Tuesday, December 10, 2013

troubleshooting traditions

Our first holiday season of married life brought about a lot of discussion: how are we going to celebrate the holidays?  It’s a scary discussion for some, especially when family traditions run deep and pressure from both sides of the family can weigh in as you’re trying to decide what to do.  Ultimately, we just had to recognize that the holidays from both our viewpoints were going to look different---and that was okay---because we were married now.  Not only was it important for us to incorporate traditions and celebrations with both of our families…but we decided that very first year that it was really important to start our OWN traditions as well.

I stumbled across this blog post last week and really enjoyed it—namely the idea of deciding what to keep, toss & modify in terms of traditions you bring into marriage.  I also really enjoyed the idea of being flexible.  In my family, my sister is a nurse and that has meant moving Christmas (more than once) to New Years or the weekend.  Or there have been the years where my mom has had to work Christmas eve and/or Christmas day and we’ve had to adjust the schedule.    I married into a family with a bunch of pastors…which generally means their days off are not the same as ours.  And lastly,  I’m married to a husband who works a job where the time off allotted for vacation is pretty minimal…and we tend to have babies and eat up all of our vacation time.  So, we adjust and enjoy.  The things I adored about the holiday season (Black Friday shopping, midnight mass with my family after presents on Christmas eve, etc..) have changed as we’ve gotten married and had children of our own. 

So what are our traditions?  Well, I only eat my mom’s stuffing on Thanksgiving (I’ve tried others, I just can’t do it.) I shop Black Friday. We wrap Christmas-themed books to open every night in December.  I watch “The Family Stone” & “The Family Man” at least a dozen times through the month. We drive around and look at Christmas lights nearly every night. Everyone gets a new movie in their stocking.  An elf visits us every night and this year, we’re reading the Jesus Storybook Bible Christmas reading plan and cutting chains off our countdown.

Even with all the adjusting of schedules and changing things up a bit each year, we still want our kids to be able to count on traditions in our own family.  We may see our cousins on a different day each year, but it’s important that our kids have time they can count on to celebrate as a family.  We carved out time on Christmas morning/day our first year of marriage just my husband and I….and it was such a sweet time of celebration together.  We’ve continued this time and each year we both find ourselves looking forward to it: “what should we have for breakfast/brunch?”  “what new movie do you think the kids will want to watch?”  It’s relaxed.  It’s enjoyable.  It’s a special time as a family.  There is no rush to be anywhere or hurry through our own family celebration to make it to the next gathering.  It’s simply delightful.

We got married.  And through that, we kept some traditions, dropped some & modified others.  And now we’re our own family…and that means drafting even more special traditions.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Daily Bread

Several years ago, God met some of our needs in the most unexpected ways.   Medical expenses were piling up as we continued to figure out what was keeping our son from gaining weight….and our medical insurance was worthless at the time.  My husband and I had already planned a humble Christmas---agreeing to a $15 budget to swap presents.  They were wrapped and tucked under our small tree that has been with me since my days in the college dorm.  Expenses kept mounting and a few days before Christmas (and a few days shy of our next paycheck) we knew the gifts would need to be returned to fill our gas tank to make it to see family at Christmas.  We unwrapped and returned the presents to the store.  I would survive without the pajama set my husband had picked out---and he would be fine without the travel mug.  We returned home that night to a surprise envelope on our front porch & another in our mailbox. No one knew where we had just been----but God provided in that moment.  In a few acts of generosity, our medical bills were paid.  Our daily bread (and then some) had been provided.

We ask God to “give us this day, our daily bread”---but often what I really mean is “give me this day, what I think is best.  Give us more money to pay off things more quickly.  Give us a home that isn’t full of broken things.  Give me a car in pristine condition.  Give us perfect health.  Give us vacations.  Give me the ability to shop whenever I what for whatever I want.  Give us relationships that aren’t broken.”
November has been rather unkind to us.  Between medical bills, urgent care & specialty doctor visits, a broken car tire, broken car battery, sick kiddos,  two broken phones, an ER trip/eye emergency & some major plumbing issues---I’ve been tempted to give in to the discouragement.  And yet, God has continued to be at work in my heart and reminding me how quick He is to meet our needs.  We ask for our “daily bread”---not for provision of that dream vacation, or retirement or even for faster ability to finish paying off lingering debt.  I need to trust Him daily to provide us with what we need---and thank Him when those needs are met. 

