Stretch


Caleb and I were practicing his spelling words this morning, and he tripped up on ‘fast.’

“F-a-t-”

“No,” I interrupted. “Remember, stretch your words. Say every sound.”

I had heard Caleb’s teacher tell all the students to stretch their words when sounding them out, to say every syllable, every little sound by making the word as long as possible. I enjoyed watching their little mouths as they contorted in every direction try to speak every sound.

“Faaaaaassssssttt,” we stretched together.

“F-a-s-t,” Caleb spelled after hearing the ‘s’ clearly.

As I got in the car that morning, I thought about stretching. We stretch our muscles so they won’t tense up after a tough workout, and we stretch our words to hear clearly those extra sounds; and I thought, perhaps, I needed to stretch my mind that morning.

Since school started, the spaces on my calendar were already disappearing, and I hadn’t even added in my own obligations yet. School, sports, appointments, on and on and on. The muscles in my neck felt tense, and I had that jittery feeling inside. And at that moment in the car, I started to stretch. I said my tasks slowly, focusing on each one, one at time. When I tried to list them too quickly, I got nervous, feeling like I would miss something, but when I stretched, I could take each moment slowly.

I could breathe, I could see, and I could cross one off that list as I took the dog to the vet.

Five Minute Friday

Linking up with Lisa-Jo for “Five Minute Friday.” Have you stretched this morning?


Fearless Faith

I can’t turn away from the Olympics. The clock may flash warning numbers as the midnight hour approaches, but if there is still a gymnastics rotation left in the schedule or a lap for Michael Phelps in the pool, I’ll continue to sip my caffeine until I reach the finish. We’ve made a party on our couch of celebrating the world’s greatest athletes by eating cookies and staying up so far past our bedtimes that we’re useless the next day.

Yes, I see the irony in our situation.

As I watch these men and women, young girls and boys, an excitement turns in my stomach. The former gymnast in me is driven by competition, and every four years I live vicariously through the USA’s athletes. While I remember the numerous sacrifices I made during my gymnastics career, I also realize that these athletes take sacrifice to a whole other level.

I look at my daughter as I hear the story of Gabby Douglas leaving her family in Virginia Beach to train in Iowa. Would I be able to let my daughter go, knowing that there are never any guarantees of success?

But, of course, there are no guarantees in life, no guarantee except ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ I look at the smiles and tears of those who stand atop the Olympic podium, and I know that they are only standing there because they pushed aside fear. They decided the hours of training for a chance at the dream were worth the risk that that dream could remain unreached. They ignored the fear that keeps some from even starting and pushed themselves to the finish.

photo via nbcolympics.com

Watching the Olympics these last few days jostled that something that lives inside me that wants to do more. Then a sermon at church this past weekend shook it wide awake.

After reading from Matthew 8, the pastor brought our attention to Jesus’ question. The disciples are panicked as their boat begins to sink in the midst of a ferocious storm. They are terrified for their lives as the waves crash around them, yet Jesus asks, “You of little faith,(A) why are you so afraid?”

Isn’t it obvious why they are afraid? They are going to die as a result of drowning in the storm–they had a good reason to be afraid, yet Jesus admonishes them for their lack of faith. The disciples had forgotten the most important detail: the God-man in the boat with them was greater than the storm that surrounds them.

Our pastor went on to say that Jesus requires fearless faith. We often brush aside fear as something normal, when, in fact, for the Christian, fear is sin.

Every person who made any significant gains in spreading the word of Christ had to push aside fear–the Apostles, Martin Luther, Jim Elliot, Corrie ten Boom–they each had to worship Him who is, was, and will always be greater than that which they feared,to remember why they could have fearless faith.

And that requirement for fearless faith is for me, too.

I sat in my chair at church, and my insides were a mess. I wanted to jump up and do something, but I wasn’t sure what.

Given the start of the Olympics, I thought, perhaps, the Lord wanted me to start training. After some consideration, I decided a sport where I use a gun or the coxswain in rowing are my best bets.

Over the last few days, I haven’t felt confirmation of this Olympic goal, but this uneasy, excited feeling has continued. I don’t know where God is going to take me, my family, but I know I want to be fearless. I don’t want to miss out on the life I could have because of fear or complacency. I don’t want to use my kids as an excuse or my lack of ability to do something that God is asking. I want to do His will, whether His will takes me around the globe or just down the street.

