The Million Dollar Woman

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I’ve noticed that it’s common for Christian women to either love the Proverbs 31 woman or love to hate her. And then there are some of us who, upon hearing any reference to the passage, suddenly become like a Charlie Brown character and only hear, “Whah whah whah whah whah whah whah.”

(I’m not the only one, right?)

However, I’m glad to announce that in recent years, I’ve come back around to a new appreciation of the scripture passage, of the woman, and of her role in my life.
You see, to begin, a lot of what I’ve heard (and continue to hear) about this Proverb involves the following phrases and ideas:

“God’s standard for Christian women.”
“The high calling of women that we hope to achieve.”
“Who we strive to become through discipline and effort.”
“Whah whah whah whah whah.”

As soon as we begin down this trail of thought, I believe we diverge from the truth of the Proverb. We have to take the whole counsel of Scripture into consideration to really get at the heart of this passage.

I’ve probably got a whole book’s worth of thoughts on this, and since you’ve only signed on to read a blog and not a book, I’m not going to get sidetracked by the obvious arguments that could be made against the feasibility of anyone achieving all of the Proverbs 31 traits at any given time of life (like both getting up early and staying up late yet still having wise and kind things to say the next day. Right.) I’ll also not mention the obvious unfairness in expecting us to complete the tasks of a woman who had servants at her disposal. (I mean, if I had a few servants…) Instead I’m going to just cut to the chase and recount a moment that gave me greater insight into this topic.

It was a lazy Saturday morning. You know the kind. When you are sitting around in your pajamas at 10:00 with a cup of coffee, some books, a journal and pen while your children watch cartoons and eat cereal out of the box? Well, there I sat, just sitting, thinking, staring out the window, when every few minutes a nagging feeling would rise up and start to tell me to get up and get going, stop wasting time, etc. But then I would put that feeling back in its place by reminding myself that it was a Saturday morning with no plans. A time to rest. Without guilt.

Then I thought, what would it be like if there were actually nothing to be done? Because there is a great difference in just ignoring what needs to be done around me because it’s Saturday morning, and the absence of the work altogether. But what if everything I might possibly need to do that day was already done. That would be an amazing feeling. That would be an amazing day of rest!

Just think about it for yourself for a minute. Any work that you could possibly need to do that day, anything that could make it on a to do list, even the things that would be nice to get done, but you know they probably never will- it’s all done already. Can you imagine how you would feel?

Now, what would you do with that? After getting some much needed rest, what will you then do? I’m going to guess that you’re probably not going to throw your clean laundry in the mud, plant weeds in your lawn, or dump your business files all over the floor. I’m thinking you’d be too grateful for all the work someone else had done for you to go back to that.

I’m also going to guess that you wouldn’t sit around on your duff eating truffles and watching TV forever either (although maybe for just a day or two).  I’m thinking you’d be too grateful for all the work someone else had done for you to waste your life like that.

You know what you’re probably going to do? You’re probably going to go love others, you’re going to rest when you need it without any guilt and you’re going to enjoy life a lot more.

Well, spiritually, as followers of Christ, that is where we all are, right? There is no to-do list. No requirements. No high standards waiting to be met. It’s all done. All items are checked off. We’re approved, accepted, complete.

And we did none of it for ourselves.

And the peace and the gratitude that should reign in our hearts because of that, should lead us to a life very unlike the one lived under the endless to-do list. A life that wells up with love and service to others, amazing rest, and carefree enjoyment of God’s blessings.

And here’s where we return to the lovely lady of Proverbs 31. I think this is what she represents. A woman who knows her value, her status in Christ. Who knows she has no impossibly high standards to meet, and out of the joy and freedom of that knowledge, lives a life of love and joy and freedom.

I believe this passage of scripture is about embracing the unearned value that the Lord has placed on you and out of the overflowing abundance of that love, living a life of love for others. And you will never experience that if you approach this Proverb as a list of standards that you must strive to fulfill to be deemed valuable.

Proverbs 31 is not “God’s standard to strive for,” nor is it a checklist or how-to guide for a proper Christian life. It is a beautiful tribute to woman. It is a declaration of the value of a woman, made to a culture that considered us lesser thans. It is an exclamation of the worth and strength that God has allotted to women in spite of the cultural opinions that lay contrary to such notions.

If the reading of this passage leaves you feeling guilt-ridden and overwhelmed, rather than cherished and empowered, then you are reading it wrongly. If it motivates you to make new to-do lists rather than seek the face of your Savior, then you are missing the point. If it becomes useful to you as a reference point of what women should or shouldn’t do, instead of a testimony of what the Lord has done, then you are abusing the text.

Stop searching the scripture for either justification or condemnation of the choices of yourself or of others.

Stop reading the words in search of the secret of attaining godliness and value.

But rather, observe how the Proverbs 31 woman affects the lives of those around her, and know that can only be done by the indwelling love of Christ that is allowed the freedom to flow. It will look different for each of us, because we are all different people with varying strengths, loving different people with varying needs. But we are all loving.

It’s who we are in Christ.

We do not become by doing, but we do because we are.

And know that if you make this about accomplishing godliness or attaining status, about following rules and completing checklists, you may find yourself a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Cor 13:1-3). In other words, the result won’t be pretty or of value. The actions that spring from your feeble love will more align you with your Lord and bond you to your brethren than those actions that you carefully conjure up in hopes of achieving and displaying a desired state of being.

By all means, though, if you want to improve your expertise at household management, cooking, sewing, business growth, real estate investment, vineyard planting, etc., then have at it. Grow in your strengths, learn to develop your skills and better serve your family and community. That’s great. But don’t do it because you think it’ll make you more acceptable to God or inherently more valuable as a person.