Daily bread is….

… having access to health insurance, which covers so much more than we’ve ever had covered in the past.

… a group of men giving up their Saturday morning to dig a hole in your backyard...in the wind and rain.  (And subsequently saving us thousands of dollars)

… watching pudgy rolls develop on your baby to assure you she’s gaining weight…even on her own time.

… walking into Goodwill to find an egg timer and instead bringing home a brand new dress---with the tags still on.

… a holiday bonus check the same week your car battery and plumbing go out.

… a free redbox rental code for date night.

… the perfect song played to calm your heart and drown out the sound of the whirling inside the MRI machine.

… that recipe working out on your first try when all your other attempts seem to be falling short.

… sermons on podcasts when a child has a fever/cough/nasty nose….again.

… selling items you no longer need---and finding wonderful used toys that will delight your kids on Christmas morning with the profit.

… free phones on “Black Friday” the same week your phone bites the dust.

… having a friend haul your entire family home on a Saturday night because your tire is shot and you are stuck in a different town.

…finding gently used swaddle wraps when you can’t afford the brand new price---and your 5 month old still wants to be wrapped up tight.

…nice strangers that jump your car battery when it’s dark and your baby is screaming in the backseat.

Daily bread.

It’s the little things, the big things…and mostly, it’s the unexpected things.

My faith can be so small, but our God is so very good.

Happy belated Thanksgiving….

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

learning to move on

It was a particularly rough night recently in our home.  My husband was at work, the baby was incredibly fussy and my two oldest were struggling with following anything that resembled directions.  My patience was waning and I knew it.  The problem was, I was committed to “push through,” instead of stopping and asking God for help.  As if to be a warning sign, my daughter even came up to me and sweetly said, “mommy, don’t be frust-er-ated with us.”  The night continued to spiral downward until I finally started yelling over how slowly toys were being picked up.  And then it happened.  Her sad eyes met mine, tears spilling over.  I had blown it.  Again.

I pulled her into my lap and apologized (again) for blowing it(again).  Through her tears she kept saying, “I told you not to be frust-er-ated, mommy.  I don’t want you to be angry with me.”  Oh sweet girl, I’m not angry with you.  I’m angry with myself.  I’m angry that I’m selfish, and that because I chose to be selfish, I yelled because things weren’t happening on my time.  It’s important to listen and follow directions and obey mommy, but even if you choose not to listen, mommy should never yell.”

She leaned in, sniffled a few more times and kissed my cheek.  “it’s okay, mommy.  I love you.  I forgive you.”

At the very core of it, my impatience and anger with my kids is just selfishness. Kids are not getting dressed as quickly as I would like.  The toys are not put up in the way (and at the rate) that I believe they should.  The noise level is elevated to a point where I find it difficult to continue whatever (usually unimportant) task I’m doing.  While it is our responsibility to teach and discipline our children,  I have to be careful not to justify my actions, saying something similar to, “I’m sorry I yelled, but you need to listen to mommy!”  My kids are not responsible for my actions.  They may act poorly, but I am always accountable for my response and attitude.   I can’t season it enough and call it “discipline”, when I really need to call it sin.  When I lose my patience with my kids and raise my voice, I need to own that.  I need to recognize that my anger is MY anger.  I need to stop and humble myself and ask for their forgiveness. 

Here’s the part that is hard for me….after I ask for their forgiveness, I need to move on.  I can get stuck on a moment where I really blew it and dwell on that.  I can give into the thoughts that tell me I’m a terrible mother as I replay for my husband the events of the day.  Just as I need to learn to give my children grace, I’m learning I need to accept the grace that they give me.  Children are remarkably forgiving and in my world where I’m so used to adult-sized grudges, I have a hard time understanding it.  I’ve made it a habit of apologizing to my kids when I’ve been angry or selfish, and my daughter never fails to throw her arms around me and whisper, “It’s okay mommy.  I forgive you.”  My kids need to see this model.  They need to see mommy and daddy confessing their mistakes, seeking repentance and creating new habits.  They need to see me asking Jesus for strength and grace for the day.  

