Then I feel justified in my irritation and frustration. But that isn’t how I want to live. This also doesn’t mean that I don’t take care of myself. Obviously self-care is important, but when it steps over into entitlement, I know I have a problem.

 

Instead of collecting grievances when I am wronged by my children, I can extend and receive grace. When my emotional bucket is heavy from carrying rocks of my discontent there isn’t room for much else. Will life still be hard? Yes, because the world is broken and I am not a perfect parent, nor do I have perfect children. But I don’t have to let myself be dragged down into despair. The temptation is strong to give up, especially when I keep such a long record of wrongs. This parenting gig isn’t for the faint of heart. Grace means taking those rocks and dumping them out and refusing to pick up more. Instead, reaching out to the one who has wronged me and loving him or her a little harder.

 

I have a long way to go with this. I still yell when I should be calm. I still let out words of frustration when I should be instructing in love. But I am tired of feeling heavy with discouragement and feeling as though there is little to look forward to.  I may have been gifted with hard to handle children but that doesn’t mean there can’t also be joy. I may be having trouble finding it at times, but it certainly won’t be easy to find if I’m taking every unkind word and rebellious moment as a personal affront to my parenting record.

 

So I am slowly, ever so slowly, learning to release my hold on those grievances even as they come to me. It requires me to trust that God’s got this and that I will not be overwhelmed.

 

“God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.”
Psalm 46:5 (NIV)

 

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