For now, love as best as you know, though imperfect it may be. And as you grow in His love, I expect that you’ll increase your ability to love others as well.

Is your motivation to become holy, or is it to love? The first you cannot become by your actions, because you already are by the work of your Lord. The other you will not be able to help doing because He has put Himself in you and He Himself is love.

“God’s pleasure is not based on what you do for Him. It’s based on whether you are His child. If you are in Christ, you are a child of God, and He accepts you because you are in Christ. Because the Father is pleased with His son, He is also pleased with you. You are, as Paul put it in Ephesians, ‘accepted in the Beloved.’ The Christian, therefore, does not work toward the pleasure and acceptance of God. The Christian lives from the pleasure and acceptance of God.” (Sweet and Viola, Jesus: A Theography, 117)

You are the Proverbs 31 woman.

Acknowledge it. Wear it. Own it.

Know that He did it.

Your life may never be the same.

 

 

 

 


Listen Up

photoEvery kid has ideas of how they will or will not parent when they grow up based on their own parent’s methods. I remember determining that I would let my kids eat ice cream for every meal, wear their same favorite outfit every day even if it got too small, and never make them clean their rooms. Of course, my children are now key witnesses against me that I did indeed break that pact with my childhood self after joining the enemy ranks of adulthood.

But what the 7 year old, or 15 year old, or even 21 year old me didn’t know about are all the qualities and aspects of parenting that are never noticed until one takes on the role themselves. And when I look back on my own childhood and young adulthood I see that one of the things my mom did so well and which seems so easy is actually something that I find quite challenging at times.

She listened to her kids.

Listening. Yes, we all know, the key to good communication, healthy relationships and world peace. How hard can it be to listen to the cute adorableness that comes from the mouths of your own flesh and blood?

Well, have you ever had a 2 1/2 hour drive with a 9 year old who talked the entire time about intricate details of the latest Lego Club magazine? Have you ever been subjected to hearing the play by play commentary of all the minute events leading up to how a 5 year old scraped 2 mm of skin on the tip of her pinky toe that can only be seen with a magnifying glass? Have you ever had a “Why?” conversation like this with a 3 year old?:

“If you’re going to play on the porch you need to put your shoes on.”
“Why?”
“Because you’ll get splinters in your feet if you’re barefoot.”
“Why?”
“Because the wood is old and weathered.”
“Why?”
“Because it’s been there a long time.”
“Why?”
“Because a long time ago someone built this house and made this porch on it.”
“Why?”
“Because they wanted a porch.”
“Why?”
“Because porches are nice.”
“Why?”
“Because God made it that way. Now put your shoes on and go play.”

If you’ve experienced anything similar you will understand how close to the edge of sanity this type of listening, day in and day out, can take you. You will understand how the desire to just have a few moments of your own thoughts can be so strong and yet feel so unattainable. And even if my feelings here contain a bit of hyperbole, you will know that listening can often be not just a learned skill, but also a sacrifice.

I remember my mom, who had taken care of seven consecutive babies during the night and had done a stint working 3rd shift as a nurse, listening to me, as a 12 year old, complaining about not sleeping well because I had woken up once during the night and took a few minutes to get back to sleep. I sheepishly recall her seeming interested to hear all of my naive and uninformed, yet so confident, opinions on the state of the world. I can’t forget the numerous nights I would come home after work as an older teenager and keep her awake while telling her all the mundane and unimportant details of how my evening had gone, while she was probably desperate for sleep.

At the time, I didn’t know the sacrificial love that was probably involved in most of her listening. I just knew that my mom cared about my life, about what I thought, about what was going on with me. I knew she loved me partly because I knew she wanted to listen to me. And all those memories of her giving of herself to me, help to now motivate me to lend an ear to my ceaseless little talkers as well. And I’m learning that this often means stopping what I’m doing, making eye contact, and answering with more than just, “Mmm hmm”.

My experience of being listened to makes me recognize the value of such a gift. And whether you also had a similar gift given to you as a child or if you had the opposite experience, let either history compel you to love those in your life by giving them the dignity and value of being someone who is listened to.

My mom still listens to my petty complaints, naive opinions, and late night ramblings, so apparently there is no end to a mother’s sacrifice.

So Mom, thanks for listening and Happy Mother’s Day!

And Kids, just give me 5 uninterrupted minutes to finish writing this blog post and I promise I will listen to what you have been trying to tell me.


When True Love Is Truly Love

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“For what is love itself, for the one we love best? An enfolding of immeasurable cares which yet are better than any joys outside our love.”

-George Elliot

I was out shopping early this morning, hoping to be back home in time to help my kitchen withstand the onslaught of sloshed milk and spilled cheerios that was sure to proceed as soon as the first set of small feet hit the floor. Of course, being mid-February, the whole retail world looks as if it faced a similar attack, as if a swarm of 5 year old girls converged, armed with glitter and paper hearts, and, leaving no square inch untouched, left behind a wake of pink and red and teddy bears and roses.

Valentine’s Day has long been at the bottom of my “holiday” list. Maybe because it so often seems to be a day when a woman’s relationship status is on display by the presence (or absence) of a bouquet of flowers on her desk: a loud announcement of one’s possession (or lack) of romantic love that on any other day seems ostentatious.

Maybe its because I’ve always felt reluctant to celebrate something so profound and personal as love, at the command of  retailers who are hungry for a tide-me-over snack to get them from Christmas to Easter.

