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“And this is what happens when you jump on the bed! If you would’ve just listened and gone to bed, you would not have gotten hurt!”

As I held a towel to her chin, I couldn’t force the calming words that most with a maternal instinct would naturally say. No, I decided I couldn’t pass up on the chance of creating a Pavlov’s dogs-type connection–jumping on the bed=blood gushing from your chin.

Thankfully, my six-year-old daughter provided comfort while I frantically figured out how to get my youngest to the ER. While she wiped the blood from her sister’s legs, cleaned the bright spots out of the carpet, I grabbed band-aids and made phone calls figuring out which grandparents could provide the best help. I can’t really remember what my son was doing–I think screaming.

It’s a well-known law of the universe that when a husband travels out-of-town, a child will get sick or injured or a car will break down. Typically these events will happen early in the morning on the way to work or school or late at night when everyone is trying to sleep.

When the four of us finally got in the minivan, it was about 10 p.m. My nerves were shot. They were already a little shaky, having just sold our home and moved the five of us into an apartment a few weeks prior. Now, seeing the blood pool beneath the band-aid covering the hole in her chin and listening to my daughter cry hysterically for an entire car ride, I was done.

I was jittery and shaky and could concentrate just well enough on driving to head in the right direction while managing a few “I just wish you kids would listen!” as I changed lanes. I blame this state of mind for my not noticing the needle on the temperature gauge soaring and thinking the sudden jerks of the van the result of a tail-gating pickup truck nudging me along.

When the van kept spasmodically jerking forward after I turned into the hospital, I no longer blamed the pickup truck that abandoned me before the turn. I tried to filter out the screams from my youngest as I deciphered which arrows would take me to doctors who performed stitches. I followed the path that led to the gate entering the ER parking lot, and as I stopped and reached out the window to take my ticket, my van stopped–for good.

Yes, my minivan died right there blocking the entrance to the ER. It let out one last exhale– a brilliant puff of smoke–for good measure while I looked on in utter disbelief. Just like a movie.

That night (or early morning as we didn’t leave the ER until 2:30 a.m.) marked the beginning of what I affectionately refer to as “My Job Season.” At first, I would jokingly (and cautiously) make the Job reference. After all, Job suffered from boils and thieves and his children dying one after another. I suffered from the ‘one after another,’ but 10 stitches, a van dying, stomach viruses, and dropping an iPhone in a puddle all in the course of one week were still not on the same level.

Until one day, it started to feel on the same level.

We had entered a challenging season–an adventure–as we told the kids. We were building a new home and moving to a new area, so the kids would start a new school. Matt and I each had new positions at work. Everything felt fresh and open.

We sold our home quickly at the end of April, a blessing, but a challenge as the home we were building wouldn’t be ready for another couple of months. Two months seemed too long to live with a relative, especially since we still had about a month of the school year left, but not many places provide two-month leases.

We found one for a hefty price, but, hey, we had a place to live. And with little motivation to unpack what we brought with us, we made this apartment our pitstop on the way to our new life.

The kids had their beds, Matt and I had our mattress, and a few random pieces of furniture would suffice for the next two months. In the meantime, we daydreamed about our new rooms and how we would decorate. One night in particular, I pulled out my iPad and surprised Matt with my vision for the guest bedroom upstairs–a room decorated with soft colors and bookshelves and a crib in the center.

We were having a baby.

Immediately, our minds jumped to the future. Would we have a boy or a girl (of course a boy. A boy would bring balance to the force)? What names did we like? How would we tell the kids? Our family?

Telling the family was easy. With the new house, all we’d have to do was give them a tour, and they’d see a crib set up in the spare bedroom. They squeal with delight. We’d all hug.

I couldn’t wait to tell the kids. Their constant requests for a baby would be granted. They’d squeal with delight. We’d all hug.

Matt’s parents found out when we had to leave a birthday party early. I was cramping and spotting and felt the truth was better than leaving without a good reason. My parents found out when the repeated blood tests leaving my arms looking like I was a drug user showed I could miscarry at any moment–or have an ectopic pregnancy–they weren’t sure yet. I asked for prayers and prepared my plan for if I had to suddenly go to the hospital.

Our kids never knew.

After a couple of weeks of uncertainty and praying for a miracle, the doctor said with confidence that it was a blighted ovum. The baby either died early on or never formed, but my body continued to think it was pregnant. I would need a D&C to stop the pregnancy.

In the hospital waiting room, Matt and I took a call from our real estate agent discussing our next steps. In addition to the house not appraising, the builders had left the backyard as a 30 foot drop off from the edge of the house, and we did not think the cliff was safe or appealing. They did not care what we thought.

I remember crying in the car that I didn’t want to think about the house–I wanted to grieve the baby–but we had to. It was Tuesday, and we were supposed to close on Thursday.

We didn’t close that Thursday, and our lease was up five days later. We didn’t have a home.

At this point, I remember not-so-cautiously allowing myself to compare what was happening to Job. In the span of a month, my daughter got 10 stitches, my girls caught a stomach bug, my car died, and I dropped my phone in the only puddle around. When those things happened, I would laugh and say “I’m not sure I can handle much more this week, but, God, you have my attention,” and I would thank Him and acknowledge that my situation could always be worse, my family was healthy; my van and phone were just things.

And then in that same month I found out I lost my baby. I tried to thank God for my other children, but I was sad and angry. “God, what am I doing wrong? What do you want?” I remember thinking. I thought, perhaps, God was just allowing Satan to test me like Job, trying to see if I would denounce Him, and then I was scared.

