Quiet

Two playdates were arranged today for my two little girls–one here and one at a friend’s house.  So things are quiet.  And calm.  (I invited over a sweet mellow playmate for my youngest–I know what I’m doing!)

And while life has slowed down and is at a much more tolerable pace for me, one thing that I have been lacking lately is quiet.  Rainy weather means we’re indoors a lot, the girls aren’t using up their abundance of energy so they’re not sleeping as much, and really, they’re just hyped up or at each other’s throats a lot.  It’s understandable.  It’s life.  It a few weeks out of summer.  I can deal.  But I admit that I can’t think straight.  I was not wired for a lot of noise.

I don’t know what it is about me–I can handle loud, rockin’ praise music or booming speakers when I’m driving around solo, but I can’t handle the clanging of pots and pans or loud conversations or worse–conversations and loud background noise (I constantly have to turn music down or off when I’m trying to have a conversation with someone).  Boisterous kids running around on hardwood floors and squealing and giggling should bring me great joy, but at some point it just starts to sound like fingernails on a chalkboard.

You can see that quiet has great meaning for me.  I’m able to function better, I’m calmer, I can think clearly.  A little quiet gives me strength to tolerate the noise pollution that my family sometimes emits.  (My 3-year-old and her friend giggling sweetly in the other room totally qualifies as quiet for me…..sigh…..cute little girls!)

Scripture talks a lot about quiet.  Psalm 23 says that the Good Shepherd leads us beside quiet waters (how that soothes my soul so much more than a roaring waterfall!).  We are also encouraged over and over again to speak wise and quiet words (Ecc 9:17).  1 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, and 1 Peter all encourage us to lead quiet lives and to have gentle and quiet spirits.

I often think of “quiet” as an outward condition that I long for.  It’s a circumstance that I want.  I’ve learned that it’s not just something I value, but it is something that has value.  But more often I need to remember that “quiet” is also a condition of my soul.  I need to be led quietly by my Shepherd, I need to live a life that isn’t obnoxious or hurtful or full of strife.  Isaiah 32 says that “the fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.”  Quiet is also a fruit of righteousness.  It is not something I can obtain on my own, but only by the redemptive and transforming work of the one who leads me beside quiet waters.

Be still, oh my soul.

Staying Attentive

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Recently I was reading about 10 characteristics that are important for you to exhibit to your children.  Of the 10, I was challenged in some way by pretty much every one…..they included traits such as patience and practices such as encouragement and affirmation.

The one I took to heart, though, was attentiveness.  I want to have a good relationship with my kids.  As they grow, I want to cultivate open communication.  I want them to know that I can listen, that I hear what they are saying, and that it all matters to me.  With two chatty preschoolers, I confess that I probably rarely show them this.  I struggle to attentively listen to a 3 year old’s summary of the last Dora video she watched.  I debate the value of listening to my five year old’s complaints that no one loves her because we put her on time-out when she misbehaves.  I really think I spend a large part of my day not being attentive and I worry that in filtering out the aforementioned chatter, I might also miss something of real value.

So how do I begin to practice attentiveness without indulging every whim and complaint?  I spent a day trying to be attentive.  It took a lot of my focus and energy.  I was tired by the end of the day and I honestly felt like I was falling behind in so many things that fall under my responsibility (laundry was interrupted by a hurt child, the computer was off limits for me all day, and managing finances and being attentive to young children do not agree).  I was up until 11:30pm trying to catch up on what I failed to accomplish during a day of turning myself to my children.

But you know what?  The girls had a good day.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was good. I was exhausted but they weren’t clamoring for attention (neither good or bad).  We played games, I allowed them time to share what they hoped to do, I took time to rock and comfort when there were owies.  And I asked questions and I listened.

But now today I have already failed at being attentive.  From the moment we woke up, I failed.  And what has today been?  Lots of fits, time outs, fighting amongst themselves, and me hiding away on the computer because I’m too tired to stay up late tonight to catch up.  And you know what?  I’m more exhausted by the dramatics of today than the energy expenditure yesterday.

So how do we balance it all?  How do we take time to listen to our children, to be available to them and yet get anything done during the day?  How do we summon the energy and strength to work late at night in order to catch up on all the things that seem rightfully lower in priority than our children?