But I think it’s probably because, since I turned about 13, I’ve not been particularly enthralled with stuffed animals, hearts or the color pink and everybody knows that Valentine’s candy is by far the worst of all holiday treats. As if being in a fancy heart shaped box absolves the candy from it’s duty to actually taste good.

As I checked out my groceries, the friendly cashier told me she was planning her upcoming wedding and asked me how long I’d been married.

“Ten years.”

“Is it hard?” she asked.

Is it hard? What to say to a soon to be married 20-something year old? How about, “No, there is nothing easier than loving and living with the man of your dreams!”

No, that statement belongs on a Valentine, written in red script, accompanied by a box of sub-par assorted chocolates. Why? Because I’m just not romantic? On the contrary, my love of all things Jane Austin would soundly refute such a claim. In fact, perhaps I’m too romantic. Too unwilling to let superficial sentiment replace the reality of true romance. Too unwilling to accept mediocre chocolate in spite of it’s elaborate, eye-pleasing packaging.

Because there comes a point when every relationship must grow deeper than a Valentine can express, and we come to know that love, real love, involves sacrifice. And often, the sacrifice is easy, because it is buoyed by feelings of affection and admiration. But, sometimes, the sacrifice is hard, because it is weighed down by human imperfections.

Being unselfish is difficult  for any length of time. Being patient when you’re tired and grumpy takes intentional effort. Thinking the best of the other instead of taking offense is challenging. Being sharpened by another is sometimes painful. Love is unselfish, and patient, and kind. It trusts, hopes, and perseveres.

And that takes effort.

So, “Yes, sometimes it’s hard,” I tell her. “But it’s worth it.”

It is always easy to love an object that has no blemish or disfigurement. But in that case, I think infatuation may be the more fitting word. My husband is the man of my dreams, but even in my dreams he is not a god, but just a man. When it comes to humanity, that which seems perfect, is that which we don’t genuinely know. It is when we know the depths of someone, having plain view of all their strengths and talents, but also of their failings and shortcomings, and we say, “I choose you,” that we can say we’ve actually loved.

And the same is true for any love, romantic or otherwise. Any true love. Because the basis of romantic love, is just love. Agape love. The love shown us by a God willing to sacrifice Himself (His perfect self) for us. The love He asks us to show, likewise, to one another. The love shown us by our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters, our friends and our spouses. You don’t have to be a sender or receiver of a dozen roses to possess this kind of love in your life.

It is a beautiful thing to love an imperfect being.

It is an overwhelmingly wonderful thing to be loved in spite of one’s imperfections.

Put that on a Valentine.

And don’t forget the candy.

Lindt Dark Chocolate Truffles in a brown paper bag will do.


The Here and Now

My baby is turning 3 tomorrow.

I know, she’s not a baby anymore.

It is a new phase in parenting for me to not have a baby. With having 4 children in 5 1/2 years, I haven’t been out of the baby/toddler stage since becoming a mom 8 1/2 years ago. For me parenting has always included sleepless nights, diaper changes, potty training, breastfeeding, baby wearing, strollers, car seats to buckle, soft squeaky toys, cribs, new teeth, safety gates on stairs, outlet covers, afternoon naps, “Good Night Moon” and sweet baby babblings.

Of course, as the older kids have grown we have added other activities to  parenting: Legos and Playmobil, soccer teams, pulling teeth, booster car seats, bike riding, bunk beds, “The Chronicles of Narnia”, and complete two-sided conversations.

But it feels a little strange to say goodbye to some of those baby things. No one needs me to buckle them in the car. I’ve passed my Ergo and Maya wrap on to others. I have no diapers to wash. No one sleeps in the crib. No one freaks me out on the stairs. No one routinely wakes me up at night. And although I might re-enter the baby stage again in the future, I have no way of knowing that I will for sure- whether I want to or not. So there is definitely a sense of moving on, passing into another stage, saying good-bye.

And I remember what it felt like when I was in the throes of all those baby things. I remember the exhaustion, often feeling overwhelmed, and not really grasping that it wouldn’t last forever. And then all of a sudden I looked up and the babies had turned into children- children who wake up and go downstairs on their own and fix themselves cereal- all without waking me up! And I think about how sweet it was to nurse a tiny baby first thing in the morning.  And then I look at the cereal mess and the milk on the floor and wonder when they’ll ever be big enough to also leave it all clean after they’ve fed themselves.

My husband has often said that one of the biggest challenges of parenting is being able to enjoy the stage you are in. It seems like we’re so often either pining for the past or longing for the future.

“Wasn’t it so sweet when they were babies and they used to – (insert adorable baby behavior here)?”.

Or “Won’t it be great when they are older and we won’t have to – (insert any number of disgusting tasks associated with caring for those who have no control over any bodily functions here)?”

In fact, it starts with pregnancy (at least for moms). I think most pregnant women get to a point in the last trimester where they feel like they will be pregnant forever. Especially the last few days. Especially if you are overdue. Especially if you are 11 days overdue. It almost becomes hard to remember what it felt like to not have a gigantic weight in your abdomen, to be able to roll over at will in less than 2 minutes, to sleep on your stomach, to not need to go to the bathroom every 45 minutes. That last few days anxiety of  “when will I go into labor?”, “why haven’t I had this baby yet?”, “what if I don’t go into labor?” for some reason isn’t easily dismissed by the fact that no pregnant woman has remained pregnant indefinitely. We know we’ve never met a woman who’s been with child for five years, but we still feel like there is no end in sight.

So we tend to always feel like the particular stage we are in is everlasting. And then it is over and we can’t imagine how it sped by so quickly. Too quickly. Even those whose children’s ages are more spread out, who have children in various stages simultaneously, have to say goodbye to those stages with each individual child.

