Kids and Christmas.

Last year, on our daughter’s 1st Christmas, my husband and I started to implement the “4 gift rule”. Well, actually we added another category that we thought was a part of it and so ours is really a “5 gift rule.” Last year implementing this rule was not hard at all, considering we could have wrapped an already-owned toy and she would not have known any different. This year, however, has proven to be a little more challenging. Reese is still not yet old enough to have Christmas expectations, so the challenge was solely in the hearts and minds of her parents. I have to admit, it was tough walking around Toys R Us on Black Friday with my husband and not giving into the  “oh just one more thing…” mentality. I already had to fight off feelings of guilt and discontentment.

But, as of now we are heading into this Christmas with 5 gifts to give our daughter.

Before I move on I do want to make something clear: this blog is not at all written with the intention to make anyone feel guilty. I’m not trying to draw anyone’s line for them or even say where I think it should be drawn. Because I don’t know. While my husband and I seek to be intentional, we are naturally very spontaneous and “wing it” sort of people. So this new “tradition” is held with really open hands. We liked the idea behind it and we wanted to give it a try. So, we’ll keep re-evaluating and re-adjusting as needed. Or maybe at some point we will scrap it all together. But for now, here are the unspoken and spoken messages we want to be sent to our kids through each specific gift-

  1. Something you want: We care about your enjoyment and we want to invest in things that make you excited.
  2. Something you need: We want to be aware of and provide for your needs. Some years this might be a physical need while others it may be more spiritual, emotional, or relational.
  3. Something to read: Your brain is an invaluable gift that is worth being fed and stretched and invested in. “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” -Dr Suess
  4. Something to wear: We want you to know when you get dressed in the morning that you are protected and provided for, as much as it is up to us. We want you to have shoes to run in and a jacket to keep you warm. We also want you to be able to express yourself- who you are and what you like- through what you wear.
  5. Something to share: Others matter. Gifts aren’t just for or about indulgence and they aren’t just about us. Shared possessions can lead to shared enjoyment and experiences, and that is often better than the gift itself.

Even more importantly though- whatever we end up doing in the years to come- here are the underlying questions we want to ask ourselves each Christmas as we decide how to navigate things like traditions and gifts and family values-

Consistency
Overall, we want to ask ourselves what a specific gift (or the way we “do gifts”) is teaching our kids about the rest of life. Do these gifts and the way we are going about them promote what we are trying to teach them every other day of the year? Is Christmas an isolated event in our life or does it flow with what we care about every other season of the year?

Enjoyment
Something I read in a blog a while back that really struck me was the idea of setting your enjoyment bar. She talked about the need to often times set our bar lower in order to enjoy more frequently and more deeply. If our enjoyments are only found in the highest of highs, then we are always waiting around for the next big trip or gift. And then we go to the next level by trying to always top them. Instead, we need to learn to enjoy what we often dismiss as simple or mundane. Enjoyment can be guided and learned.

Contentment
We want to teach our kids, and our own hearts, that gratefulness springs from a heart of contentment and ungratefulness springs from one of comparison. Instead of looking around at what others have we want to practice looking at what we have. We want to verbally practice saying “thank you.” Our heart will get there if our mouth starts there.

Entitlement
It is so easy for the Holiday season in particular to bring a sense of entitlement. We can subtly believe that we deserve gifts because “that’s just the way it is on Christmas.” Instead, we want to remind and recognize that all gifts are, well… gifts! If we are “owed” something, it ceases to be a gift. You do not “deserve” a gift more than the kid down the street whose parents were not able to afford any this year.

Gifts are about more than just you
With every gift there is both a giver and a receiver. We want to instill eyes that see the giver behind every gift. To see an actual person who is using something of their own- likely time and money- in order to give you something. Gifts are also given to do more than just hoard and keep. The more we get the more we are able to give.

A letter to my first born whose whole world is about to change.

