October 28: Write 31 Days: The Discipleship that is Motherhood

Sometimes the best kind of discipleship--
the vessel that lays down ones life
and instead takes up His--
is the kind in which you have no choice.

I suppose there's always a choice,
but in vocations like Motherhood
you can't send the children back, 
as much as you want to some days.

It's a forcible dying to self before
the child even enters the world.
The change of diet and drinking habits, 
of sleeping and bathroom breaks.

It's a loss of modesty in the mess 
of it all, in the casting of your body 
aside to give life to another.
Life that changes yours forever.

It's sacrificed sleep and sanity, too,
to care for the sweet babe.
Feeding schedules, dirty diapers 
and more consume your life.

Their needs first; your needs last.
More experienced moms say that
this too shall pass, but in the trenches
of long days it's hard to understand.

The self does not go willingly but
Flails and stomps and storms about.
Even mothers have an inner toddler who
Could use to learn a lesson or two.

Over time you realize the joy that comes
with serving others first. The love and 
satisfaction that comes in frequent bursts.
And you slowly start to conceive that

The "important" things you cared about 
don't really matter all that much.
Because new life always springs from 
the One who was broken for us.

The Secret to Living Big in This Life

Live simply so others may simply live. {Ghandi}

We were all sitting around the dinner table the other night, sausage sandwiches and macaroni and cheese strewn about on mismatched plates.

"These new chairs are so comfortable!" my son exclaims.

He brought them in off the front porch that night and placed them neatly around the table, willingly and without complaint. We really needed more kitchen chairs, and these happened to be free.

After a painful series of "Doubles" addition YouTube videos finished, we talked about school and upcoming events, among other things. 

"These new chairs are awesome! They are soo comfortable!" my son exclaims, again.

I chuckle and, leaning over to my husband, whisper, "I love that he shares our low standards."

And we both laughed. 

The "new" chairs, comfortable as they may be, are clearly old church chairs of some kind. They were going to be thrown out but instead have a second chance at life in our home. Far from glamorous, they are functional and fill a void we were lacking. We may reupholster them, but part of me wonders if it's even worth it, because the kids are going to ruin them either way.

As I glance around the room, I note that our current kitchen table was also free, as was the one before it. The end tables and most of the furniture in our living room were given to us by one person or another, and so were most of the items in the bedrooms upstairs.

What dawned on me that night at the dinner table was kids don't care about that kind of stuff. They're just happy to have a seat to sit on, bonus points if it happens to be a comfortable one. Their small hearts don't naturally reside there--it's parents and the culture at large that feed them the myth that it should.

It starts at a young age with well-meaning parents who want to bless their children and give them the world. They unconsciously set the expectations. They groom their standard of "normal." It continues as families settle down in nice little suburban developments or country designer homes, watching every summer as Mr. Smith down the road gets a tractor upgrade or as Bob across the street sets up increasingly spectacular light displays with each passing Christmas. 

It's the unspoken competition for the fanciest parties, the most well-manicured yard, the highest achieving children. It's the road map for success on this side of things that tells school-aged children they must go to college, hop the escalator to the career fastback, buy a home and car tricked out with all the latest stuff, and retire at 50 in order to have a happy and successful life. 

But I wonder in this mad dash to have it all, to achieve the American Dream regardless of the cost, financial or otherwise--and there's always a cost--if we've missed the secret to living big in this life.

Living big outwardly--whether it be bigger houses, bigger vacations, bigger bank accounts, bigger storage units, bigger yachts--doesn't yeild a bigger heart. It doesn't yield a bigger attitude of gratitude or a bigger appreciation for the people in your life. The only thing it's probably guaranteed to yield is a bigger desire for more.

Because the secret to really living big, living Life that is Truly Lifeis actually living small.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? {Matthew 16:24-26}

What if, instead of pursuing bigger homes or flat screen tv's, we pursued bigger hearts?

What if, instead of striving for promotions, we sought to promote the needs of others above our own, consciously choosing to live small, below our means, in order to give the rest away?

What if we exchanged the hurry and stress of a full schedule of activities for simple, quality time with those we love? A game of catch in the backyard between a father and son instead of a season of half-hearted games under the glare of the sweltering sun? Dance parties in the kitchen instead of skipping family meals in order to make it to dance class several times a week? And, dare I say it, devotions around the dining room table as a family from time to time instead of dropping the children off to learn from someone else every Wednesday night?

What if we spent half as much time focusing inward on the health of the small, fist-sized organ in our chest as we do on the outward appearance of our person, home, career, and children?

Sometimes small really is big. Sometimes less really is more. Less to clean, less to manage. Less to fight over, less to lose. Less to organize, less to pay off. Less to heat, less to cool, less to maintain. Less to fuss about, less to control.

