As I looked back over the Sign Up Genius I use for friends to commit to a week of sharing around this virtual campfire I noticed in 2021 there were some gaps. BIG ONES. Season 3 of this blog felt like we were barely holding on and as the writing captain I was ready to jump ship. And I did …. for weeks on end. The longest – 7. I thought season 2 /2020 was hard to keep the fire going but 2021 actually proved worse. Interesting. Concerning, really. The realization that something that had once held so much joy had turned into a….
You know –
the feeling you have when you just don’t care.
A missed week would have never happened in Season One. If I knew that no one was scheduled to share I would personally find a way, a time, a story to share. I would prioritize writing over dinner or laundry. I felt a responsibility to show up every week because I promised we would. And then the every week felt too much.
Thank God for New Years.
And Fresh Starts.
And new mercies every morning.
And God’s word that always gives me what I need.
As I turned the calendar to 2022 I turned to the words of the book of Hebrews. Tom and I have been reading a chapter a day for our after dinner devotion time and I’ve been going back on my own. The voice of the unknown writer of this book seemed to be yelling.
“Goodness – turn it down” – I thought.
The words leapt off the pages of Chapter 6 in an effort to get my attention.
“But we long to see you passionately advance until the end and you find your hope fulfilled. So don’t allow your hearts to grow DULL or lose YOUR ENTHUSIASM, but follow the example of those who fully received what God has promised because of their strong faith and patient endurance.” Hebrews 6:11-12 TPT
As I thought about this blog and the dimmed desire for keeping it going – I realized it wasn’t just a blog thing. It was an over all numbness that had grown in all areas of my life in a sneaky, subtle way. It’s the way the enemy works. Often discouragement can come from one tragic event but in my case it seemed to slide in, unannounced and settle in making itself comfortable enough so that I didn’t even notice. My heart felt a bit dull and my enthusiasm for life in general a bit dim. Not stay in bed all day dull and dim…. just dull enough and dim enough that the energy needed to find writers to fill slots or write myself was gone.
The words of Chapter 6 were like a blast of cold air on my warm, cozied up in my comfort zone self.
Can you hear the longing?
“But we long to see you PASSIONATELY ADVANCE UNTIL THE END.”
Can you hear him begging me to not settle for a dimmed, dulled version of myself or my fellow writers?
“So don’t grow dull or LOSE YOUR ENTHUSIASM…”
Can you hear him prodding me now more than ever to shine bright with all the enthusiasm I have?
“Follow the example of those who fully received what God promised because of their strong faith and patient endurance.”
I could feel the writer pointing my face in the direction of the many that have endured life and pushed through the temptation to coast.
And the tough love felt so good.
Like a good coach that won’t let the team member play small.
Like a parent that will not let their child out of a responsibility.
Like our loving God that needs us to stay in the game…
Til the end.
I have two friends that became widows this year.
One because of cancer.
The other because of Covid.
Neither planned on this.
I know they would give anything to have another day with the men they loved.
The two men used their lives to shine and they each stayed as bright as possible until their life on earth came to a close.
Its people like them that I look too. Its their wives that now must chose daily to keep on that I remember. I recognize the true gift of each day I have been given. I shake my head of the fog that wanted to lull me into complacency. I boldly dismiss the lie that it’s just not worth the effort to push past comfort and the safety found in not creating, not stretching, not sharing, not growing.
The hope we have is too good. The promises we’ve been given too precious. The strength we receive so needed.
Shine bright friend, the world so needs what you have to offer.
“We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and NEVER. LET. GO. Hebrews 6:18 MSG
Do you choose a yearly focus word? I’ve started the practice in the past few years, and have found it to be a simple and enjoyable activity if nothing else. At the end of 2020, I felt like I was sleeping through life. Not literally, of course–I have three kids six and under–but, a combination of the troublesome times and my current season of life brought feelings of always missing out: on opportunities to connect with my kids, on chances to build and grow friendships, on times to rest. And more than that, I was asleep to my own needs and to my faith.
As I thought about a word, I kept being drawn back to the parable of the ten virgins in the Bible. If you aren’t familiar with this story from Matthew 25, Jesus tells of ten women who were waiting for the bridegroom of a wedding, although they did not know how long they would need to wait for him to appear. Half were prepared, and half were not.
At this point in my life, I felt like the unprepared virgins: caught up in people-pleasing and in doing what I thought I should be doing. I was muddling through life, clinging to my own schedule, and planning to one day get it together. I needed to awaken to small moments, unafraid to drop everything in order to spend the time given to me well. So, I chose Awake.
For a few months, everything went well.
But, making something the word of the year doesn’t guarantee it will happen. As the year wore on I stopped reflecting, stopped looking, stopped trying. I found excuse after excuse: I’m pregnant, I have a toddler going through a sleep regression, it’s been a hard year, my children wear me out, I can’t sleep, I don’t have the energy to exercise or to eat right, to remember what makes me feel alive. I wish I’d chosen Asleep so I could feel like I did it. Check the box, I conquered my word.
