Friday, October 24, 2014

Harvest

It was the end of a long day, and I was (to put it mildly) out of patience.  Gregg had come home only minutes before, after working late, so I was trying to get the kids ready for bed.  Both of them were running around, instead of doing what I asked them to do, and I lost my temper.  A little while later, my husband came upstairs and asked my six-year-old why “Mommy had to yell”.  Immediately, I felt remorse.  I didn’t have to yell.  Sure, I was feeling frustrated and stressed out that they weren’t listening (AGAIN), but I could have given myself a time out to pray and take a few deep breaths before attempting to manage the chaos unfolding around me.  My husband had asked my son to give an account for his behavior, but suddenly I felt the need to give one for mine.

Quite honestly, I was just tired of being needed.  Of giving and going non-stop all day, with absolutely no guarantee that anything I am doing will actually give me a return on my investment.  I found myself struggling to keep from being weary in doing good.  It can be difficult to find joy, peace and blessing in the midst of fulfilling the responsibilities that God has given us as mothers.  Constant reminders to “speak kindly”, “use your words”, and “hold Mommy’s hand in the parking lot” go unheeded.  I get discouraged easily by bad attitudes and disrespectful speech, and exasperated upon walking into the living room and finding toys littered all over it after I just cleaned them all up!  I really wonder sometimes if it’s all worth it. 

It takes a lot of time, thought and energy to lead and teach children, and often I feel like I am using all my energy just to keep the kids from killing each other and destroying the house.  How can I possibly fulfill any higher purpose than that?  It is easy to forget our unique ministry opportunities while raising small children when we get bogged down with all of the routine, and also seemingly mundane, tasks of motherhood.  These menial tasks don’t appear at first glance to be anything holy.  But each are all different ways that we serve “the least of these.”  Being with our children, day in and day out, presents us with multiple chances to share Christ with them and with others as well.  A sibling squabble or a fight between one of our kids and his/her friends can be opportunities to teach our children about grace, forgiveness, and handling conflict in a godly way.  Disrespectful attitudes and rude speech can be used to tell them about how Jesus wants us to treat others. 

The reality is that our children are only this young for such a short time, and we only have a little while in the long scheme of things to impress our values and faith upon them.  They are bombarded daily with a worldview that is diametrically opposed to the Word of God through two main pipelines, secular entertainment and secular education.  As their parents, we are also their first line of defense against ideologies that distort God’s truth.  By availing ourselves to them now, however inconvenient it might seem, we can provide them with a solid biblical foundation which they will need when they encounter ideas that conflict with their faith.

Not surprisingly, Jesus educated His disciples and those around Him in the pattern and method set forth in Deuteronomy 6 and other Old Testament passages.  Jesus taught and instructed as He walked by the way, as He ate, as He drank, as He lived.  He engaged people in discussion and conversation.  He was available to answer questions.  He developed relationships and used every opportunity and every circumstance to point people toward His Father, to challenge them and encourage them to more faithful, godly living.  The way that God commands parents to educate their children is to talk with them and be available when their children have questions.  Parents should be instructing their children throughout the day, during their daily activities and in all the circumstances of life. 

So how do I move beyond just being available and actually reach my children’s hearts?  For any ministry to be fruitful, we must abide in the true vine, Jesus.  I will become weary in doing good if my eyes are focused on only what I can see in the here and now, instead of on Him.  I can’t bring enough on my own.  I will never have enough time, energy, patience or love for my kids.  Trying harder is not the answer; surrender is.  That night I lost my temper with my kids over their disobedience, I was operating out of self-reliance, seeking self-indulgence, and motivated by selfishness.  And that much self is just too much.  When I draw from His wisdom and strength, I am able to sacrificially give to my children, knowing that I may not even see any true results for years to come.  Galatians 6:9 says “For at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."    

I love this quote from Andy Stanley: “The greatest thing you accomplish for the Kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise.”  As a mother, this may very well be true about me.  My emphasis should be on faithfulness in service, however, not perfection.  Faithfulness is being willing to show up to do our work for His glory, day after day (after day).  When I strive to please Him, my perspective also changes.  I start to realize that the monumental happens in the minutia, in all of the nitty, gritty details of raising children with demanding physical and emotional needs.  Not that I suddenly begin to love every minute of it, but I then trust God with my resources and energy believing that He will use and bless what I offer.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Imperfect But Surrendered

Recently, a few people have asked me how I do it.  By "it", I mean they were referring to how I parent while looking like I have my stuff together.  Let me tell you, that is one of the funniest things I have ever heard because I know the truth.  Sure, I can try to keep up appearances by saying “What?  Oh, this.  It’s nothing!”  Or... I can tell them the real story. 