Less in some areas naturally leaves room for more in others. 

I guess the question to leave us with today would be, where is the extra room in your life?

October 21: Write 31 Days: To Live Within Your Means

I had most of the bin filled with off-season clothes already when I noticed the old label on the side.

Boy clothes.

How many years have passed since I printed that neat, white label on my handy organizing must-have, only to have misplaced it all these years later somewhere in the abyss of unpacked boxes in the basement. How many other bins of clothes have since been sloppily thrown together and tossed to the side to be rummaged through again the next season in equal haste.

Once upon a time, much like a nice little fairy tale, I used to be organized. A place for everything and everything had a place, with labels to boot. I cleaned my house weekly and completed tedious "extra" tasks, such as vacuuming couches and stairs, regularly. There were meal plans and menu boards, and upon reading the yummy list of options for the week, friends would say, "I'm eating at your house!"

About three children into this whole motherhood thing, the scales tipped against the camaraderie I had with the noble pursuit of organization. Really, it was probably after the second kid, when I stood home alone for long and weary days, desperately outnumbered and reduced to a pile of tears or sheer numbness by tiny humans barely three feet tall.

It wasn't that I no longer wanted to be organized, that I didn't want my days to run smoothly. I was one person now stretched three ways thin. Then four ways thin, and now soon to be five. It was the simple realization that a mother of four, or certainly five, cannot perform in the same capacity as a mother of one. The freeing conclusion that, for a mother of four, priorities were simply not the same as they were with one.

As the seasons of our lives shift seamlessly as summer does to fall, as the families under our roof grow and change, we need to learn anew how to live within our means. As humans, as women, as mothers.

Not our financial means, although that certainly does play a role, but I'm speaking more of our physical, emotional and mental means. Because those change with time, and it's okay.

For many years I strove to achieve this ideal image of a stay-at-home wife and mother. For myself, mostly. I thought my house should look a certain way, that my children should behave a certain way at all times. The pressure I put on myself was intense, and I would feel incredibly guilty if I yelled at my children or didn't manage to keep up with every task at home like I thought I should.

And while there may be some type A+ people who can keep up with mopping floors and washing bedding and dusting crevices and whatever else on a weekly basis, I finally had to face the reality that it's just not me.

For me, sustaining those demands is not living within my means. Because I became a very angry, resentful person when I tried to do so. I sacrificed quality time with my kids for clean floors, traded good communication with my husband for a thorough deep-cleaning, and exchanged the calmness of letting go for the stress of keeping up.

If you want to know the truth, I'm actually on the I-can't-remember-the-last-time-I-mopped-my-floors cleaning schedule now. Contrary to popular germaphobe propaganda, you will not, in fact, keel over and die from dirty floors. Or bedsheets. Or bathrooms. Just in case you were wondering.

Life that is truly life isn't found in striving towards an imaginary ideal or comparing your life to someone else. It exists in the freedom of being enough exactly as you are. Doing what you need to do for yourself and your family in order for you to survive, and on a good day, even thrive. And that will look different for everyone, because Lord knows we all function at a different capacity.

As needs change, so do priorities. A friend of mine mentioned over the summer that she had been up until 1:00am scrubbing her toddler's muddy shoes clean.

Girl, please.

I laughed to myself as I thought about the pile of muddy shoes that have been sitting by our side door for months. In fact, they're still there today. Ain't nobody got time for that. Seeing as how a colony of spiders has apparently moved in, the only place they're going now is the garbage can.

Priorities. That's good enough for me.

October 13: Write 31 Days: A Child is Missing and Hope is Found

It was a Sunday morning just like any other, save for the extra snuggles in bed with the tiny, a big breakfast thrown together on the stove, and a much-needed shower that I tried to cram into too little time before church. We arrived later then usual, but I still ushered all the children where they needed to be before too much was missed. 

I sat with my husband in the back, held his hand, and drank my warm mug of coffee. The kid-free hour is refreshing, and I had time to be still and breathe deep the unsung blessings of life.

We stopped home after church to regroup before running back out, and that's when we heard.

A teenage girl had been missing since last Monday when she failed to show up at school.


Why are we just hearing about this now??

We saw her parents just that morning as they left at the end of service, the typical smiles on their faces and baby in their hand. They speak but a few words of English, so politely we nod in response. 

And although the religious persecution may have subsided as they washed up on freedom's shore, the cloud of oppression has far from lifted. It's so easy to take for granted that we live in a familiar land. That labels in the grocery store are decipherable. That directions make sense. That conversations and books and instructions all around us are written in a language we understand.

They went to the police as soon as they realized she was gone, but no one could understand them. 

They didn't have a voice. 

She was their voice, their mouthpiece to the rest of the world, and she was missing. They went back day after day. No one knew how to help them. No one could make sense of their cries. 

