Sunday, February 8, 2015

There's More

My daughter is twelve, and on the verge of the teen years. As I write this she is playing Barbies with her little sister, and I'm so thrilled by that my heart could explode. But I recognize my days are numbered. I'm bracing myself for the storm of mood swings and zits that is teenagerhood. I know that a certain degree of change, awkwardness and struggle are all a part of the years that prepare you for adulthood. My prayer is that we will walk through these upcoming days with as much grace and good hair days as possible. And deep down I wish that I could teach her all of the lessons I've had to learn the hard way, without her actually having to learn them the hard way. Most of all, I pray that of  all the lessons, she will learn that there is more. So much more to life and love and the whole human experience than what you experience in the teenage years.

For example, there is more to life than how you look. Sometimes it is hard in our culture to learn that. Commercials and movies and magazines are designed to lead you to obsess over your looks and what products you need to buy to improve them. You will probably at some point become convinced that if you were a different size or had a different hairstyle or whiter teeth, your life would be better. It's a lie. Today an elderly man remarked on how much my firstborn+- has grown and that she is "getting 
pretty". I had to reign in the Mom in me that wanted to smart back that she has always been pretty. But then he asked her something that began to consume my thoughts instead. He asked, "Have the boys started telling you that?" And rather than go into my usual "oh my gosh I'm not ready for this" train of thought, it hit me harder. Not that boys will begin to notice her. But I was reminded of how from such a young age we are taught to need validation from others. 

This, my daughter, is what I want you to know. You are beautiful, and have always been beautiful. You are beautiful because God Himself designed every feature on your face and placed every hair on your head. When you were a baby I spent hours staring at you in amazement and awe. You are beautiful because you are kind and caring and thoughtful. You are beautiful because you are nurturing and organized and creative. You are beautiful because your heart is tender and your head is hard. You are brave and fearless and stand up for what you believe in. You are wise and mature beyond your years and your faith is stronger than some adults. 

And it is nice to hear that others admire your beauty, but you do not need their words to confirm it. It is there whether anyone appreciates it or not. Don't expect middle school boys to build your self-esteem or value your worth. In fact, if you could avoid middle school boys at all costs, that would be great. :)  As someone who has lived many years replaying mean words said during the vulnerable teenage years, let me assure you that when someone speaks ugly of you it says much more about them than it does you. You choose kindness and forgiveness.

And I love clothes and make-up and girly stuff as much as the next person, but please believe me when I tell you there is more. I love to doll myself up for your Daddy and have him tell me I'm beautiful. But those times don't mean near as much to me as when he tells me, "You're funny" or that I'm his favorite person to talk to. Seek out friends who are interesting and who have hobbies and plans and daydreams. Be a little bit weird. All of the best people are. :)

Mostly, hold onto the truth that there is more. Our culture's obsessions with looks and material things, it gets exhausting and overwhelming. There's only so much we can control in the looks department and if we seek material things for happiness we'll always want more. It will never be enough. The kind of "more" I'm talking about is the realization that you have so much to offer. Your thoughts, your opinions, your heart. You are entering an age when insecurity and mean people rule. Those things go together you know, insecurity and meanness. I want you to be different. You encourage that girl with the big zit on the first day of middle school (she may still remember it when she's 34 years old :), and you laugh with your friends when you say the most horribly awkward thing to your crush, and you hug your friend that gets her heart broken and you wait (many, many years!!!) for the person who appreciates every.single.thing about you. And eat all of the pizza and ice cream. Now is the time!! Laugh and be silly and pray for the people who give you dirty looks, because self-imposed misery is a heavy load to bear. 

You can dress to impress or you can wear a smile that brightens another person's day. You can compete or you can compel others to do good things. You can perform for applause or you can perform acts of kindness. You can let others bring you down or you can bring others up. That's the real beauty. None of us can control our height or the shape of our nose or the texture of our hair. But we can choose the beauty that comes in how we treat others and the impact our life has on others. You, my child, are more than a pretty face to look at. You are an amazing soul that leads and loves and so much more!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

In the Days to Come

It has been a while since I've been so eager for a year to end. Maybe not so much for the year to end, but for a new year to begin. I'm not one to wish my days away, but as the calendar closes on 2014, I would be lying if I didn't say that I may be up doing the happy dance when the clock strikes midnight and 2015 makes it's entrance.

