Wishing Life Away

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I’ve been very fortunate to have gone through the Entrusted Bible Study three times now. Two of the three years, I’ve learned from Betsy in-person as she’s taught moms at a church in the Chicago suburbs.

Each week I come away from the study with a phrase that sticks out above everything else.

I’m not always quick to put the lightbulb phrase into practice like I should, but some weeks I can’t help but ponder and act on it.

One phrase that convicted me deeply is “Wishing my life away.”

For most of my life, I’ve been wishing for the next phase:

I wished to get my masters

I wished to be married

I wished for kids

I wished to stay home with kids

I wished for more kids

I wished for kids to sleep through the night

I wished for more freelance work

I wished for less freelance work

I wished for all the kids to be in school

I’ve learned something about myself in the past couple months between the Entrusted Bible study and a sermon series at our church: I feel like I continually need something big happening in my life or I need to be planning and preparing for something big to happen – I need to have a focus. I can’t enjoy where I am. I need to do something like rearrange the house, go back to school for a second masters, or make an out-of-state move. I spend so much time longing and wishing for something new that I don’t stop to appreciate where God has me right now. And when I think about it at a deeper level, I’m convicted even more because the place I am now is the place I’ve been wishing to be!

Case in point: My husband and I prayed earnestly for children, especially after we had three back-to-back miscarriages. Now we have three kids and I’ve spent more time than I should have anticipating when they’ll all be in school. Our youngest is three and has a speech delay. Because of his speech delay, he qualifies for preschool through our district where he receives speech therapy. He’s now in school five mornings a week. Our oldest is in first grade and our middle is in pre-kindergarten three full days a week. I now have three mornings each week that I’m kid free. I didn’t think it would happen this soon and while I enjoy having these mornings to myself, I do regret spending more energy and time wishing for this phase than I should have.

In Ephesians 5:15-16, Paul warns the people of Ephesus to “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (NASB). Am I making the most of my time? In short, no, I’m not. I spend too much time wishing for the next phase or challenge instead of cultivating a grateful heart and appreciating where I am – even in the mundane things like driving all three kids to school, picking up the youngest three hours later, and then picking up the two oldest three hours after that. That can feel like a rut really fast. But you know what? When I was single, I wished for the time when I would get to drop off and pick up my kids from school. And now I get to do that. Even the monotony of my weekdays are fulfilling the longing my heart had so many years ago.

James 1:14-17 says, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

Is it wrong to wish for a new phase of life? No. Is it wrong to plan and work towards something? No. The problem occurs when that wishing or planning becomes the focus and obsession. When I allow myself to become obsessed with and carried away by my lusts – my plans, my wishing for something new – I am sinning.

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For the sake of my husband, kids, family, employers, and most importantly, for the sake of my relationship with God, I am determined (though I know I will fail at times) to be grateful. I look at my list of wishes from the past fifteen years and marvel at how God has worked to bring about His will in my life. Not all my wishes have come to fruition or have happened how I had hoped, but many of them have come about and the phase of life I’m in right now is one that I prayed for earnestly for many years.

I’ll still have fun thinking of how I can rearrange the house and I’ll enjoy the increasing freedom I have on weekday mornings, but I’m not going to focus so much on wishing for a new phase or focusing on a big life change in place of appreciating the phase God has me today. I’ll never find contentment and rest doing that.

Posted on April 25, 2018 and filed under Building Your Faith.

That Takes the Cake: learning what your child truly values

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“Ryder, what was your favorite birthday cake Mom ever made you?” Lincoln inquired as we were looking for ideas for his coming celebration. Each child only has a party every five years, but they are allowed to pick out a cool cake for their special day even if it will only be enjoyed by family.

“The sprinkle donuts! They were awesome!”
My jaw dropped. “Oh really? Better than the Paw Patrol or Transformer cakes?”

“Yep. I loved the sprinkles.” Ryder replied.

“I’m glad you liked them, Sweetie.” Inside, I was stunned. I am not a professional baker; I am just a mom. That means I have bent over backwards and traded many hours of sleep for some of the elaborate cake requests my kids have given me. I don’t usually like to post pictures of these things because I’m not trying to be a Supermom. I am just trying to make my kids feel special and loved. Anyway, to get the irony of his response, you have to see the cake line-up...

