The day my baby moved out…

Today he went off to college.  My baby went off to college.  He’s getting married soon, and then he really won’t be mine anymore.

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At least that’s where my mind went.  What actually happened was that his pack-n-play moved from my bedroom to the kids’ bedroom.  And.  I.  Cried.  Like I haven’t cried in a long time.

Did I mention he quit nursing this month?  Just quit!  All the emotions of “He doesn’t need me anymore” and “I’m freeeeeeeee!!”—now accompanied by the heart-divided: “He’s so far away!” (in the next room) and “I finally have my room back!”  Rebalancing hormones are just the cherry on top of this…this mess.  Crying is the only option.

When we had found out we were pregnant, and already had three children in our two-bedroom apartment, I worried about where we would put a baby.  Would it be too stressful to have the baby in our room…indefinitely?  I have always moved my babies to their own cribs in their own room by the end of the first month.  Because I love my space.  My sleep.  Not to hear every breath, every twist and turn, every little sigh.

It’s amazing how God can take something we worry about and turn it into something we don’t know how we will do without.  I will miss hearing him breathing and shifting in the crib next to me.  I don’t know how we ever did without him…in our space, in our arms, at our feet…in our hearts.  He has stolen each one of our hearts.  Our family definitely wouldn’t be complete without him.

And yet I had dared to worry.  To allow myself to think God didn’t have a plan.  That this baby was not, somehow, really supposed to be here now.  (And that did go through my mind in early pregnancy.)

“Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; the fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.  How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psalm 127:3-5 NASB)

People often say to me when I am out in public with my 4 kids, “Wow, you’ve got your hands full!” with knowing looks.  It’s as if they really mean, “What were you thinking having 4 kids? I bet you regret that, right?”

Hands full…quiver full…full of blessings.  In fact, I think that will be my new response: “Yes, they are—full of blessings!”

Wonder what kind of looks I’ll get then…because people don’t really enjoy their children, right?

“The fruit of the womb is a reward…” 

“Children are a gift…”

Now all four of my gifts are snug in their beds…in one bedroom.  We might not have a lot of space, but we have a lot of rewards.  Who are we to deserve such things?

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Today is not the day. But it will come. The day my last baby moves out.

I must treasure these gifts.

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How can I pray for you?

Glancing around, I find myself wondering who else in this circle is bored with small talk and wishing they could crawl under a rock.  It always feel like it’s just me.  The curse of the anxious introvert.

That’s how I know this idea is God’s.  The “How can I pray for you?” connection.  Not my comfort zone.  Not natural.

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I find myself surrounded by women who seem to need my friendship, my encouragement, a listening ear, even begging advice and wisdom.  For whatever reason, it was, at first, surprising to me.  Perhaps it is because I have felt so lost myself in the last few years.  Perhaps it is how certain people along the way have treated me roughly and circumstances so bitterly, leaving me quite needy—craving the company and words of wiser women.  Yet lately—by no design or desire of my own—I find myself being looked to as the wiser woman.

Disconcerting.  I lack so much.  But I tap the Source constantly, consistently, fervently…soak in His wisdom deeply.  This must be what it is.  Certainly, it is not me.

Perhaps I had to get to that point.  There was a time in my life when I wanted to be looked up to as an encourager.  I knew I had something to offer and I wanted to opportunity to offer it, not to mention recognition for doing so.  Much refining and pruning later…

So. not. there. anymore.

And in the midst of everything I am learning, becoming, struggling through, praying through…these women!  From small things, like bits of advice about motherhood or homeschooling, to bigger, more deeply personal struggles…they come to me.  As I think about it, girls always have.  Since I was a kid, they have been drawn to me as a listener.  Yet now…now I take it more seriously, sincerely…because I feel so very inadequate.

With His usual more-than-sufficient grace, God has inspired me with a phrase to be the catalyst for ministry: “How can I pray for you?”  Not original, not complicated.  I hate small talk anyway.  And I’m not good at it.  This question gets to the meat of what is really going on in another woman’s life.  I have been surprised (and why are we surprised that God’s ideas work??) at how easily most women open up and share. The ball’s in their court, one way or the other.  No big commitment, just a chance to pray right then…together leaving a burden at the foot of the cross.

And what do we really need when we come together as believers?  However else we connect and fellowship, what could be more important than lifting each other up, bearing burdens, inviting Jesus to show His power in each other’s lives.

Can’t wait until the next time God uses this vessel of clay to pour out His glory.  Empty me of me!  Use me.  Fill me.  Lead me, walk beside me.

untitled from April 2014

 

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All the rush
Of dressing and such,
Of waking and watching
TV, playing, scratching
Each others faces,
And are we having races
To see who can make
The biggest mess??  I can’t take
Many more of these days
Because there are other ways
My brain must be thinking–
(Is somebody stinking?)–
Like where does our life go
And how do we know
That we’re making
The right choices and taking the time that we should
To find God’s good
Through the trials that feel bad.
God, are You there?

And this rush has ended
In slap-dash corndog lunch
And, yes, naptime comes early today.

Time. To. Pray.