The truth is (and I let them know this) that most days I am barely holding it together.  In fact, on any given day my five-year-old mouths off to me and my toddler runs around the house naked from the waist down because she simply can't be bothered to put her underwear and pants back on after using the bathroom.  The downstairs living area of our house has toys, books, art supplies and snack crumbs strewn everywhere.  I am the frazzled mom in the supermarket, telling my kids to stop running all over the place and grabbing the candy in the checkout aisle.  There are dishes overflowing in the sink and piles of unfolded laundry spilling out of baskets.

It doesn’t take very long after beginning my day for irritation to start rising when I hear my name being called by little voices.  While I pour myself into our children daily- reading to, wiping, disciplining, feeding, answering- I feel like it’s never enough.  There was always something I could have done better, said better, done more of, etc.  Often I am scrambling to come up with something for dinner, reacting badly to disobedient behavior and comparing myself to other moms, thinking “how does she do it?” 

My 2.5 year old daughter is now old enough where her speech delay is sometimes very painfully obvious, and I don’t always deal with it graciously.  After six months of speech therapy, she has made great progress, but it’s still awfully frustrating not to be able to carry a two-sided conversation with her and still having to ask 100 questions just to try and figure out what she wants.  She has the intelligence (and attitude) of a three-year-old, but the language development of an 18 month old, which makes me sometimes baby her unnecessarily.  The constant switching gears between her lack of words and my son’s opposite, never-ending need for dialogue can be unnerving since there simply is no happy medium.

While I interact verbally with my son throughout the day, bouncing back and forth among whatever topics are of interest to him, I don't always feel like I connect with him emotionally.  It takes a lot of energy to keep up with his constant stream of questions and need for physical activity.  It is a struggle to really understand him, and I feel like it comes more naturally to me to love on my daughter.  Maybe it's because she receives the affection more readily, or maybe because she's the youngest and well, a girl, like me.  Whatever the reason, I know I punish my son more often than her and that's not fair to him.  I take his challenges to my authority much more personally, and I flat out lose my temper sometimes when he talks back.  Instead of gently correcting him, I end up lecturing and threatening instead.     

So, if I appear like I am doing anything well, I assure you, I am not doing it in my own strength.  My husband’s work/travel schedule over the last year has meant that I have often had to do this parenting gig solo, and it has forced me to lean on Jesus like never before.  This has been a great opportunity to depend on God in continual prayer. The beauty of not knowing what you are doing and knowing you are not qualified for a task is the desperation to stay connected to God who does know.  You know the saying: He doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.      

Ultimately I am able to display the fruits of the Spirit (joy, patience, gentleness, kindness) when I abide deeply in Him.  But when I mess up, as I am inevitably bound to do, that is when I can teach my children the crux of Romans 3:23, which is really the crux of the Gospel- “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  I can remind them (and myself) that each one of us needs a savior.  And then humbly ask for their forgiveness.  Trust me, my children do not labor under any delusions that I am perfect.  They see my shortcomings every single day.  They see Mommy lose her cool, get stressed and overwhelmed.  They see all the broken, sinful pieces, but if I model the preeminence of God in my life, then my children will see too how to live out their faith.  Deuteronomy 6:5-7 says “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."  If they know that I am a sinner saved by grace just like them, no better and no worse, they will be less likely to walk away from that faith when they are older.

A heart that desires to please God can be used by Him to accomplish His purposes, far greater than eloquent speech, or a spotless house, or beautiful Pinterest-worthy crafts, or even perfectly obedient, well-mannered children (none of which I possess).  I don’t have much to offer, but He meets me in my weaknesses when I am surrendered to Him and enables me to do something I could never do on my own.  Ann Voskamp says it wonderfully, “You cry and wonder if you are insane to try to educate these children, to disciple these little hearts, while laundering, cooking, cleaning, managing a household, and still being a wife, a sister, a daughter, a missionary in your community, a servant to Christ and in your faith community. And He smiles and says that He walks with you, has grand and glorious purposes, and He understands radical and crazy!”  Comparing my house and my kids to others' is poisonous, and the Enemy loves to use that as ammo.  God has given me unique talents, gifts and resources so that I can carry out the unique mission He has called me to.  Most days I really have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m clinging to the One who does know.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Whispers of Joy

I'll admit it.  I haven't had much Christmas spirit this year.  I always look forward to the start of this season, which in our house begins the day after Thanksgiving.  We put up our tree and decorations, and also do some gift shopping on Black Friday.  That weekend, however, started off with our daughter throwing up and the kick off to the Christmas season was very quickly dampened.  Eventually her sickness spread to the rest of us, and we realized we had all come down with a nasty stomach bug.  Add to that several days of freezing cold temperatures with grey skies, then an ice storm followed by a snow storm and two children with runny noses and bad coughs, and my "holiday spirit" was buried deep beneath a foot of snow along with the kids' backyard toys.  Those things didn't exactly leave me dancing in the streets, singing "It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year".

