Thoughts from a young wife and mom about this adventure called life with God.
In January of 2013, I started feeling God tug on my heart a bit about schooling options for my kids. With my oldest about to turn 10 (double digits!) and my youngest about to be a kindergartner (!!!), time was flying by all too quickly! Our lives were hectic and I wasn't getting enough time with my kids who were growing up every time I blinked! I felt like I wasn't a part of their days as much as I wanted to be and something needed to change. I spent a lot of time in prayerful consideration, seeking advice and checking into my options, which all confirmed that God was calling me into homeschooling. I narrowed down my curriculum, notified the public school of our intentions and we were on our way on our new adventure.
Adventure is defined as "a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome", yes, homeschooling is just that! God doesn't always (or, maybe ever, ha) call us to the easy, but when He calls us to do something, we need to do it, regardless of fear or "uncertain outcome". (If you need any motivation to get past the fear of a God-given calling, you can find a compelling story about a giant fish in the book of Jonah.)
Our homeschooling journey has been anything but easy, but we will be rewarded for seeking God's will in our lives and for trusting that He is in control, as promised in Hebrews 11:6: "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." This morning, I caught a little glimpse of Heaven, a reward tucked into my day, as I worked on school work with my youngest son.
As I touched on earlier, my two oldest kids went to public school through the 1st and 3rd grades before we brought them home. They were "groomed" to sit still and taught the fundamentals during their school days. My youngest, however, has only known the homeschool setting because we started homeschooling as he entered Kindergarten. When it came time to teach him how to read and write, I was met with hesitation...no...resistance...um...World War III? It was a daily battle to get a pencil in his hand. And the tears, oh the tears---from both of us. I didn't know what to do...so I prayed. James 1:5 says "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him."
After praying, researching and reading blogs of other parents' struggles in similar situations, I resolved to put off most things that required a pencil for awhile and just focus on activities that could be done orally to allow him time to grow and mature. As peaceful as I felt about this decision, I struggled with comparison, sometimes to other children in his grade, but mostly to my other two. They learned at a faster pace in public school, easily fell in line with the other students and always did what they were asked by their teachers. They knew how to read well by Christmas of their kindergarten year, along with handwriting, and my little busy body was nowhere near where they were at his age. The doubts nagged at me, I wrestled with what was the best decision for my kids, where the best place for them to learn was, but I kept coming back to God confirming that I was to continue homeschooling all 3 of my kids. So, I prayed and pleaded that Kid #3 would come around (SOON!) and not be behind while we waited.
To be honest, I have spent most of the last 2 and a half years talking myself out of enrolling them back into public school. Some days, when I am scrambling for that white flag, it takes my mom and my sweet homeschooling friends to talk me down from the ledge and insist we are all going to be okay. They point me back to God's path for my family...and they walk with me.
Fast forward to this bright, sunny morning---my now 2nd grader flew through his math work, he enjoys history and he writes without tears of frustration. His handwriting still needs some work, but he works through it rather than immediately turning into a puddle of tears at the sight of a pencil. There were a few tears this morning, this time they were mine, and they were tears of pride for my smart, energetic boy and of thankfulness that God answers our prayers in His timing. He also equips us so that we can fulfill His calling for each of us. And I am so thankful for the constant reminder that if He brings me to it, He will bring me THROUGH it.
Earlier today, Brody read clearly and efficiently through a book, without my help, I just sat there and listened in awe. The sound of sweet, sweet joy in his voice. He enjoys reading now and has come so far, even after a slower start. It is only through God's grace that we have continued through this journey of homeschooling. It is only by taking it one day at a time and keeping our eyes on Him that we are halfway through our 3rd year. The responsibility of teaching my kids weighs heavily on my heart, especially as my oldest edges closer and closer to Junior High in the Fall (YIKES!). I know we will still have our hard days, but I know that God is faithful when we obey and I know that as long as I rely on His strength, all things are possible (Phil. 4:13).
It is my hope that you will seek God's wisdom and strength in all you do, in whatever God has called you to do. Spend time in His word daily, first thing in the morning before the world starts demanding your attention. Find those people who will do life with you, who will speak truth to you, who want the best for you. And finally, don't give up, persevere and watch for those moments when God blesses you because of your obedience to His calling for your life.
Well, here we are...already a month into 2016. I had hoped that time would slow a little after the holidays, but it never seems to slow down, if anything, time just speeds up. With the close of 2015 and the anticipation of a new year, most of us look back on our year and set some goals moving forward. For the past few years, as I take some time to reflect, I have felt a nudge from God towards a specific word that encapsulates the direction I need to move in, or what I need to work on in my own life. "Faith" and "Joy" have both been words for me in past years. That "Joy" year was a doozy! This year, my word is "CREATE". Oh how thankful I was for my word...it sounds so lighthearted and inspiring! And boy, am I ready for something lighthearted and fun!
The first thing that came to mind when I heard "Create" was a Bible verse from a song we sang at church when I was a kid. If I think hard enough, I can probably still remember the sign language that accompanied the song that came from Psalm 51:10: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." I know I am not alone in finding the promise of a new year refreshing and exciting. My prayer over this new year, over my day to day life, is that God would create a new heart, a clean heart inside of me. I want to follow where He leads. I want my heart to break for what breaks His. I want to grow closer to Him and learn all that He has for me. I wrote in my last post that God equips us for what He calls us to do...well, I want to be diligent in preparing myself for His calling in my life. I want to grow fully into the woman God created me to be.
Beyond a clean heart, which I know is enough to keep me and God busy for the rest of my life, "Create" trickled into other facets of my life. Towards the end of the year, and even into January, I struggled with what I have dubbed the "post-Christmas crash". All the excitement and anticipation of the holidays is over, and if you're in a situation similar to mine, family has flown back home, so very far away...and life, well, it goes back to normal...whatever "normal" is for each of us. As I was expressing my sullen mood and the struggles I was having to my mom, I described how I appeared happy when I was out and about, but then it faded as I drove home and the gloom poured back in. She recommended that I find ways to make coming home and being home more enjoyable. I have always done my best to make our home welcoming to our family and friends, but recently, I have been spending some time thinking about ways to make it so there really is no place like home for me, too. I want to create a life I am excited about, a life I love all the time, not just when I am visiting family or hanging out with friends. I need to make the most of even the smallest moments and not take them for granted, even when I long for life to be different than what it is. I think that this kind of life starts with a clean heart that only God can create.
As I continued to think about what else should be created for me and my family in 2016, I thought of creating a better routine for my family. Creating an updated plan for financial peace and setting some goals that we could work towards, as a couple, and as a family. Creating a good work ethic and Godly character in each of our kids, by modeling it in ourselves. Creating balance between work and play. Creating a peaceful home. Creating time for Matt and I, as husband and wife, investing in our marriage. Creating deeper relationships with my kids as they grow up. Creating time for me to be creative. Creating healthy friendships. Creating laughter and fun memories. Creating a healthier lifestyle. The list goes on and on, but HOW do I achieve these goals? How do I live the life God has in mind for me? Here are some ways that I have been working towards this word that has been placed in my heart so far.
1. Clean Heart.
First and foremost, I need daily quiet time with God. Praying, reading my Bible, spending time seeking His will for me. I need to soak my soul in His truths before my day starts and then I need to ask God to guide me throughout my day. I can only do so much on my own strength before I mess up or get burned out. I'd much rather just rely on God's strength to tackle my daily life and it's amazing how much better my day is when I ask God to do it with me---notice I didn't say EASIER, MESS-FREE, or PERFECT, but better. Some days come with hardships, but with God going before me, my days will be better than they would be if I went about life with my own plans.
I also need to create (there's my word again!) spiritual whitespace to allow my soul to breathe. In Lysa TerKeurst's book Unglued, she points out that "where there is a lack of rest, there is an abundance of stress." I don't know about you, but I am no fun to be around when I am stressed out! As women, we juggle all kinds of responsibilities---our husbands, kids, homes, jobs, to do lists, it goes on and on, doesn't it? Lysa explains that God made it very clear in the Bible that "we are to pursue rest. Literally we are to hit the pause button on life once a week and guard our rest." And she goes on to say that "Sabbath is the time set aside for [our] souls to breathe. Really breathe. So much of [our] daily life is inhaling, inhaling, inhaling---taking so much in and holding [our] breath hoping [we] can manage it all. But we just can't inhale. We must also exhale---letting it all out before God and establishing a healthier rhythm by which to live." It is so important to carve out this time each week so that we may gain perspective that only God can reveal to us. Lysa suggested asking these questions when we hit the pause button on life and ask God to shine light on what we need to work on: "Where am I going my own way right now? What area in my life is more self-pleasing than God-pleasing? What idle words need to be reined in from running rampant in my mind or spilling from my lips?" In submitting to God's way and not my own, He shows me areas I need to work on and He chisels away at the hard places in my heart.
