Author Archives: Ariaun

Thanksgrieving

Thanksgiving this year was hard for me. It was hard for many of us in my community. My friend Laura passed away just four days earlier and was laid to rest on Wednesday. Laura lived two houses down from me, but she wasn’t just my neighbor. To understand this, you have to understand Meadowood Lane, because most of the neighbors here aren’t just neighbors. We are a community, a family, and over the past few months of working together to help care for Laura’s husband and boys during her illness, I’ve come to see my sweet little neighborhood as a living, breathing testamony of how the Body of Christ is supposed to work. I’ve never been more proud to live anywhere.

Of all the people on Meadowood Lane, over the past five years, my family has come to know Laura and her husband Dan the best. Laura and I have spent many hours in each other’s driveways, and I would often laugh at her during the winter months because she would come outside wearing an oversized sweatshirt and a nylon tennis skirt with no socks or shoes on her feet, just to chat. “Aren’t you freezing?” I would ask. “Uh-huh!” she would laugh through gritted teeth. “Don’t you want to go back inside?” “No, I’m okay!” she would say, and we’d stand outside talking until I was too cold to look at her anymore.

We’ve shared dinner together when both of our husbands were out of town, we ran into each other at Long’s Drug Store one afternoon when both of us were taking our kids out on a date and shared the rest of our meals together. We introduced our kids to Willy Wonka together. Being a teacher, Laura had the summers off, so we spent many long, hot days playing with our kids, getting “accidentally” sprayed with the garden hose, eating picnic lunches in our driveway, and taking the kids blueberry picking. I always knew when it was Laura’s turn to cook dinner at her house because somewhere around 5:00 my phone would ring, and it would be Laura calling to see if I had an essential ingredient that she needed for her meal but had forgotten about when she was at the store. We often laughed about me being her secondary grocery store.

The generosity of Laura’s heart was something that always caught my attention. One year when we were just getting to know each other, Laura caught wind that it was my birthday, and she bought me a present…a pair of Halloween pajamas. At the time I thought this was a rather unusual gift to give someone you didn’t know very well, but came to realize later what a sentiment of her heart this was. Laura loved Halloween and she loved…no, was obsessed with…pajamas. I never saw her dresser drawers, but to hear her tell it, she had more pairs of pajamas than Imelda Marcos had shoes. According to her husband, even before she died, one of her biggest frustrations was that the hospital wouldn’t let her put on her pajamas.

If my kids were having a birthday, Laura brought them gifts. If my kids were sick, Laura brought them gifts. If I was having an especially bad day, Laura brought me gifts. When Jeremy turned 40, we came home from church to discover a poster mounted in front of our mailbox for the whole street to see, with a HUGE picture of Jeremy’s face on it and two massive clip-art thumbs, with a caption that read, “What has two thumbs and turns 40 today?” And again, gifts.

Laura would often share stories with me about her students, and we would laugh together about the children she loved, and we would roll our eyes together when she told about the children who drove her batty. More than once we even cried together over the children whose lives tragically ended far too soon. We shared stories of how we met our husbands, and she giggled and made a point to call me out when she noticed I was blushing as I shared my story. We talked about our faith and our families, and the state of the American public school system. Her words were some of the ones I most heavily-weighed when deciding whether or not to homeschool my kids. With the exception of politics, which was a subject we didn’t want to run the risk of disagreeing on, we talked often and about everything.

You see, Laura wasn’t just my neighbor. She was my friend. She was a confidant. Her smiling face was one I always looked forward to seeing at the end of the day.

unnamed

I have looked around during this holiday season and, while knowing that I have so very much to be thankful for, the gratitude is weighed down with sorrow. I’ve experienced an awful lot of death in my life, but not every death leaves a void. Laura’s death has left a void, and it hurts. It hurts not only for me, but for her adoring husband and sweet, precious boys. The casualty of death isn’t in the one who is gone, but in the ones who are left behind.

But as I’ve grieved this week, I’ve had some hard conversations with God. Little children should not bury their mothers. They just shouldn’t. And it leaves me asking the questions. I’ve asked the questions before, but each time I find myself in this situation, the conversation feels brand new. “Why?” “Couldn’t You have just…?” “Shouldn’t it have gone this way?” “How do I explain…?” “What if…?” “Where are you?”

As I seek for the answers to the “whys” and “why nots” and “how-could-a-loving-Gods,” my mind recalls the story of Digory. Digory is the main character in The Magician’s Nephew, the 6th book of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Toward the end of the book there is a scene where Digory is standing face-to-face with Aslan the lion, King and Creator of Narnia. Digory’s mother is dying, and he knows that Aslan has the power to heal her. So in both boldness and timidity, with tears in his eyes, staring down at the massive paws of the great beast, he asks Aslan for something that will heal his mother. When he dared to look up, he saw that the lion’s face was bent down low and close to his own, and tears were flowing down his mane.

Aslan was weeping for the grief that he knew was so great in this sweet boy’s young heart. He was weeping, too, because he knew he had to give Digory the answer he didn’t want to hear. Aslan knew the pain of grief. He knew that the consequence of the sin that had been brought to Narnia was great and tragic, and it brought him to tears.

Then I’m reminded of Jesus. When Jesus went to the home of his friend Lazarus, after hearing the news of his death, he looked around and saw Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha, hurt and angry. He saw the people grieving. And though Jesus knew he had the power to make all of the pain and sadness go away, he still was overcome by the brokenness of it all, and he buried his face in his hands and wept.

As I cry and ask why, I remember that we have a Chief Priest who sympathized with our weakness. We have a Creator who mourns over the destruction of His creation. We have a Friend who feels our hurt. But more than that, we have a God who promises to one day take all of this pain and sadness and sorrow and death and despair and to bring redemption and to make all things new. If I were God, I often think I wouldn’t have allowed the opportunity to let sin enter our world in the first place. But as Andrew Peterson says, maybe it truly is a better thing to be more than merely innocent, but to be broken and redeemed.

Because of that, I will trust what my eyes cannot see and my mind cannot comprehend. I will put my faith in a God who can handle my questions and will cry with me through my pain. I will walk unwaveringly with this God who promises to one day heal and restore and bring redemption to this broken world. It won’t take away our pain that is so great today, but to know that I can bury my face in Aslan’s mane and feel his tears flow down his face onto my own…well, it’s the warmest comfort I can imagine, and a gift I shall hold onto tightly. And when I forget again and become angry again and ask all the questions again and lose my way again, I know that He will be there again, and He will gently remind me again and He will guide be back to His warm embrace again. Because He’s nothing if not big enough. And for that I am truly thankful.

The Worshipful Act of Breathing

It has been said by scholars that the name of God is spoken with every breath we take; that the individual consonant sounds of Yahweh (YHWH), are representational of our breathing.  Yod-Hei-Vav-Hei.  They’re essentially unspeakable except through intentional aspirations.