I tried hard to find it again, that elusive feeling.  You know, the one you had as a child, where everything was magical and glorious at Christmastime.  The snow transformed the neighborhood into a winter wonderland, instead of an icy nightmare.  The beautiful tree with all of its sparkling lights and glittery ornaments made the house warm and bright, instead of something you're afraid is going to come crashing down on a two-year-old.  Christmas songs and movies delighted; the whole world seemed open to endless possibilities.  That joyful feeling kept escaping me, however, no matter the cheesy Christmas movies I watched or the decorating I did or the keeping up with the Elf on the Shelf charade.  The feeling alluded me even when I listened to familiar, classic songs and bought presents for loved ones.

I was getting our toddler ready for bed the other night, and "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing" randomly popped into my head.  I began to sing it to my sweet baby girl, the words getting caught in my throat as I was hit with their magnitude.  "Hark, the Herald Angels sing; glory to the newborn king.  Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.  Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies.  With angelic host proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem."  Then I felt it: joy.  Pure joy over the gift of Jesus coming down from Heaven to be born into the most humbling of circumstances, so that I could be reconciled to the Father.  "Mild He lays His glory by, born that men no more may die.  Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel..."  These words from one of my favorite carols spoke to me that night in just the way I needed, reminding me that my joy- during the Christmas season and all throughout the year- is found in Christ.  Because of what He did, because of who He is, and what He was willing to give up for me.

I can feel happy admiring the lights on our Christmas tree, or passing down traditions to my children to celebrate this time of year, but true joy only comes from knowing Jesus.  It's not a "feeling" I can catch and hold onto either.  I need to be deliberate about focusing on Christ, otherwise my spirit is squelched when I discover that a gift is on back order, or when I run out of propane and can't bake the cookies in the oven, or when it takes me an hour to bundle up two small kids just so we can run an errand that will only take 15 minutes.

The Christmas spirit I've been trying to track down gets lost a little bit more each year under the pile of grownup responsibilities and life's inconveniences.  The magic and wonder get squeezed out by laundry, diapers and dishes.  I find that since I am so intent on making sure my children have wonderful memories of this time of year, I am really not having much fun at all myself.  That kind of Christmas spirit always leaves me wanting.  Intentionally focusing on the birth of our savior fulfills long after the belief in Santa and flying reindeer is outgrown.  As the cutesy children's song goes, "All the tinsel and lights and the presents are nice, but the real gift is You."

Thursday, December 05, 2013

What Makes a Parent

About two weeks ago I came across a post called "10 Reasons to have an Abortion- Illustrated by Adorable Cats”.  When I first saw the title I thought, surely, this is a joke.  Oh, how I wish it was.  This article was published on the parenting site Mommyish.  I find it ironic that a site devoted to parenting would actually promote abandoning your responsibilities as a parent via the disposal of your unborn children. 

First, some observations about the article itself:  Among the typical life endangerment/health of the mother reasons for abortion, the author, Eve Vawter, also lists such things as your age (too young or too old), birth control failure, missed career opportunities, not wanting a relationship with the father and just plain old not wanting to have a child.  So basically, according to this list, any reason is a good reason to have an abortion.  You can just choose to destroy another life whenever the mood strikes you.   This a human being we’re talking about, though, not a surgically removable barrier to your dreams, expectations, or conveniences. 

It is very telling that Ms. Vawter stated she “would rather look at cats than whatever comes up when you search photo websites for ‘abortion’.”  In other words, she didn’t want to be disturbed by these photos or have to confront the reality of what she was so callously endorsing.  If she had actually googled images of abortion, I doubt she would have written the post in the first place.  You can sugarcoat it by putting up photos of cute, cuddly kittens in their place, but the reality is that abortion is horrific.  Violent.  Gruesome.  The pictures do speak for themselves, and they illustrate a story that is quite literally the opposite of what it means to be a parent.  As a parent, you protect your children at all costs, even before they are born.   

I browsed Mommyish’s website and found several other articles in the same vein as “I’m a mother and personally pro-life, but politicially pro-choice.”  The gist is that you can value the lives of your own children, but you’re also totally cool with another person’s decision to devalue theirs.  To each her own, right? 

The above mentioned post is a testimony to our schizophrenic way of treating each other’s child rearing practices with disdain, while remaining silent on the abhorrent procedure of vacuuming a tiny baby out of his or her mother’s uterus.   We have a lot to say about the harmful effects of “crying it out” and feeding our kids genetically modified foods, but voice little concern about poison injections to a baby’s heart while in utero.  Heated discussions ensue over vaccinations, but there doesn’t seem to be much public outcry over babies being ripped apart in the womb.  Why is it that before a child is born we can’t say anything about the way they are treated, but afterwards they magically become our “business?”  