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Because {a Mother’s Day reflection}

Bikes crowding my living room.  Because I’d rather have them available for my children to ride outside our tiny apartment than have a perfect, tidy living room.

Stretch marks and stretched out skin.  Because those four sleeping children down the hall came from me—were knit together in my womb.  I don’t “wow” about that enough, God.

Books, pencils, crayons, markers, playdough, construction paper artwork, bubble wands, stickers, educational toys, craft projects, toy instruments…  Because I care more about the creative imaginations of my children than a clutter-free home.

Dust.  Sometimes with imperfect, swirly swaths through it.  Because I would rather read to my kids than clean.  And then have them do the dusting so they learn.

Watching the credits of a movie all the way to the end.  Because that music gets us dancing like the rock stars we are.

Mountains…piles…lumps under beds…the lost sock black hole…laundry that never ends.  Because I want to keep the six of us clean.  (And a couple of the smallest of us make lots of laundry.)  I may not have my own washer and dryer, but I’ll take my laundromat over a river and a rock.  Jesus, help my forgetful, unthankful heart.

Heaped on the floor with a sobbing five-year-old on my lap.  Because my difficult, sensory-overloaded precious little man has reached peak frustration…for the tenth time today.  And I love him more than words, so I cry too.

Sleeping in two-hour blocks.  Because I love a snuggly nursing baby.

Broom-chasing crumbs, forgotten spaghetti twigs, crumbs, dried-up bits of cheese, crumbs, bounced-away fruit snacks, and more crumbs.  Because I have four wigglies, and enough food to feed them their daily bread.

Tangle-taming, toilet-scrubbing, homeschooling, stuffed-animal-rescuing, life-coaching, coffee-guzzling, dish-washing, cheek-kissing, swing-pushing…

Because.

Prayed tonight with my eight-year-old for a new friend, a close friend—the deep desire of her tender heart—deeper than all her many fun friends, that one person that gets her.  She wants what me and my best friend have.  I told her how I prayed for a friend when I was 13 and how God answered.  She wiped hopeful tears.

Because “good night” is about more than just putting them in bed.  In these moments between awake and asleep, we process so much life, her and I. 

Because all this doing that is motherhood is a higher calling than dust, pencils, books, bikes, mountains, hugs, dishes, and crumbs.  This Mother’s Day, I got to thinking about why I keep going.  Some days, I am thankful just to make it past when the kids go to bed so I can breathe.  This day, I am overflowing with thankfulness for the four sleeping blessings who have made me a mother.

Now, checking the week’s calendar, sorting laundry for tomorrow’s laundromat trip, preparing schoolwork for tomorrow, setting the pot of coffee for the morning.  Because tomorrow the blessings start all over…

Is this the life I chose?

My sore feet walk on flip-flops to avoid the feel of old carpet, carrying a sick three-year-old to the potty, knowing I’ve still got three baths, at least two nursings, two preschool teeth-brushings, dinner dishes, putting away the folded laundry that’s three days overdue on the couch, tending a puking husband, and giving the eight-year-old daughter some one-on-one attention so she feels loved…before I everybody’s asleep and I can collapse.

This was our February this year.  Every possible sickness going around made its way into our apartment.

I can handle the kid stuff.  I love the kids.  I love my husband.  Taking care of everybody is in my blood.  I can handle the messes, the hugs, the life-coaching, the wiping (noses, faces, bottoms, hands, floors), and even the housework.  It’s everything going on in my life, in my mind as the backdrop, the undercurrent to all I do—that I have trouble handling some days.

Is this the life I chose?  Large family in a small space.  Our resources never seem to match our needs.  The career we have planned and hoped and prayed for has not happened. (And I seem to excel at comparing our lives with the accomplishments and possessions of those around us.)

When did I choose this?  What happened?  You expect life to work and sometimes it just…doesn’t.  (And just how do we define “life working”?)

Last night, I kept thinking of families in the past who lived in all kinds of crowded conditions happily.  You contribute, help, love, snuggle, be patient, take turns, be content.  We are working on those.

I think contentment comes easier when you don’t have dreams.  The American dream is my bane.  Everyone is “supposed” to have a house with a yard, a good retirement started by this time, a promising career.  When I put words on it here, I realize how shallow those dreams are.

Let me rephrase my cynicism: contentment comes easier when we surrender our dreams.

I have new dreams.  (“Behold, I will do a new thing…” Isaiah 43:19)  Because what if this is my life?  What if it never changes?  How do I raise my kids?  What will they have learned from watching us live the life we were given?  My new dreams…  Kids that love each other unconditionally and sacrificially.  A marriage that is full of Christ-like, Christ-centered love, devotion, friendship…the kind of love they write about in books.  To be able (and teach my kids to be able) to have joy and thankfulness in my heart and showing in my actions—not anxiety, unbelief, worry.

There are still unspoken, often prayed for dreams for our earthly life.  But what if that’s not God’s plan for us?  What if God’s plan is for all six of us to become more holy through the difficulty and inconvenience of our life?  (“I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert…” Isaiah 43:20)

Ginny Owens has captured my heart on this matter.  Have you soaked up “If You Want Me To”?