My sweet Reese,

As the time approaches for your little brother or sister’s arrival there is a part of me that wants to tell them to wait a little longer so we have another “one last day” with just you. Soon that baby boy or girl will change your whole life as well as ours. I can not help but remember having that same feeling about you as your dad and I had our last get-a-way trip together. I knew you were going to change everything and I simultaneously wanted you to come and to wait. So, in these “last days” I have been reflecting on all you have taught me. I know parents are supposed to teach their kids but now I realize how much kids teach their parents, too.

You, my first born daughter, have taught me…

How wonderful being a mama really is
Honestly, I wasn’t sure how much I would love this being a mom thing or if it was for me. Yet that changed from literally the first second you entered the outside world. Not that all my fears or hesitations vanished, but they were still, and I knew that being your mom was a gift and not a mistake. Just like that you won me over. And countless times since that day I have stared at you in my arms, bubbling over with an affection I never knew existed. And it just keeps getting better. Being a mama- being your mama- is so much sweeter than anyone could have ever convinced me of.

How weak I am
All it took were your cries waking me up at midnight to realize just how selfish and easily angered I really was; or a trip to the ER with you to realize how little control I really had over your life. My impatience, incompetence, and inconsistencies did not wait very long to show themselves. Needy babies have a way of teaching their mamas just how needy we are too. You have taught me to be more willing to ask others for help, to admit my shortcomings, and to see just how strong and capable Jesus is and how quick He is to meet me in my weakness every single time.

How strong I am
When I found out I was pregnant with you not only did I feel unprepared in the timing I also felt completely unequipped as a person. Yet through your life I have found new kinds of inward and outward strength that I didn’t know were mine. You have helped me to try new things, to act despite my fear, to make hard choices, to love selflessly, and to keep going when I wanted to give up. Because of you I have seen the quiet, still, and deep strength that motherhood requires of you and gives to you.

The world is beautiful
Little do you know, you have already lived through some dark days in this world. Yet your innocent eyes that easily fill with wonder and awe have brought light into dark spaces and have opened my own eyes to the small beauties of life. Everything might not always be beautiful, but beauty can always be found.

Tomorrow is a new day
Even when I would go to bed with tears on my pillow feeling like a failure of a mother, I knew I would wake up and see your forgiving and forgetful smile the next morning. Even when I would be on my phone instead of play with you, or react instead of respond, or not cherish you or teach you like I should; I could always count on waking up to underserved grace the next day. You have taught me the simple healing power of a good night of sleep and the hopefulness that accompanies each sunrise.

My own Heavenly Fathers love
Being your mom has given me a new glimpse into my own relationship with my Father. It has shown me the way He cares deeply for me in the midst of discipline, the way He holds me, the way He knows my good and does not keep it from me, the way He loves me in my brokenness, and the significance of being called His child. I now see more clearly what it means to be known and seen and loved unconditionally, because He has adopted me as His own. Just like you are my beloved daughter, I too am His beloved daughter.

Love has different forms
I think I used to be afraid of making space to love someone new and that someone was you. As you might come to see, it can be scary. But you, my daughter, have taught me that love does not have to replace or duplicate. Love is vast and there is so much room to welcome others into it. I love your Dad with a romantic/best friend kind of love. Our love has the deepest of roots- covenant love. Yet, as it has been said, the kind of love I have for you is sort of like seeing my own heart walking outside of my body. Reese Avery, there is no competition in true love. No one gets left behind or lost. We will always share a unique bond and it will only keep growing in its own special way.

Yet now.
Now we must make room in our family and heart to love someone new. Your world is about to change. But, before you know it, you will not be able to imagine that same world without your sibling. Just like we cannot imagine ours without YOU- our energetic, strong-willed, daring, silly, and kind, first-born.

I love you,
Mama

A Halloween costume that revealed my heart.

[There is an excellent article that says anything way better than I could try to say it, but I decided to link it at the bottom and tell my own real-life version of how true this article is.]

