When your heart just isn’t in it – NaBloPoMo

A pizza cutter has become my undoing.

Several months ago, our resident pizza cutter went missing.

I swept through every drawer and canister in my search, and gave up looking for it in a huff of frustration. I remembered when we bought that thing, and then I realized that it was such a small, silly thing to even remember. And how utterly ridiculous it was to feel so helpless without it.

It was a big deal to me when we bought it because a pizza cutter was something we never had while growing up. 

It was one of those seemingly superflous things that could be found at any of my friend’s houses. Some unseen marker for civility and order.

Just like the way their families promptly cleaned up right after dinner, and started the dishwasher before they headed up the stairs for bed at night. Or the way that they used fabric softener, and didn’t overload the washing machine. I remember how they had so much discipline when it came to dessert, never eating the last of something, and even saving some for the next day to enjoy.

Those seemingly unnecessary details that quietly marked where civility begins were like a breath of fresh air for me. They are the things things that we should choose to take the time to do, if for no other reason than because we believe that we should care.

Because caring makes us act.

I grew up in a home of expedience.

Overloading the washing machine got through the laundry much quicker, even if we were treated to forty-five minutes of laundry banging loudly against the side of the machine.

We hacked through our pizzas with paring knives, serving pizza slices with jagged edges to each other.

The dishes sometimes rested in the sink until us children argued about it long enough for someone to finally take the turn to wash them, or at least, for our mother to make us wash them. Even then, we’d just indifferently load them into the dishwasher, slops of condiments and food bits sometimes still stuck to them. 

The details were something we didn’t fuss over. We did what was the quickest, the easiest. 

It wasn’t until I tried to manage a family of my own, and was trying to grow into the mom and person I wanted to be, that I realized how short-sighted this way of thinking can be. 

I always prided myself in how laid back and seemingly low-maintenance my family was.

A crock pot of chili was perfectly fine for Christmas Eve dinner, because it was far easier to prepare than a ham with all of the trimmings. Using paper plates and plastic cups at large family gatherings were perfectly acceptable, they allowed us to clean up faster. And before we soaked up the last of the Thanksgiving gravy on our rolls and our dinner plates were clear, our family was on the march to clean up and restore the kitchen to order. 

Savoring was not something we wanted to do. Because savoring meant work. 

Isn’t that ridiculous? The thought that savoring takes…work?

There are so many proverbs and cross-stitched pillows that beckon us to savor and enjoy each fleeting moment. To thoroughly appreciate them, we must redeem them by believing that we are squeezing each and every drop of leisurely pleasure out of them.

But we sometimes gloss over the fact that enjoyment takes diligence and work.

Sometimes, no, almost always, the grapes from the vine taste even sweeter when it was our hands that helped grow them. 

I have struggled with this at first seemingly benign mindset. I thought it was simplest to have quiet, settled children than paint splatter all over my table from finger paint. I thought it was easiest when they went to bed without a fuss instead of reading that book for the sixth time.

I thought it was easier to lean out than in. 

Because leaning out preserves my sanity and my energies. It gets us through the day quicker with not much destruction or unforeseen aggravation. 

I’ve leaned out so much in the last few months in particular.

I lost my dad.

And what I thought I needed was this safe space to exist in. This cathartic space to simply…be. Where if I gave up, and ordered an overly priced pizza for dinner, and let the dishes “soak” in the sink for a few more days time, that it would be easier.

Where if the husband put the children to bed, while I laid on the sofa and just stared at my phone or at the ceiling, it was the best thing for me. 

I thought I needed to be indifferent. I thought I needed to let go of the reins. Because having to function while in pain was too much to even think about.

When the truth is that having that luxury of space, and zero obligation, has taken away the challenge in my day to day life. 

I whisper to myself as my fingers glide over the face of a photograph of my parents on their wedding day, that I want to finish the bucket list my dad never made. Maybe visit places he never thought of. Hike to the top of some mountain and take in the expanse of life and greenery around me. Put my toes in every ocean I can. Get lost in a small town that  is hardly a dot on the map.