I want to be attentive to my beautiful little girls.  I want to build a foundation now that will be instrumental to a meaningful relationship as they grow and mature.  Lord, grant me the energy and the strength and the wisdom to know when I need to stop and listen!

Two for Two!

After a night in the emergency room with my four-year-old (not too serious once treated–a case of croup!), I feel entitled to some “no’s.”

The first one was hard because I look forward to it, but pretty easy to say because my friend is so understanding–I cancelled the weekly Bible study I do with my mentor.

The second was tough…..our youth pastor called and asked me to help out at Youth Group tonight.  These are the things that are really difficult for me to refuse.  Partly because I wouldn’t be hauling my sick kids around, so it sounds more like a lame excuse, but I still stood my ground and said that our family needed a couple of days close to home because of illness.  No blatant guilt trip followed, but in my mind I imagined how people might respond when they heard, “Oh, Sarah said she couldn’t do it because her kids have colds. (eyeroll).”  And then, guess what?!  I got over it!  I did it!  I said “NO” and I don’t feel like a piece of pond scum!

Mama Needs a Break!

I’d like to imagine that every day I have time to sit down like this–with a good cup of coffee, the word of God, and some quiet.  But I don’t.  I maybe could if I got up at 5am, but that is not really my forte.  Instead, every day I find myself longing for a moment like this.  Quiet.  Coffee that is still hot, not cold from sitting on the counter too long while I get kids dressed, bake some goodies, clean up the latest disaster.  Although I love my family and I love being around them, there is a very introverted part of me that is sadly, sadly neglected.  Getting out for some exercise often helps, but it’s still not that quiet, uninterrupted time where I can think, pray, read.

I realize not every mom may need these still moments as much as I do, but we do all need time alone.  How do you find it?  Keep in mind that my husband also works from home, so there are a lot of bodies trying to do their own thing at any given moment in my home.  Nap times are often my only chance to exercise, cook without interruption, or run a quick errand.   Evenings after the kids are in bed are saved for the opportunity to hang out, talk, and connect with my hubby.  Is 5am my only chance at solitude?  Any suggestions, Mamas?

Hope, Strength and “No.”

We can start with the two-lettered word that is hard for me to say, especially to people I care about and especially to things that I enjoy.  Not long after my last post, a friend emailed asking if I would be available to come hang out during a nap time this week.  My friend lives very close and since my hubby works from home, sometimes it works for me to sneak out while the girls are sleeping.  This friend and I emailed back and forth to set up a day where this would work.  As I tossed and turned in bed that night, thinking of how non-stop every day was this week, I realized that I absolutely needed to protect those few precious moments that I have to myself.  I called her the next day and explained that with such a busy week, I just couldn’t do it.  I did it….I said no–to a good friend and to a good thing that I normally really look forward to!  Ugh!  (Thank you, Melissa, for your helpful comment full of suggestions and encouragement to say “no”!)

Fast forward to today…..feeling discouragement over the things that consume my time…..the Bible Study I lead, my kids (going through a “I’m a bad mom” phase), housework……let’s just say a few tears were shed today and some of them were mine.  My husband emailed me some encouraging words from Rick Warren, reminding us that trials produce patience and perseverance.  What most encouraged me, though, was the suggested Scripture reading from Isaiah 40:3.  “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength….”  Suddenly I felt satisfied that if my hope was in nothing else, it was in the Lord.  And I felt relieved to know that He would renew my strength.  Praise-alujah.  😉

Three little things to end my night on: Hope, Strength, and “No.”

100% does not leave me with enough percentages…..

My life feels split up into about 50 pieces lately.  So many things going on, so many things I should be doing, so many things I feel responsible for.  There’s only so much I can give out on a daily basis and it ends up making me feel like I’m not able to put my all or my best into anything.  Everything is suffering.  Giving 100% to each day might mean that my kids only get 15%, my husband 10%, housework 20%, ministry 20%, feeding my family a good meal 15%, the hope of getting any quiet time with the Lord or getting in any exercise–10%, the extras–running errands, trying to focus on photography, balancing the checkbook, encouraging a friend–10%.  Which means that nothing is getting the effort or attention it needs or deserves.  Which means that I feel like a failure and a loser at the end of every day.  Which means I can hardly catch my breath or still my racing heart as I think of the next day where I’m giving way too little of myself to way too many things again.

