Just what I need

I’d like to think that I know what I need.  I have always had grand ideas about what is best for me, what I want, what I should do or where I want to go in life.  Ten years ago these were some of my ideals:

  • 2 kids, maybe 3
  • a meaningful part time job
  • a lovely, well appointed home
  • the discipline to maintain my high school figure
  • a perfectly scheduled daily quiet time
  • a perfectly romantic, blissful marriage

Strangely, I have none of these things.  The things, the life, the ideals I thought I had figured out were more fluid than I realized then.  I have been blessed with 5 children instead of 2.  I gave up my very meaningful part time job because I could not keep it and maintain my other priorities.  I do not, probably never will, have a knack for home decorating.  I don’t even have a knack for home cleaning!  I am a long ways from my high school figure, I’m pretty sure it’s gone for good.  My times with the Lord come at 3 AM as I rock a crying baby or at 3 PM as I lock the door on the bathroom for 5 minutes to have a moment to myself.  Romantic wouldn’t be my first word choice for my marriage, I’ve come to appreciate other things about it that in fact mean a great deal more.  It is a beautiful picture of faithfulness, commitment, hard work and redemption.

When we had Audrey three years ago, we were just coming out of a very broken season.  A lot of hard things had piled up in life.  Her perfectly happy demeanor and girly sweetness was truly just what we needed at that time.  She brought pure delight on a daily basis when we were still wondering just how we’d make it through.  But we did make it.  And then we encountered last years’ heart wrenching losses that forced us to hold on tighter to each other and to the God we loved.

Phineas is the perfect addition to our family for such a time as this.  He will shape our life, our parenting and our family just the way each of our sweet children have.  We learn this lesson a little more with each child we welcome.  They have so much to show us about life and love.  It overwhelms me when I think about it.  God doesn’t mess up on timing or anything else, He knew we needed a little bit of a challenge.  More than that, He knew we needed a reminder that we can’t ‘do it all’.  He wants us to need Him…and we sure do.

I’m learning to trust that His plans, His ideals are a whole lot more amazing than my own.  Even if they can’t boil down to a nice, predictable, convenient list.  While I feel a pretty significant challenge with life as it is at the moment, as my dear friend Kim wrote a few days ago:

It is always dangerous to assume that your life today is the new normal.

As I struggled to click the “purchase” button yesterday while buying my hubby’s plane ticket to Philadelphia in November and got all teary just thinking about him being gone for 4 days (even though its not for SEVEN months AND the trip was MY idea!) – those words of Kim’s rang in my head.  How I feel today isn’t how I’ll feel in November, my normal then will be totally different than it is now.

God sees the bigger picture of my day, my week, my year.  His plans are good and they are for my good – no matter what.  My part is just to hold to that truth in the midst of these days.

The joy of a good planner

I’ve owned all sorts of planners over the past 15 years.  Most lasted about two weeks or a month maybe though, I never quite found a groove.  I love the idea of a plan and thrive off of having a guideline for my day.  I’m a perpetual list maker.  About 2 years ago I came across a great article on Simple Mom that totally clicked.  I put it into practice mid school year, in January 2009, and it took me all the way to summer break.  Loved the simplicity of the Moleskine journal and I could set the bar as low as I needed to still be able to check things off.  It was what fully sunk me into meal planning because it felt so good to know what was for dinner before 5 PM every night, that alone took my stress level down a notch.  For the early childhood years, I think it is a really helpful method.

But the next year I tried, all year long, to write my own lengthy lesson plans and meal plans and shopping lists and such every Sunday.  It took hours and by the year was half over it was hit or miss getting all of the above done every week.  This left me disorganized and in constant ‘catch up mode’. I’m not sure why I gave up the Moleskine/daily docket plan of attack but it would have worked much better!

When a friend showed me her very loved and worn out planner last summer, it looked a bit daunting and much.  But she explained how she used it and I was inspired enough to try it.  Since late August, it’s been home to all the details of our school work and meal plans and even has little tear off shopping lists.  It is the longest I’ve ever stuck with a planner and though it surely doesn’t solve all life’s problems and everyone is different, just thought I would share.

