Motherhood

Everybody Helps

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I used to have one million and one plastic cups spilling out of my cupboards overhead, making plastic cups one of my least favorite things in the kitchen. Anytime anyone wanted a drink, they had to come to me. And with so many thirsty camels in my house, I was getting tired of fetching water cups over and over. And over. This basket makes life easier for me (no fetching) and for them (no asking). I only recently started using it in the kitchen, but it will now be a permanent fixture until we’re past the season of plastic kid dishes. It is one small way that I reinforce with the kids one of the staple phrases in our house, “Everyone helps!”

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We have been using this cart in the kitchen since we moved in because we have only a small amount of counter space, and it has been re-configured a few times as our needs have changed. The microwave is now below and the basket rests on top so the kids can easily get what they need. I typically direct one of the kids to unload the ‘kids’ dishes’ from the dishwasher and organize them in the basket. Here you can see J (5) doing the job. I have also had E (3) and A (6.75) complete this task without trouble.

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Sometimes it takes a little re-organizing to make everything fit just right, but J has gotten the hang of it.

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I asked him how he felt about doing this chore. And this was his response. Despite the thumbs down, I’ve never had to ask twice for this job to be completed. And somehow, just having someone else clear out the plastic things from the dishwasher makes unloading the rest of the dishes seem like a 1-minute job. I’m sold.

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Hidden Potential

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“Come and see your beautiful organized pantry, mama,” she excitedly spouted to me. Not kidding. She started in on it without asking or being asked. Pulling out all the random stuff that was in there and sort it it to the appropriate areas. Stale pretzels. Trash. Unopened Cinnamon Imperials to plop into homemade applesauce to make completely delicious Red Hot Applesauce. Keep. My dear child who has made the most epic messes all her life has turned a corner. In the midst of her wildly creative mind, she is looking for order. Creating order in little ways. Learning how to craft an organized space.

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Over the past year, I have undergone a personal transformation from the inside outward. It is something I am still searching for all the words to explain, but in short, I have been on a healing journey in recent years that is coming to a culmination that can be expressed on the outside. I have always been a disorderly person. My space (desk, room, house) has always been the place where I let my hair down and let the clutter fly. For many years, I knew I was disorganized but I really didn’t care. I had much more important things to tend to. Like make sure I didn’t drown in my own grief. But slowly….very slowly…peace and calm and wholeness have been creeping in and taking up residence where there used to be a tangled mess, and as such our space has started to reflect the same. I celebrate my small victories.

In recent months I have applied myself to cleaning out and sorting out the physical mess of my life. I take little steps. Just one corner. Just one closet. Pulling out everything that is tucked and stuffed and piled. Find homes for things that have just been hanging out. Get rid of things that are unnecessary. And a special little girl has been watching. Learning. And together we are moving forward. I am learning how to take charge of our space.

Even when she was tiny, she found every bin, poured it out, touched and played with every toy. She wanted to see everything. Feel everything. Experience everything. And then move on to the next thing to dump out. I confess that I have been very annoyed with that habit if for no other reason than I have not been able to reel in the mess. But now I’m seeing that what I first recognized as an undesirable trait is possibly just half of the equation…that her obvious skill for removing everything from its place is actually a strength when paired with the ability to sort through, weed out, and set back in order what really matters. I see that it was her teaching me just what needed to be done. Get it all out in the open. Look at what you’re really working with. Sort out what is useful from what is not. Keep the good. Hidden potential coming to the surface in a beautiful way for both of us. All I know is, the kid is finding her way into my heart in a way that blessed me greatly, in part because she is such a physical help, and in part because I recognize that there is so much I don’t see until the Lord graciously reveals and sometimes we have to wait until a new season comes to understand why we have been where we’ve been.

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Do Good

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“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.” Galatians 6:9

This verse is on my mind this morning. My whole fam has been under the weather, myself included, and for the past six days I’ve pretty much been living in my pajamas, doing as little as possible aside from making meals and keeping up with the main areas of the house…and even those things are happening at about half-speed. I’ve made peace with our limitations even though we have missed a lot of fun things over the past few days, but I’m determined to re-gain some focus today, starting with this little verse. Let’s take a look at what it does and what it doesn’t say.

What it DOES say:

Let us not become weary in doing good. What does it mean to be weary? One definition is to be mentally or physically exhausted from hard work, but did you know that another definition is to become impatient or dissatisfied with something? Ding, ding, ding. How many other people will admit to staring at a pile of laundry or a sink full of dishes and think of all the other things you’d rather be doing? How many mamas will admit to being impatient with their kids again and again in the course of a day? I don’t know about you, but both of these things ring true for me more often that I care to admit. I totally need Jesus every day, every hour, to renew my heart and mind. I don’t think God expects us to never be tired from the work that He asks us to do inside the home (or out of it!), but I do think He wants to caution us against the impatience and dissatisfaction that can stand between us and doing the good we really want to do for our families.

