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.

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John 11:35

I’ve been silent this week as I haven’t been sure what to say after last Friday’s tragedy. My heart is heavy and I’ve taken a break from the computer for the past few days. As my heart has ached for the families, children, and communities affected, the verse that has continuously come to mind for me is John 11:35.

john 11:35

After Jesus found out his friend Lazarus had died, the Bible tells us: “Jesus wept.” Jesus went on to raise Lazarus from the dead and make things right again, but before doing that, He looked at the awfulness and tragedy of his friend’s death and He simply wept.

He didn’t jump into what needed to change, He didn’t continue on pretending that nothing had happened, and He didn’t even say “Don’t worry; I’ll make it all right again in about 5 minutes.” He wept.

So, this week, as we all try to process and recover from such sadness, I pray that our nation will take time to just weep for the lives stolen and innocence lost. But, I pray that we’ll weep with the hope of knowing that Jesus will make all things right one day.

Advent for Children

“My mom used to do stuff for advent with me, but this year, she’s just so busy with shopping, wrapping presents, and getting ready for our family to come visit for Christmas, she doesn’t have time. Maybe next year.”

Years before I’d ever celebrate advent with my kids, a sweet little boy I babysat told me this. He belonged to a family that clearly loved Jesus and delighted in celebrating His birthday. I know without a doubt that he and his siblings knew what the celebration of Christmas is all about. But my little friend’s frank statement helped me realize that, when I became a mom, every December would be a struggle for me.

I love to buy Christmas presents, fill boxes for Operation Christmas Child, and make batches and batches of Christmas cookies. As far as a time to be “too busy” for reading my Bible or talking to my children about Jesus, December is the peak time of year for distractions and busyness.

But for what? What do I want my children to think Christmas and its season are all about? Obviously, I don’t want them to think most about getting gifts, but even giving, sharing, and loving are not enough. I want my children to know Christmas and all its festivities are ultimately about Jesus.

I want my children to see that I prioritize celebrating and anticipating Jesus’ birthday above preparing for it.

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been planning out our celebration of advent. This year’s calendar worked out pretty nicely for moms like me who love to plan but are constantly behind. I feel like I got a bonus week between Thanksgiving and the start of December to figure out what we’ll do as we celebrate Advent.

[Before I jump into my ideas, though, I want to say something… Seriously, don’t feel like you need to do all of these. When I look at lists like this one, I often feel overwhelmed or like I’m so far behind, I should just give up. Analysis paralysis is not my friend!  Last year, we did about 7 days worth of advent activities, haphazardly spread out over the course of the month, and it was still really special. This year, I ended up over-planning because I was on the ball for once and then my MOPS group’s meeting was all about advent this week.

If we end up actually doing even half of this, we’ll be doing extraordinarily well. So, please, if you’re like me and look at all the options and feel overwhelmed, just choose one and jump in. Your kids won’t know anything about what you’re not doing. They’ll just be thrilled to do what you are doing!]

With all that said, if you’re still looking for ideas, I’m excited to share with you these 5 easy, fun, (mostly cheap), and meaningful ideas for how to celebrate the advent season.

advent for children

1. Truth in the Tinsel – This ebook is by one of my recent favorite bloggers, Amanda White from ohamanda.com.  The story focuses on the Christmas story so each day, you’ll read the Christmas story and make an ornament with your child. The short discussion ideas she includes are awesome – I’ve been encouraged just reading through them in preparation! – and the crafts are such that a preschooler (or elementary-age student) can do them. I think Beach Baby (who is 15 months old) may even be able to do some of them. One of my favorite things about this is I don’t have to make the ornaments ahead of time… I just have to show up and the fun happens with my kids. (There’s also an option to use printable ornaments that your children simply color if you’re short on time, are traveling, or have younger kids.)

