Finding My Way in the Dark

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20130424-201341.jpgI am not a fan of the dark, never have been and never will be.  I’m a self professed wimp–no bones about it.  I do everything in my power to keep some sort of light on in our house.  There are night-lights everywhere!  I make no apologies and admit it freely, I don’t like being in the dark, especially alone.

Several days ago I felt as though someone had turned the lights off in my mind.  I learned that a college friend had died within hours of giving birth to her first child.  To say it was a shock may quite possibly be the understatement of the year. It’s one of those things that you never imagine happening.  I couldn’t (still can’t) wrap my brain around it. After learning about her passing, it was as if someone had turned the lights off.  I just couldn’t shake the sense of loss I imagined her husband was dealing with and I struggled with thoughts of an innocent child losing its mother.  I read recently, that when you become a mom it’s as if your heart is laid bear making it vulnerable to every crisis and tragedy you encounter.  As though with each situation you feel the loss of that parent or that child.  The most difficult aspect for me right now is the lack of understanding.  I just don’t understand!

My mind has been so burdened and distracted by thoughts of her husband and son living life without her, that the last several days I’ve felt like I’m doing everything in the dark.  You see, I’ve always been one who searches for understanding.  If I can understand, then I can deal with any crisis or circumstance by focusing on the why behind it.  However, the older I get the more situations I encounter where there are NO answers to the questions that haunt me.

As I sat at the table today playing Playdoh with my 4 year old, my mind began to wander and I started to think about how I’ve found my way in the dark before.  I knew it wasn’t finding answers to the questions in my heart, but rather following closely behind the one who knows and sees all things.  You see, God knows how to lead us out of darkness. It’s my relationship with Jesus Christ that brought me out of darkness many years ago, and it’s that same relationship that still does in moments like these.

I can reflect on his faithfulness, as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  His love never fails and it never waivers.  His mercies are new EVERY morning.  He promised, not an easy life on this earth but that He would never leave us and never forsake us, no matter what comes our way.  He’s promised to take anything and everything in our lives, and if we trust him and allow him to, he will make them work for our good.  He gives us beauty for ashes.  He doesn’t leave us alone, but sent his Holy Spirit to comfort us, to guide us, and to speak peace over our restless souls.  I have found all these things to be true in my life, and I know God has been and will be just as faithful to this new father and his son.

As I thought of all these things tears welled up within my eyes and I began to sing to the God who makes all things new.  My young son heard me singing and looked into my eyes, and asked “Mommy, why are you singing sad songs to Jesus?”  “Oh sweetheart”, I replied, “these tears are not sad tears, they’re thankful tears.”  God has brought me through so much.  God is right here with us.  We are not alone and He helps us find our way in the dark.

“If my heart is overwhelmed and I cannot hear your voice

I hold onto what is true though I cannot see

If the storms of life they come and the road ahead gets steep

I will lift these hands in faith, I will believe

I’ll remind myself of all that you’ve done

and the life I have because of your son

Love came down, and rescued me, love came down and set me free

I am yours, I am forever yours

Mountains high or valley low, I sing out and remind my soul that

I am yours, I am forever yours…”

Love Came Down, by Brian Johnson and Jeremy Riddle 

Stopping Mommy Anger at its Root

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This is one of those posts I hesitate to write because it acknowledges something most of us don’t want to talk about. I don’t want people to think I’m a horrible mom or judge me for my lack of perfection. I know that it’s easy to read about someone else’s life and think they’ve got it all together. But the truth is, none of us are perfect. We all have our moments, especially in motherhood, when we fall flat on our faces. I hope that my willingness to let you in on my life helps you in some way.

