The Good Life

Have you ever wondered why people are fascinated with other people? Take social media, for example. Enough followers on Instagram, for instance, can make you a minor league celebrity.  The royal wedding made major headlines because, well, it was a royal wedding! Who doesn’t dream about palaces and horse-drawn carriages and cathedrals at one’s wedding, especially if you are female? I am right there with you.  I get excited every time I get a new follower on Instagram, am always hoping people won’t just like my posts but will also comment on them, and will unabashedly say that Princess Kate is my favorite celebrity. But why?

I think it is because we assume that these people, these popular or wealthy (or both) people, have figured out how to avoid the human struggle and are now living the good life. Based on the pictures we see, the descriptions we read and the details we hear, we think that they achieved self-actualization, that place where they are perfectly content with life as it is. We are intrigued by their smiles, their apparel, their accessories, and how they spend their free time. Perhaps if we study them enough, follow them long enough and model our lives after theirs our lives will be a bit more satisfying; perhaps our struggle to be content, joyful, peaceful and more secure in our own identities will subside just a little. These assumptions are probably subconsciously thought, but they are thought just the same and in the process we forget that rich and famous people are people too. Their humanity just happens to be missing from their posts and pictures.

But the good life isn’t found in a life free of hardship but within it.  It’s found in accepting the human struggle as a necessity in shaping our identity. It’s found in embracing the roller coaster of human emotion and experience as an opportunity to encounter the grace and mercy of God and testify of His reality to those with us on the ride. I believe that the more difficulties we face, the more hardships we endure, the more struggles we encounter, the more well-rounded and mature we become as individuals. We can better empathize, support, listen, and rejoice.  As the Apostle James reminds us, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

This past year has not been without hardship, sorrow, or difficulty for me and mine. My first instinct is to complain and despair; but over and over and over again, Jesus guides and provides. Looking back, I am thankful for each trial and how it shaped me as an individual. I am not planning on removing myself entirely from social media any time soon or catching up with the Royal family when I have the chance, but ultimately I want more of Jesus in my life. I need to love His voice more than ever so that He can help me lead a balanced life; one that is filled with hard work, sincere service, a readiness to rejoice, and adequate time of resting at His feet, basking in His love. That is the best part of a good life.

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It’s Aloha Friday

Let’s talk relaxation. I don’t know about you, but it takes work for me to relax, have spontaneous fun or move at a leisurely pace. Thankfully, I have play pros living with me! They know how to turn every task into a game, sleep deeply after playing hard, and live life slowly. I’ve been taking copious notes as I study how these little people live and here’s what I’ve noted:

  1. Don’t miss the details. On walks they notice cracks in the sidewalk, holes in the ground, water pooled up on sprinkler heads, and the color of the sky. When we read books they study the tiniest of details in the illustrations so they can recount the story by themselves later on. Their playtime is filled with intricate discussions built with bits of life gleaned from observing the world around them. They don’t rush and their lives are rich from the slower pace.
  2. New isn’t necessary. My children don’t have many toys and what they do have is simple. I have avoided screen devices and a lot of the plastic toys that make noise. Instead they have things that fuel their imagination and provide endless possibilities for stories and adventures of their own making. I often slip into thinking that i need to replenish their toys with new items but rarely does that prove necessary. Simply rotating toys from the toy box to their shelves is all that is needed. Contentment comes with the familiar.
  3. Responsibility makes playtime more fun. In our home, morning chores must be completed before the day’s play begins. It’s not unusual for me to hear, “But I don’t want to do my sweeping right now. I want to plaaay.” Needless to say, when the reply to that complaint remains consistently, “you may play as soon as you have finished sweeping,” and the sweeping meets mom’s approval, playtime is more satisfying and holds little minds’ attention much longer than if it had been entered into at their first whim. All work and no play may indeed make Jack a very dull boy, but some work makes his play much more appreciated.

This weekend I plan to slow down, revisit some old pastimes and relax, knowing that my responsibilities for the week have been completed with satisfaction. How do you plan to savor your free time?