I lost my baby, and I don’t have a home. What more is going to happen?

During this time, I wanted to search for meaning. So many things happening in such a short period of time, progressively getting worse–there had to be something I was to learn. I wish I could give a profound theological answer, but, honestly, I’m not sure.

I did learn that people are not comfortable with grief. Most people are well-meaning, from the anesthesiologist who tried to make us feel better by sharing that he had a mentally-challenged son (and then shared that ‘two out of three is not bad’ referring to his own children) to the doctors and friends who shared that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage (it was my turn statistically) to the Christians who shared the handy phrase that “God has a plan.”

I was not upset when people shared this fact, just a little weary of hearing it. Yes, I knew that God had a plan–it was only this knowledge that gave me the strength to not throw my hands up in total despair–but I was heartbroken. I wanted His plan to include this baby in my family, and, at the moment, knowing that He had a plan without the baby didn’t bring me much comfort.

It still doesn’t. Knowing that God is good and loving and was grieving with me gave me comfort. Knowing that His plan for us originally didn’t include death brought me comfort.

Reflecting on Jesus walking to Lazarus’s tomb and weeping because He saw the hurt and anguish that all of us would taste as a result of sin brought me comfort. He knew that death sucks, He knew how we would grieve each time we lost a loved one, and He knew the loss and emptiness Matt and I felt when we stared at that empty sac on the ultrasound. That is why He wept, and that is why I felt comfort–not because of this nebulous sounding plan that I couldn’t hold onto in the moment.

As I was wheeled down to the operating room, I found it bizarre that I had to climb onto the table. I’m not sure why–I was conscious and able–but it felt strange to hop onto a table where the thing I didn’t want to happen was about to happen. One of the nurses began to explain that the medicine might burn as it goes in the IV, and I don’t really remember anything else she said.

I remember that I started crying. I knew that there wasn’t a baby and that I needed to have the remains of the pregnancy removed, but this surgery carried a finality with it. There was no longer hope.

As I cried, I looked over at the nurses standing next to the operating bed on which I was lying and apologized. One said, “I know, I know” or “It’s okay”–I can’t remember exactly, but the other nurse, I will never forget. She reached over and placed one hand firmly on my left leg and one on my arm and looked straight in my eyes. She said nothing with her mouth, but her eyes told that she understood my sorrow and was grieving with me. Losing a baby is sad, and no words can make it better.

After the surgery, I woke up and felt strangely comfortable. I’ve joked before that I enjoy a little light anesthesia for the chance to nap. The nurse covered me in warm-to-the-touch blankets, and I remembered thinking that I didn’t want to leave. After all, the apartment wasn’t my home, and a home is where a person should go to grieve. I didn’t want to lie down on our mattress and look at the half unpacked bins and dust. I just wanted to go back to sleep.

Of course, I had to leave the hospital that day, and after a two-month stay at my sister’s (God bless her and her husband, and thank Him that we left and everyone is still alive), my family finally moved into a beautiful home that feels like it was made just for us.

That first morning I woke up at 6:30 a.m. and saw the pink in the sky from a sun on the rise, and I felt such a warmth from knowing this was my home. My home. Such a beautiful word.

I look back on “My Job Season,” and I still don’t know why we built a house for seven months to have us walk away the week we were to close. I don’t know why we experienced the joy of knowing a new life was growing inside me only to learn a few weeks later that we would never meet that baby (this side of heaven). I may never know.

God doesn’t promise us that we will get an explanation of all the trials that we endure. He promises us that He will never leave us in the midst of those trials. And while I can say I would never want to revisit those months again, I will also admit that they gave me a stronger desire for The Lord. This world is not my home–the sin, the suffering, the pain–they are temporary. Yes, there is tremendous beauty here, even in the midst of death and suffering, all glimpses of a loving Father, but they cannot even compare to what is waiting on the other side.

So while I make my new home and thank God for His blessings, I humbly acknowledge the fact that more trials will come. And I know that I’m holding onto hands that won’t let go of me when they do.

*While our kids do know that I went to the hospital, we chose not to give them the details. If you know our family, please respect our decision to not tell our children about the pregnancy. We will reveal those details at a later date and time of our choosing. Thank you.

I Have No Mercy for Kids With Mono and Other Tales

I found out last Saturday that my five-year-old daughter has mononucleosis. Of course like any good parent, I felt sympathy for my poor little girl who didn’t feel well. Then I felt relief. And guilt.

For the month prior, my daughter’s behavior was beyond horrible. Even asking her to put on her clothes was a battle. She would throw uncharacteristic temper tantrums, screaming that she was so tired and couldn’t do it. Her room remained a condemned area, as she refused for two weeks to clean it. She was grounded from a birthday party, the playground, dinner with the family–anything else I could think of–and yet she still refused to put even one dirty shirt in the hamper.

Hannah Grace has always been stubborn; refusing to do chores or taking forever to get ready in the morning was not beyond her capabilities, but she had reached such an impressive level of defiance that my visions of her future all involved jail time.

I spent nights crying in bed. All of my prayers started with her. In fact, I spent many nights after the kids had gone to bed walking up and down the hallway, prayer walking, casting out the demons that surrounded her room in Jesus’ name.

