Moving Chairs

When Beach Dad was a youth minister, we had our large youth group meetings in a room that also served as a Sunday School classroom. Every week, we had to meet at the church an hour or two before the meeting started to do things like put away the Sunday School tables and chairs and decorate the room for youth group.

There was one leader who, nearly every week, missed the setup time and showed up just in time for the actual youth group meeting to start, with a different reason for missing setup each time. Finally, when my husband asked her about it and reminded her that part of the youth leader commitment was to help each week, she answered: “I just don’t feel called to move chairs. I really want to meet with the girls one-on-one and to lead their Bible study and to come play the games at youth group meetings, but I just don’t feel called to move chairs. So, I think I’ll just skip that part.”

You don’t feel called to move chairs?!?!

After our initial annoyance, we decided it was simply hilarious.  Is there really anyone who feels specifically called to move chairs? Did my husband decide to be a youth minister so he could move chairs? Did I volunteer with the youth group so I could get my weekly chair-moving fix?

Of course not!  But, moving chairs was a part of loving the students and making the ministry happen.  “Moving chairs” became our reminder to each other that ministry often happens in the little moments.

I was telling someone that story recently, in the context of ministry, and my story basically slapped me on the side of my head.

So. Much. of motherhood is moving chairs. I make meals, I clean dishes and do laundry, I change diapers, I organize and re-organize toys…. And it can be so easy for me to grumble, to say “I want to play with my kids and teach them how to be kind, independent people and to love Jesus, not to do their dirty dishes or clean poop out of the bathtub.  I’m just not called to clean poop out of a bathtub!”

Of course that’s not why I became a mom. As I’ve dreamed of parenting my whole life, I haven’t been thinking “And then I’ll get to make another dinner, just like I did last night! And then I’ll get to wash another load of laundry. Maybe I’ll even get to remove some stains from clothes! What a calling!”

But, as I fulfill my calling as mommy, so much of my day-to-day looks like those mundane tasks. Sure, I have daily one-on-one times with my girls and I get to play games with them and teach them how to love people and love God.  But, the majority of my time is spent doing little, seemingly-trivial tasks like moving chairs.

Often, I feel discouraged by that and like motherhood is a bit of a letdown in the glamour department. Or, I feel like if only I were better organized, I wouldn’t have to clean up so much.  If only…

I tend to focus on the more dramatic moments like explaining the Gospel or taking my daughter to get a cast for her broken ankle (poor girl!) as the real defining moments of motherhood.

But the reality is that the routine, messy tasks of mothering are just as important as the special, dramatic moments. In fact, since they add up to be so much more of our time, maybe they’re even more important than the dramatic moments?

As I serve my family and clean their dishes, their laundry, and their diapers, I’m not only making our house livable, I’m giving my daughters an example of what it looks like to serve Jesus, to live my life out for Him even in the mundane. I’m stumbling through overcoming my own selfishness to put their needs before mine and to repent when I (frequently) fail to do that well. I’m relying on Him to change my heart from a grumbling heart to a joyfully serving one, more and more like His. I’m looking to Him for my example of what it means to really love people. And, just like when Jesus knelt down and washed His disciples’ feet or multiplied a small amount of food to provide for a multitude of people, I’m showing my precious children that I love them and that, only because of Jesus, I want to and am able to serve them.

Perhaps, one of my most effective forms of ministry and witness to my family occurs when I’m simply moving chairs.

———

I’m linking up to The Better Mom.

Not Alone

Some days, I feel like something must be wrong with me. Being a mom really shouldn’t be this hard. Occasionally, people (without kids) tell me that it’s not hard to be a parent, especially a stay at home one. With statements like “I wish I could stay at home and not work like you do” or “I just don’t see what could be hard about being a mom” and questions like “What do you do all day?” I sometimes start to doubt myself. Is it really that hard to be a stay at home mom? Maybe I’m just a wimp.

Being a mom is my dream job. I’ve dreamed of being a mom my whole life. I babysat any spare moment I could; I taught Sunday School to preschoolers; and I learned all I could about child development and education. When I grew up, I knew I wanted to be a stay at home mom. I absolutely love my children and often feel like my heart is going to burst from so much love as I watch these wonderful children.

But being a mom is hard.  It’s a constant call to die to self, to give just a little bit more when I feel like I have nothing left to give. It’s a constant struggle to jump in when I don’t want to and to not jump in when I do want to. It’s working all day – and sometimes all night – to love and pour myself empty for other people who can’t give much in return.  It’s persistent guilt that I’m too involved or not involved enough; too protective or not protective enough; too lenient or not lenient enough. Someday, it’s going to be driving away, hoping and trusting that I have sufficiently worked myself out of a job.