But that’s what it really comes down to, doesn’t it?

Each individual child.

A person who is growing and moving through life.

I’m not called to love babies, or elementary age children, or teenagers. I’m called to love each of my children, through each stage of growth, as they pass from one phase to another. Regardless of the level of work required or the amount of warm fuzzies received.

Of course I love my 8 year old just as much now as when he was 6 months old. I can think of all the pros (he doesn’t spit up on me) and cons (he doesn’t get excited when I walk into the room) of this current age compared to the former. Or I can still long for what the benefits will be when he is even older (I will never mow grass again).  But instead, I just want to enjoy where he is right now.  I want to delight in my youngest being 3, because, although she was so precious at 2, she’ll still be that at 3. And not just because 3 year olds are also precious, but because she is, no matter her age.

I want to revel in this stage of watching my children grow from little kids to big kids. To see who they are and who they are becoming. To rejoice in the ways they are newly independent and to be aware of the new ways they now need me. And sometimes, for me, that may mean putting down the camera  (not always, and believe me, for a photography fanatic, that was hard to say), and just living in the moment, without fear of not having captured it for eternity. For some memories are just best imprinted on the heart, and most clearly evidenced by the closeness of our current relationships.

If I have any advice for new parents, it would be this: Although it seems as if time is standing still, it is really whizzing by. You will make it through the tough days. You will sleep again. Drink in all the goodness of where you are- the here and now. One day you will look back on it and cherish all the sweet moments and see where you grew through all the hard ones.  (Because I think parents grow just as much along with their kids.) Before you know it the baby will be gone. But that precious person who used to be in baby form will still be there, with a bigger body and an array of new skills and plenty of need for a parents love and nurturing.

So right now I have a wonderful 3 year old, a precious 4 year old, a fantastic 6 year old, and an amazing 8 year old. Next year, all those numbers will be different, but the accompanying adjectives will remain the same.

And hopefully, in 5 more years, I’ll remember all the good times of these ages, I’ll forget a lot of the difficulties, and I’ll be even closer to these four little humans and ready to help them and love them through the next phase of these wonderful things we call life, love and parenting.


Things My Kids Make Me Say

There are some combinations of words that I never thought would come out of my mouth.

But then I had children.

No, not swear words (although those little darlings can drive a normally calm and patient person to the brink of sanity.) And not the standard, I vowed I would never say that to my kids statements like, “Because I said so.” or “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”

No, I knew I would say those things. I’m realistic enough to know that what numerous generations of parents were unable to avoid in their speech would likely be incorporated into mine as soon as I joined the club.

But there are other things I just never considered and somehow years of babysitting still didn’t prepare me for. Things that, after said, kind of hang there in the air, boasting of their presence, taunting me with the fact that, yes, I did just say that, yes, it actually needed to be said, and yes, someone else probably overheard it.

Here are a few I can’t seem to erase from my memory:

1) Eat with your fingers, not with your toes.

2) Everyone doesn’t like to have someone lick their arms.

3) Roly-polys don’t want to sleep under your pillow.

4) M&M’s that will still be eaten by humans should not be kept in a bug box with bugs.

5) Yes, rolling your eyes downward is just as rude as rolling them upward.

6)  “Stinky bum baby” is not an “affectionate nickname” for your sister.

7) Take off your shoes to jump on the trampoline. Not all of your clothes.

8) Peeing in the sink is not “pretty much the same thing” as going in the toilet.

9) Trying to trap a squirrel on the trampoline to see if it will jump is a really bad idea.

10) Children do not grow up to be real live horses.

11) Yes, I would still like you if you did become a real live horse. And bring you sugar cubes.

12) I do not make snacks when I’m taking a shower.

13) I do not make snacks when I’m changing a diaper.

14) It is not necessary to have a snack while waiting for a fried egg to cook.  (Yes, we have snack issues.)

15) Ketchup is a condiment, not an entree.

16) “Chunky Monkey” is a cute nick name for a baby, but not for a mommy.

17) When I said “clean your room” I didn’t really mean “put everything on the bed and spread the comforter over it”.

18) Do not invite strangers to go on vacation with us.

19) Underwear always goes on before pants. Not after. Always.

20) The jelly packets at Cracker Barrel are not meant to be put in your pocket to take home for a snack in your room later.

21) The mail lady does not want to know when you last threw up.

22) A pile of acorns big enough to feed all the local squirrels does not belong in the sock drawer for safe keeping.

23) I am not a jungle gym or a slide.

24) Promising not to fall off will not earn you the privilege of playing on the roof.

25) My shirt sleeve is not a kleenex.

26) Actually, I don’t think I would prefer gravel floors over carpet, but thanks for the effort anyway.

As I got going I realized this list could go on and on. Not only do kids say the darndest things, but they make their parents have to do it too.

Feel free to add to my list with your own incriminating statements in the comments below.


Break of Dawn

Break of Dawn

Shrouds of darkness folding in

Massive weight of mankind’s sin

Heaped upon the human form

Of the One who bore it all

.

Nature groaned as earth’s core shook

Hope eclipsed when sun forsook

Shame despised, glory shorn

Yet for joy, endured it all

.

Dividing curtain torn in two

Severed bond now strength renewed

No more the garb of exile worn

Unhindered access for us all

.