This idea is a powerful one to me as a mama.  The sound of my own breathing is generally inaudible, as the noise level in my home on most days drowns it out.  The sounds of children playing, talking, driving remote-control cars across the hardwood floor; the dishwasher running, the oven timer going off, the phone ringing, even the faint hum of the air conditioner creates so much noise in my world that the sound of complete and total silence is overwhelmingly rare.  But when I finally do find myself surrounded by absolute quiet, I hear it: YHWH.  YHWH.  YHWH.  And I’m brought immediately back into fellowship with the Father.

Other times the sound of my breathing is audible to everyone within thirty feet of me.  It’s that deep, heavy sigh that comes with being a generally-impatient person.  The dinner gets burned, my freshly-folded pile of laundry gets knocked onto the floor, the younger child hits the older one and causes a cacophony of tears and screaming.  The resulting reaction from this too-easily-frustrated mama is usually a loud, exaggerated sigh.  YYYYHHHHWWWWHHHH.  Ahhh, but there it is again!  And I’m brought (more slowly this time…but surely), back into fellowship with the Father.

It’s as it should be, right?  Consciously or unconsciously, in our awareness and in our ignorance, through moments of complete calmness and moments of intense anguish, from our first breath to our very last, we were made to worship the very One who gave us breath.

Earlier this month I was on vacation with my family and some other dear friends.  We had a sweet little condo on a small island off the coast of North Carolina which, in the coolness of October, was almost completely deserted.  Our temporary home overlooked a marsh that lead out to the Atlantic Ocean, and there was a dock that we could walk out onto that connected to a boardwalk.  The introvert in me loves to wake up early in the morning before everyone else comes to life, and enjoy a few minutes of solitude.  On the second morning of our vacation, I quietly crawled out of bed, grabbed my jacket and my camera, and headed out to the dock before the sun came up.

As I walked outside in those pre-dawn moments of the morning, I was struck by how quiet it was.  Seeing as how I don’t spend much time around wet marshland, the unusual noises I did hear were starkly clear and overtly dramatic and faintly small all at the same time.  Ripples of water near the shoreline, the call of a crane in the distance, the rustle of leaves under the trees from waking squirrels.  The fact that it was still dark made the sounds of those tiny noises increasingly keen.

I stood at the edge of the dock and looked down at my camera to adjust my settings.  Suddenly, I heard a loud PWOOOOOSHHHHH!!!  I jumped back, quite startled, and looked up just in time to see a sleek, black dorsal fin glide gracefully back into the water.  I ran to the edge of the dock and watched.  A few seconds later he came again with a loud, magnificent  PWOOOOOSHHHHH!!!  Up and down, up and down he went, the sound of his breathing ringing out through the still, quiet air long after my ability to see him had vanished.

SONY DSC

There on the dock of a marshy creek bed that morning, in the cold, still, pre-dawn moments, when the sky was as red as flaming embers from the impending morning sunrise, I had the most unique pleasure of watching a dolphin swim past, just feet from where I stood, calling out the name of his Creator…YHWH…YHWH…YHWH….with every breath he took.  And I was immediately, and perhaps more powerfully than ever, brought back into fellowship with the Father.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”  Psalm 150:6

On Gentleness…Or Not

Last week I was struck between the eyes with a sneaky, soft, subtle, simple, profound (I ran out of s-words) slice of scripture.  It’s hidden in between a whole bunch of dynamic and powerful words from the apostle Paul.  I’m sure you’re familiar with it.  You may even have it memorized.

“Rejoice in The Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”  Philippians 4: 4-7

This is one of my absolute favorite passages of scripture.  Thanks to Slugs & Bugs, I finally have it memorized.  (Consequently, however, I can’t say it out loud anymore without using a British accent. 😉 )  But late last week, as I was doing my own thing, minding my own business, The Lord caused me to take particular notice of that third sentence.  “Let your gentleness be evident to all.”  It did more than merely catch my attention. It cut me to the core.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I’ve been pondering those words deeply for three days now and have been evaluating myself through a completely different lens.  The sad thing is, I don’t like what I see.

I have friends who grew up in homes that one could easily describe as gentle, tender, peaceful, nurturing.  Their homes were places people wanted to be.  And stay.  I didn’t grow up in that sort of home.  While there were moments when all of those virtues were present, it would be a huge stretch to say that this was the sort of environment that defined my family.  I grew up in a home that had more than its fair share of sarcasm, yelling, anger, put-downs, gossip, and authoritarianism.  There was a lot of laughter, but usually at the expense of others.  Don’t misunderstand.  I love my family, and I do have some wonderful memories of my childhood.  But mine certainly wasn’t a home that was teeming with gentleness.

Then I got married.  I was blessed beyond words to marry a man whose family epitomized gentleness and peacefulness.  While they aren’t perfect, and I’m certainly not saying they’re “better” than my family, there is a noticeable difference between the two.  There is a consistency of joy in my husband’s family, and the environment they create is comfortable.  Simple.  Relaxing.  Safe.  I’m sure it wasn’t always so.  Every family has sibling rivalry.  Kids fight.  Mothers and daughters struggle with each other, as do fathers and sons.  Husbands and wives disagree.  Life with littles is busy and exhausting and stressful, and no one can be calm and joyful and keep it together all of the time.  I get that.  What I see now is not exactly what life was like when my husband and his sister were children.

But still, it gives me pause as I evaluate the environment of my own home.  I’ve realized that, thankfully, my children are not growing up in the same environment I grew up in.  But they’re also not growing up in the environment I want for them.  There is much laughter, much silliness, much cuddling, many helping hands, a lot of prayer, and a lot of love.  I’m patient a lot more than I really give myself credit for.  My children are happy more often than not and we generally enjoy being together.  But we also have our fair share of yelling, fighting, anger, tantrum-throwing (even from the kids), vying for first place, demanding our own way, and general…well…you know…sin.  Unfortunately, this side of Heaven, sin is unavoidable, and it shows up in my home on a regular basis.

As I’ve meditated on this passage of scripture these past few days, I’ve come to realize a few things.

1. I’m not condemned to repeat for my children the environment I grew up in.  The life I lived as a kid I thought was normal, and maybe it was.  But it wasn’t a home that was defined by gentleness.  I worry sometimes that the culture I was saturated in has made too great a mark on me for me to be changed.  But fortunately, God is faithful to remind me of the truth.  For two weeks in a row, this song has made its way, either directly or indirectly, into the sermons being preached at my church, and it’s impacted me powerfully:

“I will change your name.
You shall no longer be called
wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid.
I will change your name.
Your new name shall be
confidence, joyfulness, overcoming one,
faithfulness, friend of God,
one who seeks my face.”

Wanna know a secret?  Lean in and I’ll tell you.  Ready?

I’m not perfect.