Marriage showed me just how selfish I am, but parenting has put that under the largest spotlight possible.  My sins are illuminated because my children reflect my actions back to me.  I yell at them for yelling at each other (ironic, no?)  I lose my patience because they get into stuff of mine that I want left alone, yet I expect my four year old to willingly share all of her prized stuff without hesitation or frustration.  I need grace just as much as my children---and I need to learn to accept it and move on.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

a (not-so-formal) break-up with Victoria's Secret

Dear Victoria’s Secret,

I’m breaking up with you.  I don’t even know if I can really call it that, seeing as how we haven’t had much of a relationship since I turned a pregnancy test positive approximately five years ago. 

I thought I had deleted myself permanently from the secret lists you store that send me tantalizing offers for free undergarments.  The catalogues stopped coming quite some time ago and I assumed that was because you had been notified that I was expecting my second child and you believed chances were slim that I would ever step foot in your store again.

I was grateful. For once I wasn’t concerned that your catalogue of women’s products (that is so clearly targeted for men), would find its way into my home stashed between the Aldi’s ad and our mortgage bill.  Sure, there was still the occasional “free” offer that only required me to get my children fed & dressed, drive to the mall, find a decent parking spot & haul all my children into your store to secure the “free” offer.  Those offers were nice and a little less boisterous then your nauseating catalogues.

It’s been a while since your half-naked women have graced my mailbox.  I’d almost forgotten what it was like to open that mail and wonder why no one thinks to use models that look like real women.  I don’t need a half-naked model that has clearly never given birth, posing in a seductive manner to encourage me to purchase your products.  An ad with a picture of underwear and bras on a table that reads, “Hey! We sell these pretty things!”, would probably be more effective advertising to a woman like me.

Alas, you hadn’t forgotten about me.  Three babies later and you still are working to win my affection and bank account.  Amidst the latest hospital statement, Christian bookstore catalogue & obligatory Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon---there you were.  For a moment I was excited and began to reminisce the days when these offers would grant me an excuse to pop into the mall, just to browse of course.  I didn’t have to have an agenda—carefully planned around naps and feeding times.  There was not a need to pack enough for a small vacation just to visit your store.

Yes, it was fun to remember.  And then, little voices quickly snapped me back to reality as my little ones started to fight over the mail.  And your offer, like so many offers before it, was shredded and discarded in the trash just as quickly as it came in.

 They say that sex sells.  Well, not in this household it doesn’t. 

You see, I have a husband that I am happily married to…and that I care deeply about.  We work hard to safeguard our home against threats such as half-naked photos showing up in our mailbox.  Your ads often end up shredded and in our trash…because I don’t even want your coupon (that also contains half-naked women on it) sitting in my wallet.  It’s not something we want in our home…and it’s not something I want in my heart.

But more than that, I have a son now…and while he is only two years old, I need to start thinking about his heart and his mind & what we will need to do to continue to safeguard our home to do our part to protect him.

BUT, EVEN more than that…I have two daughters.  Two beautifully sweet and perfectly made little girls.  One who already has knowledge of” beauty” and wants to “be” beautiful, as if simply being herself isn’t enough—and I hate that.  I know the impact your ad can have on women who are hard on themselves.  What you consider beautiful is not what I consider beautiful and I want my daughters to hear that message loud and clear.

No, sex does not “sell” in this household.  I am thankful for your quality products, but not the way in which you choose to sell your products.

In closing, I appreciate you continuing to reach out to me month after month with your free offers.  Anyone who knows me will tell you I can’t turn down a bargain, but I’m willing to make an exception…just this once.
-a former fan.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

But why did he even have to ask?

This story has been circulating in the news lately and while I’ve listened to heartwarming responses of thousands of families offering to adopt him…I’m caught in a place of tension.  I’m celebrating the fact  that families are stepping up and offering to love this child and invite him into their lives---but I’m mourning the fact that somehow the responsibility to find this kiddo a forever home landed on his own shoulders.

Why, in a country full of riches, large homes, luxury cars, fancy churches & (most importantly) many followers of Jesus…is a child having to beg for a family to adopt him? 

It painfully reminds me of what “is” in our world.  400,000 kids in foster care (from the figures I’ve seen most recently).  Over 100,000 children that are waiting to be adopted. 

Why are more churches not educating their members?  Inviting agencies in and offering up their facilities to train families in the congregation?  Why are we so unaware that it takes a viral story to catch our attention of something going on in our very own neighborhood? 