2014 kicked my hiney. I'm just gonna put that out there. As with all of life there were SO many good things that happened this last year. But if  I learned anything in 2014 (and trust me, it was a learning kind of year) it is that good things don't always come easy. Sometimes good things happen only when we've been pushed and pulled and stretched 95 ways out of our comfort zone. Sometimes they come during times that feel so overwhelmingly not good that it is hard to appreciate them. And sometimes things seem good when they normally wouldn't because they are framed in a new light of perspective that only comes from the hard things. 

This last year could be described in words such as bizarre, exhausting, stressful, and frustrating. I had my wallet stolen, dealt with some really stressful situations at one job, started another job, my (new) vehicle was in the shop 7 out of 12 months of this year, and I was in a car accident. Did I mention my car being in the shop didn't even have anything to do with the wreck? A lady was arrested in my yard (long story) and I had two kidney infections in a two month time. I started my Christmas vacation with a visit from Animal Control thanks to my yappy dog and I was also served with legal papers for my accident. Those are some of the high (low?) points. All of these things happened in a year that my life has changed in a way that is difficult to explain. I started a job working in child welfare and my eyes have been opened to situations and people that make me cry and get angry and see the world in a way I've not seen it before. Sometimes I wish I could unsee it, but I can't. And my heart has grown heavy and at times I feel weary. 

I don't share this to be a bummer. I'm sorry, I know so far it is. But, I share it because this long, bizarre, hard, wearisome year has brought with it some important lessons. It has made deep, soul changes in me. It has also provided some of the most rewarding, feel good moments of my life. I recently read the quote, "The darker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God." (Corrie Ten Boom) That quote sums up my year. There were some dark times. For me and for many around me. But I came to appreciate that the brightness of God's Word and His people most in those times. Important lessons this year. I want to document them so I will remember them. And hopefully I will have learned them and not be revisiting them this time next year. :) Emily of 2014, here are the words of wisdom for you:

1. Some things are beyond your control. They just are. It doesn't matter how much sleep you lose, how many phone calls you make, how much you stress, it's just not in your control.You can only pray and put it in God's hands.

2. Kind words are never wasted.

3. Learning is exhausting. But you should do it anyway. Invest the time and energy to learn new things and do new things.

4. Making mistakes is exhausting. But sometimes it's the only way to learn.

5. It's better to do hard things now and  imperfectly than to be satisfied with an ideal of how you might do things one day. 

6. Make the most of your time. Work hard at work, love hard on your family, help people who need help. Put the kids to bed and watch The Office on Netflix. Promise you'll do better tomorrow because you'll probably feel like you failed in at least one of these areas on a daily basis.

7. You can't do it all, but you can become the grumpiest person to walk the face of the earth trying.

8. It's ok to cry if you miss your child's school party or sporting event, but not in front of them. You are the only one having a nervous breakdown over this. They're fine.

9. Occasionally go out for lunch with friends even if you don't think you have time.  Face it, your social life could use some work. 

10. Yes, you are always going to be tired.

11. Complaining does not change things. Whining does not change things. Stop doing them and stop spending all of your time and energy on people who do them. Focus on the fixing and the praying and the people who work for answers.

12. It's okay to ask for help, and you will be pleasantly surprised and blessed by people who go above and beyond.

13. Appreciate it all. The hard times that teach you, the happy times that you sometimes miss because you're obsessing over the hard times, and the down time that is rare. Be so super thankful for your health to be so busy and overwhelmed and the health of your husband and kids. It is such a gift that you are all able to do all of the things you do. And when you get a chance to sit and snuggle on the couch, do that too.