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Writing Honestly

This Mother’s Day weekend I am sitting here munching macadamia nuts, sipping water, and writing.  It’s not been the most stress-free of all Mother’s Day weekends; quite frankly, the past two weeks, make that 8 weeks, have had an extra dose of stress heaped upon them. Going from 3 to 4 children while my husband has been away for nearly half of those 8 weeks has antagonized my postpartum emotions more than I would prefer. Friends and family have graciously pointed out all that I am doing and assured me I am shouldering the responsibilities of motherhood very well. I am not so sure.  On the surface it may seem like I’m staying strong and managing decently, but I am all too aware of the intense struggle within me to smile, speak gently and do the next thing. And far too often I lose that struggle. I speak harshly, lash out at my husband, bemoan my life, and sob in the shower.

Recently my husband selflessly took all of us with him on one of his work trips. He knew the change of scene and pace would do us all good – and it did. The spontaneous getaway provided me with a chance to try out this “Mommy of 4 under 4” title somewhere other than the house and it gave me some fresh opportunities to reflect on my life as it is.  I came home revived and breathing again; my mind and heart had new skips in their steps and a refreshed outlook on how to live well.

I realized that I needed to define my roles rather than letting them define me. I am a woman who is a wife, a mom, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a writer etc., but first and foremost I am myself. I have a personality, interests, and needs that actually enhance my roles rather than harm them, as I had subconsciously assumed. From now on I want to bring my own personal flair into my roles rather than attempting to do everything perfectly by the book. I may not do everything perfectly, but I am perfect for those who love me.

Defining my roles led me to the realization that my peace of mind is essential to a peaceful home.  I have been struggling because I believed that the more drained and frazzled I was, the better mom I was being. I thought that my exhaustion was proof I had given all of me to my kids. I also realized that I was taking ‘me’ out of motherhood under the assumption that always sacrificing my interests so I could give 100% of my attention to the children was the best thing for them.  This mindset was leading to a subtle resentment towards my marriage as I felt like I needed to choose between investing in it or investing in myself once my responsibilities for the kids were done for the day.  Identifying these tendencies in how I viewed my roles as wife and mom is helping me to make some needed adjustments. Some of these adjustments include setting and keeping more personal boundaries for the children;  simplifying housekeeping routines to make them more pleasant and reducing how much stuff we have so there is less to maintain; taking time to pause or even follow a few rabbit trails in my day to do something spontaneous, fun or relaxing by myself or with the kids.   I am also implementing  a morning routine I complete before getting the kids up. This routine pours into me and caters to my personality by allowing me to begin my day with things accomplished.

It goes against my grain to talk about me, myself, and I. It sounds self-focused at best, selfish at worst. However, if I want my loved ones to know they matter, I have to remember that I, as a person created in the image of God, matter too. And because many depend on me, I need to be strong, peaceful, and fully alive. These improvements are fresh off the press for me, but I sincerely hope to be diligent in applying them.

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I Gave Them to my Children

I had some treasured toy friends when I was a child: a couple of baby dolls, little plastic animals, and an armful of stuffed animals.  I managed to keep these in vintage condition despite having loved them for a couple of decades.  Some of them were used as nursery decor when my son was born but not as play things. But not long ago I took them all out and made them available for my little ones to enjoy.  What prompted this change of heart? I realized that I valued their joy and delight over my material possessions.  Sure, they’re not going to maintain their vintage condition and they probably won’t be passed down to my grandkids but that doesn’t matter to me anymore.  What matters more to me is seeing my little girls rocking the dolls I adored and to see my son’s imagination turn plastic animals into real ones. This is a season of giving.

Whenever I see my children playing with the toys I gave them, I am prompted to consider what else I am giving to them. What habits are being passed from me to them? What skills are they picking up? What values are being instilled deep into their hearts? What memories are filling their minds? What attitudes of the heart are being affirmed?  In years to come I want to see my children:

  • In love with the Word of God
  • Filled with compassion and kindness
  • Not afraid to work
  • Inquisitive, imaginative, and creative
  • Ready to have fun
  • Always ready to learn
  • Loyal to family and friends
  • As keepers of their word
  • Respected by all who know them
  • More ready to rejoice than complain

A mother has great influence on her children; hers is not a role that can be taken lightly nor prone to shortcuts. It’s a position that shapes lives, molds character, and instills integrity.  Her approval and comfort will always be sought after by her children, no matter how old they are or how ready they are to admit it. She is one of only two people who can view the values that govern their descendants’ lives and say, “I gave them to my children.”

