Marriage in the Mayhem

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Let’s talk about a Christian marriage, and even though I am at risk of sounding very mushy (which I hate) let’s talk about what marriage looks like to a young couple with young children.

I was listening to Focus on the Family the other day when a couple, who makes their living counseling other couples, explained that they make sure to have a date night every week.

Um…. what?

1465745_10151975777125376_282087542_oAs they were describing their date nights, I assumed they managed one once a month, maybe twice a month. It never occurred to me for a minute that with five kids, this couple managed a date night every week.

They explained how grateful they were for establishing this essential time together, and because of it, their marriage has flourished. Well… how wonderful for them!

My husband and I attempt one date a month, but usually manage to accomplish one every three months.

As I reflected on our failure to make it out the door once in a while, just the two of us, I thought of all the reasons this isn’t plausible. I have been pregnant for half of our five year marriage, which means we have had a newborn every year and a half. Since I stay home with our kids, I am never in a hurry to hire a babysitter and leave my infant to cry and resist a bottle while my husband and I try to enjoy a movie, all the while thinking about how our infant is doing.

The stability of our marriage has never been in question, nor has my husband’s infinite loyalty to me and our family. Connecting with him simply looks different than it did before children.

Sometimes it is in the grin he shoots me across the supper table while one kid talks like it’s going out of style, the other cries for more bread while he throws veggies at the centerpiece, and the other squirms and squeals in my arms. It is in my husband’s grin that I’m reminded of our immense blessings and the love between us that started it all.20180704_215954

Sometimes it is when he grabs my hand while he reads our kids a bedtime story. I’m sitting on the bottom bunk rocking our littlest and the other two are on his lap, but yet, we manage a brief and unspoken moment together.

Sometimes it is in the evening, after a particularly hectic bedtime routine has finally come to an end, when he chooses to sit next to me on the couch, instead of across the room in his own chair. We are too exhausted to talk, so we just watch Netflix and breathe the same air.

Sometimes he surprises me with a bottle of Dr. Pepper, reminding me that he thinks of me even when he is busy at work.

Sometimes I climb into my suburban, running out of daylight to make it to the grocery store, and I notice that he has filled it up with gas, eliminating at least one line on my to-do list.

Sometimes I watch across the dinner table, the kids having been excused long ago with untouched food, as my husband takes another forkful of what I know is a meal falling short of flavor or anything redeeming at all. Yet, he eats it, without complaint, thanking me for taking the time to put food on the table.

Sometimes he stays up late completing one of my many Pinterest projects in the garage. I know he has no desire to have it done and hanging on our wall, but he knows it is important to me.

20181104_201925Sometimes, after saying goodbye to each of our kids, he forgets to kiss me goodbye before he rushes out the door to work. A few minutes later, he strides back through the door, refusing to leave the house without giving me at least a second of his attention.

Sometimes he lets me go spend our money, even though we don’t have enough of it, to get my nails done or buy an outfit I don’t need, just because he knows it makes me feel good to still spend a little money on myself.

Sometimes he listens intently as I weave him in and out of the windy road of my mind and my worries, all the while knowing he won’t be able to help– yet he never fails to listen and remind me, “It will be okay.”

Sometimes he throws in a load of laundry without reminding me I should have had it done days ago.

Sometimes he takes our boys to the basement and burns off endless amounts of their energy because he knows I need some quiet.20180827_092949

Sometimes it is when we clean up the supper table together, just so we can spend some time alone as the kids throw dinosaurs around the living room, unsupervised for a few short minutes.

You see, my husband and I are right in the messiness of this life. We are truly consumed with raising three faithful children and they need our constant and undivided attention. These children are a product of the love between us, and even though this love is sometimes neglected, it is never forgotten.

1523710_10152117002730376_852043122_oI don’t mean to imply that our marriage does not need to be a priority, in fact, we are warned in the Bible about the dangers of neglecting our marriage. However, a young couple with many children simply needs to do what they can, and look for the expressions of love where they can. We still strive to have dates and alone time, but when we fail at these things, I will still see him and he will still see me.

Someday he will be all that is left in this life. We will be old and our kids will be gone, but he will still be there. Then maybe, just maybe, we will have the opportunity to finish one of our conversations.

