Category Archives: deep in thought

On having big kids

I want to be sure to document some of the wonderful aspects of having nonbabies, so that when another baby comes along and we’re back to the intensity of that season, I can look back and say, “Okay good, I really appreciated that while I could.”

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Because I do appreciate it. I love it, actually. There is a whole lot of freedom in our daily life these days, and I’m extremely thankful to have this stretch before gearing up for Baby.

I look forward to having a baby in our family. I’m very excited. (In a hesitant, don’t-come-too-quickly sort of way.) So it’s not that I won’t be thrilled when the time comes for life to turn upside down. But for the moment, for the next 5 1/2 months, I want to celebrate this season.

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-We can read chapter books at bedtime (currently reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).
-We can leave the house with little warning: no diaper bags, no feedings, no gear…just go.
-We can play board games as a family and fully expect that everyone will be engaged.
-I can get in the shower without even telling them. I just expect them to continue playing together.

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-We can let the kids play outside without hovering over them.
-We can go on walks without a stroller. Today the kids and I walked a mile, with Charlie on the balance bike and Lillian on foot. So easy!
-I can ask the kids to do something and they will likely know what I mean and how to do it. And usually they listen. 🙂
-We can take trips or spend the night away from home, and it doesn’t mess us up too much. It’s more an adventure and less a hassle.

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There are challenges in this season too, of course. And there will be unspeakable joys this winter with a wee one, of course. But I’m thankful for where we are right now. For these big kids I’ve got, for their growing independence, for the friendship between them, and for the joy in teaching their maturing minds. This is a sweet time.

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It’s been a long week

My largest-ever copyediting project was due on Wednesday. So I spent the first part of the week in a daze, sitting at the computer too long and sleeping too little. No matter how well I plan ahead or how prepared I feel to finish a project on time, those last two days or so are always a booger.

I’ve had a little extra time with my kids in the latter half of this week. My dad, who watches the kids on Wednesdays and then Friday afternoons, has been sick. Poor guy — he almost never gets sick (well, he used to never get sick, until his grandkids moved to town), so he’s miserable when it actually happens. Well after the crazy, distracted-with-work start to my week, I was okay with having some extra time with the wee ones. By yesterday we were in a pretty good groove, and the kids played together like the best of friends for long stretches of time while I dusted and swept and cleaned the bathroom and even set out a few wintry decorations. I felt more productive in terms of housework than I’ve felt in a very long time.

And then today happened.

Jeff had to work most of the day, which was a tough realization for me. By late afternoon, the house was cluttered with toys and papers and crayons, and I was so weary of picking up after my children. Charlie wanted my constant attention, but I desperately wanted to be left alone. And every time I entered the living room, I felt a heavy weight of fatigue at the mere thought of cleaning up the mess.

They say this season — these years of having preschool children at home — flies by. They say we should treasure it and embrace the chaos and let them make messes because that’s how they learn and they’re only little once! But this afternoon (and on more other days than I care to admit), this season of this particular breed of chaos felt like an eternity. I just wanted my living space to stay tidy for more than ten minutes. Even ten seconds. And the fact that my kids didn’t have the same aspirations — that their very mess-producing presence was in direct opposition to my aspirations — weighed. me. down.

Once the kids were in bed, I collapsed on the couch. Jeff was there reading his Bible, and I thought, “I need to pray.” But as I looked around me at the mess that had dampened my attitude for much of the afternoon and evening, all I could utter was, “Lord, I’m so weary.” And so prideful, too, as it turns out. I wanted to whine in my prayer, “It’s my home, and I want it to be free of all this crap that’s all over the floor, all the time!”

While I don’t think these are invalid complaints, I was reminded in the back little corner of my heart that this home, our home, is a gift from God. And it’s a gift to be lived in, a place to raise my children and teach them to love Jesus, a place where they have the freedom to be themselves and to learn and grow and explore and be kids!

And if they learned anything today — anything at all about loving one another, or about how the world works, or about seeking God — well then, I suppose the mess was worth it.