Speaking of Sabbath rest, I do my best to ensure that going to church is the first thing written into my week's schedule. Proverbs 27:17 says "Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." I need to surround myself with like-minded Christians so that we can lift each other up in prayer and encourage one another. I am also praying for Him to show me where I need to be involved in building up the body of Christ. In I Corinthians 12, God calls us to use our gifts to equip others so that together, we can fulfill God's vision for the Common Good. I am responding to His calling in my life out of obedience, but also out of gratitude for what Christ did for me on the cross. My kids and I have recommitted to only listen to Christian music. It's amazing the affect that music has on our hearts. When the kids start to bicker or one of us is feeling grumpy, I immediately turn on Christian music and peace fills our home almost instantly. While some of these things have been ingrained since my childhood, I am looking forward to making some changes to my daily walk with God in 2016.
2. Welcome Home.
When my mom suggested I find ways to enjoy coming home, I sat and wrote down the things in my house that cause stress for me, or contribute to the heaviness I had been feeling. What makes a happy home, a welcome home? I think it is different for all of us, but here are some things I have been working on to bring happy back into my home.
Over the past few months, even before the holidays, I felt like the walls were closing in on me. I realized that part of the problem was that we had too much stuff. And therefore, I spent too much time cleaning up and trying to organize too much stuff. It was all weighing me down. Over the past few years, I have been busy raising kids and doing life, so much so that the piles of outgrown clothes and unused items accumulated faster than time was passing. Yard sales and selling stuff on local buy and sell sites helped put a big dent in the clutter, but not as fast or convenient as I'd like. I recently got my hands on a highly recommended book on organization, and so, the Great Purge of 2015 began. In the book, the author's main theory is to ask if the item in question sparks joy? While a few of her other ideals she teaches are out of this world and a bit nutty, this simple question "Does it spark joy?" has been something I have adopted in trying to find ways to make my home happier on top of simplifying. I am still in the process of purging by the process outlined in the book, but I feel more room to breathe with every bag of stuff I donate. With less stuff, some of my time that I used to spend trying to wrangle the chaos has been freed up.
Another thing at the top of my list was the struggle of balance between all of my duties as a wife and mom...and then homeschooling 3 kids. If my house was spotless, our day of learning suffered. If we learned all day long, the piles of laundry overflowed and we had no time to play. And then in January, my husband's job changed and his work hours jumped a whole 8 hours, flipping our routine upside down. Desperate to fix our messy days, I read blog posts from homeschooling mamas who had similar responsibilities and how they managed their full plates. I listened to podcasts on the things I was having a hard time with and most of all, I prayed over our daily life. In an effort to manage my home more efficiently, I set up a rotating chore chart, split into 4 categories and I delegated some of the work to my very capable helpers. After all, creating work ethic and character in my children was apart of my goals, this seemed like a great time to implement a plan. I keep reminding them that everyone wins this way. While the kids have had chores from early on in their lives, this new system has served us well to keep everyone accountable and we no longer have to ask who's job it is to feed the dogs or unload the dishwasher because it is posted on our fridge for everyone to see. We are now a month into hubbyman's new job and we are finding our family's new natural rhythm.
Along with analyzing the things that caused me stress at home, so that I could eliminate them as much as possible, I also looked for things that I wanted to add to make it fun to be at home. Oh boy, this is the part that sure gets me excited! One of my passions and most favorite hobbies is decorating, oh, and gardening, and fixing things up and---well---all things related to making things pretty! We have had a list of things in mind that I have dreamed of updating or fixing since we bought our house almost 6 years ago. But Life happens. Furloughs and pay cuts hit. Serious injuries at work hit. God has protected us through some tough times in our 13 years of marriage, and I am thankful that we have been able to keep a roof over our heads through it all. And grateful is what I truly am, when it comes down to it. I had a wise woman warn me that it takes about 26 years to get a dream kitchen, another told me I'd have to wait longer, haha, now I understand why! Because Life happens. I am hopeful to see some of those things get checked off our list this year. But in the meantime, for the sake of being content with what I have been given, re-purposing things and rearranging decor around my home has helped to freshen things up and it has breathed new life into our living spaces. Thanks to my newly adopted mantra (and our cleaning routine!), keeping only the things that spark joy for me creates a smile on my face when I walk through my front door now.
3. Happy Life.
Psalm 118:24 says "This is the day that the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it." Celebrating the every day, the small moments, I don't want to wish for tomorrow and miss out on what today has for me. I want to enjoy being married, make the most of the time I have with my kids, and nurture healthy friendships. In order to spend quality time with my husband, my family and friends, I need to prioritize how I spend my time and manage my time well. As a family, we have been intentionally unplugging from technology so that we can focus more on each other. By limiting tv and other devices, I have already seen an improvement in our attitudes and life is more peaceful when everything is turned off. Matt and I have agreed to be more active this year, more adventures outdoors, we love playing sports as a family and I know the fresh air will do us good.
I have been praying for God to show me ways that I can encourage those around me. Whether it is a birthday balloon ambush to show someone how treasured they are, or sending a card in the mail to someone who has been on my heart, I want to spread happiness to others as well. Sharing God's love is a way we can show our gratitude for what He has done for us.
As much as I want to maximize my time spent with others, I have learned how important it is to carve out some time for myself, too. I know that I am a better wife, mom and friend when I take care of myself. Eating better, exercise and physical rest are on my list of goals for 2016. If my word for this year is "Create", then create is what I will do! I received a really cool book on chalk lettering for Christmas, along with chalk pens and it has been fun (and challenging!) to play around with different styles of writing and drawing. I really enjoy crafting, so I am looking forward to taking some time to be creative. I made a list of several books I want to read over the next few months that will help me on my journey to create a life that honors God and blesses others. That is my ultimate goal for 2016---to allow God to create in me a clean heart, that beats only for our Creator and blesses others in the process.
If you have set goals for yourself in 2016, what are they? How are you doing in achieving those goals as we enter February? How can we pray for you at Grace To Joy?
Here we are on Tuesday again. If your past week was anything like mine, it was filled with lots of opportunities for life lessons...for all of us, including me. Our week was great, a lot of fun memories made, our routine flowed smoothly and I even found some time to be creative---let me tell you, chalk lettering is not for the faint of heart, ha. I am learning very quickly that it is going to take a lot more practice and patience as it is not coming as easily as I expected. As I struggled to create something pretty for our February calendar on my chalkboard door, I was tempted to go back to my previous way of writing out our weekly schedule, after all, it had served its purpose and was pretty enough. And I was sure I could find someone else, anyone else who would enjoy this chalk lettering book and I could go back to my non-artistic (crafty-yes, artistic, not so much), non-frustrated self---but---halfway through the mini-tantrum in my head, I turned around and found Ethan sitting at our table watching me trying and erasing and then trying again. Art is not Ethan's favorite subject and the days when we have art written into our day, it often turns into tears of frustration when his picture doesn't turn out like the sample. Hmmm. Here I was, pushed to frustration and on the verge of quitting because my work wasn't turning out like the samples in the book. Don't ya just love it when the lessons you are trying to teach your kids turn and come after you too? I took a deep breath, prayed for some patience and Ethan sat with me until I finished my project, encouraging me and cheering me on, just as I do for him when he is working through something hard. It took me an hour and a half to get "February" and the seven days of the week written out, but now the door is a good reminder for all of us to keep on swimming, swimming, swimming when something doesn't come as easy as we'd like it to. It was good for Ethan to see his mama struggling with something and you can bet that I made the most of the opportunity as we talked about my current love-hate relationship with chalk lettering to the things he has been having a hard time with recently.