This morning I got humility-punched in a way I never saw coming. It all started a few weeks back when I was browsing Pintrest trying to decide what my daughter could be for Halloween. Then I started to look up cute and clever ideas for what a pregnant person could be for Halloween. Aha! We could be something that went together. It was decided. I would be Pooh Bear (perfect with a pregnant belly) and she could be piglet. Little did I know in that moment of decision, something was planted deep in my heart. I thought all that was planted was a fun and innocent idea, but it was so much more.

The day begun with a trip to Party City. There were a few things left to get Reese to complete her piglet costume that she was supposed to wear in the next hour. I ended up spending a little more money than I wanted- and definitely more than I needed- on a pack of ears, nose, tail, and some pink face paint. I should have known that all my daughter really cared about was wearing the tutu that went along with it. But no, once she saw how good it all looked together, she would be sure to be as excited as I was about it!

We had about 15 minutes until we were supposed to be meeting some friends and their dressed-up daughters at the nursing home. So we rushed inside and I started putting on Reese’s ears and trying to convince her that she still needed her tail and nose. I finally got her to sit still for long enough for me to put a little pink on her nose, and she quickly proceeded to complain and wipe it off. Maybe she just doesn’t know how cute it will look…. I try again. She wipes the pink all over her face and makes it very clear that she wants nothing to do with it. In that moment, with pink smeared all in her eye brows and on her forehead, I respond angrily “Reese, but you have to!”

It was in that moment it hit me- what in the world was I doing? Why did I care so much about this that I would force my child to sit down and have a pink nose and chase her around trying to convince her she needed to wear the tail? But I did. And I was pretty set on it. How embarrassing and petty. I didn’t recant as quickly as you would think one would upon such a realization though. It took a bit for me to really realize just how ridiculous I was being.

This was supposed to be about having fun with friends and filling a nursing home with smiles. This was an opportunity to teach Reese that Halloween, and life, is not all about her. Yet here I was, making it about me. I was teaching her the exact opposite by my own actions and attitude.

My story might seem pretty innocent and typical. It might not seem so bad for me to want my daughter to wear the things I had taken the time to get for her. But for me, it revealed the idea of our kids not bowing to our own idols. Halloween itself had not become an idol. It is usually not that simple and surface level. Deep down, I kept tucked away my own selfish desires and intentions. They exploded to the surface this morning once things did not go my way.

“Our reaction to our kid’s behavior often has little to do with brokenness over their sin and has a lot to do with how irritated we are that they’re threatening our own desires.” (Jennifer Phillips) My “innocent” desires: For Reese’s outfit to look complete, for a cute picture, for our outfits to go together, for Reese to enjoy my own idea of fun, for my money and time to not be wasted, etc. And suddenly, my sweet daughter who really did not want to disappoint me but just was not interested in wearing a nose and a tail, became a threat to my own silly and selfish desires and expectations being met.

Once again, while the article below breaks it down so well already, here are a few of my own personal applications from this morning:

  1. Defining the “have” to’s:
    I want to teach our children a mix of obedient submission yet freedom of choice and expression. Yes, you have to go to bed. No, you don’t have to give that person a hug. I’m sure this is something I will have to continue to navigate through with a teachable spirit for as long as I’m a parent. But after today one thing is for sure- I do not want our kids to ever “have to” do anything solely because my own pride has become wrapped around it.
  1. The small moments reveal big things:
    We see in movies the dramatic you’re-giving-up-your-dream moment and the child inevitably responds with something like, “no, I’m giving up yours!” It doesn’t usually  show up in real life this glaringly. But it is bound to show up. So constantly I need to ask myself, “who is this for/about?” If the answer is “me,” it doesn’t always mean what I am wanting them to do needs to change but rather that I need to change my own heart and motive. And maybe sometimes it will mean they don’t actually have to dress up, or say cheese for that picture, or play that sport.
  1. The picture is not worth it:
    One of those unnamed desires that turned into an idol was getting a perfect picture. Sadly, too much of my life goes this way. And it was just another lesson and reminder screaming at me that a cute picture is not always worth it. No amount of “likes” on social media is ever going to be worth my daughters heart. I want my daughter to live life genuinely enjoying and learning and experiencing; not just saying cheese to pretend like she is. If I have taught my daughter that I care more about capturing the moment than I do about her and her actually living; I’ve lost.
  1. Expectations can be thieves:
    I could say, and in fact think I have said, this same thing about marriage. So often expectations of what we wanted steal from what actually could be. Sometimes the expectations could actually be worse, sometimes they are truly better, but most times they are just plain different. Expectations are inevitable. But we must practice holding them loosely and scrutinizing them in order to reveal the deeper stuff our hearts are clinging to.
  1. Teaching and living humility:
    I want to be humble enough to say to my daughter, “I’m sorry, I need your forgiveness.” To say, “I was being selfish and that’s not what really matters.” I want to look in her tear filled eyes when I become the obstacle standing between her and her desire and say “I get it. I get mad when my small idols are taken from me too. Together let’s choose to not let them rule us but rather serve the living God.” I can not truly teach my daughter humility if I do not live it in my own life.