In fact, one night the urge to pray was so intense that I went to her room and laid hands on her sleeping body, assuming God wanted me to perform a mini exorcism. That night, Hannah Grace climbed into bed between Matt and me, and we could feel the heat emanating off her limbs as she snuggled next to us. She clearly had a fever. I figured God was giving me a sign that He was burning up the demons.

A few hours later, the fever was gone, and Hannah Grace was back to her defiant self. She said she didn’t want to go to school with venom in her voice, and I knew it was just another of her evil ploys. After all, I had already picked her up from school previously when she said she didn’t feel well, and she bounced around the house all day. We had gone to the doctor another time when she said her throat and stomach hurt, but her strep test came back negative. Clearly, I lived with a manipulative little faker.

So when the nurse called on Saturday and said, “Hannah Grace has mono,” I felt immediate relief that my daughter was not possessed by Satan. And then I felt guilt that I had thought my daughter was possessed by Satan. And guilt that I didn’t renew her gymnastics classes due to her defiant behavior and refusal to do chores.

Yep, that’s motherhood–doing my best to raise my kids well, seeking the Lord, only to realize that I wasn’t reading the signs He was giving me correctly; having to kneel before my child humbly, asking her forgiveness for not understanding.

And, yet, motherhood, is experiencing the biggest smile in my soul, the kind that runs from my stretched cheeks to my toes, as I watch my son round home plate and jog towards his dad who scoops him up in celebration. An in-the-park home run caused this little boy to run to his dad, his coach with tears streaming down his face because, as he explained, “I was just so happy.” These days are what make motherhood, life, amazing; the constant swinging of the pendulum through guilt and relief and compassion to joy and feelings that I don’t even know how to describe.

But I want to try.

I’ve know for some time what I’ve wanted to do, but, honestly, I’ve been afraid. A few weeks ago, God stirred in me that desire again. I attended Hutchmoot with my best friend Wendy, and I fell in love with the story, God’s story. His amazing Creation. His love story told through the pages of the Bible, a story that doesn’t end with Revelation but is just beginning.

I want to tell part of His story; I don’t know what part or where I’m starting, but I want to tap into the creative spirit that He’s given me, that’s He’s shown all of us by every beat of our heart, each breath that we take.

In order to write, though, to capture these moments of life that point toward God’s bigger story of hope and redemption, I have to give myself permission to let go of my blog. I already haven’t written as much as I would like, and that fact hovers over me and actually causes me guilt and disappointment.

The fact is that I want to write without the need to hit publish. I want to write and continue to write and see where my story takes me, but I can’t unless I release this need to write in this space.

These words are hard for me to type because this place has been such a significant part of my life for the last three years. I have shared my joys, my struggles–most of my heart–right here. And while I don’t have a large following, I am very aware that I have a great following of some of the most loyal and faithful readers out in this strange and wonderful world of the blogosphere. I call many of you my friends even though I’ve never seen you face to face!

Thank you for sharing this journey with me, and, perhaps, one day I’ll have a more substantial work to share with you again. In the meantime, I’m sure I’ll visit this space from time to time as my kids always provide the best material–after all, if I don’t write about it, I”ll forget it. And since I don’t scrapbook, my writing really is the best record of my kids’ childhood that I can provide. And now that I’m freeing myself from this space, perhaps I’ll be better at visiting each of yours.

Please pray for me that I would have the discipline to keep writing. And please continue to pray for my family–especially now that I have two kids with mono (Caleb was diagnosed yesterday…I’m hoping my tiredness and headache are just allergies)!

Three years ago when my husband bought me this laptop, I was angry that he spent this money. However, now I can only thank him. He gave me a gift that I never would have expected by renewing my passion (But please, please, Matt, do not buy me another one…even if parts of  this laptop are cracking).

May God bless each of you as you continue on in His story….


Content

I don’t typically write without knowing where I’m going or having a point neatly wrapped up in the midst of one of my stories about marker-stained carpet or stolen peaches. However, today I felt the need to just write. I’m not sure where this post will end, but I wanted to begin, nonetheless.

The last few weeks, I’ve felt this overwhelming surge of happiness. I’ve tried to attribute the source–a vacation with Matt that worked, prayer that had been answered, the right dosage of medicine, visits with the chiropractor to get my body working properly–but I’m not sure what/who is to thank; maybe all of the above.

All I know is that I feel wonderful. I still wake up feeling like I could go right back to sleep, but I’m able to shake that cloudiness once I get going. I’m not sure that happiness and feeling wonderful are even the right words to describe where I am. Perhaps, content is a better description.

Most of the factors in my life that caused me grief before are still here–Matt’s long hours at work, a constant feeling of being overwhelmed by the kids and house–but I have a sense of ‘okay’ with all of them–not that I’m okay with those factors but that I am okay, we will be okay.

I’ve been looking at my children a lot lately–obviously, I see them every day–but looking at that little spark that makes them them. I can’t help but smile when I see it.

A few weeks ago, I wanted to write a post about all that I had forgotten. We had found some home videos of the kids when they were babies and toddlers. Caleb on his second birthday–I had forgotten his little voice, the way he sounded when he said ‘hanga-burger’ for  ‘hamburger;’ Hannah Grace, how beautifully sweet and how deep her voice was, even as a little baby as she said ‘Bye-i;’ Chloe and the first time she ate the carrots that I hadn’t quite pureed enough, Caleb laughing a weird, throaty laugh in the background. That night, my heart and insides literally ached for those days, not because I wanted them back, but because I couldn’t remember. I grieved for those little babies and wanted one more time to squeeze them and suck in every detail, memorize the sounds and smells so that I would never forget.

