Monday, August 3, 2015

Dear Mama, How To Fill Your Cup When Your Hands Are Full: Who Does the Filling?

I might as well say it:  I'm quite sure God led me to share this blog series, because He wanted to remind me how much I need it.
Nothing like writing about a full cup and feeling bone-dry.

Today was one of *those* days {and may I just say right here, is it just me or does it always seem like those days are Sundays?}.
Sunday morning first hour included two little ones who decided they wanted to climb the walls...literally. You may not believe it, but just ask my husband. He was trying really hard not to be distracted {ahem.}. I finally hauled both of them out by an arm each, dragged them across the compound to the Sunday School room, plunked them down on a bench, and told them with fire in my eyes that they had better not move. At that point my 3 year old thought it would be a good idea to grab a broom and start dancing.
My reaction was less than exemplary.
By the time second hour was over, I must have had the *look* in my eyes, because hubby canceled afternoon advanced Bible class and my tutoring session and announced that everybody needed a week off.....AKA he was pretty sure his wife was gonna blow her top.

I was hoping everybody would get a good nap in this afternoon, but due to a detour to the bank, the little ones slept in the car.
Of course, it was only long enough to make sure they wouldn't finish their naps at home.
I'll spare you Sunday night's story.
Just suffice it to say that it ended with me outside sitting on the concrete slab with a 22 month old screaming her lungs out, her older sister sound asleep and drooling on my left leg, mosquitoes biting my ankles, ants crawling up my skirt, and me asking God what in the world I needed to do differently so this never happened again.

I believe God gives us mamas days like this from time to time is to remind us that this job of motherhood is an important job, a demanding job, a self-sacrificing job, a job we can't do in our own power.
When my first daughter was born, I was in awe of the fact that God had given me a human being to raise. Over time, though, it just became part of who I was. I'm a mama. So what?!?
So what?
So God has entrusted a person into my safe-keeping, a person who knows nothing except what he or she will be taught, a person who has the potential to change the world, a person who will live life and touch people and live forever somewhere.
A tiny miracle in wrinkly, soft skin.

To have the energy for this enormous task, I must choose to "mother" my children every single day.
It's not enough to just keep them clothed and fed. It's about so much more.
The "so much more" can leave us dry, though.
I must accept the fact that my children will take up my time.
They're supposed to do that.
God did not give me children just so they could leave me alone.

My days with my children usually hinge on one key thing: my attitude.
If I feel like my kids are a burden, an annoyance, a hindrance to my plans, their little radars go off and they start responding like burdens, annoyances, and hindrances.
If I begin the day thinking of what a gift God has given me in my children, how I'm blessed to have them, and how God has called me to serve my family this day, they usually sense that and start acting accordingly.
But even when they don't, when my attitude is right, my cup isn't getting dumped all over the floor first thing. It might get jostled a little, but it won't be drained out before lunch.

My children don't need a perfect mom, but they do need a mama who is content and patient with life.
The only way that's going to happen, though, is if I'm filling up my cup.
I need to be able to be the grown-up!
I must be the one to control my temper and my tongue.
I must be able to think with wisdom.
I must be full of the Holy Spirit.
And none of those things are going to happen if my cup is empty.

So how?
How does a mama get a full cup for herself when her hands are full?
1. She chooses who is going to do the filling.
I cannot fill up my own cup. The only one who can is the Holy Spirit. I must make some time in my day for the Holy Spirit to be able to work in my life.
There are seasons to motherhood and some seasons are harder than others, but in all of them I can turn control of myself and my day over to the Holy Spirit.
2. She allows herself to be filled.
I can't always choose how my day is going to go, but when I do have a choice, I must allow some of that time for filling. I cannot go for days without ever breathing a prayer, cracking open my Bible, recalling a memory verse, or getting needed rest, and expect to be full.
3. As soon as she realizes she's empty, she goes for refills.
On those empty days, I'm walking in the flesh. I sin. I'm not the mama God desires for me to be.
Do I have to quit? NO! I confess any sin, and I go right back to my gracious Helper who desires to fill me.
4. As her seasons change, she adds more time for more filling.
I'm finally at the place in this motherhood thing where I'm feeling a bit of margin. I have no newborns. Baby eats food and sleeps mostly through the night. It can be tempting to take that extra bit of time and energy and use it for my own desires. There are times as a mama that all of us live almost on "emergency rations" spiritually, but when that hard time is past, it's important to give some of that new found time to filling up on God and His Word.