Over the past few days, I've been replaying that sweet moment with Ethan in my head and thinking about how much as parents, we want to see our kids through their struggles so that they can grow into the people God designed them to be. We want them to seek God in all they do, to make the right decisions, to learn all they need to learn so they are equipped to fulfill His calling in their lives. If we are being honest, we'd really like to see our kids skip over the struggles and have an easy happy life, but we also know that there is value in the life lessons. There's growth in the difficulties that probably wouldn't happen if it weren't for the really hard times...or even in the small frustrations like learning chalk lettering. And then I thought of how much more God must feel that way for us, as our Heavenly Father. He walks through life with us, using everyday situations to build our character and He longs for us to spend time with Him so that we can grow into the people He created us to be.
There's a new song by Chris Tomlin that has been stuck in my head for weeks called "Good, Good Father". We sing it at church, it plays non-stop on the radio and the lyrics melt my heart every time I hear them because it paints an amazing picture of how just much He loves us. It's amazing to me that our Heavenly Father knows what is best for us, He knows what we need before we even say a word. He is perfect in all of His ways. God doesn't have to go scrambling for the Bible or a pile of parenting books like I did over this past week (okay, over the past 12 1/2 years, haha), because He is omniscient. Oh how I wish that I could be all-knowing, to have full confidence in knowing what is best for Kid #1, #2 and #3. What activities they should be involved in, what passions they should pursue...knowing what would work best in shaping each of them into people who are deeply rooted in the love of their Heavenly Father. But I'm not omniscient, I'm not God. Instead, I need to lean into God for wisdom and guidance, drawing from His love for me and passing it on to my kids. While I can't be all-knowing, I can have confidence that I am doing what is best for my kids when I am earnestly seeking God and modeling my parenting after the way He teaches me. It is my prayer that God will guide me in my parenting and most importantly, that His grace will fill in the gaps where I cannot reach.
I guess that this lesson in love comes at the perfect time with Valentine's Day just a few days away. As sinners, we were unlovable, and we were destined for Hell for all Eternity. But God sent the ultimate Valentine, His son Jesus Christ to save us. John 3:16 says "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." God loves us, even when we are unlovable and He sent His son to save us from an unimaginable future. He replaced impending darkness with the hope that we would be with Him in Heaven forever. Even when life here on Earth brings its hardships and challenges, sometimes, downright heart break, even then, our hope can be found in God, our Heavenly Father. As parents, we want only what's best for our kids and we will go to serious lengths to love them. How much more so, does God love us?
This post is coming a little later than I had hoped it would, but I have had a hard time putting into words all that has happened and all that God has been doing for my family over the past couple weeks. As some of you know, my father in law passed away about a week and a half ago. The news came as a shock to all of us who loved him and we are still processing the loss, one day at a time. It has been really difficult, but God has made His presence known through all of it.
The day Matt got the heartbreaking phone call about his dad, he had talked me into heading to the beach for Valentine's Day weekend. Usually he wouldn't have to ask me twice to head to the beach, but I hadn't felt good all week leading up to Friday and the boys' baseball season had just started, which meant 4 nights of practices. I just wanted to stay home and rest. He finally got me to agree that fresh ocean air would be good for us all, not to mention a visit with my sweet cousin who was already asking us to come down, so I lined up our house sitter and started getting ready for our getaway. Most Friday nights, you'll find me at the local sports arena, watching my kids playing in a couple pick-up games of indoor soccer. It makes for a "wild" Friday night, ha. I never imagined that this is what my Friday nights would look like when I grew up, but I wouldn't change it for the world since it is a highlight of my kids' week. It's also a great opportunity for them to use up some of the endless busy kid energy they all seem to have!
Anyways, to the disappointment of my kids, I decided to skip indoor soccer that Friday night so we could stay home, pack and hopefully get that rest I was longing for. Looking back, I can see how God used all of this for our good. If I had gone to soccer, I wouldn't have been sitting next to Matt in our kitchen when the phone rang, he would have been there by himself. I am so grateful that God knew I needed to be home, and even when I almost changed my mind to meet up with friends texting to see if we were going to soccer, I stuck with my decision to stay home. As we talked with Matt's brother and sister in law and made plans to head to Oregon for the weekend to make arrangements for their dad. It was a blessing in disguise that we already had our house sitter lined up as it was just one less thing that needed our attention.
In the end, Matt and his brother decided that they would go up to Oregon together---without their wives and kids. It was bittersweet, but Matt insisted that I take the kids to the beach as we planned. He knew it would be a good distraction for us and he was right. It was hard for me to be so far away from my grieving husband and we both felt the distance. We were incredibly relieved to be reunited when he came home a few days later, with all the details worked out, and Matt had the week off work to breathe. We spent last week just hanging out, and my day to day life was focused on helping Matt in any way I could.
We've never gone through a loss like this together, and I was hit with the fear of not knowing how to handle this difficult circumstance, or just how it would affect our family, so I just prayed. And prayed. And prayed. God has used this time to bring us closer together as a family, in my relationship with Matt, our family of 5, but also with my brother in law and his sweet family. There's been a lot of love and laughter as we reminisced over memories we had with my father in law. I am so thankful for the growth in our relationship, and for the time we've had together.
While we were home all week, most of the baseball practices got rained out and I cleared almost all of our scheduled events, Matt needed to keep busy, so the kids and I played when he wanted to play, we gave him lots of hugs and "I love you's" and we were quiet when he needed to be quiet. When my hubby suggested that we upgrade our cell phones, we jumped in the car and went and got new phones. Being the sweet guy that he is, he knew that I had hoped to paint the inside of our house this month, so he persuaded me to go buy the paint I had decided on. But I didn't want to paint, I wanted my house to stay in order, everything seemed out of control since that sad phone call and I felt myself needing to be in control of something...and that is usually my house. When my life starts spinning, I usually start cleaning something. But, in an effort to provide yet another distraction for him and show how much I appreciated his efforts to making me happy, even when he was hurting, I went and bought a gallon of "Repose Gray".
A funny story about "Repose Gray", I had read and researched all about this color for several months, I loved it in blog photos and in my favorite TV show. I put the swatch up in our house and checked on how the color changed throughout day, well, for weeks. It sounded and looked to be just what I was looking for, but as we rolled it onto the wall, the regret started to pour in. There was a huge contrast between the warm, comfortable beige that we had lived with for a few years and this new, cool, light gray. I had a love hate relationship with this new color as I sent out texts with photos and panic to a couple people who love me. I'm not sure what led my mom to find the definition of "repose", but it made me reconsider the unfamiliar paint color a little more when she texted it to me. Repose: "a state of rest, sleep or tranquility"...that was exactly what I was longing for in that moment. Have you ever felt at peace when life is chaotic and messy? Inexplainable comfort that only comes from believing that God has you in His hands and He is going to give you just what you need as you need it, even if you'd like that to come faster than the paint guy can shake up a new bucket of paint? In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." I thought I was craving physical rest, free from heartache and chaos, but what God knew I needed was for my heart to rest in Him. In the midst of hardships and struggles, we need to find our rest in our Heavenly Father, not in a spotless house or a perfect paint color.
As drained as I have felt this week---both physically and mentally, I have been doing my best to rely on God for rest only He can provide. I have traded in my desire for what I thought I need to get through this and instead my prayer is for God to align my heart with His, in doing that He has once again shown me I can trust Him with our struggles, both big and small.
I should probably just re-read my post from last week, about finding rest in our Heavenly Father and call it a day on this Tuesday afternoon because the truth is, I am still working on that. We are coming off of a hard weekend that has spun off of an even harder past couple of weeks. It seems like when it rains, it pours and lately I am finding myself relating to Alexander in one of my favorite childhood books, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Sometimes life is just hard. I'd be packing up and heading to Australia, except that at the end of the story, Alexander's mom wisely pointed out that there are bad days even in Australia. I know that we have all been here, maybe you're feeling like I am this very moment and you're scrambling for your passport as you're reading this. Unfortunately, moving to another country isn't the solution to our daily problems...well, maybe it is for some of us, but most likely, God isn't calling us to change our zip code as much as He's trying to change our hearts.