I get tired.  I get hormonal.  I have bad days, and I get angry.  And when I do, sometimes I yell at my children.  Sometimes my words fall too soon to unsay.  It embarrasses me to say that once or twice I may have even thrown something.  I want to tell you that, though, because I want to be real with you.  But you wanna know another secret?  That’s not who I am.  That’s not what defines me.  As one who has been saved by the blood of Jesus, I am no longer defined by my weakness.  I am defined by the grace of my Savior.  And He calls me His treasure, His beloved.  That’s not a free pass to continue in my sinfulness, but it does free me of the guilt of my own messiness, because the Spirit is renewing me daily as I abide in Him.

What that means for my children is that, through my mistakes and bad decisions, they get the opportunity to learn about humility, forgiveness, mercy and grace.  They get the opportunity to learn that this life of following Christ isn’t about being good, but rather, it’s about submitting to the One who is the very essence of Goodness, and as a result, goodness and mercy flow out of me effortlessly.  When I’m having a really bad day (usually my really bad days are hormone-induced), my children will hear me yell.  Then they will see me cry.  Then they will see me praying.  Then they will see me drawing them near to me and asking for their forgiveness.  My children are never going to have a perfect mother who has it all together.  What they can have is a mother who teaches them how to work through those bad days and inappropriate behaviors in a way that pleases the Lord.  Through those times when my gentleness is not evident, my hope is that my humility is.

2. The more I abide in Christ, the more naturally gentleness flows out of me. Ever notice that when you spend a lot of time with someone, their attitude and general nature tends to rub off on you?  Apparently the same thing happens when we spend time with Jesus (who knew?!).  There are reasons that respected pastors and theologians recommend that we practice spiritual disciplines (reading of scripture, prayer, meditation, fasting, worship, etc.).  Jesus got angry,  yes.  He may have even raised his voice and yelled.  But never at children.  Never at the crowd of people who followed him.  Even when he was tired or hungry or needing some alone time, he never let his physical needs cause him to lose his cool with the people he was discipling.  He was calm, gentle, tender, and peaceful.  He himself was a haven of rest for the weary and broken.  He was everything I want to emulate for my children.  And what do you know!  The more time I spend in His presence, the more His goodness rubs off on me.  It’s inevitable.  What a gift!

3. Gentleness isn’t popular.  We live in a culture where arrogance, pride, sarcasm, passive-aggressiveness, guilt trips and put-downs are not only the norm, but they’re encouraged.  Life has almost become a contest of determining who is best at using their words as weapons.  We demand to be first, demand to be right, demand to have our opinions heard.  But at what cost?  The advent of social media has made this reality even worse, because we can jab at and slam people from the safety of our living rooms without ever having to look anyone in the eye.  Our political stances, religious views, moral responsibilities, even our imperative need to correct each other’s grammar has become our hill to die on.

Gentleness?  Why that’s far too dangerous.  One might not know how intelligent and academic I am if I submit to gentleness.  I don’t want to be gentle.  I want to be right!

I am so guilty of feeling the need to be right over being gentle.  And to be sure, there are times when confrontation is necessary and we should stand for justice and truth.  There are times when, despite my children’s desires, I’m still the mom and I still have to assert my authority.  Being gentle is not the same as being a wallflower.  But it’s a discipline in learning when and how to guard my tongue and my temper, knowing what is worthy of anger and what is not.

My prayer is that the Lord will guide my heart and that my gentleness will truly be evident to all.  In so doing, I pray that my home will be one of peace, and my children will see the Hope that is in me and will thirst for it like water.

Conversation with God

“To everything  there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven,” says King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes.  Lately I’ve been going through a season that I’m ready to be out of.  At first, I thought that my children were going through a season that I was just ready for them to be out of.  And while there is that, my frustrating knack for introspection still brings the grown-up responsibility back to myself.

About three weeks before school started back, my children started fighting with each other.  Constantly.  Every single day over every single thing.  I hate fighting and I hate yelling, and so I would swiftly and deliberately nip it in the bud by yelling at them to stop yelling and then banishing them to their rooms.  Strangely enough, this technique proved futile.

Then school started.  That Sunday before the big first day came, and I was thrilled!  “Finally, these kids will get the break from each other that they so desperately need and some peace and harmony will return to our home!” I thought.  But I thought wrong.  Four hours before school started that Monday morning, I greeted the day with a stomach virus.  Three days later, I was still in bed.  Day six, I was still feeling awful.  On day eight I came down with a cold.  On day ten, my daughter caught my stomach bug.  Today makes day 13, and she’s still trying to recover.

While this is clearly only a minor setback in the grand scheme of important life disasters, I’ve been doing my best to elicit as much sympathy from as many people as possible.  I’ve spent more than my fair share of time complaining about what a complainer my 4yo is when she’s sick.

Irony, you say?  Perhaps, but let’s not get bogged down in nitty-gritty details. Moving on.

So after I finished complaining to myself (and anyone else who would listen) today, I sat down to write out my thoughts.  As oftentimes happens when I do this, though, God rudely invited himself into my conversation.  It went something like this.

God: Hey.
Me: Hey.
God: What’s up?
Me: I’m frustrated.
God: I can tell.
Me: It’s been a rough couple of weeks, and I’m tired and I can’t take the whining and the drama anymore, and there is clearly a reason why I didn’t go into nursing because this clearly isn’t my gifting, and I HATE sickness and I’m just really ready for a break.
God: MmmHmm.
Me: Why does she have to whine so much?  And why does she have to fight me so much?
God: Yeah, I know the feeling.
Me: Huh?
God: Nothing.  You were saying?
Me: I don’t know.  I just know that this parenting gig is getting me down lately.  I’m ready for things to be different.
God: I’ve got a good idea!  Let’s play a game.  I call it  “The Holy Spirit Self-Assessment Game.”

This did not sound like fun, but I went along because, well, it was God.

God: I’ll ask you a question, and you answer.  Ready?
Me: Sure.  Shoot.
God: Okay.  Here goes.
Q: Are you exhibiting love?
A: To most people I am.
Q: To your children?
A: Uh…I think so?
Q: Are you exhibiting joy?
A: Mmmm.  Not so much.
Q: Are you exhibiting peace?
A: I’m trying to keep my mouth shut as much as possible and not yell at them.  Does that count?
Q: Are you exhibiting patience?
A: Can we skip this one?
Q: Are you exhibiting kindness?
A: Sometimes…
Q: Are you exhibiting goodness?
A: I’m trying, but it never seems to work out so well for me.
Q: Are you exhibiting faithfulness?
A: Yes!  Definitely yes!  There’s one!  Ha!
Q: Are you exhibiting gentleness?
A: Well…
Q: Are you exhibiting self-control?
A: Does locking myself in the bathroom count?  If it doesn’t, I think it should.