14. It's okay to laugh.

I added number 14 because anyone who knows me knows that laughter is my coping mechanism. And sweet tea. Unfortunately I've depended a lot more on the sweet tea this year. :)  December is always a hard month for me. In addition to the normal craziness and busy schedule that comes with the holidays, grief seems to always sneak in when I least expect it. It was worse this year. This Christmas Day was five years since I lost my Daddy. This last year was the kind of year when I found myself really needing him. I had to face the fact recently that I have lost my joy. I've had lots of happy, fun moments this last year. I really have. But I realized that what has been even worse this last year has not been all of the crazy things that have happened. It's that somewhere along the way I decided to give in. To let the dark days hide the light. To hide from the world when things got hairy. To question if it is ok to be happy and to laugh when there is so much pain and heartache in the world. 

The other day Josh prayed with me and he prayed that my joy would be restored. And that is my desire for 2015.  I have 430 resolutions I need to make. For real. I need to get my life, y'all. But first, I want my joy restored. That joy that comes from His Spirit, not the aligning of the stars in heaven or everything going right. I think I'm on my way. I think that kind of joy grows in dark places, on hard days. When we let it. When we let challenges make us better instead of bitter. That's what I'm working on. I've been counting down the days until this year ends, but I know that a new day on the calendar will not guarantee brighter days or trouble free times. I can't control the circumstances 2015 will hold, but I can control how I receive what comes my way. Josh made this sign for me for Christmas. It is from the book of Proverbs talking about the Proverbs 31 woman. The verses before this one say, "She will be clothed with strength and dignity." These verses remind me that it is okay to laugh, but it doesn't always come easy. It requires strength. This tells me that the Proverbs 31 woman was the real deal. She didn't live in a cushy, bubble world protected from darkness. I'm pretty sure she was all up in it. But, her strength allowed her to face those things head on and laugh at the days to come. I plan to laugh at the days to come. (Proverbs 31:25) I pray you will, too!

Friday, December 5, 2014

It's a Mess

Growing up we are told stories and watch movies of fairy tales. And in those fairy tales there is usually a princess who starts out in raggedy clothes cleaning and serving other people. And the magical, fairy tale part happens when suddenly she is swept away by her prince charming, she is adorned with a beautiful dress and a crown and as far as we know, somebody else is cleaning up the messes now! Whether we are greatly influenced by these stories or not, there is no denying that we all have a strong desire for a "Happily Ever After". Not just in relationships, but in life in general. We have the idea that someday everything will be neat and clean and pretty.

That was my plan. If I could just become the person I was supposed to I would have a picture perfect family with a picture perfect house and things would always go smoothly because we would always make good choices and be good people. Truth be told, I think I gathered this idea in church more than from the movies. You see, I think for a while that has been the message we've sent as the church. Make good choices, be a good person, live in a bubble with other good people. Sounded like a plan to me! For a long time I had such a desire to live up to a certain standard and eventually one day maybe God would use me to teach other people. We would all be perfectly groomed and beautifully dressed and say the right churchy things and I would finally feel good enough.

Turns out, things don't always go the way we plan. In fact, I wouldn't begin to know what to do if a plan I had came to fruition. Because life. Because people. You see the longer we have been in ministry the more God has opened my eyes and tugged at my heart. I've learned that ministry is not so much the classes taught or the songs sung on Sunday morning. It is the late night phone calls and unexpected knocks at the door. It is brokenhearted people, confused people, and honestly sometimes downright mean people. It is unscheduled, inconvenient, and messy. It is questioning how much to help, how much tough love to give, how to answer hard questions. It is feeling that there is never quite enough time or of you to go around. It is feeling that no matter what you do it is never enough. It is a downright battle between the Spirit's leading and self. 

Because what I have learned is that while God calls us His heirs and that means we are royalty as the child of the King, it looks a little different from Cinderella. It is true we are adorned with new clothes, His robe of righteousness, but our task is so much more than appearances and productions. He saves us from our own mess so that we can be equipped to go right back into the mess. Sometimes He literally leads us to be the sweepers and the moppers and the builders. Sometimes He leads us to be the listeners and the huggers and the comforters. Sometimes He leads us to be the voice of wisdom and grace. Wherever it is He leads, I assure it's probably not going to be easy. 