For Ryder’s first birthday, I ended up making three cakes in honor of my little guy’s party because he was always hungry and he scooted like a caterpillar…

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There was the year that every cake picture was met with a “No!” until the minion picture made him throw back his head and laugh… how could I resist?

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And the next year Paw Patrol was his absolute favorite, so he thought the lookout tower was pretty epic.

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Then Transformers became the new craze, so I labored to make that one happen too.

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Hearing that a funfetti cake mix poured into a donut baking pan beat out all my fondant handiwork was a little hard to swallow. This year Ryder’s birthday fell in the middle of a chaos storm for our family. Treats are his love language, and I felt awful that I wasn’t able to make his dessert more special. The result was so lackluster that neither his dad nor I thought to get a great picture of the donut tower, just a video of the birthday boy blowing out his candles. And here he was saying it didn’t matter to him…

It got me thinking. Why were these donuts so special to him? I didn’t even waste any calories finishing one, so it certainly wasn’t the taste! Perhaps it was because he helped me make them from start to finish. He made the donuts, and the glaze, and he poured the sprinkles. He has helped me make cakes in the past, but since I stay up way past his bedtime making them, I have opted for the morning grand reveal. Perhaps the process, and time spent with mom, is more important than the result for this kiddo--especially if there are taste tests!

A few days later was my youngest son’s birthday. He loves anything Cars and has food allergies, so I made him a homemade cake and put some of his plastic cars and sprinkles on it. He was thrilled with the results!

“Wow, Mom! Thank you! It looks great!”

Even my six-year-old, whose response to the Paw Patrol cake is still, “But where is the slide for the Lookout Tower?!”, was satisfied.

This was interesting for sure. Everett hadn’t helped, but because it had his favorite characters he was thrilled. (But don’t the fondant characters count too?!? Apparently not… ) After we went to a matinee with Grandma, and had a nice dinner at home, we opened presents. We had purchased him a large Lego creative set, so I suggested a family building time. We spend the better part of an hour all building what we could with our pieces and sharing them. It was so simple, but it was a special time as a family and my little guy was happy as pie. His birthday was a success in his eyes.

A few days later we had dinner with friends, and I had my sons create some cake decorations. We bought a little cake--something I never would have done in the past--taped their handmade drawings to popsicle sticks, and stuck them in the cake with a few toys. They were so proud of their hard work. Once again, I realized how much joy it brought my kids to be a part of the process/decision-making aspect of the birthday cake. And in the end it probably is more about spending quality time together than having sugar art that will be destroyed instantaneously. This may differ from child to child. I really do believe personalities affect what we appreciate most. However, listening to our kids about what is important to them is the key.

In the future, I still plan on making some elaborate cakes and desserts, but I don’t think I will hold myself to that standard every year. Instead I plan on creating a birthday experience in which my child’s input and values are key. And this is not just a concept for birthdays. It is for the everyday. Not creating a child-centered home, but creating an environment in which the child knows they are valued and loved is a worthy goal. Just as Betsy has always emphasized with the “Fifteen Minutes a Day” approach, we need to realize that having US is better than any treat or experience. Being present is what our kids long for, especially when we are in busy seasons of life. Simply do whatever you can, so you can lie down on the carpet and drive cars or sit down on that tiny chair and have a tea party. THAT is what they will remember.

I realized something else through this too. It isn’t about my kids. It’s about God. God knew I was at max capacity. He knew that phoning in a donut cake mix was the best I could do at the time. And somehow, He helped my little boy see the fun in it. Ryder wasn’t meditating on what he missed out, he was thankful for what he had. I believe it is evidence of God swooping in--yet again--to bring good out of hard times. As I strive to follow Him in my parenting in the future, I will trust He knows where my efforts are best spent. Seeking Him and being there are sure to top the list.

Posted on April 18, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.