Ultimately, it’s constant surrender to trusting God and resting in Him because – no matter how great or terrible of a parent I am – ultimately, my children’s safety, education, salvation, and overall well-being are in his hands.

It’s this weird balance between being called to do my best, but knowing that my best is entirely insufficient.

So many days, I feel like I’m going it alone.  As I look around mom’s groups and church, it seems like most moms have their act together. Sure, there’s another harried mom in the grocery store sometimes, or every once in awhile someone besides me will carry their screaming child out of the sanctuary.  But, a lot of times, when I talk to other moms, it seems like they’re doing just fine. They seem to know what they’re doing, to not mind the never-ending demands, and to be able to give of themselves endlessly.

But, for some reason, Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson wrote a book for moms called Desperate. Did they write a book just for me?  Nope, it’s in the top 50 books on Amazonsince it came out… so I must not be the only one.

Knowing that – despite how it appears – I’m not alone in my thinking, I’ve been a bit bolder in my conversations with other moms.  And, slowly, we’ve started to share reality.  Other moms – some who I’ve known awhile and others who were practically strangers two weeks ago –  and I have shared how we love our children deeply and count them among our most wonderful blessings.  That each of our children is a miracle and we are so thankful.  That we each desire to eventually have more children, but often wonder if we’re insane because we can barely handle what we’ve got.

This journey is so much harder than we had expected and than anyone else seems to think it is.  And, usually, we feel completely alone.  Most days, it’s nearly impossible to finish a sentence, let alone a conversation, with a friend. We’re never alone, but we still feel so lonely.

Sometimes we don’t want to answer that we’re “fine” when someone asks how we’re doing.  But if we tell how we’re really doing, we might come across as needy or weak… We might be rejected.

Often, we don’t know what we’re doing, but feel like we have to pretend we do.

We look around and see moms who are patient, creative, gracious, productive, and balanced and we feel inferior.

We’d love mentorship of older women, but we look around our churches and aren’t even sure who to ask. We’re afraid we’d burden them, but if someone younger asked us to mentor them, we’d be honored and thrilled… and terrified because we don’t know what we’re doing.

We each struggle to embrace the beautiful truth that we are the moms God chose for each of our children.

And, most amazing and surprising to me of all is that recently, I sat in a group of moms who barely know each other as we all confessed just how much we compare ourselves. It turns out we each have looked at every other mom in the room and thought “She has it all together. Look how she ____.” We’ve even mentioned the other moms’ awesomeness to our husbands.

And each of us feels like I do – “how could anyone ever possibly think that about me?”

Through these authentic moments in conversation, these moms and I didn’t break-through in our parenting. We didn’t solve the un-solvable riddles for sleep, food, or obedience dilemmas. We don’t know what we’re doing any better than we did yesterday. But today, we know we’re not alone.  And, today, if you’re feeling alone in your mothering, I pray that you also will know that you are not inadequate and alone.  There are other moms out there who feel just like you… and I’m one of them.

 

I’m linking up to: Five Days Five Ways & Consider the Lilies.

Introducing… Beach Reads

As we’ve talked about how we want to be more intentional in 2013, Beach Dad and I would both like to read more.   We both enjoy reading, but we each read an embarrassingly small number of books in 2012. The past month or so, we’ve been carving out time to read and are loving it. I’ve even finished a couple books!  I’m really good at starting books, but am usually reading at least 5 books at once and rarely ever finish one.

Confession: We have 85 books checked out from the library right now. Eighty five. What is wrong with me? To be fair, quite a few of them are Beach Dad’s or the girls’ short books that can be read in 5 minutes, but (more than) a fair amount are mine.

And, every single one of mine is non-fiction. I can’t get enough non-fiction. I read The Help last year and loved it. Could not put it down. But, I think that might be the only fiction book I’ve read since required reading in high school/college.

Anyway, I’m going to start posting some brief book reviews as I go. (Hopefully, this will encourage me to actually finish a book before I start the next one!)  They’ll probably all be non-fiction books, but maybe I’ll throw a couple fiction in there too.

I’ll also be reading Desperate(My book study starts next week, so stay tuned – I’ll start posting updates as I read through that soon!)

If you want to join in the fun, I’d love for you to link-up to your blog, or you can just join in in the comments. And, if you have any recommendations for me, I’d love to hear them.  I’d especially love recommendations for fiction books you think I’d like!

2013

I love to plan things. Well, some things. Parties, vacations, and birthdays are my favorite. But I’m usually lacking in my planning for daily life.  Sometimes I feel like so few of my plans turn out exactly the way I want them to that I just don’t plan.  If I don’t plan, it can’t get messed up, right?