The best part is that having the week filled in and laid out has given me more freedom to get up early before kids wake up and just read or pray instead of starting every day feeling ten steps behind (that still happens sometimes, regardless!).  It also helps me see where we can fit in fun stuff, playdates and such in the midst of keeping up with our home learning goals.  If your kids are still younger or if you don’t homeschool, they make a basic day planner as well and if it’s any bit as great as the Well Planned Day one I’m using, it would be a worthy investment!

At the moment the Well Planned Day planners are on pre-release sale ($5 off I think), which is a great deal – I intend to order mine this week!

Is it January yet?

A friend wrote me this week and said that the year her dad had died, she was ready for Christmas to be over early in December.   That kind of sums it up nicely for me at the moment.  I am so aware that there are a million blessings and my list of gratitude grows every week.  It’s not that I’m not thankful.  There have been totally sweet memories made that will be treasured.

But I keep waking up feeling like I’d just like to blink and have it be next year already.  My kids have new toys that I expected would keep them happy as I wrapped up all the infamous loose ends that always present themselves before big holidays.  But with the rain and cold and being inside, just with me, for days on end it more feels like they’re just climbing the walls.  Arguing about whose is whose and complaining every time they get asked to pick something up is their MO at the moment.

Two days ago they were even fighting about the nativity scene.  Shepherds were bashing into one another and baby Jesus went missing.  Without a word, I swept into the room, packed up the whole scene, put it in a bag and took it out of the house.  It was so not serene.  I felt guilty ushering the wisemen and angel and the rest of them out of my house.

It’s easy to blog and post the perfectness of life.  It’s certainly easier to read.  I tried to write a delightful Christmas greeting post since we totally missed the boat on Christmas cards this year.  But it just didn’t work.  I had lofty goals for celebrating Advent in a purposeful way this year, books to go through, an heirloom beautiful wooden candle wreath to light every night.  We were going to make a Jesse Tree.  The supplies are still sitting in my room, the how-to book unopened.  The same room I’ve been trying to clean for about a month.

Honestly, one of the only things that is propelling me forward at this point is daily doing something that isn’t for me…or for my presently-rather-ungrateful children who even dared to complain about the homemade breakfast I made for them the last 2 days in a row.  Something for someone who will be blessed, encouraged, loved in some way by something I can do.  I’ve written before about the many “can’t do” things when you have a bunch of little kids.  But there are always “can do” things.

One of my closest friends lost a baby last week, later than most miscarriages take place.  We had been so delighted to get to be pregnant at the same time.  It has been deeply sad.  So every day this week I’ve been cooking and baking food for her freezer.  I can’t get in my car and go hang out for the day with her and help clean her house.  I can’t mend her heart.  But I can love her with food.  And in turn, I feel a tiny sense of purpose that gets me from sunrise to dinner somehow still standing.

The big picture is too big for me today.  All the large, amazing truths that I know and try to live by are wonderful.  But they just feel…so big, so out there.

So I look at the tiny picture.  And I do the tiny things, one step at a time.  I am a happily-obsessive-list-maker.  They make me feel productive and organized and good.  But I’m finding that navigating the season this time around can’t be relegated to my lists.

List-free, loving the only ways I’m able, taking tiny steps and crossing days off the calendar.  That’s the way we’ll get to January.  Heck that’s how we’ll get to tomorrow!

Life lesson from little boys

Lesson #432:  A pee-saturated-pull-up from several days ago found whilst cleaning one’s bedroom for mama does not in fact make a worthy weapon to whack your brother with.

In fact it will, upon impact, detonate and spray urine-soaked-diaper-polymer all over the room.  It will stick to your mother’s clothing as she tries to clean it.  It will grind into the carpet as you try to pick it up with paper towels.  It smells really, really bad.  Your pregnant mother might gag and she probably won’t enjoy trying to pick each strange looking chunk off the carpet.

Using an old fashioned light saber would work much better.  Next time.

Lesson learned.

