Sunday, April 10, 2016

Letting them Go

Sometimes parenting feels like a tight-rope act.  Wobbling all around, trying to put one foot in front of the other.  Deciphering what the best words are for a particular moment.

The past few days have been like that.  You see, Anna misses our sweet #3 and #4.  She ventures off into the front yard to sit at their tree and talk to them, sing them songs.....  I've tried explaining to her that they're not there.  She knows this.  Yet she continues to do it.  And I do realize that it's a bit different when you lose a baby via miscarriage, because there's no body, no ceremony, no cemetery.... no headstone.  So I get how the tree has become to her what a grave would to others.

Today she wrote them a song.  She asked me how she should go about writing it and I told her to just think of what she'd have liked to do if they were here.  I began giving her ideas by saying things like: "If you were here, I'd read you bedtime stories and sing you lullabies.  I'd braid your hair and paint your little toenails.  I'd play tractors and trucks and Legos.  I'd push you on the swing.  I'd find your lost blankie...."

I found myself chin quivering, eyes filling up with tears, and I had to walk away.

You see, it's easy to focus on what I've lost.  It's easy to go back to those initial days of pain and loss and re-live it.  To see what's not instead of what is.

So when she came out of her room and sang me her sweet song, I must admit, it got me.  The part where she sang so innocently "Why did you go?  Why did you leave me?"

Whew.  It gets me even now.

The reality is that I've often viewed losing #3 and #4 as my loss.  I  lost them.  But I know good and well that Mark did too.  That Anna and Eli did.  That our parents lost grandbabies.  That our siblings lost nieces and/or nephews.  I know this.  But maybe I didn't allow her to grieve her loss like I should have, because all these years later, and she still cries for them.

She kept on all afternoon talking about them until I found myself saying: "Anna, you have to let them go."

Even as I type that, the lump is once again forming in my throat.

"Sweetie, even their best day here wouldn't have ever compared to what they're enjoying in Heaven.  I mean, they've met Jesus.  Can you imagine that!?  They've met Jesus!!  They're up there talking with Jonah about what it was like to be in the belly of that fish.  They're talking with Daniel about the lions.  And you know, I'm certain they've met Jackson and they're all up there playing together."

She just nodded her head.

"It's hard.  But we have to let them go.  Listen to me.  I want you to know this and remember it the rest of your life.  Despite how hard losing them was, God was faithful through it all.  He's been good to us.  Don't ever question that."

Again, the nod.

One foot in front of the other, leaning to the left, then the right, trying to walk this fine line.

Should I have told her to let them go?

I believe it was the right answer.  Because I find myself having to do the same thing.  Having to let go of the hurt and the pain.  The disappointment.  The feelings of loss for all the hopes and dreams we had for our babies.

Yet holding on to all the love.  Always holding on to all the love we had for them.

We may not have held them, but oh how they were loved.

And maybe that's the point.  Our love is why we can let go.  Because they were loved and because of Christ's love for us we know they're far better off.

So piece by piece, I'm teaching her to let go, relinquishing all the what ifs and hurt, because as she lets go, it's just the reminder I need that God can be faithful to redeem what we turn over to Him.

Sweet friends, I don't know what you might need to let go of tonight, but know that He can be trusted.

Holding on the the love and piece by piece giving Him the rest,


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Why Valentine's Day is Overrated

He met me in the bathroom this morning, him coming in from working all night long.  He was cute in his blue hoodie and jeans.  He wrapped me up in his arms and just held me for awhile and whispered "Happy Valentine's Day. I have a surprise for you."

He walked me to the kitchen where a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a card were waiting on me.  He leaned back against the counter and I leaned back against him, reading my card, willing the tears welling up in my eyes to go away.

Later in the day I gave him his card and his 2 Payday candy bars.  He was excited.

We're really pretty simple people.  Yet we love deeply.

He spent the rest of the day sleeping, getting ready to go back in and work another night shift.  And I spent the rest of the day taking the kids to church and napping with my favorite little 2 year old.  I swept floors.  Painted fingernails.  And ended up making a two dollar and fifty cent little package of soup for dinner that I had picked up at Aldis.

It's not very romantic.  But here's why it's okay.

I don't need a special day for me to know I'm loved.

He shows me every day.

It's the way he walks into the kitchen, comes up behind me, and nuzzles my neck, turning me around to steal a kiss or two.