Last year I felt that God was telling me "Do hard things."  I think I have. I think this last year has hands down been one of the hardest years I've had. I wish I could say I've always handled it well, but I've often found myself saying, "I didn't know the hard things would be so hard!" Insert 2 year old tantrum. And I guess if I'm honest I thought that would be my word for one year, and maybe this year would be "Do happy things!" :)  But as time passes and I am continually brought to a place of complete reliance on my Savior, it becomes more and more clear to me that the mess is where it's at. Have I thought, "I didn't make this mess"?  Yes, yes I have. Have I thought, "Why can't someone else clean up this mess?"  Yes, yes I have. And then I've been gently reminded that I've made plenty of messes myself and I had a kind Redeemer, a gracious God. And also, people. I had people who loved on me, put up with me, prayed for me, and supported me. They were real. They were tangible. They were the hands and feet of God. And that is what we are to be to those around us. Even those in messes. Especially those in messes.

Let me be clear that I'm not talking about supporting bad habits, throwing money at problems, or trying to put a happy face on things. I'm talking about real, let's do this, we may get dirty, too, kind of caring. The kind of loving and caring that stretches us, tries us, tires us, and moves us to action. The kind that teaches us good boundaries but sometimes leads us to work around them. The kind of caring that brings us to the point where there is no way to do it without Jesus because His, "strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

I share this because I just have such a burden. A burden for people. A burden for the church. I think sometimes we forget that while it is important and valuable to have opinions on things, one day we will be accountable just as much for how obedient we have been in action. We are told, "Be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." (James 1:22)  I am so thankful for the many teachers and writers who have poured their words into others. I know I am blessed by them daily. But sometimes I think, there are so many voices, but where are the hands and feet? Where are the workers? How do we put these things we've been taught into action? And the answer I find is that we have to be in the mess. 

People often bring up that Jesus hung out with sinners. He did. He wanted to help them out of their mess. He preached on hilltops, but then he personally invested in those people's messes. He was in their homes. He ate with them. He washed their dirty feet.  He gave them time and attention. He had his reputation and his sanity questioned. 

A few Sundays ago Josh painted during his sermon. We weren't sure how that was going to go. At one point he almost knocked over an entire can of paint on the carpet IN THE SANCTUARY. Mine was the gasp heard round the world. Thankfully it stayed put but I immediately thought about how worried I was about the carpet. It's always a joke about carpet in the churches, but it is so true that we often stress and worry over things that have no eternal value. We get all kinds of bent out of shape about messing up God's house (don't get me wrong, I believe in taking care of God's house!), but we destroy people through our words and actions and apathy. By the way, God sent Jesus to save the people, not the carpet.

As Josh finished painting he came forward to offer the invitation. I was taken aback as I noticed red paint all over his hands and arms. It was such a visible reminder that we are able to stand before God only because the blood of Jesus covers us. Because He was willing to come be a part of the mess. 

I only share this because I want to encourage you. I know God is calling people to do hard things, and I know it is scary. I know it is exhausting and challenging and sometimes you don't know if it's worth it. Do it anyway. I promise, the mess is where it's at. You never appreciate a clean room until you've helped pick up the mess. It's a gift God gives us to be a part. To walk bumpy roads and to cry important tears. I recently came across Psalm 126:5 that says, "Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy." I felt suddenly overwhelmed by the idea  that it is truly a blessing to care about something or someone enough that your prayers are tears. Those are the kind of prayers that lead to joy. And we can be in the mess and never be alone. "The Lord your God in your midst, The mighty one, will save." (Zephaniah 3:17) He's in the midst. In the middle of the mess.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Sitting under  white lights in the midst of tables adorned with linen tablecloths and hydrangeas, I watched as the father of the bride stood up to give a speech. I knew the minute that he did that I would cry. I was right. When he began to talk about how precious it was to raise her, I cried for the dad who, while proud of his grown daughter, misses the little girl she was. I cried because I missed my Daddy. I will never forget my Daddy tearing up as he walked me down the aisle, or watching him dance with my sister at her wedding. And I cried for all of the little people I now know that don't have the kind of daddy that would give speeches at their weddings or make them feel precious. But I really cried when he got to the part of his speech where he told them that they would have good days and bad days. And what seems like a simple statement brought with it an intense weight as it had been one of those bad days. I thought of my own wedding thirteen years ago and the advice we were given, the times we heard there would be tough days ahead. It was the happiest day of our lives and we felt sorry for all of the couples who had experienced bad days. We couldn't fathom that we ever would.

