Friday, July 31, 2015

Choices, choices

Sorry for missing a post last month. Things have been busy and I just forgot! I am only getting July in on the last day. Oh, well. It is hard to write when I have small children who hate taking simultaneous naps!

I have been doing this really wonderful Bible study with a group of women from my church. It is called "Stuck" by Jennie Allen. This week the chapter is on sadness. She asked a question: "What gets you down most consistently?" Do you know what my answer is?

My own crappy attitude.

I mean, too often I find myself grumpy, snapping at my kids and husband. Or I am discontent with my body/clothes/house/whatever. Sometimes I let worry take over and I find myself sinking into a pit of stress. Yesterday, I was driving in Baltimore, and for various reasons I suddenly found myself a shaking ball of stress and tears. But the reality is that NONE of the reasons were enough for to lose my head like that. I drove down 895 crying and stressing and slowly realizing that I had again succumbed to my own bad attitude.

I have had a number of revelations in my life about my emotions:

1) Emotions are ok. They are not inherently bad. They simply are.
2) We choose how to respond to our emotions. That is where the sin and grace and righteousness live.

Now, this sounds simple, but really it isn't. Because if we have trauma, bad habits, family history, confusion, lack of self-awareness, etc., then choosing how to respond to our emotions is hard, if not nearly impossible. It takes a lot of healing work to see our emotions clearly and know how to deal with them. I spent a number of years learning how to do this, with help from a mentor, professional counselor, and good friends.

But here's the thing. I did years of hard work learning how to make good choices when my emotions get crazy, and I STILL make bad choices too often. It saddens me. I want my daughters to learn how to be emotionally and spiritually healthy, but then I fail to lead by example, day after day. Too often I choose to let my irritation snowball into anger. Too often I let my tiredness excuse my petulance. Too often I let my need for control lead me to worry and stress.

I don't remember the exact wording, but last week my discussion question at Bible study was something like: "Are you a peaceful person or a frazzled person?" Oh, readers, I want to be that peaceful person! I want to be so trusting in God and so disciplined in my own heart, that I rarely give in to those negative thought patterns. Because ultimately, it is a choice.

Will I choose worry or believe that God is in control?
Will I choose irritability or pour out the grace that God has shown me?
Will I choose discontentment or count my many blessings?
Will I choose to rise to an insult or let God be my defender?
Will I choose the attitudes that bring life or the attitudes that bring death?

I am not that peaceful person yet. Sometimes I am. Sometimes I have grace and joy and thankfulness and love. But too often I let the enemy and my own sinful heart rule me. Thank God for grace.

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.”
Galatians 5:22-25 NLT

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Self-care and Selfishness

A friend recently asked our moms' group if any other mothers struggled to take time for themselves. Quite a few other moms chimed in about how challenging it is to leave the kiddos and go do something either with friends or alone. While there are practical challenges to overcome, they were talking about guilt, not practical challenges. I have been thinking about this for a while now.

I feel Christians live this strange dichotomy. We are told to be humble servants, to put God first, others second, and ourselves last. We are sinners, destined for Hell, with hearts "deceitfully wicked." And yet, somehow we are the beloved of King Jesus, heirs of Heaven. In fact, when Jesus is asked what the two most important commandments are, he says:

“‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT)

The question that keeps popping into my head is: what would it look like if I loved my neighbor the way I loved myself? How do I love myself? Am I constantly critiquing myself, judging my actions as unworthy? Do I think beautiful or merciful thoughts toward myself?

If your friend came to you and said that she was tired, overwhelmed, needed a break from life, would you encourage and help her to take one? Would you want her to feel guilty the whole time? Then why do we do this to ourselves? Have we become so terrified of pride and selfishness that we can't even rest as God commanded us to do?

It is true that we are sinful. It is true that we sometimes need to be reminded of our sin and called out on our rebellion. It is true that without God, we are nothing. All our righteousness is as filthy rags.

It is also true that God sent His son to wipe that slate clean. It is true that once we accept the gift of salvation, we are washed white. We are children of light.

Here's the thing: I believe that we can love God first, others second, and still make time for ourselves. Did you hear that? You can have time to yourself, guilt-free. God loves us outrageously. He desires that we obey Him because He longs to lead us into the freedom that He has for us. He calls us His children. Sometimes He just wants us to play, to enjoy life, to be refreshed. Sometimes that is His will for us. When Jesus was in the craziest times of His ministry, he sneaked out to the wilderness to spend time in quiet prayer. He also spent time alone with His best friends. He gave us the ultimate example of how to serve the world, and it included relationship and rest.

