The Forgotten Holiday

At first I thought this was going to be a good chance to remember some of the ways God has blessed us this past year. And it has. But Quentin also reminded me of the importance of being grateful for everything, even the little things like chairs to sit on or leaves to play in.

Not long ago someone told me I was a Scrooge. Seriously! Scrooge?

My crime? Wanting to celebrate Thanksgiving before we celebrate Christmas.

Yes, I’m one of “those” people. But I do love Christmas. I love Christmas carols. I love manger scenes and diy Christmas decorations. I can’t wait for Christmas lights. I’m just saddened by the way we skip over Thanksgiving.

We spend too much of our lives focused on getting more. Even Christmas, despite our best intentions, tends that direction.

Each year more stores are open on Thanksgiving. More people call it “Turkey Day.” And more schools drop all reference to the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. Even the library won’t talk about Thanksgiving in their story time. No Pilgrims, either. Just pumpkins and scarecrows and turkeys.

I don’t want to follow that trend. So, if it means waiting another month or two to sing “O Holy Night,” I will do it. (Seriously, why don’t we have more beautiful Thanksgiving songs?)

One of the things we started this year to encourage gratitude in our home is a Thanksgiving tree. I made the tree out of brown paper and cut out different colored leaves. In a burst of inspiration, I ran the leaves through the laminator so I wouldn’t have to cut out new ones every year.

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Quentin enjoyed helping me hang up the tree and get the leaves ready. (Isn’t my tree pathetic? I’m the only one in the family who got zero artistic ability. Oh well!)

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Elena is too little to participate, so this has become Quentin’s tree. Each day he picks one thing he’s thankful for. We write it on the leaf  with a dry erase marker and tape it up. At first Quentin needed prompting to come up with things he was thankful for. Now he’s figured out what this is all about. I have to admit, a 3-year-old can come up with some crazy things to be thankful for–like chairs, doors, and leaves. Sometimes I give guidance, but my husband pointed out that if we are teaching Quentin to express thankfulness, we need to let him choose what he’s thankful for. So our list is unusual, to say the least!

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At first I thought this was going to be a good chance to remember some of the ways God has blessed us this past year. And it has. But Quentin also reminded me of the importance of being grateful for everything, even the little things like chairs to sit on or leaves to play in.

The Joy of Hospitality, Part 2

Aren’t you glad God is creative? As humans made in His image, we get to participate in that creative spirit. And one of the ways we get to be creative is with hospitality!

Hospitality means “love of strangers” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible). With that definition in mind, there are many ways to show love to one another. The definition also reminds us that we are to show hospitality to everyone–not just close friends and family.

When people think of hospitality, they usually think of having people in their home for a meal or overnight. And that is a wonderful way to show hospitality. It is an especially wonderful way to get to know people one doesn’t know well.

But what if your home is too small or under construction. Or perhaps you work crazy hours. Or maybe there is a new baby or a sick child. Does that mean we cannot be hospitable? Of course not! There are many creative ways to show hospitality (love) to others.

Here is a list of some of the ways I’ve practiced hospitality or had hospitality shown to me:

  • Have someone over for a meal
  • Open up your home for someone to spend the night
  • Take a meal to someone who is shut-in
  • Invite someone over for lunch or tea or dessert–this would be easier than planning a whole meal (especially if you just serve brownies and ice cream).
  • If you have the money, take someone out to eat
  • Go on a picnic, hike, and/or play date at the park
  • Invite someone to go with you to a play, concert, or museum
  • The options are endless. What matters is you are spending quality one-on-one time with someone.

One of the ways I’ve made it easier to have people over for lunch is by having a set menu. I’m not kidding. It may seem a bit cheesy, but if you come over for lunch, you will probably have chicken and grape salad sandwiches or taco salad. They are two of our favorite lunches, easy to make, and I usually have the ingredients on hand. Knowing what I’m going to make takes the stress out of planning a meal, especially if it ends up being spontaneous.

I know some people have a set hospitality menu for dinner as well. I’m not consistent with that, but Friday night is always pizza night at our house, so if you are invited over on a Friday night, it will be pizza. (My husband is devastated if I serve anything else on Fridays.) And if we need to come up with a dessert in a hurry, we always make brownies with his grandma’s peppermint frosting or serve ice cream in my cute mini glass trifle bowls.