So maybe today you need these truths? If not today, maybe tomorrow?
Either way,  the Holy Spirit wants to fill your cup ready and waiting?

*Many of these excellent thoughts were spurred by one of the best books I've ever read about motherhood, The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson. I highly recommend it!

*If you haven't entered the giveaway for Loving the Little Years and you'd like to do so, please do so here.

*Next up, I and some guests are going to be sharing practical ways to work on filling up your cup when your hands are full!

If you've missed the other posts in this series, they're right here!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Dear Mama, How to Fill Your Cup When Your Hands Are Full: A Change in Perspective {+ a Giveaway & Printable}

I was quite the spiritual person when I was in high school and college. 
My spirituality started shaking a bit after I'd been married a few months.
But my spirituality took an absolute nose-dive not long after giving birth to my first child.
At least.......that's how it seemed to me.

Before having children I always had time for reading my Bible.
Even if I was running late in the morning, I would plan to spend time in the Word before going to bed.
Being a night owl, that wasn't too hard for me.
If I wanted to, I could clear time for hours of reading, studying, and praying.
I had a notebook in which I was working through a study of all the women of the Bible.
I had inspirational quotes and Scriptures hanging where I could see them first thing in the morning and last thing at night before drifting off to sleep.
When I found out I was expecting my first little peanut, I thought about lots of things, but staying in God's Word after baby arrived?
I'd learned to do my devotions at a young age.
My parents had taught me well, and I'd even read the Bible through in a year a few times!
Why would having a baby change any of that?

By this time, all you mothers out there are probably shaking your heads.
You KNOW what I'm gonna say next, because it's happened to you.
I gave birth to my first child.
She decided to arrive at 1:47 a.m., and yes, I know the exact time, because all mothers do.
After being cared for, I was taken to my bed to sleep out the last few hours left of the night.
The nurses kindly {or maybe not so kindly} shook me awake at 6:00 a.m., and shoved a squalling {seriously} infant into my arms with the words, "She's been screaming for food since she was born. We've been dripping glucose water into her mouth for four hours. She's hungry! Feed her!"
I tried to rally my scrambled brains, but all I could think was how tired I was.
Why couldn't they take care of her while I got some much needed rest?
Didn't they know I'd just given birth four hours before?!?
And then it hit me.
My life was no longer my own.

I quickly learned that it wasn't just my sleep I had to give up to be a mama.
I had to give up my body, my desires, my agenda, my schedule, my time.
Over the next few days, every time baby would fall asleep I'd pick up my Bible to read......and be asleep in less time than it takes you to finish reading this sentence.
I had never been so tired in my life {I now know it is possible to get tired-er. I do have four children!}.

The hard thing was that I was sure it would get better......but it didn't.
Babies don't sleep through the night right away; mamas get more and more tired.
Within a few weeks I got very sick and had to have two surgeries.
I was actually put on sleeping pills for a short time, because the wounds from the surgery were so painful, but I still had to care for my little one in my half-drugged state.
I had to stop nursing my wee one, which made my hormones go crazy.
We were new young missionaries with no one to help us.
When baby was six weeks old, we found out our government paper was all wrong, and we had to leave the country {Ghana} immediately to get it straightened out.
That was one of the lowest days of my life.
I knew I needed God in a major way, but I couldn't feel Him.
Everything I'd done in the past to feel "close" to God, I couldn't seem to manage.

We boarded our plane, got settled in our seats, buckled baby into her wall cot, ate our dinner, and began our overnight flight to London.
As the lights were dimmed for sleeping, I began to weep.
I shoved my head into the scrawny blue airplane blanket and sob-prayed for almost an hour.
At that moment, it was the best thing I could have done.

I felt so guilty for all the emotions, the seeming failures, the loss of control I was feeling, but none of those feelings were from God.
What he wanted from me was surrender ~
releasing what I thought my life should look like, what I thought a mother should be, and what "being spiritual" really meant.
After dozing for a bit, I watched an in-flight movie with my hubby, and we laughed 'til we cried {literally!}
Tears of sadness and happiness, fear and joy, hope and discouragement all came gushing out.
It might sound funny, but the laughter that night really was a medicine.
God gave us a mighty big dose, right when we needed it most.