And in the meantime, I’m going to start target shooting just in case….

Have you ever equated ‘fear’ with ‘sin’? This idea was new to me. Are you living completely fearless, or do the comforts of your everyday routine keep you from questioning if there is more for you to do?

Boycotts Leave Me Hungry

I typically avoid writing posts political in nature. While I do my best to stay informed and vote every election, I find myself a little disillusioned by the whole political process as of late, and I don’t like any one candidate enough to fill others’ Facebook streams with my opinions. That, and I really don’t like appearing condescending and mean.

Nonetheless, I find that I can’t look away when, yet, another Chick-Fil-A article rolls down my newsfeed. Let’s be honest–Chick-Fil-A serves food, so they have my attention. And given the fact that their chicken actually looks like the chicken that I buy at the grocery store, they’ve had my business for many years. Since serving those squeezy applesauce pouches in the kids meal, the decision to indulge at this fast-food restaurant became a no-brainer.

So I’m frightened.

If anti-Chick-Fil-A advocates are successful with their boycotts, what other restaurants will be ruined for me? Last night, I prayed that Taco Bell didn’t give their money to any organizations–I can’t risk not having the Cheesy Gordita Crunch to run to on cheat days.

I admire people who are willing to take a stand, forego the most tasty chicken fillet with two pickles between buns, because they don’t want to send their money to organizations who then in turn use that money to support causes with which they don’t agree. However, I’m just not that disciplined. The fact that I have allowed my children any fast food is proof.

Out of curiosity, I looked up a list of companies who support causes with which I don’t agree. The conclusion: I’d have to buy a farm because I couldn’t eat at some of my favorite restaurants or shop at the grocery store. Thank goodness I didn’t see any pizza chains on the list….

Frankly, there are too many views in this world to choose the ‘anti’ stance any time anyone disagrees with me, not to mention that sometimes I find myself disagreeing with myself. I’m a flip-flopper. Over the course of my life, I have found myself vacillating between stances on different issues. I’d like to attribute this truth not to a lack of conviction, but, instead, a desire to thoroughly investigate and learn more.

As a result, my worldview has some black and white on the shores filled with a sea of gray. The more I try to investigate, think for myself, and empathize, the more my ‘convictions’ become ‘best options at the time.’ When I look at the issues dividing our country and seek the example of Christ to guide me, I am more uncertain. Christian denominations full of devout individuals who love Jesus can’t even agree on ‘what would Jesus do,’ so why would I loudly proclaim my opinion?

Jesus didn’t seem to be as concerned with politics as with saving our souls, so I quietly choose His model. I don’t recall reading about boycotts in the New Testament; instead, I see Jesus shocking the religious establishment by spending His time with tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus didn’t yell His message of equality for women in the face of others; instead, He quietly asked the woman at the well for water. He knelt down on the ground of the accused adulteress and forgave her sins.

I find eating dinner with those whose actions disturb me harder than refusing the meal they made. It’s much easier to boycott companies who support Planned Parenthood than to forgive, much easier to picket outside an abortion clinic than to adopt an unwanted child.

It’s much easier to shout what I’m against than to actually live what I’m for.

Perhaps, that’s one reason that I don’t boycott much of anything. The few convictions that I do have require much more than my money. Sure, withholding my money from those organizations whose beliefs go against my core convictions can be seen as action, but I find it a trap to complacency.

Especially as a Christian, I can use my money as a powerful tool to bully the world into feeling as I do, to feel like I am standing up for God and my convictions. But truly standing up, truly making a difference is so much harder.

That kind of a difference sent Jesus to the cross. Jesus seemed more repulsed by those who kept the rules than those who broke them. Perhaps, Jesus saw those who broke the rules as broken people and felt His time was better served by investing in them.

I want to follow His example. I want to be more like Him. I want to invest in people, not by whether or not I buy a chicken sandwich, but by actually learning people’s names and their stories.

And, well, I really like food. I think Jesus’ model of having dinner with sinners (since I am one, after all) works better for me.

I don’t want to know your opinion on gay marriage or Chick-Fil-A. Instead, I want to hear stories of people and convictions and how they made a difference. Do you know anyone who has adopted an unwanted child? Do you know anyone who sold all they had to care for the poor? Share your stories and inspire us!