A month or so ago we were swimming and Kate seemed surprised to discover that I had my wedding ring on. "Is it waterproof?" she asked.  I assured her it was. That innocent question led me to think seriously about all the kinds of "proof" my ring has been in the last thirteen years. It has never come off, with the exception of three pregnancies when my fingers were too swollen to wear it. Since it was placed on my finger over a decade ago it has been clinical depression proof, sleep deprivation proof, job change proof, finish school with two children under the age of 3 proof, move multiple times proof, answer the call to ministry proof, job loss proof, broke down cars proof, experience the death of loved ones proof, financial struggles proof, scary medical issues proof, crazy work schedule proof, we have no idea what we are doing with our children proof, and we have no idea what we are doing in life proof. 

I don't write this to say that there has been no romance or fun. That is far from the truth. I write this because more and more I hear people talk about long lasting, successful marriages as if they magically happen to people who are lucky, As if there are a certain few people who are just blessed with amazing lives that never have problems and their days are full of breakfast in bed and flowers everyday. I'm a hopeless romantic, so I like those things. But sitting at that wedding reception it dawned on me that while a wedding is a time to celebrate a new life being forged and the fresh, fun, romantic part of love, it is also a chance to celebrate the marriages that are in the trenches of those vows; vows that don't just apply on the wedding day. 

I used to hate to hear people say that relationships are "hard work" and you have to "fight for your marriage". I was married at the wise, mature age of 20 and I couldn't believe people had to fight and work hard. What sad, sorry relationships they had! Well, a few years and some hard days later, I'm here to say that relationships are hard and you have to fight for them! Sitting at a wedding I now both reminisce about our innocent, fun, romantic early days, but more than that I treasure the hard days. I do, I treasure them. Because it is fun to think of our happy days, but it is life-altering to think of the hard days. To realize that during times when it would have been so easy to push each other away, you held on for dear life and knew that you had something worth fighting for.  To know that the hard days grew a compassion and a connection you only get with someone who has walked the hard roads with you. 

I used to dream that my children would grow up seeing a love story to rival the movies. That they would know nothing but parents with stars in their eyes who doted on one another constantly. I pray that they do see those times often enough. But I also understand the value now that one day when their Daddy stands up to give a speech and says, "There will be good days and there will be bad days" he will speak as one with experience. That the example that has been set for them has been one of parents who gave and received unconditional love. Parents who weathered the storms and never gave up on rebuilding what life tried to tear down. Parents who learned to fight for each other instead of against each other. Parents who decided their relationship was going to be waterproof and every kind of proof it needed to be. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

It's Not How it Looks

So it's Friday night and preparations are being made for Sarah's birthday party tomorrow. And anyone who knows me well knows that preparing for such events can kind of become a thing. Like we're preparing for the Queen or something. I have come a long way, but still have oh so far to go. Am I the only one who notices every smudge on a mirror or every crumb missed on the floor when company is coming? Do you, too, feel the need to buy new silverware or curtains when you are going to have guests? Just me? Well, I have to tell you that God has dealt with me so much about this over the years. Contentment. Appearances. Purpose. Hospitality. Gratitude. Yes, all of these have been issues I've dealt with through the years in relation to inviting people into my home.