I think that one of my least favorite, over-used words is “balance.”  I might live in a different world than all these people who claim they’ve found “balance” in their lives, but my life seems less like a balancing act and way more like a juggling act.  And I really hate juggling.

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Four years ago we packed up all of our belongings and moved out of the suburbs to a small little town.  We were ready to get out of the rat race, we wanted to slow life down, we wanted to downsize our living expenses so that I could stay at home and focus on being a mom and a wife.  Somehow the rat race caught up with me here in this small little town.  I typically have less than one day a week where I am not obligated to an activity or a person outside of our family.  Even when we lived in the suburbs and I spent three days a week commuting back and forth to the city to work, I had at least two full days a week that were saved just for me to spend time with our daughter, catch up on chores, housework, etc.  I have less of that “home” time now and I have an extra child in the mix.  I’m not quite sure how that happened or how this year in particular became so demanding.  I’m sure a big part of it started with me saying a lot of “yeses” and not enough “nos.”

Where Do I Go From Here?

Homeschooling begins next year for our oldest daughter and before it even begins, I want to somehow take a snapshot of this moment in time, I want to freeze the sheer panic I feel on a daily basis, I want to remember this stressful time well enough to stay firm in the “home” aspect of “homeschooling” next year.  Commitments for the here and now have already been made and I have to fulfill those commitments.  I can only focus on surviving to the best of my ability and maybe lowering my standards in a few areas so that I don’t completely beat myself up before summer begins.  The only change I can really make is for the future.  I want to promise to myself and to my family to reserve our weekdays for school, family time, and ministry that we can do as a family.  Lord, give me the strength to uphold that promise!  Give me the courage to say no!  And help me do more than just survive until then…..give me the energy and the strength to give as much as I can to what I have before me.

Award Worthy

Do you ever feel like you deserve a medal?  You know in your mind that you will probably receive no acclamation or reward for what you’ve done, but darn it, you should.  Maybe you’ve calmly cleaned up a child’s vomit all day long and even had the strength to offer some comfort and compassion to the poor dear.  Maybe you cooked up a fantastic meal AND kept your toddlers from killing each other or even fighting with each other.  Totally Mom of the Year type stuff.  Maybe you don’t have children yet, but you still do some award worthy things.  Like refrain from yelling at the guy who cut you off in rush hour, causing you to spill your coffee.  Or you answer to your boss pleasantly all day and even bite your tongue when your co-workers are doing some back-biting.  Maybe it is something as simple and yet as challenging as fighting the urge to wear a zip-up sweatshirt.  We feel like we deserve recognition and yet of course know in our hearts that recognition is not what we should be after.

Today I starched and ironed a bedskirt.


And as I ironed, I thought, “I should get an award for this.  I have NEVER ironed a bed skirt (even if this skirt has needed it for the two years I’ve owned it).”  I know I’m no more domestic or worthy of praise than any other woman.  I’m not the first person to get out the starch for bed clothes.  I know of a woman who irons her sheets and underwear. Next to her, I’m a stay-at-home-bum.  But today I felt like someone should give me a pat on the back or a high five.  At least.

Ladies, in life we are not always going to get credit for the things we do.  Someone might not even notice the sacrifices or heroic deeds that we accomplish in a day.  Do it unto the Lord.  Know that your hard work and selflessness will be recognized for what they are someday.  And for today, let’s share in each other’s accomplishments.  Share what amazing thing you did today!  I want to give you props, even if no one else credits your hard work.

Looking Youthful

I’m not getting any younger–are any of us?  The big 3-0 hit a couple of years ago, if that says anything.  I’m not particularly bothered by my age and rarely worry if I’m looking older.  I confess that I dyed my hair for the very first time a couple of months ago.  The grays weren’t taking over, but there were enough to make me thing it was time to make a change.  I use eye cream once a day, a practice I didn’t even know existed 10 years ago. So I guess that there are a few little things I do to help me age gracefully, but really, as you’ll see from my representation of my essential beauty products, that my life is hardly centered around beauty treatments.  I mean, Carmex counts as one of my “beauty essentials.”