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God Shaped Priorities

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Every now and then something happens that makes you realize everything that has seemed so important to you– getting your child to sleep through the night, affording that unexpected car repair payment, going on one last vacation before school starts– really amounts to nothing at all.

20180730_174210Today when I heard of an 18-month old on life support, for an accident that could have easily taken place in my own home, all of my weak attempts at maintaining my priorities crumbled beneath me.

Heading into my last month of pregnancy, I have been rushing about the house day after day organizing and cleaning and preparing. My boys have played together well and have allowed me to complete most of my daily tasks with minimal whining. In fact, I have been organizing so much that last week my 3-year-old was quite proud of his own organizing skills when he rearranged his dinosaurs in the living room (I’m creating a monster).

I would not say that I have neglected my children, but I certainly have not put spending time with them at the top of my list. When you stay home with your kids day after day, it can be difficult to remember that your physical presence is not always enough. They need me to be engaged and emotionally present in their lives each day, not just spending time in the same house as them. Quality time is essential for a stay-at-home mom and it is easy to fall into a habit of viewing quantity time and quality time as the same thing.

However, today my priorities were once again set right when I listened to my 18-month-old squeal and giggle from the basement as he played “capsized boat” with his dad. My overwhelming gratefulness that my son was healthy when another mother, just like me, was simply begging the Lord that her’s might live, caused me to immediately put down my Windex, leaving a bathroom only half cleaned, and go hop on the imaginary sinking boat in my basement.20180615_150207

With life being so hectic and so demanding, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is those that matter to us. When God has granted us little ones to enjoy and shape into fully grown Christians, I imagine He anticipates that we will cherish every single second He allows us to raise them.

So tonight, put down the remote or your intense desire for some peace and quiet and go cuddle with your kids; let them stay up past their bedtime as they lie next to you; let them tell you their dreams as you both drift off to sleep.

Why do I Own Throw Pillows?

I have adapted to motherhood in ways I never thought I would. I have no decor placed within three feet of the floor; I have let go of the dream of an immaculate home and settled for relatively liveable; I have embraced smashed fruit loops on my rug as a blessing rather than an annoyance; I have learned to hurdle a baby gate with such ease I’m pretty sure I would qualify if it were an Olympic sport.

Yes. I have adapted to motherhood.

20180723_163323Despite my unlikely success in molding myself into a less Type A and more Type Z personality, when I picked up the throw pillows in my living room for the 18th time today, I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth I still owned such useless objects. I am certain that my boys think of them as toys, instead of something mom actually uses to keep the house looking like a house instead of a daycare. My boys have taken the name “throw pillows” a little too seriously as well, if you know what I mean.

The only time these pillows are placed on the couch in an orderly fashion is 16 seconds before someone is to come over. Otherwise they are strewn about my living room and forgotten, used as weapons against a dinosaur war, or morphed into a step stool so my youngest can boost himself onto the couch.

I know I’m not the only mom out there who still has throw pillows. I just really wonder why any of us have them. They serve no purpose, and I am picking them up more often than anything else. Sometimes, after my kids go to sleep, I place them on the couch the way I always imagined they would be, standing back and smiling that I have finally succeeded. Within seconds, my husband (my 4th child) traipses into the living room from the garage, sawdust flaking off his shoulders, and decides he needs to sit down right where the pillows are sitting, therefore, throwing them carelessly to the floor yet again.

As I write this now, I can’t find one of the pillows, and I’m pretty sure my son is taking a nap with it. Not only do I have two throw pillows in the living room, I also have three for my bed. These manage to stay on the bed longer than the couch pillows, but only by a couple minutes. My boys love to use them as building blocks and make a mansion where they cook their “psghetti.”

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I guess there are just some aspects of my former life that I refuse to let go. I still drink a surprising amount of caffeine despite my toddler’s disturbing level of interest in it; I still maintain friendships that would be easier to ignore; I still sometimes slip into a pair of high heels despite their impracticality; and of course, I still have throw pillows.

In three short and chaotic years, I have transformed from a clean-freak, type A teacher to a medium-clean-is-good-enough, type C (I think Z was pushing it) mom of three. I sneak vegetables into casseroles and sometimes smother them in cheese. I wipe jelly off my walls. I dig Hotwheels out of toilets. And yet, I’m still the me I always was, because I’m a Child of God before I am a mother, and I still have to be the me He made me to be–throw pillows and all.