 

Saying ‘Yes’

The words of an older generation lamenting the children who will one day take their place ring with some truth. The problem with kids these days is that they need to learn the word ‘no.’ Of course, they are referring to an over-indulged generation that they feel gets everything it wants without working for anything.

My son has asked on more than one occasion for an iPod. He cites the fact that a boy in his kindergarten class has one. I cite the opinion that six year olds should not own electronics that cost more than a week’s worth of groceries. However, he now is on a quest to fill his savings jar thinking that if he earns $200, I will relent. I’m thinking that saving that much money will take a long time….

Nonetheless, I understand why he asks. More and more kids around him do seem to have fairly expensive gadgets, and, if I’m honest, he’s not faring too poorly, himself. Yet, lately, I’ve started contemplating that, perhaps, the problem isn’t that I tell him ‘yes’ but that too often he hears the word ‘no.’

I think of requests from him, requests from his sisters, simple requests really, and many times the answer is ‘no:’

Can we build a fort in Hannah Grace’s room and all sleep their tonight?

Can we have a makeover party?

I have my reasons. Sometimes, they’re valid–the kids misbehaved and, therefore, won’t get rewarded. Sometimes, my answers are a little more forced: They went to bed too late last night. Little girls shouldn’t wear make-up. Then I hear a little voice reminding me that it is summer–now’s the time to build forts. Little girls don’t have to leave the house with make-up on, but they can have a little fun with Mommy. I start to have a nagging feeling that I say ‘no’ a little too much because it’s just easier.

‘No’ doesn’t require planning. ‘No’ doesn’t keep me from the bills I want to pay or the myriad tasks I want to give my attention. ‘No’ doesn’t entail a massive clean-up.

But ‘no’ doesn’t reward discovery, create memories, or keep kids away from the T.V.

The other day, I read David Brooks’s article, “Honor Code,” in the The New York Times. Brooks argues that if Shakespeare’s character Henry V were in an American school, he would do poorly. He continues that today’s school punishes boys who are active and aggressive and adventurous compared to those who sit quietly in their desks, and these factors contribute to boys’ lagging performance compared to girls.

I would argue that there are many factors that would lead to a decline in educational performance and cannot simply be blamed on gender differences; likewise, not all girls fit the model of thoughtful, organized, attentive student. However, Brooks’s article did make me think about how I taught my former students and how I parent now.

I would argue that the thoughtful, organized, attentive student is easier to teach. Similarly, the orderly, obedient child is easier to raise. However, the adventurous student, curious child, the child who gets into trouble for dragging mud through the house or creating a culinary masterpiece all over the kitchen floor is the child whose mind is ready to absorb all the new information and discoveries that come his or her way.

I put a lot of pressure on myself as a parent, and I pray daily that I won’t fail my God or children. I try my best to teach good manners. I discipline my children when they break rules, and I monitor what they eat. All of these actions are important, but probably the easiest thing to do, getting down on the floor and playing, is the most essential.

God created children with curious little minds, and they learn through play. They create memories of the adventures they’ve had and journeys they’ve taken–assuming I haven’t thwarted all of this self-discovery by saying ‘no.’

Yesterday, I heard the hose running while I was in the kitchen. I stepped outside in the backyard where the kids were supposed to be playing, anticipating that I’d see them spraying each other in an attempt to cool off. However, I knew they didn’t have on their bathing suits and would be a mess, so I was already frustrated before I made my way through the back door.

They surprised me, though; instead of watering each other, they were watering a section of the garden that I never planted.

“We’re making a dam,” Caleb informed me.

“Yeah, we’re just like beavers!” Hannah Grace exclaimed.

Chloe mimicked her sister, and the three of them continued to flood the soil with water. My first instinct was to say ‘no;’ I could visualize the mud covering their ankles and shins. I saw the sloppy mess all over the kitchen floor and the work I’d have to do. Instead, I went inside and got a dirty towel. At least the area I carved out for a garden that I never planted would see some action.

We talked over some rules. They needed to ask before they turned on the hose so I could make sure I’d still have enough money to feed them next week; when they were finished, they needed to wipe off with the towel; and they needed to know the proper placement of the pine straw to stop the stream of water.

I was amazed that these little minds even somewhat knew the concept of a dam since, at their age, I would’ve thought they were just cursing (but then again, I never liked getting dirty). I was amazed that the three of them worked together without fighting. And I was amazed that I almost told them ‘no’ because I felt lazy.