I guess that’s the consequence of having baby after baby after baby–one loses brain cell after brain cell after brain cell, and I just couldn’t take in all those details that I now miss. I think that feeling of loss is why I’m drinking in their uniqueness now.

I look at Hannah Grace, and I marvel. This child has captured a part of my heart. Boy, she is stubborn, but that sweetness inside of her–I’ve never met another with it. I took her to a trial gymnastics class the other day, and I prepared a water bottle for her. When I told Hannah Grace that this bottle was hers if she was thirsty after class, she just looked at me for a moment, paused and smiled. She slightly cocked her head to one side and quietly said, “thank you.” Looking at her face, one would’ve thought I told her that we deeded her the house when she turns 30. It was as if in her little heart she thought, How am I so special? and Now it’s my turn after a year and a half of watching her brother’s baseball games. The gratitude quietly shone through her.

It was a small moment, quick and quiet, but my heart warmed all the same. I love this little girl.

We watched Annie the other night with the girls, and I realized, if Hannah Grace is my Punky Brewster,’ Chloe is my ‘Annie.’ I never understood why the babies of families tend to be spoiled; I’m starting to get a sense of it now. The other day, Hannah Grace called her little sister ‘stupid’ from the top bunk of her bed. Well, if that little three-year-old didn’t get to her feet and start climbing the ladder ready to pound her sister. I pulled Chloe off the ladder, chuckling inside at my little tiger. If Caleb had reacted that way, I would’ve been horrified. When I pray at night, I pray my feisty little girl will turn that confidence and fighting spirit away from people’s noses and toward her Lord and convictions.

Last night, Caleb helped me put away the dishes. He told me that I could sit down; he would do them for me. I told him we could make the chore go quickly if we did it together. And that’s my boy–emotional and sensitive and ever the people-pleaser. Too much like me. Sometimes, I look at him and want to yell, “No! You don’t want to be like me!” but then I remember how he wanted to go to the pool when it was busy so that he could make new friends. Yeah, he’s not totally his mommy, after all.

Sometimes I look ahead and wonder what scar I will have left on their skin. I picture my kids in therapy relating, “My mom just couldn’t ___”, or “My mom always ____.” I’m far from perfect, but I hope these three know how my heart swells when I look at them, how I think they are the most beautifully unique people I have ever met.

And then there’s Matt. He brought me flowers last week…and a few weeks before that. I’ve been trying to show more attention to his work shirts. We kiss a little longer in the mornings and smile a little more often when we look at each other. It’s the little things, and the sense that we’re both working together, for each other, that makes the work worth it.

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I don’t hold back from sharing the ugly in my life. But writing authentically means I share the beautiful, too, and I’m finding the beauty in just living contentedly. I’m not complacent–I know God shakes things up often–but for the first time in a while, I feel different.

I spent some time with a good friend a week or so ago, and, after our visit, she said, “You sound good. You sound light.” I feel light. I want to see those little glimmers in the everyday, those ordinary moments, and like Hannah Grace taking her water bottle, I want to smile and say, ‘thank you.’

Linking up with Michelle and Jen. I’d love to read your glimmers of content in the comments below.


 

I’ll Never Judge


As I was pushing around the heavy steam cleaner, God brought to mind a thought that entered my mind seven or so years ago. Yes, God has a sense of humor, and His timing is perfect. The day when I couldn’t stand to look at the dark spots on the den carpet any longer, the day when I decided that this was the day to try to remove the evidence of little girls sneaking Mommy’s make-up and magic markers, God reminded me of an ignorant thought that I will never again think:

I’ll never let my carpet get this bad.

Seven or so years ago, I was sitting in the den of a husband and wife who had volunteered to coach other small group leaders. They were as nice as nice could be, and their two blonde girls throwing cartwheels here and there completed the picture of the happy family. But their carpet…

…I was momentarily distracted by it. The fibers were worn–there was no ‘fluff’ or softness left–and the once pale, beige color was spotted with dark circles throughout. And in that moment, I remembered thinking that if I were them, I would get new carpet.

Of course, I had that thought when I was only married a few years. I had never had to re-carpet my house, so I had no idea of the expense. And the most important fact to explain my ignorance–I didn’t have any kids.

I had no idea the futility of getting new carpet when little kids were bouncing around, intent on destroying everything of value in one’s home. I had no idea the time wasted in cleaning anything because Murphy’s Law said less than 24 hours later that same area would be covered in filth.

Therefore, God reminded me of all that I had learned in the last six years while I worked the stains that penetrated my own worn carpet. I felt a twinge of guilt as I remembered my stupid thought. I only had a steam cleaner because my mom passed her old one on to me, and I didn’t whip it out every time a stain hit the rug because steam cleaning was a time-consuming, cumbersome chore.

As I finished the last row in the den, I started to feel what could be described as satisfaction. However, before my body would even let me acknowledge that fulfilling feeling, my mind woke me up: You know everything you just did was pointless, right?

And I did, but I drug the heavy machine up the stairs, anyway, determined to make less of the bright colors that dotted the landing, decorated my daughter’s room. Less than one hour later, after I had drug the machine back down the stairs and emptied the dirty water, my children drove home the lesson of which God had reminded me earlier that day.

Apparently, construction paper when wet will stain carpet. My son’s anger over his sister boiling the panda food in her little play pot that he had created earlier in the day ended in black splotches all over the other sister’s floor.