What were once private issues within families have now become public.  What was once regarded by society as barbaric and outlawed is now relegated to a private matter between a woman and her doctor.  Evil is good and good is evil.  The prevailing ideology these days is that a mother gets to call all the shots; she decides, for whatever reason, whether the child growing inside of her is worthy of life.  This type of thinking elevates her above God, who alone creates all life forms.  Since she is a god in her own mind, she can pass judgment both on the baby inside her womb and on the actions of others.

The truth is that defending the “right to choose” is incompatible with motherhood.  A mother, by definition, nurtures life- whether she births a child or adopts one.  She does not destroy, nor does she support the destruction of a life.  You can’t advocate for someone to be able to kill their offspring without simultaneously undermining your own importance as a mother.  Abortion and motherhood, contrary to what modern feminism tells us, are mutually exclusive. 

The giving up of ourselves on another’s behalf is the very essence of mothering.  It isn’t always easy.  It definitely isn’t always fun.  It is certainly not a popular idea in today’s self-absorbed, self-serving culture.  Abortion, on the other hand, embodies everything that is diametrically opposed to self-sacrifice.  It is the result of the radical feminist thought that women only find meaning and happiness through the personal pursuit of autonomy and freedom.  It is marketed as a way for women to liberate themselves from anything that makes them feel morally obligated to someone else.  It stands in direct antithesis to the family and denigrates a child before he or she is born.  

For a parenting site to write about abortion, they must realize an important truth: abortion is a choice that a parent makes.  When your choice as a parent affects others in negative and cruel ways, however, a humane society restricts or prohibits the choice.  That society does not support or celebrate it.  That society does not employ the use of euphemisms to defend the indefensible.  You either foster a respect for life with your words and actions, or a culture of death.  

While this article both upsets and bewilders me, it also reminds me that I am not my son or daughter's god; I am their mother.  They ultimately belong to Him, and I have simply been entrusted with their care.  As a mom, I carry out God's purposes.  Even with all my failures, if I am obedient to the calling of loving and protecting them, I have done enough.  When I understand my role in its proper context, I can parent without guilt or anxiety.  If I believe that it all depends on me, however, I will make choices based on fear and self-preservation.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Being Seen

Doing a "spot check" after your five-year-old goes Number 2.  Wrestling a two-year-old who doesn't want her diaper changed.  Reading that story for the 100th time.  Calling to make appointments and straining to hear the person on the other end of the line over the shrieks of two children.  Vacuuming while a toddler screams because she is terrified of the huge, monstrous sucking thing and feeling guilty for cleaning.  Breaking up fights, cleaning up messes, answering endless questions in between washing and drying four loads of laundry, emptying the dishwasher and cooking three meals.

Just a day in the life of a stay-at-home mom.

The never ending sacred dance of comforting, wiping, disciplining, and loving.  Trying to control your temper when you are met with an unexpected mess of magic markers all over an outfit, or when your oldest gives you attitude over a simple request.  Being molded and shaped into the person God wants you to become, even while you are molding and shaping their young minds and hearts.  One exhausting minute at a time.

You wonder sometimes if what you're doing really matters.

This scripture came to mind recently: "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:5-7, NASB, emphasis mine).  I was in the middle of a crazy week and pulling double duty since my husband was away for work.  There was a birthday party for one of my son's classmates, baking for the school craft fair, a friend's baby shower, and a MOMS Club board meeting, not to mention the usual chauffeuring back and forth to school, dinner and bedtime.  The long week ended with Gregg's flight being delayed due to bad storms in the Midwest, causing him to arrive home six hours after we had anticipated.

I could feel that old familiar anxiety rise up after the sun had gone down and he still didn't have a firm boarding time to text me with.  Resigned, I put the ground beef that I was planning to use for dinner that evening back in the fridge, prayed, and got out the frying pan to just make some scrambled eggs.  In the middle of all this, I remembered that God sees me and is with me.  When I'm lonely and frustrated and doubting myself.  When I pray with my children and teach them to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.

While I am in the thick of cleaning up the same messes, racking my brain for creative and healthy meals, correcting, soothing and struggling, I could easily overlook the moments that God breaks through my hectic day and reminds me He is there.  When the two-year-old lays her sleepy head down on my shoulder right before her nap, and I stroke her hair and back while gently rocking side to side.  When the five-year-old writes the numbers he has been learning in school on a piece of a paper and proudly shows it to me.  And then I am thankful that I get to be here for every single, solitary moment- real and raw as they are.  This roller coaster that I ride daily with them is totally worth it.