advent for children

2. Advent Boxes – I made these using little boxes from the Dollar Tree and a couple Sharpies. The boxes came in packs of 10 for $1, so I spent a grand total of $3 on these and will be able to reuse them next year. (The boxes are sold as party-favor boxes in the party supply aisle.) I printed the “prompts” for Truth in the Tinsel on red and green paper and put one in each box. I’m going to put them all in a basket and think it’ll be a fun way for Beach Girl to practice her numbers as she finds the right box for each day. I’m also going to stick some stickers or candies in a few of the boxes as an extra-special surprise.

advent for children

3.  Family Activity Advent Calendar – I made this garland at MOPS this week and each day’s paper has an idea for a special activity ranging from “listen to Christmas music” to “go see a Christmas parade.” I wrote mine on sticky notes and stuck them to the back of the garland so I can reuse it next year and swap them out as needed. (I don’t want to commit to the “stay up late for a pajama dance party” weeks in advance, just in case we all need to go to sleep early that night!)  Making this garland took under 2 hours and was really easy, even if you’re not crafty. Just use festive paper, baker’s twine, and tiny clothespins. I think it turned out so cute! Even though I already made the boxes, it’ll be a fun way to present the activities and I decided to hang it over my couch in the spot that’s empty because we got better at budgeting. Next week, I’ll share a list of all my ideas for December fun that are filling this calendar.

4. Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Readings – If you’re not familiar with the The Jesus Storybook Bible, it’s a children’s Bible that focuses on the Bible as One Big Story rather than a bunch of little stories. After telling a story like David and Goliath, it points to Jesus, who later came to defeat real giants for us. Both my girls love it and it’s seriously an amazing devotional for adults.  I’ve grown so much in my faith and understanding of God from reading it. At MOPS this week, a friend pointed out that the Jesus Storybook Bible has 21 Old Testament stories and 3 New Testament stories leading up to Jesus’ birth – perfect for advent readings!

advent for children

5. Playmobil Nativity Manager with Stable – I love the idea of my kids being able to play with their nativity scene and act out the story, so was thrilled when my brother gave my kids this fun nativity as an early Christmas present. I’m sure we’ll be having fun telling and re-telling the story all month!

So, there it is… my can’t-believe-I’m-so-far-ahead list of advent ideas. What are y’all doing for advent? Or, are you like I usually am and just starting to think about planning? I’d love to hear from you!

*This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through them, you’ll be helping to support stayatbeachmom.com.

I’ve linked to: Life as Mom, Five Days Five Ways, Shabby Nest, Naptime Crafters, At the Picket Fence, Homemade Ginger, I Heart Naptime, and Fingerprints on the Fridge, and Hey Mommy, Chocolate Milk.

[Update: You can read my list of the fun Christmasy activities we’ll be doing throughout advent here!]

Life-Changing

Four years ago, I read a Bible verse that changed my life.

It was the Spring of 2008 and I was a college student at William & Mary. I’d been married for just over a year and was struggling to balance my roles as student and wife.  At school, I felt weird because I was married.  At women’s events at church, I felt weird because I was still in college and I didn’t have kids yet. At church, I felt weird because I was married to the youth minister and felt like I was living under a microscope. Anything I said or did was being watched and I often got to hear commentary on any choices we made.  It felt like, everywhere I turned, I didn’t fit in.  I felt discouraged and alone, like I’d never find the connection and friendships I so desperately craved.

One night, my husband was out late, leading a high school guys’ small group and, while I waited for him to come home, I decided to prepare for the next morning’s Bible study.  As I sat down, I wondered why I was even bothering.  I probably wouldn’t even make it because it started at 7am and I didn’t like mornings.  And, if I did, I’d probably just sit alone and quiet in the corner again, listening to them talk about their lives with children and jobs… a life I didn’t know yet.  I knew that if I said anything vaguely authentic, I’d spend the rest of the day worrying if it was okay I said it or if it would get around the church that “the youth minster’s wife struggles.”  Maybe someone would even make another snide comment to me about how my husband was “just now” getting to work when he came in the doors to the church at 8:30.

But, the title of the book we were reading was Peacemaking Women and I figured if anyone needed to read that, it was me.  I didn’t feel at peace with my friendships at school, my relationships at church, and definitely not with my husband or with myself… so, a study on Peacemaking Women was probably just what I needed.  Maybe I’d figure out how I needed to act to make myself feel accepted somewhere.

