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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When You Can’t Seem to Lift Your Head: Five Minute Friday

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Photo Credit: Demmer S Flickr via Compfight cc

The last few weeks have felt a blur. We had the lovely experience of traveling to visit friends and as always the visit felt too short, then after a short stint spending time with family we headed home. That was two weeks ago but I feel like I’m still recovering. I’ve finally caught up with the practicals, like laundry. Two of the three kids had a bout of short lived high fevers. We finally had a plumbing problem repaired, only to realize hubby could probably have done himself (he had already tried but apparently he was close). Then the kids started a two week VBS, normally this is a great break for me. But instead I’m feeling drained from hauling them to and from each day.

It may be the sugar I’m giving up or the lack of coffee since my coffee maker broke or something else entirely. But I am exhausted. Even the comfort that usually comes with sleeps is denied me. It takes me hours to wake up and then I’m tired by afternoon and I slog through the evening, feeling guilty all the while for what I’m not getting done.

I’m feeling the pressure of impending homeschool documentation deadlines, ministry and leadership responsibilities not to mention the usual daily tasks of keeping everyone fed, clothed and alive. In the past this would have been a time of high anxiety, fortunately I don’t feel that anxious, but I am weary, in body and apparently in soul as well. Many of my deeper books have been set to the side because I can’t focus. I plow forward on the ones I promised to review, sometimes uncertain if I really disagree with the author or if I just can’t comprehend the concepts.

I know I need to find a way to rest, all the usual outlets have been mostly denied to me and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m not buying anything unnecessary for a month and I’m taking a pantry challenge, thus tightening up our grocery budget. (You’ll hear more about this later). I’ve given up sugar, and unintentionally cut way back on coffee (a broken coffee maker will do that to you). Exercise usually helps me feel energized but now I drag my body through the motions. I can blame it on the low sugar diet, the hot and humid weather or hormones, but none the less I am left with only two things to sustain me; sleep and Jesus. (Have I mentioned that my quality of my sleep hasn’t been great lately either?).

Yes it sound cliché, even I think that. But it’s also true. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just putting one foot in front of the other, praying my way from moment to moment and hoping that tomorrow will be better.

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Right after I wrote this post I ran to drop my kids off at VBS and this song was playing on the radio as I drove home, in the rain, feeling like I had nothing left to get me through today, even though it was only 9 AM. It felt especially appropriate.

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The Lesson in the Blessing: Five Minute Friday

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They don’t always feel like a blessing. I know they are, these wonderful, amazing creatures who carry my DNA. But some days, I doubt whether this was the best life for me. Usually I see the fault as my own, not theirs. They are children and all the wonderful and terrible things that come with that. I am supposed to be the grown up, the one who keeps it together. But lately I’ve been so tired that I don’t want to be the adult. I want someone else to clean up the messes and make the hard decisions.

I think sometimes they make me angry not because they make my life difficult, but rather because they show me what I lack. I am jealous of their freedom to play and run, unencumbered by worry or pretense.

Then I remember, I am supposed to be a child too. My father has everything under control and I am free; if I would allow myself to release the anxiety and stop worrying about tomorrow. Instead of envying my children, I should join them.

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The Storm is Real, But He Is There: Five Minute Friday

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Photo Credit: Fred Moore 1947 Flickr via Compfight cc

 

Things have felt a bit off kilter around here lately. Hubby’s work stress, some big decisions to be made for our kids, homeschool deadlines, and unexpected medical and car bills have made things a little bit crazy. We hit the summer activities with a bang, which is great for keeping the big kids busy but tough on introvert mommy who doesn’t love running here and there every day.

Even wonderful, long anticipated things like trips to visit far away friends and family can add pressure to the already intense season. I’ll be honest and say that I’m not feeling very steady.

This is where I usually talk about how Jesus is the rock we stand on, and he is unshakable, which is true. But sometimes when I don’t feel steady, being told that I am makes me feel a little crazy. Yes, it is still true and I need to speak truth.  Yet a different perspective can be helpful.

There is a great story in the Bible about Jesus and disciples going out on a boat into the Sea of Galilee. They met with a huge storm. But Jesus was asleep and the disciplines panicked. I’ve heard many deeply theological interpretations of this scripture, and I’m not going to dispute those. But I tend to take it at face value. Jesus walked the earth in a human body.  His human body was tired, therefore he had to sleep. But the disciples mistook his sleep for lack of concern.

The disciples woke him in distress, and he calmed the storm. But the storm wasn’t in their imagination. It was real. They were, in fact, unsteady. The sea was in turmoil. They were out of control.  But Jesus was in control. He did calm the storm, but even in the midst of the storm he was there.

I know that Jesus is there, even in my storms. I don’t deny the difficulties exist, but I will speak truth over them. I will acknowledge the unsteadiness without giving into guilt that I should be able to hold it all together on my own. I know that calm will come, though I don’t know when. I choose to remember that I’m not in the boat alone.

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Closing the Door and Calling It Done

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Just like the that, the baby phase is over. It’s been a difficult decision for my husband and me, as we figure out what we think our family will look like. You can dream and plan but there are variables that can’t be anticipated. We came by our decision with a great deal of thought, prayer and soul searching. There was also logic. Our three bedroom house that we just moved to; our ages; my increasingly difficult pregnancies and deliveries. We talked about it a lot and the biggest thing holding us back from making the final call was that something about our family felt incomplete.

 

Yet, we had to remind ourselves that we lost a child to miscarriage. I suspect this feeling of incompleteness will always be there, regardless of how many children we add to our family. Because we are incomplete, at least for now. Just as this world will never feel totally comfortable since it was never intended to be our permanent home (at least not in its broken state), so will we carry a certain level of emptiness for the child we are missing. There is great and beautiful hope, but we still feel the lack.