"Your greatest contribution to the Kingdom may not be something you do, but someone you raise." - Andy Stanley

Friday, August 23, 2013

Being a Mother is Smarter Than You Think

I recently read about some new research being conducted by Satoshi Kanazawa, the controversial former Psychology Today blogger.  A Reader in Management at the London School of Economics, Mr. Kanazawa has “begun to present scholarship asserting that the more intelligent women are, the less likely they are to become mothers.”  I'm sure there are thousands of women out there who would take issue with this statement.  They know as well as I do that neither the length of my job title, nor the size of my paycheck is a reliable measure of how well I utilize my intelligence.  

So, mother= dumb?  Or put another way, intelligent= childless?  I have to say, I am a bit insulted but not at all surprised.  This is the same anti-child rhetoric that radical feminists have been spewing for the past five decades.  They have all but said that motherhood is synonymous with slavery.  If you have children, your life as you know it will be over.  Okay, changed forever, yes, but not OVER.  Betty Friedan wrote 
The Feminine Mystique in 1963, examining and confronting the role of women as stay-at-home mothers, and the seeds of discontent were sown.  She argued that women had been coaxed into selling out their intellect and ambitions for the paltry price of a new washing machine.

Fast forward to 2013, where there is a movement several years in the making among women who are already mothers (many stay at home full-time or run part-time businesses out of their houses) to unveil the realities of motherhood.  There seems to be a sense of indignation over someone not telling us that this was going to be so hard.  In an effort to expose the truth that we don't have it all together, we have let it all hang out there: the good, the bad, and the ugly.   Honesty is a good thing; it helps us understand that we are not alone in our struggles.  While we shouldn't labor under the false assumption that everyone else is doing it all perfectly, I wonder if we haven't contributed to undermining our roles by talking about all the negative aspects of mothering.

I have certainly been guilty of this.  I jumped on the bandwagon shortly after Colton was born, with a desire to debunk the romanticized version of motherhood we often hold before we actually have children.  I was open about my struggles with post-partum depression, and the hard work of caring for a baby and then a toddler while my husband was away at work for 12 hours a day.  Many women thanked me for being real and shattering the isolating illusion that being a mommy is nothing but pure bliss.  

So, I was caught off guard when I began to realize just how negative I had become.  I was doing more complaining about the daily tasks of mothering than pointing out the simple, ordinary joys.  When I saw a pregnant woman browsing the baby aisles at Target and passed her with my two kids who may or may not have been dangerously on the verge of a total meltdown, I'd think "Just wait.  THIS is what's in store for you."  When people asked me if I'm having more children, I would be quick to say I'm a member of the "two and through club".         

The message in our culture today is children are an inconvenience; wait to have them until you're "ready", or better yet don't have them at all.  It was subtle and happened over time, but I found myself perpetuating this very same message.  When a friend who was childless would tell me she couldn't wait to have kids, I'd encourage her to wait because once she had them her life would be completely changed- she wouldn't have the freedom to do whatever she wished, whenever she wished.  I thought I was doing her a favor, but I was really doing her (and myself) a disservice.

When I write and speak more about the tantrums, the stomach viruses, and the sibling squabbles, I am conveying that being a mother is tiresome, loathsome, and something to be avoided at all costs.  There are so many beautiful, sacred moments in the ordinary that I miss when I am focused on those details.  I forget that my kids are two precious individuals God has entrusted me to raise, who miraculously grew inside me from one cell into a complex human being.  After all, the idea that children are a blessing is as old as time.  It is also biblical.  And something I've sadly forgotten. 

We definitely shouldn't try to live up to an impossible standard or ideal as mothers.  That takes our focus off of our unique talents and circumstances, including the special children that we alone have been given to care for.  Mrs. Friedan complained about this all throughout her book.  This is one of the things the women's lib movement in the 60's and 70's was trying to liberate us from.  However, f
ifty years later, what remains is that stay-at-home mothers still believe that there must be something wrong with them if they do not find great satisfaction in every moment of parenting and taking care of a house.  What we are left with is that the value in raising children and managing a household has been stripped away, because they proclaimed that women can't find meaning in these tasks.  They also succeeded in getting two generations of women to deny the distinctive, inherent qualities that set them apart from men and uniquely position them as life-givers and nurturers.
The term "housewife" or "mother" is what you make of it.  You can either see it as a misery or a joy.  We glorify God and experience His blessing when we accept and joyfully embrace his created design, function, and order for our lives as women.  Society is all too willing to feed us the line that we should abandon the home in pursuit of our so-called real ambitions.  We are sold a bill of goods that to give up our careers or other aspirations for raising children is, quite bluntly, dumb.  The "war on women" is more like a war on mothers.   
It is not unintelligent, though, to recognize that children are only this young for such a short amount of time, compared with the rest of one's life, and that during these crucial years our role as mothers is vitally important in shaping and molding their minds, values, and morals, along with instilling a sense of stability.  As I muddle my way through these early years of mothering, I take heart that my actions, though not always glamorous or acknowledged, will one day produce a godly young man and woman.  That is where I get my fulfillment, if you will.  This is worth sacrificing all those other achievements for.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Refusing to Buy Into the Hollywood Version