So, there it is. One of many embarrassing and humbling moments that have exposed this reality of idols in my own life. If you haven’t, I’d encourage you to take a few minutes to read this one as well:

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/when-kids-wont-bow-to-your-idols

A letter from a tantrum throwing toddler Mom at Target

Dear random people in the store today,

Yes. Me here.

The one whose once sweet-and-calm daughter sitting in the cart turned not-so-sweet-and-calm. Yeah, whose headband was no longer in, hair was everywhere, nose was snotty, and was acting completely unruly. Guilty as charged. Well, I just wanted to tell you a few things.

I’m home now. That little girl is now in bed. She was tired and hungry and not feeling so well. Today. I have to admit, that’s not always- or maybe usually- the case when these sorts of things happen. Sometimes she is just testing limits and being rebellious. Sometimes she is just straight up defiant and naughty and rude. And sometimes I’m just not doing what I should as a parent and it’s my fault.

I totally agree (assuming by that look on your face) that us parents need to control our kids in public. That discipline is necessary. That children need to learn to sit still and obey. That no one wants their casual and relaxing walk down the aisles of Target and Old Navy to be interrupted by a crying child. I get it. But please do not assume that parents are not doing their job every time you see a child act up in public. I’m not a perfect Mom. I do not have a perfect child. Once again, I’m not arguing that our kid’s behaviors do not reflect our parenting at times.

But, hopefully we have friends, family, and mentors speaking into our lives, calling out blind spots, and helping us navigate this disciplining and loving and raising our kids thing. There is a place for that. I need it in my life for sure. However, a small piece of advice from one mom: a judgmental person in the store never helped anybody learn how to be a better parent.

So instead, please give grace.

I left the store not only feeling irritated but also embarrassed and isolated. No one around me made me feel those things. No one said anything or even really did anything in particular. But I don’t think we as fellow shoppers or bystanders (myself included) always realize how big of a difference we can actually make in those moments.

A reoccurring word I have heard used particularly by new moms is lonely. Being a mom really does feel lonely some days. I used to think that loneliness would mostly be a battle for stay at home parents, because “staying home” can be lonely. But, I have realized people can feel alone even when they are around lots of other people. It’s not uncommon to leave a social event with a child and feel like it wasn’t even worth the effort or to wonder why we even went. Sometimes getting kids out of the house in one (somewhat) presentable piece is a challenge enough. Sometimes we as moms feel safer, and less isolated, getting back in our own homes than we do being out in public.

So, as silly as it sounds, let’s let parents who are out with their kids know that they are welcome. That we are glad they joined us. That their kids are not burdens, or less-thans, or mere distractions. That they do not “belong at home.” That we see them and their kids and that we want them and welcome them.

The people who have been willing to say things to me like “you’re doing good mama” or “it’s a tough job” or “I’ve been there too” have made a bigger difference than I could ever express. Even the people who have been intentional enough to catch my eye and give me a genuine and gentle smile. I promise, fellow shopper, it will go a long way. It could be the difference in that mom getting in her car and thinking “it’s going to be okay” or “never doing that again.”