Umm.. obviously, that’s not a good plan (get it?). I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my lack of intentionality is robbing me of some authentic rest and joy… and was planning to get on that at some point.

So, when a friend shared her New Year’s “Mantra” for 2013, I decided to steal it.  I’m super excited. Ready for it?

Live with Intention.

Isn’t that awesome? It encapsulates so much about the type of mom, wife, daughter, friend, and woman I want to be. Intentionally planning, pursuing, resting, and remembering.

Rather than the typical resolutions of lose weight, spend less money, clean out my house, etc., I love the idea of pursuing a change in mindset as I strive to Live with Intention.

As I picture how this plays out, I see myself striving to Live with Intention in a few ways that are all kind of wrapped up in each other. Maybe some of these ideas will spur you on in your own pursuit to Live with Intention in 2013:

Planning: I want to plan better so life doesn’t feel so urgent.

  • Meal planning – I want to use all the food we buy and not buy the food we don’t use. And, to know what we’re eating long before I start cooking it.
  • Daily life – This might involve a cleaning schedule… something I’ve been putting off for years!
  • Fun activities – I want to do a better job of doing special things with my kids and my husband. One of the main ways I see this playing out is in celebrating minor holidays (more on this soon!).

Pursuing: I want to pursue relationships.

  • People – I’m incredibly grateful that I get to spend all day with my girls, but sometimes, I take that time for granted. I want to do a better job pursuing them, especially as I seek to focus more on *being* with my girls rather than doing things. Actually, I’d like to focus more on *being* with people in general. I’m sure Beach Dad would appreciate it if I’d fully watch a movie with him, rather than half watch it while I work on something else too!
  • God – I want to spend more time intentionally praying and reading the Bible alone (most of my Bible-reading is out loud to my children).

Resting: I want to intentionally rest and to have my rest time be spent intentionally.

  • Sabbath – I’d love for my family to have Sundays look different than every other day of the week. I’d like for them to be a time to relax and spend time at church and with family and friends, rather than a day to get things done after church, which they turn into all too often. I think this might also go with meal planning, since I’d love to not have to cook on Sundays. Doesn’t that sound nice?
  • Relaxing – I have trouble sitting still, so have to force myself to stop getting things done and just rest, especially when we’re having an at-home date night. And, when I do “rest,” I often use time I could be resting for things that aren’t actually restful or productive.  For example, Facebook is not especially relaxing or productive. Scrapbooking is both. More scrapbooking, less Facebook!

Remembering: I want to live in the present and record my life better.

  • “Now is now” – This is the only season when I’ll just have a 1 year old and a 3 year old. I want to embrace it for all it’s worth. This ties in with planning fun and daily life better too.
  • Photos – Recently, I went through and deleted 23,000 photos from iPhoto. Insane, right? And, somehow, there are a lot more left to sort through. I want to keep that up and actually do something with my photos – scrapbook them, frame them, share them, etc. I’d also like to do a better job keeping a record of things I want to remember and that I’m grateful for.

A lot of these aren’t especially concrete goals. And, actually, I just re-read this and a lot of them could be summarized as: intentionally get things done and then intentionally don’t get things done.  Here’s to Living with Intention in 2013!

Desperate

This morning, I woke up feeling defeated by the day before it even began. I stayed in bed as long as possible and as Beach Dad left for work, I whispered to him, “I just don’t think I can be a mom today.” It wasn’t that anything big had happened; my girls had been perfectly sweet all morning and it was just something within me that was making me want to pull the covers back over my head. I guess I just had enjoyed the weekend so much I wasn’t ready to jump right into Monday, especially on our first full week of “normal” since Christmas. Plus, over the weekend, I reached out to invite other moms to do a book study with me and I felt really overwhelmed and panicked about the idea of leading it. So, Beach Dad hugged me and prayed with me before he left and I entered the day feeling hesitant, but slightly renewed and ready to at least give it a shot.

God was gracious and we had a wonderful morning. I felt like I had supernatural patience and truly delighted in being around my kids. In fact, I’d say that my morning that started out so hopeless-seeming was one of the best mornings we’ve had in awhile.

I felt so encouraged and so reminded of the power of prayer. I don’t think that my prayer was a magic fix-all or that, if I just prayed more often, I could suddenly become a perfect mom. But starting my day off realizing that I am entirely dependent on God for strength and patience was exactly where I need to start everyday. And, I was reminded of a quote from Paul Miller’s A Praying Life that also came up in yesterday’s sermon – “If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life.” Consider me convicted.