What it DOES NOT say:

Let us not become weary in doing everything. Anyone on the hamster wheel? Racing, juggling, piling more and more onto an already full plate. Trying to keep up with everything that everyone else expects of you? Almost every mama I know feels pulled in 100 different directions, spread thin, and honestly exhausted by the end (or the middle! or the beginning!) of the day. I just have to point out that this verse encourages us not to become weary in doing good, but it doesn’t say we have to do everything. I keep coming around to this idea that simple is always better when it comes to structuring our days at home. I would rather have a few (or even many) household tasks left undone with room in the day for quality time with my kids.

What it DOES say:

At the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Keep going, mamas! I know how hard it is to get through a day with your sanity. I’m right there. But just like a farmer doesn’t know what kind of crop yield he will have at the end of a season, we can’t see right now what our efforts will produce later. I have experienced both sowing and reaping seasons in my life, and from experience I will say, digging in and doing the work that God puts before you will bring beautiful, meaningful things out of the messy, muddy dirt.

What it DOES NOT say:

 At the time we so desire, we will feel successful at our jobs. Most moms I know could talk all day about how overwhelmed they feel by the many things they juggle. Not many of us go to bed at night feeling satisfied with all we accomplished throughout the day. Just because we do not feel successful does not mean that we haven’t gained ground in one or more areas. It is the sum of many thousands of simple, faithful tasks, and small, meaningful acts of kindness toward our families that build strong healthy homes and happy, whole children.

What it DOES say:

As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people. As we have opportunity. Recognizing opportunities is not something everyone is good at. If we are frazzled, distracted by facebook or relationship dramas, or even slaying our to-do list with ferocious prowess, we might miss the opportunities around us to speak into a child’s heart at an opportune moment, opportunities to bring encouragement to a discouraged friend, or opportunities to help a neighbor with a task. And if I’m honest about how this little line is hitting my heart, I’m feeling a tug to ‘do good to all the people in my house‘….by offering grace, patience, tenderness, and kindness to each one of them, especially the ones that push my buttons and work against all my efforts at a clean and orderly home. Not naming names.

What it DOES NOT say:

Let us act like we are good and stop there. How many people who profess faith spend more time managing the outward appearance of their ‘goodness’ but don’t do anything to serve or encourage others…something that transforms our hearts from within? It’s a bit of a tough question, because I’m guilty too. I have always been what some would describe as a ‘good girl’, if we are talking about the outward things I have and haven’t done in my life. But truthfully, I’m a sinner, and I will be the first to say that any good in me is because of Jesus. I think it is important to highlight that this verse doesn’t tell us to BE good. It tells us to DO good. Get up. Take action. Do stuff that blesses others. That is how the world will know who Jesus is.

“By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:35

Embracing Motherhood, Part 1

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This is probably one of my favorite photos of me and A when she was my only child, circa late 2007. She is slouched over my J-filled belly and nuzzled into my neck…a place reserved for a special few. She had such faith in me as a mama even though I was new at it. We bumbled through together, and I guess we still do. Bright and shining, she is. Filling my world with energy, imagination, and lightness of heart.

I’ve recently been reflecting on my mothering journey and how interesting it is to look back on the seasons. When I became pregnant with A (surprise, three months after our wedding) my life and plans were de-railed in the most glorious way. We were on the Five-Year Plan which turned into the Have-Three-Kids-in-Five-Years Plan, and then one more after that for good measure. What is really ironic is that I never saw myself as a mother. I never especially wanted to have kids, mostly because I was afraid that I would mess them up, or at least pass on my personal issues (which I guess is still a risk), and with all the heartaches I carried in my later adolescent years, I just didn’t want to go there. I actually hadn’t even planned to get married for a long time (or ever) until I met my now-husband who spent a good 3 years trying to woo me before I trusted my heart to him. What I mean to say is…this motherhood gig was not at all my plan, my dream, or even my wish until God changed my heart via a positive pregnancy test. I finished the one term of grad school I was enrolled in at the time, but I didn’t return after that, and now I have a full house of kids instead of a Masters degree.

Anyway, I guess I wanted to share all of this to say that we all make plans…but sometimes God’s plans are different. And in my experience, although often not as glamorous or self-gratifying, His plans bring more fulfillment than anything we can find on our own. So if His plans are on the table next to yours, it would be worthwhile to reach out and embrace them, though it might take all your heart, soul, mind and strength to do so.