 

 

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“Look at Me.”

“Look at me, Mama, look at me!” The delighted cry reverberated across the playground as my happy children enjoyed the swings with my mom. For some reason, hearing their voices request my attention gripped my heart in a fresh way; it was poignant because they wanted me to share in their joy and to validate their experience. I also realized that it is the cry of my heart and that of every human on this planet called Earth. It’s not a desire to be on center stage, but rather a desire to be seen, heard, and known.

As humans created in the image of God, we crave community. In fact, it is pivotal to our survival and the shaping of our identity. We determine our norms and set our standards according to the reaction of those around us – good or bad.  And so, when we go unnoticed we often feel invisible at worst, directionless at best. From the newest newborn to the oldest adult, our voices ever cry, “Look at me!”

“Look at me!” squeals the young child who has just figured out how to zip zippers and button buttons.

“Look at me!” screams the purple hair and pierced nostril of the lonely teenager.

“Look at me!” pleads the exhausted mother trying to hold in the tears and hold together the home.

“Look at me!” says the work-weary husband who is trying to give his best to home, work, family, and marriage.

“Look at me!” whispers the frail nursing home resident waiting for a visitor who never comes.

“Look at me!” declares the Creator God.

This longing cry to be noticed and affirmed echoes our Creator’s heart.  He beckons us to look to him for hope, joy, meaning, purpose, and salvation.  We were designed to look to Him first and foremost and until we do, no matter how few or many people recognize and affirm our existence, we will always be longing for more.

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Judging Tomorrow

I don’t know about you, but my default is to fret and fear…especially about the future, ESPECIALLY now that I have 4 children.  There’s something about the unknown, or the element of uncertainty about what I do know (or am pretty sure of), that can send chills down my spine, put beads of sweat on my brow, and squeeze my gut with an iron fist.  And come to think of it, I think I fear tomorrow more than I fear anything else.  Maybe there’s something about just having had a baby that makes me a bit more anxious about life (the reduced sleep might have something to do with that) or perhaps I’m just being a bit OCD these days, but it feels like my mind has been spinning nonstop about all that awaits me tomorrow…and the tomorrow after that…and the tomorrow after that.  I know that’s how I was  certainly feeling yesterday, but I learned a couple of refreshing things today that I would like to share with you regarding this fear.

  • Do not judge tomorrow with today’s energy. I am usually frightened about all that I must do: the lives depending upon me, the long list of essential tasks that must be done, the errands that must be run, the schooling that must be accomplished (even though we are still a couple of years away from that, I still think about it), the meals that must be prepared, the potty-training and shoe-tying and sleep training that are resting on my shoulders…this endless list spins like a tornado through my mind continuously.  However,  I noticed that I am more aware of tomorrow’s to-do list at the end of the day when I am the most tired.  In the mornings, no matter how rough my night has been, I find that I have the energy to start my new day and take on the challenges that come with it. The Bible assures me that God provides me with my daily bread, and I have concluded that that includes a daily energy supply as well. Today’s energy will meet today’s needs.
  • Do not judge tomorrow by today’s experiences. When I have had a very bad day, it is easy to assume that tomorrow will only be worse. If I’ve learned of some tragedy on the news, I brace myself for the terrible thing that will happen tomorrow. If there’s been a falling out with a friend or family member, I wait for everyone else to hate me tomorrow. It sounds silly, I know, but wait – it gets even sillier: If I’ve had an amazing day, I assume that tomorrow can never be as good or wonderful and I still dread the brand new day waiting for me. The fact is that today is today and tomorrow needs a chance to be all God designed it to be.  The Bible says that Christ’s mercies are new every morning; that means that tomorrow is the fresh start I need every day.
  • Do not judge tomorrow with today’s emotions. Those fickle fiends called emotions! How they send all of us on roller coaster rides of immense happiness and sorrow! They whisper confidence or doubt in my ear according to their whim in the moment and much of what I expect out of tomorrow is based on how I am feeling today. Emotions are the antithesis of stability, the antonym of constancy.  When facing the future, I cannot look to myself or my feelings; I must look to the only Being who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Bible says that God is the great I AM. He is just as present tomorrow as He is today.