This weekend, I had plans to finish painting, yes, I finally committed to a paint color and I was ready to finish all the walls and put our house back together. As I was taping everything off, my youngest came in from playing outside and asked if he could help me paint. Not being able to say no to his sweetness or an opportunity for one on one time with him, I agreed that he could go change into some paint clothes and help me. Just as I finished instructing #3 how to properly load paint onto a roller, my middle child came in and asked if he could also help, just as my oldest came out in her painting attire ready to get in on the action. In a matter of minutes, one splattering, paint-covered roller tripled and while I wish that I was that fun, easy going mom in this situation, I was wishing I had just sent them all back outside so I could just get this task done quietly and mess free. However, I knew how much all 3 kids wanted to paint, so I took a deep breath and we went through the paint loading and rolling instructions one more time. We were making great progress...until someone dripped paint on the plastic and another someone stepped in it and then a third someone decided to get on the step stool and roll right over the hooks I had purposely painted around and then my husband came in and needed my immediate attention with something...oh, my living room was messy...my life was messy...and my heart was messy.
I was quick to apologize to my handy helpers for losing my patience and they were kind to extend me some grace when I called off the painting party so I could go help their daddy. In Lysa TerKeurst's book Unglued, she talks about emotions being indicators of something else going on deeper inside of us and in that moment, it was obvious to me that the combination of messes going on in my heart and my life needed to be addressed more than any to do list I had written out. I make a lot of lists. I make a lot of plans. I rely on my own strength and try to do things on my own more than I'd like to admit. Me, me, me. No wonder my heart feels so messy.
Last night, as the weight of another situation out of my control fell on my shoulders, I went into our bedroom, and I prayed for wisdom and understanding, and I prayed for God to take away the anger I was feeling towards those who had made a mistake that directly affected our family and replace it with forgiveness instead. In the silence, with tears streaming down my face, I heard,
"Even in the mess, I am still God."
I could go into detail about everything that has gone wrong lately, or why our weekend was so hard, but I think the lesson to be learned here for all of us isn't in the specifics of our circumstances, no matter what happens, God is still God.
In Romans 8:28, the Bible says "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those called according to His purpose." In Jeremiah 29:11, God promises that He knows the plans He has for each of us and we can be filled with peace in knowing that He has given us a future filled with hope. When life is unfair or things seem to be spinning out of control, we need to trust that God is going to use it all for our good. We don't have to understand why something is happening in our lives, we just need to rest in our faith that God is in control, even in the midst of life's messes.
I don't like messy. I guess that's no secret for those of you who know me in real life, or if you are just getting to know me through my last couple posts. I like to have a plan and I like for things to go according to that plan. Ideally, everything would be clean and where it belongs...but that makes me laugh, as I think of my life with my husband, 3 busy kids, 2 huge dogs and 2 cats because it just isn't realistic, nor is it the way that it goes for us most days. But I am not just talking about the physical form of messy that comes with all those feet and paws running through my home, I am talking about the mess that life brings to our front door, and this week has been no exception.
When I excitedly claimed the word "Create" as my word for 2016, with my prayer for God to create in me a clean heart, I may have underestimated God and all that He had planned for me with such a simple word. I thought this year we'd do a bit of lighthearted sprucing up, I didn't expect Him to lay out plans for a complete heart remodel. And oh boy, He hasn't wasted any time in getting started on this overhaul. With all that has been thrown at us lately, I have been feeling raw and emotional, but God has been right there to catch every tear. While I have been craving quiet time with God to sort things out as they come up and to gain perspective only He can give, I just can't seem to find the time to sneak away to find that quiet place.
To this sad mama's heart, the flu took down my darling daughter on Saturday, but just as she turned a corner yesterday, my poor buddy woke up in tears early in the morning because of the pain he was in. And, my youngest is, well, the baby of this family and he's become quite stir crazy over the past few days of being pent up at home and even though doing his best to keep his energy levels lower than normal. The result of this cabin fever has pushed him into becoming my shadow, looking to me to entertain him. A complete 180 from last week, when we had sunshine every day and the kids spent several hours playing outside together. Our regular routine, along with my free time has taken a backseat so I can tend to my poor little sickies and one energetic Brody Boy.
On a family trip to Glacier National Park years ago, my grandma talked about a chalet up on a beautiful mountainside. During this season I am in, I have been longing for a place like that to escape Life's non-stop demands. A place where I can think, pray and sit down long enough to listen to what God has for me. Time to breathe and regroup. But time and spiritual white space are luxuries I can't seem to afford right now, so I have had to get creative. One solution I found for some alone time with God was in a couple trips to get medicine, popsicles, 7 Up and other necessities to help my kids through their illness this week.
In those few quiet moments, God has been quick to point out some things I need to work on, primarily my frustration related to things not going our way, my way. Last week, we found out that because of a filing mistake made by someone in the office at Matt's work, we lost a substantial amount of money on our paycheck for this month, well, not quite lost, it was allocated to our tax withholding, so it'll be waiting for us when we file our taxes next year, but we are definitely missing it now. As wrong and frustrating as the situation was, there was nothing we could do about it. Also, there was no denying God's provision, as my husband had picked up a few overtime shifts last month, and wouldn't you know, the overtime check will just about cover the amount missing on our regular check! God is good all the time, even when we feel life is unfair. I was relieved to know that we were taken care of, but at the same time, I was angry that because of someone else's mistake, Matt's hard earned overtime check wasn't able to go towards what we had planned for it this month.
As I was cleaning my desk the night we got our smaller check---see, I told you that I clean when things start getting a bit crazy!---I came across a list that I had made for projects around our house. I shook my head in frustration knowing that a couple of these projects weren't getting checked off in March like we had originally planned, but I was even more frustrated that we always seem to be stuck just one step away from accomplishing a goal. It feels like no matter how hard Matt and I try, our goals are just out of reach. I couldn't understand why God seemed to be holding us "back" from being successful in our plans. I've become tired of being disappointed as weeks and months pass and the things we hoped to achieve remain unfulfilled.
But then, it hit me. I was trying to make life how I thought it should be. I was striving for my own goals and dreams. While one of my goals is to do my best to honor God in my everyday, as a human, I had gotten wrapped up in trying to make life look how I wanted it to look beyond that.
Now, there isn't a problem with having goals and dreams, God has called us to be good stewards of our time and resources, the problem is when they aren't what God has for us. Instead of holding on tightly to MY plans and dreams, I burned my list that night, I have laid them all down at the feet of my Heavenly Father. I am doing my best to wait patiently as He shows me His dreams for my life.
In Beth Moore's new book "Audacious" (which is awesome, by the way, you should grab yourself a copy!), she wrote something that stopped me in my tracks:
"If you only knew what He has for you. Not only after you kiss this life good-bye but, here on this earth and now in this season. If you only knew, your heart would be so swept up in the audacious love that nothing could keep you from the life you were born to live."
If I only knew.
I wouldn't get so wrapped up in my own plans because if I only knew all that He had for me, I would gladly trade my plans for His. I am so blessed with my family and friends and this life God has given me, even if it isn't exactly how I would write it. Even when things don't go MY way. I don't want to limit God to my plans and to do lists, especially when His imagination is far bigger than my own. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, "However, as it is written, 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.'"
Just as we have big hopes and dreams for our children as they grow, how much bigger are God's plans for each of us? As parents, we know our kids are capable of a lot more than sometimes they are aware of, or more than they feel brave enough to pursue. Our Heavenly Father filled us with the same power that rose Jesus from the grave. He has equipped us to do far more than we feel like we can do, because we are filled with the Holy Spirit.
God has provided for my family, just what we need and when we need it, financially and otherwise. He has proven Himself over and over to me, so amazingly so in just the past few weeks, I am confident that His plans are better than anything I could ever dream up. My circumstances aren't changing, but with God leading, my heart is. And my new plan is to audaciously chase after His dreams for my life.
Sometimes we don't know if how we are addressing our kids' negative behavior is the best approach because we seem to be stuck in days, or weeks (um, years? ha) of the same recurring lesson, the same discussion, the same battle without seeing any improvement. And then some days, God blesses us with little glimpses that we are heading in the right direction.
Recently, Brody has shown interest in being helpful when others are hurt or sick. A couple weeks ago, Ethan crashed hard on his bike and was stuck on the couch for a few days. Brody was right there, keeping him company and trying his best to help Ethan cheer up and asking me how he could help. We've been working on instilling compassion in our kids, for a couple of them, it comes more naturally, for Brody, not so much, but lately, he seems to be getting it. And while it didn't come easy for him, compassion and serving/helping others is proving to be something he is really gifted with and I am excited to see how that plays out in his life as he grows up.