At this point in the story, I did what any mother would do and gave up.

Since becoming a mother, I’ve given up most expectations. No longer do I expect clean carpet, and if I go to your house, I won’t expect it there, either. In fact, if I come to your home, you can count on the fact that I won’t judge anything.

If there are dust bunnies in the corner or blatantly blowing like a tumbleweed through your family area, I won’t judge. If your clean laundry is tossed on a chair in a wrinkled mess, I won’t give it a second glance, unless I decide to help you out and fold a pair of pants or two. If your walls have the renderings of Picasso wanna-be’s or the letter ‘d’ 17 times because your child just figured out how to write, I won’t even notice. And if your counters are covered with enough papers to convince me that you are in charge of simplifying the tax code, I’ll nod with empathy. I’m that important, too.

I don’t judge anything, anymore. Even you, well-dressed 20-something rushing through the aisles with a frown at the grocery store–I know you’ve just yet to be enlightened about the workings of a four-year-old and a mini shopping cart. Don’t worry; I don’t judge you, either. I just suggest that  you move to the other end of the store. Your thoughts might come back to bite you later.

What is a judgment that you used to make that you will no longer?

Strength and Courage

If I’m honest, I yearn for the days of ‘easy.’ I look forward to each milestone of independence with my kids, and I hope for the days when my husband’s job will take away less time from the family. Sometimes, my eyes focus on a reality that isn’t here, imagining my life the way I want to live it if I could just tweak a few details about the present.

Last night, I wanted to read a book. I’ve been reading the same book for months as the end-of-the-school year madness left me too tired to think most nights. Unfortunately, that tiredness left me too tired to wake up many mornings, and I felt the nudge to read my neglected Bible first.

I decide to read Joshua chapter 1 after hearing a sermon on Joshua 6 that afternoon. In the first nine verses, God tells Joshua three times to “Be strong and courageous.” I couldn’t help but think that God was speaking those words to me, too.

Now, I realize I’m not leading an entire nation across the Jordan river, but I am leading three little ones every day. Many nights, I close my eyes in fear as I pray, as I beg God to hold my children close, as I yearn for Him to make me a better mother–but the words He spoke to Joshua are the same for me:

“Be strong and courageous…”

Why?

“…for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9)

God is with me, no matter where Matt works, no matter the ages of my kids, no matter my successes and failures in parenting, and all He asks of me is that I am strong and courageous. I can find that strength and courage if I remember that He is the one who gives it to me.

Last night, sleep came easily, as it does most nights, but before I closed my eyes, I thought and prayed about what I had read. While I would still love to tweak a few details here and there for the future, I’m going to work harder at being strong in the present.

For God is with me.

Photo by NeilsPhotography

*in verse 9, emphasis added is mine

Where is God telling you to be strong and courageous?

Linking up with Michelle and Jen today.

 

The Significance of Cleaning Bathrooms

God gave me children to clean the house so that I wouldn’t have to. At least, that’s my theory–I hate cleaning bathrooms and putting away clean laundry, so I popped out three babies to take care of that problem. If the baby could walk to me when I said, “Walk to Mama; C’mon walk to Mama,” then that baby could walk to the toy box and put away her toys. If the toddler could deprive me of many hours of sleep by refusing to stay in his bed at night, then he could climb back over to that bed in the morning to make it. And if that little girl was adept enough to take off her clothes and run naked through the yard, then she could surely pick out an outfit in the morning and put it on–matching clothes is not a requirement for me.

With all the chores my children know how to do, bedrooms should always look neat, playrooms picked-up, and my house presentable. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I’m lucky if I have one day out of every week where my house looks clean. In reality, I might have one day where one section of the house is clean, but two days later, that area is a wreck while we’re working on another section.

I find nothing more discouraging. I look at my days as a stay-at-home mom, days full of cooking and cleaning and driving and playing, and many nights I have nothing to show for all my work except for a pile of laundry on the chair and an exhausted mind that wants nothing more but a pillow and a book to pretend to read.

Yesterday morning, our pastor spoke to the life of a mother given that it was Mother’s Day, and he pointed out ‘Three Monsters of Motherhood.’ Discouragement, that emotion I experience frequently, was on the list. However, he read Galatians 6:9-10: “9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

I tried to take those verses to heart, and they did give a little hope, but I also had to admit that most days I do feel weary. Never before in my life did I question myself as much as I do as a mother. Am I really making a difference? Would they be better off if I went back to work? Have I scarred them forever? Am I too strict? Am I too easy? Did we brush teeth today?

The questions are endless, and sometimes I wonder if I didn’t just waste a day, not making a dent in my kids’ lives at all. This feeling of insignificance was another monster my pastor mentioned. He told us, though, to take hope in the fact that we can have spiritual moments when we’re driving in the car with our kids as much as when we’re sitting around the kitchen table for dinner. We are to remember Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and talk to our children about God during all the moments of our day, from the hours spent in the minivan to moments before we kiss goodnight and turn out the lights. Our days are significant when we teach our children about the Lord.

In his goodness, the Lord showed me that these words were true.

Given my theory on the purpose of children, I figured there was no better day than Mother’s Day to add to my children’s repertoire of household chores. My husband told me to relax on the couch while he made dinner, but he invited our parents over, too. Someone had to vacuum and clean the bathroom, and since it wasn’t going to be me, that left the jobs to the kiddos.

The six-year-old called vacuuming, so I decided my four-year-old would have to clean the bathroom. This job was new for her, so I supervised the activity.