So I think what I’m trying to say is, please remember we are trying. We are learning.

In turn, it will give me hope to look at my snotty nosed, messy haired, momentarily unruly kid and remember that they are learning too. And that it is going to be okay. And that we are not alone here.

Sincerely,
Tantrum throwing toddler Mom at Target

Losing someone you never knew 

Here I am again, a few years later, sharing my pregnancy story. Once again it is all still so very fresh and tender. Once again my hope is that those who share similar experiences would not feel so alone. I hope I am one more person taking a step to open up this conversation many are afraid to have.

This time my story is quite different. This time I looked down at that fading line on my belly, that I once resented, longing for it to darken again. That growing line represented growing life, and oh how I pleaded that life would still be growing inside of me. But after days of waiting, after days of hoping for the best but fearing the worst, we got news that confirmed those fears. I had a miscarriage. This time around there was no joy at the end of the physical pain. It felt so hopeless. After the physical pain, there was only more pain. The kind that goes down to the deepest parts of you.

Like any parent is tempted to say when something happens to their child, I wanted to tell my baby I was sorry I couldn’t protect them or keep them safe. I know it wasn’t my fault. But I wished so desperately I could have done something.

Oh for me to feel those kicks. Oh for our 15 month old daughter to know her little sibling. Oh for us to touch that sweet face.  If you long to embrace that little child of yours you carried inside of you (whether for weeks or months), dear friend, my heart goes out to you. We long together.

The grieving

At times it felt like it was all I could think about. Somehow everything circled back around to it. Yet at other times I felt okay. I would smile, or laugh, or think about something else. Then I would feel guilty. Like I wasn’t as sad as I should be. While I don’t think it’s healthy to suppress sadness, I don’t think we should force sadness either. Or at least force it to look a certain way.

Sit alone. Give yourself enough time and space to let the reality sink in. And then grieve hard. It might take some intentionality. But it’s times like this that it is appropriate and even necessary to feel. A day after I miscarried a friend sent me a simple statement that wrecked me and liberated me, “pain can lead to growth, but pain can also just be pain for a while.”

But I have been realizing that grief comes in different forms and in different ways. And it also looks different for different people. The grief of miscarrying has already hit me in unique ways and at unique times. It comes at obvious times when the reality of what could have been stares you in the face and other times it comes in the most unexpected of ways. If you are able to enjoy yourself for the moment, do it! It’s really okay, and good. But if a wave of grief hits you, crash into it. Feel it. Let it pour over you. This is 100% worthy of every ounce of grief.


Painful not shameful 

I never could have imagined just how devastating it would be. Everything suddenly felt emptier- my body, our home, and our family. While it is all so deeply painful, it is not shameful: just like the loss of any loved one. Miscarriage is not a dirty word. It is not taboo.

Something helpful to me was to read and hear other women’s stories. Miscarriage is devastatingly common, yet rarely talked about. It can be healing to not only listen to others’ stories but also to tell our own. You don’t have to share your story with the world, but share it with somebody.

“Remembering and telling our story takes us home to ourselves. There is no possibility of soulful relationships without an integrated soul that has embraced its story (the good, the bad, the ugly).” Richard Plass The Relational Soul. There is freedom, security, and comfort found in sharing our story with someone who cares and wants to listen. Being known is such a good thing.

Letting people in

Telling people something so personal can feel like you are putting a big label on your forehead. Like that’s all anyone will see. Like no one will treat you normally. Like everyone will pity you. But in my experience, while the first few times seeing people after sharing the news might feel uncomfortable, it ends up being one of the most comforting things you can do. Telling people helps it to become more real yet more bearable. Good friends won’t let you forget about it yet won’t let the grief swallow you. For us personally, our families/friends (even from thousands of miles away) poured so much love out on us. Find your people, and let them in. Let them care for you. You can’t bear it alone.