The flu took down my family one by one last week, until Brody and I were the last ones standing. Again, Brody was right there, ready and willing to help. When he wasn't helping me bring medicine or 7 Up to our "patients", he was playing in a big box that had been delivered. If you have kids, you know that boxes will trump toys most days. Boxes provide all sort of entertainment and can fuel kids' imaginations in ways that toys just can't. This box took Brody to the moon, fought Darth Vader and his evil storm troopers, he ate a popsicle in it while watching a movie, he took it with him all through the house. At one point, I found that he had made a stockpile for himself---Airborne, a couple of his blankies, a Lego batman figurine and a string cheese. When I asked him what he was doing, he just said that the box and these things were all he needed for survival for the day. The kid never lacks for an imagination, and I thought he had the right idea.
Sadly, not even his survival box could save Brody as he woke up with the flu a couple days later. His first thought was filled with sadness as he realized he would miss his first baseball game of the season that day. With rain in the forecast, I made a comment that we could pray for a rain out so he wouldn't have to miss it. Brody said he didn't want his team to miss out on the game and he wanted his team to win. Such a sweet, thoughtful kid. As sick as he was, he wanted what was best for his team, even if that meant he had to miss out. Another glimpse into his heart, and another way God showed me that we were heading in the right direction. We've really been focusing on correcting Brody's tendency to be self centered (I guess we all are, huh?), and I hadn't been sure if our approach was working until the past couple weeks of injuries and illness. It warmed my heart to see my little boy give up his free time to help me with whatever needed to be done. I even found him reading over my to do list, doing chores and checking them off so I wouldn't have to. He's making progress...
As we try to raise our kids to be loving, well-rounded adults, it's a constant struggle to balance grace and discipline. If we are trying to shape our kids into humans who reflect God's image, then it is no surprise that we should parent them as our Heavenly Father parents us. Parenting on our knees, staying in His Word and seeking His will for our lives and the lives of our kids is the best defense we have. Even on the hard days, in the unclear moments, we need to persevere and follow God's direction when it comes to parenting our kids. After all, He was the one who assigned each of them to us because He knew that we were best suited to raise them according to His will.
Brody and my 4 year old niece were playing tag in our house over the weekend. A few rainy days of being cooped up inside will do that to kids. As she ran into the living room, Ethan teased her and said, "Oh no, your daddy left without you!" She immediately ran to the window with a look of shock, just feet away from her daddy who was sitting on the couch with no intention of leaving her behind. She saw his truck parked in our driveway and turned back to Ethan with a smile and said he was still here...and then looked over and saw that my brother-in-law had been close by, watching her the whole time. We all got a good laugh out of the joke from her teasing older cousin, but this morning it replayed a little differently in my mind.
Have you ever struggled with something? A difficult and scary diagnosis, the fall-out of a failed relationship, a hard day at work that often turns into months or even years, the loss of a loved one, health issues, or addiction, for you or those around you? Even just the daily struggles that life brings, they can seem so small individually, but when they all pile up---those little things can become quite the burden. Maybe after wrestling with it for awhile, you surrender it to God. Maybe just after that prayer of giving it to Him to handle, for Him to carry, you discover that you grabbed it back, sometimes before you have even said "Amen"? Perhaps it turns into a game of tug of war, and the burning sensation in your arms, from pulling and heaving, is what gives it away that you are still desperately fighting to hold onto that thing that is feeling too heavy to bear.
Sometimes I feel a bit like Sylvester from Looney Tunes. You are probably familiar with the scene...the sweet old granny is looking for her missing Tweety Bird and there sits that foolish cat Sylvester, with feathers floating out of his mouth as he tries to conceal the tasty bird trapped inside, all while trying to smile. That's kind of how I feel when I try to hide my struggles and hang ups from those around me, including God. Foolish. Failing, but thinking I am oh so sly.
Lately I have been wondering why we try to carry our load on our own, or at least until it becomes so overwhelming that we can't help but yell "HELP!!!" and feel like we are going to explode. Is it pride? Shame? Fear of appearing weak because we can't deal with whatever it is by ourselves? Is it because we are afraid to let people in on the secret that our lives are not always wrapped up neatly with a bow? That sometimes life behind closed doors isn't worthy of a special social media post? Now, I am not at all suggesting that we spill out our struggles and messes on Facebook. Or publicly blast our husbands, kids or co-workers for their wrongdoings. Goodness no. The Bible says that we need to be wise with our words and even wiser with who we share them with, but what keeps us from allowing a few trusted, kindred spirits into our heart of hearts so we can bear one another's burdens and lessen the load like God has called us to do? And most importantly, what keeps us in that game of tug of war with our Heavenly Father?
This post has been difficult to write, it hits too close to home. I still (almost constantly) catch myself picking up things that I have already left at His feet. I haven't conquered my human tendencies to take control and handle everything on my own, and I most certainly would like to have it all together, or at least keep up the game of making it LOOK like I do, but I think that sneaky Sylvester is back to his usual antics. Mostly it's been hard to write because I know a lot of you...and what you are going through, whether in detail, or at least enough to keep you in my prayers. It doesn't take long to see that this world is full of heartache and destruction, sometimes we don't even have to walk out our front door. So this strikes a nerve for me on a personal level, and my heart aches for you. But we have hope for our future. And we have hope for our today.
Thankfully, that hope starts with faith in our Heavenly Father. 1 Corinthians 15:56-58 says "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord." God sent Jesus to save us from an eternity of Satan's evil wrecking ball, and our troubles are not in vain as we give God the glory for what He does in our lives. Hallelujah, what a relief that is!
Romans 8:39 says "Nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." God promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. We don't have to scramble to look out the window to make sure that our Father didn't leave without us. We can rest in knowing that God is always with us, no matter where we are or what we are doing. In Luke 12:6-7, the Bible says, "Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows."
God cares for even the smallest creatures and we are far more precious to Him.
When I was younger, I remember feeling guilty because I thought I didn't want Jesus to come back "too soon". I wanted to experience falling in love and have a family, and then watch my kids grow up and get married and have families of their own. And while I still look forward to watching my family grow up, I find myself longing, even more so, for Jesus to come and bring us all home. Like, right now, Jesus. Now? How 'bout now? Anytime now, I am ready and waiting, Lord! I long for Heaven and all the healing and perfection that God has for us because this world is full of hurt and I am tired of watching Satan wreak havoc on families in my hometown and across the oceans. Can you imagine not feeling pain or doubt or loss? Oh what a day that will be! I think I hear an old hymn starting to hum quietly somewhere in my heart...
God gave us His word, with Jesus as our example for how we should live our lives-and to show us that we can also do life here on earth. Since He created us, God knew our need for companionship, so He gave us each other. There are no words to describe how grateful I am for my family and friends. Most of you know that my mom and I are close (in heart, not so much geographically these days), we often joke that we are one in the same. And then there's my cousin who I affectionately refer to as Coco. I can't remember my life without her being a part of it, and she is one of my favorites. It has been so sweet to experience these special relationships that span my entire life. My family is always just a text or phone call away whenever I need them (allowing for the time difference, of course!) and I am so thankful for their love and support...and for FaceTime helping to close the gap I feel too often. Over the past few years, as my family has become more spread out, a few local friends, who I know are Heaven-sent, have stepped up to be an extension of my family. They are my "emergency contacts", literally and figuratively. We do life together, we pray and laugh and cry together. We are able to be raw and honest in a safe environment where we know we can be real without being judged or shut down. We lighten each other's loads. Our relationships are filled with grace and a whole lot of Jesus.
I pray that all of you have a similar support system. Solid, trustworthy family members and friends who are willing to pray, encourage and support you in whatever comes your way. On the flip side, maybe you're reading this and you can't think of anyone who fits this description. Maybe you have been scared to open up to the friends who have shown this kind of potential, or you're still looking for that person. It's okay. It is hard (even harder for some), to open up and share what is really in your heart, even to those who love you. Sharing our personal thoughts makes us transparent and vulnerable. When we share what is in our heart with a close knit friend, something amazing can happen. We realize that we aren't alone in our struggles. A lot of times, to our relief, we learn that they are going through something similar. Often, I have expressed something I have been going through only to be met by a friend saying it was just what they needed to hear, or how nice it was to know someone else is experiencing the same thing. Community. Fellowship. Encouragement. Lightened load. Hope.