I instructed Hannah Grace in how to clean the toilet.

“Okay, now you have to lift the lid and clean this part, too.”

“Disgusting,” she commented, but she cleaned the whole bowl and lid the same.

“Now, Hannah, when you clean the floor make sure you get back here, too. And clean this white wood here.” I tapped on the baseboard to get the attention of the little girl who was already busy wiping behind the toilet.

She finished, and it wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough considering I had just employed child labor. Hannah Grace then surprised me by wanting to clean her bathroom, too. We made our way upstairs, and she immediately began taking everything out of the bathroom–the little white stool, the bath mats, and the trash can.

“I’m taking all of this out because this is what you do, right, Mommy?”

It was, in fact, what I do so that I can clean the whole floor.

“Can you get me a bag?”

I went downstairs to grab a plastic bag. After I handed it to her, she draped it over the top of the blue trashcan and then flipped the can over.

“That’s how you do it,” she said. I watched and pondered as this little girl who had never cleaned the bathroom with me imitated everything I typically do.

“Eck. Why don’t you ever clean the trashcan?” she questioned.

I was a little taken aback, but as she cleaned the inside of the trashcan, I praised God. Yes! A child who cleans even better than I do!

“There,” she exclaimed, sticking her nose in the can. “Mmm, now this smells good!”

I thought we were finished, but, apparently, we weren’t. I was told that she was going to clean my sinks because, “Mom, your counter is a mess.” Of course, the reason everything was a mess is that Hannah Grace and her sister flooded the bathroom when they turned on the water and left a sink plugged, thereby causing the need for a contractor to rip out the floor and old vanity. However, I simply agreed and let her go to work.

And as I watched this munchkin clean the third bathroom for the day with remarkable thoroughness, I realized that what my pastor spoke was true. She did watch me, and she did listen. And if she had memorized the cleaning techniques that I had never explicitly taught her, how much more had she absorbed those points that I taught her day after day?

My job is significant, and I can’t grow weary of doing it. It’s too important.

As Hannah Grace finished the floor, I pointed out a few spots that she had missed.

“I’m done, Mom,” she replied. “I’m not doing it; I’m done.” And with that she walked away.

It is okay, however, to grow weary of cleaning the bathrooms.

Linking up with Michelle today. Do you battle with feelings of discouragement or insignificance? How do you fight against them? Have a wonderful week!



 

 

My Only Hope

The other night I opened the dishwasher and sighed. For the third time, all the dishes were covered with a dusty film, and, having changed dish detergent for the third try, I now knew the soap I was using wasn’t the problem.

“Great,” I thought to myself. I had a sink full of dishes that I couldn’t load because the ones in the dishwasher weren’t clean, and the thought of washing them all by hand was just enough to cause my mind to start to shut down.

I turned to making school lunches instead and ignored the dishes, and while I slapped some peanut butter on bread, my mind began making lists. Matt was going out-of-town, and now the dishwasher didn’t work. I had spent the last two days at the service center after my set tune-up turned into a long list of everything I needed, including new tires and brakes. Day three at the shop was tomorrow. Then there were all the problems and tasks I hadn’t gotten to yet.

The DVD player in the minivan wasn’t working, and we were leaving for a wedding in New Jersey in a few days. I couldn’t imagine driving 17 hours with 3 kids without the ability to play a few movies. And the wedding–I had to pack in addition to dealing with the normal chores of the house (which of course would now take longer because I would be washing everything by hand) all while Matt was across the country for business.

Then my mind began to remember all the tasks that weren’t pertinent to the trip to New Jersey but were still left undone. I wanted to write Junrick.

Every month I set the goal of writing Junrick once a week, but, instead, most months go by with one letter. I really felt the urgency to write Junrick this time, though, when he mentioned in his last letter that he didn’t have a Bible. I, honestly, was shocked when I had learned that he didn’t have one–I guess I always assumed that when we began sponsoring Junrick that some of that money would go towards items like a Bible–and wanted to designate a special gift on his next letter for a Bible in his language.

And I began thinking of Junrick.

His mother wrote most of the letters to us while Junrick was still learning. She told me that he worked very hard doing all the chores around the house while she went into the city to work. He washed dishes and made rice and gave his brother and sister a bath. And, of course, he studied.

I could always tell from each letter that Junrick’s mother thought his only ticket out of poverty was an education. She also sounded so worried, that Junrick was so lucky to have a sponsor, and she didn’t want Junrick to blow this opportunity.

Recently, Junrick began writing to me himself. In one letter he told me that Matt and I were his only hope.

I felt very uncomfortable when I read those words. I wrote back to him and told him how much God loves him. God had brought us together, and Matt and I were so grateful to sponsor him. Whenever I saw a new letter from him, I would rush to open it in excitement. I praised him for the good reports from his mom and emphasized his relationship with the Lord. I encouraged him to stay in prayer and read his Bible. In his next letter, I learned he didn’t have one.

As I finished bagging the lunches, I thought about my problems of a minivan that needed work and a DVD player that was broken and a dishwasher that was useless and a husband who was out of town. And then I thought of Junrick washing all of the family’s dishes by hand and Junrick walking to school and Junrick’s mom working for little in the city and Junrick’s dad who had left the family.

I was ashamed and a little afraid. My heart is for the poor, but I fear that one day when I meet God face-to-face He will say, “Jennifer, you just didn’t get it.”