For a long time I held out my own list of excuses of why I couldn’t foster or adopt.  Some of them quite valid.  But at the heart of it, I just didn’t want to.  It was scary.  And uncomfortable.  And hard.  And what about my kids.  And our house is small.  And we are barely making ends meet. And I wasn’t sure I was “called” to do it, even if Jesus had told me to care for orphans.  And we are already really busy.  And it involved my heart.  And required too much.  That’s my story.

And maybe it’s yours.  And maybe not.

But my heart hurts thinking about those numbers.  400,000.  100,000.

Maybe you really “can’t”.  and I think there are those that really can’t.  but I think more can.  And maybe just need the tools to do so.

So maybe you can’t adopt.  Could you foster long-term?  Maybe you can’t foster long-term.  Could you provide short-term or weekend care occasionally?  Maybe that’s not even an option.  How about becoming educated and searching for ways to do justice in this area & supporting families that are fostering or adopting?  What about actively loving children that are in the system? (Side note: several friends have asked ideas for how to help with foster care, I’ll get a list of a few ways and post my thoughts)

The need is real, folks.  The need is in our own backyards.


Had a few extra moments this afternoon, so here are some simple ways off the top of my head to engage in foster care without "doing foster care", support families that are foster parenting, to love on kiddos, etc.  Again, these are just a FEW ideas...

Ways to engage:

1.       Offer your church facility up as a place for an agency to hold trainings.  Encourage members to attend.

2.       “Adopt” a child in foster care for Christmas—local agencies here do this.  While foster care parents receive reimbursement for basic needs, it doesn’t always cover that, nor leave lots of room for buying presents.

3.       Have a special talent (photography, tutoring,, music lessons,  sewing?)  Offer to use your talent.  Call an agency and tell them you’d like to offer free photos for kids in foster care families.  Senior photos,

4.       Donate.  Have an extra carseat?  Sheets?  Toddler bed? Clothing? All of these items have been gifted to us from sweet friends to help love the kids in our home. Thrift stores are great places to donate, but you can meet the need yourself!

5.       Donate school supplies

6.       Connect with local shelters for kiddos.  Find out if they have needs or ways that you can mentor kids that are there. 

7.       Love the foster children of people in your church. Don’t treat them any differently. Our church has welcomed our special friends without missing a beat. 

8.       Contact local agencies and donate household items to kids aging out of foster care.

9.       Become a court-appointed advocate or educational advocate

10.   Take meals to a family that has just welcomed in new kiddos (this one goes out to my friends that bring home babies from the hospital without a heads up!)

11.   Purchase gift cards to donate to foster care families---for unexpected needs, clothing or just so a large family can do an activity together (bowling, movies, etc).  These can be donated to agency to disperse as needed.

12.   Connect with existing ministries (there is a local church that does a LOT to support foster families)—like donating to their “welcome bags”

13.   Offer to babysit

14.   Pay for experiences for kids in foster care (summer camp, baseball, etc)

15.   Know a family that is fostering kiddos?  Pray for them.  Ask them how it’s going and take the time to really listen.  (I had a friend do this and I was so blessed by just being able to share with her)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

empty beds

“beds available”


“empty beds”

I have heard all three terms used to imply when a foster care home has space available to take in kiddos.

We stood in the doorway and stared down two empty toddler beds sitting in our home.  We had said goodbye earlier in the evening to our latest friends that had stayed with us for the past eleven days. 

The text came on a Friday evening.  Two kiddos.  Two little kiddos.  That night.  Long-term (as far as anyone could tell)

I had so been looking forward to the weekend. I was in the middle of re-organizing my daughter’s clothes/bedroom and I was quite comfortable saying “no” to our worker….especially to long-term placements in our current season of life.   But that night, neither my husband nor I felt like “no” was the right answer….We told Lucy what was happening and we prayed for our new friends.  We asked that God would help them feel comfortable in our home and that we would be kind and know how to love them well….and be able to share our toys with lots of grace.  J

An hour later I was loading two new friends into the back of my minivan.

“Letter Factory” entertained them while we made the trip back “home.”

Life was busy, or at least busier, for the ten days they were here.  But it was also fun.   We had 5 kids 4 and under running through our home.  We had two new friends that were sweet…and smart…and adorable.  We were exhausted, but we were thankful.  Not thankful for the circumstances that led them to our home, but thankful that God had asked us to say “yes”…and thankful that we did.