So don't stop it. Don't fight the need for rest and relationship. Don't buy into the lie that you don't deserve it. Don't buy into the lie that you are being selfish. Don't buy into the lie that the world will fall apart without you for a few hours or days (hello, pride!). Don't buy into the great American lie that you are just too busy.

Let God speak to you through Scripture and quiet. Let God refresh you through friends and the activities you love. Let God fill you with love and grace and mercy so that you can pour those blessings out on others. 

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Embrace the rest. Embrace the fun. Embrace the times of quiet and the times of laughter. You will be a better wife/mother/person for it.

If you are feeling especially brave, ask God to show you how you truly see yourself. I did that once and it changed my life completely. That is a story for another day!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Where am I?

Sometimes the past comes back to haunt you, sometimes it comes back to encourage you, and sometimes it comes back and simply makes you ponder where you are and where you are going.

Four years ago this month, I met my husband. I was single, worked successfully as a paralegal, owned my own home, and spent countless hours with friends in church ministry. I was honestly quite happy and content with my life. Four short-long years later, I am a happily married, stay-at-home mom of two little ones, 5,000 miles from my old home, who can barely manage to get to the grocery store once a week. Four years is not very long, but it feels like a lifetime for me right now.

When my husband met me, I had worked unrelentingly to overcome past hurts and bad habits, to learn and believe the truth instead of lies, to follow God wherever He would lead me. I felt confident in who I was and what I was doing. These days, I feel much less confident in myself. I wonder if I am mothering my children as well as I should. I wonder if I am letting my motherhood duties distract me too much from nurturing my marriage. I wonder if I am letting it all distract me too much from God.

The gifts that I identified in myself in my single days are still there, but I have struggled to know how to express them. The desires of my heart to serve God and to spread my passion for prayer are still there, but I have no idea how to have them met. My need for quiet times and creativity is still there, but often it is pushed aside to care for others. I frequently feel confused or overwhelmed or simply tired as I attempt to adjust to an ever-changing "normal."

My mom assures me that this is just a season in my life, that I will once again have time for myself and for other things. I know that my children will not be tiny attention hogs forever. I know that being a mom and living out the calling that God has placed on my life for right now IS serving Him. I know that my daily life is no less holy as I change diapers than when I was praying on prayer teams regularly. I know that. I believe that.

And yet.

I find I struggle with doubts now that I thought were vanquished. I find I struggle with feeling disconnected with God's plan in the world. I find I struggle with feeling like my children take too much energy and attention and I just don't have it to give to them.

We talk a lot about mountain tops and valleys in our spiritual journeys. I think I am in a plain. A flat, even, plain. Nothing terrible. Nothing extraordinary. Just a lot of ordinary struggles on ordinary days. I don't know how to live on the plain, honestly. I have lived the mountain top and thrilled with the ecstasy. I have lived the valley and found God's comfort in the agony. What do I do with the ordinary? What does it look like to walk with God on the flat plain and not let my faith fade?

That is where I am right now. I love God. I love my husband and my children deeply. I love my life, actually. I just don't feel adequate to live it sometimes.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Once upon a time there was a girl who was afraid of change. It terrified her. Sickened her. She would lay in her bed at night, crying herself to sleep and pleading with God, "Why can't things just stay the same?!"

Then God said: Come. Take my hand. Walk with me. Trust me to sustain you, every day, no matter what comes.

The girl shrank back. She said: How do I know that things will be better? What if they are worse? What if bad things happen? What if I can't handle it? What if I am hurt?

But God waited, patiently repeating: Come. Take my hand. Walk with me. Trust me to sustain you, every day, no matter what comes.

Slowly, the girl began to stretch her hand out to God. She hesitated. She held back. She struggled to admit anything that might bring change to her life.

But changes come to everyone, and they came to her.

As her fingers slowly found God's, as she falteringly stood to her feet and attempted to walk with Him, changes came.

Changes in her. She began to trust God. She began to grow. She began to see God's faithfulness every day and to trust that He would be as faithful tomorrow. She began to walk with Him.

One day, she saw a change approaching and it excited her. The excitement took her breath away. Had she come this far? Did she trust God so deeply that a change could bring her happiness? The girl who was afraid of change?