As a girl, I remember praying for years that God would give me a best friend, more specifically, one who would move right into my neighborhood...a next door kind of friend who was always there for me. I had hoped to live close enough to have one of those homemade cup and string phone contraptions where we could tell secrets right from our bedroom windows. (I never imagined that cell phones would be invented soon after!) While God has always been my best friend living in my heart, He has also been faithful in answering my prayers for deep friendship with friends that fit. I had to wait until my adult years, but these friendships were worth the wait!
If you are still longing for this type of friendship, don't give up, pray and ask God to reveal that friendship He has in mind for you. Lean into Him while you are waiting, He is good to give us just what we need.
Let's place our hope in God. Hope that means our days of struggle and pain (and seemingly never ending laundry piles!!!) will all end one day and we will spend our eternity together in Heaven. I am so thankful that God knew we'd need companionship and has given us friends to do life with. Using His wisdom in how to invest time and love in those friendships that He has for us, those are the things I am praying for us today.
With the new year comes a natural tendency to reflect on the past year as we step into a new one, a clean slate, a welcomed fresh start. And then begins the usual goal setting---resolutions for some, or after spending time in prayer maybe God placed a word on your heart as a focus for your year: Intention. Rest. Discipline. Worship. Joy. Faith. Health. The list goes on and on, after all, He has a plan for everyone who seeks Him.
If you were following along with me at the beginning of last year, you may remember the word that I felt God gave me for 2016 was "Create". I was so excited for what I thought would be a fun, lighthearted word. I prayed for God to create in me a clean heart that beat solely for Him, and secondly, for Him to help me live the life that He created me to live. As 2016 drew to a close, I didn't feel like I had explored everything that God had in mind when He nudged me towards "Create".
It's interesting how the turning of a calendar year gives such a sense of a new beginning, like when a child's birthday comes around, we often ask them if they feel older or different. Clearly, as adults, we know it doesn't happen that way, we don't grow up overnight---although it feels that way sometimes to us parents as we watch our kids grow up in what feels like a blink of an eye!
When I turned 5, I was so excited to go to Kindergarten first thing on my birthday because my parents and everyone around me had emphasized that when I turned 5 I was going to be such a big girl I would get to go to school. But I wasn't instantly a Kindergartner, even though I was officially 5 and had my backpack packed and ready. No, I had to wait a whole agonizing summer before I could go off to Kindergarten. And most often, we have to wait to see God accomplish things in us, or for us; He doesn't necessarily wrap everything up neatly in 12 months either.
My prayer remains for God to renew my heart daily---hourly even, and for me to be obedient as He continues refining and chiseling away at all my hard places. This prayer will certainly be one that stays with me as long as I have breath, not one that ends just because a clock strikes midnight and declares a year is finished.
My word for this year is "dedication": "the willingness to give a lot of time and energy to something that is important." I am resolving to be dedicated to follow God's direction for my life, wherever He may lead, because isn't that the ultimate, most important goal? Recommitting myself to a heightened dedication toward my roles as a godly wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend. Dedication to my kids' well-rounded education. Dedicating my new little business venture to God's will. Dedicating my entire year to honor God through my thoughts, actions and words. And dedication to working alongside my mom right here in this ministry for women at Grace To Joy.
Together, my husband, Matt and I have committed to make some calculated sacrifices over the next couple years that will prepare us for potential opportunities for us down the road. It is going to take nothing short of hard work and strength only God can provide to persevere and follow where He is leading our family, but as long as we seek Him, we know we will be okay. In Jeremiah 29:11, God promises that He knows "the plans [He] has for us, plans for welfare and not calamity to give [us] a future and a hope."
None of us know what this year will hold, but we can rest in knowing that as long as we keep our eyes on our Heavenly Father, He has a plan that is filled with hope.
So what about you? Have you taken some time to ask God what He has in mind for you in 2017? Have you chosen a word or a specific goal to set your focus for the New Year?
My prayer for all of us is that we will intentionally set our eyes on our Creator and I am so looking forward to sharing in the journey as we head into 2017. Happy New Year!
"Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit."
I started restoring furniture over the past few months and it has become a surprisingly, fun and rewarding hobby that allows for some creative productivity and a few moments to myself---hey, no one can talk to me while I'm using a sander and wearing my bright pink, noise-canceling headphones! Ironically, the noise of working with power tools provides a buffer for treasured, quiet time with God, without interruptions from the outside world.
Recently, I was blessed with a dresser from a very sweet and thoughtful friend. The dresser has beautiful lines to it, seriously, incredible curves that I can only dream of, but it was definitely well-worn when it came home with me. Its top had been knocked loose from its body (can anyone relate?), the drawer liners were peeling, nails were popping out in a few places, and some of the edges were scraped and chipped. It was way more shabby than shabby chic, but oh, how I loved this piece of furniture from the moment I saw it!
The other day, my husband helped me move it out of the garage so I could start the process of restoring it and I heard him mumble something about it being junk. I just smiled, because I can't really blame the guy. You see, without some sort of imagination and understanding of how to fix the mess I had hauled home, it's hard to see it for more than what it currently is. And I think Hubbyman was really thinking it would make for great firewood.
As I started sanding away, my mind went to how thankful I am that God is in the business of restoring humans. As we go through our daily life, we can become rusty and worn out. We can get a little rough around the edges as sin, such as pride, selfishness and jealousy often stick out like the nails that needed some attention on this pretty dresser of mine. But thank goodness God doesn't cast us aside as a "waste of time". He doesn't see us as junk, because He is able to see past our nicked trim work and tarnished surfaces, to the heart inside that so desperately needs time with its Maker. And the best news is that He knows how to fix us! It's only through the process of His refining, that our unique character and delicate curves take shape in His image, and that is when we are truly able to shine for His glory.
I was happy with how quickly the dresser responded as I guided the sander over its surface, the little, curvy feet came back to their former glory and the rough, chunked edges smoothed out and showed some promise. I was also quite relieved at how easy it was to reattach the top back to the rest of the dresser, remember, I am still new at this restoration gig! Bent nails were replaced with straight, new ones and as a result, the dresser became much sturdier, much more secure. I know that God is pleased with us just the same when we surrender to His loving hands and allow Him to sand down the rough edges of our hearts. I feel more secure when I am firmly grounded in His truths by spending time with Him daily. And I know that when I allow God to work on anything in my heart that has been bent or knocked loose as I go through my days, my future---although He doesn't promise it will always be easy---will turn out beautiful and bright, like how this dresser will be once I am finished with it.
Going back to Psalms 51:10-12, it is my prayer for all of us that God will create in us clean hearts, that are steadfast in His truth and that His Holy Spirit will guide us throughout our days; that God will be our true source of joy, even on the days that wear us down a bit, and that we will seek Him first when we are in need of a bit of Holy restoration.
I have a confession. I've realized that I've become spoiled rotten. I take this life I have been blessed with for granted all too often. Okay, okay. True honesty? ---not just often---almost daily. Okay, fine, maybe even daily. I mean, when I stop and think about it, I am truly thankful for the health and the roof over our heads and I see how God provides for us each and every day. But that human part of me, the part that gets focused on wanting things to get done faster, or easier, or better? She allows the busy-ness of everyday life drown out the habit of gratitude a lot more than I'd like to admit. Because I've become spoiled rotten.
This past weekend started out just how I had hoped. My hubby came home from a long week of working out of town. It was my mission to get our house sparkling clean before he walked through our front door so we could relax and enjoy some time together on his days off. We're talking not one single piece of dirty laundry---and better yet? Not one single piece of clean laundry that wasn't folded and put away where it belonged either. I don't know the last time I had ALL the laundry done, folded and put away! But, I am sure you know how it goes, the empty laundry baskets started filling back up almost immediately.
I shared on social media about a special morning that my hubby and I had when he got home. He took me to go pick up a piece of furniture he spotted for me on a local for sale site, and how he "let" me talk him into stopping by Lowe's to pick up a shade for a lamp I had recently been given. Ladies, this guy does not do shopping, crowds, parking lots, public places, haha, but he went, for me. And, he held my hand. And, he helped me get the shade I wanted, the very last one, which was tucked in the very back of the shelf hiding behind a bunch of other shades. My love tank was filled, he had truly made my weekend by speaking love to me in the little things he did for me that day.