God: This wasn’t your best score.
Me: I know.  I think I would score better if my kids were easier.  My kids are HARD, man.
God: Yeah.  I’m not sure you’re grasping the point here.
Me: Huh?
God: Do you remember the story of Paul and Silas when they were in prison?
Me: The one where they were singing hymns and praising you after they had been stripped and beaten?  And then you caused an earthquake and their chains came off?  Yes, I love that story!
God: What do you think you would have done if you were in that jail cell with them?
Me: I totally would have been singing, too.
God: Why do you think that?
Me: Because I love to praise you!  And we’re supposed to praise you in all circumstances, right?
God: That’s the idea.  Now, what do you think you would have done if you were in that jail cell alone?
Me: I would still have been singing praises to you.
God: You think so?
Me: Sure!  Like I said, I want to praise you in all circumstances!
God: So being stripped and beaten and wrongfully put in jail is cause for singing and praising me, but taking care of a sick, whiny 4-year-old for three whole days is cause for a complete meltdown?
Me: Hey….
God: Just sayin’.

Me: Okay, maybe you have a point.  Bringing it back to that test I just took, though…how do I score higher?
God: How do you think you score higher?
Me: ……..I dunno.
God: Yes, you do.
Me: Spend more time with you?
God: There’s an idea.
Me: I know, I know.  I’ve just been so busy lately.
God: Yes, Martha, I know.
Me: Wait, my name’s not Mar…oh.  Ha, ha.  Yes, I know.  But it’s really hard for me to slow down.  I like to be busy.  And I DO have a lot of work to do.  And it’s SO HARD to get up any earlier than I already do.  Or to stay up late without falling asleep.  I just don’t have a lot of time.
God: What do you think your day would look like if you started it out every morning focusing on me?  What if you spent the rest of your day reminding yourself of my goodness?  What if you thought about things that were true, right, pure, noble, just, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy?  What if you stopped complaining about how much you had to do and instead asked me to come alongside you every day and help you find peace in the midst of your busyness?  What if you filled your home with beautiful music and loveliness?  What if you made ME your goal for the day instead of your “to-do” list?
Me: Yeah, well, that’s all great, Pollyanna, but it’s still not going to make my life perfect, and it’s not going to change my kids.
God: No, it won’t.  At least, not directly.  But what will it change?
Me: (Sigh.)  Me.  (Deep, heavy sigh.)  Do you always have to be right about everything?
God: Well…yeah…

Me: So, you’re saying I’m in this pit of perpetual frustration because I’ve been neglecting my relationship with you?  That whole, “I am the vine, you are the branches” stuff?
God: It’s at least a theory worth testing, wouldn’t you say?  I heard someone once say, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”
Me: You said that.
God: I did, didn’t I?  😉
Me: So, if I spend more time with you, I might score higher on that test?
God: You’re big on test scores, aren’t you?
Me: Are you kidding me?  I’m an obsessive, Type-A personality with a semi-first-born birth order!
God: HAHAHA!  Yes, you are.  I guess that’s my fault.
Me: Abba?
God: Yes, child?
Me: I love you.
God: Ariaun?
Me: Yeah?
God: I absolutely adore you.
Me:  🙂

What Do You Do All Day?

Dear readers, I am embarking on an epic challenge. Today. This minute. I am going to attempt to answer the question that has been puzzling men and women alike for decades: What on earth do stay-at-home-moms do all day?

In all honesty, this question can be answered a thousand different ways. Some SAHMs have one kid and work from home while their sweet angel sleeps 15 hours per day; some have four kids, four nannies and a live-in housekeeper; some have nine children, all homeschooled, and life is loud and chaotic every minute of every day. No two SAHMs are exactly alike. But as for me, I dare say that I fairly-well represent the average SAHM, sitting smack-dab on the very top of the bell curve.

I have two kids. One boy, one girl. One first-grader, one preschooler. We homeschool part-time and co-op part time. We have a middle-class income, live in a middle-class neighborhood, and live a fairly middle-class lifestyle. We have an average 2000-square-foot home on a half-acre lot in the suburbs of the third-largest city in Tennessee. My husband drives a mid-size SUV and I have a mini-van. We use Groupons. Seriously, we’re about as average as you can get. Which is why I feel qualified to write this article and answer this age-old question with near-pristine accuracy.

To begin with, let me start by saying that no two five-minute time periods in a SAHM’s day are exactly alike, so when I say I’m going to explain my “typical” day, I’m going to be painting with pretty broad strokes. An average day will consist of a laundry list of possibilities, which is why, when people try to map it out in timeline form (7:15 – eat breakfast, 7:28 – clean up breakfast off the floor and off the dog), it doesn’t fairly depict what a day in the life of a SAHM (or dad, for that matter) actually looks like. So I’m going to be taking a different angle. Get comfy, kids.  Here we go.

The first part of my day is generally the same as it is for most moms.  I get up in the morning after anywhere from 0-8 hours of sleep, fix breakfast, get showered and dressed, start a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher and get the kids ready for the day.  What happens beyond that is the seemingly unsolved mystery.  So let me break it down for you into six general categories.

#1: I entertain my children. Let’s get this item on the table first and foremost b/c I get the feeling that this is the bulk of what people THINK we do all day.  Yes, it’s true, we play board games and paint pictures and read books and watch movies. We go to the zoo, the park, the pool, the library, the splash pad, and the children’s museum. We have play dates and ride the trolley around town and eat ice cream at 10:00 in the morning. We drive to the mountains and have picnics in fields of wildflowers and frolic in rolling meadows and jump into chalk drawings and race in merry-go-round horse derbies. This is indeed one of the perks of being a SAHM. Usually it is pretty fun, and I generally enjoy this aspect of my job very much.

We SAHMs take our children on outings because we want them to experience the world around them and have fun doing it. But we also take our children on outings because keeping children cooped up in a house 24/7 with no social outlet or room to run around and play and let out their boundless energy is the quickest ticket to the insane asylum that I can think of.  And while it seems to the outside viewer that all we’re doing is “playing,” we’re actually simultaneously running a three-ring circus.  We leave the house packed with an arsenal of little-people necessities, including (but not limited to): lunch, snacks, drinks, changes of clothes, diapers, wipes, pacifiers, nursing covers, Band-aids, First-Aid kits and Knuffle Bunnies. We flawlessly manage children, strollers, diaper bags, backpacks, lunch coolers, sunscreen, cash, membership cards, directions, parking garages, naptime schedules and weather conditions. We’re office managers, administrative assistants, meteorologists and event planners, all rolled into one glorious unpaid position.

People often mistakenly assume that when we’re on outings with our girlfriends and their children that we get to have plenty of “mommy time” as well. My husband used to think this, too. He would come home from work and ask me how my play date earlier that day went with my friends.
“Fine.” I would say.
“Did Rachelle get back from her trip?” he would ask.
“Yep.”
“How was it?”
“Good, I think.”
“Didn’t you two talk about it?”
“Well, in between fixing lunch and breaking up fights and me taking my kid potty and her taking her kid potty and bandaging bleeding elbows and breaking up more fights and figuring out whose turn it was on the swing set and getting someone a glass of water and someone else a tissue and circumventing a temper tantrum that someone threw because we wouldn’t get out the Slip-N-Slide on this balmy 65-degree day…yes, we talked about it. I think we had about five minutes-worth of actual conversation the entire time we were together. I know enough to know she had a good time. That’s about it.”