Prior to marriage, I had never been one to deal with any sort of anger.  I just assumed that it wasn’t something I would ever struggle with…and then I gained in-laws who blew that assumption right out of the water!  Fast forward 7 years and two children later, and once again, I found myself fighting feelings welling up inside of me that I didn’t understand. I felt completely ill-equipped to deal with these emotions and ashamed of myself. Looking back I had a two year old and a high needs baby who cried way more than any child ever should. My youngest only slept when attached to my body and I seldom got a break. My husband’s job was extremely stressful adding to the anxiety in my own life. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I loved my kids and I even enjoyed being a mom. I wanted to be home with them. Somedays were fun and I loved my life. At other times I was so angry inside I didn’t know what to do. All I knew is that I really didn’t want it to be like this. I had read about “mommy timeouts” and all the different steps that moms can take to keep calm in moments of frustration, but I didn’t want a bandaid or a quick fix. I wanted to model control to my children. I wanted to figure it out and stop feeling that way.

I began to take a long hard look at what was really going on in my mind when I felt angry. It was interesting to me that each time I had the same thoughts fly through my head. It wasn’t my children’s behavior that was setting me off. It was that in those moments, I felt OUT OF CONTROL OF MY LIFE. I felt like all I did all day long was serve someone else. I took care of my kids, I took care of my husband and I did nothing for myself. My anger had very little to do with what was actually happening in that moment, but more about the fact that I was reminded of how much my needs were being ignored.

Even now (years later) when I begin feeling easily irritated I can take a look over the previous few weeks and realize that I’ve let my needs fall to the wayside. Now, some of my needs I am willing to sacrifice for the benefit of my children. My life is not about me and I’m okay with that. However, there are still a few needs that I cannot ignore for very long or I find myself dry, burned out, and easily frustrated. These are my top 3:

  1. I need to feel like what I’m doing matters. Before kids, I had a career. I dressed nice, showed up to work, did a great job and at the end of the day I felt accomplished. People respected me and I felt successful. As a stay at home mom, I spend most of my day doing things that no one ever sees, and my children undo things almost as quickly as I do them! My job is never done. There are no Kudos, and somedays I can’t tell you what I did ALL DAY LONG! That’s where perspective comes to my aid. I have to keep the vision before me. In order to do that, I’m constantly educating myself. I need to be able to remember why I’m doing this. I read and learn new things everyday. Even if it’s just a short blog post from another mom, or a page from a book on parenting, educating myself has helped me remember how important my job really is. It keeps me from getting lost and frustrated in the minutiae of motherhood.
  2. I need to maintain a close relationship with my Savior. Without Christ, I CAN’T be the mom my kids need me to be. Without Christ, I’m selfish, impatient, unforgiving, unwise, and lost. He makes me better. My relationship with him changes the things about me that hinder my ability to lead my kids and be a good wife to their daddy. My family needs me to stay in close contact with Jesus. I’d love to tell you that I wake up early every morning, pour myself a cup of warm tea, and stow away for an hour before everyone wakes up…hopefully someday. But so far, I haven’t been able to peel myself off the sheets before the first little voice says, “mama, it’s time to get up.” Instead, I have to be creative. I listen to a lot of music throughout my day. I worship Jesus while I am in the shower, while I clean the kitchen, and while I fold laundry. I talk to God often. I sprinkle in conversations about God with my kids while we’re in the car, playing or eating. I pick up my Bible, YouVersion, or a devotional for a few minutes here, and a few minutes there. I also do my best to sit down either during naptime, or before bed and quiet myself long enough to read God’s word and whisper a prayer. Making God a part of what I’m doing during the day keeps my spirit refreshed and ready for whatever comes my way.
  3. I need time to myself. That doesn’t necessarily mean by myself, although now days that’s really nice! I need time where I don’t have little ones constantly making demands. I need time with my husband and I need time with friends. I just need a break and a trip to the grocery store alone doesn’t cut it! I’ve had to become very strategic about making sure that I make time to enjoy life apart from my kids. Although that time is limited I make it a priority. I also make sure that this time is spent doing something I enjoy. It’s amazing what even a couple hours away will do for my spirit. That time makes me a better mom. I come home feeling refreshed and I look forward to seeing my kids.

There are a lot of other needs I could mention, but I’ve noticed a huge difference when these three are met. That mom who easily angers seldom visits our home these days. I’ve learned to recognize the initial warning signs. Just like the weather, I notice when the winds begin to change and it’s time to take a look at those three needs, and make some adjustments.