However, is it about conquering the word? Or using it as a tool?
Now it is December and the end of 2021 is creeping closer with each passing day. A time bomb in my head keeps whispering, “Only a few more weeks to pull it together.”
As I write this, I’m watching A Charlie Brown Christmas with my daughter for the fourth or fifth time this week (or as she refers to it, “Shnoopy movie”) and attempting to reflect on the year and perhaps recover my lost word. This time, another Bible story is brought to mind: the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him to a quiet place, told them to stay awake and pray, and then left them for his own prayers. But, you know what? They didn’t. Twice, Jesus came back to check on them and found them asleep. I used to blame the apostles for this – how could they not know? What terrible friends! Isn’t staying awake a pretty basic task?? However, as I have grown older, my years have brought empathy and compassion for the exhausted friends in the garden.
I promised God I would stay awake this year, I would pray each morning and evening, I would not ignore his requests for my presence with his people. Instead, looking at the year, I realize he is going to find me sleeping in the garden on a rock right next to Peter.
For the apostles, physically following Jesus was exhausting. No home base, always working, learning, and trusting. For me, motherhood of littles in a pandemic is exhausting. Sleepless nights, early mornings, the constant demand for attention and needs to be met. Peter, James, John, Molly Poppe, we all lost sight of the eternal rest promised and gave into the shallow, earthly rest of the moment.
Jesus finds us sleeping, and yes, it makes him sad – that fact is unavoidable – but he keeps on praying. FOR us.
Almost immediately after finding the disciples sleeping, Jesus went to the cross: the spotless lamb, untarnished by sin, exhausted by the weight of the world, he stayed awake until his work was finished. Until his death covered ours. And now, sitting on the right hand of God, earnestly, out of deep love, he prays for his sleeping disciples.
And here is the truth I missed earlier. I chose a word so I could do better and be better. Instead, I am reminded that my weak striving will only result in failure if I’m not rooted in THE Word. Staying awake without him is impossible.
So, here’s to 2022. I have not chosen a new word yet, but my prayer is whatever I choose, I might be found in him.
Christmas is a couple days away. At this point in the year, I start reflecting on the past 12 months and think back on events that have happened, favorite memories of the year, and ways that God has been working throughout all those things. We’ve had so much happen in one year. A move across country, living with my parents, starting a new job, buying a house, and many smaller moments throughout. When we moved, I told my husband that it would be amazing to be in our first home by Christmas, and by God’s grace we are now in our own house celebrating our first Christmas as St. Louis residents.
Advent and Christmas are my favorite times of the year. I have wonderful memories of Christmas as a child that I pray our girls get to experience too so they remember the goodness of the Christmas season. When I think back, some of my favorite memories are going to Christmas Eve Worship together as a family, the smell of bacon and eggs walking into grandma’s house on Christmas morning. Remembering the chaos of running around and playing with my cousins brings a smile to my face. All the food. Y’all the Jung family can make some good food.
When we first had kids, I had all these dreams and expectations of what Christmas would be like as a young family. Now, add in the social media comparison and my reality is not like what we see online. I had dreams of smiling children in front of the Christmas tree, making cookies in Christmas jammies, a family newsletter with our Christmas card, and having a perfectly decorated house. I envisioned us going for walks to look at Christmas lights and doing Christmas devotional readings as a family.
Maybe some families have this, but our reality has been a bit different. What is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year has been a time full of ear infections, fevers, colds, sleepless nights, and doctor visits. Truthfully this momma has been overwhelmed with expectations put on by myself, but also, I’ve been filled with anxious thoughts worrying about a million things on my to do list.
Add in the darkness setting in earlier, gifts to buy, work to get done… and you’ve got a recipe for one weary mom.
Then last week, I walked into the sanctuary of our church before midweek service to take a moment before the night events started taking place. The cross was lit, the trees were up on the altar area, and there, on the middle of the altar, lay a manger. A gentle reminder that this season isn’t about my expectations of what Christmas is supposed to look like, but about a baby that was born in Bethlehem. That baby is the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, Christ the Lord. The one who would grow up to perform miracles, healings, and teach the people about the kingdom of God. The one who lived a perfect life, died on a cross for sin he didn’t do, and defeated death three days later. The God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Our God who is living and active.
As I gazed at the cross I felt this calm, peaceful stillness settle into my bones. Jesus doesn’t have expectations of what my family Christmas season looks like, you know why? Because it doesn’t matter if we make all the cookies, watch all the movies, send out the cards, or have a decorated house. What matters is the posture of our hearts.
The words from the first verse of Savior Of The Nations Come rung in my heart that night.
Marvel now, O heav’n and earth that the Lord chose such a birth.