How to Prepare Financially to be a Stay-at-Home Mom

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When you have a baby, there will be plenty of changes to cope with...lack of sleep, a completely new body, emotions, lack of sleep, figuring out how to change a diaper...lack of sleep. Not to mention that you’ll be responsible for raising a human being! The last thing you want to worry about is finances, so planning now will help that to be less of a concern when the time comes.

Every family will need to decide whether they are going to have one parent stay home, or whether they will need to afford childcare. Either way, caring for your new baby is going to be a large financial hit. I always knew that I wanted to stay home with my kids, but even if you aren’t sure yet, planning now will allow you the freedom of choice when you finally become a mom. Here are 5 things you can do, starting today, to prepare financially for full-time motherhood:

1.             Start Living on One Salary (As Soon as Possible)

My husband and I began living exclusively on his salary from Day One of our marriage. Having talked about our goals for me to stay home when we had kids, we knew right away that this strategy was going to ease the pain of transition when that change came. And it’s certainly a huge financial change! You will go from being a 2-income-0-kids household to being a 1-income-1-kid household overnight when you decide to stay home. It is best to get used to living on that one income now so it won’t be painful after baby comes.

If you haven’t yet begun to live on one salary, make the transition as soon as possible. Take a hard look at your budget and see what discretionary expenses can be cut. Make the lifestyle changes that are necessary and make a plan if you can’t start immediately. Again, even if you aren’t sure that you want to stay home with your baby, you’ll simply be allowing yourself the freedom to choose to do so, if and when the time comes.

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2.            Bank Your Salary While You Have It

Now that you’ve figured out how to live and cover your expenses on one salary, begin saving the other spouse’s salary in the bank (assuming your debts are paid off first. Most financial experts will probably advise you to start there, but consult your financial planner if you have a lot of debt to address).

You’ll be amazed at how quickly it will accumulate, and believe me, you’re going to need it! This will become your all-important emergency fund, so that when your furnace goes out or another unforeseen expense arises, you can stick to the plan. If you’re able to save enough of a cushion, it can also be the account you draw from for an occasional splurge, like Disney World or a new minivan. (I know, I know, you’ll never drive a minivan. That’s what we all said.)

If you’re committed to staying home for the long haul, it could easily be 10 years or more before you are ready to re-enter the workforce. Your youngest child won’t be in school full time for 5 or 6 years, so having a savings account with a large enough cushion to last that much time will be ideal. It could only take 1-2 years to save a very large chunk if you’re banking your entire salary.

3.              Keep Some Money Just for You

When you decide to give up your job, it is interesting how you’ll feel like the balance of power has shifted. No matter how much both spouses are on board or how supportive they are of each other, it really feels bad not to have “your own” money. I was surprised how affected I was by the loss of my income. I felt like I wasn’t contributing, even though as a stay-at-home mom we definitely carry our share of the load. I also felt like I shouldn’t buy things for myself, like new jeans or a pair of Spring flats. So, I think it’s important to have a small amount of fun-money set aside, within your savings account, that is all yours. Maybe it’s only $2,000, and maybe your husband can have his own slush fund as well to keep things fair. But the rule is that it’s for you to do what you want with. Trust me, it’ll feel good to have that.

4.              Keep Retirement in Mind

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I’m certainly not a financial expert, so please consult one on this point. But one of the things we made sure to do when I left the workforce was to keep my retirement account active and receiving contributions. Don’t let your spouse’s be the only IRA to keep accumulating, because 10 years is a long time to be losing compound interest. Again, ask the expert, but I’ll caution you to not neglect your own retirement.

5.              Choose a Mortgage Carefully

When couples are ready to begin a family, they often start by buying a bigger house. Be careful that you stick to the one-salary rule when you make this choice! Only purchase a house that you can comfortably afford on one salary. There is nothing worse than being forced to go back to work when all you want to do is stay home and hold your baby. This is one of the most critical decisions that you’ll make to allow yourself the freedom to choose to stay home. So don’t get caught up in what is bigger and prettier. Choose a good house for your family, but be practical and don’t say yes if you can’t afford it on one salary.

