An Order of Peace With a Side of Worry

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart/and lean not on your own understanding;/in all your ways acknowledge him,/and he will make your paths straight” Proverbs 3:5-6

I like to worry.  Clearly, I must because I always seem to do it.  I’ve often tried to convince myself that I’m attempting to discover God’s will so that I can plan and take the necessary steps to make sure I follow it.  However, if I’m really honest with myself, all the ‘planning’ I do is really a not-so-good disguise for my worry. I embrace anxiety when God’s will is not clear and fear making the wrong decision, and until very recently, I did not realize how backwards those tendencies are.

Worrying about not knowing God’s will–worrying–is not any part of His plan, and for the first time, I am starting to understand this point.  God has shown me that He does not operate the way that I think He should but in the way that He knows is best.  I am learning that while sometimes God’s will is clear from the get-go, other times He reveals His plan along the way.  And most frustrating of all, sometimes God seems silent, and in those times, I must rely on my faith and knowledge of His wonderful, perfect character to allow me to trust in Him.  While I’d love to say that I’ve learned these truths simply by having incredible insight, I cannot.  I have had to learn through a very trying situation for my husband and me, but without this trial, I would not have had the opportunity to experience Jesus’ amazing grace.

In 2004, I joined the United States Air Force and bought a home with my husband in Oklahoma where I was stationed.  In 2006, I got out of the Air Force after the birth of my son, and my husband got a job transfer back to Georgia.  We put our house up for sale and made our journey back to our home state.  It is now 2009, and we still own that same house.  We are now entering our fourth time of putting our house on the market after two not-so-successful rental experiences.  We have repeatedly paid off debt and built up our emergency savings fund to only empty it again and go back into debt because of this home.  At one point, I went back to work full time (I left the Air Force to be a stay-at-home mom and for no other reason) because our tenants decided to move out at the same time my husband’s former place of employment decided to re-structure and force him out of his job.  And now, we are faced with at least two months of additional mortgage payments as our most recent tenants skipped out on their July rent payment and left our home a pig sty.  We hope to have the house back on the market before the first of August, but who knows as the cleaning crew could not clean the other day because the water was turned off–apparently, our tenants skipped out on that bill, too.

When I went back to work previously, I was heart-broken.  I couldn’t bear to leave my kids, at that time almost two and six months old.  I questioned God–why wouldn’t He allow our house to sell?  What was He trying to teach us?  Why were we struggling when others we knew sold their homes on their first attempts?

After months of struggling at work and at home with our finances, I remember singing at church one Sunday.  As I was singing that God holds the universe in His hand, I felt Him touch me: “I could sell your house if I wanted.”  That was all God said to me, and it was enough.  I had spent months and months wondering the next step for us–do I sign up to teach another year or part-time? Look for renters? Keep trying to sell?–and wondering what God’s will was and if He were even involved in this detail of our lives.  After all, women were getting raped in the Sudan, children dying; what did my house matter to Him?  And then He made clear to me what He was probably trying to say all along.  Yes, we all have free-will and make decisions that affect our lives, but ultimately, if God wanted to intervene and make our house sell, He would.  Clearly, He had other plans.

He did not reveal those plans to me, and as my husband and I are ready to suffer a huge financial loss if we are lucky enough to sell the home or face foreclosure if we don’t, I can actually say I have peace.  Over the last two years I watched as the Lord provided both of us with jobs–no, I didn’t want mine, but I needed it at the time, and I was eventually able to stay home again when we got our previous renters.  Matt’s new job has been a complete blessing as he comes home happy, not burdened with fear of meeting his ever changing quotas, not stressed and unable to focus on his family.  There were many months during this journey when unexpected checks in the mail appeared that got us through lean times, and as we face lean times again, I know the Lord will once again provide for us.

Having peace doesn’t mean that I’m not completely frustrated.  Of course I am.  Matt and I have always tried to do the right thing, and as a result we’ve had to struggle.  While some couples enjoy weekly date nights, I’d happily accept a monthly date night!  I’d love to have college accounts beginning to grow for my children and to be able to take them to the Georgia Aquarium or to the zoo when the fancy strikes, but our budget hasn’t allowed for that.  And now, when we were just starting to do better financially, someone else walks away from his responsibility hurting us.  But within my frustration, I can honestly say I’m not worried.

When Jesus said, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life” (Matthew 6:27), he was talking to me.  And he was talking to my friend who feels like the surmounting bills are going to swallow her.  And he was talking to my husband’s family as they grieve over the death of their loved one.  And he was talking to the mother and father who cling to their heavenly Father as their baby fights for his life.

I can always find someone who is in a worse situation than I, and that person’s problem brings perspective to mine, yet even that person is commanded not to worry.  What an insane instruction!  Or is it?  Is God really asking that much of us? He really isn’t asking that much of us at all:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).  It sounds like He just wants us to talk to Him, to be honest, and to let go.