Having good friends is incredible, but having blood bought brothers and sisters is incomparable. A part of our church covenant says that we promise to “participate in each other’s joys, and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows; (Gal. 6:2; James 2:14-17)” I have seen that lived out so powerfully over this time. There have been tears shed with us, countless prayers prayed for us, meals cooked for us, and so much kindness lavished on us. These people have taken our tear filled eyes and weary hearts and gently pointed them to our savior.  I can’t even list all the ways we’ve been actively cared for during this time, and the comfort it has brought is indescribable and incomparable.

Side note: When we see someone we love going through something pretty foreign to us it’s easy to think we aren’t equipped to help them. But you don’t have to have all the right words. I’ve realized there really isn’t that much to it. Just be there.

When the meals stop coming

I think like with any loss, one of the hardest parts is when it feels like everyone else has moved on but you can’t. The reality tends to hit in a new way when you have to get back up and keep living life normally.  Life doesn’t stop for us and I think that can be both a good and hard thing. Not long after life “resumed” I was pushing my daughter on a baby swing and there was another empty one beside her. It was a vivid reminder that there will always be an empty “swing” in life that I wish was occupied by our second son or daughter. It was a lonely thought, but it also helped me to feel like I was honoring them.

People do different things to remember and honor their child. Some people do outward and tangible things and others do personal and private things. And sometimes the opportunities come on their own. We are already trying to plan what we can do as a family on the due date. It helps to find your own way of coping, grieving, and healing.

Not yet healed but hopeful 

As I have walked through trials and sorrows with others, I have begun to not prefer the word “healed.” When humans experience the loss of something or someone precious to us, hearing we will “heal” can feel a little dismissive. It can feel like if we fully “heal” we are not giving rightful honor to the person/thing that was taken. Life does go on, and we do (thankfully!) experience forms of healing. But at the same time, we’re forever changed. A friend once said she was told that it just becomes a new part of who we are and we learn to live with it. It’s not the only thing about us, but it’s certainly something about us. These sort of things shape us. They change us. They make us see the world and people differently. And hopefully they soften us, not harden us.

This side of heaven, the sting of loss will always remain. And some days it will feel extra sharp. It reminds us we’re not home yet. It reminds us God hasn’t yet made all things right and good and new. But there is unshakable hope in what is to come for those who are in Christ. Though we often use the word “hope” the same way we use the word “wish”, the bible uses it very differently. Romans 5 says hope does not put us to shame. Hebrews 6 says this hope is an anchor for our soul. This kind of hope is sure, certain, and fixed. Just as a watchman knows the sun will rise every morning, we know we will be raised with Christ to new life. And this is part of our hope, Christian:

Revelation 21

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

One day our hearts won’t hurt anymore. God will fully redeem and restore. Oh what a day to look forward to! But today, God is near. Use the heartache not to cower nor to run, but to find his nearness all the sweeter.

Draw near. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. He is a gentle father.

Part 3: when we are given a gift we are afraid to lose 

When I was younger a sort of fearlessness marked my life. At least I would have liked to have thought of myself as a “dare-devil.”

The potential for skinned knees never kept me from roller blading or skate boarding (no I was not an Avril Lavigne wanna-be… okay, so maybe I was), the possibility of  broken bones never kept me from trampoline flips, and the horror stories about getting stuck upside down never kept me off roller coasters. I was always up for trying. If I fell I got back up and tried again, and again, and again.

At a distinct point in my life I vividly remember confidently climbing up a cliff, only to look down at the water below with weak knees and a sinking gut. I actually wanted to climb back down. I was partially afraid and partially ashamed at myself. I didn’t want to feel that way. I was supposed to get to the top, run… and jump. With no hesitation.

I was brave.

Why couldn’t I shake this fear?

This sinking and crippling feeling has become much too familiar in my life since that day. I have become more aware of the waters below. The older I have gotten, the more anxious my heart has become… The more anxiety has yelled in my ear that the only way to respond is to “climb back down.” That I must crumble and cower. That I must submit to these powerful fears.

This anxiousness of spirit increased in a new way upon becoming a parent.