As I sat on the couch and read, I came across Zephaniah 3:16-17 –

“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.”

As I read, I felt my eyes welling up with tears. And, suddenly, I couldn’t hold it back anymore.  All my loneliness, all my anxiety, all my sadness came pouring out as I sat on the couch and cried.

How could it possibly be true that God would rejoice over me with gladness? Could he really exult over me with loud singing? Is this even in the Bible? Does this actually apply to me?

Not much later, Beach Dad came home to find me sitting on the couch crying.  He asked what was wrong and I held up my book to him.  I read him the verses and asked between tears, is this really true? Does God really feel this way about me?

I’d been going to church for a few years, I’d even gone to Christian college for a year, and I’d spent the past year married to someone in ministry.  I’d definitely heard the good news of the Gospel before, but this verse – this good news – felt entirely new to me.  It felt life changing.

In the midst of feeling weird everywhere I turned, feeling like I didn’t have value at school or at church or in any of my relationships, the news that the God of the universe would rejoice in me felt too good to be true.

I’d love to tell you that, since then, I’ve never felt alone or like nobody cared about me again. But, that wasn’t the way that verse changed my life.  If anything, since becoming a mom, I struggle with these feelings even more as I’m giving more of myself than I ever have to two little people who, while I know they love me, don’t usually act like they delight in me.

This side of heaven, we’re always going to have those feelings and I certainly have my fair share of feeling like I don’t matter, like anyone exulting over me with loud singing (let alone God!) is crazy talk.

But, four years later, still in the midst of my insecurities and my imperfect relationships, that verse still brings me to my knees. It still makes me wonder at how much God loves me.  It still encourages me that, no matter how alone or insignificant I feel, in God’s grace, I truly am deeply loved and delighted in. And, it gives me hope, that even when I feel alone and insignificant to the world, I matter to God.

If you’re like me, as a mom, it can feel like so little of our lives gets noticed or appreciated.  Day in and day out, we make meals, change diapers, clean up toys… just to return to the dishes, diapers, and disarray all over again.  Day in and day out, we plan fun special projects and trips to the park, just to carry our children out of the park kicking and screaming or to hear them say things like “I did not have fun. I wish Daddy were here instead.”

At the end of the day, it often feels like we haven’t accomplished anything but to keep our children fed, clothed, uninjured, and entertained… and mommy guilt whispers in the back of our minds that we didn’t even do a good job at that.

But, looking at Zephaniah 3, we can feel encouraged.

As I read these words, I’m reminded that God loves me… not because I am a great friend, wife, or mom. Not because I clean my house really well or plan perfectly beautiful crafts for my daughters to do. But, just as I am – lonely, insecure, and sometimes angry – God rejoices over me, he exults over me with loud singing, he quiets me with his love.  And, because I’m already loved, I can continue to love my family… to pour myself out, when I feel like I have nothing left to give.

When You Walk Through the Bugs…

It’s been a challenging week. The above picture about sums it up. We were trying to take first day of school photos and this was the most accurate one.  Both my girls have been in a funk and I’ve often felt like my parenting isn’t making a difference. Like my words of encouragement and discipline aren’t having much of an effect. Like the words I’m saying aren’t the words I wish I were saying. Like, if only I were a better mom

I’ve struggled to keep my cool as Beach Girl threw her geometric solids during “school time“. (I’ve never read about that happening on a homeschool blog… Maybe we’re the only ones with flying homeschool work?). I’ve held back tears while trying to figure out why Beach Baby’s entire body was covered in hives (Likely cause: almonds. Or, the medicine she was on for last week’s ear infection. Either way, she’s mostly better now, thankfully). And, the low point of it all, a few nights ago, I woke up with a roach crawling on my face.

Yes, on my face. No, it wasn’t just a nightmare.

Obviously, I had a hard time getting back to sleep that night and have felt a bit anxious going to sleep every night since.