Later in the day, as I reflected on our morning and how thankful I was that God had given me grace to turn it around, I started to look into more information for that book study I was so freaked out about. I went to the website and this quote popped up as a “pre-written tweet” — “For those who have ever whispered, ‘I just can’t be a mom today.'” For real?!

So, apparently, it’s good that I’m going to read this book.

The book is Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe and it’s Sally Clarkson & Sarah Mae’s new book (Sally also wrote Mission of Motherhood & Ministry of Motherhood, if you’ve read those… which I haven’t yet). I love Sally Clarkson’s blog and her heart for motherhood, and I’ve been excited about this book coming out for awhile now.

It just came out today and over the weekend, in a fit of insanity/feeling like I needed to just stop being so scared and do what I’d wanted to do for a month, I posted on my MOPS group’s Facebook page about gathering a group to read through the book together. I’ve gotten some interest and it seems like it’s going to actually happen, which is totally awesome! The book sounds great and it’s written with the intention that moms would read it together (it even includes discussion questions and there’s a free small group study guide). I’m excited to get to know some other moms and to read through this book together. I’m praying it will be an encouragement to all of us and a good opportunity to form authentic friendships with other moms.

But, I’m also totally freaked out about it. I was worried no one would be interested and I’d feel rejected, but – yay! – that’s not happening! And now I’m worried about the logistics and the leading and the whole being-authentic-in-person thing. It’s a lot easier to type out authentic words on a semi-anonymous blog than it is to sit in a room full of women and share my heart. I truly want to be an authentic person, though, and I have a passion for loving other moms. I crave real fellowship and am so excited for the opportunity to pursue it as we read Sally Clarkson & Sarah Mae’s encouraging words to us.

I’ll be posting here as I read, so if you want to read along, I’d love to discuss the book with you too. Or, if you want to lead your own small group that’d be awesome! If you buy 5 or more books this week, you’ll get a DVD Companion study and a couple fun art prints like the one above (just order through Amazon or wherever and then send a copy of your receipt and your mailing address to desperatebook@thomasnelson.com and they’ll mail you your goodies. As far as gathering a group, I just emailed a few friends and posted on my mom’s group page with a suggestion of day and time, and then hoped someone answered. You can do it, too! 🙂

Are you in?

 

[If you purchase through the Amazon link, I’ll receive a small amount as an advertising fee.  Otherwise, I’m not compensated for posting about this – I’m just really excited about this book!]

I’m linking up to Hey Mommy, Chocolate Milk.

When You Feel Like You Can’t Get Things Done

a different resolution

In the day in and day out of parenting, marriage, and general life, we spend so much of our days trying to accomplish something. And, particularly in our roles as moms, we see very few tasks actually completed.  More laundry is dirty by the time we get the last load put away, another meal needs to be prepared almost as soon as we finish eating (not to mention the never-ending dishes!), and – most of all – the process of raising our children to be independent, functioning adults is one that takes (at least) 18 years.  It’s rare that I can feel like I actually completed something once and for all. It can be pretty easy for me to feel tired and discouraged by the vast number of things I’d like to get done… and don’t.

The other night, though, as I was brushing my teeth, I had a ridiculously minor but ridiculously encouraging thought – I floss my teeth every day now.

For years and years, I have hated flossing and rarely ever done it. I’ve regularly pushed back that nagging voice in my head reminding me I should floss… and still not done it. And, at every dentist appointment I can remember, I’ve braced myself for the scolding reminder that I really should floss… and then still not done it.

That is, until about 4 months ago, when I started flossing every day and I haven’t turned back.  I’ve moved on and hardly ever think about my improved dental hygiene, but for some reason, the other night, it really struck me.  I have finally made concrete progress in some area of my life that I had wanted to improve!

It’s such a minor thing (and I’m sure you’re thrilled to hear about my dental hygiene…), but it is real progress, and it got me to thinking… How much progress have I – and my family – made without my giving it a second thought? How much of my discouragement about my failure to make progress is actually my failure to notice the progress that we have made?

As I focus on the progress that I want myself, my children, and my husband to make, I often neglect to notice the progress that we all have already made.

The past few days, I’ve been thinking about the progress we’ve all made.  Things like:

  • Beach Girl doesn’t try to stick her fingers in outlets all day long like she used to
  • Beach Baby doesn’t scream between every.single.bite. of food like she used to
  • Both my girls (usually) say “please” and “thank you”
  • I’ve been blogging on a regular schedule for over 6 months
  • Beach Dad eats more than 3 types of vegetables now (You may laugh, but if you ate a meal with him a few years ago, you’ll know that may be the biggest progress of all these!)