At that moment I didn't need to read my Bible {though I did do that later}, I didn't need to do a Bible study on all the mothers of the Bible {though that would be a good thing to do}, and I didn't need to spend an hour in deep prayer {though prayer is extremely important to a new mother, I was not physically capable of that}.
What I did need to do was to find a few moments of relief from all I'd been going through, be reminded that God did really still love me, grasp the truth that God is as near to me as I desire Him to be, and rest in the joy that only He could give me.
I needed a change in perspective.

As a mother now for over 11 years, I'm learning that some days a change in how I look at things can shift my whole day for the better.
Around our house we call it "thinking truth."
When I catch my attitude souring, my temper rising, and my anger boiling, by God's grace, I ask myself one question ~"What's the truth in this situation?"
If I take a few moments to think about the answer, the Holy Spirit will often guide me to the problem.
And if I'm listening to Him, He'll then point me to the next step.
Here's the truth, now what am I going to do about it?
When I change my perspective, I can usually see what's causing the struggle.
Once I know the source of the problem, I can take the steps to fix it.
It's a simple practice, but it's a powerful one, too.

The more I think truth, the less draining my days are.
Instead of constantly pouring out my opinions on the matter or trying to keep a smiling face while gritting my teeth or trying to figure out who did what to whom and how am I going to make them stop, God's truth takes over.
If I can think His words, then I won't have to figure out my opinion on the matter.
If I can see with His eyes, I don't have to grit my teeth in frustration, but can rest that tensed jaw, knowing that His Word shared with my children will not return void.
If I can reason with His mind, I don't have to know who did what to whom or whatever, I just have to share God's wisdom with my needy children.
And as I think on truth, I'm filled up with Him.
Looking at things with His eyes equals a full cup!

One of my favorite resources {besides the Bible} for giving me a change in perspective these days is a little book called Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic.
She writes about motherhood in the trenches, because many days us mamas of little people definitely feel like we are at war!
Her book is funny, down-to-earth, and easy-to-read {short chapters for busy mamas!}, but more importantly it's honest, encouraging, and full of wise ways to shift our focus away from the messes and back to the truth.

Not because I'm being paid to do so, but because I want to share this excellent resource, I'm giving away one copy of her book today!
I'm not quite techy enough to do a fancy giveaway button-clicker-thingy, so I'll make it {hopefully} simple.
If you'd like to enter this giveaway for either an e-book version {open to anyone} or a print version {must have a US mailing address}, please leave one comment either here on the blog or on my facebook page. For a second entry {just tell me in your comment}, you may share this post on facebook.
I'll announce the winner next week Thursday/Friday {depending on where you live on the ol' globe}.
And since I love this book so much, I wanted to share one of my favorite quotes from the book with you in printable form {just click on the picture if you'd like your own}!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dear Mama, How To Fill Your Cup When Your Hands Are Full

Dear Mama,
So maybe your hands felt full today. Just maybe you got up late on the worst possible day to do so. And you hadn't packed everything the night before....or taken a shower, though you knew you absolute ought to do it the night before, because mornings never go as planned.
Maybe you didn't feel like it, because the lights were out and the water you had to haul into the house in buckets was cold. Maybe you were just ready for a bit of rest after a really long week. The plate's been awfully full lately......
Somehow you thought you had the schedule cleared, but you ended up with people at your house for dinner four nights in a row. All people you like, but four nights in a row? That's a lot. Maybe all week you've felt like your batteries are being slowly drained, and you know the only way they're going to get a recharge is with a good bit of sleep and quiet.

Somehow it doesn't feel like that's going to happen today, though.
Maybe you had high hopes of all the things you were going to get accomplished this last week and all the things you were going to cross off both the paper list for the day and the mental list that is really the forever list that just scrolls on and on and on through your brain.
Maybe you didn't get quite as much crossed off as you'd been hoping.

Maybe your week included things like having to air out the mattress and wash the sheets and quilt three days in a row, because a little person keeps insisting she's gone to the potty before bed, but obviously she's not. Maybe your week had conversations about "vomnit" between a 3 year old and her baby sister, while you were trying to cook supper. Maybe you had scraped knees and scraped foreheads from the usual running around on a concrete compound, and a scraped face from a baby falling out of the parked car onto the dirt road before anyone could make the catch.

Maybe there were bug bites that made an arm swell like a balloon and some weird fungus that won't clear up on another kiddo's arm. Maybe you've had dirty diapers you forgot in your purse and a towel covered in sour milk that accidentally got used to wipe up the table after eating.

Maybe jobs that weren't "supposed" to take that long have stretched late into the night, and "just a few more pages to go" has turned into chapters, and the school books that have to be shipped overseas haven't even been ordered yet, and the news has come that something you were counting on for some important future plans has just fallen through.

