Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Dear Mama: Thoughts on being a Young Mother and now a Little Bit Older One

Good Morning, Mama!
As I reflect on the weeks that have recently passed, I was struck by how quickly life can change. I sat down to write on both Sunday night and Monday night, and nothing would stick together enough in my mind to put anything down on paper. While mulling this over, I began to go back through old posts of my own. Maybe I was waiting for inspiration to hit?!?

I read through things that seemed so big and overwhelming just a few years ago, but through the lens of time seem much smaller, much less threatening. 
This last week I got a peek back into my past as I got to mother my own four kids plus four more. Our co-workers had a new baby, and we got to have their little ones {boys, no less!} for a while. We had a good time together, but it was certainly much busier, much more hands-on, and all done with a good bit less sleep.

Though I'm not old, I am much farther down the road than I was just a few years ago. My youngest is 4 1/2 and quite self-sufficient on most days. My older girls, at 14 and 11 act as my 'right-hand men' on a regular basis, and my nearly 7 year old is growing into a good little helper.

Everybody can take themselves to the bathroom {except for rare, odd situations!}.
They usually all sleep through the night {though that has only been for about the last six months!}.
The food put before them is eaten with gusto; they can make their own beds and pick up their toys; they can help fold laundry and wash dishes and tidy up the house.

Mama, I remember the days when it was NOT so. I'm not so far removed from all these things that I can't remember the complete relief I felt when I could finally crash into my bed at night or when my kiddos still took naps! I can still recall the frustration that was dinner every night because a child would cry about every.single.thing on her plate or when every school day ended with me ordering my girlies outside and shutting the door just so I could have ten minutes of peace and quiet after toddler-wrangling AND attempting to school my big girls at the same time.

These remembrances are still fresh enough that I will never tell a young mama that they will 'miss those days' and 'those are the best years of their lives.' I don't feel that way. I loved those days of young motherhood, but many times I didn't like them. 

You know what? I love the stage we are in with our girls right now, but there are certainly days I don't like things about it. Puberty is real, people, and it hits hard!!! Having two sets of females with a gap in the middle who all share one room can be incredibly trying. And now instead of babies waking me up with tears, its the late-night counseling sessions with my children who are thinking often about growing up and leaving home and all the feelings and emotions that are part of this time of life.

I don't believe there is a 'magical' time of life. I believe we have a choice to put in the time, and do the training, and choose to love the here and now, and to seek to follow the Holy Spirit as He shows the next step to take in our families, OR we can choose to hope that the next stage in life will be somehow better.

The blessing of getting a bit down the parenting road, though, is that time does give perspective. Those long nights spent singing to babes in arms no longer bring frustration. The messes can be laughed at. The sharp edges are rubbed off a bit when we remember how things were; they don't cut or bruise the heart and mind in the same way any more.

So Mama, I'm not going to leave you with platitudes like, "enjoy those moments as they'll soon be gone," but I will tell you that God can meet you right where you're at, and as you obey Him, He will work ALL these things together for good. That's a promise.

Monday, July 2, 2018

For All the Mamas Who Feel They Can't Do All That Is Asked of Them.....

Dear Mama,
I remember the day I first surrendered to God's call on my life. For several years I had run from His call of missions, and after a two year fight, He won. He changed my desires. Missions became what I thought about, read about, prepared for. When I married my husband, we knew we were headed straight to the mission field. The whole of me was wrapped up in what God had shown me to do.
Then, just a month before we were to board a plane for Ghana, I found out I was expecting our first child. Tickets were already bought; plans were already made; a baby wasn't going to throw a wrench into the works!

We moved to Ghana, me almost six months along, and we dove right into the deep end. There is a long story behind that, but leave it to say, we hit the ground running, though we had no idea what we were doing. When our first child appeared, we slowed down a little, but soon were back to full speed.
I would sling my daughter on my back, pack a bag for the day, and out the door we would go. Day after day after day looked like that. My house was neglected, food was consumed whenever I could get it cooked, laundry piled up, and every day ended with me crashing into bed exhausted.

God had called us, hadn't He? What else could missionary work look like? And then Carey got older. She stopped sleeping so much and was tired of always being on my back. She wanted to walk, to play. There was no time for that, so she just continued to go everywhere with us, but now while we were visiting people she would be terrorizing their rooms and making messes.

One day God brought everything to a breaking point. Carey was almost two years old. We had gone out visiting, and John was trying to speak to an old lady about her soul's condition. In the middle of everything, she looked over at me and said, "That child is disturbing! Until she can sit quietly you need to take her home!" I was embarrassed and angry. How dare an unsaved woman tell me how to raise my child! But that moment planted a seed in my heart.

Not too long after that we headed back on our first furlough. Our child was out of control. We couldn't make her obey. We tried everything we knew to do, but nothing helped. Why weren't all the things we had heard growing up in church and Christian homes working?