It’s ironic how the gift I once resented is now the gift I clinch ever so tightly. Too tightly. I cried out to the Gift Giver, “Why are you giving this to me right now?” and now I cry out “you better never take this from me!”

I often physically shutter at the thought of ever losing my daughter. Now that I know life with her, I don’t want to ever know it without her.

It stops me in my tracks to think I wouldn’t hear the pitter-patter of little feet coming to greet me at the door. I can’t imagine hearing music come on the television and her not being there to run up to it and dance. I can’t imagine not looking into those curious eyes, seeing that warm smile, feeling little trusting hands, or hearing her silly laugh.

But that’s just it, I can’t imagine it.

I will always remember the words of my RA in college telling me that we are not given specific grace for our imaginations. Instead, we are given grace if and when that day comes. That worst fear becomes true. That nightmare becomes reality.

When I was about 10 years old our house burned down. My parents “watched” our possessions and (more importantly) our tangible memories go up in flames. I will always remember my mom saying that if she was ever told years before it that our house would burn down, she “wouldn’t know how to handle it.” But my mom’s answer to the question, (along with so many others who have suffered much worse) “How? How do you handle it?” Was the resounding and genuine response of, “Specific grace.”

God apportions grace how and when needed.

It doesn’t take the sting away. But his grace meets us where we are at. It comforts. It gives a peace that passes human understanding.

TURNING OUR WHAT IF’S INTO EVEN IF’S

This has been one of those pieces of advice that I think and hope will always stay with me. Life is full of what if’s. …What if they crash? What if it hurts them? What if this is the last time?

As hard as it is to swallow, what if’s will always be linked to uncertainty.

Uncertainty can cripple us or free us.

I am learning more all the time how little control I actually have. I hold on as if my grip is tight enough that nothing can slip through. I build walls as if they are big enough to keep it all out. I make plans as if they have the power to prevent something or prosper something.

The fact of the matter is, I am not in control. I can never hold tight enough, build high enough, or plan well enough. Circumstances change. People fail.

BUT … but. That is such a good word. It is a comfort to the weary soul. While “what if’s” remind us there are uncertainties in this life, “even if’s” remind our feeble hearts and grasping hands, there is also certainty. The certainty does not come in the form of a what, but the form of a who. The what is shifting sands but the who is a solid rock.

God’s word says we become his children only through trusting that his son is who he says he is. Only through bowing our knee to Him as King. Only by looking at Jesus’ death on the cross and saying “it was MY sin that hung him there… and it is HIS sacrifice alone that will free me from this enslaving sin that separates me from God.”  He is ours and we are His through Christ alone.

United with Christ we can look at God, who we have been restored to, and shout to our hearts

Even if…. He is near.
Even if…. He will never leave us.
Even if… He loves me.
Even if… there is hope.
Even if… He is faithful.
Even if… He is good.

I want to open my hands to receive good gifts from my Father with thanksgiving. And I want to keep those same hands open and give back to Him in trust. I brought nothing into this world and I can take nothing out of it (1 Timothy 6:7).

SO FLY, LITTLE ONE

You, sweet child, are not ultimately ours.

We will do what we can to protect you. To keep you safe. Your life is precious. Your life is valuable.

But don’t be afraid to fall. To fail. To get hurt. To lose.
Instead.. Try. Give. Go. And live.

Stand on the cliff and jump into the waters.

….You are in good hands.

All Mom.

For me personally, becoming a mom was different than “becoming” anything else. When I got married I expected to wake up the next morning and “feel” like a wife. I didn’t really. Nothing felt all that different. Yet as surreal as it all was, it seems as if the moment the nurses laid Reese on me, I knew I was a mom. I felt it. Don’t get me wrong, some days I still feel like a child myself who could not possibly have one of her own. Sometimes I look at other moms and feel like somehow they are more of a “real” mom than I am. It’s strange to realize we are the same. Sometimes I look down at my little girl and think “she is ours forever?” But, it was also as if in one single moment I instantly joined a team of other mamas. It was as if things that used to matter seemed a little more petty. It was as if my identity, perspective, and entire life suddenly changed. I felt the beautiful and terrifying weight of my new role.