It's the way he holds me when I've had a rough day, and here lately that's been often.

It's the way he says "Let's sneak away for a few minutes."

It's the way he faithfully goes to work to provide for our family.

The way I'll find him sitting on the loveseat playing the Wii with Eli, or find him in a match of Chess with Anna.

The way he asks Emi if she's Daddy's girl and how she always says "No.  I mommy's girl."  Then laughs and laughs and says "I Daddy's girl.  I Mommy-Daddy-Sissy-Bubba's girl."  And how regardless of what her answer is (because, let's just be honest here, we all know she's really my girl ;) ) he always tickles her and gives her kisses.

The way he's taken on loving another man's son.  How he treats him the same as our other three.  How he engages him, shows him grace, and loves that he's called "Daddy" by a little boy soon to carry our last name.

And what better way for a man to show you love than to also love his children?  It's a blessing to watch and be a part of.

He's picked me up off the floor after we lost our babies, brushed me off, and just let me be until I could re-gain my footing, all while simultaneously never leaving my side.

He's always seeking and pursuing me - even on the days when I'm resisting and pushing away.  He loves me like Christ, forgiving and encouraging me.  He cheers me on, truthfully when I just wish he'd let me fail, but because he loves me so much, he pushes me towards growth.  And I have no doubt that his prayers are part of what has sustained me on some incredibly dark and difficult days.  He's a praying man and ladies, there's nothing greater.

So, was this Valentine's Day romantic by society's standards?  Probably not.

But by my standards?  You betcha.  Because I'm thankful today and every day for a husband who pursues me and seeks my heart.

As I sent him off to work, he hugged me and whispered the sweetest words.  Then I stood in the doorway waving goodbye to him, thankful for a husband willing to sacrifice so much for me.

So ladies, if you have a husband who loves you, seeks and pursues you as Christ does, who prays for you and cheers you on - you're blessed.  You don't need everything that society says you do.  All you need is what's right in front of you.  Him.

And I'm so very thankful I have him.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Standing Guard

"...guard what has been entrusted to your care."
I Timothy 6:20

Sometimes I liken parenting to being in the trenches of a battlefield.

Really, let's just be honest here.  That's how it feels at times.  And it doesn't really matter if your kids are still in your arms, hanging on your pant legs, running laps around you, or tuning you out with their ipods and headphones.

Parenting is just plain hard.

Last night my best friend sent me a reference and simply said "Put your name in there."  I was intrigued.  So I went and got my Bible, flipped to I Timothy 6:20 and read "Phoebe, guard what has been entrusted to your care".

Guard what has been entrusted to me.


Sometimes I don't really think of parenting like that.  I just think of things like, "Well crap, it's Friday and I forgot to work on spelling words with Eli all week.  I sure hope he knows them.  'ELI!!!  Do you know your spelling words?'"  And then I have them in the seat beside me as I drive them to school and quiz him all of the 2 minutes it takes to get them there.

Or the ritualistic chant that sometimes plays in my head: "Is it bedtime yet?  Is it bedtime yet?  Is it bedtime yet?"

You know how it goes.  Someone can't find their shoes.  Now a coat is missing.  One's out of jeans and the cat is meowing and hissing again because one of the toddlers is pulling his tail.  Another is yelling through the house "My field trip money is due today."  Someone hit their sibling and someone else is crying because they didn't get their way.  And the two year old is constantly calling someone a "booby trap", thinking she's just epically made fun of them.  She's so proud of herself.

Some days I just stand there shaking my head.

Trenches, y'all.  Trenches.

There are times I wonder if I have taught them anything at all, other than to say "stupid" and "daggum it".

My patience wanes.  I find myself wanting to retreat.  To run away hide.

And then I remember.

Guard what has been entrusted to you.

And suddenly this warrior begins to stand a little taller.  Because while these all seem like trivial matters, they're really spiritual battles.  Battles of teaching responsibility, patience, kindness, and watching what comes out of our mouths.

Sometimes it's guarding them against others.  Like saying no to sleepovers and then having to explain to them that it's for their best interest.  I mean, I don't know everyone.  And I don't know who else they might have over.  And I don't know what other kids might be there that have been exposed to some pretty horrible things that they might want to try or experiment with with my kids.  And so no.  The answer to sleepovers is always no.  I'm guarding what's been entrusted to me.  And it's hard.  So very hard because I know all, well, a lot of, their friends are having sleepovers.  But their safety is more important to me than hurting their feelings.  They'll understand one day.  Now isn't that day and that's okay.