Parenting is a tough job. From the time a baby is born, one can be bombarded with theories on eating, sleeping, and pooping. However, I’m starting to think that we made parenting harder than it needs to be. Perhaps God just wants us to let kids be kids.

Perhaps He just wants us to say ‘yes’ and let the kids play.

This morning I walked outside to see how the dam held up in the storm. It didn’t fare well–the neat wall of pine straw piled high to form a pool of water was strewn all over the muddy ground. Luckily, I know of some little beavers who can handle this mess….

 

Do you have trouble saying ‘yes’? If so, why do you say ‘no’ more than you should?

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!



 

 

What I Need (And You Probably Do, Too)

The longer I do life, the more I see flaws with how I’m living it. I’m not sure the blame is wholly mine, though; some of the ideas that flow through my mind seem to flood our society, as well. Somewhere along the way we got this idea that we could do it all–careers, marriage, parenting–and do it alone.

For a few years now, I’ve craved community. I’ve wanted to move past the casual ‘hellos’ and enter into meaningful relationships with my neighbors. I’ve wanted to form friendships with my small group that continue when they leave our home on Sunday night into the rest of the week. Some of those relationships are taking root, and I realize now that true friendship takes time. It can’t be rushed, and it must be nurtured.

I’m also realizing that what I desired in relationship with my neighbors and friends in my community was too shallow. I looked for companionship, friends to lend an ear or girls to sip coffee with me, but I didn’t look for help. I thought my life–my marriage, my kids, my housework–were mine alone and fellowship fell outside of that circle.

I was wrong.

An elderly woman moved next door to our family. I’ve driven her around town, showing her the closest supermarkets, and taken her meals. I check in on her when I haven’t seen her in a few days, and the kids bring her birthday cake when she doesn’t feel well enough to celebrate with us.

The other day, though, she showed me that I need her. My daughter was running around, acting hyper and disobedient, and Ms. JoAnn simply said, “Sometime, I’ll have her over. I’ll talk to her and let her paint. She’ll enjoy it.”

At that moment, a switch turned on in my mind. I do not need to raise my children alone.

I know that Matt and I are ultimately responsible for our kids, but we are not the only ones who need to pour into their lives. I don’t need to feel guilty that Caleb has learned some things at school that I never would’ve thought to teach him. I don’t need to hold onto the idea I need to figure everything out on my own.

I need Ms. JoAnn as much as she needs me.

I was given confirmation of this idea a couple of days later when my son asked if he could play with one of his neighbor friends. This friendship is new, so I walked over to the house and told the mom that her son could play at our home. The kids spent 20 minutes together that flew by in a flash, and then I walked this little boy across the street from whence we just came so he could have dinner.

His mother thanked me. She thanked me for the 20 minutes to decompress without two kids running around–she needed that time emotionally. Hearing her tired voice I understood; we need each other.

Somewhere along the way, we lost this idea. We lost the idea of a community who is genuinely involved in each others’ lives. Perhaps, the growth of our towns is partly to blame. I don’t have to see a neighbor on any given day if I don’t want to. I get in my minivan that is parked by the garage (not in the garage, mind you, but the garage could fill a whole other post), and drive to school or the store or the gym–a minivan that I need given the fact that our town has very few sidewalks, and nothing I need is within walking distance.  I come back home and enter through the garage again. If I don’t want to socialize, I don’t have to. If I want to be left alone, I can.

But we are not supposed to do life alone–even Jesus surrounded himself with 12 friends. He took 3 with him during those dark hours before his crucifixion and asked them to pray. Why, then, do I feel I must do my life alone?

It’s not that I’ve never asked for help–I will never be able to repay my mom and sister for the times they’ve babysat–but I need to change my mindset about who can help me. I need to redefine ‘community.’

I need to open my home to my neighbors when milk is spilled on the floor, and the dishes are piled high. I need to let those I trust see me when I’m on the verge of tears. And I need to call on my neighbor when my rope is unraveling and get rid of the pride that says my kids are my problem.

We all have gifts to give–it’s just taken me 33 years to realize that it’s okay to receive those gifts, as well.

Linking up with Michelle and Jen after another blogging hiatus. I’m not sure if I’m going to give all the details of this break, but just know that life at the Davis household is a little crazy right now–and with Matt out of town again, I can definitely use prayer! Have a great day!