Satan can Bite Me

My first thought when my feet reluctantly hit the floor is that my youngest child is up particularly early; on my way to his room I pass a heaping pile of dirty laundry sitting in the middle of my floor, the very laundry I had intended to get washed, dried, and folded the night before. Minutes later as my husband rushes out the door leaving me holding two crabby and exhausted toddlers, he yells, “By the way, I might be home late tonight.” I turn my attention to the pile of dishes in the sink that did not make it to the dishwasher. When I head to the pantry, my toddler is out of dinosaur oatmeal, the only breakfast he will humble himself to eat. A tantrum ensues while I get my youngest a banana.

When I consider the morning before me, it occurs to me that I may not have the energy to drag these two to the grocery store, and worse yet, I may not have any money once I get there. I receive a text from a friend, my intended lifeline for the afternoon; she is cancelling our scheduled playdate because of a sick kid. I attempt to think positively and thank God that my kids are healthy today, but I am interrupted by my 3-year old’s disastrous attempt to dress himself, realizing hours later that I never completed that essential moment of gratitude.IMG_20180419_081802_914

As I lean back on my toddler’s floor, listening to him wail as he makes a second attempt to get his pants on, I realize the powerful hold Satan already has on my day. By welcoming each negative thought, and ignoring the immense blessings involved in each of these moments, I have given Satan a foothold nearly before the real Creator I worship even crosses my mind.

Each morning when I wake, I have two options. I can allow these seemingly negative and sometimes impossible moments to take control and destroy the day before me, or I can wake with my Father, expectantly absorbing the day He has created for me. When my smallest startles me awake, earlier than I would have liked, I should first take notice of the gorgeous sunrise I would have otherwise missed. As my small miracles lose their patience waiting for their breakfasts, I can thank my Lord that we have food to eat. When my toddler has a tantrum trying to dress himself, I can thank my Lord that He is able to dress himself, and I have been given the opportunity to mold him into an independent young man. When my dread of the grocery store reveals itself, I can thank God my children love the grocery store and are thrilled each time they get a sucker for the ride home.

I am reminded of a quote from Charles Spurgeon taped to my fridge, “You are as much serving God in looking after your own children, and training them up in God’s fear, and minding the house, and making your household a church for God, as you would be if you had been called to lead an army to battle for the Lord of hosts.”

IMG_20180314_164406_616Despite the countless moments on this particular morning that I have forgotten God, He still found a way to remind me, in the middle of my toddler’s floor, that my purpose is to do His work by molding his disciples. No matter where the day takes me, I am to be a woman who fears the Lord, and convey that to my children, even in the midst of an ill-fated morning. Because I am a woman who fears the Lord, Satan will fight to infiltrate my thoughts and prevent me from achieving any of God’s purposes each and every morning.

Satan did not win today, because today God gave me a second chance. So, I smile, quietly thank my Savior, help my toddler put his pants on, and begin again.

Lacking Nothing

I would love to be the woman who never worries, but embodies the peace of Christ. I would love to be the woman who never measures her worth in relation to the world around her. I would love to be the woman who is just the right amount of humbleness and boldness. I would love to be the woman who never dwells upon what she does not have, but instead rejoices in her gifts, as well as her weaknesses.flowers-3307436_960_720

I would love to be the woman who handles the stress and chaos of raising small children with such ease that her children always feel wholly loved. I would love to be the woman who wakes before her family each day to spend time with her Lord, centering herself on eternity before the world takes hold. I would love to be the woman who personifies such joy that she is nothing but a comfort and an encouragement to her hard working husband.

I would love to be any of these things.

But I am not.

And that’s okay.

The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9 that I am made complete by my faith, not by my works.

This means that even though I lack the endurance, fortitude, and selflessness to fully reflect the woman I believe God wants me to be, He brings out perfection in me anyway.

God said in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that I can boast in my weakness, because in my weakness, He is most seen.girl-2940655_960_720

My call then is to not be the perfect Proverbs 31 woman, but to be perfectly content in all my imperfections, thanking and praising Jesus Christ that I will be welcomed into God’s kingdom despite my failure to succeed at all I desire to be.

So I will stop striving to be the perfect woman who always has a gourmet meal on the table, an immaculate house, and a full bank account, and I will find my rest in the work that Jesus Christ has already done on my behalf.