Josh and I have lived in six homes since we married 13 years ago. We started out in an apartment that was barely big enough to hold the sectional we were given as a wedding gift. At one point we lived in a 100 year old farmhouse that would have been positively charming if we had thousands of dollars and plenty of time to put into it. We had neither. My friend and I refloored that house, not for aesthetic purposes but because I didn't want my toddlers crawling on the original floor. For real. But in all of our living spaces we have found ways to make them our own and filled them each with the best of memories. And sometimes the worst of memories. But those times remind me of why we need a home, a safe place in a hard world. 

And that's where my heart is tonight. My body needs to be in my bedroom finding a place for all of the clothes piled on my bed or scrubbing my bathroom. But as I've cleaned and done laundry I've struggled with this same battle I've fought for so long. That it never feels "enough". Clean enough. Decorated enough. Furnished enough. Do you know what I mean? There just aren't enough hours in the day to deep clean that spot on the floor between the refrigerator and the cabinet. And I can't for the life of me remember to buy new doormats for the back door, despite the fact we are having a pool party tomorrow and a dozen people will be traipsing in and out soaking wet. I will probably do something classy and put down my rattiest towel. :)  

But as I was straightening up my bookcase tonight I was reminded again of this lesson that seems always at the forefront of my life syllabus. "It's not how it looks." You see, like many women my age I have a Pinterest page (it had some kind of security issue several months ago and I can't figure out how to use it again, but that's another story) and it is full of decorating ideas, dreams of how my perfect home would look. I browse stores for the perfect decorative pieces and make big plans. But this is how it looks.

Josh built this for me a few birthdays ago and it is one of my absolute, favorite- we have to grab it in case of fire-things. And I had all kinds of ideas for how I would style it, because obviously a bookcase is not just for books! :)  As I dusted it tonight I thought about the pieces that fill it's shelves. On top is a boat made of shells. It was given to us by a guy Josh has spent a lot of time working with. He wanted to thank Josh. He makes them from shells and driftwood. On the second shelf is a sign that Eli got me at Santa's Workshop at school. It says, "Home is Where Your Story Begins", which is one of my most favorite quotes. It also has a music box that Josh bought for me when I went to college. It used to play John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads". It doesn't anymore, but it will always be a treasured possession. The third shelf has a huge shell. I honestly am not completely sure where it came from, but one of my kids thought it would look good there. :) The fourth shelf has a Little Mermaid bubble bath globe. You might think it is Kate's. It's not. It belongs to our family. It was a gift from another man in our community who said he just wanted to thank us. He is a special man with many mental and physical challenges, but a heart of gold. I still haven't figured out what he is thanking us for, but every time I feel tempted to find a new home for our gift, I can't. You can't buy things like that at the store. 

Then I was trying to figure out how to cover up this chair. This chair that our puppy, Scooter, decided would be a great chew toy. If I thought I was unprepared to be a mother I cannot tell you how unprepared I was for a puppy. My word! HE HAS CHEWED THE FURNITURE Y'ALL!

This is Scooter and I having a discussion about how he should do something really cute or funny while I videotape it so we can win America's Funniest Home Videos and get enough money to replace all of the things in our house he's destroyed.

He looks really concerned about it, doesn't he?

The truth is, we are searching for a new chair, but it won't be that chair. It won't be the chair that I rocked my babies in  or that my Dad sat in when he came to visit. So I can bear with my chewed up chair for a little while longer.

As I am feeling tempted to stress about the state of my abode I remember a night we had a passerby in our home. A man who comes by about once a year. He rides his bike across the country. He asked if he could put his tent up in the church yard. One night I sent Josh out to ask if he wanted some supper. Honestly, I expected Josh to come back and tell me what he wanted and then he would take the food back with him. Because I'm so hospitable like that. :) But, Josh brought him back. It was a Sunday night and in  our house that equals two things: 1. House disaster from busy weekends. 2. Leftovers. And as this man sat at my dining room table talking to my husband I washed the mountain of dirty dishes and felt so embarrassed my house looked the way it did and I only had leftovers. And in that moment it dawned on me that I was worried how my home would be judged by a man who was sleeping in a tent. Wow. That was such a moment for me. And do you know what he said to me? He said, "It's so good to see all of the kid's toys at the door. That means there is happiness here."