This week, I’ve been singing “Isaiah 43” in my mind repeatedly through my exhaustion and anxieties –

“When you walk through the waters, I will be with you.
And the waves they will not overcome you.
Do not fear.
For I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name.
You are mine.”

It’s my go-to song. I sing it to my girls almost nightly, I encourage Beach Girl to sing it to herself if she’s scared or lonely, and I recite it to myself anytime I’m sad or anxious. And, at points this week, the truths in that song have encouraged me immensely. Singing it to myself has helped me to keep serving my family when I just want to collapse on the couch in defeat and it’s helped me to fall asleep at night when I just want to turn the lights on and watch out for roaches.

But, other times, I’ve felt doubtful and like maybe we’d all be better off if I just threw in the towel on this whole parenting thing. I’ve felt like maybe things really will overwhelm and defeat me.

Like Wednesday morning, when I was in my bedroom getting a sweatshirt and I turned around to see another huge roach scampering across the floor next to my side of the bed. I screamed, smooshed it with a shoe, and then just broke down crying.

I tried to hold it together when the girls came in the room. To pretend that humongous bugs don’t bother me. To not mention the fact that I had one on my face recently. To not let them see how defeated and discouraged I feel this week.

Then, in God’s amazing timing, my two year old told me just the words I needed to hear. Words that encouraged me and spoke truth to my heart. Words that helped me know she is indeed listening to me (at least occasionally!). Words that reminded me God is working in my life and heart just as much as in hers, while we live life together.

Beach Girl walked up to me and said, ever so sweetly, “Mommy, what’s wrong? Was you scared of that bug? It’s okay. You can just sing to yourself (to the tune of Isaiah 43): ‘When you walk through the bugs, you’ll not be scared.'”

Through Your Eyes

I’ve been obsessed with the song, “Through Your Eyes” by Jenny & Tyler lately and thought I’d share it with y’all in case you also feel a bit defeated by dirty laundry and dust bunnies sometimes. I love the lyrics:

“Abandoned guitars, dust covered shelves,
and laundry piled high
Tell me I’m not enough and I know that they’re wrong,
But I still believe these lies.

He says ‘No one else has to know about this.
No one else has to know.
No one else has to know.’
Oh, I want to see myself through Your eyes.
Oh, I want to see myself through Your eyes, Divine.
Oh, Father, help me see myself through Your eyes.
Oh, I want to see myself through Your eyes,
Through Your eyes.
Through Your heart. Through Your heart.”

Really, I’m obsessed with Jenny & Tyler’s whole CD – Faint Not – and recommend you check it out. It’s filled with beautiful songs that also encourage me.

You also can visit NoiseTrade for a free (and legal!) download of Jenny & Tyler’s two newest songs, as well as lots of other great music.  NoiseTrade is our favorite site for trying out new artists; the songs are both free and legal in exchange for sharing them with your friends.

Do you have any recommendations for great music?

Just so you know, if you buy the CD through the amazon.com link above, you’ll be helping to support stayatbeachmom.com.  I didn’t receive any compensation for writing this review and I only review products I really love.

Train Up A Child… To Say “No”

One thing I’ve struggled with in my parenting lately is how to encourage my children to obey without breaking their spirits.  Beach Girl (and I’m starting to think Beach Baby, as well) can be quite the independent thinkers, unafraid to (sometimes loudly and with great intensity) let us know what they want.  As a parent, I know I need to reign that in and teach them how to obey me.  But, I also want to encourage their independent thinking, in hopes that they will use the minds God has given them to love other people well and to follow Him.

I just finished reading Tim Challies’ review of Michael and Debi Pearl’s book “To Train Up A Child”. I haven’t read the book and I don’t intend to, but in the interest of giving you some context, the authors’ system of child “training” often includes presenting children as young as 12 months old with “teachable” moments such as putting an appealing but forbidden object in front of them and then telling them “no”.  Then, when the child (inevitably) reaches for the object, the Pearls encourage parents to switch their children in increasing increments until the child learns the meaning of “no” and stops trying to touch the object. Challies points out a number of issues with this book’s method of child “training”, all of which I agree with and encourage you to read.  But, one main issue I have with this approach is that it teaches our children blind obedience.  They are forbidden from telling their parents “no” no matter what.