Wow! The literal Almighty God, creator, author of life, lover of my soul chose to come to earth in this way in the birth of the son, Jesus.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
On those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,
To us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever”
(Isaiah 9:1-2; 6-7)
The world right now is literally dark in terms of the night being longer and then there is the news that seems to constantly be reporting things that are heartbreaking, but the darkness does not overcome the light.
Just look outside at all the Christmas lights. Even in the darkest night, the darkness can’t overpower the light. It only makes the light shine brighter. Jesus is the light of the world. He came as a baby that night in Bethlehem. Even on Good Friday, when people thought the darkness won with death, Jesus overcame death and the grave that Easter morning!
Rejoice weary world!
Our savior has come, and he is coming back again for the final victory!
None of the things we enjoy at Christmas time are bad. I’m not saying to throw out all your cookies or to skip family pictures this year. What I’m saying is don’t put your expectations of peace coming from those things. Don’t put an expectation that those things are your light of the season. No. Only Jesus can be that light. Rejoice as you see the lights of the season and know that those remind you there is no darkness too dark for Jesus to help you through. When you make those cookies or take those photos, thank God for the people He has surrounded you with. When you send those cards, send the message of the joy of the birth of our Lord.
The joy of the Lord is my strength.
We haven’t sent out Christmas cards or written a newsletter, but I love getting cards with updates from families in the mail. We have toddlers who love to pull ornaments off the tree, so our house is a bit of a mess with Christmas decorations everywhere. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Our children’s simple joy of reading the Christmas story together is enough for me this year. When we take pictures on Christmas morning, we might get one with everyone smiling, we might not.
I know one thing though; we will be focused on the light of the day, Christ the king is born.
Merry Christmas, friends. God’s peace be with you as you celebrate the light of the world.
Today we welcome Guest writer Brooke Lange. Brooke is a sophomore at Concordia University Nebraska majoring in Psychology and Social Science. She is one of the best question askers I know and always challenges me to think out side of the box. My life is better because she is in it.
A few weeks ago, as people were preparing (in several senses of the word) to embark on Thanksgiving break, there was a lot of talk of “here.”
I hate it here.
Here lies my motivation to do schoolwork.
*I don’t want to be here anymore.
We haven’t been very fond of “here” lately.
I (and maybe you too) have a tendency to think that the goodness I want in life is just outside of the bounds of Here, that if I just moved There or was There in my relationship with that person or if I got a job There, then There will become my Here and finally, I would be at peace.
When we believe that we are prone to the circumstances of Here, that we are mercilessly thrown from one place that is not quite where we want to be to another that is not quite where we want to be, life can feel helpless – joyless even.
David Foster Wallace addressed this circumstance in his commencement speech given at Kenyon College, This is Water.
“It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same thing that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.”
I’ve seen that fire before. It’s the feeling that comes in sparks, usually during Events Engineered to Ponder Life, otherwise known as weddings, funerals, graduations, confirmations, and bar mitzvahs. The ones that make me think about all the people who have gotten me Here and how far people have traveled to come Here. This Here, if approached correctly, invokes a great sense of comfort and joy that is almost overwhelming. The connectedness of my life to what the people in my life have done on the behalf of my well-being in Here, makes the physical Here, no matter where it happens to be, seem sacred.
Unfortunately, life is not all Events Engineered to Ponder Life – often it is not that. But we can take our own physical Here and mental Here and recognize the work and the changes and the sacrifices people had to make only for us to be Here, in both senses of the word.
Here is fleeting. We may frequently return to the same places, but who we are changes constantly. Find what makes your Here good and beautiful and sacred. Hold on tightly to it and use it to make Here a good one. It’s all we can do.
*Overheard while walking through that nasty Nebraska wind. It’s not that deep.
When my husband and I left for our honeymoon in 2018, we drove from Seattle, Washington down to Sonoma County, California. We spent a beautiful week in a small bed and breakfast in the middle of wine country. While on our drive, we stopped in Northern California to visit with some church friends of my husband in McKinleyville.
I had never been to California at this point in my life, so I was very excited for our drive down the West Coast. Northern California, where we stopped, is full of curvy roads, small towns, and the biggest trees I have ever seen. The beautiful Redwood forests we drove through were spectacular. Trees so tall you couldn’t really see the sky. Bigger around the trunk than you can wrap your arms around twice. Deep rich colors of brown and green.
While we were driving, we saw a tree that had fallen over and some of the roots had come with it. They were long and strong. It made me think about how they had to sink deep into the ground to be able to support the tree and it had to be healthy and strong to nourish such a large tree.
We hear the word root all the time in our life. My husband and I talk about how we are excited to finally plant our roots here in Missouri, meaning we have a plan to stay here long term. We hear about roots when people talk about gardening or when they talk about their family history. We see the idea of roots in the Bible as well.
This passage has been sitting on my heart for the last few weeks and I wanted to explore it a little bit deeper with you readers.