One of my favorite bloggers, Lisa-Jo Baker, wrote a post a few weeks ago in response to the June 29th "Teenager Posts of the Week" featured on The Huffington Post Teen Edition.  The unnamed girl stated, “My love life will never be satisfactory until someone runs through an airport to stop me from getting on a flight.”  Lisa-Jo's post was so popular with readers that it ended up going viral and appearing back on HuffPo's website, this time for its parental audience.

I can tell you that my husband has never run through an airport to stop me from getting on a plane.  But he has run through an airport to catch a flight to go on a business trip that provides a roof over our heads and food for us to eat.  He has left a meeting early to come home and take care of the kids, when I was ill with the flu and could barely get off the couch.  He has been patient with me as I recovered from two c-sections, and was right there beside me in the OR when both our son and daughter entered the world.

We are more than a decade now from the evenings when I would catch him staring at me from across the table.  To be honest, I do miss that time period in our relationship.  Our love has grown much deeper than those romantic dinners through the years, however.  He tells me over and over that I'm beautiful, with no make-up on, even during times when I feel like I'm at my worst.  He still saves me the last piece of cake, or the last cookie, because he is considerate of me.  He offers tenderness, listening, and protection on a daily basis.  He has held my hand and prayed for me during rock-bottom moments, when I didn't have the strength to pray myself.  
The last day of our honeymoon, 1/21/03
The Bible articulates numerous reasons for the purpose of marriage.  The following three are the most important, in my opinion: 
1) Companionship 
2) Procreation 
3) Holiness
Marriage provides us with lifelong friendship, sustains life on earth, and brings us closer to God through the process of sanctification.  It is not for the purpose of our happiness. When you subscribe to the view that the main purpose of marriage is to make you happy, it's easy to see why so many marriages fail. As soon as the fun stops or the momentary "happy" runs out, people quit and the marriage collapses.  Marriage is God’s design, and His purposes must be pursued in order for you to be truly happy. His end is holiness and He will use all things in a life devoted to Him to fulfill that end.

Our marriage has definitely not always been happy, happy, happy (as Phil Robertson would say).  
We've survived countless moves, two episodes of post-partum depression, and three separate periods of unemployment.  Going through life's trials together has sanctified us and strengthened our relationship with one another and with God.  When you can go through some pretty tough circumstances and come out on the other side with your marriage intact, being even better than before, that's a powerful testimony to the redemptive work of the Lord in your lives.  

No, he's never run through an airport for me.  But yesterday, he raced home from Newark Liberty to be with his family who he had been away from on a job for almost a week.  He played with our kids outside until dinnertime, even though he was jet-lagged.  And later that evening, he held me tight and told me how much he missed me.  That's my version of romance.  The ordinary, forgiving, brace the storms of life together, kind of "ever after" you just won't find in fairy tales.    

Ten years and two kids later.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Let's Hear It For The Boy

As Colton's birthday approaches, I have already been thinking about what I will post on Facebook that day- probably something like "five years ago, I became a mother."  Then my own words stop me and I think, is that accurate?  Did I really only become a mother the second my son came out of me?  Or did I become a mother months before, when he was conceived.  Or nearly three weeks later, when I held a positive pregnancy test in my hand.

With my suspicions of being pregnant confirmed, I immediately went into the mode of doing everything I could to ensure the life growing inside me would thrive.  I switched from soda to juice and water, ate a better diet, started taking prenatal vitamins, and began exercising.  I started preparing for his arrival by reading baby books, researching the best baby gear, and long before I even knew that the baby was a "he", I blogged almost daily about every detail of the pregnancy.  I dreamed of who my son would become and who he would look like.

A unique person with his own DNA, his personality began to take shape even before he was born.  As a preschooler, he doesn't go along with the crowd.  In the womb, he remained breech right up until his due date.  The coding for his father's engineering mind and my facial features were already there.

The law did not consider him to be a person with certain inalienable rights until 1:33pm on August 14, 2008.  Up until that time, it was strictly up to me to protect him.  That was my job from the moment I knew I was pregnant and continues to be throughout the rest of his childhood into adolescence.  Even when he turns 18 and becomes a legal adult, he will still be my responsibility if he lives under my roof.  I will still worry about him, pray for him, give him advice.  In other words, I will always be his mother.