If you find yourself struggling with anger, take a step back and evaluate. What’s going on in your mind? Is this anger masking something deeper? Talk to another mom friend, she’s not perfect either. Be honest with yourself and make the necessary changes. I promise, you can change. You can stop mommy anger by uncovering and dealing with its root.

Easter Affects the Way I Parent Every Day of the Year

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Easter is almost upon us! My boys are eagerly awaiting their goodies in their baskets, and the “money hunt” in the backyard.  They’ve been counting down the days.  I’ve been counting down the days too, but it’s different for me.  The Easter season always ushers in a sense of brokeness that I can’t shake.  I am humbled by the reality of what Jesus did to save this soul of mine.  I’m broken by who I could have been and the grace that has led me to the life I live.  Easter isn’t just a holiday for me.  It’s a reminder of what Christ did, who I am because of His sacrifice, and what I MUST do in response. Easter affects the way I parent EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR.

Because I’ve experienced unconditional love, I am able to love unconditionally.  I tell my children often that there’s not a thing they can ever do to make me love them more.  I love them with everything within me.  There’s also nothing they can ever do to make me love them less.  No success or failure.  No impressive act or selfish betrayal.  Not a life lived to perfection, nor a life scarred by horrible choices.  I love and will love my children no matter what–unconditionally.  They say there’s nothing greater than a mother’s love and I believe that’s true…almost.  As unfathomable as it is to me, I know that there’s a God in Heaven who loves me even more than the love I feel towards my children.  That knowledge of unconditional love that brings me peace and security also enables me to love beyond anything I can even describe.  Because of Easter, I can love my children unconditionally.

Because I’ve experienced forgiveness, I am able to teach my children how to forgive.  There’s not a thing that’s easy about forgiving.  The greater the trespass the more difficult it is.  I know this unfortunately (or should I say fortunately) from personal experience.  I have found it easy to forgive at times, and at other times I’ve walked a long hard road of unforgiveness.  Like poison it left me angry, bitter and broken.  Had it not been for the cross, and the Spirit of God working in my life, forgiveness would not have been mine to give.  But because I am forgiven, I’ve learned to forgive.  Because of Easter, I will teach my children to forgive.

What Christ did for me on the cross has changed the way I view my life.  I am not here by accident and my life is not my own.  I was born with a specific purpose and entrusted with talents.  The same is true for my children.  There’s not a career I can choose or a success I can accomplish, that is greater than the spiritual legacy I will leave for my children.  I must be intentional about pouring godly ideas into their lives.  Every moment and every opportunity I am given, I must help them see life through the eyes of Christ.  I must help them understand that God has a vision for their lives.  It is a plan that was determined before they were even born.  It is my duty to make them aware of this truth.  If they can grasp it and catch a vision for their lives, one day they won’t need me to help them make the right choices.  They won’t need me to make them feel loved.  They won’t need me to teach them to forgive.  They will know they’re loved and love in return.  They will know they are forgiven, and forgive in return.  They will know they were created for a purpose and that vision will determine their every move.  You see Easter is more than a holiday at my house. It determines how I parent every day of the year.

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Top 5 discipline mistakes MOST parents make

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A couple of months ago, I embarked on a journey with a friend who was pregnant with her first baby…we decided we’d drive 40 minutes to the nearest city and do some shopping, my three children in tow.  Now, let me just preface the next little bit with the only defense I can make on behalf of my children.  I chose to do this on their first day back to preschool after Christmas break, and I knowingly skipped naps to get there and get back before dinner.  Long story short, my children, who are usually pretty great kids in public, acted like ANIMALS!  It was awful!  They were awful!  They fussed, whined, argued, disobeyed, climbed in and out of the cart…you name it, they did it.  At one point while driving home, they were throwing animal crackers and ice at each other and at my pregnant friend!  She looked at me and said, “I can’t believe you’re this calm.”

