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?