Sometimes it's guarding them against an over-crowded schedule.  It's saying yes, you can play volleyball, but not volleyball, basketball, and soccer.  It's guarding our family time with a vengeance and showing them to value what's really important....what will remain after they're out of school.  It's saying yes, your friend can come over today.... but not today, tomorrow, and the next 3 days.  It's allowing time for homework and reading.  Time to sit down as a family and eat dinner together every night.  Time for movie nights and popcorn, family game nights.  Because those things are what will matter in the years to come.  Is there anything wrong with sports? Absolutely, unequivocally NO.  We love to watch our kids play.  But the problem happens when it becomes what dictates your schedule and multiply any sport times 4 kiddos and it can happen easily.  It's my job to guard what has been entrusted to me.  And an overcrowded schedule isn't guarding them well.

Sometimes it's guarding what they're allowed to watch.  Or how much time they're allowed to have on the Internet, if any.  It's standing over them when they do earn Internet time to play games.  It's having their Kindles set to only allow them access to age appropriate, educational websites.  It's not caring when they get mad because you give them the "you're not allowed anywhere except, do you understand me?" lecture every time they do get to play on the computer. And for those of you with older kiddos, it's blocking the Internet on cell phones or having access to their phone every single day to see what they've been looking at, texting, etc.  It only takes one misguided search for an addiction to form.  And I'll take them being mad at me any day rather than them having to possibly deal with an addiction.

It's saying no to parties and yes to modesty.  It's saying no to certain friends and yes to those that have proven themselves responsible and that are following after Christ.  It's saying no to TV and yes to family devotions.

But here's the one that always gets me.

Sometimes I have to guard them against what comes out of my mouth.  My impatience.  My tone.  My snide remarks.  The "What were you thinking?" comments.  The "Use your brain." or "I can't stand one more minute of the whining."  Sometimes it's me.  And that's hard.

I want to faithfully guard what has been entrusted to me.  And often that means constantly working on myself, ensuring that I'm not ever what hinders or causes them to trip up.

Recently amidst all the snow storms, pictures of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier have been surfacing.  These men are dedicated.  It doesn't matter if there's a hurricane, snowstorm, or if it's 100 degrees, they are there and committed to fulfilling their duties ....they're faithful no matter what's going on around them.  I've even seen videos of them commanding respect from those there to watch the changing of the guards that were being less than respectful.  Their courage and dedication is inspiring.

And oh that I could be like them.  That I could stand in the face of whatever life throws my way and guard what has been entrusted to my care.  When it's hard.  When it's painful.  When it's me.  When I'm having to take a look at myself.  When they're mad.  When they're hurt.  When they don't understand.  When I want to give up.

Oh that I could be the guard they need me to be.

Because sweet mommas and daddies.... here me in this.  We only have them for a short while.  I know when they're little that seems like an eternity.  Like you'll never have them raised and out of the house only to miss having them there.  But I can look back 15 years ago when I got married and it only seems like a few short months ago.  And I'm sure you can look back to when you had your babies and think, "No.  Really.  There's no way almost 10 years have passed."

So stand strong.

Stand firm.

Stand ready.

Because He has entrusted to us the most precious, invaluable little people to guard.

May we be found standing guard, faithfully and courageously.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Running Your Race

It may come as a surprise to some of you that I used to run track in high school.  Less of a surprise may be that I wasn't all that good at it.

Our school had just started a track and field program when I was a sophomore.  Some of my friends and I decided we'd give it a try.  It was harder than expected but I also discovered that while I may not be all that great at competing, I do love to run and even all these years later still enjoy jogging several days a week.

But the competing part got me.  And by got me, I mean that I threw up before every single track meet my first year.  And by every I mean..... e.v.e.r.y.  Running behind all the buses parked in the gravel lots.  Hiding behind the bleachers hoping no one saw.  Praying to find a bathroom before it came up wherever I was at the moment.  It just became part of the routine.