Though the physically demanding, practically non-stop work did not begin until he was outside my womb, he could not have gotten to that point unless I recognized that I was already a mother and began sacrificing parts of myself for his sake.

Colton continues to develop and thrive as his fifth birthday draws near, due to the investment made into his life by me and his daddy.  We make sure he eats the right things, gets the sleep and exercise he needs, learns values, receives discipline, and understands that he is loved and special.  And, if I may be permitted to brag a little, he is a pretty amazing kid.  This is not to pat myself on the back, but to proclaim that he is an extraordinary child who I have the blessing and privilege of raising.

He is kind to others, quick to help, and embraces life with tenacity.  He is definitely ALL boy, turning his sister's toys into lawn mowers, gear for monsters or super heroes, and garages for his cars and trucks.  I love how blonde his hair gets in the summer, and how the sun on his cheeks accentuate those deep, blue eyes.  I am so proud to be his mother, and I can't believe he is going to be five next week!!!

Colton enjoying his favorite treat at the Sussex County Fair.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Phases of Motherhood

The other night, my son and I brought dinner to a friend who recently had her first baby.  She was very grateful to receive a meal and a visit among one of the most hectic, challenging, joyful times in life.  As we talked, she mentioned trying to figure out what was best among the various approaches to parenting a newborn she heard from others.  I could tell she was a little overwhelmed.  I wanted to give her some advice, but I know she has to figure it out on her own.  A one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t apply to child rearing.  

Plus, just because I am well beyond the newbie stage doesn’t mean I have all the answers either.  I’m really just a few steps ahead in this journey called motherhood.  The crushed Cheerios in the carpet, toys taking over every room in the house, holding my breath instead of completely losing it on my kids phase.  One in which I am trying in vain at mealtimes to get one kid to sit down and the other to eat a vegetable.  Where I am simultaneously holding a conversation with another mom at the play ground while I watch two kids who are off in different directions, doing mental gymnastics to keep track of when they each last had a sip of water, went to the bathroom/had a diaper changed and how many donut holes they consumed. 

It’s crazy, but crazy enough I'm pretty comfortable here.  In fact, it can be somewhat of a stretch now to go back and remember what it was like to have a newborn and be in completely unfamiliar territory, feeling desperate and isolated as a new mom.  I’m in the thick over-growth of a new forest.

Instead of counters littered with baby bottles and cans of formula, every square inch of our fridge is adorned with crayon scribbled and water color painted pictures.  Instead of infant cries and coos, there are toddler and preschooler shrieks in conjunction with the music from kids’ tv shows.  My kids now play by themselves together, but fights over toys inevitably ensue, interrupting a single household chore at least 10 times.  When I put Rory in her crib at night, I can be 99% sure that she will sleep straight through the next 12 hours, and it won't be all that long before she trades in the crib for a toddler bed and diapers for Disney Princess panties.  Colton is now one of the oldest kids in my moms’ group, and I am the one passing down his old clothes and toys instead of being on the receiving end.

There are new worries and challenges here, and while they aren’t helpless newborns anymore, some days I still feel unequal to the task of mothering two little ones.  Their needs have actually seemed to increase as time has gone on.  Now they need discipline as well as their physical needs taken care of.  It gets discouraging and frustrating when my four-year-old doesn’t obey, and nothing I do seems to help him change his unpleasant attitude.  It’s draining when my toddler constantly disregards my “no”, bent on doing what she wants. 

Yes, this phase often means banging my head against the wall when my daughter is super clingy and I can’t figure out what’s wrong because she only says 10 words, which put together make no sense.  It means exasperated sighs when I’m downstairs in the basement doing laundry, and my preschooler yells from the top of the stairs and I come running, only to find out that he just wanted a different television show on.  It also means wanting to hide in the bathroom for five minutes of alone time, if I can just get the door shut before Rory rushes in there to “help” me.  It most definitely means thinking I will go crazy if I hear the word “MO-MMY!!” one. more. time.     

This stage in between feeding, rocking and changing non-stop and teen rebellion is a lot of stinkin’ work.  But it’s also exhilarating.  And, for me, ultimately better than the newborn phase.  It’s fun to watch both of them learn new things and play together.  I still have so much influence over what they watch, do and eat.  Their disobedience is small right now, and their faith is big.  Their hearts are soft and innocent, making them a perfect place for Jesus to live.

I love having them press in close while I read them stories, see them dance and "sing" to songs, and experience life through their eyes.  I know one day I will look back on these days in which the pages of "If You Give a Moose a Muffin" play out repeatedly, and my heart will ache for when they were that little.  Then I will be "that older lady" telling another mom to try to treasure these moments, even though you feel like you're going to be swallowed up in them.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

A Woman's Right

I have been thinking a lot lately about rights since the abortion debate was once again thrust into the media with last week’s filibuster by Texas Senator Wendy Davis of a bill that would hold abortion clinics to the same standards as ambulatory care clinics and require abortionists to have admitting privileges at hospitals, as well as ban all abortions after 20 weeks.  Pro-choice supporters showed up to help defeat the bill, championing the cause of women's rights so loudly that it caused chaos and confusion in Texas’ State Capitol, and the bill was not signed into law before the deadline for the special session had passed.  