I hope these tips will be helpful as you consider how to set yourself up financially to be a stay-at-home mom. I know that not everyone plans to make that choice, but the idea is to give yourself a choice in the first place. Good financial planning will give you that freedom.

Posted on April 11, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.

Before You Buy Legos You Need a Game Plan

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There are times when I see something on Pinterest and I think, “Oh that’s a neat idea! I’m going to do that when I have kids!” And then a moment of panic rushes over me. Oh wait--I HAVE kids already! FOUR OF THEM!! It seems hilarious, but it’s true. Even the most well-intentioned of mothers can be blindsided with the duties, challenges, and blessings of parenting.

One such hit on my mothering has been the acquisition of Legos. It seemed so natural, my son was getting older. He was bright and creative. Legos were a clear choice for a birthday present. He played with that first, small set repeatedly and looked over the manual multiple times. We declared a “Lincoln Lego Zone” and put the tiny pieces in a place that would not be ambushed by little brothers.

And then there was another tiny set…

And then another…

And Lincoln learned how to get the pieces down by himself…

And then the neighbor boy started mixing the sets...

And of course these tiny mini-figures love to play in the imaginary worlds made of other toys…

And the little brothers weren’t really that much younger, so of course they wanted to join in...

And then the paper manuals started to tear…

Thankfully, we really didn’t have that many sets yet. Then Lincoln asked for the BIG set for Christmas. And he was intellectually ready for it. But with all the busyness of preparing for Christmas I didn’t think through the organization of it well enough.

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Packages were torn open excitedly, the set was discovered, and my little boy begged to put the set together right away.

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We cleared off a table, told his brothers it was off-limits (which was fine since they both had smaller sets to build at another table.) Lincoln worked all day on the giant set. We managed to keep it safe for a few days on the school room table, but of course we needed the surface eventually.

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The set was moved to a cabinet in our guest bedroom. It is a very feminine cabinet, but it has glass doors, so it works well for showing off a little guy’s craftsmanship for the time being. (Eventually I would love to have a huge reclaimed wood, industrial bookshelf like my friend has, but this was fine in a pinch.) Well… if you have read my quiet time post (please link), you know I separate my kids for their daily thinking times, and put them in different bedrooms. I need that guest room for one of them to rest in… and one day the youngest brother--”The Climber”--happened to be in that room. Needless to say, the set was no longer in tact after that “rest time”. I consoled my eldest, telling him we would rebuild it together, but it’s difficult to find that much time to rebuild a large set that’s been destroyed. The process is harder than building it from scratch. We’ll get it done, but it’s going to take a lot of time. Anyway, I felt like a failure--my mother-in-law, the woman who still has her son’s Lego sets in boxes after 30 years, purchased this expensive set for us--and I let it get smashed. Someone show me the rewind button for life please.

What began as a Type A personality toy with methodical instructions was confronted with the endless creative possibilities they represent. The whole dilemma of The Lego Movie was playing out in my home. (If you haven’t seen it, the father in the movie follows the directions to a T, and would never even think of building connect blocks unless instructed to. His son wants to combine the sets and think, literally, outside the box. Eventually the father comes to see there is value in his way of playing, and they learn to carefully AND creatively play together.) Well, my boys are 3, 5, and 6… and their little sister will be roaming the halls before we know it. This constructive epiphany isn’t happening tomorrow.

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Part of me wants to blame my sons for the chaos. Those little guys are darling, but they are DESTROYERS! Some days I hear my own mother’s voice ringing through my head, “Can’t I have anything nice?!” as I discover new stains, broken toys, and chipped furniture. I have been sent a mini-army to raise, and I can’t seem to find the balance between training them to be MEN and teaching them to have a semblance of self-control! People are more important than things, but we are called to be good stewards! “Balance Gentlemen! Balance!” Because I am wrestling with it, I know God will give me wisdom. But I’m not going to lie to you, these thoughts run through my head a lot.

Okay, back to my Lego conundrum! Since my personality is usually a battle between the creative and the organized, I’ve been challenged how Legos are going to work at our house. I can’t tell you exactly how it should look for you and your kids, but I want to pose a couple of questions for you to consider before you go purchasing these tiny people… or maybe if you’re feeling how I was this can help you get back on track. (Side note: I will continually be referring to Legos, but the concept and questions are the same for any collection of tiny toys.)