I’ll leave you with some excerpts from my journal, dated November 2005 – shortly after I found out I was pregnant, followed by a photo of K, holding A for the first time:

There is a miracle inside me. I am certain. A brand new life, a brand new joy. A new baby is to join our new family sooner than we expected. I have wrestled and surrendered, wrestled and surrendered. The Lord holds me in a place where I am to receive and embrace my womb and whomever may be growing there. I am anxious about the changes that would come with a baby so soon, but I also feel peace. We don’t know what is going to happen, but something between K and I speaks a firm and silent ‘yes’ to what may come. We realize it is soon, but we are full of joy. I would not want to undo what is done, no matter how soon it has come. Miracle inside of me, I embrace you.   

Lord, only You know what will be woven into the tapestry of our lives. You know the children that will come. You know the blessings You have prepared for us. And You know the provision that You will swiftly send to us as we need it. I trust You, and I thank you for this blessing. 

Jesus, what joy You have brought to me, after years of weeping and mourning. You have prepared this little wonder, this overwhelming gift for K and me. Please hold our hearts and teach us more about how to walk with You, to hear from You, and order our lives in a way that pleases You. 

Hello, little one. Inside me, you are growing, and your father says (after looking it up on the internet) that you are about the size of the ball on a ball-point pen right now. Just a wee little one you are. It is remarkable to me that my body feels different already and you are barely big enough to see. I am in awe at the process of conceiving and growing a child within my body, and I am so excited to see your little face and little hands when you are born. I am overjoyed at the opportunity I will be given to pour all my love into you. You are already loved.

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My Crew

Many days are marked with love and simple joys. I smile and whisper thanks under my breath for all the good. There is nothing easy about being a mother, but seeing the growing, thriving, laughing and spinning fruit of my labor makes my heart so full. E has been all about “huggy hugs” these days and be forewarned, if you don’t huggy-hug the right way, on demand with the arms wrapped all the way around and a tight squeeze, you might get end up with a disgruntled superhero on your hands. E wears his Batman costume approximately 6/7 days of the week and has promised to rescue me if I’m ever falling off a bridge. Thanks bud.

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Watch out for the J-Monster. He’s a rough-and-tumble type with a mean snuggle. He has recently taken and abnormal interest in doing chores of his own free will. He especially loves scrubbing anything I’ll let him touch with a soapy sponge, and you can bet that my walls and cupboard doors are sparkly these days.

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This little miss is reading everything she can get her hands on. I’ll have more photos to share soon of her reading books to her baby sister. Melt me.

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And this one clearly loves sitting in the grass…Have you ever seen such a lip?

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Home

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This sign sits on my desk. I’ll confess that it is often buried under the piles that accumulate in my workspace, but I re-discover it every few days weeks when I clear down the mess and I love the small reminder that it is to me to be intentional about the environment I create in my home. It has taken me quite a few years as a married and mothering woman to get a handle on what I can practically do to bless my family each day. I’m not naturally gifted at home decor, organization, or really anything in the realm of domesticity, which is something that I’ve learned to accept about myself and also look for ways to improve.

A few years back, it dawned on me that our home was in haphazard disarray. Truthfully before then, I didn’t notice it one bit. I was too busy sorting out issues of the heart and adding children to the family to worry about a pile of laundry (or…umm…several piles of laundry), cluttery piles and unkept beds. There were no systems for anything around here. I was tired. I was overwhelmed. I had one, then two, then three children. It was a really hard season. Not until #4 arrived did I start to find myself seeing clearer and breathing in grace.

A few things have happened that started changing my world…the details of which are too many to share in this moment, although I may share soon. The short version of the story is that I went (or am going through) a personal transformation that has changed my whole perspective about who I am, what I’m here to do, and how I am to do it. And to start, I’m to let go of worry. When worry is close, faith is far. So much of my time was spent worrying and wasting all kinds of energy on things that are not the most important things. What is most important right now? My attitude. More specifically, my attitude toward my home and family.

I think about how much my attitude influences my children, and even my husband. When I’m cheerful, willing, and diligent, I find all of them are also more cheerful and responsive to me. Do you know what a gift it is to have responsive children? They’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. We have squabbles and epic messes and challenging days like any other family. But I know they hear my words, and very often, they listen closely because I am taking the time to be more thoughtful about how I speak, teach, correct and demonstrate. I think about how this home is the beginning of their story, and how desperately I want their story to start well…their hearts to start whole, full of love and wonder, and for wisdom to take root in their lives. I feel the weight of responsibility to do everything I can to sow those seeds.

The household stuff is still a major struggle for me. Every time I rally to organize a corner or a closet, I feel like I should have a cheer squad there, whistles and hollers, and a nice colorful ribbon at the end to celebrate my victory…but the ‘can-do’ attitude it takes to jump in and do what needs to be done each day with a joyful heart is coming easier with practice.