I say that I want to do these things, while I struggle to remain indifferent to what is happening around me. When maybe the thing is that I need to lean in. 

Yes, paper plates and plastic silverware, and tv dinners and quick cycles on the washing machine have their place. And sometimes, you just have to drop the attempts at dinner and order that pizza so that your mind isn’t lost forever. Practicality has its place. I am all about dollar menu McDonald’s in a pinch.

But sometimes, the things that keep our hearts beating are the things that are the most challenging. The things that tell us that no, we can’t stay here. We have to go. We need to move on, because we have things that are still left for us to do.

Sometimes, I think that if my dad were here, he’d take the time to scrub the dishes. He would spend his weekend afternoon in the autumn sunshine, raking the leaves that are falling like golden waves from the trees. He would relish the time to even be healthy enough to work.

Because in the working we are living to serve the things we love deeply. 

I can’t think of any greater love song sometimes than a barefooted momma, hunched over the kitchen sink in the dark hours of the night. Listening to music, arms at work loosening grit from a frying pan. The love song of folded laundry or arranged books on the shelves. How it creates this world where the people around them matter so much they want to create just the tiniest sliver of serenity in this broken world. 

The mom who cares enough to lean in. Who knows that pretenses don’t take the place of openness and warmth and serenity, but who is wise enough to know that the world may cave in, but you will always have warm food for you belly, something to wear on your back and my arms to fall into when you need me most. 

I want to be her someday. 

 

 

 

Three ways I’m a more confident mom now

I remember my child’s first public meltdown. 

No parent asks for their child to turn red and wail like they are being abducted by a stranger over a 99 cent toy. 

I remember feeling like such a failure when this happened the first time. It made me question everything because I used to be the person who didn’t understand why children were “allowed” to have meltdowns in public. I thought I would never be that parent. 

Isn’t that cute?

Now that I have been mom’ing for a while*, I have noticed that things that may have gotten under my skin in previous years don’t seem to have the same affect that they used to.

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No, this doesn’t mean that I consider myself a perfect parent. No, this doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally feast on a box of bagel bites in an effort to eat my feelings because my children have destroyed what little bit of patience I have left. 

*”A while” is a relative term. For me, it’s been almost seven years. 

And no, it doesn’t mean that I love my babies any more than a mom who feels like she is struggling to get through each day without ripping her hair out. It just means that we moms grow more battled hardened every day that we love our babies. It’s one of the perks of the job.

Here are a few ways that I am more confident now than when I first became a parent:

1.) They’re fine. 

It used to be that whenever one of my children bumped their head, scraped their knee or climbed on top of the coffee table, I would toss whatever was in my hands to the side (so many poor casserole dishes), and rush to rescue my beloved baby. 

Now that baby number three is mobile? When I hear an ominous thud, I wait a moment…

Because she’s probably fine.

My children don’t eat as many fruits and vegetables as I would like for them to. In fact, we should probably just buy stock in Goldfish crackers at this point.

They’re fine. 

Our bedtime routine used to be a drawn out, ceremonial process. Now? We might read a book, and they may or may not even get a bath. We give kisses, say prayers and then sweetly remind them that, “if they come downstairs, someone had better be bleeding because (Batman voice) it’s BED TIME. Okay, good night, love you guys!” 

They’re. Fine.

We have learned to navigate fevers and stomach bugs, nightmares and bumps on their heads, scrapes on their knees and Dora the Explorer. We have learned that our children are okay to occupy themselves with coloring books and Lego’s while mommy and daddy have a breather on the sofa in the other room.

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I trust my gut so much more now than I used to. And my gut says that they are fine, and that a relaxed and sane parent is actually a better parent.

Even if my children appreciate Skittles way more than they ought, they are still perfectly  fine.  Everybody is alive. Everybody is happy. And that is enough for me. 