Ephesians 3:16-21 states, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power, together with the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. And to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
There is so much to unpack in this. The author of this letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul, is writing down his prayer for the believers there. The first time I really sat down with this passage, the phrase “being rooted and established in love” stood out to me. It made me pause and think to myself, where are the roots in my life? Where are my roots planted and getting nourishment from? What is that nourishment bearing in fruit in my life?
Our roots should be established in Jesus Christ. When our life is rooted in our faith in Him, love is the fruit that is produced. Paul writes in Galatians that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. When we have a life that flows from the nourishment of faith, we can start to see how wide and long and high and deep the father’s love is for us, and for all people.
A sacrificial kind of love that went all the way to the cross. A love that washes other’s feet. A love that heals the sick, blind, and lame. A love that forgives. A love that saves. A love that restores and nourishes the soul. A love that conquered the grave. A love that left a tomb empty because our Savior was alive. That’s how wide and long and high and deep our God’s love is for us. It’s a love that is life giving.
This brings to mind the hymn titled The Church’s one Foundation in which the first verse says, “The church’s one foundation Is Jesus Christ, our Lord; We are a new creation By water and the Word. From heav’n he came and taught us What perfect love can be; Through life and death he sought us, And rose to set us free.”
Wherever you are today, whether you have roots as deep as a Redwood in the California forests or you are as new as fresh planted tree, know this. God’s Word is the nourishment for your soul. Keep your roots established in Him and see the fruit that comes from it. This doesn’t mean that life is going to be easy, but it means we will have an unshakable foundation to which we can live and move and have our being. From that solid foundation we can then support the body of believers with love, service, and grace. God is good, friends. Plant your roots with Him.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted them. I was transferring the wet clothes to the dryer. It was intended to be a quick stop in the laundry room on my way back to my office to finish my tasks for the day. I was originally drawn to the laundry room by the smell of a too full cat liter box, in the same room as the washer. After cleaning the liter box I remembered the wet clothes that lead to the clothes transfer. After pushing “start” on my dryer my eyes drifted up to the warm box of Lacroix that need to be loaded into the refrigerator that when moved revealed the forgotten package of tulip bulbs that had been hiding behind the LaCroix…… which lead to….
my afternoon in the dirt. whew.
Missouri dirt is no joke. It is actually more like clay. When combined with water it becomes a mass of sludge that forms to what ever it touches. It is shocking to me that anything grows in it. It is equally surprising that anything put in Missouri dirt in November would survive through a cold winter and emerge as a beautiful beacon of hope with the first glimpses of Spring. But they do. They have and they will.
Which is why I spent some time …..
in the dirt.
Fall planting is an investment in my future joy. It is my last horticultural act of a season that begins in early spring and fizzles by late September when I pull up all my summer flowers and replace them with one red mum. The mum holds me over until November when I put the mum in the garbage, grab my shovel and my bag of tulip bulbs and start to dig.
A shovel, hard ground that forced me to work to create a warm place for my little bulbs and a bit of time in late afternoon was just what my soul needed. The first turn of the soil unleashed a fragrance that brought me back to afternoons of my both my childhood and those of my own children.
Dirt from my moms summer garden.
Dirt from the campsite we where we vacationed in Northern Michigan.
Dirt that held the worms my sister and I dug up in preparation for fishing with my Dad.
Dirt from the playground behind my elementary school.
Dirt from the fire pit we built on a youth group weekend canoe trip.
One of my favorite dirt memories with my own children was the afternoon my oldest two dug for roly- poly bugs in our back yard. They hunted and dug and hunted and dug and filled their bug catcher with what looked like hundreds of little bugs that had the ability to roll up in a ball. Their smudged faces and beaming smiles when they presented me with their work brought me such a feeling of mom pride. I loved that my kids weren’t afraid to get dirty. I love that I’m not afraid to get dirty… to embrace the joy of messing up my physical outside appearance to bring a future beauty that will last for weeks in the spring. There is nothing like the first pokes of green through thawing flower beds to give hope needed to make it to summer.
The warm, soapy water felt good as I rubbed my hands together in an effort to clean my hands following my afternoon in the garden. I stood at my kitchen sink and let my mind wander to my favorite dirt memories and I realized that my love for dirt goes much deeper then the 12 ft wide flower bed in my front yard. As I watched my dirt caked hands return to their clean, flesh colored state I was reminded of the one who loves me, dirt and all.
Miriam Webster gives some interesting clarification of the meaning of the word Dirt.
b. substance, such as mud or dust, that soils someone or something,
c. archaic: something worthless
d. : a contemptible person
2. Loose or packed soil or sand: EARTH
3.a. an abject or filthy state
c. scandalous or malicious gossip
d. embarrassing or incriminating information
In John chapter 8 we are introduced to a woman who was covered in a thick layer of the kind of DIRT we see in definition 2.d and 3. c and d above. a contemptible person, scandalous, embarrassing or incriminating information.