The joy of creating

In this stage of mom life many things get started, few are finished and much of life requires doing the same things over and over and over again.  Pondering this and also wanting to be as economical and thrifty as possible for the holidays, I decided to host a mom craft morning.  Four uninterrupted kid-free hours, a sewing machine, all our collective ideas and supplies and plenty of food!  Not only did we have a delightful time with one another, it felt wonderful to make some lovely things that we can give as gifts for Christmas.

When your days consist of diapers, discipline and dishes it is, in my opinion and experience, extremely important for survival to have time set aside that fills your cup and allows you a break from regular life.  I believe that ‘regular life’ is profoundly important and valuable and that pouring out my life for my family and others is the way I want to live.  Investing in the lives of my children is exactly how I want to spend my days.  But I also think it’s my job to find ways to step back and intentionally take care of myself so that I can do my primary job with excellence.

With that said, in the midst of a week of unusually out of control behavior from one child and more than normal busy days, here is my continuing list of gratitude:

#312 – time to create and craft

#313 – beautiful things

#314 – slipper socks

#315 – first dentist visit in 3 years…the feel of clean teeth!

#316 – pulling out sunscreen in November

#317 – hot pink toes ready for sand

#318 – tears poured out on behalf of a child

#319 – a husband willing to take 4 kids out for 4 hours

#320 – being ready to go back to church after…a very long time

#321 – hearing my transformed husband share a piece of his story with others

#322 – marveling at all God can do with our broken hearts

Who takes care of Mama?

I’m just learning the answer to this somewhat rhetorical question – usually the mama needs to take care of mama.

It looks different for different people in different seasons of life.  But I believe one thing is for certain regardless of where you’re at: if you aren’t being deliberate about caring for yourself in some very basic ways, you won’t be able to sustain caring for a home, a husband, some children and every other random thing that might be under your stewardship.

In order to know what you need and how to make sure you can make it for the very long haul of homemaking, child raising/teaching and husband-loving, time needs to be spent pondering what fills your cup.  If the things that fill your cup are…coffee, sugar, shopping and nightly TV/movies maybe some healthier long-term options would be worth thinking about.  Whatever they may be, I think there are depths to draw from when we choose to carve out some time for what will help enable us to keep moving forward.  There will always be normal roadblocks and sometimes monumental ones, that make life hard.  And if we don’t have a plan in place that helps nourish us, it’s pretty easy to derail.

Does it sound like maybe I speak from experience?  Indeed I do and am still on the learning journey.  There was a time when I was pretty sure I could work part time, lead a ministry at church, support a husband who was pastoring, maintain a home, raise children and still manage to do my hair, feel rested and balanced and sane.  Sometime in that year after our second was born and I was juggling all those things, post-partum depression gripped me and all my plates came crashing.  Nothing was working well.  And I was convinced I was the only one who was having such a hard time with it all.

So experience and failure and life have taught me many things.  I still forget them, but in general they stay pretty close to the surface.  For me, these things are keys to life survival right now:

  • going out with a close friend to a movie every couple weeks/month – this totally meets our common need to ‘check out’ for a couple hours and especially not watching TV or anything, I really need my mind to chill out sometimes
  • making the drive to meet my kindred spirit, life long best friend for face to face (kid free) talk time – we never cover everything but I feel like my cup is brimming every time we say goodbye
  • going to all the work to have a date night every month or so – I really wish it were more but with 4 young kids, it’s hard to make it happen (I would love for my friend Kim to write about her ‘in home dates’ that she and her hubby enjoy!)
  • getting up early (6 AM these days!) to encounter peace, stillness and Jesus before my day starts – I’ve struggled with this all my life but see a desperate need for it in order for my life to feel more centered
  • building up my supplement repertoire to full capacity – this has take a while, they are expensive, but the difference in my energy and capacity is very significant, especially being pregnant – aloe vera juice, undiluted cranberry juice, whole food calcium and prenatals, vitamin D, liquid iron/herbs, high potency probiotics and Omega fatty acids are all on the current list
  • exercise in some form, even just a walk, does wonders for my whole self
  • making reading a priority, sometimes just pure, fun, fiction

I’d love to hear any more ideas or things that you’ve found helpful in navigating motherhood!