God said: Now. Now I can give you what I had planned for you. Now you are ready to walk the path I laid out for you before you were even born.

The changes came faster than she could have ever imagined. Marriage, moving, babies, family tragedies. A husband whose job brought with it the question every day of what change was coming next. Children who never stop growing, who never slow down.

She said: You have changed me, God. You have sustained me. You have been faithful to me all the days of my life. I will trust that you are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

God said: I love you, my daughter. You are precious. You are mine. I will love you the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Come. Take my hand. Walk with me. Trust me to sustain you, every day, no matter what comes.

And so she did.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Am I Just a Mom?

This post is probably not about what you think. Since the concept of Republican Motherhood, Americans have loved to discuss the place and value of mothers (stay at home or not). Many eloquent words have been spoken already on that subject. This is about something different.

When you are a stay-at-home mom (I think this probably applies to working moms, too, but I have no experience there), it is easy to be constantly in "mom mode." Even when the babies are asleep, you are making lists, multitasking chores, worrying about something. Perhaps because it is a job that never sleeps, being a mom can easily be all-consuming.

Then the Internet is full of talk about mothers, from Mommy-wars to inspirational Pinterest quotes, from heart-warming commercials to Gwyneth Paltrow's comments on working moms. It's all there. A constant barrage of ideas on what motherhood is or isn't, should or shouldn't be. So now you have a job that never sleeps combined with an endless stream of input on whether or not you are doing well at that job and how you could be doing it better.

Do you find it exhausting? I do. And I am also in danger of thinking that I am just a mom, that being a mom is all I am and all I will ever be. Or--even more dangerous--that being a mom is the most important part of me. Have you seen a mother who gripped so tightly to her identity as a mother that she never seemed to let her children grow up? And when they finally did pull away, she had no idea what to do with herself?

I am a mom. Even when my children move out, I will still have been a mom. It is forever a piece of who I am. I am also a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend. Or I could describe myself in other ways. I am a college graduate, a paralegal, a homemaker, a sewer, an avid reader, an Alaskan. All of these things say something about me, about my past, about my future even. Yet none of them say who I am.

Being a mom describes my relationship to other human beings, just like being a wife or a daughter does. These relationships are hugely important in my life. They have shaped and will continue to shape me as a person. Yet if I take one of those as my identity--as the description of who I am at the core--then I am bound to end up very broken. Because children grow up. Marriages end. Parents pass away. It is harsh, but it is the truth. If I am finding my sense of self in one of these relationships, there will come a day when I no longer know who I am. When I am lost. When the rug is pulled out from under me and I am left lying flat on my back with no idea how to get up.

My identity must be found outside of human relationships. My identity must be found in something that can never change. My identity has to be permanent, eternal.
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28 ESV) 
"Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all." (Colossians 3:11 ESV) 
"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:1-2 ESV)
If you know Jesus, then you are a child of God. That is the identity to which I cling. Everything else can and will change. I will not be a wife or a mother in Heaven. But I will still be a child of God. That is true. That is everlasting.

So on those days when you don't even want to be a mom and on the days when you are overwhelmingly grateful and humbled to be a mom, remember that you are always more than just a mom.

"For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light."(Ephesians 5:8 ESV)

Walk as a child of light, moms. Walk as a child of light, wives. Walk as a child of light, daughters. Walk as a child of light, women.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Tyranny of the Undone

I recently posted a status on Facebook that elicited quite a bit of response:

"I am not naturally mother material. I rarely babysat because I never really liked little kids. I like alone time, quiet, order, making a plan and sticking to it, and giving people my undivided attention. ALL impossible with littles. So often I hear, 'This is just a season,' or 'This, too, shall pass.' There must be more than that. What does a mother like me need to *thrive*, not just survive?"

When David was deployed last year, I had to learn a lesson. I was moving more and more slowly as my pregnant belly grew and I felt further and further behind in keeping up with the house and all the things I wanted to be doing. It was overwhelming. Whenever Ashira would fall asleep, I would find myself in a frantic push to get stuff done. Or, nearly as often, I would sit on the couch and Pinterest away for two hours feeling guilty the entire time because I wasn't getting stuff done. Finally, I had to give myself permission to take care of myself in those times. Sometimes that meant ignoring the to-do list completely and enjoying some Pinterest or tv. Other times that meant at least giving myself a time limit (say, 20 minutes) to hurry through a few chores and THEN to ignore my to-do list completely and relax.