Then baby #2 came along. Now we were exhausted and trying to chase a disobedient toddler everywhere we went while traveling on furlough. I remember going to a church for a missions conference, and between me and another missionary mom with several young children, the single bathroom was kept busy as we took turns trying to deal with our children away from seemingly judging eyes. Near the end of the conference a sweet young mom {with really good children} came and offered me a handful of books and told me how they had blessed her and her family. I thanked her, but was grumbling on the inside, because she couldn't "possibly understand what my life was like since she had such good kids, and mine were strong-willed and we lived on the road."

Things continued to deteriorate until one day I hit bottom. There was nowhere lower to go. We were on the road, in another prophet's chamber, John had let me sleep in and taken care of our two little people, because he knew I was exhausted. When I woke up, all I could do was scream at him and accuse him. I hated myself, but didn't know how to stop. After an hour of sobbing in the bathroom we patched things up a bit, but I knew something had to change.

We made it back to home base, washed the clothes, repacked the car, and prepared to head up north for a week-long conference. It was a few hours from John's parents, so we decided we would stay with them, they could enjoy the grandbabies a bit, and we would drive back and forth to the meeting. As we were getting in the car to leave our house, I ran back in to grab my purse and thought I should grab something to read for those long trips we would be making between the house and the church. I saw the books that dear, kind {annoying} lady had given me and grabbed them.

All the details are unimportant. The most important thing was that the first book I chose from the stack was full of truth I needed to hear. It was hard. Many nights I was so angry I would roll down the car window to chuck it out, but the Holy Spirit wouldn't let me do it. I would sit there and swing between seething and sobbing. Every time John asked me what was wrong, I'd just ask him to leave me alone.

Again God brought me to a breaking point. This time it was in surrender to His will for my role as a wife and a mother. I couldn't see how I could answer both the call to be a missionary and this new call to build a home for my family, yet I knew I must obey. So I quit. I quit the fighting and the trying to figure it all out, and told God He would have to show me what to do. And of course, He did.

Again He changed my desires. He began turning my heart to home. {He also has allowed me to continue to serve Him here in Ghana in more ways than I could have ever dreamed up!} For 11 years now He has made my first field of service to John, Carey, Ella, Lili, and Mackay. Why can He do this after calling me to be a missionary? Because ultimately, I am not called to a place, but to a Person.
I am not called to a specific job, but to obedience. He chooses the way He is most glorified in my life, and that way right now is for me to serve Him in our home first. Daily seeking to preach the gospel to my children, raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, being the help my husband needs ~ these are my first callings. God has not removed my other callings, He has just simply placed them in a different place on the priority list.

In the last few years, my burden has grown for other mamas, ones that maybe feel just like I felt.
Maybe there are others who want a great marriage {some might be satisfied with just a good one}, or desperately want their kids to grow into godly adults {some may be happy with their kiddos just surviving to adulthood!}, or can't figure out how to balance the home and the job. My heart hurts from what I saw while we were in the states on furlough last year. I met so many mamas who want to do their best, but are lost, confused, rushing from one thing to another {even "good" things!}, trying to keep up with everything they see advertised/modeled around them.

I'm here to tell you today to stop. Stop the running; stop the fighting; stop the burning desire to do what you think has to be done. God has a plan for your life, and He wants more than anything else to see it fulfilled in you.
It would be lovely if I could give you a list of bullet points outlining all the ways to fix your _______ {insert your problem}. But I can't do that. This isn't a self-help blog, and I don't have all the answers. May I simply encourage you today to look to Jesus? Ask Him what He wants you to do and ask Him for the fortitude to obey. I know without a doubt He'll help you do it.

{The literary heroine banner is from Carrot Top Paper Shop. The book the girls are reading is one Carey found for her sisters at the Henry Ford Museum. It is beautifully illustrated with a sweet story ~ Cleonardo. John's shirt is one of the t-shirts he bought on furlough here. The tiny postcard banner I made several years ago from these tiny postcards. We had lots left over for crafts and sending!}

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Right Answer No Matter the Question You're Facing Today

It's Sunday night here, and all is {almost} quiet in the house. Oh, I can hear the hum of the fridge, the whir of the fan, and the general outside noises of town....I consider those all blessings as it means the electricity is on.
As I reflect on this past week, there were good days and bad, precious memories and ugly ones, too.
I slip the SD card from my camera into the slot and pictures begin to fill my screen, those slippery things we call moments, captured in digital form to preserve forever {or maybe just a while}.

As I look through each one, deciding which to use and which to skip, I begin to notice what I caught on {digital} film. When I have my camera in hand, I generally just point and click at whatever catches my fancy in any given second. I don't usually stage my pictures {though I have been known to take half a dozen of certain wiggly children}, and I generally don't pick a theme. The things looking back at me from the screen are what caught my eye for one reason or another.

This week I noticed something over and over again in my pictures, though. Most of the things I took photos of were small things. Nothing too big or flashy, nothing too out of the ordinary {our ordinary, anyway!}, just the small and simple things.

I have a fourteen year old who is just like her mama was at her age {and maybe still is sometimes} and struggles at times with the mundane things of life. She longs for a life of adventure and excitement ~ something new! anything different! nothing the same two days in a row! {Never mind the fact that she lives in a tropical African country, speaks a second language, has seen God perform miracles, eats foods most people have never heard of, and has a dozen or two stamps in her passport....it's all in the perspective. But that is another post for another day!}

How easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking the things that really matter in life are the
BIG, IMPORTANT, EXCITING things. Do you ever get caught in that snare that seems to be waiting around every corner in this modern age of ours?