Risen body, third day revealed

Unrivaled victory: death was killed

Triumphant Lord with praise adorn

Bestowed endless life upon us all


The Never Ending Story

Yesterday, a beautiful little girl named Piper died. She was nearly three; the age of my youngest. She had leukemia, and had battled it since she was 6 weeks old. I didn’t know her or her family, but several of my friends do and I’ve been following their updates on Facebook. I’ve been praying for her for weeks now, and crying for her parents these last few days. Her mother has been blogging  here with stories and photos of their experience (I won’t post any photos here, having not asked her parents for permission to do so.)

The sadness of children dying is so hard to come to terms with. Even children we don’t personally know. I don’t think it’s even just in a sense of  “What if that had been my child”? I don’t grieve Piper’s parent’s loss because it makes me realize what I stand to lose. I grieve with them because they are parents who have lost, and the world has lost, something precious. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

Seventeen months ago, my sister lost her first baby. She went into the hospital in full-term labor after a healthy pregnancy. A few days later she went home to make funeral plans for her stillborn daughter, Giulia (pronounced “Julia”). I well remember the grief that I felt over my sister’s and brother-in-law’s loss. The pain of knowing that their long-awaited baby was gone. The sadness that a member of our family was missing. It didn’t really matter that we had never met her, we still loved her. Her parents mourned the loss of who she was even though they’d never had the chance to get to know all the delights of her personality.

I remember being in the shower a few days after my niece’s death, and noting the stretch marks on my abdomen; the physical reminders of my having carried and borne four children. I thought about how hard pregnancy is; the toll it takes on a woman’s body. How painful and overwhelming it is to give birth and to physically recover from it (no matter the method used for delivery). Yet, even after all of that (and even several years later, still carrying the stretch marks, saggy skin, and out of shape abdominal muscles), we know that it was all worth it. We look into the eyes of those beautiful children, we watch them grow, we delight in who they are, and we never doubt that it was all worth it.

And then I thought of my sister. All that she endured: the pregnancy, the exceptionally difficult birth, the more than usual injuries and trauma to her physical body, the days ahead of trying to heal physically and emotionally. I was overwhelmed with grief at the thought that struck me:

“And it was all for nothing.”

After some tears, I began to hear the gentle voice of Jesus speak to my heart and I knew that I was wrong. It was not all for nothing. Through all that pain and sacrifice, Giulia was given life. No, she didn’t get to experience any of it on this earth outside of her mother’s womb. But she has begun her eternal life in the presence of her Heavenly Father. And although we can’t experience it yet with her, it is real and abundant life.

And so with Piper. She is living an abundant, pain-free, leukemia-free life that will last forever. She is being the kid that the chemotherapy, and the IVs, and the pain and the weakness always prevented her from being. She is free and she is whole.

Through her parent’s love, and sacrifice and pain, Piper lived a short while on this earth, and blessed many by her presence. And now she lives forever in heaven. Her life was meaningful and treasured.

And worth it.

And it is not over.

And if this sounds sappy and trite, and meant just to make us feel better about tragedy, it is not. It comes from the understanding that this life that we see and experience is not all that there is for us.

I found something I wrote shortly after my niece died:

“When we truly understand that this life is but a small part of our overall journey, we will stop putting all of our energy and resources into making it comfortable, and we will begin acquiring from our experiences and trials the characteristics that make us fit and hopeful for the next.”

How we view this life and what comes after, not only gives us comfort and hope in our grief as we confront death, but it gives us a new perspective on how we confront life as well. It helps us sift through those things that are mere fillers, and cling to those that are beneficial to the soul. It gives us hope and strength to keep running this leg of the race, because we know what awaits us at the finish line.

This life is a journey. It is full of joy and sorrow, abundance and loss, comfort and trials. And when we finish this part of it, we get to go on to the next. To the part that is just joy without the sorrow, abundance without the loss, comfort without the trial.

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)

We all know that in fairy tales, the ending is always, “And they lived happily ever after.”  We are privy to all of the hardships and adventures that lead up to that wonderful close of the story, but we don’t get all the details of the second part of their journey, of the happily ever after part. It is left open-ended to imagine it how we may.

Here is how C.S. Lewis described it:

“‘The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream has ended: this is the morning.’…but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (from the ending of The Last Battle)

Piper and Giulia are living their happily ever after. But it’s not a fairy tale. It is more real than we can imagine life being. For now, we miss them on this earth, and we grieve with their parents for their unimaginable loss. But one day, when we wake from this dream, we will see them joined by their families to live out the next chapter of the Great Story.

And I am confident that they will never doubt that it was all worth it.


Mediocrity At Its Finest

I met someone new yesterday. Another mom of young children. I can’t remember her name but she told me a little about her life, complete with photos.

Every picture she had looked like it was taken by a professional. Every photo of any scene in her house could be on Pinterest. Every day she and her kids make a craft, a snack, and a costume that coordinate with the unit theme they’re currently studying in homeschool. Every toy they have is educational and handcrafted from all-natural sustainable materials. Every meal she makes is gourmet, healthy and frugal. Every outfit her kids wear is hand-sewn and made out of awesome, trendy fabrics that were hand dyed from the juice of the heirloom berries organically grown in the back garden.

You may know her. If you read any “super-mommy-blogs”, you have met her, too. If you don’t, take my word for it. The above description is only a slight exaggeration. (Of course, had I actually met her in person, I may have come away with a totally different impression.)

But I have to admit, I was possibly a very light shade of green after reading her blog. Just a little envious of how she is able to make her life so beautiful. So perfect. So magazine-like.

In fact, the effect it created in me was very similar to what magazines and other media tend to do. Only worse. Because it is easy to dismiss impeccability in a celebrity. I know the images displayed of them aren’t completely genuine anyway. I’m not compelled to keep up or compete.