Where:

  • Where are your kids going to play with Legos? Is this a permanent location, or will it need to be cleaned up at certain times?
  • Where will the creations be displayed?
  • Where will manuals go?
  • Where will boxes go? Will they be recycled or kept for storing the individual sets?
  • Will they be allowed to play with Legos in their bedroom? What about bedtimes or rest times? How will you stop them from playing with them at those times?

When:

  • When will your kids have building time?
  • Is there a time when they can expect you to build with them?
  • Will they be required to complete certain tasks before they can build?
  • When do they get to build by themselves, and when will they need to share with siblings?
  • When friends come over, are they allowed to play with the Legos? What rules will they need to follow with them?

How:

  • How are the Legos going to be stored?
  • How will they be displayed?
  • Will sets be separated and stored, or mixed together?

Now that your head is spinning with the management crises of these tiny toys, I do have a few tips…

  1. Buy a giant toy drawstring storage bag. These mats lay flat for play, but cinch up and contain the toys for storage. Instead of picking every transparent Lego light from the carpet each time your child plays, you can have the mat underneath them. If they can contain their play to the mat, it really is a cinch to clean up. Pun intended. We asked for one for Christmas, and it has transformed Lego time!
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       2.  Get a three-ring binder and some pocket protectors. Every time you buy a set, safely store the manual in a sleeve. That way they are easily accessible and kept from certain ruin.

       3. In hindsight, I wish I would have kept all the individual sets in their boxes and bought a few Lego Classic Creative Building Block Sets. I would put these in the drawstring bags for my boys to mix and build as they pleased. Or I’d store these pieces in a rainbow tower like this. Right now we keep our Legos in this. I wheel it into the boys bedroom for building time, and take it out before they go to bed.

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       4. Have a place to display their creations. Let them have some pride in their hard work! We are now using a bookshelf. Each boy has a shelf to display his Legos.

       5. Look online at organizational options. Perhaps your kids are all old enough to have the Legos in a common play area. There are great ideas for that! Once you start searching, an idea that fits your situation is sure to pop up. I want to caution you though, just because an idea is the cutest, doesn’t mean it will be the most functional for your family. Think through the above questions as you evaluate an idea.

This may seem like a lot of thought for a toy. However, at the end of the day, toys aren’t just toys. They are training grounds. Training our children’s imaginations and growing their responsibility. This is an issue of character. And character counts! I am trying to train my kids to take care of what they have with the little investments so that they can take care of more costly gifts in the future. Hopefully I have helped you a little with this process… and perhaps spared your feet from the painful fate of stepping on the inevitably misplaced building block!

Posted on March 21, 2018 and filed under Building Your Home.

Family Fun For Homebodies

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I asked my daughter, who is 9, the other day, “What do we do as a family to have fun?” Blank stare. “I know!” I said, “I couldn’t think of anything either!”

Sometimes I think that if “The Annual Most Boring Family Award” was a thing, my family of 5 would win it every year. We do really enjoy each other’s company...it’s just not in a splashy or exciting way.

All of us (with the exception of our adventurous 5 year old, poor guy) are homebodies of varying degrees. My husband and I are content at home, and increasingly so the older we get. Every time I go out, there’s a part of me that wishes I could just stay in. My oldest is the most extreme. He utterly hates leaving the house for almost every reason, and must be coaxed to even go for a bike ride. My middle child is happy to go out but just as happy to stay in. The youngest is just biding his time until he can escape the hostage situation.

I was convicted to make a list of the ways we do have fun (do we??) and then to think of some more things that we can do to spend intentional time, and create happy memories, together…even if we don’t leave the house.

And yes, I am resolving to start doing a better job of getting that little guy to the playground and the laser tag zone (ugh) more often. Promise!