I’m finally understanding.  I’ve asked for God’s peace, but I’ve clung on to my worry, trying to understand the future while wrecking my present.  I now know that for the peace of God to wash over me, I have to trust Him to hold my anxiety.  It sounds easy enough, but it’s not for me. However, I know that if today I trust God with my home in Oklahoma and stop trying to understand His purpose, tomorrow I can give Him whatever greater obstacle crosses my path.

Approaching 30

In a couple of weeks, I turn 30.  I know, I know, no one can believe it because I only look 25.  Ha!  The funny thing is, up until recently, people never believed my age.  I had always looked younger, but I made the observation this year that no one doubts my age, anymore.  College-aged girls respond to me with “ma’am,” and I have to admit, they look to me as if they were 15.  What happened?  When I asked my sister if I look my age, she slowly replied, “Well…you have had three kids….”

I hadn’t anticipated the 30th birthday bothering me in any way because I’ve always viewed birthdays as, well, just another day.  Who cares?  As I look around the corner and see the new number staring me in the face, I want to jump back and hide, and I know the reason:  I feel completely unattractive.  The last time I felt this unattractive I was 14, and there was a good reason I felt this way–I WAS unattractive.  Check out my high school library card; you’ll agree.  If I felt better about how I looked now, I could face 30 with grace–I would dare it to try to scare me–and could have fun on that day.  As it is, I’m focusing on what to do for my daughter’s birthday that follows mine instead.

In my defense, I am the victim of circumstances right now.  I did just have a baby, and I have done really well taking off most of the baby weight in less than three months.  However, when I look down, I see this confused sack of flab hanging off my belly that doesn’t know where to go.  It knows my body wants to be thin, but it’s hanging on for dear life.  I really want to wear a bikini to the pool and feel youthful, but I don’t want the children to scream and hide underwater as I approach.  And then there is my glorious bosom, the product of breastfeeding for most of the last three years.  I had to laugh as I was reading from Song of Solomon in the Bible; the lover describes his new wife’s breasts as two fawns from a gazelle.  Ha!  A bouncing gazelle is not the animal that comes to mind when I think about my pair…hmm…I think a gorilla might be a more appropriate image.

Then there’s my hair.  I decided I wanted to grow out my  hair so that it would cascade down my back and around my shoulders in thick waves of beauty.  Yeah, right.  The only thing that is cascading is my baby as she uses my hair as a rope swing.  I have  since sported the pony tail look almost every day.  I could say that I was trying to look athletic, but the previous paragraph explains why that look isn’t happening, either.

Finally, instead of eye shadow, I now wear the permanent under-eye shadow that comes from my children conspiring to keep me up all night.  I’m up every three hours to feed Chloe, and just for fun, Caleb and Hannah Grace like to say ‘hi’ during Chloe’s off hours.  I love all of my children, but I really wouldn’t mind if we didn’t meet at three a.m.

So, I might not look stunning for my 30th birthday.  In fact, I might look a little unattractive, but I have a good reason–three of them for that matter.  Maybe next August I’ll have a little more time and energy to devote to myself, (unless anyone wants to give me a gift certificate to a spa, now!) but for now, I’ll deal with looking my age.

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“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;/but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised”

Proverbs 31:30

M.I.T. (Mommy-in-Training)

A few days ago, the kids and I were home enjoying a lazy day of playing with toys inside, safe from the July Georgia heat.  Chloe was ready to eat, so, armed with my burp cloth,  I found a comfortable spot on the couch.  A couple of seconds later, I was joined by another mommy.  This little mommy also had a baby and was far more equipped for the job than I, carrying a diaper bag, stash of diapers, bottle, and her own burp cloth–which was actually a diaper changing pad.  I couldn’t help but smile as this mommy struggled to climb up on the couch, dragging her baby  with her.

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As she assumed her seat on the couch next to me, this mommy let me know her plans.

“I feed baby.”

“Okay,” I said.  “You are such a good mommy.”

Apparently this little mommy’s baby began to cry because she began to speak ever so sweetly to her love.

“It’s okay. It’s okay,” she cooed to the baby.  As she cradled the baby, she grabbed one of her essentials. “I need burp cloth,” she exclaimed knowingly tending to her child.  She began patting this little baby’s back, continuing to murmur in her child’s ear.

This loving display of affection brought a wide smile to my face.  I was so impressed with this little peanut’s motherly instinct at the ripe age of 23 months.  I was also struck by the details my daughter Hannah Grace absorbed.  She touched her baby softly as I had done many times with Chloe, and she let her baby know she was safe in her arms. She repeated the phrases I had uttered when trying to calm Chloe, and she knew all the mommy tools needed to make it through the day with a baby.  I felt a warm sense of satisfaction watching my little mommy imitate her own mommy when I had a sudden thought that made me feel temporarily sick.