2.) Great expectations

The other night, my littlest one had me up several times, once for over an hour. We also had a storm system move through the area, so between the lightening flashing and thunder clapping, and the toddler trying to make conversation at 4 a.m., I didn’t get much sleep.

I woke up with a headache and could barely keep my eyes open, so never mind how outrageous it was that I needed to walk the dog, pack lunches, make breakfast and get the kids off to school. 

I realized around 11 a.m. that I hadn’t accomplished much for the day, and I suddenly felt guilty.

Then I decided to wait just a darn minute. I had just spent half of the night awake with the baby, the kids and husband all had clean clothes on – clothes that I washed, dried and folded yesterday – and food in their tummies that I had prepared for them.

Never mind the mess all over the house. My babies were smiling and happy. 

That’s enough. 

I realize now that my greatest critic all along has been…myself. I am always the first to put myself down. And while I believe that sometimes, this inner voice, this conviction, can encourage us to be better, I totally think that most of the time, this inner voice just needs to get with the freaking program. 

I have borne three babies in seven years, and sacrificed my abdominal muscles and private bathroom space in the process. My children know that deep down, they are wildly loved by two parents who would do anything for them. Also, my children really appreciate salads, everyone has clean underwear in their drawers, and the house is relatively clean most days. At least, if the definition of clean means not needing to fumigate.

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I realize now that the clean dishes and socks I use on the days when I can barely keep my eyes open are the fruits of labor from the days when I have it all a bit more together. Which means that I am probably accomplishing way more in spite of everything going on than I give myself credit for, even if I didn’t realize it then.

Loving your babies is the line in the sand. If all else fails for the day, ask yourself if you have loved your babies. And if you can assuredly say yes for the day, then move along.

The messes will replenish themselves tomorrow without fail. anyway.

3.) No one else matters

So, that sounds a little harsh, right? Maybe it is.  But that is a phrase I have had to repeat to myself constantly in my mothering journey. 

If you look for validation for your parenting choices from anywhere other than your spouse or yourself, you are looking for trouble. 

I could feed my babies a strict organic diet, forgo vaccinations, breast feed each of them for the first two years of their lives and co-sleep with them until they’re a teenager. 

And someone would disagree with my parenting. 

I could feed my babies a regular diet, vaccinate on time, bottle feed them, enforce rules by using time-out, and homeschool them. 

And someone would still disagree with my parenting. 

We now have this tendency to overthink parenting; to get validation from “sources” and “experts” to see if we are getting it right. I have to tell you – if in this social media driven world you look for the ultimate validation from the people on Facebook, or even from the people around you, you will eventually be sorely disappointed.

The best that you can do is…your best. Just like everyone else is doing. 

We each know our children and ourselves better than anyone else. And there is no such thing in this world as a parent who has it all together. 

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I now know how to navigate unsolicited advice with a grateful smile and nod, while letting it roll off my back. I now know how to be proud of the decisions that I have made as a parent, even if my kids are eating GMO’s by the truck load. I am now okay with the fact that I am teaching my children to love Jesus and be countercultural is this world, and that there are people who are gonna dislike me for it.

And if someone else doesn’t approve? Well,…okay then??

They are most welcome to come and see if they can do it better than me. 

 

Sometimes Church Is Just the Right Place to Be

I hardly ever get breakfast on a Sunday. 

By the time I reach the bottom of the stairs, the whirlwind begins. My efforts turn from fancying food to digging matching clothes for the kids out of the bottom drawers of dressers (and, being honest, laundry baskets), or to locating shoes that always seem to go missing only when you are in a hurry to leave the house.

I make every attempt to encourage my tiny-mouthed children to finish their breakfasts, and then we begin navigating through negotiations with one child to just brush.your.teeth. 

Sundays are ridiculous, even though they are supposed to be the most important day of the week. 

Sunday is a day for rest. 

Sunday is a day for family dinner and locking hands around grandma’s table. 

Sunday is a day for sliding into the pew at church, plastering a smile on your face and forgetting about what’s been eating you alive this week. 