Of course, I think becoming a Mom should change you. As a parent you are responsible for another human being. You realize how vulnerable, moldable, and capable they are. And that you have the unique ability to shape them. To sharpen. To help. To hurt. To shepherd.  Naturally, that is going to change your perspective on life. Naturally the way you spend your time, energy, and money changes. The way you think, feel, relate, and make plans radically shifts. You feel the ever present reality that your child’s needs are in so many ways dependant on you.

While I think it is natural and good for us to feel instantly and drastically different, I think we have to be careful. I think subtly a voice inside starts to tell us “they don’t get it.” These thoughts can give way to isolation, bitterness, lonliness, insecurites, and pride. It can separate us from our once close friends. It can separate us from our own spouses. Then, before we know it we are in an all-exlusive Moms club. Here is where we bring our kids, talk about our kids, and even hide behind our kids.

I couldn’t imagine my life without other moms (I mean it would be physically impossible for me to be here without them… But you get the point). I am unspeakably grateful for other mama’s who have said “oh yes, I experienced that too!” when I started to feel like I must just be crazy. I am thankful for the mothers who have gone before me and who stand with me. We need each other. Not to compare, judge, and compete but to relate, encourage, and support in a special way. They are living proof that you are going to make it! Really, you are.

But I think we need to be cautious not to confuse new role with new identity. Yes, it is a very big and life altering role. Sometimes we realize there are people and things we need to let go of because of it. And sometimes people and things leave us because of it. It is going to change our relationships. They are not going to look exactly how they used to. Being a mom should definitely take a place of priority and call us to live differently. But, we must not let one part of who we have become overtake the rest of who we are. I know many feel burned, belittled, and forgotten by new mom’s. Wise advice I heard recently that helps prevent this trend is simply learning to talk about other things. Just like being a student.. learn to talk about things other than school. Or being an athlete… learn to talk about something other than sports. As moms we should learn to talk about things other than our kids.

You may feel like mothering demands all that you are, and then some. You may look in the mirror and see unwashed hair, exhausted eyes, a drenched shirt, and a stretch-marked belly. But you are more. You are a whole person. You are made up of more than only motherhood.

In the same way, our marriages should be made up of more than just parenting. Children give the opportunity for couples to bond in a new, unique, and powerful way. But I think before we know it, they can become the only thing that is holding our marriages together. As the joke between the old couple goes “what did we even talk about before we had kids?” But guys. It happens! All the sudden you ashamedly realize that somehow your conversation that started out about how good the food tastes somehow ended in what color the baby’s poop was today. You are on a date but all you can think about is how your kids are doing for the babysitter. You keep pushing off the same conversation because the baby needs you more. It is then that we must remember who our husband was before kids, and continue discovering who he is after having kids. Go on dates. Laugh together. Hold hands. Ask questions. Listen. Look into into each others eyes. Cook together. Dream together. Dance together. Don’t let your marriage get lost in your parenting.

Of course, that is much easier said than done. It does not happen effortlessly before kids, and it definitely does not after them.

We have only been parents for four months and already we have to intentionally work to see each other as wife and husband before mommy and daddy. Already I can default to saying “here take her” instead of “hi love, how was your day?” Already I can look at Kyle and see my child’s father before I see my husband; my best friend. But a thriving and strong marriage is worth fighting for in the midst of a job (parenting) that can feel all consuming.

The reality is that one day those kids you gave your all to will leave the house and you will be left with a stranger of a spouse. You are married to your spouse, not your kids. Remember your vows. Remember who stole your heart before that precious child did. Look at your child and see the love that brought them here.

Being a mom is unique.
It is exhausting.
It is demanding.
It is busy.
It is joyous.

It takes so much from you and gives even more to you. l already think it is one of the best things in all of life. But, it does not have to become our everything. We do not have to lose everything we have and are in the long, hard, messy, and absolutely wonderful process.