No, this post really isn’t going to offer you a lot of useful information on what beauty treatments keep a lady looking young.  In fact, while my physical body may not scream “youth”, I still have had some blessed souls lately mistake me for a much younger woman than I am.  (They deserved kisses, but I didn’t want to lose any of the Carmex I had freshly slathered on my lips.)  I think that beauty and youth are the kinds of things that don’t come from the outside….it is obviously the things of our spirit and personality that shine through the wrinkles and saddlebags.   So here are my top ten ways to stay young:

*Laugh.  At good jokes.  Smile at bad ones.  Laugh at yourself and let others laugh at you, too.  People that take themselves too seriously look about 15 years older than they are.  Lighten up.

*Be active.  Not just for your health, but for joy.  DO something that makes you happy and release some more endorphins.  Dance, run, bike, build a snowman.  Do it alone for peace, do it with a friend or your child for a smile.

*Wear something totally inappropriate for your age once in awhile.  If you are over 30 and can pull off skinny jeans, do it.  If you can’t pull off skinny jeans (I count myself in this category at the moment), be sure to wear some rockin’ heels once in awhile with a funky pair of jeans.  If you try to dress too young all the time, you’re just a wannabe who can’t age gracefully.  If you do it once in awhile, it makes you feel like a rock star and kind of knocks everyone else’s socks off, too.

*Be nice.  Duh.  Be optimistic.  Crabby people are a drag to be around and they make me feel old just being around them.  Gross.

*Grow in grace and favor with the Lord and with people.  A woman who isn’t growing in this category is like last year’s fashion.  People get bored of it quickly and eventually it becomes just plain ugly.

*Hang out with teenagers once in awhile.  Do it all the time and again, you kind of look like a wannabe.  But having relationships with people who are in a totally different stage of life keep you in touch and on your toes.   Plus teenagers keep me humble and remind me what a nerd I am.  See my first tip.

*Spend time with women who are older than you.  Learn something from them.

*Do things with a good attitude, especially things you don’t like doing.   When someone asks you to do something you’re not a big fan of (for me: any winter activity, watching a sci-fi movie, going shopping, eating at a boring restaurant), say “Sure!” and make yourself enjoy it.  You’ll bless them and I guarantee you’ll always have more fun than you anticipated.

*Love the people in your life.  Smile at them, encourage them, hug them.

*Be content.  You’ve got what you’ve got–enjoy it.  You are who you are–work it.

Look young, my friends!  And stock up on the chapstick during these winter months!  🙂

In This Moment

There was a time when I first became a mother that part of me held back from feeling true fulfillment in my new role.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love my new daughter; it wasn’t even that I didn’t love the new role.  Granted there were transitions that were challenging, but overall, I really relished being a mom and I even celebrated the day I was able to quit my job and stay at home full-time.  But part of me was holding back.  Hanging on to something other than what was before me.

I have watched women, mothers, who become completely lost when their children grow up and leave home.  I saw their very identity, which had been so wrapped up in motherhood and their children, crumble.  They were confused, hurt, sometimes even hurtful to the children that were “abandoning” them.  It was appalling for me to see this and I promised myself that I would never be that woman.  I would never wrap up so much of my identity in one role that I would fall to pieces when it was time for that role to change.

So I held back.  I loved my daughter and I joyfully welcomed another baby daughter into our family a couple of years later.  I loved her and yet I really think part of me held back again.  I tried to maintain things that were a different part of my identity.  I ran a marathon, I spent a lot of time with friends, I participated in Bible Studies, I tried to find ministry avenues that had nothing to do with my young children.  I realize now that I was missing out.  I was so busy trying to be ME that I forgot to be Christ to the other people in my life–my husband and my children.

My identity should never be built on something as flimsy as a role, a hobby, a passion.  My identity needs to be in Christ alone.  Part of accepting that identity is fully throwing myself into whatever he has called me to do.  I have no doubt that my husband and I were called to be parents.  It doesn’t mean that we’re the best at it, it means that it has been given to us and we are to taken it seriously.  I’m not sure what changed in my mind and my heart, but just lately I have found myself appreciating this stage in my life more than ever before.  I find myself truly wanting to grow in Christ in order to be a more effective parent.  I swell with joy when I see God touching my girls’ hearts.  I think I quit holding back.  And dang, it feels good!  There really is something to losing yourself in order to gain something greater.

I no longer worry about or fear how I may react when the day comes for me to relinquish a bit of my parenting role.  I think being wrapped up in our identity in Christ means fully appreciating where we have been called to minister and serve–whether that is a humble position or a glorious and famous position.  I am not holding back anymore and I am giving in to the joy of this moment.