I know about poverty, I know what Junrick’s life is like, but I just don’t know.

After every letter I send, every missions project I work, I come home. Home to a big house full of furniture. Home to a garage filled with too much stuff so that we have to park our two automobiles in the driveway. Home to a sink full of dishes that held three full meals worth of food for five people. Home to laundry baskets overflowing with clothes I haven’t yet put away.

I want to, but I don’t know if I will ever get it.

I think about Junrick writing that I am his only hope, and I shake my head. No, Junrick–you are mine.

If I Were Mary

photo courtesy of lindsayshaver

The year I turned 15, Christmas took on a different meaning for me. I remember looking in the mirror and imagining myself pregnant. I rubbed my belly as I thought of how I would tell my family the news. I envisioned the walk downstairs to the kitchen and the kitchen table where I would ask my parents to sit, and I pictured the look on my dad’s face as I shared what I learned from the angel Gabriel:

Dad, Mom, I’m pregnant–but please don’t be mad. I’m still a virgin–I’m carrying God’s baby.

But of course they would be mad…and confused…and scared, much the same as I imagine Mary and her family were. Sometimes as I read the Bible, I forget that these people in the stories weren’t some special breed of holiness, able to accept anything God threw their way. They were real people, and when I was 15, I got that for a moment.

Mary had to be scared even though she trusted God completely. Her parents had to be confused, worried about public shame, and unsure as to how to treat their daughter. And Mary’s community–I’m sure they were abuzz with their own interpretation of how that baby bump got there.

When I was 26 at Christmastime, I imagined I was Mary again. I looked in the mirror and rubbed my belly, except this time my belly was round from the life that grew inside it. I was pregnant with my first child, a son, and I was full of joy and anticipation for his arrival that March.

I was also nervous. Would I instinctively know how to care for this child? Would I be a good mother? I thought about Mary, brimming with joy as she felt her baby kick inside her womb, brimming with questions and pressure as she realized her responsibility–she was the mother to God’s son. How does one prepare for that job?

Now I’m 32. I look in the mirror and find a couple laugh lines that I hadn’t previously noticed. I rub my belly that has never quite gone back to the way it was before three kids. Over the last six years, God has shown me glimpses of His goodness, His holiness, His provision, His plan; and I’ve grown as a result of struggles He has brought me through while holding my hand.

And I think of Mary, riding on a donkey as her stomach tightens and the pangs of labor prick her abdomen, while God is holding her hand. I wonder what runs through her mind as she realizes her baby is coming and she is still far off from a bed. I wonder what she thinks as each door Joseph  knocks on is opened to the news No room. I wonder if she feels His hand, this young girl who had not yet experienced the pain of sex for the first time, as she experiences the pain of childbirth on a bed of hay with cows and sheep as her audience instead of a midwife.

Because I know what I would think. If I were Mary on that donkey, I would worry. If I were Mary watching door upon door close with bad news, I would question. If I were Mary lying on that bed of hay, I would doubt. God, where are you? Why didn’t you plan for the birth of your Son?

Looking back over the last six years, I’ve seen how I react. I get confused when God’s plan takes me through hardship. I question what He is doing. And when doors close, I despise the words of those who reply,”Well, that must not be God’s will.”

But they are wrong as I have been wrong. For something to be God’s will doesn’t mean that all doors fly open. For something to be God’s will doesn’t mean that the end result is neat and clean. Sometimes God’s will is exactly what He told us it would be–He just used different means to that end than we would’ve chosen.

He held Mary’s hand as He closed the doors to those inns, yet she had heard Him correctly. She was in the center of His will. He hadn’t forgotten that she was giving birth to His Son–He chose that blanket of hay for his baby’s bed. He chose the most humiliating way for a woman to deliver a baby to deliver the most beautiful love story this world has ever heard.

God’s Son, Immanuel, God with us, God for us. God’s son, for the lowly shepherd, God’s son for the rich intellectual. God’s son, for the old prophet, God’s son for the smallest child. God’s son, accessible to all on that humble bed of hay.

I wonder if Mary felt God’s hand, if she were able to push aside the doubt that I would’ve allowed to creep in and fester in my mind. I wonder if Mary were able to trust in the midst of agonizing pain and closed doors.

If I were Mary, I’m not sure that I would’ve. It is only now, at 32, that I’m beginning to grasp that the truths in these crazy Bible stories are also true for my crazy life. When I thought I heard God clearly only to have door upon door close, I may have been right.

I just hadn’t realized that God is preparing my own bed of hay.

Merry Christmas to you and your family. May you feel God’s hand as He leads you this coming year.

 

Christmas Lessons 2: The Nativity

I sighed as I took the nativity out of the box. A gift from my mother-in-law, the olive wood figurines from Jerusalem stood beautifully in their simplicity. I wanted to do the scene justice–display it in a setting of prominence, center-stage in our family room–yet I wanted to enjoy this nativity for more than one Christmas.

For the same reason the breakable nativity from my mother sets atop the T.V. cabinet, this nativity quietly hangs out on our electric piano: I fear my children.

I fear the two-year-old who ate all the candy out of the kids’ advent calendars by December 10th.

I fear the four-year-old who lost her one new pair of school shoes (how does one lose the shoes that one was wearing?)

I fear the five-year-old who discovered the razor I use on my legs can also shave off hair from his sister’s head.

I don’t want baby Jesus to go missing. I don’t want the shepherd to lose his staff. I don’t want Mary to break her face. And I don’t want the sheep to become part of a wild animal safari in the playroom.