It may sound strange to have a set menu, but most people don’t care what you serve. They are just thrilled to have someone show an interest in them. A couple of weeks ago we had a couple over for Friday night supper. It was just pizza and salad, but you’d have thought it was lasagna or a roast beef dinner. They were so appreciative!

I used to think my house had to be spotless. No one could come over unless I’d dusted and vacuumed everything. I still try to have my house clean. People should feel comfortable, and it’s hard to feel comfortable if you are tripping over toys or have to move laundry in order to sit down. But I’ve relaxed a lot. If I wait for the perfect time, the spotless home, or the Pinterest-inspired dinner menu, I’ll never have anyone over. If that happens, my family will be missing out on one of God’s greatest blessings and commands.

 

The Joy of Hospitality, Part 1

And that is the wonder of hospitality. It doesn’t matter whether you serve roast turkey or pizza. It doesn’t make a difference if you use china or paper plates. People are starved for meaningful relationships–for communication that goes deeper than texts and Facebook and a “How are you,” “I’m fine” exchange on Sunday morning.

One of the greatest blessings in my life is sharing our home with others. Sharing a meal, a conversation, or just some dessert, or a walk in the park. No matter how we do it, hospitality is a blessing–one I’ve learned to love sharing with others.

But I didn’t always think of it as a blessing.

Initially it was scary. I felt vulnerable. What would I say? What would we do? What would they think of our home, the food, the conversation. What if they were bored! I made excuses. I put it off. I even made my husband make the invitation! Hospitality terrified me.

(I’m shy. I really am. Okay, maybe I’m just insecure!)

But we kept doing it . . . and doing it . . . and doing it.

And then I realized something. And it was revolutionary!

I hate parties. I’m horrible at small talk. I get that horrible pit-in-my-stomach feeling in large social situations. But in my home it is different. It is smaller, more intimate, more personal. I can relax. I’m okay in small groups. (In fact, I prefer them.) In the right setting, small talk gives way to something deeper–true, meaningful communication. And that is what my soul craves.

Yes, I have to make it through the first few minutes of pleasantries. But my husband is there. He is the master of small talk. Of asking questions. Of making others feel at ease and important. I’m so grateful for him.

I can tag along. Gradually I start to relax. The conversation becomes deeper. The fellowship more meaningful. And instead of feeling drained, I find myself being filled.

And that is the wonder of hospitality. It doesn’t matter whether you serve roast turkey or pizza. It doesn’t make a difference if you use china or paper plates. People are starved for meaningful relationships–for communication that goes deeper than texts and Facebook and a “How are you,” “I’m fine” exchange on Sunday morning.

It doesn’t even matter if my house is clean. (I’m still working on letting that truth sink in; it may take a while!) When I open up my home, I’m opening up myself. I’m showing someone s/he is important to me. And everyone wants to feel valued.

Perhaps that is why Peter mentions hospitality in connection with brotherly love:

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another” (I Peter 4:8-10a).

Hospitality is an act of love. Love is an action, remember? It grows as I act on it. And love is serving. As I serve, I show I care. As I care, I learn to love.

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

(Stay tuned. Next week, I’ll talk about some simple ways to show hospitality you can implement no matter how crazy your life or home is at present.)

 

 

Wanting More

It is too easy to get comfortable and stop wanting more. Even if the status quo isn’t great, it is familiar. It is easy to identify with Hamlet. Life “makes us rather bear those ills we have, Than fly to others that we know not of.”

Elena was born wanting more. When she could hold up her head, she was furious she couldn’t roll. When she learned to roll, she was upset she couldn’t crawl. Now that she crawls, she is frustrated she can’t crawl faster. Soon, I’m sure, she will be trying to walk. Her life motto is, “More is never enough!”

I hope this (sometimes) annoying characteristic will carry over in positive areas. I want her to be like this spiritually–never satisfied with the status quo.

I will not be so excited if this urge for something bigger and better pushes her into debt, or addictions, or up the steep slopes of Mount Everest!

It is too easy to get comfortable and stop wanting more. Even if the status quo isn’t great, it is familiar. It is easy to identify with Hamlet. Life “makes us rather bear those ills we have, Than fly to others that we know not of.”