These little lessons can be summarized in a basic but profound truth: the one thing I do know about tomorrow is that God is there. All of my fears and frets are me-focused: “How will I feel?” “How will I respond?” “How will I manage?”  They cause me anxiety because I know that I am weak and inconsistent; but God is not.  As the hymn declares, “Because He lives I can face tomorrow” and that is really all I need to know about the future.

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Falling Asleep on my Shoulder

This morning I cut nearly 40 tiny fingernails (give or take a few newborn ones). It’s random facts like that which open my eyes to life right now. Every day there’s the feeding, changing, potty training, cleaning up after, playing, teaching, bathing and putting to bed that can overshadow the growth that is occurring without pause: growth in them and in me. More times in a day than I can count it seems that I blink and suddenly see my children with wonder. When did she begin to articulate her feelings in words? When did he develop such initiative? When did she become so brave? When did he get so big in my arms?

I snuggled my newborn on my shoulder while he fussed. I instinctively knew that in just a few minutes he would be asleep. I patted his back, absorbed his sounds and scents, and pondered. In the midst of postpartum tears, frayed nerves from having my heart pulled in so many different directions, and a decent amount of anxiety over how I actually will manage the care and nurturing of these four tiny people and still manage to keep us well-rounded individuals, it’s easy for me to miss my own personal growth.  My 9-day old spring baby has inspired me to reflect on the growth that has come with each season’s baby.

My summer baby took me into uncharted waters. His pregnancy gave me every symptom in the What to Expect When You are Expecting  book. Miserable was an understatement in describing how I felt during those 10 months of carrying him. His birth was nearly as difficult but oh! the joy his entrance into this world brought to my heart! And that joy has only multiplied as I discover the world through his eyes. He is noble, caring, spontaneous, steady, funny, and straightforward. I rarely have cause to doubt his words because truth is something he already values at the tender age of three and a half years old.  He is my continual introduction to motherhood and my inspiration for creativity and discovery.

My fall baby introduced me to the delight of having a daughter. I had longed for a daughter and she brought out a level of nurturing in me that I never knew existed. Her pregnancy and birth were easy compared to my previous experience and her personality matches. Through her example I am increasing my efforts to nurture the already established relationships in my family; I am seeking to practice tenderness as I observe her observing me; I recognize my significance in the lives of my children as I set the standard for what it means to be a wife and mom in their minds.  With her entrance into my life, I became a mother of children and discovered that it is possible to love more than one.

My winter baby impressed on me the reality of full-time motherhood. When I had only two children, I still had some wiggle room in my free time. My newest little girl prompted me to readjust my priorities and give more time and attention to simply being available for my growing flock. She also stretched my time management abilities as I worked out a routine that flowed with all three.  This little one’s personality has traits quite unlike her siblings which have broadened my understanding of mothering. She needs me in unique ways that cause me to slow down and tune in a little more than I am used to doing.  This addition to our family helped me to overcome my fear of my parenting comfort zone being challenged.

My spring baby is the zenith of my life at this time. His birth is an answer to my prayer for a home delivery: what an incredibly powerful experience and a bulwark memory that I can recall whenever I feel like I am facing an insurmountable task or difficulty. At only 9 days of age, his presence in my life has been peaceful and filled with endless snuggles. I think this is because his birth celebrated and trusted my maternal instinct in a way that was neglected with the other three. I do not feel like an old hat at being his mom; I just feel like it’s the most natural thing in the world. I am filled with excitement about discovering him as an individual and seeing what fresh dimensions he will add to our family.

All in all, these seasons of motherhood have grown me as a mom, obviously, but I think I am also growing in understanding the essentials of life. One of these is simplicity: a non-negotiable in this new season of parenting four under the age of four. However, I think simplicity is valuable for everybody. When routines, desires, goals, and schedules are overly complicated, we tend to miss the point of all that we are doing. But I digress.  Not only will I be simplifying out of necessity, I am already simplifying out of desire – a desire to be present when my kids excitedly say “Good morning!” when they wake up, when they regale me with random stories in which they conquered alligators, sharks and iguanas, when I am cutting 40 tiny fingernails, and when my littlest person is falling asleep on my shoulder.

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