 

 

Looking Forward to ‘Goodbye’

photo courtesy of Erich Ferdinand

The last time Matt left for one of his trips, the kids listened as the garage door closed and then cried. They gathered around me in a circle, and the hysterics began. ‘Goodbyes’ are painful, and I’m not looking forward to the next time Matt leaves with a packed suitcase.

The last few months, I’ve had to deal with my own ‘goodbyes.’ They were also painful, but I’ve decided they are for the best. A few months ago, someone pointed out to me that perfectionism is not a good thing. I had always thought that my strong points were that I’m a perfectionist and have high expectations–I work hard until the job is done, and I never turn in sub-par work. People can depend on me. However, this person revealed to me that I’m setting myself and others up for unrealistic expectations.

I’ve really had to process through this idea, something I can’t do in five minutes, yet the moment I owned this fact, I felt like I could breathe a little deeper. I can never be perfect, and neither can those in my life. I can’t change the way others are or our relationships in some cases, but I can acknowledge and work within our reality.

I’ve packed my own bags and have headed out the garage door. I don’t know that anyone is crying (except for me a little), and unlike when Matt leaves, I’m looking forward to this ‘goodbye.’

When I saw the topic for this week’s ‘Five Minute Friday,’ I almost immediately had this idea. However, because I’ve lowered my expectations, I decided I’d write on Sunday, instead. For those new to ‘Five Minute Friday,’ the Gypsy Mama encourages us to write for five minutes without changing our thoughts or editing–we just get the words down. What ‘goodbyes’ have been good for you?

 

Lent: What to Give?

I find us at the typical halfway point for the school year–the kids no longer sleep with their backpacks on, nor do they dress in one minute flat. They’ve exchanged eagerness for apathy as they lie on their beds in the morning pulling covers over their ears hoping to snatch one more minute of sleep. The freshness of those first few weeks in a new class have given way to the tiredness and doldrom of routine.

Their mother is no better. Most nights, she packs their lunches ahead of time, but there are those nights when she slumps on the couch, fatigued and determined to not do another chore for the day. Ironing the night before becomes part of the morning haste, a haste brought on by one too many swats of the ‘snooze’ button. And at the mid-point for the school year, a new routine has emerged–a routine of frenzy and angst and the general need for a few days of ‘slow.’

I get it. After so many days of the same thing, I test the waters. I try to accomplish more in less time because the need for more sleep presses in hard, yet, all I create is more rush, less harmony, and greater fatigue. When I get to this point, I look to the next break from routine where I can start over fresh, restoring the exhilaration I felt back in August.

Perhaps those who crafted the church calendar had a sense that a break in routine is needed to keep our faith fresh, too. I look back to Christmas and think of the devotions I had with my children. My heart felt full and my love for Christ renewed as I told them the story and purpose of His birth. Now, just as my mornings gave way to rush and routine, so has much of my own time to quiet devotion.

Yet in the midst of my own faith doldrom, along comes Lent. Last week I watched my Facebook feed as friends said ‘goodbye’ for 40 days while others had their last piece of chocolate or glass of soda. In the midst of those updates, a friend posted a quotation that immediately resonated within me:

Lent is a call to renew a commitment grown dull, perhaps, by a life more marked by routine than by reflection. After a lifetime of mundane regularity or unconsidered adherence to the trappings of faith, Lent requires me, as a Christian, to stop for awhile, to reflect again on what is going on in me. I am challenged again to decide whether I, myself, do truly believe that Jesus is the Christ-and if I believe, whether I will live accordingly when I can no longer hear the song of angels in my life and the star of Bethlehem has grown dim for me. Lent is not a ritual. It is a time given to think seriously about who Jesus is for us, to renew our faith from the inside out. – Joan Chittister

When I read Chittister’s comment, I immediately thought of my own relationship with God and how the newness of Christmas had begun to wane. I thought of my mornings with rushed quiet times and rushed dressings and rushed breakfasts. In my mind, I brought the two together. I have fallen into a “lifetime of mundane regularity” as Chittister writes, and for Lent, something needs to give.

I’ve always wondered about the practice of giving up things for Lent. As a child, I would give up soda or potato chips and feel so proud when I resisted temptation for 40 days. However, now as an adult, I look at the practice a little differently than as a child.

While I have heard that we sacrifice so that we can relate to the sacrifice of Christ, I cannot find anything that I would give up for Lent that could ever cause me to understand what it would feel like to be sinless yet take on the weight and shame of every person’s sin on this earth. I cannot give up anything that would help me understand what Christ felt when the Father turned His back as He hung on the cross.