Thinking about those relatively minor signs of progress, I’ve been reflecting on how huge and overwhelming each of those things used to feel.  But now, they’re just not issues for us anymore. Since we’ve made the progress, I’ve hardly given them a second thought.

And that’s the problem. Because I haven’t given them a second thought, I haven’t taken the time to reflect and be grateful for the progress we have made.

This past week, as I have taken that time, I’ve felt so thankful for the ways God has worked in my heart and my family as we have each made real progress.

Don’t get me wrong – we still have plenty of things left to work on. But instead of thinking only about those things, I’ve been focusing on the things we used to need to work on and don’t anymore.

As I’ve done that, I’ve felt renewed in my motivation to persevere in the things that are still left undone. And, quite frankly, I’ve felt more able to delight in my children and husband as I’ve rejoiced over the progress we’ve made together rather than stressed over how much we have left to do.

So, especially this week, as you make a list of resolutions for the year and think about all the progress you’d like your family to make, I’d challenge you to take some time to reflect on the progress you’ve already made.  Think about the things that used to seem so overwhelming and impossible, but now are non-issues. Think about the progress you, your husband, and your children have made this year.

What did you used to discipline about repeatedly, but now you hardly even mention? In what ways do you each love each other better? What used to constantly make you feel guilty but now is not an issue anymore?

And, if you’d like to share so we can rejoice over progress made together, I’d love to hear it in the comments! Happy New Year, friends!

 

I’m linking up to: Five Days Five Ways, Hey Mommy Chocolate Milk, & To Love, Honor, and Vacuum.

On Being Grateful

There’s someone in my house who is really ungrateful. She looks around at what she has and complains it’s not enough. She whines that other people won’t stop whining. She often doesn’t act grateful for a refrigerator full of food and instead complains it’s not already on the table.  She even forgets how good she has it to be surrounded by family who loves her.

Sadly, it’s me. I spend so much of my day trying to teach my children to be grateful, saying things like “You have plenty. Let’s try to think about what you do have rather than what you don’t have.” or “Let’s pray and thank God for our blessings.”

But with all I talk about gratitude with my children, the truth is this: Sometimes, I sound like a whiney toddler myself, stomping my feet impatiently and demanding more, more, more. I overlook the blessings that are coming at me from all sides and instead think about how hard things are.

Motherhood certainly is hard. But, it’s also one of the most beautiful blessings imaginable. I’m so fortunate that I get to raise my children, that I get to stay home with them, to be their primary teacher, and to be there for all the wonderful, little moments that come unexpectedly over the course of each day.

At the end of the day, after my kids are asleep, I often recount our day to Beach Dad. As I share our stories, I delight in the snuggles, the jokes, the fact that I get to be the one to answer their challenging and foundational questions (like this week’s million dollar question – “what happens when we die?”).  When the kids are asleep and the house is quiet, it’s a lot easier to look back on my day and feel grateful. Each night, I resolve: Tomorrow, I will delight in my children again. And this time, I will do it where they can see it.

Then, we all wake up and mouths need to be fed, diapers changed, spills cleaned up, discipline doled out, laundry done, questions answered, errands run, and on and on. It feels like the demands on my time, energy, and attention never end.  And, I get short-tempered. I get frustrated that everyone is crying when I’m trying to do something fun with them. I get frustrated that we can’t even make it out the door to do something fun because I keep stepping on all the toys they pull off the shelves every time I turn around.

I’m afraid that the message I send to my kids sounds something like “We’re in a hurry. I need to get things done. You’re in my way.”

Obviously, that’s not the message I want to be sending. I want my kids to know how grateful I am for them. To know that I delight in them and am proud of them. I want them to hear me say thank you – to God and to them.

As I started to think about how to start talking about Thanksgiving and teaching them about gratefulness, I was struck by the fact that the best way I can teach them is by modeling it. Unfortunately, I haven’t been doing too well at that lately.  So, as we lead up to Thanksgiving, I’m going to spend the next few weeks thinking about what I’m grateful for. And I’m going to do it during the day. Not just at night after they’ve gone to bed, when they miss the chance to see my rejoicing in them. But, right in the middle of the day, when I’m cleaning up another spill or holding another crying child. thanksgiving

Last month at MOPS, we made these jars to fill with memories and funny quotes. I already have a journal where I do that, so the jar and slips of paper have just been sitting on my counter, waiting for me to figure out what to do with them. This month, I’m going to fill it with what I’m grateful for and I’m going to tell my children what I’m writing. Maybe it will help us all to start thinking about what we’re grateful for right now rather than what we want to happen next.

Care to join me?

Linked to Sundae Scoop.