I can’t remember what I said, but I remember what I thought, “Oh, I’m only calm because you’re here”  inside I was boiling.  In fact when we got home, I made them apologize to her, go straight inside and get ready for bed.  Their day would be ending earlier than normal.  I handed them off to my husband.  They were tired and I was done.  I knew that I’d made a really bad call.  I was embarrassed, and just ready for the day to be over.  I had blown it.  I knew better than to go on a day with an early morning, skip naps and then drag tired kids around shopping.  It wasn’t the first time I’d made a stupid call as a mom.  It got me thinking of all the things I’ve done, or seen other parents do, while discipling that is downright ignorant.  I began compiling a list in my mind.  The list could be much longer, but I’ll just share my top 5:

  1. Talk to them in a tone that we would never allow them to use. This is probably pretty self explanatory. Parent gets frustrated, parent raises their voice, speaks harshly and in a way they wouldn’t let their children to talk to them.  Child is left hurt, offended, and shamed.  Parent is left feeling guilty.  No one wins. 
  2. Use meaningless threats that would never be followed through on. This is one I observe often in public places. Picture with me a mom trying to leave the park…”Okay Bobby it’s time to go”… wait 2 minutes…”Okay, Bobby I’m leaving.” “Bye, Bye Bobby.” Mom is waiving as she heads to her minivan. I’m always amazed at this and here’s why.  Little Bobby knows just as well as I do, that his mommy isn’t going anywhere.  He’s more than willing to call her bluff.  Unless you’re crazy enough to get in your van and drive away, don’t tell your child that you’re going to leave him at the park.  He’s too smart for that.  Don’t tell them that you’re not going to take them to Disneyland after you’ve bought the tickets. When we use crazy threats to trick our kids into obeying and we are unable to follow through on them, it discredits us as parents.  Instead, be reasonable.  Be consistent. Be fair.
  3. Expect them to be adults. I have to be honest with you, sit down restaurants with 3 children age 5 and under are as close to Hell as I ever want to be. My husband and I avoid them like the plague. That’s not to say that we haven’t done it, or even that we won’t do it again. But, they are not fun, relaxing meals that justify the bill that comes after the food. Our children are just that, children. And although some would argue that they need to learn to sit and have table manners, I would argue that expecting a young child to sit at a table, even with something to do, for an hour is expecting too much. We have flown with children, driven long distances with them, and even sat through conferences with a baby.  There are times that it’s unavoidable. However, don’t forget that it’s a child you’re sitting with, not a robot. You can only plan, entertain and hope for the best. But, don’t be unrealistic with your expectations. It is unfair to discipline a child for being a child. Educate yourself on what’s really age appropriate, and teach them how to become an adult.
  4. Forget to point out the positive. Children are bent towards pleasing their parents. They want to feel good about who they are. Children who feel good about themselves act better than those who don’t. Be intentional about pointing out positive things you see your child doing. If you’re trying to teach them do something differently, make sure that you acknowledge when they’ve remembered. Positive attention encourages positive behavior.
  5. Try to teach them a lesson, when all they really need is sleep. Dr. Kevin Leman, is a counselor/author whose work I really enjoy.  One thing that he talks about in his book “Making Children Mind without Losing Yours” is that there are times when we just need to put them to bed, instead of trying to teach them a lesson. Exhausted kids act out, and so do tired adults!  When I haven’t had enough sleep, I can be grumpy, irritable and impatient.  Hopefully as an adult, I’ve learned to control myself even when tired, but children are not as mature.  It’s important as a parent to understand our kids’ need for sleep and make sure they’re getting enough.  If it’s a late night, or they are in need of a nap, just take a deep breath, and get them to bed as quickly as possible.  Somethings resolve themselves with a little sleep.

Being a parent is a tough job and we all make mistakes.  I know I do all too often.  I’m thankful my kids forgive me–often faster than I forgive myself.  I want to learn from my mistakes.  My prayer is that I’ll be a better mom today than I was yesterday, and a much better mom tomorrow than I was a year ago.

If you enjoyed this post, skip over to the right side of my blog and share your email address with me, I’ll make sure you don’t miss the next one!  Thanks!

How to stop nagging your kids and help them listen

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Do you ever feel like all you do is repeat yourself ALL DAY LONG? I have to be honest, I have my days, and unfortunately I’ve discovered that on those days, I tend to fall into this horrible pattern of frustration that only makes matters worse. So, I’ve been trying some things out and found a few things that have helped around my house. Maybe they’ll help around yours too!