Only it isn’t. 

I was a disgruntled worker these past few Sunday morning. Sometimes, the kids fling themselves out of bed with smiles on their faces, and it’s only their energetic exuberance for a new day that can make getting out the door that much more hectic. 

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Other days, someone’s tired, someone can’t even find a pair of pants, someone doesn’t want whatever it is I have prepared for breakfast (even though they asked for it specifically), and someone else doesn’t want to brush their teeth because the toothpaste “tastes like spinach.” 

Okay, well they were kind of right about that. But I can’t tell them that because they’ll never want to brush their teeth again. 

About five minutes before we needed to leave, and with wet hair still dripping down my shoulders from my shower nearly an hour before, I sent out a flurry of text messages to mom friends who were surely going through the same motions that morning. 

What is the point of going to church when you just want to pull your hair out? When you know you’re going to be more than twenty minutes late? When you’re so frustrated that listening to a sermon is the last thing you want to do??

In my frustrated state, church was the last place I wanted to be. 

We all finally made it to the car, me with my hair finally brushed and dried. I couldn’t even remember what was in the diaper bag that I hastily grabbed on my way out the door (hopefully at least one diaper), and I was just thankful that I had remembered to swipe my underarms with a stick of deodorant before leaving.

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I was flustered to say the least. I wanted to throw something. I wanted to punch the next person I saw with curled hair and an accessorized outfit right in the neck. 

Clearly, I was in the right frame of mind to be going to church. 

After circling the church for what felt like ten forevers, we settled on a parking spot several streets over. The husband was frantically looking for tissues when I left him behind with a tiny hand in each of my own to cross the street. He would bring up the rear with the fuzzy headed toddler who was wearing mismatched socks and no shoes. 

We were all finally seated together with enough time to make it through one worship song. One. 

“My life is not my own
To you I belong
I give myself, I give myself to you.

God has a sense of humor.

This is the Sunday morning rat race. Usually, no matter how early I wake up and grab a shower, no matter how quickly the children are outfitted and ready by the back door, something inevitably goes wrong. Being late is not a new thing for us, but it is something that eats me alive. 

When you’re inept with punctuation already, adding three children to the mix doesn’t help. I feel like I could quit my gym membership since I make about fifteen trips from the house to the car and back before we actually buckle our seat belts. 

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Yesterday morning, as I leaned forward on the pews, with what felt like a weight of bricks on my back as I recounted my missteps from the last week, I felt the hum of the saints singing and worshipping reverberate through the wood beneath my hands. 

How magical it is when one hundred gathered believers singing ends up sounding more like a thousand instead. 

I closed my eyes and tried to focus on anything other than myself, and I pictured the tiled ceiling and pendant drop lights being lifted away, a final wall between God and His followers breached. 

I knew that we were heard. 

It feels like when I’m in this funk that church is the last place that I want to be. I feel obligated to smile. I feel obligated to seem like I have it all together. Even when that is not the truth.

I wonder where this obligation sets in. I wonder why it is that we feel the need to hide, even though there is no hiding what we are going through, how we are feeling from our God. There is no hiding who we are from Him. He knew the stakes before we were even born.

Any pressure that we perceive before walking into church if all of our own making. There is no dress code in the Bible, there is no rule about punctuality. There is nothing in there that orders us to have it all together before we gather. 

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We are called to come, open and honest about ourselves as we listen to the message, as we take communion and as we fellowship. We are called to be glad because we are in His presence, not because we have our lives in order. 

We are called to focus on His goodness, not on our unworthiness. And He honors the heart that tries to be there as best as they can, gathered fully in the moment to Him. He desires oneness with us that we can only have it if we are honest with ourselves about who and what we are when we stand before the throne. 

We can sing with gladness when we know that after an imperfect week, with trial and failure each one after the other, God still stands. And He is still good. 

And,  as parents, we can also be thankful for the childcare offered for the service. Praise be to God. 

Have a wonderful week saints.