“The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red- handed in the act of adultery. “
Wait, I need to pause for a moment – Did they even let her get dressed? Was she standing in the middle of the Temple wrapped in a sheet?
The story continues…
“Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the DIRT. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the first stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the DIRT.
Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”
“No one, Master.”
“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”
Jesus wasn’t impressed nor afraid of the woman’s dirt, as ugly as her persecutors wanted her to appear. He was also very clear that the dirt in the temple that day did not just rest on the woman. He called out every single finger pointer in the room. In one simple sentence he shown a light on the ugliness that covers all of them and us and he just kept…
drawing in the dirt.
I’ve often wondered what he was doing. I’ve had long conversations with friends over coffee deliberating the message he was scripting. Until we get to heaven and can ask him face to face, I don’t think we will ever know.
But I can take my best guess.
I imagine as he was swirling his fingers in the dirt he was talking to his Father. He was asking for the words, the ability to love, the divine wisdom that would clean up the mess in front of him. As he patiently swirled he eagerly listened. As he knelt low he lifted his prayers high and he gave the most beautiful words, the woman and you and I could ever hear.
“Does no one condemn you?”
“No.” she replied.
“Neither do I.”
As I dug in my own dirt, in my yard and in my heart, I rejoiced in the lessons I have learned in my dirtiest seasons. The times when I deserved punishment and was given grace. The times I felt shamed, discouraged and disappointed in myself. The times when I stood at my sink and couldn’t rub hard enough. I remembered the times I was the one doing the dragging of someone elses dirt into the public square. It was disguised as a prayer request or prefaced with a “just between you and me.”
And I weep.
I shed tears of repentance.
I shed tears of gratitude.
I inhale deeply of the fragrance of the grace that rises from the dirt swirled message that our Father God gave his Son, our Savior….
and I pray for its transforming power to take root in the depths of my heart,
dirt and all.
Romans 8:1-2 The Message
With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.
I’ve always wanted to be a mom. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve imagined having lots of kids. I even had a stroller w/ twin baby dolls that I got as a gift one year. I remember pretending to have them run up to me when I *came home from work* saying “Mommy!! You’re home!”
I’d scoop the dolls up and give them hugs and kisses after being away from them for a full day of pretend work. I loved it. I felt so loved and needed. I couldn’t wait to have my own kids to love me like that someday. (I actually rediscovered this stroller and dolls at my parents’ house recently and now my kiddos have it to play with).
The last 25ish years truly flew by since those days I imagined being a mom. But here I am…a mom, with two kids actually. Two kids ages two and under. My toddler does run to me when I get home from work saying “Mama!!” while my baby gives me the biggest grin and motions her arms up for me to pick her up. It’s the sweetest thing and really does make me feel loved.
Getting to this point in motherhood definitely wasn’t an easy route, but after having our first son, I knew we would eventually have more kids…someday. Or so I thought.
It was Sunday. Easter Sunday. Just one month after the world had shut down due to COVID. Instead of traveling like we normally do for holidays, we were just at home – my husband, 8 month old, and I. We watched Easter service online and I was planning to make us a nice fried chicken meal but the thought of raw chicken sizzling in oil made me want to vomit. That was alarming since I love me some home cooked food. So, just to be sure, I peed on the stick and golly gee, we got two pink lines, once again. What?? I could not believe it. No joke, my husband was literally googling “chance of false positive pregnancy test”.
Now if you’re reading this and you’re thinking, “ugh, here’s another story about how this girl just got pregnant so easily and I’m struggling over here” or “I don’t want to hear about this, this isn’t going to be helpful…” I hear you. I see you. Hear me out, please. This isn’t a story to boast or discourage, but hopefully one of hope, solidarity, and ultimately — joy. We too, had a somewhat rocky road to having children. An ectopic pregnancy and months of waiting led us to our first baby boy. We were definitely shocked to find ourselves pregnant once again so quickly.
Once it settled in that we were indeed pregnant, with a baby girl actually, we started to get excited. We had friends that had kids close together and they ensured us that yes, even though it was hard, it was so much fun and that the two of them would be the best of friends. Okay okay, we can do this.
Fast forward a few months. Our baby girl surprised us by coming a few weeks early. All was good, everyone was healthy – for the most part.
Unfortunately, here we began a scary period of a possible cancer diagnosis, another season of severe postpartum depression and anxiety, and two heart surgeries. (Yea, it was a lot. Stay tuned for future blog posts).
Turns out, I didn’t have cancer. I got through the depression. I stopped having intrusive/anxious thoughts regarding my kids and my health. I healed physically from the surgeries. I was finally able to care for my two kids on my own, without the help of my mom, mother-in-law, or husband. I wish I could tell you that this all got better overnight, but it definitely wasn’t immediate. Healing took time. Time working through a whole lot of things with a counselor, psychiatrist, and many other medical specialists.