  1. Stop what you’re doing. First things first. When it comes to nagging, I’ve found that sometimes it just seems easier, albeit frustrating, to just continue nagging. I don’t always feel like stopping what I’m doing (cleaning house, cooking dinner, checking Facebook) so instead I continue to do what I KNOW IS NOT WORKING, and keep repeating myself to an audience that I’m well aware is not listening! So, when I’ve had enough, I’ve learned that if I’ll just stop what I’m doing and go to the child I’m addressing and look them in the eye, I suddenly have better luck getting their attention. If I change my tone, get down on their level and speak directly to them, it’s much harder for them to ignore me. I usually say something like, “I need your eyes looking and your ears listening to me.” and wa-la I have their attention!
  2. Ask questions. This is a trick I use on my husband too, although, he’s figured it out! Instead of telling my children what they should do when they know what to do, I pose a question. For instance, “Where do you put your clothes after you take them off?” or, “Hmmmm, I see three things that still need to be done in this bathroom. Can you tell me what they are?” Sometimes while driving into the garage, I’ll ask “Why do we wash our hands as soon as we get home?” Those are all simple reminders that gently get my point across and accomplish exactly what I want them to do.
  3. Make up a song. Row, Row, Row your boat is my favorite catch all tune around our house. It’s amazing how many things I’ve been able to get my kids to do while moving to that tune. It’s easy to add just about any number of instructions to that song and because my kids know the tune they usually sing right along.
  4. Make if fun by turning your request into a game. Both of my boys are competitive, especially my oldest. If I’m careful not to overuse this one, it’s amazing how many things I can trick him into doing. I’ll initiate a race between the two of them, or pit the two of them against myself, or we’ll all join forces and turn on a song and try to be done before the song is over. It’s fun to see how quickly we can finish an otherwise boring chore by adding a little competition. On days where I feel like there are random toys that have made their way to numerous places in the house, I’ll give each of them a bag and see who can fill theirs up first, it’s kind of like an easter egg hunt, without the sugar rush.

I understand that these are not fool proof ideas, kids are kids, and I think they just have a hard time listening. I think sometimes being ignored is just part of being a mom. But, I do believe that if these things have helped me they can help you. Have fun, take a little pressure off and see how your kids respond!

Perspective at Panera

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Finding perspective in the midst of motherhood. Four keys all of us need to hear every once in a while!

I’m writing this while sitting alone eating lunch at Panera. I remember the first time I went to a restaurant to eat alone. I was in college, needed to work on homework, and was in desperate need of a personal pan pizza. That was over a decade ago. I remember feeling awkward, as if everyone in the entire restaurant was thinking about the poor young girl in the corner who couldn’t find a friend to share a pizza. At the same time, I remember a sense of freedom, I really had grown up and could eat in a public place alone.

Today, it’s not pizza I’m craving, or even the need to feel grown up.  Today, I’m here eating alone trying to gain some perspective. It’s been ten days since the nasty flu bug first made it’s unwelcome entrance into my home. Child number three woke up with fever this morning. Having already survived round one of the flu at our house three weeks ago, I wrongfully assumed the most recent bug was one of the many viral infections spreading through our world like wildfire.

My husband works fourteen hours today, but came home for a long lunch break to give me a few minutes to myself. So here I sit to eat one of my favorite lunches, take a deep breath, and find some perspective.

It’s amazing the freedom that’s found by putting things in perspective and how quickly my weariness and exhaustion fades as I look at the big picture. This is a fleeting moment. Next week life will have gone on. Next month, today will be a distant memory. This stress will be replaced by something new. The dishes in my sink and the laundry piled on my laundry room floor will have been washed and rewashed ten times and my children will be another month older. Perspective brings freedom from the stress of the moment. So as I sip on my iced tea I want to share a few things that are helping me find perspective at Panera.