Maybe you felt like you couldn't say anything right, think anything right, do anything right this week.
Maybe you felt like you were failing God, your spouse, your kiddos, your far-away family, your church family, your Sunday School kiddos, your student you're tutoring, your missionary friends, your neighbors, your supporters, and maybe even your pet {if you had one!}.

Maybe this summer wasn't supposed to look like this.
Maybe some days you even feel like your life wasn't supposed to look like this.
In your mind, life as a mama was supposed to be full of sunshiney days and blue skies, birds chirping and gracefully flitting from tree to tree. It certainly didn't include a crow building a nest in your front palm tree and dive-bombing everyone who happened to walk past that tree. Or the same crow raiding your rubbish and scattering what it couldn't eat all over the compound.

All the little ones were going to sleep in each morning, and you'd wake up slowly as the sun shone through the window. You'd be able to spend lots of time in prayer and the Word, and no one would be screaming for bananas at 5:05 a.m.

No one would decide it would be fun to get out every single cookie cutter mama owns and spread them over the entire kitchen floor. No one would cut out paper dolls and leave all those tiny scraps of paper covering most of the table and floor in the library.

No growing girls would get offended and upset. No one would fight or argue. No one would have to be told for the 43rd time this week that God gave us hands to love and serve, not to smack our sisters with. No one would have to be pulled out of the potato basket and told to put the potatoes back in said basket again and again and again.

But maybe that idea of what motherhood and the life you were called to live wasn't exactly true?
What if your hands being full to overflowing is exactly how God wants your life to be right now?
What if He gave you this beautiful, overwhelming, intimidating, impossible thing called being a mama on purpose......not to destroy you but to make you?

What if He knows that full hands and full days can give you a full life, a life pouring over with the best things? What if the truth is that the days you feel like your cup is dry and your batteries are drained are the days that He just wants to fill you up with Himself?
What if all these hard days packed to the brim with busyness and mundane tasks and repeating and redoing and recleaning and reorganizing are really days that you can be repenting and relearning and refilling with Him?

Hey mama, what if He simply wants you to know that He loves you right where you are, and that the only step you have to take when you're tired, weary, and worn is into His waiting arms? He's waiting to quench your thirsty soul.

*So life can be too much and the days can feel like years, and yet it seems like there is never enough time to fill your own cup when you're a busy mama spilling out your life for those in your care. Over the next few weeks, I and some guests are going to be pouring out inspiring and practical ways to fill your cup when your hands are full, and sharing some excellent resources that will hopefully be a blessing to you, too.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

These Days....

My brain feels absolutely packed with about a million things so I thought it would be better to just show you a peek into my recent days....

We've been playing games, lots of games, including Monopoly Jr., which Lili has just learned to play {with a bit of help} and is slaughtering everybody....

Observing lots of God's World around us, including this enormous dung beetle! The girls watched him for quite a long time....

Cooking in the outdoor kitchen....this is some lovely "pickles" made by later be disposed by me after they rot......

Big girls learning Stratego....lots of fun, this one!

Continuing on our annual summer cleaning time, which has gotten a bit slowed down, but is close to being done. Includes all kinds of repairs, like repairing curtains that are getting a bit old,...

painting the school room {and touching up things here and there} the color I've actually wanted it to be all along,......

totally redoing the schoolroom, which we now are calling the library, because I've always wanted to live in a house with its very own library. That reveal will be soon!

And being totally swamped with our upcoming Love and Marriage Conference at our church.
John has been working almost round the clock for the last two months trying to get the five booklets he's writing done on time. Here's a sneak peek at one of the book covers:

If you think of it, would you please be in prayer for us from now through August 14th and 15th?
We will be having an evening session on the 14th for all engaged and married couples from our church and some other nearby churches. It will be a special time in our home with many young believers who've never been taught anything about love or marriage.
On the 15th, we'll have a full day of special studies at our church for all age groups.
A ton of work and preparation goes into something like this, and the next few weeks will be packed full.
On top of all that's going on with the conference, I have to get all my school planning and ordering done for the upcoming school year very soon.
I'm also really excited about a blog series I'm planning for the month of August. I'm going to be writing about the conflict we mamas can feel at times between all we've been given to do and spending time with God in His Word. It's something the Lord has really been working on my heart about since baby #4 came along. I'm lining up a number of guest posts and sharing some tools that will hopefully be a blessing to many of you!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Welcome To Our Nest: The Bathroom & Laundry Room

This post has been a long time in coming, and it's not extremely exciting, but it is the last room{s} yet to be shown.
We are blessed to have a little space for a laundry area in our home.
As the majority of people here wash their clothes by hand and usually outside near the clothesline, it is not common to find a laundry area in most houses here.
If there is a space that might work, it's usually not near a water source.
We were blessed with both space and a bathroom right on the other side of the wall.