So, here I am now. Two kids – a newly turned 2 year old and a 10 month old.
This. Life. Is. Busy. I cannot tell you how many times people have told me, “You better enjoy it now, they’re not always going to be this little.” I just nod and smile and try to hide the spit up on the shoulder of my shirt.
I know I need to enjoy it, I really do. I know that they will be grown up in the blink of an eye. But how can I enjoy it when I constantly feel touched out and constantly needed? I’ve discovered over the last few years that I need alone time to recharge and you’re hardly alone when you’re a mom. Sometimes you can’t even go to the bathroom alone – you know what I mean, mamas.
Motherhood is more than a full time job (that doesn’t include you moms who work outside the home along with being a mom). Breaks are far and few in between. I hear it all the time – *self-care* is important, but when am I supposed to do that when my baby is crying for “ah mama” most of the day? I already try to get things done during naptime or after bedtime, so when am I supposed to find time for myself? And what if you’re a single mom with limited help around you? That’s also incredibly difficult.
I absolutely love and adore these kids of ours. These ages are so much fun and they bring so much joy to my life with their sweet giggles and cozy snuggles. But dang, it’s HARD. No one told that little girl with those baby dolls about the toddler that cries if you don’t let him screw on the lid on his milk cup by himself (I DO IT!). They don’t tell you about the baby who needs to constantly be held to prevent a red-faced snotty-nosed cry fest. Or the toddler who purposely pushes over his baby sister who is newly sitting up by herself.
No one tells you that your husband will be a high school coach which leaves you solo parenting for 3 nights in a row and all day on Saturday. And who knew you’d be spending $100 every time you go to Costco, merely to restock on diapers (in two sizes) and wipes.
And they definitely don’t tell you how messy motherhood can be. The crumbs on the floor, the spilled coffee (you guessed it, by the toddler), the piles of dirty AND clean laundry that you can never get caught up on, the sink full of bottles and sippy cups. The spit-up and vomit and poop (you know it’s true). The random rocks and dirt you find everywhere (seriously, so many rocks).
I didn’t know that it would be this way. Everyone tells you that being a mom is absolutely wonderful and amazing and it’s the best years of your life so you better enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, it is. But it’s also really hard. And it’s hard in every season. Whether you have two young kiddos like I do, you just lost your baby to a miscarriage, you have 3-4+ kiddos of various ages, you have a teenager or two, or you just sent your last baby off to college, we all have challenges in motherhood.
Challenges in motherhood are difficult no matter what they look like and no matter the stage we are in. Try not to get caught up in the cute outfits, smiling faces, and pumpkin patch pictures you see on Instagram. Beneath those cutesy pictures is a mom who argued with her toddler for 20 minutes on whether he could wear his rain boots with no socks even though it isn’t raining (I’ve stopped fighting him on this one, by the way).
I was recently listening to a podcast by some of my favorite moms – Laura Wifler and Emily Jensen from the ministry called Risen Motherhood. One thing they said really caught my attention and has stuck with me. Laura says, “When you are scrubbing dishes, you are living out the redemption story: how Christ’s work on the cross has made you clean as you make these dishes clean.”
It may sound far-fetched, but it’s so true. We may not be necessarily thinking about doing God’s work everytime we wipe up spilled milk, yes I know. Laura in this podcast also says, God gives us the task to care for His creation – He told us that all the way back in Genesis. Okay, so we’re not taking care of big ole creatures and beautiful gardens, but these dirty dishes, laundry, and little humans are a job in itself.
And that’s just it. He calls us to take care of our kids and our homes in whatever season we are in. It may seem like mundane work – and it is – but it is so much more than that. We can have joy in all of this seemingly monotonous work because God has created us and put us in this season of motherhood for specific reasons. He is the ultimate organizer of His creation and our lives and He calls us to do the same with our lives, our work, and our families. (Laura Wifler & Emily Jensen, Risen Motherhood Podcast, Episode 7, 2017).
Woh. Despite all the crumbs, dirt, rocks, spit-up, and poop you encounter in motherhood, Jesus has faced even worse in our sins. And he took all that muck to the cross. To DIE for us and to SAVE us. So as we’re cleaning up yet another mess or picking up toys for the umpeenth time, we can think of Christ and how he graciously washes our slates clean day after day so that we can LIVE in His love. Especially as mothers. What a gift He’s given us to live out his perfect love in our daily lives with our husbands, kids, friends, coworkers, and everyone we come into contact with.