But a plain ‘ol mom like myself?

Totally different story.

That’s the funny thing about the blogging world, and the whole social media universe in general. It can make people feel bad. About themselves. About their lives. And it does this, not because it is inherently evil, but because it easily lends itself to the aiding and abetting of producing false and often unachievable appearances. And because we are insecure enough to buy into it.

But the truth is, when I clearly think through it, I know that the pictures, the moments, the achievements displayed on these blogs are handpicked from the many moments of normal, possibly even mediocre life. And really I don’t blame them. Their readers are there to learn, to get ideas, recipes, crafting tips. Who is searching the web for “unhealthy recipes that taste bad”? Or “DIY projects that look like crap”? Um, nobody.

We want to see these Martha Stewart moments. But what we often receive along with them is the idea that some people indeed live a perfect life.

And the crazy thing is that I can play that game as well as any super-mommy blogger. Only I don’t really focus on impressing the virtual world but my real friends and acquaintances instead. And this is possibly a whole lot worse.

Don’t we all, to a degree, try to put our best foot forward? (Ok, maybe not the lady I saw in Walmart the other night in her Tweety Bird pajamas, bathrobe and slippers.) But we can easily get trapped in an endless cycle of being afraid to reveal our own imperfections to those who seem not to have any themselves, who in turn don’t see our’s, so they have to keep up the charade, and so on.

I think we all probably have our different things that are important to us. Different areas where we feel the need to keep up appearances. I have to admit that I really like to have things organized and tidy around me. I feel more at ease in such an environment. Sometimes I have a hard time not getting caught up in it. (Although, if you could see the inside of my minivan at this moment you would seriously doubt that.)

However, I also have enough of a natural inclination to laziness (not to mention 4 small, messy people) to keep me from actually achieving the perfection I sometimes think I want.

I’ve gotten a lot better about this (I don’t start painting bathrooms at midnight anymore when guests are coming the next morning), but I still kind of freak out a little bit if I think someone may come over and see things in disarray. Partly because the untidiness is really bothering me, but mostly it’s because I don’t want them to think I’m untidy. To see my untidiness and know I’m mediocre. (Because, you know, they might not know that already.)

That’s why when a friend is over in not-so-perfect conditions I have to apologize and give excuses like, “Sorry it’s such a mess in here, I’ve had a crazy morning.” (Because waking up and eating breakfast and getting dressed are craaazzy.) Or maybe, “I know it’s such a disaster around here” when I really should say, “You would not believe how much better it looks in here than it did 10 minutes ago when I got your message that you were stopping by. I cleaned like a mad ninja.”

Why do I do this though? To myself and to others? How many times have I missed out on being friendly and inviting a neighbor in because there were trains all over the floor in the entryway and Cheddar Bunnies spilled on the dining chairs and my kids were still in their pajamas at noon?

How many times have I acted like my normal, little messes are apology-worthy, thereby making others feel inferior if they know they have normal giant messes at their house?

And what about the other areas where I attempt to hide all imperfections and portray an unrealistic image to others? The bigger, more important things in life like my marriage, my parenting, my family relationships, my spiritual life?

It all comes down to humility, or lack of, in my case.

In the book of Philippians it says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. In humility, value others above yourself. Not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil 2:3&4, NIV)

It comes down to choosing to do things based not on how it will make me look, but on how it will make others feel.

And that sometimes means letting my mediocrity shine for all to see.

Once, a close friend of mine (who happens to value organization like I do, and who also has more young children than I do) dropped me off at my house after a shopping trip together. She was helping me carry my grocery bags inside my unusually (to her) messy house. (If I recall correctly, it was pretty bad.) I can distinctly remember her beaming smile as she said,

“It makes me so happy to see this!”

Just as keeping up appearances can make others feel substandard, being transparent can bring them freedom. It can release them from striving for unrealistic achievements. And it was no big deal for me to let my friend see my reality that day, but only because she had been gracious enough to let me see her’s in the past.

I’m sure we all have the friend or family member, who really does always have a perfectly kept house, or a faultless marriage, or perfectly shining career, or flawless appearance at 5 am. But I’m willing to bet they don’t have all of them all the time. And if they do, man, they must be tired.

Of course, I’m not discounting the importance of good role models. We need people to be examples of the good things in life worth striving for. And there are areas of life that are too important to settle for mediocrity. We all need someone to inspire us to better things.

But only when I am truly motivated by my love for others, rather than my own selfish ambition, will I inspire others to healthy achievements, to Godly aspirations.

So does this mean I will not clean my house next time we have visitors coming over?

Well, I’m sure I will still be sweeping the cracker crumbs off the chairs so no one has to have a crunchy seat. Or digging out the half-eaten apples that some small person named “Not Me”, who is not even allowed to be eating in the living room, has shoved behind the throw pillows on the couch. I will definitely clean the bathrooms (no descriptions needed).

But hopefully, it will be motivated by my desire to make people feel comfortable than by my vain conceit.

So, in the best interest of others, (and possibly as a protest of sorts) I’ve decided to post some of my own hand-picked photos (of unprofessional quality).

So this is really no biggie but this breakfast mess was captured at noon when I had no choice but to clear it away to make room for lunch. The guilt all rests on that powerful, time wasting duo sitting there: Laptop and Coffee Mug.

I'm actually quite proud of this little scene. See that clean laundry crammed on that shelf? It is sloppily folded instead of in a giant mountain on the floor waiting to be folded while getting too wrinkled to wear. So what if I haven't actually put it away or matched that bucket of socks in over a week.? It is clean. And folded. Success.