I’m glad I wasn’t raised to be complacent. You can’t have an idealist for a mother and be satisfied the way things are. Granted, her idealism led us down some crazy paths, but it also helped us learn to be independent thinkers who are always desiring something better from life–better ways of doing things, deeper friendships, fool-proof schedules (they actually don’t exist!), and a closer walk with God. Just when we thought we’d figured out the best way to do something, Mom was sure to think of a way to improve it. Now that is one perfectionistic idealist!

And God is another perfectionistic idealist. He doesn’t want me to be complacent. In fact, as soon as I start to get comfortable, He finds some new way to push me out of my shell. Some of those ways have been more traumatic than others, but I’ve learned to appreciate the results–eventually!

Right now I’ve been experiencing one of those times. I’m a bit scared. I don’t have as much of a thirst for “more” as my daughter. Or maybe life experience has made me more cautious. There is an internal conflict going on. I want more, but I’m scared of where it will take me.

I don’t know where God will take me. I do know, though, that He won’t let me down. He has a goal in mind. His goal is perfect Christ-likeness. It isn’t attainable here on earth, but it is still the goal. It is called Progressive Sanctification. And it is never satisfied with the way things are. It always want something more.

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God is Enough

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you . . . covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5

I am familiar with images of idols–be they Hindu, Egyptian, Greek, or Roman.

I am also familiar with less traditional idols. The idols that are talked about in Sunday sermons–sports, celebrities, money, fame–anything that becomes more important than God. A baby, a spouse, a beautiful home, a much-desired job promotion. Or, for me, a library full of books. A place to lose myself for a few minutes; to escape from life.

But though all of those things can be idols, none of those are what Paul is referring to in Colossians 3:5 when he talks about idolatry.

Of course I know coveting is wrong. After all, it is the 10th commandment: “Thou shalt not covet.” But recognizing coveting as idolatry–a substitute for God–makes me view it differently.

It isn’t about greed, or about me becoming dissatisfied or discontent with what God has given me.

It isn’t about me damaging my relationship with someone because I covet what she has.

It is about God.

It is about damaging my relationship with Him–devaluing who He is.

It is me saying, “He isn’t enough.” He, who gave EVERYTHING for me, is not enough.

I have to let that sink in for a while.

He, who gave everything for me, is not enough.

No wonder Paul says I need to put it to death. Covetousness is a relationship killer. If I want a vibrant, joyful relationship with God, I have no choice but to choose to be content with what He’s given me. I have no other alternative than to kill it. And kill it again. And ask God to help me, because I can’t kill it on my own. Because I choose Him and fullness of joy.

Staying Above Water During PPD (Or Any Other Rough Time)

During the worst of it, it took everything I had to get out of bed. Even feeding my baby seemed overwhelming. I wasn’t sleeping. I couldn’t eat. High levels of anxiety and random panic attacks stalked me throughout the day. And it went on and on. I would panic thinking how could I possibly make it through one more day, let alone one more week, absolutely not one more month. I did. I survived, not once, but twice. Not everyone does.

There is more than one way to get through Post Partum Depression–or any other hard time in one’s life. But there is no magic, immediate answer, just a lot of little, gradual fixes.

I was desperate for a quick fix. But they doesn’t exist for things like depression.

So I was forced to immplement a lot of little fixes. Some of them worked better than others. Some of them may well have been placebos, but they all helped. Maybe some of them will help you:

Do one thing for yourself each day. I know this sounds crazy, especially if you can barely get out of bed, but you need to do this. Even if you don’t feel like doing it, do it anyway. You have to push yourself. Walk around the yard 1 time, smell a flower, listen to a favorite song, read a page in a book, watch a movie, something! Seriously, sometimes walking outside seemed too much, but I was always glad I made the effort. It did help.

Dress better than you feel. Don’t give in to the urge to stay in your pj’s and forget the hairbrush. Force yourself to do more. Some days I succeeded better than others. Some days jeans, a shirt,  and a ponytail was a huge effort. At least I was dressed and my hair was brushed. Looking terrible only makes you feel worse! Some days I could add some mascara. Some days not. But I always pushed myself. It was worth it!