It seems odd to me that the same group who lobbies for women's health is the very same group fighting against legislation that would effectively make abortion safer for women, but that is not what this post is about.  It is about rights.  Or what we think we have a right to, at least.

The reigning ideology today insists that a mother determines whether or not she wants to be one, and whether or not she perceives a child worthy of life, even as it develops in her womb. She makes these decisions at an incredibly emotional and vulnerable time, with the support of a prevailing belief that there is empowerment in ending that child’s life within her.  This has been, in fact, defined as her constitutional “right”.

In the last 40 years, the feminist movement has done a very good job of persuading women that they should be ashamed and even fearful of traditional women’s roles.    It has instilled a great fear of having to give up oneself for the sake of a child.  It has even instilled the fear of pregnancy itself, going so far as to say childbirth poses more danger to females than abortion. 

For many women, childbearing and rearing is a wonderful, joyous thing.  But for many others, it represents death.  Even in the best of circumstances, motherhood demands your all.  You give up control over your time, your finances, your needs and your wants to put those of small children ahead of your own. 

Motherhood is not celebrated or embraced in our post-modern culture.  Instead, it is reviled.  There is very little support for mothers these days.  Our communities by and large are no longer the welcoming, safe havens they once were and the statement “it takes a village” is a thing of the past.  Sadly, many churches turn away the unwed pregnant girl instead of offering resources and hope.  By contrast there seems to be a multitude of organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, presenting a way out.

In her book What Women Fear, Angie Smith writes that when sin entered the world back in the Garden of Eden, fear was ushered in right along with it.  “[Adam and Eve] acted out of fear, and so do we.  We do it in all kinds of ways, and while it’s different for every person, the heart of it is the same.  We are responding to the lie of Satan each and every time we run.  Fundamentally, every single fear comes from the lie spoken by the enemy in a garden designed to be a haven…  Is God really good ?”     

I have experienced the sheer panic which accompanies the realization that you now have the soul-crushing responsibility of a brand new baby.  Even as my son grew older, I experienced fleeting moments where I thought my world was crashing down around me.  Just when I thought I had mastered those, I gave birth to my daughter and experienced that same all-consuming feeling of fear.  Only this time, it appeared to double since I had the responsibility of both a toddler and a newborn.  How much more must this fear be present for women whose pregnancies are unplanned.

Fast forward to present day, and my children still regularly trample on my freedoms.  My right to privacy is infringed upon by their barging into the bathroom without knocking.  My right to peace and quiet is walked all over by a four-year-old asking "why" questions that stretch down around the block and back, the ear piercing crying of a one-year-old, numerous tantrums and meltdowns over any number of things, fights over toys, songs being sung at the top of my son's lungs, and the list goes on and on and on.  My right to my own body was infringed upon by a tiny baby taking up residence inside of it on two separate occasions.  Then there's the right to advance my career or financial/social status, which I basically kissed goodbye when I became a stay-at-home mom.  My world revolves around the constant needs, wants and demands of small children who have absolutely no regard for what I gave up for them.

All of this can feel threatening if I lose sight of the fact that Jesus gave up His rights as Lord and King when he came to earth and lived among needy, dirty people who demanded all He had to give.  He was entitled to glory, honor and praise but He laid it all down for us.  “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross!”  (Philippians 2:6-8, NIV) 

He made Himself nothing

It's that kind of self-sacrificing love which inspires me to serve not only my children, but others around me who are in need of grace.  It is that perfect love which drives out fear- the fear of losing myself in motherhood, of being required to give up too much and get little in return, even of giving up control over the way my kids turn out.  When we have a relationship with Christ and understand His sacrifice for us, we bring everything under His lordship.  Everything we are holding onto so tightly we are then able to let go of and entrust to Him.  We let Him order our steps and faithfully give up that which we feel we are entitled to.

The very law designed to protect women’s rights ironically also impedes their liberty, since true freedom is only found in Christ.  Giving a woman the right to terminate a pregnancy is not, in and of itself liberating when she feels her choices are very limited to begin with.  For her, it is often the decision between the figurative death of herself or the actual death of her unborn baby.  Women should be empowered to carry out the work of nurturing and caring for a child, a mission of many pregnancy resource centers.  This is something that politics alone cannot accomplish; it must come through a genuine encounter with a Savior who has already walked the road of sacrifice and suffering.