As a side note, mommy conversations should never be confused with the same quality of conversation between two adults when children aren’t around. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just pick up the phone and call a mom who is home with young children. Get a stopwatch and calculate just exactly how much time you spend actually talking to that mom in the course of a 10-minute conversation. Or more accurately, calculate how much time she spends talking to you. Because really, while you’re talking to her, she’s on the other end of the phone giving the death look to at least one of her children, silently mouthing the words, “Get. Off. The. Top. Of. The. Refrigerator. NOW.” She’s not listening to a word you’re saying. So give that experiment a try, and then we can talk more about this subject at a later date.

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  So that’s the first thing we do.  Let’s move on to number 2, shall we?

#2: I clean things. I clean yogurt off the wall and stepped-on blueberries off the floor.  I clean peanut butter off bathroom sinks and orange juice out of hair.  The amount of food that can end up not in a child’s mouth is unfathomable to the untrained parent.  It’s everywhere. And you can’t slack on this task because certain dried-on foods (oatmeal, for example) basically require a sandblaster to remove them from your hardwood floor.  Food clean-up must be dealt with regularly and expeditiously.  Or else.

The cleaning list then continues beyond the scope of food. I also clean paint off the dishwasher and magic marker off the ceiling. I take toys out of the refrigerator and put them back where they belong. I sort millions of tiny pieces of Lego, Tinker Toys, doll accessories, board game accessories, crayons, plastic beads, wooden food, and plastic jewelry and return them to their rightful homes roughly twenty times a day. I dust, mop, sweep and scrub toilets on a semi-regular basis. If I’m feeling especially domesticated (which is rare), I vacuum. And generally, while I’m cleaning up one room, the children are making a gargantuan unsupervised mess in another. It’s a job that never, ever ends. A SAHM’s house is only ever clean if and when the children are either out of the house with someone else or unconscious. Otherwise, “clean” is a relative term that each mom learns to manage based on her personality type.

#3: I referee. The sad reality of small children is that they aren’t born knowing how to get along with other people. We get the privilege of teaching them to become socially-competent members of society. So I spend a good chunk of my days managing the injustices of the early childhood world. “It’s my turn on the computer!” “She ate my apple!” “He won’t play ‘puppy’ with me like he PWOMISED!!!” Some days I’m calm and patient, and we talk through our problems and learn how to solve them like rational human beings. I remind them about God’s great love for us and how He desires that we treat one another as better than ourselves, and that we should forgive one another. Other days, though, the incessant screaming is more than my noise-sensitive mommy ears can take and I banish them to their rooms for all eternity. It just depends.

#4: I take my children to the grocery store. This, my friends, is what separates the women from the girls, if you will. This is the the Mommy Olympics. If you can leave a grocery store on time, under budget and with as many kids as you came in with, you deserve a gold medal.  A gold medal that no one will ever give you, though, so don’t get your hopes up.

Before we proceed, keep in mind that going to the grocery store with kids on rainy days, days when one or more kids are sick, or on Senior Discount Days are the worst of all rookie mistakes.  If you are a new mom, heed my warning now.  Staying up until midnight to go to the store alone will help you live longer and have lower blood pressure than if you try any of the above scenarios.  Trust me on this one.  Now, back to shopping.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Make a list.
  • Make sure you buy everything on your list.
  • Make sure you buy the RIGHT items on your list (because not just any old kind of organic, expeller-pressed, extra-virgin coconut oil will do, am I right?).
  • Keep your kids from running away from you or getting kidnapped.
  • Constantly, and in your most patient voice, remind them that breakable glass jars filled with sticky things like honey are for looking but not for touching.
  • Find the “teachable moments” so that your children will be intelligent and well-rounded (This is a kumquat, children. What color is it? What does it smell like? What does it feeeeel like? What countries are kumquats grown in? Let’s ask Siri!).
  • Push a cart full of groceries and, in my case, roughly 70lbs-worth of children, which are hanging from the front and sides of the cart, through the entire store without knocking over the toilet paper display in the center of the aisle.
  • Sing songs and play games to keep them calm and happy during the duration of your shopping trip because otherwise, the looks (and sometimes comments) you get from the non-parent customers might just be the straw that breaks the frazzled camel’s back by the time you’re halfway through the store.
  • Be strong and say no to the M&Ms and the Little Debbies and the chocolate chip cookie cereal and the Jell-O and the Matchbox cars strategically placed three feet off the ground at the end cap of every single aisle in the store.
  • Do all of this while attempting to keep them from having a total meltdown in the middle of the store, which could happen at any moment for any reason (because children are emotional mine fields).  And sweet Jesus help the mama who tries to do this while using coupons.

Once you’ve finished your shopping, you head to the checkout aisle, where you:

  • Watch to make sure your groceries ring up correctly AND
  • Keep the children from adding candy to the conveyor belt AND
  • Let them help take the eggs out of the cart AND
  • Say no to the lollipop that the cashier is offering them AND
  • Calmly and gently navigate the temper tantrum that ensues from said lollipop denial AND
  • Remember your coupons AND
  • Count out correct change.

All at the same time. Keep in mind that this is also usually when any child between the ages of three and six has to go potty RIGHT NOW. Once you’ve managed all that, then you have to:

  • Get through the parking lot with children holding on to either you or the cart while you push through a sea of cars (half of which are driving in reverse and can’t see your children).
  • Get the children in the car.
  • Get the groceries in the car.
  • Get the cart returned while never taking your eyes off the car (kidnappers, you know).
  • Get in the car.
  • Drive home.
  • Unload the groceries (while the children “help”).
  • Sit down and rest for a few minutes.

Okay, that last bullet was a joke. By this point the kids are hungry again and need food. Which brings me to the next item on my list.

#5: I cook.  My family doesn’t eat much processed food, so I cook a lot. My kids get the occasional snack out of a package because I only have so much sanity in me, but as far as most of the meals in our house go, they’re all on me. Between preparing meals and cleaning them up, I easily spend a minimum of three hours per day in the kitchen.  Minimum.  And on any given moment of any given day, at least one child will be disgusted by the same meal that was her “favorite food ever” just the day before.  Children’s likes and dislikes when it comes to food are a constantly-moving target, so I spend a hearty portion of my day managing food-related temper tantrums and trying to avoid power struggles.

The best part of this aspect of my job is wading through the advice on how to handle food-related issues with children.  If I don’t handle it this way, my children will grow up malnourished because they will only eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches and pickles for the rest of their lives.  If I don’t handle it that way, then my children will grow up and rebel against everything I’ve ever taught them and will be either morbidly obese or anorexic, and it will be all my fault.  There’s a lot riding on whether or not I should make the kid eat the plate of eggs in front of him or just fix him a sandwich, and the stress of it all is something nobody tells you about before you have kids.