While I had to battle my nerves, I still gradually began getting better and better.  I dropped 33 lbs.  Began shaving seconds, then minutes off my time.  There was one particular meet that first year that I finished next to last.  Yet I was excited because I had beat my best time and because, well, I didn't finish last.  I remember talking to my grandpa later that week and him asking me about the meet.  I told him where I had placed and even all these years later (19 to be exact), I still remember his response: "Well that's not very good is it?!".

I cried.

I had been proud of beating my time but then suddenly all I saw was the 11 people that finished before me.

I don't think he meant to hurt my feelings.  Yet I also can't deny that there I was, a 15 year old girl crying over not being good enough.

I had gone from focusing on my race to focusing on someone else's.

And the truth is, while this is a literal example, it also happens every single day in our lives in a host of other ways.

I'm trying to live my life, but somehow my eyes keep wandering to everyone else's.  And then the thoughts come.

I can have a breakthrough with a particular obstinate kiddo but then get on Facebook to see that someone did this incredibly elaborate thing with their kid and all of a sudden our breakthrough seems mediocre, at best.

I can get a great deal on a new pair of boots and then see that someone spent hundreds of dollars on a purse and begin feeling stupid for getting boots for 20 bucks, feeling like someone spending a ton of money on something suddenly discredits our finances or the great deal I got and the excitement I had because of it.

Why?  Why do we do this?

It's madness.  Yet we do it.

We can throw our kids a birthday party and then somehow feel like we've failed them when we hear someone talking about giving their kid $200 and renting out the theater for 50 of their closest friends (I mean, really, who has that many close friends), and topping it off with an elaborate cake.  It doesn't matter that our kid was excited and loved their party.  Now it just wasn't good enough.

But we do it on a deeper level too.

We can go to a conference and hear incredible speakers and instead of soaking in their knowledge we suddenly begin thinking things like "I wish I could teach like them.  I mean, really, why do I even bother leading our group?"

Or like when you look around you and see people with more kids than you and begin thinking "She does it so well.  I'm such a horrible mom.  Why can't I be more like her?"

Or you'll begin to look at their cute family and say things like "I wish we could adopt.  See how cute their family pictures are".  Although, I'm betting, you have no idea all the struggles and battles they've faced and are facing to get where they are.

But suddenly, following Christ in obedience looks differently because you're looking at someone else's race.

"Why does he get to have that job?"

"Why can't I go on that mission's trip?"

"Look at her faithfulness.  I wish I could be like her."

"I wish I could be back in the ministry."

"Look at them, always serving the needy.  Why can't I have the time and resources to serve like that?"

"Why does he get the good wife?"

But isn't the reality that we always take the good but seldom ever look at the bad those people have had to endure?  We somehow think that if we had whatever it is that they have that we'd be better, feel better.

But here's the truth.

We're never going to find contentment or joy when we're trying to run someone else's race.

So someone is on the mission's field and you wish you could do that.  Run your race.

So someone has the family you'd love to have.  Eyes forward.  Run your race.

So someone has more resources than you.  Keep on running.

So you feel overwhelmed with life, begging for the careless life of a friend.  Keep the faith, one foot in front of the other, running your race.

So you wish you could adopt.  Contact DHS, I assure you they'd be more than happy to get you started on the classes.  Then run your race like crazy.

So you wish your spouse was different.  Pray for them and run the race God has set before you.

Want to serve others more?  Schedule it.  Make it a priority.  And then run your race.

Because friends, looking around only slows you down on your race.  One of the things I remember from running track was to keep looking forward, lest you leave your lane and begin zig-zagging, adding unnecessary seconds to your time.  But this is exactly what we do.  We focus so much on other people that we don't even know which lane we're in anymore.  And at the very heart of the issue is our lack of trust.

We don't trust that the race the Father has for us is truly the best race we can run.

We think someone else's race would be better, easier, more fulfilling.  But I'm telling you, the older I get, the more I realize that true contentment and peace is only found in running the race the Father has set for you... however hard that may be.

So run like crazy and finish well.

Oh, and I ran a second year of track too and never threw up once.  I also earned the Most Improved award that year.

My point?  Eyes forward.  Stay in your lane.  And work on earning the most improved award.  You'll be surprised how rewarding your race can be.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Making Room

My house has been in complete disarray the past few days.  What I thought would be a quick and easy project turned into days of barely being able to walk through the house.

You see, I told the kids they needed to clean out closets and toy boxes and dressers to make room for all the new stuff they’ll be getting for Christmas.