I want them to remain sacred objects of our faith, a reminder of the beautiful Christmas story.

“She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them”

The story of the king sent to reign over heaven and earth, the king who entered this world not on a golden chariot but instead through the blood, sweat, and tears of a young girl. The king for whom there was no room but instead a bed shared amidst foul-smelling animals and dust and hay.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord”

The story of the God who chose to reveal himself first to a group of shepherds, the young and the elderly, those not valued by society but who caused disdain with the stench of sheep they carried. These were the first to meet the Savior of the World.

13 ‘Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace on whom his favor rests’

The story of a baby who made the angels sing. This baby, the Son of the holy God who loves His children so much that He sent His Son to bring us peace.

As my children retell this story with shining eyes anticipating Christ’s birthday, I see the nativity, no longer mere objects on my piano destined to be broken or misplaced at their hands. These objects that they caress with their fingers, the star that they turn as they sing of that silent night, holy night are living as the story takes root in their hearts.

And that story can’t break.

Linking up with Mama Kat in response to her prompt to describe my nativity scene. Come back tomorrow for another Christmas lesson, this time inspired by some of the Santa stories left by you!

*For the complete Christmas story, read Luke 2.



 


A Message in a Shoebox

photo courtesy of 'Operation Christmas Child'

God shows His love and kindness in many ways. For me, He showed it in a shoebox’s destination….

Around four years ago, I sat on the back row at church and listened to the woman on the screen rattle off statistics that I have never been able to forget. At that time, our church was connected to the orphanage in the Ukraine that this woman represented. I remember hearing her describe girls lured into prostitution after leaving most orphanages, and the majority of boys of choosing a life of crime. The number that hit me the hardest, however, was the number of young men who chose to live no life at all.

I can’t remember if I was pregnant with my second child or if she had just been born, but I know that the thought of adopting a child had not yet entered my mind given my own circumstances. But those statistics, oh, how they changed me forever. I sat in church that day with tears in my eyes. How horrible were those orphanages that these children thought they were worthless? How horrible were their prospects that these young men thought they had no hope at all? The thought of so many children taking their own lives rather than live in the world was incomprehensible to me.

Around two years later, I sat in the stands of the Gwinnett Arena and listened to the testimony of Christian after Christian who said they believed the call in James to care for orphans and widows was not merely a suggestion. They believed that God really meant we should give homes to these orphans, and they shared their stories of how they adopted children into their families.

My husband and I had never discussed adoption before, and I wasn’t sure that he would be receptive to the idea, but God had stirred some embers in my heart. I thought of those young boys in the Ukraine, and I felt I knew God’s plan for us.

But time passed. Life with my own three kids was crazy enough. Managing our finances was challenging as it was–saving tens of thousands of dollars for adoption seemed unreasonable. And as time went on, even though I truly felt God had spoken to me two years prior in that arena, I began to doubt what I heard. I still had the desire to adopt, but I also knew now was not the time to bring another child into our home. In fact, sometimes I didn’t know if there’d ever be the time to bring another child into our home, and, at times, I was okay with that idea.

My mind didn’t do well with this ambiguity. I’m the girl with the five-year and ten-year plans, and I needed to know if adoption was part of those plans. I needed to know how to plan for those plans. The last few months, however, I had the sense that I needed to stop planning all-together. The details in my life didn’t match up with the details of adoption.

And I felt crushed. Because as life often works, during this time of my life, a time when bringing another child into our home makes no sense, my desire to have another child is burning within me.

I told God I trusted Him. Maybe I hadn’t heard correctly a couple years ago. Maybe God does want me to have a heart for orphans, but maybe my role isn’t to be a mother to orphans. I would trust Him, though, trust that He would reveal His will to me–perhaps not today but when I needed to know.

In November, my son and I packed a box for his school’s Operation Christmas Child shoebox drive, and I printed out a label with a barcode so we could track it’s destination. Two days ago, I received an e-mail from Samaritan’s Purse:

Merry Christmas from Samaritan’s Purse! Thank you for participating in Operation Christmas Child and for choosing to Follow Your Box.

Your gift box(es) went to Ukraine. For photos, stories, and other information about Operation Christmas Child in this country, click here.”

I gasped when I saw the country. The Ukraine, the one place that is always in my heart, and there, a little boy would hold a shoebox full of toys and markers and toothpaste and know that he is loved.

And as I read that e-mail, I knew that I am loved. I know this post seems to be about adoption, but, actually, it’s about God’s love for me. When I read that e-mail, I knew God was speaking to me. I knew that He was telling me that He heard and hears the desires of my heart, and, as much as I care about those little boys in the Ukraine, He cares even more. He will make clear His Will to me, whether or not adoption is part of it.

All I could do was close my eyes and say I trust, Lord. How could I not trust the God of the universe who carried a simple shoebox to a place where He could speak to both the recipient and the sender?

Some might say that our shoebox landing in the Ukraine was a coincidence–it had to go somewhere–but I believe God cares enough about me to get involved in the details of life. Like a perfect Father, He knows the time to step back and let me learn and grow, but He also knows those times when I need to hear from Him.

He loves me enough to speak to me through an e-mail.

And He loves you that much, too.

 

Linking up with Michelle and Jen. When was a time that you knew God was speaking to you? How did He do it? And don’t forget to tune in this week to read more Christmas lessons. Thank you to those who have e-mailed/commented with suggestions!