Here’s a list of ways that those of us who are, or who are raising, homebodies, can still have fun together as a family:

Play Dress Up
This is surprisingly fun. Raid your closet and old Halloween costumes, break out the face paint and the make-up, and play dress up. Take some selfies (essential!) and do it again. You’ll feel like you’re a 9-year-old, and it’s wonderful.

Crescent Roll Bake-Off
I have a theory that absolutely anything will taste delicious when wrapped and baked in a Pillsbury Crescent Roll. Host a family bake-off where everyone chooses a different filling and you vote on a winning treat. We’ve tried apple slices with cinnamon and sugar, cherry pie filling, and of course, little sausages. (Tip: Serve the dessert varieties with vanilla ice cream. Ohhh yes.)

Movie Night
I embrace that I’m boring. And this is my favorite thing to do with the kids. We love to make a big deal out of movie nights, so we really don’t have them too often. (Plus, it’s hard to find good movies!) When we do it, we pull out ALL the blankets. Popcorn and candy are must-haves. And we turn out all the lights and turn up the sound bar so it’s truly an experience. (Tip: Check movie reviews at Plugged In before you commit. I can’t tell you how many times that wonderful ministry has saved us from watching something that no one should!)

Read Aloud
There are a handful of great books that every family should read together. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was the start of it for us. Snuggles and coziness and Mom reading...it’s like going back in time, and it’s just the sweetest.

Play Games
I’m not really a fan of board games, but we’ve really gotten into charades recently. We’ve never laughed so much! We also like cards. With my 5-year old, we make an entire game out of seeing who draws the highest card, over and over again, until the deck is gone. Whoever has the most cards in their pile at the end wins. He’s obsessed.

DIY Ice Cream Sundae Bar
You can do this with any assemble-your-own food, like pizza or tacos, as well. But since we’re partial to ice cream, we like to break out the sundae bar from time to time. Sprinkles and toppings have a long shelf-life, so they can stand at the ready in the pantry for spur-of-the-moment treats. Or you can really do this up, with crumbled brownies, syrups, whipped cream, chopped nuts, fruit topping...the sky's the limit. Just make sure the kids help you clean up before they run away to jump on the furniture and scream like banshees on a sugar high.

Camp Out in the Living Room
Easiest camping ever, and you can cook in your own stove. Set up a tent in the family room, pull out every blanket and pillow you own, and have a sleepover complete with flashlights.

Make a Time Capsule
I saw this idea recently and my kids would LOVE it. Make your own time capsule! Gather photos, handwritten notes, schoolwork, artwork, and some newsworthy items of the time, and seal it in a waterproof, durable container. Set a date 20 years in the future to reunite and open it! (My only conundrum is where to bury it...since I’m not sure we’ll be in the same house for 20 years and if I “bury” it in our basement it is sure to be lost forever…)

Dance
We dance. Alot. We have a bluetooth speaker in the kitchen and almost inevitably dinner clean-up becomes a dance party every night. Even the dog has been trained to do some moves when he sees us start up. I think this is a great thing for families. Who else can you bust a move in front of without worrying about looking like a goof?

Play Hide-and-Seek
My oldest is 11, and the days are coming soon when he’ll be too old for games like this. I need to capitalize on his youth while I still can and break out the old-fashioned fun a few more times. Plus, how fun is it to jump out from behind a shower curtain at someone? Hilarious every time.

Arm Wrestling Tournament (Spoiler: Dad always wins)
A friend of mine texted me this week that her daughter (now 8, and apparently freakishly strong) had somehow just beat her at arm wrestling. Baffled, I immediately challenged all of my children. I’m thankful to report that none of them could beat me, but they all had a blast trying. It’s now their goal in life to take down their parents in this sport, and my dedication to lifting weights has been renewed! Double win.

Posted on March 7, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.

Trusting God with my miscarriage: Comforting Thoughts for those who grieve

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In May 2008, my husband and I bought our first home and had fun (well, I had fun) painting every room, replacing flooring, and installing new light fixtures, curtains, and blinds. Our new home had a small bedroom next to the master that was the perfect size for a nursery. But we had debt to get rid of so the plan was for me to keep working so that one day I could stay home when we had kids. So, while we knew we had the space, having a baby was on the back burner – way back on the back burner. The small bedroom became my home office.