 I'm sharing this because my heart is tender tonight about this inner battle between how my home looks and how it feels. Don't get me wrong, I like for it to feel clean. I would like it to feel that way more than it does. :) But not sterile. Not void of life or warmth. Or dog hair. For the love, you should take an allergy pill before you come to my house because the dog hair, y'all! But seriously, it is my heart's desire that my home would be a sanctuary. A safe place. I have prayed that so much since we moved into this neighborhood and met so many people who seemed to need a safe place. Not a fancy place. Not the cleanest place ever. Not the most organized or the place with gourmet food. But a safe place. A place where people can rest and relax and let their burdens go. A place that is inviting and nourishing for their soul. That is truly my prayer. That I won't spend the time people are at my house stressing over my dirty kitchen floors or if the kids left toothpaste in the sink. That I will invest in people who love me even if we've broken all of our good glasses and the kids have used all of the plastic ones to dig in the yard. That I will welcome people into my home even if we have to order a pizza and drink kool-aid. 

Jesus, please give me a heart that puts others comfort and needs above my need to impress. Please replace my insecurities with your grace and compassion. Help me make this a home for my family and our friends, not a display case. Bring others here who need support and encouragement. And fill me with You to meet their needs.  Fill this home with fun and love and security and use my hands to create it, not my discontentment to tear it down. Thank you for the people in it. They are what make it home!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sweeter by the Dozen

I just kissed Sarah on the cheek and told her goodnight for the last time as an 11 year old. Tomorrow she will be twelve, and we will celebrate her last birthday before she enters the teenage years. As Kate used to say, "What the world?" I don't even know how that happened. Because yesterday we were celebrating her turning one and she looked like this.

I had a house full of family and friends and I had the brilliant idea that we should take five one year olds and have  them paint their hand prints on pretty scrapbook paper. My kitchen that was the size of a shoe box held frantic, stressed out moms and babies who were almost toddlers streaking through in bursts of energy and purple paint. You have to give me some credit; we didn't have Pinterest in those days and sometimes your creativity and plans of grandeur get out of hand when you are sleep deprived and have experienced a traumatic amount of the Wiggles. I hate to admit that I have no idea if that little project has survived the three moves we've made since then. I hope that one day I will come across it. But if I don't, I will always have the memory. So many memories. 

A dozen years of memories.

A dozen years of smiles.

A dozen years of planning. :)

A dozen years of learning.

A dozen years of seeing the world in a whole new way, because you made me a Mama. <3 div="">

Sarah Beth, you are such a gift from the Father. Sometimes I just have to stop and thank Him for letting me be your Mom. You are truly a special girl. You came into this world with the strongest will I've ever experienced, and it has been a joy to watch you grow and develop that strong will. When you were two that strong will led to some knock down drag outs and you were blessed to have lots of grandparents around to rescue you. :) As the years went on I watched as that strong will made you a fighter, in the best sense of the word. I've watched grow from a shy little girl who was terrified to sing or dance in front of an audience, to a confident, self-assured performer.  Other kids are drawn to you. You are a nurturer and a natural born leader. I never thought of kids as having the gift of hospitality, but you do. You love to cook and bake and decorate and plan parties. You love to celebrate, and I love that about you! You think all the things are special occasions, a reason for a dress and a fancy tablecloth.  You are a planner and praise God for putting one in this family! I know your Daddy and I drive you crazy with our play it by ear personalities, but be patient with us, eventually you will train us. :) 

I love your willingness to try new things, but also that you know what you like. You are kind and thoughtful and mature beyond your years. You are the BEST big sister, a loyal friend, a hard-working student, and the sweetest daughter we could ask for. 