 

**To my faithful followers: I’ve been out of the writing loop for awhile, but I have entered an essay contest. Please consider voting for my essay, “Iridescence in a Dark World” at http://myfaithradio.com/2018/iridescence-in-a-dark-world/. I need to make it into the Top 10 by May 13 to be in the next round of judging. Thank you, all!**

A Lesson in the Leaves

My son and I went on a Fall walk today and tried to find as many of God’s colors in the leaves as we could.

Leaves2Every leaf a different shape, a different color. Some turn from the outside in and some from the inside out. Some trees consist of one Fall color and some seem to incorporate every shade into its foliage. Some leaves are already brown and shriveled being taken by the wind, while others hang on to their dark green pigment well into November.

The beauties and intricacies of Fall are all the evidence this world needs that we are indeed made by a mighty, omniscient Creator. The love and devotion with which He turns each leaf are just mere traces of the immense love and devotion with which He approaches us.

When this world is being shaken by the hatred and suppression of God that runs rampant through humanity, I am reminded of God’s eternal power and incorruptible love. In the same way the leaves obey Him, we too are created to obey Him. Disobedience only breeds disorder and horror.20171002_172735

My two-year old is left breathless by God’s exquisiteness all around him. This leaves no excuse for the rest of us who have gone on without the Artist of an idyllic October day and the Giver of each of our breaths.

May God continue to pursue our hearts the way He so lovingly chases after my son’s until every man recognizes whom it is we should be worshiping.

Raising a Warrior

I recognized the panicked shriek the moment I was startled awake. When my eyes opened, my 2-year old was standing at the side of my bed, arms out, eyes filled with tears. I thought a brief cuddle was all he would need, then I would guide him back to his bedroom for the last three hours of the night.

His eyes were still wide as I scooped him up and headed toward his room, “No.” He said this with an unfamiliar obstinacy for that hour of the night.20170901_153149

“Honey, what’s wrong.”

A definitive answer that I was not expecting, “It’s dangerous.”

The next morning my husband and I listened as our son wove us in and out of the tale of his nightmare. As I listened to my little talker, I attempted and failed over and over to convince him the scary was not real, though he insisted the scary was only sleeping since the sun had come up. He seemed so young to be personifying fear in such a real way, so sure of himself that he was willing to argue with me. In one short night, a place that was once a refuge for my son had become something to dread—his bed, where the scary lived.

Throughout the day, I struggled to distract him, since his tendency to obsess inevitably brought him back to his nightmare, like a song on repeat. The same thought kept creeping its way back into my day, gnawing at me, since I had no answer: How do I show him there is nothing to fear?

eclipseFor a while, his fears will involve toothy monsters and darkness, but someday his monsters will grow to include rejection, failure, and loneliness—these beasts are not as easy to dispel.

How do I show him there is nothing to fear?

I am no stranger to fear, panic, and anxiety, but it is my deepest desire and my frequent prayer, that by watching me, my children will learn to give fear no foothold, to dismiss it before it is nurtured within them. I have learned that to succumb to fear is to allow Satan to dictate my decisions, to steal my joy. In my weakness, my children will find strength.  

So, when the scary inevitably awakens tonight, I will fight for my son, the way I have fought off my own fear so many times. I will keep searching for a tool that dispels his fear until we find the most effective one. I will teach him that we are not to succumb to fear, but are to submit to our Father, who will be our refuge from every monster we could encounter or even imagine.

armorI will tell my sweet boy not to fear, for his mom has learned how to fight, and the weapon in her arsenal is guaranteed to defeat even the toothiest “scaries.” I cannot keep my boy from being afraid, but I can teach him how to use fear to bring him closer to his Father.

So tonight, I will lie beside him until the scary ebbs away as a restful sleep flows freely. I will sing to him, pray with him, and cuddle with him—no matter how long it takes to convince him he is safe. I will use whatever weapon I need to use to assure him there is nothing to fear, to assure him the “scaries” are not sleeping, are not hiding, but are in fact, not real.

More importantly, I will show him and teach him what it means to rest with the Father until every fear is swept away by His overwhelming peace. I will show him and teach him how to trust in a God you cannot see, how to dwell in his arms–the personification of safety. Because I have become a warrior against the most real of fears, I will raise my own army, my own warriors, and we will all be trained by the One who does not fear at all.