In March 2009, I realized I was a bit late in my cycle. When I took the pregnancy test and it was positive, I felt fear instead of joy. I didn’t feel ready for kids. I had finally started losing some weight and still needed to work because our monthly budget was really tight. Even as I looked at the positive test I hoped that it was a false positive or that if not, it would somehow go away. I’m ashamed, mortified, and angry about that thought now. I had no idea what I was hoping for.

Our first appointment at the OB led us to a trip to the hospital to get a better ultrasound. Things didn’t look good. And they weren’t good. That was our first miscarriage. It wasn’t until we lost the baby that I realized how much I wanted the baby.

Then we had another miscarriage. And another. The third happened the week before Christmas in 2009. By then I was in a deep, dark well. I didn’t know how to come out of it and I didn’t want to come out of it.

I spent months crying in my car before and after work. I still went to church but couldn’t sing in service because every song made me cry. I didn’t go to church on Mother’s Day. I did what I had to in order to get through each day. I stayed home a lot. I rejoiced with friends who announced their pregnancies and then drove home and sobbed into my pillow. I went to baby showers and made frequent trips to the bathroom to cry. It truly was a dark and hopeless time.

In the midst of this grief, there were a few things that managed to keep me going. They didn’t take away the pain, but they helped me navigate and survive the dark waters of grief.

First, my faith in God carried me through. I fully believe I would have done something drastic (there were times I prayed and asked God to let me die) had it not been for the fact that I knew God loved me and hurt with me. I did ask Him a lot of questions though, like: Why do people who don’t want to have a baby deliver healthy babies? Why me? Romans 8:26 accurately depicts my prayer life in that time. More often than not, the Holy Spirit needed to intercede for me with groans too deep for words because I didn’t know how to pray. I also clung to Psalm 30:5b because it assured me that while the days and nights were dark, there would come a time when I would experience joy again.

Second, I found a group of women who had also experienced the loss of one or more babies. We met on a baby-focused website and after some time, a dozen of us formed a private group in Facebook where we shared, vented, encouraged, and rejoiced with each other. We’re spread across the country but I’ve been able to meet several of them over the nine years we’ve been connected. I had friends who lived near me, but at that point none of them had experienced a miscarriage and while they loved me, they couldn’t truly grasp my grief. I was so achingly lonely in that time of sorrow because I thought no one knew what I was feeling. Once I figured out that I needed to bond with women who understood what I was going through and I found the group, my loneliness eased. That group has been a huge source of healing for me.

Third, I decided to focus on something I could control. I couldn’t control my body and make it keep a baby safe, but I could control what I put in it and how I took care of it. I was overweight and decided to use that time to take control of my weight. I tracked what I ate and exercised and as I saw the number on the scale drop and felt the clothes loosen, I felt renewed and hopeful. I still had many moments of tears and despair, but being in control in just one area of life was a respite to the grief.

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I’ll never have a satisfying answer as to why I lost my babies. I don’t think there is one, but I choose to trust in God. I’ve also come to a realization: we live in a fallen world and tragic things happen as a result of living in a fallen world. Does that take away the pain? No. But it gives me some semblance of peace and closure now that I have distance from the rawness of the miscarriages.

If you’ve experienced a miscarriage, go to God. Cling to Him. Ask Him questions. We may never receive an answer that completely satisfies, but we can trust in His character when we look at the cross and meditate on Scripture. For example, Psalm 34:18 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” He can shoulder your pain. He wants to comfort you in your sorrow.

If you’ve experienced a miscarriage, know that you are not alone. Find a group online or that’s part of a church’s care ministry. My church has a care night where various groups meet and address specific needs and hurts. I wish I had that when I was in the middle of the pain.

And lastly, if you’ve experienced a miscarriage, find something healthy to focus on so you can have some sense of control when you feel like there isn’t anything you can control. Maybe it’s exercise or education. Dedicate yourself to a hobby you’ve been meaning to take up. It won’t take away the pain but it can distract you in a good way.

Posted on February 28, 2018 and filed under Building Your Faith.