  • I understand that this trial is teaching me how to be more like Christ. As my kids make constant demands on my exhausted brain, I’m choosing to be patient. I’m choosing to show love. I’m learning to soften my tongue even when a hasty reply would be easier. If I can learn in the midst of this sick house, and become more like my Savior, then it has not been in vain.
  • I know it could always be worse. In the last three years I’ve cried as a young mother I went to college with passed away leaving her husband and two daughters behind. I’ve wept as I watched a colleague of my husband live through his young son’s long battle with cancer, and how that couple eventually saw their precious child go to heaven. There are two circumstances I’m watching right now in others lives that make ten days with sick kids look like a vacation. With those circumstances in mind, my weariness is nothing to complain about.
  • I believe that in moments like this I have an incredible opportunity to teach my children compassion and unconditional love. Love does. Love serves. Love is patient, kind and does not easily anger.
  • Lastly, I know in my heart, that these children are gifts. They are answers to my prayers, and my greatest calling in life. I want to be found faithful in my calling as a mother. What better time to prove my faithfulness to my God and to my family than in the midst of prolonged fevers, snotty noses and grumpy kids.

So, as I walk away from my quiet, peaceful lunch I tell myself that my messy house and the mountain of laundry can wait. I have an important job to do. With fresh perspective and a smile on my face I remind myself that I love this life, and I’m thankful for my three snotty nosed babies.

“that” mom

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You’ve probably ran into “her” before.   You know exactly who I’m talking about!  They’re loose in every town and city in America.  I can smell them from a mile away.   They even smell better than the rest of us.  You know, the perfect mom.  The one who’s dressed to the hilt as she steps out of her imaculant car with her tidy only child whose hair is pulled back in a perfect beautiful braid.  Mommy sporting her baby bump announcing #2 is on its way.  You overhear her conversation with her friend as she readily gives advice on how she’s mastered the simple task of raising the perfect child who slept through the night at 3 weeks old, never throws fits and of course never fights with her sibling.  Oh wait…her sibling is still enclosed safely in that baby bump!

I met “her” at the park this week.  Okay, met is an exaggeration.  She didn’t speak to me.  She was too busy handing out advice to her poor innocent friend.  However, I did get the priviledge of interacting with her after my son accidently allowed his hand to contact her precious daughters face in a game of “kitty cats clawing at eachother.”  Which, her daughter by the way, asked to be a part of! 

He just hit her in the face!!! Did you see that, he just hit her in the face.”  mommy of the year said to her friend, in a ridiculously loud, upset, over the top voice.  You would have thought her daughter who cried for all of 30 seconds was lying on the ground with a stick in her eye.  “Little boy, are you kidding me!!”  she continued.  At this point, I was still in utter shock as to how this woman was reacting, so much so, that I was speechless.  Probably, a good thing, to be honest with you.

I walked over to ask my son what had happened.  He was in just as much shock as I was.  He said it was an accident, I asked him to tell the little girl, who was sitting beside him perfectly fine at this point, that he was sorry.  Unfortunately, this didn’t stop mom of the year from continuing her rant.  My friend and I couldn’t believe how ridiculous the situation really was.   She continued on talking about the inappropriateness of what had just taken place and told her daughter to go play with another child who “won’t hit you.”  At that point I looked at her and said, “I’m sorry that happened.”  Of course, I was sorry, but I was also hoping my apology would shut her mouth.  At this point my son was completely embarrassed and in tears, and she needed to be done.

I’ve played back the situation over and over again in my head, and thought of all the things I could have said.  I could have even justified saying most of them but, I’m glad I kept my mouth shut and just apologized.  Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t secretly hope that her next child brings a good dose of reality, I hope she has her hands full!  Maybe next time I run into her, she’ll be desperate for advice :-)  But, that’s beside the point!  I could have proved a point to that woman, but it was more important to prove a point to my kids.  Even when people are jerks and make bad decisions, we are responsible for our reactions.   We talked about that on the way home.  It’s been a life long lesson for me, I’m still working on how I react to situations, but hopefully, the better I get at it, the easier it will be for my kids.  I know they’re watching me.  I know they follow my lead.  Hopefully, more times than not, it’s worth following.