I'm glad I have photographic evidence of this crime scene to help me figure out what actually took place and when it happened. There was even toothpaste dripping off the top of the mirror. It is still unclear who won this battle, but it is evident that the toothpaste is indeed a wild beast that must be struggled with and forced into submission. Clearly, I am going to have to start buying a more compliant brand.

Long story short, I spent all morning cleaning out the inside of the dryer to ensure there were no baby mice inside awaiting an untimely death with the next load. Instead of mice, I found this mess of lint. It's only had seven years to build up in there, so I'm thankful it hasn't caused a fire.

So I also had a photo that would secure my nomination for the Parent of the Year Award. It was of my 2 year old jumping on the trampoline. Outside. In February. With only a t-shirt on. And I mean only a t-shirt (which is why I didn’t publish it.) I’m sure she went out in more clothing, but I’m not sure why she took them off. Anyway, I don’t know if I got her back in before my elderly neighbors saw her, but I’m just hoping.

So there you have it. Honestly, on another, crazier day, I could have produced some more revealing photos. These were the best I had to give today. (Anyway, this is about mediocrity, not the best and also not the worst.)

But even so, I’m resisting the urge (ok, the strong, overwhelming need) to post a picture of something beautiful, or cool, or at least organized.

But I will stay strong and accept that those of you who don’t know me, may well think that this is an accurate representation of every day of my life. (Just like I tend to believe about the super mom bloggers.) That’s ok. It’ll do me good.

So I’m sorry you had to see the evidence of my real life mediocrity.

And by “I’m sorry”, I mean

“You’re welcome.”


Once Upon a Time, There Were Four Little Monkeys Who Went Shopping with a A Great Big Ogre…

The other day I went shopping with all four of my children.

If you have any children, or have ever been around any children, or have ever seen any children from afar, you already know that this is probably not a happy ending story. You are not expecting me to follow that statement with, “We had such a lovely time.” If you had been around when I embarked on such a journey, you might have joined my husband in saying, “That doesn’t sound like a good idea.”

Of course it wasn’t a good idea.

Now, don’t misunderstand. I go out with all of my kids alone all the time. We go to the park, friends’ houses, the movie theater, the children’s museum, even four hour long road trips for the weekend. But there is just something…special...about shopping with them. Somehow, walking through the doors of Target, or the grocery store, or any place you buy things, transforms them into unmanageable miscreants and me into…The Ogre Mom.

Maybe it’s that I have an objective other than “have fun.” Maybe it’s that I’m trying to pay more attention to the coupons and the shopping list than the kids. Maybe it’s just a conspiracy. But it’s usually something that we all come back from looking like we’ve crossed a desert, fought a small war, and endured a siege. We come back as survivors, not victors.

I know all of this, but that still didn’t stop me.  I had a few errands to run, some things to buy that actually required a couple of the kids to be with me (shoes, pants) and with my husband working on the weekend anyway, I decided we were going.

Actually, it wasn’t that bad. Nobody wet their pants. Nobody laid on the floor and screamed like a banshee because they had to ride in a regular shopping cart instead of the race car cart. Nobody made loud, rude observations about fellow shoppers. Nobody choked on and then threw up cheese samples onto the floor. These have all happened on other trips, but not this time.

But it wasn’t lovely.

Here’s a condensed review of what did happen:

Kid 1 hates shopping and reminded me of that fact every two and a half minutes. Kid 2 constantly pestered me to ride in the back of the cart even though she weighs half a ton and kids 3 and 4 were already in it. Kid 4 didn’t want to ride in the cart and kept trying to climb out. Kid 3 kept poking kid 4 to elicit laughs but got high-pitched “stop it!”s instead. Kid 2 joined in until the two were laughing like hyenas and the one was screeching like some rare tropical bird. Kids 2, 3 and 4 all started making primate noises when I told them to stop acting like monkeys escaped from the zoo.

Then, Kid 2, who needed shoes, couldn’t decide what she liked. Kid 3, who didn’t need shoes, kept finding the “most prettiest, sparkliest, perfectest, beautifulest” pairs for herself and pouting when I told her no. Kid 4, on being let out of the cart, promptly took off her shoes to try on a pair that would fit a 6 month old, and decided to put her own pair of shoes behind the shelf where they fell down between the racks and were only found by me getting on my hands and knees and looking under all the shelves. Kid 1 protested and argued about trying on pants because he doesn’t think it matters if you have outgrown your jeans and they don’t come down past your ankles.

By that point, I agreed.

That was just the first stop. There were three more to go with pretty much the same results. In the end, we mostly got what we needed, I only heard two “You sure have your hands full” comments, and I made it back with the four kids I left home with and all in their original clothing.

Sadly, though, I was annoyed and frustrated with them almost the whole time.

For some reason, I want them to behave like miniature adults in those situations and when they don’t, I start to feel like I’m not doing a good job parenting. I feel like people observing us must think they are not trained to properly behave.

But wait, that last part is true.

They are still in training. I’m not done yet. When I am done, they’ll be adults, buying their own clothing, pushing their own carts instead of swinging precariously off the end of mine. So it’s way too early in the game to declare myself a parenting failure. Because most of the annoying or embarrassing things they do, aren’t even bad things. They are just kid things. They don’t have the same control over volume,  movement or emotions as we adults. They certainly don’t have the reasoning ability we have. (“Hey, it seems like a good idea to throw the old shoes behind the shelf because I’m planning on going home in these tiny new ones that I can’t even fit half my foot into.”)