How quickly I forget that it isn't the grand things my children remember, but rather the daily rhythms of joy that we have in our home that will stick with them.
The kissing of scraped knees, looking into their eyes when they are speaking, reading books together at lunch time, taking time to go look at the bug they found outside ~ these seemingly simple things are tiny seeds that will grow into something great one day.

It is what we speak of and listen to and sing about and read about and think about in our homes that make the biggest impact. We are called to be atmosphere creators, so that our homes are filled with truth, beauty, goodness, and most importantly, God. The very air our children breathe can and should be Christ-life giving. And we can have that when we make the right small choices.

This truth doesn't begin and end with our children, either. This holds true of every single thing in our lives. How often do we despise the day of small things? One small decision, one tiny seed planted, one shaky step taken in faith can turn our homes into places of hospitality and love, and our churches into houses of worship and prayer and edification, and ourselves into heralds of the gospel, and our whole lives into beacons of Hope.

Monday we went for a nature walk before the rains fell. As we wandered the path we kept our eyes open for anything interesting. One particular bush was full of green leaves that were like Swiss cheese, they were so eaten through. John spotted the culprits first ~ a troop of tiny beetles. They were exquisite, translucent and metallic, shimmery, but small. Yet they had eaten most of that large bush away. How had they managed it? One bite at a time.

Each thing that God has worked in my life has begun the same way: God has asked me to take a small step of obedience, and by His grace I have done so. He shows me the step to take, and I say yes. He points out another small area He wants to guide me in, and I surrender. Step by step, seed by seed, moment by moment He is shaping me for His glory. 

Lord, help me trust that You are orchestrating all the small things in my life. Guard my heart against lazily waiting for what seems big and important in my eyes, and instead give me Your eyes to see the value in each holy thing You ask me to do. Fill me with courage to give up my will for yours. Help my answer to You to always be YES! Give me a heart fixed on the eternal. Amen.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

For the Weeks that Don't Go As Planned...

I had so many plans for this week.
Summers can be like that.
Our barrels that we shipped our books and household goods in arrived on Sunday afternoon.
I was so excited to get them unpacked, and the house finally all put together.
I had been figuring and planning since we got back, and I knew right where things were going to go, and how it was all going to come together.
The last seven days were perfectly laid out.....in my head.

And then life happened, as it has a tendency to do.
The things that I wasn't prepared for....
Part of our missionary family headed to America on furlough.
Goodbyes were hard.
Dear missionary friends in another country were passing through the valley of the shadow of death with their two-year old son.
Updates and times of prayer were wrenching.

We had to go to town to get our food for the month.
Another day used up.
Emptying the barrels didn't go as smoothly as I'd pictured,
the curtains all had to be cut or hemmed....all 12 of them.
The new handles for the cabinets in every room were a half inch too small.
By ten o'clock {at night} everybody was exhausted and things weren't finished.
I ended up with an infection I couldn't shake.
We had church obligations, and social obligations, and ministry obligations,
and all the amazing books God blessed us with for our family and our future library
wouldn't fit on the shelves.

I stayed up late every night trying to get stuff done.
I slept poorly.
I was on a strict regimen of loads of raw garlic to get feeling better.
My time with the Lord in the mornings was lackluster.
I didn't fit in any extra reading.
I barely saw the sun as I was inside moving and changing and unpacking and drilling and fixing.
I felt dull, tiresome, and frustrated.

To state it plainly {if I haven't already done that!}, I was weary when I woke up this morning...
Tired of how things were, ashamed of how I felt, and ready to begin the new week on a different note.
But how?

Feelings are good servants but bad masters, and I have found that as for myself, there is only one way I can deal with them properly:

1)  I must acknowledge that they are there ~ Yes, I have them. Yes, I am feeling things, good, bad, and ugly.
2)  I must give them to God ~ He already knows all the emotions swirling through my mind and heart. Why should I try to hide them from Him?
3)  And then I must think truth ~ My feelings are not true. They change with the moment. I must go to God and His Word and find the truth I need to be thinking on, not just revel in whatever grabs my fancy in the moment.

Now I wish that the moment the Holy Spirit brought these things to my mind, my battle was over, but it was not.
One cannot go an entire week listening to lies and instantly stop doing so.
Once Satan has found a weak point, he loves to continue the attack at the same place.
So I turned to the next book in my daily Bible reading, and there was the truth I needed for this day and this week:

That is where I've been seeking to dwell today ~
not consumed with my faithlessness, 
but resting in His mercy, His compassion, and His faithfulness.

{The paper dolls that the little girls are playing with are actually the inside of the book jacket of a new favorite picture book in our house ~ Lola Dutch! Also, I want to thank Ann Voskamp for the inspiration on how to deal with feelings, from her book, The Broken Way. And lastly, I love our new wooden house sign. It was a Christmas gift from here.}