Truth is, we do this pretty regularly to keep things manageable with 4 kids.

But what doesn’t get done is our room.  Our closet.  Our dressers.

And when everything was pulled out, it was a mess.

I had bags and bags of clothes.  We were carrying out trash bags of stuff I’d kept but now thought “why did I keep that”?

Making piles of stuff we could donate.  Piles we could sale.  Piles that were trash.  And yes, even piles of stuff to keep.

There was so much that there was very little room for anything else.

All this abundance.  Piles and piles of junk in the garage to haul to Abilities Unlimited or that will sit there and wait until Spring when we can have a yard sale.

No room for anything else… at least very little room.

And the reality is that just how my house has felt is how my heart has been feeling.

I have so struggled here lately.  Struggled with myself and been overwhelmed with the demands of everyday life.  With all the ‘stuff’ that goes with Christmas.  And even with things that have nothing to do with Christmas, although that’s certainly added to it.

I’ve been so consumed with letting all the kids put up their trees and decorate them.  With taking Christmas pictures.  With getting said pictures printed to go in all the Christmas cards that I personally handwrite in.  All the questions of “Now what did we get for Aunt Betty and Mema”?  “Did I get the costumes for the Christmas play”?  “When can we fit in dress rehearsal”?  “Do we have the same amount of presents for each kid?”  Going to this party and that.  Wait, I need my hair cut.  Maybe I can paint my toenails a festive red with gold glitter.  Oh, and I need to pluck my eyebrows.  And now all these presents need wrapped.  What do we need to bring to Christmas at Mom and Dad’s?  To Christmas at his parents’?  Oh and we need to schedule a night to go look at Christmas lights.

And I’m pretty sure at just 3 days until Christmas that my husband and oldest kiddo are out getting parts for the van and making a side stop at Burlington for some last minute stocking stuffers that I’ll act surprised about when I open.  You know, since Anna asked me if I wanted some earrings, what kind I might like.

You know the drill.

The hustle and bustle.  Fighting the crowds and traffic trying to fill all that space under the tree.

But….What if we spent that much time trying to fill our hearts instead?

Would we have a home full of gifts and stockings busting at the seams and still feel empty?  Would we sit there among masses of wrapping paper and wonder why we still feel there’s more?

We wonder because we know.

There is More.

Yet we’re just like the innkeeper saying “There’s no room for You.”

We’d rather have our gifts and gadgets. Our new pj’s and jewelry.  Our ipads and iwatches.  Our new phones.  Gift cards and goodies.

We’d rather run ourselves ragged trying to attend every party, gathering, family event, and buying presents for every possible person than to take a step back and see that the Greatest Present we could ever have has been and always will be waiting right in front of us.

I’ve had to ask myself: have you made room for Him?

Have you been intentional about keeping Christ in Christmas?

Have you relayed to the kids the true meaning of Christmas or made it about gifts (or Santa, or an elf, or whatever else you may do)?

Have I spent just as much time worshipping the One who  came for us as I have buying presents, shopping on Amazon, or making candy and gingerbread houses?

Have I cleaned out all the toy chests, and closets, and dressers of my heart to make room for the only One that matters?

Or am I still just like the innkeeper?

What if instead of buying into all the commercialization we instead set aside nights to read books that revolve around The Baby who came to save us all?

What if we baked Jesus a birthday cake?

What if we served others?  Gave to those who truly need?

What if we worshipped the One who came so that we could know what true peace is?

Would we still feel that longing that there’s more?  And would we still be trying to fill it with stuff that was never meant to fill that longing?  Would we still be cramming Jesus into a barn in our hearts, telling him there’s no room for Him?

When will we realize that Christmas was never about material possessions or a jolly fat man or a mischievous elf but rather about God Himself bending down to Earth, holding out his hands offering us the Lamb that would take away all our sins?  The Gift that always fills and lasts and sustains.

And when will we realize that our only hope is in making room for the tiny infant Who came to make us fully whole and complete and content in and through Him?

Making room isn’t for His benefit.  He’s wholly God regardless of the amount of our lives we choose to give Him.

It’s for our benefit.  Our peace.  Our hope.

I don’t know about you, but that’s more than worth making room for.

May you find the true spirit of Christmas this year, making room for what's Who's truly important and lasting.