Fast forward just about 28 hours after my mushy post about how sweet life was and---whammy!---something came along and bumped into my "happy". It was something unexpected and out of my control that struck a nerve in my heart. I wanted to cry, I felt sick inside. Just as we had checked off a couple things on our to do list, and I was feeling accomplished, these other things that needed attention were suddenly piled on top. The details of these circumstances aren't important, but it started to ruin my afternoon. And you can imagine the enemy wasted no time in baiting me with thoughts like "You guys can't ever catch a break," and "You know you're never going to 'get ahead' in life because life is just so unfa"---and I stopped him right there! I heard the words as they came out of my mouth in a conversation with my husband and I didn't mean to come across slightly bratty. I had been raised to know good and well that life wasn't fair, and I wasn't about to fall hook, line and sinker for the pity party that Satan had invited me to! All those lessons from my dad had prepared me for this! I retreated to our bedroom because I knew that my emotions were an indicator of something going on deeper inside and I needed to hit my knees before I unraveled anymore.
I prayed over the condition of my heart and for a nice, Tanya-size dose of gratitude and perspective, to prevent myself from wallowing in something that wasn't going my way. It's interesting, as I sat here trying to type out my thoughts on gratitude earlier, I had children in the background arguing and interrupting my sentences...the enemy is oh so good to distract us from what God has called us to do. He's so good at making us feel like we can't make any head way, in ourselves, in our families or in the physical world and all I could do at that point was laugh---I know this battle strategy of his all too well.
In complete transparency, this blog post sat for a few hours this afternoon, unattended, half written, because I needed to address the heart condition of a couple of my children. One in particular. Life was unfair. Life was horrible. Today was the worst day of his young, little life. (Maybe because today couldn't compare to having ice cream for dinner at Baskin Robbins last night? Guess I raised the bar too high...oops!)
Anyways, I think a few too many late nights and fun days resulted in this melodramatic meltdown that hit, and as I was processing the fallout and trying to figure out my next parenting move, my mind thought of how entitled this child was behaving and how we must have somehow made his life "too" comfortable for him to react over the seemingly tiniest things.
And there it was. God gave me a jab, right there in the middle of a plan for discipline that was intended for this kid and before I knew it, my blog post took a turn I hadn't anticipated. Don't you just love when God jumps in like that and drives a point home?
I was originally planning on writing about my prayer time on Saturday and how wonderful it had been having my focus realigned with all that God had done for me up to this point, including sending His son to die on the cross for my sins. That is where true gratitude stems from after all---by freely accepting the unimaginable gift of Eternal life in Heaven. His unmatched mercy and grace that allows each of us to receive such a gift that is otherwise unattainable on our own. And how I got to thinking in light of Eternity, what do all these "little" things that had me bogged down really matter? They don't. And that was humbling. I was also going to share that I had experienced peace and gratitude since then and I was focusing on true joy, that results from gratitude and faith in God's promises. I was going to share how God had even provided a few moments where all I could do was sit back and smile because he's given me all I ever wanted---a husband, kids and a home to take care of.
But in that moment this afternoon, while I was explaining to my son how easy his life is (seriously, so easy, he has to pick up after himself, help out with a few chores and do his schoolwork, I'd love to be 8 again! Okay, maybe not, but really!)...I realized that my life, while not perfect in the least, has been pretty comfortable too, and that's where the life taken for granted entered. I can grab a coffee anytime I want by just hopping in my car that has a full gas tank, order something off Amazon and have it within two days, all kinds of technology is at my fingertips all while dishes and laundry is washing. It's no wonder otherwise small bumps compared to worldwide issues feel so big to me in my own little world.
After my conversation with God, I went in to share it with a little boy who needed to hear the message too. B and I discussed how gratitude comes from really believing in all that God has done for us, first of all, by sending His son to die on the cross and having real faith in what He has promised to do in the future. Romans 8:28 gives us confidence that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
If we believe that we were destined to Hell, but God's grace shown upon us and changed our Eternal destiny, the everyday circumstances shouldn't be able to touch us. My boy was concerned that he hadn't been able to keep the promise of living sold out for God that he made when he got baptized this past summer. At almost 9 years old, he already feels how human he is. He feels the weight of what it means to live for Christ, while being a sinner, so we talked about how it's a constant surrender to God, relying on His strength, not our own. God knows that we are human, and that's what His grace is for, to fill in where we mess up.
B and I prayed together and asked God to forgive us for our self-centered perspective and to help us work on our somewhat spoiled rotten hearts that can often (okay, okay, sometimes daily!) lack gratitude when things get a little uncomfortable. We prayed for God to help us when we do get bumped and knocked around a bit in life so that we may keep our eyes on Him and experience all that He has for us with sincerely, grateful hearts that beat solely for Him.
To kick off the new year our church's series for January has been focused on the essentials that we need in our Christian walk, the things absolutely necessary. "Worship, Connect, Grow and Serve". My heart is still processing the last sermon that touched on the "Serve" component in our life because it's one that I've already been praying over, especially recently as I have been analyzing just how I spend my time and how that lines up with my priorities. The most important part to me was that Jesus came not to be served but to serve, and we should follow in His footsteps. Our pastor talked about how in the Kingdom of God, we are to focus on what we can give rather than what we can get, just as Jesus did when He left Heaven and came to earth to give His life for us. A stark contrast to the kingdoms of men in which we seek what we can get over all else. More money, more power, more stuff and more freedom.
Our Children's Ministries Director came up on stage at the end of the sermon and shared how God had called her, okay, more appropriately, shoved her into her position at Sierra Bible Church (SBC) more than 25 years ago, with help from SBC's founding pastor. Becky shared how she had grown up as a pastor's daughter, gotten married and found SBC when they had relocated to our area. She thought she'd be happy to just show up on Sundays and get what she could from the sermons and all that the church offered and that would be it. But that wasn't it, because God had other plans for her, as He does for the rest of us. She challenged us to step out of "consumer Christianity" and step into what God has called us to do, individually, and together as we serve as the hands and feet of the body of Christ. It was convicting for me. For awhile now, I've been showing up on Sunday mornings, taking what I can get and then slipping back out the door on my merry little way. Sure, I've "considered" volunteering in different ministries, but I've yet to commit to one because while there are so many good ones, I haven't figured out which one is meant for me.
Pastor Steve offered up a few good questions to ask ourselves when we are prayerfully considering what we should be involved in---at our church and in our everyday lives. The first question was "What's my What?" What's my pursuit, what's my mission while here on this earth? And additionally, "What's in my hand?" What do I have to offer? Taking into consideration my unique talents, spiritual gifts, and skills? And then there's my story, we all have a story, and our story allows us to connect to specific people because they can relate to what we've been through.
Secondly, we can ask "Who's my Who?" Who should I be spending my time with during the week? Who do I see? Often times, we see people who others don't see. Who do we need to pour ourselves into during our weeks? I immediately thought of our husbands and our kids. I am a firm believer that the biggest ministry wives and moms have are in our own homes. I am really working on being more present with my family, I know that I need to be pouring most of my life into them. They come first, after God. But who else? Who else should we be investing our time into?
Several years ago, I took a "spiritual gifts" test, actually, I took it quite a few times, hoping that the answer would somehow come out differently. Ha. But it didn't. No matter how I tweaked my answers to the questions, it kept coming back that I have the gift of teaching. I guess I should have known better, but this gift seemed scary to me, and even now, it's sometimes overwhelming to me. I totally related to Becky when she said that throughout the years, she has had moments where she has asked "Me, God? You want to use ME?" I find myself constantly asking Him things like that. "Are you sure, God?" "How about something else, God?" "I don't know about that, God." Oh me of little faith. I need to stop doubting and just do what He has in mind for me! Wow, that seems simple, doesn't it?
When I answered "What's my What?" and "Who's my Who?" and I take into account my gifting that I received when I asked Jesus into my heart, I naturally gravitated towards women. I treasure the wisdom of the older Christian women in my life. It is my hope and prayer to grow up to be just like them someday. It's also fun for me to watch the young mamas around me, as they remind me of so many happy memories from when I was a young mama myself. All these women. We are all connected in some way. My heart loves to walk alongside these friends, friends like you, so we can encourage each other, learn from each other and grow with each other.