Practical Tips to *Thriving* (not just surviving) Motherhood
(I fully understand that I’m a mere 2 years in, so I have a lot of learning to do. But these are some things I’ve found to be helpful in the first few years of motherhood)
Surround yourself with other moms to support you, pray for you, and encourage you. It is helpful if these moms are going through the same season of motherhood as you, but it’s also beneficial to have mom friends who’ve already gone through the seasons you’re about to go through or will eventually go through. From dropping a nap, to sickness and cold remedies, constipation, and starting school, walking through motherhood with other moms alongside you can be so uplifting. And call your own mom. She raised you and you turned out to be pretty great. 🙂
Take. Those. Breaks. It’s so important to take time to be YOU. Not just Judah and Ava’s mom. Find things that bring you joy outside of being a mom and prioritize time to do them. Ask your husband to spend a few hours with the kids, hire a babysitter, ask a friend to watch them for a bit. Whatever you have to do. Don’t forget that you are you before you are this child’s mother. You will be a better wife, mom, and human if you fill your own cup before you try to fill others’.
Spend time with just your husband, no kids. Go on dates, if you can. Prioritize your marriage so that you can demonstrate to your kids what a healthy relationship between a man and a woman looks like. Talk about parenting tactics, goals, and make sure you’re on the same page. You’re a team when it comes to raising your kids.
Prioritize your relationship with God
Be in the Word. Read scripture. Pray with your kids. Talk with God. God knows your heart and He desires to lead you along this journey of motherhood. I’m 100% guilty for getting frustrated with the mundane tasks of daily life. However, when we take a moment in the morning to set our eyes upon the Lord, everyone’s day goes a little better.
My husband was attempting to pay for our first round of golf at the ‘country club’ located 4 miles from our new home. The gal behind the counter/bar in the club house was trying to convince us that a membership to the club was the most fiscally responsible thing to do. The amount we would pay for one round for each of us would more than cover a month of membership fees. Our entire family of five could enjoy unlimited golf for less a month than the two rounds we were about to play. But…. I’m in sales – I know how this works and I wasn’t about to jump into a long term commitment. We are in the most expensive years of parenting – called the college and wedding years- and I keep a pretty tight lock on our budget. A Country Club membership sounded excessive. My immediate response was a firm, “No thanks.”
My husband wasn’t so easily convinced that this was a bad idea. He loves to golf.
He will go play a quick round as a form of stress relief. A walk on the golf course does wonders for his attitude. I, on the other hand, need to be pretty happy and relaxed before heading out to play. If I am stressed or pre-occupied, attempting to hit a little white ball is that last thing I need to do. We stood at the counter – he formulating his sales pitch and me running some numbers to prove him wrong. In the end it actually did make sense to make the jump into Country Club life. Membership would also give us unlimited access to a pool – a nice perk during our hot Missouri summers. The extra special touch is that our names have now been engraved on a brass name plate on display for all to see on the club house wall.
After almost 5 years of enjoying our membership privileges this past summer we were granted an upgrade. I guess we have proven our trustworthiness because we have now been given access to ……
You know, the thing that allows you the privilege of enjoying some type of food or drink without actually paying for it at the time you consume it? You order and simply say….. ‘Put it on my tab.’ You can sit around with friends after 9 holes, enjoy a cold one and say – next round is on me! Yep – just put it on my tab. It feels free, and fun and important. It shows you can be trusted. It announces to the world that you are part of the community…
and isn’t that what we all want?
To know that we belong?
I’ve been told that I will never get over the feeling of being ‘new’ in my small town. I have friends that were born, raised and now are raising their own children who are also raising their own children here. All in the same place. It’s something I will never understand. It does not mean it is wrong. It just means its not my experience. They know they belong because this is all they know. They have a lineage that goes back generations. Their good old days happened right here – not some far away place with even farther away memories. The difference between their life experience and mine feels vast.
Until I start asking questions.
And I start listening.
It turns out that no matter what path of life you have meandered, you can still….
Find your forever soul mate that becomes your spouse.
Enjoy great success in your professional life.
Fill photo books with countless happy memories.
Fill hearts with deep hurts from loss and regret.
Endure both financial windfalls and financial ruin.
Receive a cancer diagnosis.
Lose a child.
Get voted High School homecoming Queen.
Save up and buy your first car, your first home.
Struggle with the choices of your children.
Feel the void that comes when all that the world promises to offer keeps falling short.
When it comes down to it, we are all really more alike that different – in the most humbling way.
We all, no matter where we’ve lived or where we havn’t lived, all have a need to be filled. A need for completion. A need to feel loved. A need for peace. A need for forgiveness. A need for redemption. A need to belong.
I’ve just started a 10 week journey with a group of friends through the book of John. It’s one of the four gospels – or accounts of the life of Jesus. If you are not familiar with his life and mission – some time in this book is a great place to start. If you are familiar – this is a great place to re-visit. In just the first 34 verses of chapter one I have been reminded of the gift that he was and is to me and all that chose to follow him. I’m reminded that from the creation of the world he was. I’m reminded that when man blew it, the plan was for Jesus to come and clean up our mess. I’m reminded that Jesus was a light in our darkest places and that he did his most profound work outside of church walls.
At a wedding.