What if this is our better life?  Better because we depend on God so much through this valley.  Better because we find our contentment in Him and not our circumstances.

What if?

Is this the life I chose?

Haven’t I prayed for years for God to make us more holy?  Is this what I prayed for?

I am sometimes asked how I seem to have peace and joy living how we’re living.  But I can. not. live in a place of worry.  It kills me.  It separates me from my kids.  It makes me mean to my husband.  I must choose things to be thankful for…and joy creeps in no matter how gone I think it is that day.

Yes, this is the life I choose.  Every day.  Choosing to be thankful for what we have, not to worry about what we don’t, and pray for the rest.  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)

The People That Yell at Me

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”  That’s what my coffee mug says.  I cannot even express to you how so there I am.  Sitting at this unlikely altar, my typing hands a sacrifice of brokenness—this making myself vulnerable to you.  I’m ready {but so not} to let you see the Potter’s hand on this clay pot.

Have you ever worked clay on a potter’s wheel?  I have.  This creative introvert relished three semesters of ceramics in college.  It is messy, and often involved smashing the whole pot to start over, putting pressure on the pot in different places to create beautiful curves.

There is a fire in my belly, a burning conviction that it is time to share with you my journey-in-progress in the Lord’s hands.  It is not my story, but His.  Every time I was smashed to start over, it was the Potter’s choice.  Every time He scraped a chunk off my side because there was excess, every time He pressed hard against me so that I didn’t spin out of control, every time He refined me in small ways with the tools of His choosing…  His choosing.  It has been a journey of learning to recognize that His hand has never left me.  And that’s a good thing.  His choices are good.  He does love me.  He does have a plan for my good, and no, the pot cannot expect to know what it is being made into.   But I can trust the Potter.

Would you like to hear about some of yesterday’s messiness?  There are people that yell at me.  There are people that yell at my husband.  But God helped me see my people in a different light when my husband called me yesterday and told me about his people.

My husband’s boss yells at him when they disagree on a project, even when my precious man is keeping his temper under control in response and gives in {he’s a pot in progress too}.  The yelling continued yesterday.

The people who yell at me are shorter.  Their demands are more childish.  They are, after all, my children.  One is upset because I made her get dressed for the day, one needed chocolate milk five minutes ago, one is lamenting the lack of TV in our morning, and the tiniest has been ignored in his crib for too long while I deal with the others, sucking down coffee, pretending I’m awake enough to do this.  Did I tell you I have 4 children?

Every day, five days a week, my diligent husband goes to a job he hates, to work with a boss he doesn’t like, to provide for our growing family.  He has to respect the person who yells at him and resist the urge to quit that day.  But I know there is no way he would quit this job, without another to go to.  He loves his family too much.

I have to…no, I get to guide my little yellers on the path to being little lovers, little disciples, little worshippers.  If I’m honest, I do have moments when I want to walk out the front door and quit on them, or just yell my lungs out back at them.  But there is no way I am quitting this job.  This calling.  This lapful, armful, two-bedroom-apartmentful of blessings.

These small people who yell at me are my biggest blessings.  And the Potter molds this mommy into someone grateful…counting one grace, one blessing at a time.  Sometimes four at a time.

This day is done

Milky sticky breastfeeding mom shirt, I lay my oh-so-almost 8 month old mister in his bed.  His pack-n-play neatly tucked in a corner of my bedroom.  This day is done.  Well, all but dishes, some putting of my small world back in order for the next day that will inevitably start before I am awake for it, and perhaps I should pay some attention to my husband…  This day is done.  This day was hard, harder than I feel like it should have been.  Why can’t I go in public some days without ending up a depressed mess?  I suppose my circumstances contribute…

I can’t even type, I am so frozen, so physically tired, so heart-worn, so discouraged…

I want to yell!  I feel like I’ve wasted two. whole. years. Two years!  Waiting for us to get to the end of the valley, for God to magically make a brand new job appear out of nowhere, for life to end up the way I want it to.  Two years forgetting to be thankful and content, joyful and glorying in my tribulations (which, by the way, are nothing compared with Paul’s).  Looking at pictures of my kids since we moved into this apartment, I realize that they’ve grown up!  Two years of kids growing up, and all I did was mope!  Well, not all.  We have, indeed, made some memories here, gained some blessings.  But I have moped my way through it, offered apologies to friends for the misery of our existence and resources, coveted and envied my way in and out of friends’ and acquaintances’ homes.

God has us here to learn contentment and the joy that comes with it, whatever else we are here to learn.  I am convinced of this.

I am ready.

I am done moping.

Speak to my heart.  Speak to my husband’s heart.  Strike us over the head.  Bend us to Your will, for the glory in that slavery will be a freedom to us.  We are done.

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This day is done.  My soaked shirt a sign of a growing, healthy, hungry baby boy…the biggest blessing of this last year.  Tomorrow is another chance to know—God, His heart and purposes, the joy of thankfulness and contentment.

Psalm 25 is heavy on my heart, throbbing to learn His ways, because without Him I die.

Why are you downcast, O my soul?  This day is done.  Tomorrow is another one.  (Ode to Mr. Geisel…)  Jesus, keep me near the cross, there a precious fountain…