Do one household chore a day. If you are a task-focused person like me, sitting around unable to clean my house or care for my family only added to the feelings of failure and depression. At the same time, doing all those things was unthinkable! I made it my goal to do one thing a day. Sometimes that meant folding a load of laundry. Other days it meant putting a few dishes in the dishwasher. It was hard. It was overwhelming, but I felt better afterwards. Eventually I was able to do more. I started helping my husband make dinner. I added another item or two to my to-do list. I started making dinner by myself. I got out the cloth diapers again. The progress was slow, but I felt like less of a failure when I actually accomplished something–anything. After all, I’m supposed to be a mom, right? I’m supposed to care for my family.

Find friends/family to listen to you. You need someone to listen. Some days you just need a shoulder to cry on. Be careful, though. You don’t need criticism, to feel judged, or to have someone try to “fix” you. Find safe people who will listen, encourage, and care. I’m so grateful my mom made me a priority during that time. She has 6 kids, works part-time, and home schools my youngest sister. She is one busy lady. But she would answer my calls or texts any time of the day or night. It meant so much to me! Several other friends were also so helpful and encouraging. I couldn’t have made it through without them. It can also be helpful to find a good Christian counselor to talk to.

Hopefully you have a spouse who is caring and supportive. My husband literally put his life on hold to care for the kids, make meals, listen to me cry, and remind me over and over again that I was not a failure. Jonathan gets up at 2:45 in the morning to go to work, but during that time he regularly stayed up praying with me or caring for  Elena so I could try to sleep. If you don’t have a husband who can do that, find a friend or family member to come stay with you. You need that 24/7 support.

Spend time in God’s Word. This is a big struggle for me. I think it is a struggle for most moms of little children. I was so thrilled to discover swtblessings.com. She puts together daily Scripture passages for her readers to copy out. (That first month just happened to be on anxiety and fear.) I started doing Scripture writing before going to bed each night. Then I would meditate on that passage/verse while I tried to fall asleep. I also began to journal a sentence or two at the end of each Scripture writing–just how I was doing and any ways I had seen God working that day. And we prayed, and prayed, and prayed!

There are many other great strategies you can try. If you can find a medication that works for you, it can be very helpful. But most antidepressants take 2-4 weeks to take effect, so they aren’t an immediate fix.  Also, if you are breastfeeding, that makes taking prescription and over-the-counter medications more difficult. Hormonal supplements, especially bioidentical Progesterone, help some women. So does taking a magnesium supplement. I started drinking a cup of tea every night–first chamomile and later catnip. (I know it sounds weird, but it tastes like mint, and it actually acts as a sedative for humans.) I don’t know how much the tea helped my insomnia, but at least it was relaxing and enjoyable. My mom also bought me a diffuser. Certain essential oils, such as lavender and orange, help improve one’s mood. Exercise is huge, too. We began taking daily walks together as a family after supper. I noticed it did temporarily improve my mood–as I said, there is no magic cure, just a lot of little ones.

Recognize there is no magic cure, but anything that helps even a little is worth it. Find what works for you. The little things add up.

I hope this list is helpful to anyone who is going through PPD or knows someone who is. Actually, I’ve permanently implemented many of these strategies in my home. They help even when I’m not struggling with Post Partum Depression. After all, everyone has bad days now and then!

 

Finding Joy

Perhaps it is a journey. A path one follows. A life direction. Choices. Habits. Thoughts.

Joy–It’s a deep hunger–my greatest desire–a desperate passion.

What is this thing I seek so passionately? Is it something that is found, like a sea shell? One moment I’m joyless; the next moment my life is flooded?

Or is it more like love–creeping up on one, until “I was in the middle of it before I knew that I had begun” (Pride and Prejudice chapter 60)?

Or perhaps it is a journey. A path one follows. A life direction. Choices. Habits. Thoughts.

But what choices? What thoughts? What habits?

If life is path, what path do I follow? Success? Money? Prestige? Do those paths lead to joy?

Or is there another path–narrow, deserted, and hard–less appealing than the others. The path to life.

“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy.”

Joy. An “Intense and ecstatic or exultant happiness” (The American Heritage Dictionary). Happiness taken to a whole new level. Ecstatic. God has promised that kind of happiness when I seek His presence.

He doesn’t promise it will be easy. There are no guarantees of success, or fame, or money. In fact, it may be downright hard!