Most washing machines here are quite tiny by American standards, but they still do the job!
Over the years I've done lots of clothes washing by hand {and still get to when the water and the electricity won't cooperate and the mountain gets too high!}, so I'm extremely grateful for this machine that will do it for me.

I've hung good "mama-reminders" here ~ as I speed through my day, they are in a great spot to be read while doing the tasks of sorting, filling, and emptying that go with all that laundry!
{I just use leftovers from my yearly calendars and free printables from Ann's Library.}

This bathroom is the main one for our house and the one our girls use.
As it has no storage and no place to put any, we've gotten creative.
We pick up hanging storage when we are on furlough.
It fits washcloths, hand towels, toothbrushes and paste, and bath toys.

We bought these frames years ago when we visited Ron Jon's Surf Shop, so we thought we'd do a surfing theme in the girls' bathroom.

You can see how this space connects to our hall {to the right}, and to the master bedroom {straight ahead}.

Opposite the master bedroom door is the girls' bedroom door.
We recently switched out the ugly metal cabinet for the pretty one that had been in the school room.
It's filled with my herbs, medicines, first aid supplies, towels, and cleaning things.

Their door with the newly redone picture frame.

And our current shower curtain, because how long do plastic shower curtains last in a house with a bunch of kids?
In my house.....not very long!

After almost two years, the tour is complete!
I guess that means that it'll be time to show all the things we've changed up, redone, and refreshed soon........

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Extraordinary Ordinary

It was my birthday Friday, but that's not why I write these words or share these pictures.
I share these moments, because some days I just need to be reminded of the extraordinary in my ordinary.

A park.....

A park is really an ordinary thing, unless you don't have one.
We've lived in Ghana almost 12 years.
This is the very first park of it's kind in the entire COUNTRY.

My children were thrilled to go play at this park for a few hours.
The last time my two oldest played at a park was over 3 years ago on furlough.
My youngest two have never played at a park.

This park had grass!
Though we live in a tropical country and our city is surrounded by jungle, grass that can be played on is almost non-existent.
We have a very small patch outside the front wall of our home, and children come in droves to play on it, because it is the only patch of grass in our entire community.

This park has a hill!
My girls were so excited to have a little grass-covered hill they could roll down.
What a treat to have such a simple thing to enjoy.

In our house the one being celebrated gets to pick the meal and the cake.
{My sweet girls were in charge of decorating.}
Since it was my birthday I picked some new dishes I'd been wanting to try.
I chose a Middle-Eastern feast including lamb burgers, Israeli couscous salad, and roasted vegetables with mint-labneh sauce. {If you are feeling adventurous, do try a recipe or two. They were delicious!}
That may sound exotic or expensive, but we are blessed to have a large Lebanese population here in our city that make all these foods easily available.
My extraordinary ordinary!

Chocolate chocolate chocolate cake.
I live in a place where I have had no choice but to learn to bake all our cakes from scratch.
Tackling a cake like this is no longer intimidating, it's fun!
The extraordinary in my ordinary.

The best part of my day, though, was these 5 people.
They are my favorites.
I get to live every day with the best, most handsome, amazing, adoring husband and these four beautiful, sparkly, giggly, brilliant girlies.

I get to live in a place that has ripped me wide open and asked me to live a life that takes faith, where a park is abnormal and lamb burgers are normal, where making a cake from scratch is much cheaper than dumping one out of a box, where soft, squishy grass is an oddity and concrete is the norm, where I have to constantly ask God to make me brave enough to speak another language than the one of my heart and think another culture than the one of my birth, where I still sweat on the coldest days, and can never straighten my hair because of the humidity, where we don't get to see grandparents and aunts and uncles regularly except on a computer screen, but where God has given me another family, where I get to do the greatest work anyone could be allowed to do ~ sharing Jesus and seeing lives transformed for His glory.
That's my extraordinary ordinary, and I'm overwhelmed by the beauty of it.

*I'm curious......what's extraordinary about the ordinary place God has called you to live?
Please do share!