Honestly, I don’t think God intends for us to give up things merely for the purpose of sacrifice. Rather, I imagine He wants to draw us into a deeper relationship with Him. When He tells us to fast and pray for those who are sick, we are not fasting so that we will feel hunger and broken. Instead, we fast as a reminder.

I cannot go without one meal before I feel hunger pains. It is then that I am reminded of who sustains me. When I am tempted by a worthless potato chip, I am reminded of the weakness of my flesh. It is in those moments of weakness that should draw me to God in prayer, for if not, for what purpose did I practice sacrifice?

After prayer, I found what God wants me to give, and I heard Him loud and clear. He doesn’t want me to give up anything for the purpose of taking away my joy. Instead, He wants me to trust that His hands are overflowing with a greater abundance of joy than mine could ever hold, and I have to let go of some things in order to hold His. I cannot fall into routine when it comes to my faith; I have to not only find time but truly use this time to reflect on the goodness of God and the importance of my faith.

Everyone needs a little break from routine. Everyone needs a fresh start. This Lent I’m hoping to find a newness and exhilaration in my faith that will carry me from the first sound of the alarm in the morning to the last lunch I pack at night. And I pray that you find that newness, too.

Linking up with Michelle and Jen today. How do you observe Lent?

 

Rethinking Valentine’s Day

As a young girl in high school, I looked on Valentine’s Day with disdain — mostly because for three out of the four holidays, I didn’t have a boyfriend. However, that special senior year when I received a cheap carnation along with the other girls who had boys willing to pay a dollar, I embraced Valentine’s Day with open arms!

I grew older though, and my fondness for the holiday began to wane again. Spending exorbitant amounts of money on over-priced flowers and chocolate for a day with little spiritual or historical significance just seemed dumb. After all, if I loved a person, I should show him love all the time, not just on Valentine’s Day, right?

Right. Except nine years into a marriage and three small children later, I don’t always do what I’m supposed to do. Sometimes I’m tired. Sometimes I find myself in bed sleeping in between two pillows as three children wormed their way into our bed in the middle of the night. I sleep to the tune of one child grinding her teeth in my ear and another sticking her toe up my nose and a third pushing his elbow in my back. Of course, I could move to sleep in one of their beds if I didn’t find myself pinned in a cocoon of sheets and bedspread by the dog lying on my feet.

Sometimes this tiredness competes with the desire to show love. Sometimes when my husband comes home from work, I greet him with the kid I am no longer going to deal with instead of a passionate kiss and a moment of space for him to breathe. I don’t care about romance; I want a shower by myself in a bed by myself with a book by myself.

And, sometimes, while I don’t like to admit it, I need a reminder.

Honestly, I should have a soft spot in my heart for Valentine’s Day. Twelve years ago when we were poor, college students, Matt and I met over a burrito in Athens as friends, not even realizing the significance of the day at the time. Twelve years later, our friendship has grown as we have weathered many storms and celebrated many joys.

Now, Valentine’s Day for me isn’t about flowers or chocolate. It’s about the moment to pause and remember how blessed I am to have this man who loves me and whom I love. It’s a time to remember that the children we have are a product of our love and a gift from God.

My own father made Valentine’s Day his holiday. Unlike Christmas and birthdays when we knew our mom did all the present shopping and wrapping, Valentine’s Day was all his. Today it still is. Every February 14th, I always receive a card and something special from my dad.

Last year, my husband and I followed his lead. I had a handsome date accompany me for the dinner of his choice at Zaxby’s while my husband took two cute little girls to Shane’s Rib Shack. And while my husband didn’t sweep me away for a romantic dinner for two, on that night, I found him holding those cheap carnations for his family quite sexy.

So I’ve come around to this over-commercialized, insignificant holiday. And while I need to work on greeting my husband at the door daily with a big kiss instead of a disobedient child, I’ll welcome the reminder on February 14th, too.

I took an unintentional blogging break last week, and I’m definitely itching to get out some new blog posts. This post was featured in the ‘Local Voices’ section of the Dacula Patch a couple of weeks ago. During my hiatus, I learned some more differences between my kids and me, and I also developed a list of when it’s okay for my spouse to lie to me. I hope you’ll come back and join me this week as I share!

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