I want my children to say no.  As a parent of a toddler, that feels weird to say.  I spend so much of my day encouraging obedience.  But, when I think of parenting with the long-view, I remember that, as a parent, I am called to disciple my children’s hearts in many more ways than simply to teach them how to obey.

Here’s why I actually want my children to say “no” to me sometimes:

First, I am sinful and limited in my thinking.  I need to leave space for the fact that my children could sometimes know better than I do.  One time, before I became a parent, I was hanging out with my friend and her 3 year old.  The 3 year old desperately wanted to wear socks with her dress-up shoes, even though her mom had told her that she might slip so needed to take her socks off.  In fact, if she didn’t take her socks off, she’d have to take the shoes off too.  Her daughter started to pitch a fit, then took a deep breath and calmly told her mom: “I’m worried that my feet will be cold if I am not wearing socks too.”

I’m all about sticking with what you say (and so was my friend), so I was blown away when my friend responded: “That’s a very reasonable thought.  Thank you for explaining that to me. Just walk carefully in them then.”  I realized at that point — sometimes 3 year olds do know better than we do and have reasonable requests if we just listen to what they are saying.  They are not mindless animals who we need to force into compliance, but are instead people with whom we want to pursue relationship.

I want my children to come to me. My children are guaranteed to screw up.  If one of them makes a bad choice and ends up at a party she shouldn’t be at, I want her to call me for a ride home.  I’d much prefer my children come to me when they’ve made mistakes than struggle through it on their own or go to a bad influence for help.

Obedience isn’t necessarily good. While I completely agree that God calls children to obey their parents, I don’t believe that He calls us to blindly obey any authority.  We are to obey God above all, so when another authority conflicts with God’s commands, I want my children to feel comfortable following Him instead.  History gives us many examples of society following a misguided authority.  I would much prefer my children be the ones who stand up against an injustice like slavery than the ones who blindly follow the status quo. Sometimes, following the Lord will mean not submitting to another person.

Practice is much easier now than later.  There are many times down the road when my children will need to say “no”.  Sexual predators rely on the fact that children are taught to obey adult authority in their lives.  I want my children to confidently tell them (and their peers) “no” when they need to. If my parenting has been geared toward teaching them that it is never okay to say “no” to me (especially at risk of physical punishment every single time), how can I expect them to say “no” to another authority or friend?

My parents were pretty strict when I was growing up.  There were many things they forced me to do and many circumstances in which I had to obey, even though I didn’t want to.  But, my parents did a great job listening to me.  They showed me dignity in that my opinion mattered.  Rather than acting as totalitarian authorities, they validated me and my opinions and, in non-essentials, sometimes even went along with my ideas.  Often, I still had to do what they initially had said, but they at least heard me out.

The practice they gave me at speaking my mind throughout my childhood – and the assurance that my saying “no” actually had value – prepared me to expect the same from others later in life.

When I was 16, I went to a friend’s birthday party.  This was by no means a crazy, unsupervised bash, and I was by no means a wild, party girl.  While one of my closest guy friends and I were alone in the backyard getting sodas, he started getting flirty. It started innocently enough, but pretty quickly, I felt like he was trying to pin me to the ground and kiss me.  I started protesting and when it seemed like he wasn’t listening, told him more forcefully that he needed to stop.  Then, I showed him he needed to stop when I threw him to the ground and marched back up to the party alone.  (One of the things my parents forced me to do against my wishes was take karate lessons.  Ha.)

I hope that my parenting will teach my children to expect that someone should listen to them when they are being coerced into something that they know is wrong.  I’m still working out how that plays out in how I parent and I sometimes wish I could stop listening to “no’s” from my toddler.  But, more than wanting them to stop saying “no” to me, I want my children to say “yes” to God, to His love for them, and to His call for them to stand up and follow Him, even when someone else is saying not to.