But when I seek his presence–through prayer, worship, or meditating on His Word–I will find “fullness of joy.” It’s a promise. Joy will come!img_6815

 

 

 

 

Prayer Board

Too often in the futile search for the perfect time, I end up doing nothing at all.

As any mom of young children can, I’m sure, attest, it is so difficult to find a consistent time of any length to spend in prayer.

Too often in the futile search for the perfect time, I end up doing nothing at all.

For some time, I’ve been brainstorming a solution to the problem.

Here is part of the solution. It’s not perfect. However, I can guarantee I spend a considerable amount of time in front of the sink doing dishes EVERY SINGLE DAY!

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Quentin made this simple dry erase board at a Home Depot workshop. It is the perfect size. I can prop it up on the window sill and easily update it with prayer requests. At the very least, it is a reminder of who needs prayer.

I’m really hoping this helps me remember to pray for some of you more often. Even if it is only 2 minutes at a time, it is better than nothing, right? At this stage of my life, every 2 minutes counts!

Do any of you have any strategies that have worked for you? If you have any you’d like to share, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear them (and try some, too!).

Separation Anxiety

When was the last time I literally freaked out if I didn’t get some time alone with Him each day? When was the last time my world fell apart because I just had to be with Him.

Some days I almost wish she loved me less. Okay, not really! There is nothing more precious than a little girl who is desperate to be with her mommy–even when she wakes up in the middle of the night to find me.

Which reminds me . . . there should be nothing more precious than a believer desperate to be with her Savior.

Wow, when was the last time I felt that way about God? When was the last time I literally freaked out if I didn’t get some alone time with Him each day? When was the last time I was more desperate to pray than to sleep, read a new book, or find some chocolate?

Some of it is just a phase. When you have a toddler and a 6-month-old, lengthy periods of time by oneself are a rare luxury. It is not that I don’t want to spend more time studying the Bible or praying. It is just hard to find time with out interruptions: Mommy, I need  a diaper change; Mommy, I’m hungry; Mommy, Elena took my toy; Mommy, look at that dog outside (interspersed with crying from the  nonverbal member of the family), etc.

But some of it is a choice. 

Some days I choose to clean my house, go on a walk, call a friend, or read a book. I choose to do those things first. I intend to spend time with God after that, but then the baby wakes up, the toddler needs disciplining, supper needs to be cooked. . . . It is not intentional, but by not choosing to put Him first, I choose to give God the leftovers. He gets the fragments at the end of the day.

Maybe it is time I  choose to be more of an infant–let go of some independence and develop some healthy separation anxiety.

 

 

The Giver of Life

I am always amazed at how God perfectly orchestrates His will. Nothing takes Him by surprise, and He often makes sure nothing takes us by surprise either.

Just a few days before my miscarriage, I was reading the story of Hannah. God impressed on my heart the truth that all life belongs to Him. Our children are just a temporary gift–a loan. He can choose to take them back at any moment.

When my miscarriage started, I was in denial. It couldn’t be happening. My husband convinced me to call the midwife. Even then, I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t be miscarrying. I had cramping and bleeding at 8 weeks with Quentin. This was the same, right?

But when the cramping became pain so bad I couldn’t sleep or move, I knew.

When I hemorrhaged on the way home from church, I knew.

When my hormones went crazy and stayed that way for months, I knew.

It was hard to grieve. It was harder to cry. This tiny life I barely knew existed was gone without us ever meeting face-to-face. I never got to hear a heartbeat. I never got to feel the first flutters that turn into violent kicks. I wanted to grieve; I just didn’t know how. It seemed as if God had let me go.

But He hadn’t. He prepared me. He led me to the story of Hannah. He gave me a friend who had gone through this a couple of years before. He gave me Himself. He too knew the pain of being separated from a child.

He is the giver of life. That title grants Him the right to take it away, too. He did.

And, in His time, He gave us another life.

Sometimes when I watch Elena (5 months) laughing and playing, I wonder about the other baby. S/he would have been almost a year. Learning to walk. Starting to talk. Was I right? Was that baby a boy?

But if that baby had lived, Elena wouldn’t be here. How do I wrap my mind around that? I want both of them, but one wouldn’t be here without the other being gone.

God had a plan. He knows why. Maybe someday I will know, too. What I do know is He was faithful through the loss and provided healing through the gain.