As I’ve mentioned before, people ask “what about your kids??”  And sometimes I worry when we have extra kiddos that our biological children somehow suffer as a result…but after the last week and a half, I realize that’s simply not true.  My kids are learning to love others in a way I struggle to understand even as an adult.  When bedtime arrived the first night, Lucy ran upstairs and brought down her two favorite nightgowns and let her new friend choose first…a process that would repeat itself every day when we got dressed and every night before bed.  A girl who LOVES her dresses and can sometimes be overly protective of her possessions was willingly offering up her favorite “fancy dresses.”  She was giving them her best. 

We knew a few days in that it wouldn’t be long term and that there were wonderful relatives that would take them long-term (always the best outcome).  Yesterday we got the “official” word.  We packed up their belongings and took some pictures.  And then we told Lucy.  I was not prepared for her response.  We’ve had other friends in our home and said goodbye to them.  But her little heart did not understand and MY heart broke for her.  I cried with her and empathized with her.  “Mommy’s sad, too.  I’m going to miss them so much, too.”  We did the best we could to explain & we took our new friends to their relative’s home. 

As we pulled away, Lucy said something that just made my heart dance---

“Mommy, I’m so happy for them.”

Me too, sweet girl, me too.

Monday, September 23, 2013

longing for dirty hands...

FACT:  I recently plunged my hand into a toilet that contained my child’s poop, while simultaneously using my other hand to stop another child from flushing the toilet…all in the name of saving our plumbing from the matchbox cars that had been dropped into the toilet (on accident) by the over-eager toilet flusher.  I’m just lucky baby #3 was safely tucked in her crib during the madness.

FACT:  This occurred on what I would consider a normal day in our household.

While I don’t purposefully seek out opportunities to get my hands dirty (figuratively & literally), as a mother of 3 young ones I really don’t have to look far.  (side note: this was the first time I can remember having to stick my hand in a toilet filled with stool.  I have fished out a hairbrush and other miscellaneous items on occasion…)

There are days when I want to give into my adult-sized temper tantrums and scream so that my voice can be heard about the constantly high volume of noise in our home….and sometimes I do.  I look ridiculous & I sound like a fool.  “QUIT YELLING!!!!!!!!!!  YOU WANT TO THROW YOUR TOYS?  WATCH THIS!!!!!!!”  (Very frustrated mother uses arms to push all books off of the dresser.) ahem.

I am not perfect.  Not.even.close.  (see above)

I’m not even really trying anymore…because at the end of the day, my pathetic attempts to be a good mom fall flat when based on just that: my attempts.

The battle for me is daily giving my time, dreams, ambitions, hobbies, skills, marriage & children over to God.  Laying down what I would like to do & running after what He asks me to do.  Pursuing the hearts of my kids when I would rather pursue praise.  Reading a book about tractors for the umpteenth time when I’d rather read for pleasure.  Embracing my body when bombarded with “bounce back” stories.  Recognizing the value of my role in the family when I think I could be doing more.  Choosing contentment when that green grass looks tempting.  Lowering my voice & speaking kindly instead of screaming when I don’t get my way.  Plunging my hands joyfully into the daily messes when everything else feels more significant.

If I want my children to trust God, I can’t dwell on the amount in our bank account.

If I want my children to believe that God is big enough, they need to see me on my knees; trusting Him for strength each day.

If I want my children to be generous, I can’t be protective of “me time”

If I want my children to be humble, I can’t run towards things that might make me feel more significant.

If I want my children to love well, they need to see me loving them well.

If I want my children to be kind and patient, I need to lower my voice & increase my praise.

If I want my children to be grateful, I need to show them perspective.

If I want my children to recognize contentment, I need to be delighted to serve wherever God has us

If I want my children to feel secure, they need to see that we feel our marriage is a priority

If I want my children to pursue God, they need to see me doing the same.

It’s not glamorous, but there is serious ministry going on in our homes every day.  If we are parenting with “the harvest in mind”, we are embracing the mundane.  We are delighting in the ordinary---in full awareness that it’s the mundane and ordinary that is shaping our children’s hearts & setting the tone in our home.  I want to be credible.  I want my hands dirty.