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I’ve tried to write this multiple times. But I couldn’t quite find the way to express it. To talk about how it feels to know that there won’t be anymore babies. To mourn what could have been but to be excited about what is coming. I am someone who loves the baby phase. Despite the not sleeping, I just love that first year and a half as this new person is growing and discovering the world. Their needs are relatively simple and they take joy in the little things. While I love my older kids, I haven’t found the same enjoyment in their more complicated issues, strong opinions and the general chaos of the days.

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But I have learned to cultivate excitement for this next season of life. A friend recently talked about how she feels like she is transitioning to the Renaissance of her life. She refers to the time when her kids were tiny as the Dark Ages. Of course she enjoyed her children, but life was hard. There wasn’t much money, time or energy to be had. It was survival mode. But now that her kids are a bit older and she is done with night time feedings, diapers and potty training, there are so many new things available to her. There is time for art, culture and travel. She is learning a new instrument and she has picked up a new career. Her point was that there is beauty and happiness coming. I found this hugely encouraging.

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That is what I’ve chosen to focus on. I am likely less than two years away from being diaper free. As much as I have loved cloth diapering, I’m ready to be done. My kids generally sleep at night. Soon my kids will be able to do more for themselves. There will be time for me to be creative; both by myself and with them. I am looking forward to this.

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With any time of transition, it hurts a bit and it’s easy to have doubts. I’m allowing myself to experience the sadness and remember fondly the things I know I will be giving up. But I’m also keeping my focus firmly in today, as I watch this last little one getting bigger by the day. I try to pause to soak him in. Then I turn my eyes forward toward what is to come; all the difficulties but also the beauty and wonder that comes with it.

 

 

I Am Valued, I Am Worth It: Five Minute Friday

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photo courtesy of Rachel from Twinkle Photo

 

One of the hardest parts for me, in the transition to being a stay at home parent was the loss of feeling valued. In a culture that determines our worth based on what we produce or how much we are paid for our services; unpaid, full time keeper of home and children doesn’t rank very high. In fact, we devalue those tasks as “not a real job” and lament the waste of talent and education.

The world around me is filled with voices telling me who I should be and why what and who I am right now isn’t enough.

“Isn’t it nice you get the luxury of staying home with your children?” those voices say. “But when they go school you plan to go back to work and get a real job, right?”

“Wouldn’t it be easier if you just sent them to regular school? How will you save for college if you don’t work?” question the well meaning friends, relatives and sometimes total strangers in the grocery store.

While I feel mostly secure with the simpler and non-mainstream kind of life we have chosen, sometimes it’s hard not to let those voices lead to doubt, both in my decisions and of my value. Is staying home with my children really worth while? Would it be better if I could provide them more material things? Would I be a happier person if I had the regular affirmation of a traditional job where my work was recognized and at a minimum, I had a paycheck to show for my efforts?

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photo courtesy of Rachel from Twinkle Photo

 

Then I am forced to again remind myself, that my value is intrinsic. No matter how much money I make (or don’t), how good I am at household management (or not) and whether my contribution is culturally recognized (or isn’t); my worth is the same. I am a child of God, who in this season of my life is called to be cook, laundress, house cleaner, nose wiper, diaper changer, teacher, calendar coordinator, boo boo kisser and taxi driver. It will not always be this way.

No matter how many times I remind myself of this, I keep coming back needed to remember again. Regardless of the hats I wear and the titles I hold, my name and identity remain the same. Beloved daughter of the most high God. Worth more than rubies, valued for who I am not what I do.

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Let Wisdom Replace Doubt: Five Minute Friday

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Photo Credit: Neillwphoto Flickr via Compfight cc

I was raised with a very strong sense of duty. You show up on time, keep your commitments even if it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient. I recognized early on in life that there are lot of things you do because it’s right and good, not necessarily because you want to.

Then enter parenthood. Suddenly the list of shoulds became huge and sometimes they contradicted each other. Baby should sleep in bed with mommy vs. Baby should never sleep in bed with mommy. Children need to play independently especially outside vs. Children should never be left alone outside for any period of time.
Other times the standards set felt insurmountable. Children should rarely, if ever watch TV, have sugar, wear clothing made of two kids of fabrics. (Ok, I made that last one up.) Being a mom meant a world filled with new levels of obligation and oceans of new guilt. With every decision I made, there was enough evidence and social pressure from the opposite opinion that I doubted myself constantly. Staying at home, homeschooling, the list went on. It wasn’t that I was too overwhelmed to make choices, just that I was almost never confidence I was making the right ones.

Sometimes even when I was unhappy with the course I’d set, I felt powerless to try and change it. Why put in all that extra effort if it wasn’t necessary, I was still going to feel guilty and tomorrow a study will come out to suggest that my original choice was right all along?

It took me a long time to silence the voices of duty. Honestly, they are with me still. But quieter whispers now instead of demanding shouts. It is easier to ignore them and try instead to replace them with words of truth. Not that I don’t fulfill my responsibilities, I’m just more deliberate what I commit myself too. But I haven’t yet learned to quiet the murmurings of guilt when I read another article or see another volunteer need.

Sometimes I let them become quite loud, and they drown out the beauty and the wonder of this life that I am both carefully chosen and yet accidentally found. (Because so much of life with that strange combination of intentionality and serendipity).

But I’m working hard to pray for mercy instead of cling to impossible standards and ask for wisdom instead of being wracked with doubt. All my shoulds and oughts were covered by the blood at the cross, and that doesn’t exclude my parenting ones.

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