**PS**After I posted this, I noticed below the post that I wrote another post about this back in Nov 2009…and the way that I was ‘taking care of mama’ was by registering  to attend a Mom Heart conference with some dear friends who’d moved away.  My the things that have transpired since then, I didn’t get to attend the conference but God has still been ever faithful to care for me through what has been quite a year.

Hard lesson learning

There are always things in life that would really nice if we could learn earlier than we do.  And for me, I seem to learn lessons slowly, painfully and the hard way.  It’s been this way since I was 12 perhaps, throwing tuna fish sandwiches at a wall yelling at my mother.  Occasionally I would heed the advice of older, seasoned ones.  But more often I sought to determine for myself if they’d really meant it.

Fast forward to 18 years old when I was mature enough to throw a shoe at my sister’s head while on a lengthy road trip in our small car.  All because she told me I was “cute”.  She demanded to be driven to the nearest airport and I stewed.  My poor parents drove us all home in one piece and years later we think it’s pretty funny.  But again during that season, I continued to learn my way.

We married young, didn’t get a great deal of marriage advice, at least that I remember.  It’s possible I was blinded by the burning love in my heart.  But the theme continued of learning hard things hard ways.  In the first year we were married I stormed out the door many times in frustration and immaturity, if my memory is correct I think I even ended up on my parents doorstep one night.  Oh the injustice and imperfection I cried!  I was pretty sure things were supposed to be dreamy for at least a couple years.  I made my best effort to prove that the world, marriage and all should revolve around me.

I learned to care more about what my parents thought about things that my husband.  I’d call them for ‘what to do’ about life stuff.  Them or a friend.  It seemed totally normal and good to me at the time.  But it wasn’t.  It was one more ‘hard life lesson learned’ for me that was the opposite of good for our marriage.

There was a season, about three years ago that I was 99% convinced that there was greener grass to be had.  About that time someone said to me

The grass is green where you water it.

I’ve never forgotten those words.  And the more time passes, the more I believe they are true.  Though we haven’t arrived or ‘met the mark’ at this point I just wanted to share that the fruit of sticking with your lifelong companion when things are not so wonderful is sweeter than any fresh start or greener grass you may think you’ve discovered.

Last night I arranged for a babysitter and set up a date night with my husband.  We slipped out the door with no one in tears, a huge feat.  We spent the next two hours enjoying food but more enjoying precious face-to-face time.  We chatted about little things.  Then I began to ask his input and brought out my notepad.  I needed help deciding on some things with the kids.  I needed his level head to weigh in on my emotions.  I needed his direction and leadership on several accounts.  I didn’t argue or think of what smart thing I could say.  I scribbled down notes and by dinners’ end felt a huge load lifted.  I didn’t ask him, but I’m pretty sure he felt valued, respected and important-which he is.

It has taken seriously just about all of these past eleven years for me to figure out that this is the way it’s meant to work.  That life isn’t all about me, it’s about the us we formed the day we married.  It’s about God pouring grace out all over and us finding our way through it.  The dividends of some heart wrenching work are paying off.  It might sound old-fashioned to you and that’s okay.  We’re liking it…

The list continues…

#139 – surviving a wicked ‘crash’ from a 5 day sugar high

#140 – realizing I don’t live a daily high/low dependence on sugar anymore…it’s only taken 5 months

#141 – the first 5 days straight we’ve spent with Daddy in almost 2 years

#142 – last minute bringing our AC unit on our ‘camping’ cabin adventure, it was 105 where we were!

