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...

Friday, July 11, 2014

All You Need Is...

I went on vacation back "home" recently for two and half a weeks. It was wonderful! So restful. I had very little on my to-do list except to see friends and eat at missed restaurants. Although we stayed with a friend, my mom was close enough that we saw her every day and, by the end of the trip, my daughter was thoroughly excited when I mentioned seeing Grandma. I had a break from taking care of the house and pets, a break from the aloneness of my husband's deployment, and small breaks from being a "single" mom 24/7. I felt more rested than I have in ages. I even stopped taking naps with my daughter every day!

And then I came home. (So many homes in my life!) I am not about to say that everything went back to the crazy melt-down chaos that it had been before vacation, but it definitely didn't take long for the naps to be needed once again, for the stresses to creep back in. So I begin to really process: why was it that my trip was so restful? What exactly was so different?

For the last few years my life has been an uninterrupted series of preparations and adjustments: marriage, baby, moving, deployment. For two and a half blissful weeks, I wasn't preparing or adjusting to anything. I was just being. And so I found myself less snappy with my daughter, having better conversations with my husband, feeling less guilt and pressure. I was able to exist in the present for a few weeks and I began to see things I was missing before.

A dear friend recently sent me a little gem of a book called "Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches." In the opening chapter, the author talks about how everything in the house can be chaos except her own attitude. If she has perspective and a good attitude, then the rest of it will be just fine. I think this is my lesson for this season. I think that is what my vacation started to teach me.

When living through a season of chaos, there is often little you can do about the chaos. It can be overwhelming, exhausting, disorderly (obviously), and downright discouraging. It is easy to let the stresses rise and to lose sight of what is important in the midst of SO MUCH STUFF. Enjoying my daughter is important. Enjoying my husband is important. Living today and not yesterday or tomorrow is important. Trying to remember to "be" in this moment is important. It is all a matter of persepctive.

What's funny to me is that the days where I am able to let go of all the "little things,"--to keep perspective--I get more done. I have more energy. Instead of looking at my to-do list with guilt and dread, I am willing to stop and make cookies with my daughter and laugh together and suddenly we both have better attitudes for the daily chores. Instead of looking around the house and only seeing the crumbs and dog hair everywhere, I begin to see the fun little fixes I could do to move this table there or replace that lamp with one I like better--to enjoy my home instead of feeling weighed down by it. I am able to focus on the joys of the day instead of being overwhelmed by the irritations and the undone.

If it sounds like I have gained perfect perpective and thoroughly mastered this lesson, I haven't. It's new and hard. I still find myself snapping at my daughter as I have to tell her to stop pulling out the entire roll of toilet paper for the MILLIONTH TIME. I still find myself battling guilt when I see the 3+ loads of clean laundry that have been sitting on the bed waiting to be folded for a week. I still find myself worrying about the future and whether my husband will be able to get home early for the new baby or not. But I also have been finding moments where I can throw a blanket over my head and listen to my daughter squeal as I tickle her. Moments where I can go to the thrift store and find a little painting to hang in the bathroom and make me smile every day. Moments where the future looms but I can push back the dread and instead think about the delight of learning to love another beautiful creation of God as much as I love my toddler already.

I pray that God continually gives me perspective. Because I lose it on my own every day. But when I remember that He is in control, that no one but me really cares that there are ants in my kitchen, that my family is beautiful and delightful even more than they are irritating and exhausting, then I am finding I enjoy life a whole lot more. In fact, I am seeing that there is more life to enjoy than I really imagined. I just needed to change my viewpoint.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How Clean is Your Stable?

This is probably going to sound terrible, but it is true. I was reading Proverbs today and came across the following verse, which immediately made me think of having children.

Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest. (Proverbs 14:4 NLT)

I was single and on my own for a number of years before I met my husband. I had a routine. I had a way that I liked things, whether it was the food I cooked or the way I squeezed the toothpaste tube. Then I got married. Suddenly things weren't always where I left them. There were more dirty dishes. More piles of laundry. I love my husband dearly and it didn't take us too long to find a new rhythm (happily, he actually enjoys cleaning!), so after a time, we settled in once again.

Then we had a child.

You guys, children are amazing. And they grow at this PHENOMENAL pace. They develop and change on a daily basis. It's a thing of beauty to watch. And, well, it pretty much means your routine is constantly adjusting. All. The. Time. Just when you feel like you have figured out how to use naptime for chores, baby stops napping during the day! What? Why?? Constant minor adjustments. Constant.