No one knew.

We drove past their house every day. We picked up trash on their street. We walked right by, and we had no clue. To love your neighbor is to know your neighbor, and heaven help us, no one knew. 

Sometimes it's not that people aren't trying to speak, aren't crying out for help. Sometimes they just can't. And other times, we just don't listen. 

But on that normal Sunday, a woman took a moment to listen. She was able to understand enough, and she told someone with a voice. The voice told the police and gathered the church to wait and pray. 

Seven days. 

She had been missing for seven days.

A whole world can be created in seven days, but in a world of suffering, seven days is a lifetime.

If they spoke English, if they were white, action would've been taken in those critical first days. My heart ached at that reality, at the suffering of the marginalized. There was no amber alert issued, not a soul aware she had vanished.

I tried to be hopeful as I cried and prayed...

Lord, we know that You know exactly where she is at this very moment in time. We know you have the power to set her free. Please, Father, set her free. Bring her home. Move in the hearts of whomever may have her and bend them to your will. 

She could be out of the state by now. She could be in another country for all we know. I have read things, way too many things. I know what happens to girls who disappear from these streets. What happens the first day to render them helpless and hopeless, what happens every day after that for as long as they are imprisoned in hell.

Lord, we thank you that we are never without hope, because You are the Hope. You are the Resurrection and the Life. We know you can see both the beginning and the end of this right now. Father, wherever she is, comfort her. Give her family peace. Calm their fears. Give the detectives wisdom that she may be found soon, wherever she is. 

I can' t help but imagine the worst right now, and it seems like there's no hope. It's been too long.

But God, you collect every tear. You see. You know. You hear the voice of the voiceless when others cannot.

As I sat on the front porch in the sun, watching the pollen dance by on the summer breeze, that was a hard truth to swallow. Because the evil in the world seems to get away with so much. People, in the very hands of the devil himself, take and destroy so much. I know one day God will dry every tear, redeem all that was lost and more, but when the pain of the present is so raw and fresh...

We are like the flecks of pollen floating by in the sun, here today and gone tomorrow. But why is the journey so arduous for some? Why do some land softly in beauty, producing a crop of new life next season, while others get caught up in webs or stuck in puddles of mud? Why do still others wander away, never to be heard from again? 

Why are my children safe in their mother's arms when others are not?

Amid the questions and wailing, the hope and the doubt, the Lord isn't thwarted by fickle human hearts. He is Lord of all and moves things as He wills to accomplish His purposes on Earth. 

He heard the voice of the voiceless and the cries of the family of the church, and four hours later the girl was found. Alive, safe, and once again in the tearful embrace of her parents. 

God is still in the business of miracles, my friends. Against all odds, facts and statistics, He is still willing and able to do the impossible. 

Though a child may be missing, hope can always be found. 

Though the world be a blanket of darkness, the Light will always prevail.

For "today I saw who God is...."

October 10: Write 31 Days: Productivity

I have many big thoughts, but more on that tomorrow because today I'm tired. We all went to the RENEW the City Cleveland event with Envision today, and although I don't feel like I really did all that much, I'm zonked.

The kids and I picked up garbage along the side streets right by church. I think they were the most excited about the complimentary goggles and gloves. The kids were troopers, coming up to me, the garbage bag holder and fellow collector, with huge armfuls of garbage at a time. Toby was the Master Collector, and he definitely smelled like he had spent a clumsy morning at the pub instead of next to us on the street. Dirty and gross, but he had a great time! 

Everyone was tired, so we probably missed our golden opportunity for a family photo. One child had just been disciplined, another two were protesting the photo, and the baby was behind us, balling. But I smiled, so there's that. They all broke down into tears and hysterics after the photo.

Chaos=1, Family Photo=0

It does make you wonder sometimes about the people who are always posting perfect and polished photos of life, themselves, and their family. Is it that I'm chronically doing something wrong? Or are they less then honest about reality most of the time?

Because my reality is: 

The counter tops are rarely clean; the laundry is almost never folded and put away. 

The floor is hardly ever spotless and the toys are seldom picked up. 

The sheets aren't changed on a schedule and I'm a chronic piler on any surface.

If I take a picture that looks even remotely "perfect," it's because I've shoved the extra crap lying around just enough to the side as to not pick it up in the viewfinder. 

I do like it when the house is clean, when things are picked up and organized, when life works more like a well-oiled machine because I'm on top of things. But more often then not, I find value and place  my time elsewhere. 

I'll cuddle my kids on the couch instead of loading the dishwasher. 

We'll walk down to the park instead of being diligent on laundry day.

I'll spend time with my husband after the kids go to bed instead of finishing the tasks left undone.

I'll quiet my thoughts at nap time and read or write at the expense of productivity.

I guess maybe it boils down to how you define productive...