#143 – the bliss of sleeping in one tiny room with 4 small kids for 5 days

#144 – learning again that less is more, simple leaves more room to enjoy life

#145 – heart pain and tears shed when Daddy had to go back to work

#146 – how sweet it is to miss someone that you live everyday with

#147 – treasuring each day of summer despite it passing too fast

#148 – freshly picked fruit

#149 – naptime

#150 – a scrumptious new niece who’s won all our hearts

#151 – courage to go through more of Chris’ dad’s things

#152 – tears mixed in with laughter and stories

#153 – the constant learning of silence and when to say nothing

#154 – grace for myself after completely falling off the exercise bandwagon

#155 – being totally blessed by another mama’s offer to watch my 4 kids (and her 4 kids) for 4 hours

#156 – a huge box of amazing books for our upcoming homeschool year

#157 – fuzzy baby kittens

#158 – redemption and all that God can do with the mess I make of life some days

#159 – being able to weep with someone and bear a piece of their pain

Beautiful things are happening around here…

As we watched the life cycle of the butterfly unfold, I was (always am) reminded of my sister.  She has overcome a great deal and I am so proud of who she has emerged to become.  When she graduated from nursing school last year, I bought her a butterfly necklace and reminded her of this truth, one that has always amazed me:

Before a butterfly can emerge out of it’s chrysalis it has to go through a lot of struggling. Yes, struggling. Each time it lunges out to escape, acids are being removed from its wings. If someone were to come along and break the chrysalis open for it then the butterfly would die from those acids. In essence the struggle is necessary for the butterfly to survive. Then in the stillness, when the struggle is over, the butterfly can come out and share its beauty with the world.

The way life mixes up

Though sometimes I think it would be nice for life to stay peachy and lovely for a long, long time…it never does.  Every single day life is a mixed up mess of good, extraordinary, crummy and terrible.  At least mine is.  Sure there are long seasons of darkness and heartbreak that seem like they won’t end.  And there are several days in a row where kids don’t argue and calamity hides.  But mostly, it’s just a big mix of everything.  Every single day.

Part of the way I’m finding my way past the ‘months long night’ that I wondered if it would ever pass – is in a daily decision to be grateful.  Grateful for what has been.  For what is.  And for what’s to come.  Joining in with Anne Voskamp in the practice of thankful list-making has radically changed my perspective on  this wife/mama/teacher/cook/driver/planner/mediator life of mine.

Upon opening his birthday card yesterday from my grandparents, our 4 year old shrieked with glee “He’s alive?  Really?  Grampy isn’t gone?”.  I gently explained, again, that it was from his great-grandparents, not from Grampy.  But no words can express the heart pain in trying to make that make sense to a hope-filled little boy.  I wept and his face crumbled.  Grampy is still gone.  And it is no less tragic today than it was that cold, rainy January day when our life changed forever.

My wise mother did her own gentle explaining to me last month over coffee.  As I questioned and doubted most of what I believed, which she assured me was okay, she said:

I think you’re waiting for it to make sense.  For answers.  You want to understand.  You need to understand in order to move forward.  But things like this kind of loss will never, ever make sense.  You won’t find the answers and you won’t understand.  You have to let go and trust what you know to be true about who God is.

That is, in essence, just what I’ve done.  It’s sort of like of  learning to walk with a limp I would imagine.  There is a piece of us that is forever altered by the deep mark of pain.  Every life is marked with some kind of very hard thing that shapes and molds – either for good or for bad.  I read in a magazine just this afternoon that suffering is a universal language.  So after spending months in a place of waiting for some grand epiphany, with timid and slow steps, I am choosing to walk again.

Even if it’s a different walk.  Even if it still feels foggy some days and I still wonder why.  Even if little moments that come from nowhere bring me to my knees.

Life, in all sorts of forms around here, beckons me onward.

The hope of the God who has been nothing but faithful to me for many years, beckons me to walk with Him.

#109 – promises, beautiful promises

#110 – plans and prospects

#111 – the exhilaration of saying yes

#112 – time to have a real conversation after children are all sleeping

#113 – God’s continued provision

#114 – the sweetness of a secret kept

#115 – watermelon juices dripping from all appendages of a clothes-less little girl

#116 – one cool room in one sweltering house

#117 – being called a princess by two little boys in one day

#118 – the utter, complete miracle of this verse and how it’s becoming real to me in a whole new way:

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.
Isaiah 61:3