But I digress.

The basic act of feeding children is almost a full-time job in itself.  People with newborn babies often ask me, “When do they stop eating every two hours?”  I tell them, “Not until they’re at least 18.”  Children’s bodies are constantly growing, so moms are constantly feeding and constantly cleaning up the aftermath of each meal and snack (see Item #2).  If you’re a new SAHM, get used to the idea of being a 24-hour food factory.  UNLESS, of course, you have the kind of kid that never eats anything.  Ever.  This type of child is just as common as the former; however, I have exactly zero experience in this arena, so I can’t help you.  Just know that I know you’re out there, dear mama, and your plight is huge.  Support groups are available.  Help is just a phone call away.

#6: I teach.  In the midst of the cooking and the cleaning and the shopping and the playing and the surviving, every moment of my day holds the opportunity for teaching.  I teach my children to walk. To talk. To talk correctly. To sleep. To use the potty. To bathe. To bathe correctly. To not hit each other. To use their inside voices. To not scream at mommy. To write their letters and numbers. To read. To pray. To ride a bicycle. To color inside the lines. To color outside the lines. To sweep the floor. To take out the trash. To do laundry. To clean up after themselves. To swim. To brush their teeth. To get along with people. To see themselves as God sees them. To be humble. To be generous. To be gracious.  To be trustworthy.

I teach them about why the sky is blue and who George Washington was. I teach them that, even though The Wiggles are cool, John Denver and Rich Mullins are way cooler. I teach them that living life is better than watching it on TV. I teach them that dirt is made to dig in. I teach them that their daddy is the best man on the planet. I teach them to love books. I teach them, not that they can be anything they want to be, but to discover who it is that God made them to be. I teach them that mommies make a lot of mistakes. I teach them to ask for forgiveness. I teach them that life is best lived with eyes wide open. I teach and I teach and I teach…and I teach some more.  And when I’m not teaching, I’m answering any one of the 875 questions they ask on a daily basis.  Oh, wait.  That’s still teaching.  Never mind.

I teach and I teach and I teach, all the while hoping that they will retain.  Worried that I’m not doing enough, or that I’m doing it wrong.  Feeling like their entire physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual well-being has been entrusted to me and it doesn’t really take that much to destroy any or all of those things.  That’s when I teach them about God’s goodness and His grace and His mercy and His compassion and His sovereignty and His trustworthiness.  And I teach them what it looks like to surrender everything into His care.

In all honesty, this list could go on just about forever.  I still haven’t even covered the “Getting Kids In And Out Of The Car” issue, which literally takes up hours of a SAHM’s life, especially in the winter.  But I think I’ve fairly-well covered the basics.  Without question, this job has a lot of down sides.  I don’t get much adult interaction, I don’t get much time off, I never get lunch breaks, I take my work with me on vacations, I don’t always get sick days when I need them, I don’t receive raises or accolades, and my job requirements are constantly changing without warning.  But it’s also just about the most incredible, rewarding, inspiring thing a person can do.

I’ve heard that staying home with my kids is a waste of my college education. I’ve heard that I’m not living up to my intellectual potential. I’ve heard that I’m giving in to the defeminization of women and kowtowing to the masculine domination of society.

I say call it whatever you’d like. I’m spending my days with the most important people in my life, the most treasured gifts I could ever be given. And while most days my clothes are covered in sidewalk chalk dust and my hair is disheveled and my make-up is smeared and my house looks like a bomb went off in it, I take great pride in the work I do and will continue to be ever so grateful for the seeds I’m planting in the rich, fertile soil of my young children’s hearts and minds.  It is a sweet, precious gift from The Maker himself to be a mother, and even though many days I can understand why some species eat their young, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t trade my work for anything under the sun.

What do YOU do all day?

Sara Groves Saves Boy’s Life

This morning I spent a good part of my time listening to my son hone the skills of his latest obsession – backseat driving.  “Mom, why aren’t you going?  Are you gonna pass that car?  Why are you in this lane?  Why did you speed up so fast?  I don’t think this is the right way.  Mom, the car in front of you is moving now.  Why did you slow down?  Why aren’t you going that way?  Are you speeding?”

For twenty minutes, this interrogation continued before reaching our destination.  Given the (well-hidden) fact that patience is not my strongest asset, I found myself moving quickly to my breaking point.  But then, swiftly and instinctually, like a gazelle sensing the imminent danger of a hungry lioness on the prowl, he asks, ever so cautiously, “Mom, do you think we could listen to a Sara Groves CD?”

And just like that, harmony is restored, patience resumes, and the six-year-old highway expert ultimately saves himself from imminent destruction and lives to see another day.  “Why yes!  Yes, my dear boy, we most certainly can.  Aren’t you just precious.”

I have brilliant children.

Editor’s note: Some details of this story may have been slightly embellished for effect.

Stolen Treasure

In September of 1998, when Jeremy and I were dating, he gave me a Bible for my birthday.  Though I was strong in my love for the Lord, I was surprisingly immature in my knowledge of scripture.  Bible-reading was never made a priority in my home growing up, and though I attended church most of my life, I had somehow made it all the way to college without knowing key details of even the simplest stories in the scriptures.  The Bibles I had in my home as a kid were usually King James, and though I tried hard to read them, I got too caught up in the “thees” and the “thous” to really grasp what the text was saying.  I would quickly give up and find something more fun to do.

In high school I bought myself a “True Love Waits” Bible.  Yep.  Sure did.  It had the title written in great big purple and green neon colors on the front of it, shouting my declaration of abstinence to the world.  I carried it around proudly.  Then I went to college.  I carried it much more discreetly then.  I think I even bought a cover for it.  I still rarely read it.

Soon into our dating relationship, Jeremy bought me a new Bible.  It was beautiful.  A brown, leather-bound NIV Bible, published by InterVarsity Press.  It was filled with quiet time devotionals, some inspiring, some cheesy.  I was so unbelievably excited when he gave it to me.  He had written on the front page, “With joy in seeing God work in your life.”  I remember exactly where we were when he gave it to me.  It’s the only one I’ve used ever since.  I could find the passages I was looking for, not by chapter and verse as much as by the location on the page.  I kept a card in it that Jeremy had given me as part of a bouquet of flowers, which I used as a bookmark.  It had favorite quotes written in it, spoken by people I love, that I wanted to make sure I always remembered.  It had a picture of two of my favorite little girls in it that my friend had recently given me.  It was the first Bible I read cover-to-cover.

I loved it.  I loved the way it felt in my hands when I held it.  I loved the feel of the pages.  I loved that it had been given to me by someone who was desiring to draw my heart to know the Lord in a much deeper way.