What's funny is that here I am, six months later, still struggling to learn this lesson. Only now I don't get chances at quiet very often. I have two kiddos whose sleeping schedules do not always coordinate. I have a husband who works very long days but only works 7 days out of 14, meaning that he is home half the evenings. His schedule is often shifting, so that disrupts the family routine. I literally spend 3-4 hours every day simply nursing a baby! And when the stars DO align and I get that rare moment of peace, I find myself once again under the tyranny of the undone. I find myself thinking things like:

I haven't scrubbed our shower in two months.
I need to make a menu plan for next week.
Will I ever have time to plant seeds?
That laundry has been in the washing machine for two days.
Thank goodness the ants are less active in the winter because I think there is a whole fruit snack convention happening under the couch.
I need to do the next day of my Bible study. What crazy person signs herself up to lead a study when she can't even scrub her shower regularly?

It is tyranny. And it robs me of my joy and peace. The list is unending and demanding and LOUD. Without the quiet moments, I lose perspective completely. I cannot find the patience I need or the humor in my child eating yet another book corner. I cannot show mercy to my husband when he makes a mistake. I cannot show love to him when I am asking him to make everything better because I sure can't. I cannot love my children when they begin to feel like nothing more than a hindrance to accomplishing my goals.

On one hand, I know the solution: to embrace the quiet and shut out the to-do list. I need to remind myself that God doesn't ask me to keep a spotless house, or to cook only veggie-ful, from-scratch meals every day, or to have all the closets full of neatly organized and labeled things.

On the other hand, the solution can feel impossibe, fuzzy, or simply lost. I value a clean home. I value good, healthy food. I value keeping our tiny house under some semblance of organization. But if I value those things too much--if I let them rule me--then the God of Peace cannot rule me. He cannot fill my heart with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Because I have filled it with other things.

Being a stay-at-home mother of two beautiful girls is the hardest thing I have ever done, by far. I have done hard things. I have wrestled with deep emotional wounds and healing. I have pondered the great things of God. I have maintained relationships and severed relationships. But this thing, this hard thing, is hard because it is there every single day. Like the steady drip, drip of water. It can either be Chinese water torture and kill me, or I can turn to God and let the water carve a spectacular canyon of His beautiful creation within me.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Single Ministry vs. Married Ministry

Being single and being married are totally different and both wonderful, but it took me quite a few years as a single lady to appreciate my singleness. The grass is always greener on the other side, right? Over time, however, God brought relationships into my life and taught me lessons that helped me to become truly joyful as a single person. A key part of the transition to joy for me was participating in various church ministries and activities.

Married people have this tendency to think of single people as "not busy." This couldn't be farther from the truth in my life. I was VERY busy as a single person. I was rarely ever home, always spending time with people in groups or just getting coffee or volunteering for something. "Ministry" as a single person was so easy! Excepting my work schedule, I could sign up for what I wanted, invest in the people I chose to invest in, throw myself into studies and prayer groups.

Then I met David, got married, started a family. Now I often find myself struggling. The reality is that single people can have fewer distractions from serving God. My life before was 1) God, 2) Church/Friends. The end. Pretty simple! Now I have 1) God, 2) Husband, 3) Kiddos, 4) Church/Friends. I feel like I never even get to number 4 anymore. I am reminded of Paul's writings on marriage:

"I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible." (1 Corinthians 7:32-35 NLT)

Y'all, I miss feeling wholly connected to God's plan. I miss the late prayer nights, the long discussions at coffee shops about life and love and mystery, the youthful dreams of what God would do next and the hopes to be part of it. The distractions now are many.

So I wrestle with new questions: what does it look like to be reaching out to others and serving God when you have a wee one on your breast and a toddler tugging at your pants? What does it look like to maintain a relationship with God when all you really want more than anything is 8 solid hours of uninterrupted sleep? What does it look like to move in power with the Holy Spirit when you don't want to move at all?

David and I have been discussing this a lot this week. I don't have solid answers at this point, but I am feeling encouraged. Unlike in my single days, I have a partner in this new confusion. He admitted that he has felt the same questions arise since getting married. And so, we will be embarking together on trying to understand what it looks like to love God, love each other, love our kiddos, and still have love to pour out on others. I am actually starting to get excited about it! If only I could get that 8 hours of sleep first...