What if she really imitates me?!  Were these mommy’s eyes about to narrow and laser beam the baby into time-out?  Was the voice from The Exorcist going to bounce off the walls growling , “I’m sick and tired of you not listening to me!”  Our last few weeks had been rough, and they were weighing on me. I could handle watching my child act out my tender qualities, but I really didn’t need to see a reenactment of the not-so-proud parts of my day!

Before I could panic too much, this mommy notified me, “I going bye-bye. I need key.”  And she was off with her child.  She quickly strapped the baby in her pink stroller, and off she and her baby went to do laps around the downstairs of our home.

I let out a sigh of relief as this sweet display of affection between a mother and child remained as such and felt overwhelmed by the special privilege God gave me when He made me a mother.  Watching Hannah Grace, I was reminded of how much my children view me as their teacher, and whether I want them to or not, they look to me as an example of how to live.  I was also comforted.  In that moment I felt reassured that, for all my faults, my love for my children will be what they remember most.  An aptly spoken word, a comforting touch, providing for their basic needs–these moments outweigh the moments with psycho-Mommy, who does appear, but not nearly as often as the mommy Hannah Grace enjoys (or so I hope!).

As I’ve reflected on that moment, I’ve come to think that many women need to learn what I learned.  Whether we are wives, mothers, co-workers, daughters, friends–we all need to be reminded of our good qualities.  Our memories have a nasty way of holding onto the negative much longer and easier than the positive. We forget what we do well and tend to focus on our struggles, our weaknesses.  We all have faults upon which we can improve, as there will always be someone watching our example, but we also have much to offer.

And if Hannah Grace learned how to ‘mommy’ from watching me, I’m not doing half bad.

Thank You, Michael Jackson

After the death of Michael Jackson, I had no intention of writing a blog about him, and I still don’t. While I feel bad for the families of the deceased any time a person dies, my emotions did not go any further than this type after Jackson’s death.  I hate to sound cruel, but I really didn’t care.  I didn’t watch any of the media specials or funeral coverage because I was busy with my own life, and frankly, I was more interested in what was happening to the protesters in Iran and the economic condition of the United States.

Now don’t get me wrong; I didn’t hate Michael Jackson, but I no longer had the crush on him that I had had when I was five.  I still enjoyed his music, but let’s face it–he became weird, and I lost interest in him.  Matt is a better fit for me. So why am I writing this blog?  Because Michael Jackson gave me something I never expected.

Last Saturday, the whole family piled into the mini-van ready to set out for our Saturday morning grocery shopping/family bonding time.  Before driving off, Matt went back into the garage and began rummaging through his gigantic stack of CDs that he can’t seem to give away.  He came in the car and loaded his music craving for the day.  I rolled my eyes as the distinct voice of MJ sang out through the speakers.  I turned around to look at the kids who were instantly intrigued by the beat.  As we bopped along, I double-checked my grocery list against a recipe I had pulled up on my iphone.  Matt and I laughed as we questioned whatever happened to Wierd Al Yankovic and noticed how much “Bad” really sounded like a show tune.   Hey, we loved it, but at the same time we could both picture these ‘bad’ men walking around shaking their jazz hands. Before I knew it, we were turning into the parking lot.  We had to have made record time.

As Matt pulled into a parking place at Whole Foods, I looked at the clock and noticed it was very close to the next time Chloe would need to eat.  If I didn’t feed her now, she would inevitably wake up half way through our shopping excursion and let all the customers know that her parents were starving her.  I told Matt to go ahead in the store and I would find him when I was finished feeding Chloe, but he wasn’t too fond of that idea.  So, as I covered up and began nursing Chloe, we all relaxed in our seats and listened to the music.

It was then that I was transported.  I was five sitting on the floor of our tiny den in New Jersey looking into the screen of the equally tiny TV on the floor.  Jennifer the Babysitter (yes, we actually referred to her by that title) was turning on MTV so that I could see this enthralling man in a red jacket dancing in front of my eyes while proclaiming, “Beat it! Beat it! Beat it! Beat it! No one wants to be defeated!”  Meanwhile in the present, Matt had grabbed my iphone and was looking up the lyrics and realized for the first time that MJ was singing to run away from the fight, not into it.  Hannah Grace began learning the words to the song, and since the van was stopped, Caleb decided he should unbuckle himself and crawl into the front seat.

As I noticed this little boy tumbling over Matt’s seat and into his lap, I was brought back into the present.  “Caleb, what are you doing?!” I asked as this ball of energy was bouncing on top of Matt.  Caleb’s shaggy hair was swatting himself in the face as he shook his head from side to side during his chaotic dance.