So the thing is, when you are making constant adjustments to your routine, things kind of get out of hand sometimes. The bathroom doesn't get scrubbed quite as often as you would like. Somehow there are crumbs in literally every crack and cranny of your entire house, even if you sweep/vacuum three times a day (and who has energy for that?). You begin to evaluate just how much food and snot can be on your favorite jeans before you have to throw them in the washing machine again. You have no idea where half your silverware is. You try to remember what it felt like to have routine that involved regularly taking care of your fingernails. It's crazy.

But you need a strong ox for a large harvest. 

My eldest child is only 17 months. My second isn't even born yet. I will not pretend that I have experienced all the craziness of raising children or even begun to taste the joys of watching them become their own persons. But I pray for it. I pray that the love I show to my little oxen strengthens them into women who bring in a large harvest of love and joy and Godliness. I pray that for every time I have to muck the stable out (again and again), that for every bit of order I have given up, my daughters are gaining an ounce more confidence in God and in themselves.

Sometimes I lose patience with the changing routine, the chaos, the exhaustion. Sometimes I just wish my daughter was old enough to give herself a dang bath at night. But this verse brings me hope and confidence. It reminds me that an empty stable is a useless stable. Please don't think that I mean everyone should have kids. Kids are really only one kind of oxen. Your oxen might be working with the homeless or opening your house to hungry college students searching for identity. No matter what mission God has given you, I simply mean that it helps me to let go of the desire for perfection to remember that oxen just do bring in the mess of poop and hay and dirt and sweat and hungry bellies. The stable cannot stay perfectly clean. But oxen also bring in the harvest. One day, I pray, the oxen will bring in a large harvest.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Whom Shall I Fear?

Have you ever learned a lesson, only to have to re-learn it. And re-learn it. And oh, there it is again? I really hope I'm not the only one who has done this. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever truly learn certain truths or if I will simply keep trying to permanently etch them onto my depressingly resilient heart. Oftentimes, though, I realize that I am re-learning the lesson in a new area of life, or at a deeper level of intensity, or with some other slight twist. I have been feeling that this past week.

Quite a few years ago, I was really struggling with a lot of, well, life. I was exhausted, burnt out, and oh so sad. As I read books and saw a counselor and talked with a mentor and spent many hours with God, things slowly started to heal and change in my life. It was an incredible time that left me a much happier, healthier person.

An enormous lesson for me during this time was that the word "should" is a very cruel taskmaster. I remember a moment of revelation for me. I was standing in my room and my eye caught some clothes hanging on the closet door, waiting to be ironed. They had been waiting to be ironed for probably six weeks. I hate ironing. As they caught my eye, I felt this wave of guilt and thought, I really should iron those. Suddenly, I wondered, Why? Why should I? WHO REALLY CARES? Oh the liberation of that thought! Because, seriously, did it matter if those clothes hung there for another day or another year? Not really! So why was I letting myself be overwhelmed with guilt at not ironing them?

That was the first step in carefully evaluating the word "should" in my thought patterns. It was everywhere! Everywhere! I should feel this way. I should do that. I shouldn't want that. And with each time "should" whispered through my head, guilt was sure to follow. Sometimes it was obvious to me that my feelings were a bit ridiculous (like the un-ironed clothes), sometimes it was more challenging. I had to learn to let God speak into those places and replace the should/guilt cycle with His truth. I had voices from the past, from the world, from my own ideas of how life should look. So many voices, but I had to tune them all out and focus on God's voice alone.

I had been doing much better with all of this, and then, well, I had a baby. If you ever want to know what it is like to be overwhelmed with insecurity, frustration, and a whole lot of should-guilt, have a baby. Maybe some women never deal with this, I don't know. I know that I have found myself surprisingly deep in a pit of should-guilt again.

Except this time I have an answer to where all the should voices are coming from. And they are coming from EVERYWHERE. Seriously. Celebrities, blogs, newspapers, friends, Facebook, real books--everyone has an opinion on parenting. Some opinions come with degrees and the label "expert." Some opinions come from your crazy, distant relative who hasn't had a kid in 40 years. Some opinions come from total strangers at the grocery store. Some come from your best friend. There is a constant barrage of "information" being thrown at parents everywhere.

Breastfeed your baby! Never co-sleep! Always co-sleep! Vaccinations are evil! You are evil if you don't vaccinate! Look like a model 2 months after having a baby! You'll never look like a model again! You can't spoil a baby! If you pick that baby up, you're spoiling her! Listen to your heart! Listen to the experts! There are studies on this that prove A! There are studies on this that disprove A!