Stand Before Him With Your Little Ones

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The living and active Word of God never ceases to amaze me. A passage I’ve known for years breathes new life into my current situation, and I walk away ready to face the day. As my circumstances threatened to overtake me this month, God flooded my heart with hope and direction through 2 Chronicles 20. I’d like to share it with you for when you face the overwhelming. It is a long passage, but it’s so worth it, so please stick with me!

After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle. 2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi). 3 Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.

5 And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, 6 and said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. 7 Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8 And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying, 9 ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’ 10 And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy— 11 behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. 12 O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

13 Meanwhile all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. 14 And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly.15 And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God's.16 Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. 17 You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.

18 Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord, worshiping the Lord. 19 And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.

20 And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.”21 And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say,

“Give thanks to the Lord,
for his steadfast love endures forever.”

22 And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. 23 For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another.

WOW. So much to encourage us, isn’t there? What captivated me most was verse 13, Meanwhile all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.” Three sets of enemies are on their way to attack them. Instead of running away with their families--their little ones--they stood. They stood before the Lord. I think it is significant that the verse separates children and little ones. Of course children were not expected to fight in the battle. Surely, it was commonplace to flee with little ones. Yet this is not what the nation did. They stood with their babies and they waited to see how God would respond. SIx times in the passage the word “stood” or “stand” is used. Here it describes their posture, but it also reveals the trust in their hearts.

I’m not sure this is my natural response…. When trials come, I often want to scoop up my babies and work my hardest to protect them from the pain of the world. Sometimes that’s what the Lord calls us to do as mothers. Still other times, our Savior is ready to rescue mightily--for our children to see. Stand firm! See the salvation of the Lord! If we try to protect our children every time a hardship comes, they will indeed miss out on the good, gracious, powerful hand of the Lord. He has limitless resources and abundant creativity to rescue us. His means of protection and provision far exceed our greatest imaginations.

I can’t tell you when to protect your children and when to let them watch; that distinction is for you to work out with Jesus on your own. Perhaps when our knuckles are most white, grasping the hardest for an escape is when we need to let go the most. When the tugging of the Lord on your heart makes the tears about to fall, He’s got you. Be still, and know. (Ps. 46:10) Sometimes the power to “stand” comes from being on our knees, and it isn’t a physical change, but a resoluteness with which we go forward.

That was encouragement enough, but God had more to show me. I had to reread the chapter three times to ensure I wasn’t missing something. The Lord didn’t tell them to worship. They worshipped out of expectation and urgency. Faith and hope collided into the perfect, deserved response of devotion.

No matter how great the battle, how daunting the circumstance, how necessary the preparations, the correct response will always be to worship. Not only is it what the Lord deserves, it can actually lead to our victory. “And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord sent an ambush” (v. 22)

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The best motion pictures have nothing on this! Multitudes are coming against these people. Can you sense the impending rumblings of the enemy vibrating on the ground? Can you see the dust rolling up from the coming attack? Do you feel your heart beating within your chest? Now do you hear the worship of God’s children louder than all of it?

They choose to stand.

They choose to worship.

Many people select a word or phrase to meditate upon or strive for in the new year, sometimes in place of a resolution, sometimes to go along with one. This January I chose “Worship” to be my word for the year. I didn’t necessarily understand why God was laying this word, this choice, on my heart, but as 2018 has unfolded, it is becoming quite clear.

Recently I shared that we were in the ER right before Christmas because my husband was having some concerning neurological symptoms. A CT scan ensured us that he had not had a stroke or a brain tumor, and we were incredibly thankful. More testing needed to be done, however, and the MRI revealed lesions on his brain. We have just learned he has Multiple Sclerosis. As we await more clarity on this unpredictable condition, I have a picture in my mind of my little family. The six of us are holding hands, and standing together in hope and faith.

 I clearly see my two choices. I will stand with my children, with my little ones, watching to see how God works on our behalf. And I will worship.

My sweet sister, I pray that the Lord gives you the strength to stand and worship as you mother--today and every day.

Posted on February 21, 2018 and filed under Building Your Faith.