I then turned my attention behind me.  As Caleb was rolling his head around in weird patterns, Hannah Grace was bee-bopping, singing, “Beat it! beat it! beat it!”.  I started to chuckle and tried to take Matt’s attention to Hannah Grace when Caleb, who was now out of control, focused his head movements toward the steering wheel.  While MJ was giving it all he had through song, Caleb used his head to express his artistic emotion.  Literally.  As the intensity of the music rose, Caleb’s head came down with two perfect honks on the steering wheel.  I could not stop laughing as my son just beeped the horn twice to the music in the Whole Foods parking lot as part of his excited “Beat it” dance.

Normally, grocery shopping is not a chore that I particularly look forward to doing, but I would shop every day of the week if they could all feel like last Saturday.  Having conversation with my husband, laughing at my children, watching the time fly by as we had fun together–how would I ever have known that one CD would create a perfect memory for me?  No, Michael Jackson, I’m not going to vote for a federal holiday for you; I don’t think you deserve it.  I simply want to tell you ‘thank you.’  Thank you for a great Saturday.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” Proverbs 12:2

As the weeks go on with my newborn, I have noticed that my patience level has decreased exponentially with the increased number of hours added to my sleep deficit.  While Chloe is a wonderful baby demanding very little besides the necessary feeding and diaper changing, her brother and sister are not so easy.  They are the typical two and three year old, constantly getting into things they shouldn’t and fighting as brothers and sisters tend to do.

I have reached the point now that the sound of crying other than that from a newborn makes me want to bang my head against the wall.  Someone is always crying in my home, but most of the time, the crying is not from Chloe.   Hannah Grace is always crying because Caleb made a mean face, tripped her, punched her, slapped her, sat on her foot, took her doll, ran into her, tackled her, walked passed her and sneezed at the same time, or any other possible assault on her person, while Caleb is typically crying while sitting in time-out for one of the offenses listed above.  I actually found myself telling Hannah Grace today that she is no longer allowed to cry unless something very sad happens or she is hurt badly.  She furrowed her brow and studied my face while listening intently, evidently not sure what the difference was between my two reasons and the various reasons she had cried during the day.

This constant barrage of noise and conflict on any given day has kept my nerves on edge, so much so, that I have lost the ability to relax.  I hadn’t noticed this inability until the other day, though.  On this particular day I had planned to take the kids outside to play with the moonsand that their Grammy gave them about six months ago but Mommy just discovered hidden in the playroom.  I was trying to gather the kit together, the kids, and whatever else was essential for the ten-foot trip from the kitchen to patio, and Caleb and Hannah Grace were gathered around my ankles.  They were in my way and talking incessantly.

I honestly cannot remember what Caleb said or what I said, but I know whatever I uttered was in a sharp and frustrated tone.  My sweet little boy looked up at me with a smile on his face and in his voice and gently laughed to me, “Mommy, you don’t have to be mean to me.  I’m your good boy.”

My heart sank, and I instantly felt a pang of remorse inside.  What was wrong with me?  Caleb clearly was excited that we were going outside to play with something new, and I was yelling at him without even realizing it.  I was not aware of the tone I was using to speak to two of the most precious gifts God had ever given me, my children created in His image, yet I was not treating them as such.

Caleb was right.  He is my good boy.  Lately, I had forgotten how good he is.  Instead, I worry about what people think when we are out in public and he doesn’t obey or wonder how those around me judge my disciplinary methods.  I only notice the bouncing off the walls in my house and the meanness to his sister.  I had forgotten about the smile that melts my heart every time and the creativity that Caleb  possesses.  I had forgotten about the spirit full of life and energy.  I had forgotten that Caleb is three.

I had forgotten that while it may seem like a small thing to me, having Hannah Grace’s baby doll stolen by her big brother that she loves and adores is a very sad event to her.  I had forgotten that being tackled when she is not playing football and not wearing pads probably does hurt badly.  I had forgotten that Hannah Grace is not yet two, and toddlers cry.

I have noticed that people tend to speak to their family members differently than friends, acquaintances, or even people that they just met.  Many of us tend to be more impatient, less aware of our tone with the people we love most in the world.  Perhaps subconsciously we know our family will always be there, that they love us with all of our faults included. I noticed before how other people treated their families, but I hadn’t noticed myself until Caleb showed me.

Proverbs 15:1 says “A gentle answer turns away wrath,/but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  Caleb modeled this verse for me with his gentle rebuke, and I want to change as a result.  I don’t want to stir up anger in my children but instead speak blessings over them.  Now I’m not going to lie–I’m still going to do my best to get Hannah Grace to toughen up, and Caleb will continue to wear down the carpet in the corner until he treats his sister right, but I will also do my best to relax and have patience, to speak to my children the way I would speak to the children in the nursery at church.  I know this change won’t come easy for me, especially as I’m adding to my sleep deprivation right now by typing instead of sleeping.  Luckily for me, the mouths of babes will remind me when I get off course.

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