Is it any wonder that guilt begins to creep in? No matter the struggle you have with you baby (and babies are basically adorable struggles), someone has a theory on how to help you. Except, if it doesn't help, or if you don't like the method, there must be something wrong with you. Because it obviously worked for the person proposing this theory. It must just be you. And suddenly there is guilt. Because your house should be cleaner and more perfectly decorated. Your children should be happier. Your dinner should be healthier. You should have more time for your work/self/health/spouse/child/hobbies.

Here's the thing I have had to stop and ask myself this week: WHO SAYS SO? Whose voice is dropping these guilt bombs into my mind? Because ultimately, the only one who can tell me what I truly should or shouldn't do, is God. He is the one who directs my paths. He is the one who lovingly convicts me when I am wrong and readily praises me when I am right. He is the one who has the ultimate authority over me. Why am I letting these other voices supplant His? Why do the "experts" matter more than the Author of Life? Why do random strangers matter at all?

Jesus says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Why am I carrying the overwhelming weight of "should" when God hasn't spoken it?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Military Unexpected

I never dreamed of marrying a military man. My father did his four years in the Army, enough to move us to Alaska, and after that my connection to the military was somewhat limited. Since I lived near a large Air Force and Army base, I eventually had friends who were in the military, giving me a small glimpse into the life of a soldier or airman, but nothing truly prepared me for the intense culture shock of marrying into the Air Force. Military culture is unique and profound, confusing and overwhelming to a newcomer. You must learn an entirely new language (PCS? BX? DEERS? OIC?), be faced with heretofore unimagined interruptions and irregularities, and stand ready to flexibly withstand any change to any plan, often with little to no warning. There is a certain belief within military families that people outside the military life simply don't understand. I had no idea that I was ignorant until was thrust into the middle of it.

My husband and I met and married within five months. We both prayed extensively and felt confident we were in God's will. I have never questioned that. I have, however, questioned my sanity at getting married, having a baby, and moving across country within the space of two years. Now God has thrown another baby into the mix (due in October), while also seeing fit to have the military whisk my husband away on a deployment for the remainder of my pregnancy and first month of our new little one's life. So within three years, we will have married, had two children, moved across country, and survived a deployment. I hope. I pray.

Truly, nothing prepares you for the unexpected turns in life. But among the practical every day struggles and surprises, I have been most surprised to battle resentment and anger toward my husband. Every day for me involves a toddler and the endless monotony of household chores. ENDLESS. I have started to build community in our new home, but I miss the well-established community of my life-long home. I am finding ways to cope, but I miss my husband's strong hands and servant's heart. I am learning to have grace with myself as I battle loneliness and boredom, but I miss having a partner to share the burdens and joys of daily life. And then I talk to my husband. He is laughing about an adventure to the capital and the wonderful presents he bought. He is sending me photos of the projects he has built to help make their dorms more comfortable (his hands are never idle!). He cuts a conversation short because they are going to go see a new movie at the local theatre. I stare at my messy kitchen, my grumpy toddler, and my half-painted hallway and I suddenly find myself angry. He's on vacation while I do all the work! He is having fun, and I am struggling to keep my head above water!

I have been reading a book about the spiritual battles of a military wife. I was excited when I began a chapter where she talks about this very feeling of resentment, of being the one left unglamorously holding down the fort. I read excitedly, waiting for the words of wisdom that would magically ease my struggle. But there are no such words. As the chapter ended, I felt disappointment. She had only trite sayings to repeat. Words I had heard a thousand times. I wanted the balm for my wound, not old words I already knew. But she was only reminding me that I have known the answer all along. 

At the end of the chapter the author writes: "I am realizing that I am not left alone to bear the burdens by myself. His name is Immanuel: God is with me. He has offered to carry my yoke in exchange for His, which is easy and light (Matthew 11:30)." This is not what I want to hear. I want to hear that I have a right to feel upset. That I have a right to my anger. I want to be justified in what I feel. But the reality is that while I may feel a certain way initially, my feelings do not reflect reality. Ultimately, I choose whether to engage and encourage the feelings of resentment or to fight them with familiar truth. The truth that I am a daughter of the God of the universe, that He is is bigger than any circumstance, any trouble, and that He loves me more than even my husband can. I may never have dreamed of this life, but I willingly stepped into it. I may not have imagined being alone with children and household while my husband works oceans away, but I did choose my husband and commit to walk with him through whatever life brings. Ultimately, my deepest and truest Supporter, the One who will bear every burden with me always, is still here with me. He will never leave or forsake me. I am not alone.

Oh, and my husband really isn't on vacation, no matter how it seems to me in the moment! ;)