I pray that while these upcoming years may be awkward, and at times challenging, that you will stay you. That you will know you are special and have a beautiful soul. That you will find great joy in becoming who God intended you to be, not wasting time trying to be someone else. That you will choose friends who build you up and encourage you to be better. That you will continue to grow in grace and knowledge. That you will be brave and bold and stand for what you believe in. And most importantly that you will always know that you still have a shoulder to lean on when you need one. 

                We love you SB!! Happy 12th Birthday!! Take this year slow, for your Mama's sake.  :)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Just A Mom

Eleven years ago I celebrated my first Mother's Day. Josh gave me pearls. I sported a new, short mom do. I was 22 years old. I was a stay at a home mom. And those were the best of times and the worst of times. I alternated between a crazy love for the new little life my world now revolved around, and a sense of loss for the college program I had left behind, the friends who couldn't relate, and the body that I no longer saw in the mirror. Mostly, I struggled with the idea that I was "just a mom".

I have always been an overachiever. An obnoxious one. I have no idea how I had any friends or anyone could stand to be around me. I wanted to be the best and win all the awards. It took me a long time to realize how much my self-worth was tied up in trophies and recognition and certificates. I needed them to make me feel like I was ok. This realization came to me about the same time as motherhood. Did you know that no one claps for you after a midnight feeding or a diaper change that would bring a grown man to his knees?

Suddenly, I was "just a mom" and it didn't feel very important or special. Lots of people are moms. Anyone can be one. Right?

Of course, eleven years later, I know that's not true. I've learned there's a lot more to the being a mom thing than people think. I've watched people I love struggle with the fact that maybe a baby of their own is not in the plan for them. I've worked with women who have physically given birth, but their maternal instincts are lacking. I've been introduced to children who are desperate for the love, attention and affection of their mother.

And all of those things have caused me to rethink the phrase, "just a mom".  Last night Sarah had her dance recital and it's the first time in several years that I wasn't teaching or working backstage for the studio. The comment was made that I would get to come to the show as "just a mom".  And it thrilled my heart. It was so nice to be able to make last night about her and not have to share my attention with other girls or be in 5 different places. I loved being "just a mom", but it made me think about how that phrase used to fill me with a sense of disappointment in myself.

I thought being "just a mom" meant losing my identity, losing the respect of others, losing my dreams.

You see, it just didn't seem all that important. Until it did. Until I met those kids whose lives were lacking someone to kiss their owies and brush their hair. Until I watched them devour pizza at church on Wednesday night and came to understand that there had been no after school snacks for them. Until they told me it was their birthday, and there were no parties or special dinners planned. Until they were laying on the floor during class, exhausted because no one had provided a bed time or structure in their life.

I am so thankful that in the last 11 years God has made being "just a mom" my heart's desire. I have learned that being a mom has a lot less to do with how many children you bring home from the hospital, and more to do with  how you learn to love the people in your life. It's looking at precious lives and knowing that they cannot have too many people love them. A child cannot be too loved or too taken care of. And things that may seem so routine, so mundane, are so important in the life of a child. There is nothing disappointing in loving, serving and nurturing other people.

Since that first Mother's Day I have gone back to school and worked different jobs, even jobs that I've loved. Despite my initial fears, I am still capable of adult conversation and I have some knowledge of pop culture beyond the Wiggles. :)  I have friends and I have causes that are important to me. But, at the end of the day being "just a mom" has changed me in every way. In the best ways. I realized that I had allowed myself to believe that being a Mom would take things from me. Especially becoming one at such a young age. I believed a lie. Becoming a Mom grew things in me. Things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. Fruit that grows in the routine, long, sometimes stormy seasons of life. The kind that grows when a person's well-being becomes more important to you than your own.

I wanted to share this for all the Moms who spend their days rocking and feeding and refereeing. For the moms vacuuming and cooking and scrubbing. For the moms wiping noses and bottoms and tears. For the moms running and driving and longing to be many places at one time. For the moms trying to do it all and feeling like it's never all quite done. For the moms who may not even have their own children, but love and care and nurture as if they did. Being "just a mom" is just enough. It's just exactly what your babies need. And sometimes, other people's babies, too.