SONY DSCEarly last Thursday, I discovered that my car had been broken into (well, not “broken”, exactly.  The doors were accidentally left unlocked, so I suppose it was an open invitation), and my purse was stolen.  It had a good amount of cash in it, as well as my credit cards, insurance cards, library cards, driver’s license, etc.  It was a frustrating experience that made me angry and has robbed me of happiness for several days.  I normally get over things pretty quickly, but I’ve had a hard time with this situation, for some reason.

On Sunday morning as we were headed into church, I went to get my Bible out of my car.  It wasn’t there.  I figured I had left it at home.  Then this morning I searched for it again.  The pink striped bag that I kept it in was nowhere to be found.  It wasn’t in the kitchen.  It wasn’t in the garage.  It wasn’t by my desk.  I checked the car again.  Nothing.

My heart sank as I slowly realized what had happened.

I’m not really much of a sentimental person, and I don’t usually find much value in “stuff,” but that Bible was a priceless treasure to me.  Much more so than the valuables that had been taken from my purse.  I guess because it wasn’t just a Bible, but rather a constant reminder of where I had been and how far the Lord has brought me in my pursuit of Him…or better said, His pursuit of me.  As I think about it, tears come to my eyes.

We live in a country where Bibles are a dime a dozen.  Just this evening I perused the Bible section of a local bookstore and was overwhelmed with my choices.  King James, New King James, NIV, Amplified, Holman, English Standard, The Message, The Message and the NIV in one, The Mom’s Devotional Bible, The Working Man’s Bible, The Ragamuffin Bible, The Duck Dynasty Bible, The Sailor’s Bible (really?), Study Bibles, big thick Bibles with lots of commentary, little tiny Bibles with little tiny 6.5-point fonts, Bibles with zippers…as I looked through the choices, I felt like Bubba on his shrimp boat.

I’ve probably given away more Bibles than I ever owned.  In fact, I gave two of them away this past weekend.  The fact that I had a Bible stolen from me isn’t a very big big deal.  But the fact that I had that Bible stolen from me was heartbreaking.  The attachment I had to it is great, and the more I think about it, the more I realize how much it meant to me.  But as I sit here and try to process my feelings, all I can think about is how thankful I am for the journey that I have been on with the Lord for the last 16 years, and how He has used the words in that book throughout my life.  I’m thankful for the ways in which He has written them on my heart and transformed who I am and how I see the world and make decisions and relate to people.  I’m thankful that, thousands of years after it was written, I can still sit here and marvel at the power of the story and the way God has used it to change the hearts of countless numbers of people all over the world from generation to generation.  I’m thankful for the supernatural way that Jesus can relentlessly pursue someone through a tool that seemingly amounts to nothing more than words on a page.

I’m sad that the Bible I loved is gone.  I don’t have a profound lesson I’ve learned from the experience (other than maybe to be more diligent about keeping my car doors locked), that I can share with the world.  I’m just kind of sad.  But I won’t dwell on the sadness.  I will count the memories with joy and treasure them in my heart.  I will pray that the person who took it is drawn by the Holy Spirit to read it and be affected by its message.  I will be glad that the man who gave it to me sixteen years ago decided to make me his bride despite the immaturity of my faith.  I’ll get a new Bible.  I’ll learn new truths.  I’ll write new notes.  I’ll underline new favorite passages.  I’ll make new memories.  I’ll have new adventures.  I will rejoice in the goodness of the Lord and the blessing of His word and the power of its life-changing Truth.

Do you have a favorite Bible?  Does it have a story behind it?  I’d love to hear it!  Feel free to share your story here.

Laying it Down

It’s Monday morning.  I wake up without an alarm clock at 6am, refreshed from a weekend of interaction with adults and extra sets of hands to help with the kids.  There are plans I want to make, tasks I want to accomplish, books I want to read, and fun things I want to do with my children.  I have energy and strength and patience.  My heart rate is normal.  I’m calm, relaxed and ready to start a new week.

It’s a good feeling.  But it won’t last long.  I know it won’t.  You see, I’m in the throes of parenting young children.  And parenting young children is hard.  And not always rewarding.  I mean, of course it’s rewarding.  Sometimes.  For crying out loud, every day I get to see my heart walking around outside of my body in two different forms, singing “Jesus Loves Me” and sharing with me the joys of life that they have discovered that day and telling me that “I rock.”

But it’s not always so.

Last week I sent both my sister and my husband a text message saying, “I think this is going to be the day that I figure out just how much incessant whining I can take before I completely snap.”  Last week, every minute of every day felt like this:

Mom, I don’t like this.  I want something else to eat.  Mom, can you get me a drink?  Mom, where are my shorts?  Mom, I want to go swimming.  Mom, will you read to me?  Mom, will you play with me?  Mom, she won’t let me have a turn!  Mom, can you push me on the swing?  Mom, will you fix me a snack?  Mom, will you get me some milk?  Mom, can we go play at Evan’s house?  Mom, will you go outside with me?  Mom, can you help me draw this?  Mom, can you help me build this?  Mom, can you help me turn this on?  Mom, will you wipe me?  Mom, can you come NOW?!  Mom, will you…can you…how do you…I want…give me…look at me…

All of these requests and demands and immediate needs were completely surrounding me and flying at my head like tiny arrows from the bows of small, selfish, irrational people all the minutes of all the days.  I’m trying to meet every need and fulfill every request while simultaneously attempting to sweep sticky eggs off the dining room floor and put the dishes away and get the laundry out of the washing machine before it starts to smell moldy (again) and take a shower and make the grocery list and cook the dinner, etc, etc, etc…

I ain’t gonna lie to ya.  Some days this mama gig completely wears me down.  And I get why some moms start drinking alcohol at lunchtime.

Last week, as I was particularly struggling with finding joy in my job, I asked the Lord for strength.  “Give me some encouragement, God.  I’m about to lose it.  Please?”  And He kindly obliged.  As I was standing in my dining room, sweeping the floor for the third time that day, He offered me this verse:

Greater love has no mom than this, that she lay down her life for her kids.”
John 15:13 IMV (International Mommy Version).

He said to me,
“You see that egg you’re sweeping off the floor, sweet mama?  You’re laying down your life.
You see those little grass-stained shorts that you’re trying to get clean for the fourth time?  You’re laying down your life.
You see that copy of Skippyjon Jones that you’re reading for the eighteenth time today?  You’re laying down your life.
You see that fight that you just broke up over whose turn it was to have that exact green crayon?  You’re laying down your life.
You see how the only time today that you’re going to sit down will be when you’re eating or driving little people somewhere?  You’re laying down your life.

“That bathroom break that you take with two other kids joining you asking you questions you’re not ready to answer, that Band-aid you’re putting on the boo-boo that’s not bleeding, that important phone call you’re trying to make that happens to come at the exact same moment your youngest needs a glass of water RIGHT NOW because she’s SO THIRSTY and she CAN’T WAIT, all happening at the same time, and all you really want to do is find a quiet place to sit and read or talk to a friend or have a cup of coffee or just be completely quiet and think about something other than whose turn it is to choose a video?  You’re laying down your life.”