With a parent whose child was dying.
In a crowd of hungry people.
He touched people whom others shunned.
He dined with the scum, the forgotten, the sinners.
When entrance into eternity held a price tag large for us to pay,
Jesus came to pick up the tab.
He walks into the clubhouses of our lives and covers it all. No matter what we add to our bill, through poor choices, past regrets – he promises to cover it all. He wants you to know that you can belong.
That you can be loved.
That you can be redeemed.
He’s got you covered – for eternity.
To God be the glory.
“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31
I’m standing in our new kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee, and typing on our island counter as I look around at the sea of boxes. The office in the basement isn’t set up yet. Our bedroom is a mess. The number of boxes needed to be unpacked seems to grow by the day. It’s a little overwhelming, while at the same time exciting. We bought our first house. In this housing market, it was only by God’s hand that our offer was accepted. Every time I look around, I am grateful to God that He has given us this space for us to call home.
As soon as the ink dried on, what seems like, the thousands of papers you sign to buy a house, I was ready to walk in and start making it our home. Visions of dinner parties, wine nights, children running around the backyard as Phil and I sit out on our back patio filled my mind for weeks while we waited for our closing date. The reality is a little less glitz and glamour. Every unpacked box we sift through and unpack we find ourselves asking, “Do we really have this much stuff?”
We had new couches delivered the day before we moved in. I can’t tell you how exciting that was for me. I think that’s when you become an adult – when you’re excited about big furniture purchases. Again, I imagined hosting friends, having long conversations hanging out in our living room. Truly, if I could host people at our place every day I probably would because I love the feel of the living room.
But, there’s a difference between hosting a party and hosting your best friends, right? When we host a party we clean the house, we sweep the pile of clothes or laundry basket into the closet and shut the door. We tend to make all our furniture neat with pillows placed in exactly the right spots. We have food platters, cheese and sausage boards, and drinks nicely displayed on the counters waiting for people to come. More than likely we are dressed in our better clothing. We want the appearance of being organized, tidy, and fun.
When I host my best friends it’s completely different. They don’t need an invitation. My best friends can come over whenever and don’t even need to knock on our door. They come right in. They see the mess of toys on the floor from our kids. They see the piles of laundry that need to be done, or are done, but haven’t been folded yet. They can grab food and drink out of the refrigerator and do not need me to set it out for them. When we host best friends, there’s no need to put on anything for special for them because they know us deeply and love us in all the mess of life. Both literal mess and figurative mess.
The same is true with God. Our lives are messy because we are sinful people.
Have you ever heard someone say that they can’t go to church because they’ve done too many bad things for God to forgive them? Have you heard someone say that God is mad at them?
Have you heard someone say they feel as though they’re not put together enough to come to church?
I have heard it many times from many people, It breaks my heart in two each time. I want to shout from the rooftops, “There is nothing too big for God to forgive and help you through!” And yet, even as a life-long Christian, there are times when I feel like I need to put on a mask to walk in the door at church. There are times when I water things down for God because I feel as though he will be ashamed of how I acted. Those are the days when I place a strained smile on my face and walk through the doors. Those are the days I push everything I’m struggling with aside as I talk with a friend from church and answer, “I’m good” when they ask me how I am.
Have you been there too?
Maybe you’ve been fighting with your family on the way to church and then walk into the building with everyone thinking that you all have it together. Maybe you’ve been away from the church for a long time because you felt the sin you’ve been struggling with over and over needs to be gone before you can go back.
Friends, the church is not for perfect people. It’s for the broken. It’s for the lost. It’s for the heartbroken and needy. It’s for the lonely.
The church is the family on earth God has given us to rally each other, love each other, hold each other up.
The church is a place to come as you are because we’ve all got sin. We’ve all got baggage. And Jesus invites us to come, confess, be forgiven, and be given his grace and mercy. Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus wants your piles of mess. Just as you would let your best friend come into your house and see the dirt, laundry, dishes, boxes…Jesus knows and sees all your mess too. And he invites you to come and rest with him. He wants those long conversations. He wants you to rest in His Word and in His promises. He’s done all the work already on the cross and in his resurrection.
The church, at it’s best, is the place you come to and know you don’t have to sweep your mess into the drawers and closet. No. It’s the place where we come to be given the gifts of God and to be supported by our family. That support might look like a meal for someone who is sick. That support might mean helping hold someone accountable. That support might look like babysitting for an overwhelmed mom in need of a break. That support could be listening to someone who needs to share how they really are doing and not just answer with another, “I’m good. You?”
The church is so very beautiful when done this way. The gifts we are given in baptism and communion. The grace we are given in confession and absolution. The support we given in the fellowship of people. It’s all meant to show the glory and love of God. There is no good enough to be there. There is no need to wait until you’ve got it all together.
If you haven’t been back to church in while. I invite you to go back. To return to the love of the Father’s house.