I love the community we can find in friendships and God continues to put it on my heart to be involved in women's ministries. Over the past few years, God has nudged me towards hosting small group Bible studies in my own home. While the group of ladies has changed a bit over time, depending on the seasons each of us are in, the sweet fellowship is always worth the effort it takes to clear some space in our weekly schedules. I'm learning to embrace that the teacher usually learns the most, and I count it a blessing to be able to grow right along with other women. I will pursue women's ministries in whatever capacity God has in mind for me, for as long as He has for me, including Tuesdays with Tanya. These posts have been something that I have wrestled with God over. "Really, God? You want to use ME?" He always answers with a resounding "yes", so I will continue to keep my heart open and willing to pass on things that He puts on my heart. During my year of "Dedication", I am committing to spending more time in His Word and time in prayer to deepen my knowledge of who our God is and how I can serve Him by giving myself to others every day. After all, greatness in Jesus' Kingdom isn't what we get, but more so what we give.
Does anything come to mind when you ask God what your "what" and "who" is?
How can you take steps to serve God by serving others?
Excuse me. Have you seen my brain? I know I must have left her around here somewhere...and I need her back, like, soon! Have you ever felt like you've lost your mind? I'm sure you know the days that I am talking about...the days when you start out so far behind, but oddly enough, you seem one step too far ahead of yourself? Days like I have been having recently. I think I must have overloaded my poor brain...crashed my entire system...and it's been frustrating and confusing, because lately I feel like I have lost my ever-loving mind. And I'm really missing the old girl!
Over the past couple of days, a series of unfortunate events has exposed some flaws that need some attention. A few things completely fell off of my radar, things that needed my attention by the end of last week. I didn't remember these things until, oh, late Sunday night as I was trying to fall asleep. And then first thing Monday morning, I remembered a couple more things that I had forgotten. Important things. Things I had committed to. And I had completely spaced on them all. Maybe it was that I was too busy with my son's birthday, or Super Bowl Sunday where all of us baseball fans celebrate that football season is over and Spring Training is just around the corner (can I get an 'Amen'?!!!), or my husband's ever changing schedule---I don't know what caused it, but my brain has gone fishing...or hopefully she's just out to lunch?
As a wife and mom, we always have a revolving to do list, and we do our best to manage it, but this kind of forgetfulness? It was like I was relieving my days of having "Preggo brain", but without the promise of a sweet baby on the way. Fabric softener ended up in the laundry soap dispenser. I misplaced my blended green tea and had to enlist my "local" Search and Rescue unit (my boys) to help me find it. We ran out of dishwasher tabs---ladies, I have dishwasher tabs on scheduled deliveries from Amazon. I. Don't. Run. Out. Of. Dishwasher. Tabs. It just doesn't happen here. Ever. Anyone have some ginkgo biloba laying around because these conversation hearts that I've been consuming are certainly not helping my memory one bit!
I sent my mom a text Monday morning, okay, more like a loud cry for help. It seems I have a flare for the [over]dramatics when my world appears to be crashing down around me (see?) and she's usually the first one I reach out to so she can commiserate and we can have a good laugh about what's happening to Tanya "this time". I told her all that I needed to straighten out, on top of the usual things that come with a Monday---laundry, catch up, school, etc. Honestly, this isn't the first week I've been feeling like I can barely tread water around here lately, but I at least I usually remember everything I am supposed to be doing! I was feeling overwhelmed, frustrated with myself for messing up, but I knew how to fix it. No sense in wallowing.
Philippians 4:6 tells us to "Be anxious for nothing,
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God."
I needed to pray, and then do the next thing. So I did. I gave it all to God, including my anxiety over other people's reactions to my oversights and I went to work doing the next thing that needed my attention. By lunchtime, I had resolved most of the forgotten things, gotten half of the laundry washed, and we had tackled part of our school day. I even remembered that I had leftover Mexican food in the fridge for lunch! (Ha! And yum!)
Then yesterday came. Tuesday. Another day that started off with mishaps and mindless absurdities. Oh my, I thought I had left all that behind me! I was so focused on running to town early so I could beat the rush and grab dishwasher tabs (and more conversation hearts!), that I lost track of where I was in my efforts tying up the loose ends of the last couple things I had forgotten from last week. I didn't realize that I had gotten ahead of myself in my to do list until I was halfway to town, which meant I would have to make an extra trip back to town later yesterday afternoon to take care of the other errands, and nobody has time for that kind of silliness and wasted time, especially when I was already trying to catch up as it was. Psalm 61:2 came to mind: "When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I." So I prayed again. And then I went about doing the next thing. I went to town, got back and immediately started the dishwasher that was already loaded with dirty dishes from Monday. And of course I texted my mom with more of my air-headed calamities, because it would just be selfish to keep this kind of hilarity to myself. I do my best to laugh off days like these, and I am so thankful that God can not only change our lives, but He can also change our days, too.
God's grace and mercy stand in the gap where we cannot reach on our own strength and we need to depend on Him to help us through every day-not just the crazy ones. Hebrews 4:16 says "Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." We can be confident that our Heavenly Father will help us in the little things, like unruly brains who appear to be MIA, but also in the bigger things that come our way, we just need to draw near to Him. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Jesus promises that "[His] grace is sufficient for [us], for [His] power is made perfect in weakness." He knows how many hairs are on each of our precious heads, and you can bet that He also knows the areas each of us need improvement.
While we need to be aware of our individual weaknesses so we can work on them, we also have to remember not to let these mistakes or weaknesses define us. Our identity is anchored deep in Jesus' love for us and no mistake or failure to check off something on a to do list will change that. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."
As I am facing today, Wednesday, I am comforted by Lamentations 3:22-25, which declares "The Lord's loving-kindnesses indeed never ceases, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, therefore I have hope in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him."
Thank goodness that His mercies are new each and every morning! Another day to give Him the glory in all we do, even things go awry. He is our portion, Ladies and our hope is in the Lord. When life gets crazy, because you know it does, let's make sure that our first response is to pray, soak up His grace and mercy and then do the next thing.
Today I locked myself in our truck in the driveway and FaceTimed my mom in a panic, much like you would expect from a captain of a sinking ship frantically sending out an SOS. We commiserated. We laughed through tears of complete transparency. I was slouched low in the seat, trying to hide. Struggling to find some breathing room. Fighting to create some space. Because momming is hard. Because even dream jobs have their overwhelming moments. And, no matter how old you get, there are some days when you just need your mom.
Being a wife and mom is one of the most rewarding jobs out there, but it's also one of the most difficult and demanding. There isn't a time card to punch, it isn't a 9-5 job with evenings "off duty", it doesn't come with vacation or sick leave and we're paid in sweet hugs and slobbery kisses. And we wouldn't have it any---other---way, would we? But some days feel like there's no breathing room and that's how I ended up locked inside our truck earlier.
Of course my kids found me within minutes---and without the help of hound dogs tracking my scent! I suppose I wasn't too creative with my hiding spot, but I was happy to have somewhere that locked me in. I may have offered cookies as an incentive just to get them back inside the house. That is how desperate I was, Ladies---I was willing to give up chocolate chip cookies. Goodness, at that moment, I would have offered up my beloved Magnum ice cream bars for a little space! Talk about a mama at the end of her rope! Who gives up cookies and ice cream bars? Yes, I am raising my hand!
Today hasn't been bad at all. In fact, my kids have been pretty well-behaved lately and it seems we've entered an "easier" phase, one where they are proving that they've been grasping what we've been teaching them. They've been getting along and have been oh so helpful and sweet towards me. My teenage daughter loves spending time with me all day, every day. One son is opening doors and hugging me non-stop and the other surprised me with wildflowers the other day. So I guess you're probably wondering what pushes a mom to her breaking point, if everything appears to be running so smoothly and rather dreamy?
Because I'm still human.
As Christian women, we are called to die to ourselves, so that we can honor God by taking on a servant's heart when it comes to our families. That's hard to do as humans sometimes. We like our own space---even just for a little while! We like to do things our way. And we like order and quiet and white space. But, this dream job---yes, being a wife and mother is my dream job and I pray that you feel the same way---requires us to be "on" 24-7. As wives and moms, we are called to do a superhuman job, and the only way we can withstand the constant demands that come with this special calling is by submitting to the Holy Spirit. It is imperative that we rely on strength that only comes from surrendering ourselves to God's will and allowing Him to fill us with his supernatural strength. And His grace. A whole bunch of it. For us---and also for our spouse and kids.