I went back and read the passage of scripture from which the above verse came.  It says, in part “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends…you did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.

I cannot tell you how much those words nourished my soul as I read them.  I have always known this in my head, but sometimes Truth gets lost in translation on its way to my heart.  As Jesus is talking to his disciples about himself and about them, I am reminded of my calling.  My calling is not to be an accomplished housewife with a museum-quality home.  My calling is not to be a well-tanned, well-rested, sweet-tea-in-one-hand, good-book-in-another kind-of mom.  My calling is not to be so tired from all the unnecessary projects I create for myself that I don’t have time to read another book to my children.  My calling is to lay down my life – my fleshly desires, my selfish ambitions, my unnecessary needs – and to serve my children.  And in so doing, the Lord will make my joy complete because His joy will be in me.  HIS JOY will be in ME!

And it’s true.  When I work as unto the Lord, I do have joy.  I LOVE to serve my Father.  I can easily get stuck in a rut feeling like I don’t always love serving my children.  But when I step back and look at things with fresh eyes through the words of scripture, I’m not just serving my children.  I’m serving my Father.  And when I think about it from that frame of reference, I hear the words of Isaiah saying, “Here am I!!!  Send me!!!”  I remember that I have offered those words to God many times throughout the years, and I did so thinking I would be sent to do overseas missions or inner-city ministry or something “special” like that.  But I haven’t been sent to do that.  Not yet, anyway.  Today, I have been chosen and appointed to go and bear fruit…fruit that will last…to my children.  If I’m serving them with frustration and resentment and anger and bitterness, they will taste that fruit and want nothing of it, and consequently, nothing of me or this God that I claim to be loving.  But if I serve them with kindness and compassion and patience and joy, they will taste that fruit and (hopefully) take great delight in it.

I doubt that this reminder will make my job any less emotionally challenging or physically draining.  But it’s a renewed perspective that already fills my heart with joy and encouragement as I begin this new week.  And this morning, I look forward to serving my Jesus as I serve my children.  And maybe, while I’m at it, we can work on learning at least one new self-help skill.  😉

 

Broken Dishes

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on my personal Facebook page in April, 2014.

15 years ago I was given a complete set of hand-me-down dishes from my dear friends, Alf and Margaret Beth.  They were a sweet gesture, one I was truly appreciative of.  But honestly, the dishes themselves weren’t really all that fantastic.  They weren’t exactly my style.  Some of them were even already chipped.  But I took them with much gratitude, thinking, “These will come in handy when I have kids, so that we can teach them to eat from “real” dishes instead of plastic ones, and we won’t have to worry about them breaking our nice dishes.”  (Jeremy and I were engaged at the time.)  Plus, I loved my friends and I appreciated their offer to a young couple just starting out.

We held onto them for nine years before we even had kids, then another five before we started actually using them.  They’ve been moved to seven different homes in three different cities across Tennessee.  Each time I see them I think of my friends and how much I love and miss them.  It wasn’t until sometime early last year that we finally pulled them out of the storage closet for our kids to use.

When I first took them, I had no idea how much they would come to mean to me.  I haven’t seen my friends in…I don’t know…ten years?  But for 15 years, a part of them has lived somewhere in my home, and I’ve carried their memories with me all this time.  And because I love my friends, I’ve come to love those dishes as well.

Early this afternoon one of the plates broke.  The second from the set to meet its demise, actually.  Natalie came from the dining room table into the laundry room where I was, bottom lip quivering, trying not to cry.  But it had frightened her, and after a few seconds of trying hard, she could no longer hold it in.  As anyone who knows my daughter well will tell you, there’s nothing more powerful than fear and embarrassment to make her sob deep, heaving sobs.  Knowing this, I did my best to comfort her quickly.

As I sat and held her and reassured her, I didn’t get upset that one of the dishes I loved was broken.  Instead, I remembered its purpose.  I was thankful that we had chosen to tote around cheap, fragile dishes for 15 years.  I was thankful my little girl wasn’t hurt.  As I cleaned up the mess, I was thankful for my friends, and I was compelled to pray for them.  I was also thankful for the reminder that such is the Body of Christ.
IMG_3696
We are weak and fragile.  Easily broken.  We’re all chipped in places.  Some of us aren’t as fancy or as well-known as others.  But we have so much value to Him who loves us, who has carried us and called us His own since before the beginning of time.

And He made us, each and every one of us, for a unique purpose.  It may be simple.  It may be mundane.  It may be unworthy of worldly recognition.  We may spend our entire lives sitting in a dark drawer while others get the privilege of being displayed proudly in a glass cabinet.  But to the One who knows our names, our life is meaningful.  Our worth is invaluable.  His love for us is deep and profoundly significant.  Not because of who we are or what we do.  Not because of any value the world has placed on us.  But because of Him and what He has done for us.  Even to those of us who, like my dishes, are made to do nothing more than to provide a loaf of bread or a cup of cold water to a small child, we have been bought with a price.  And the value of that cannot be measured in human terms.

I love those dishes.  Perhaps now even moreso.

Lessons From the Ziploc Bag

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on my personal Facebook page in February, 2014.

Today inadvertently presented itself with a great object lesson in faith. It was a beautiful day, so after Aiden got his book work done for school, we went outside armed with baking soda, vinegar and a plastic sandwich bag. It was a good day to blow stuff up. I told the kids to stand in a particular spot in the driveway while I daringly loaded the ammunition. They stood. I loaded. I turned back around. They were gone.

They had run up to the top of the hill behind our house, as far away as they could get from the perilous Ziploc bag. Fortunately, the experiment went awry. Not enough vinegar (or baking soda, I’m not sure which). So I tried again, this time adding more of both. I told the kids, “Don’t run away this time! Stand HERE. Trust. Me.” They stood. I loaded. I turned back around. They were gone.

I halted the experiment and had them come down from hiding. We chatted (I’m hormonal today, so I may have chatted loudly. On second thought, firmly sounds better. Let’s say firmly). “Guys! This is a really cool experiment, and you’re missing it because you’re not trusting that where I have you is safe! You’re trusting in your fear and you’re running away from something that’s meant to be fun! Your fear of what might happen is stronger than your trust in me!”

Lightbulb.

I got quieter.

“Hey, kids, you know what? It’s exactly the same with us and God. He has great plans for us! Really, really cool things in store for our lives! And He promises us that if we just trust in Him, He will be with us, and He will care for us. But too often, instead of trusting in Him, we get afraid of what might happen. We worry that maybe He doesn’t know as much as we do or that He doesn’t really have everything under control. And so, we run away from the good things He has for us because our fear is stronger than our faith. And we end up missing out on some amazing things in life!”

I don’t know if they got it or not. But man, I sure did.

We tried again. The kids didn’t run away this time. Well, Natalie still backed up quite a bit (nobody asked her opinion about this gig in the first place).

The experiment worked. The bag exploded. Aiden was ecstatic.

And my heart was full.