And the behaviors that are “bad”? Aren’t they really just an outward display of the contents of the heart? Selfishness. Anger. Impatience. Lack of consideration. The pouting (or screaming, or complaining) isn’t really the problem (though Lord knows I want it to stop!); but the selfishness is.

And that’s when I see that I have exactly the same issues as my kids. The only difference is in how I display them.

As adults (most of us anyway), we’ve learned which behaviors are socially acceptable and which are not.

Tantrums in the floor? Not ok.

Giving my husband the silent treatment because I’m angry with him? Well, he earned it.

Throwing toys and screaming at an annoying person? Wrong.

Speaking sharply to my kids because they are driving me absolutely crazy? If necessary.

So even though I’ve learned to adjust my behavior, I’ve not completely gotten rid of the “bad” stuff. I’ve just figured out that if I don’t display my selfishness using childish antics, it’s a lot easier to rationalize. Since I don’t stomp my feet and shout, “I want you to do it my way!”, I can convince myself and others that it’s ok to be rude to my husband (as long as it is done in an adult-like, dignified manner and for a good reason.)

But in the end, rudeness is rudeness. And maybe trying to cover it up and make it look like something else, something justifiable, is even worse than shouting it out at the top of my lungs for everyone to hear.

So I guess I’m still in training, too. I’m still relying on my Heavenly Father, through the Holy Spirit, to guide me to better things.  And while I want my actions, and those of my kids, to be seen as kind, loving and respectful, I want it to be because we have kindness, love and respect in our hearts. Because we’re daily being conformed to the image of Christ.  I don’t think the need for that is something I’ll ever outgrow.

And just as I need His grace for my own shortcomings, I want to pass that gift on to my children as well. To daily remind them that they are incredible people. People who may need a little more training before I want to take them out again for an all day shopping expedition. But incredible, cherished people nonetheless.

And hey, who wouldn’t put up with some obnoxious noises and boisterous running in exchange for the spontaneous hugs, unearned smiles, and unconditional forgiveness that kids so readily give. Because, thankfully, they haven’t learned to keep those expressions of emotion under control yet either.

So the next time I’m brave enough to darken the doors of Target with my miscreants, maybe, just maybe, I can avoid awakening the ogre within. Or at least keep her more in check.

And if you happen to see me out with a bunch of rowdy monkeys that vaguely resemble children, don’t tell me I’ve got my hands full. I know. Ogres are hard to manage. Just smile and say something nice like,

“How lovely.”


A Reluctant Blogging Venture

This being  my very first blog post on my very first blog, I thought it would be wise to start out this new relationship with complete honesty.  So here is my confession: I used to think blogging was ridiculous. Absolutely. Ridiculous.

Now that that is out in the open, let me give some disclaimers. Firstly, it has been a few years since I moved beyond that opinion (or at least warmed to the idea somewhat). Secondly, to all my friends and family whose blogs I’ve been reading in the past year or so: I’ve really enjoyed them and it is partly due to your creative efforts that I’ve decided to venture into this ridiculous, er formerly ridiculous world of blogging.

Ok, so why such an aversion to blogging in the past? Well, part of it is that new things just take a while to grow on me sometimes. I’d like to think i’ts more that I enjoy each season to its fullest before I’m ready to move on to the next. Take the literal seasons for example. I absolutely love the Fall but even in late September, I’m still hoping to go swimming one last time. I want to squeeze as much fun out of every drop of sunshine before I’ m ready to say good-bye. And I get super annoyed when I go into a clothing store in January to see Spring clothing on the racks and not a snow glove to be found anywhere. I know that is the way retail works, always moving ahead, enabling the consumer to be prepared for what is coming. But I don’t want to buy warm weather clothing  when it is snowing outside. I’m not in the mood. And what about if you lose a glove on the ski slopes? I guess you have to wait until next September to buy new ones.

Now, I know that blogging isn’t new anymore. According to LISNews, Blogger and WordPress have been around for 12 and 8 years, respectively. And it’s probably been 5 or 6 years that people I personally know have been blogging. So now we come to the crux of the issue. It just seemed silly. And maybe arrogant.  I mean, real writers write articles that are published by people with authority to say, “Yes, this should be published for the world to read. We give our approval and endorsement.” Oh, and they’re paid for their writing. Non-real writers, on the other hand, write down their thoughts and daily happenings for themselves to read. It’s called a journal. Or if you’re a girl under the age of 17  it’s a diary. And nobody wants to read someone else’s diary. Unless they are looking for juicy information for the purpose of humiliating or blackmailing the writer; and this demographic is usually limited to younger siblings. So to sum up, my general attitude was, “How important do you think you are to assume the whole world cares what you had for breakfast?” (This could also be applied to Facebook, Twitter, etc. , but I got over that hang up a while ago.)

However, slowly, gradually, I became enlightened (or perhaps it got far enough into winter that I knew I would have no hope of finding those perfect snow boots; they’d all been sold at the end of season clearance sale in December to make room for spring sandals.)   Or perhaps it’s really that as I read my friends blogs I enjoy keeping up with those who live far away, I enjoy hearing the thoughts and perspectives of those I see regularly but don’t always get to have in-depth conversations with, and I appreciate the creative ideas, humorous stories, and heartfelt wisdom from people I don’t know and who didn’t even get paid for their labors. As it turns out, not-real writers can be pretty good writers.

And so I decided to dip my toes in and give it a go myself. I don’t know if this will become a committed long-term relationship or just a fling. (I definitely don’t have hours upon hours of free time, that’s for sure.) I guess we’ll see where my meanderings lead me. But for now, I’ll take it slow, and even though it’s a chilly 40 degrees outside, maybe I should go swimsuit shopping.


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