Book review: Keeping House

If you’ve spent any time with me recently, you’ve probably heard me mention this incredible book that I can’t stop thinking about, Keeping House by Margaret Kim Peterson. I read the last page last Saturday and have since gone back through it to reread all of my underlines. It’s good stuff. The entire book was fabulous. I don’t expect that everyone will have the same opinion. But the author spoke so specifically to my existing desires for my home, and she put such eloquent words to ideals I couldn’t have expressed on my own.

For a long while now, I’ve entertained thoughts here and there of the value of housework. I don’t love cleaning my house, and my house is certainly not the most tidy one around. But I was beginning to wonder if the purpose of doing housework might go deeper than the obvious result of having a tidy home. Isn’t there value in washing and folding my husband’s white shirts so that his drawer is never empty? Isn’t there something worthwhile about wiping down the dining room table so that it’s clean when someone sets down a stack of papers or attempts to set the dishes out for the next meal? If our family is a community of sorts, and our home is to be a place of welcome and safety and rest and sending forth, then aren’t the monotonous housekeeping tasks we perform day in and day out all a part of growing us as individuals and uniting us as a family?

Peterson speaks to these exact questions. I had hoped to write a pretty thorough book review, because I’m a nerd like that, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. So I’ll just post a few favorite quotes. If you’re interested in the subject and curious about the book but have no desire to read every single quote, at least skip down to the last two. They’re the meatiest passages.

“Housework is akin to these natural and human rhythms of the day, the week, the year. We fix lunch because it is lunchtime. We wash the clothes or the windows because it is Monday or because it is sunny….As we engage with the litany of everyday life, we engage with life itself, with our fellow human beings, with the world in which God has set us all, and thus with God himself” (p. 20).

“Every morning, people need something to put on. Having clothes ready to wear in the drawer or in the closet is part of creating an expectation that in this home we care for one another. Our needs are not a perpetual emergency but are anticipated and provided for ahead of time as a matter of course” (p. 100).

“Meals need not be individually memorable to be nourishing. Many of a congregation’s individual celebrations of the Lord’s Supper may be largely indistinguishable from one another, and yet the sustained practice of sharing together at the Lord’s table is one of the ways the household of God is nourished and built up together over time. So too a Christian household’s shared meals may include many occasions that are rather routine, and that is the point. It is routines like these from which the fabric of our common life is woven…” (pp. 140-41).

“Efficiency can be the enemy of hospitable housekeeping, especially in the face of small or large emergencies. All too often, efficiency is just another name for being spread too thin” (p. 155).

This one sums it all up for me:

“Things do not go as planned; they always take more time than it seems they should; they have to be done twice when it seems that once should be enough. And the more complex or difficult the circumstances, the greater becomes the need for the kind of basic nurturance that housekeeping seeks to provide. People need dinner even on good days, and on bad days they need it even more.
A truly human life is one that is lived not only in life’s strengths but in its weaknesses as well. A well-kept house is thus a house in which it is safe to be weak, because the members of the household take care of one another. And in a more everyday way, it is a house in which it is safe to be hungry (there is food in the cupboard), safe to be tired (there are places to sit and places to sleep), safe to need clean socks (there are some in the drawer, and if they all happen to be in the hamper, someone will put in a load of wash soon)” (p. 155).

So the repetition of housework does have a purpose: to provide a home of safety in which all members of the household can experience the “truly human life” of both strengths and weaknesses. And this passage I just quoted makes me tear up a little bit, because I desperately desire my home to serve that need for my family and for our guests.

Peterson doesn’t stop there, though. There is a greater purpose!

“A well-kept house thus possesses a kind of sacramental quality. It is no substitute for either the kingdom of God or the church. But it is a kind of foretaste of the kingdom. A nurturing and hospitable home can be a reminder that God has always been in the business of making a home for people, that God desires that people should have the food and clothing and shelter associated with home, that one day our tattered and partial provision of these things for one another will be gloriously supplanted by God’s perfect provision of shining robes and a sumptuous  feast in God’s own house.
This sacramental quality of home means that a well-kept house is a means to an end, not an end in itself” (pp. 163-64).

In discussing seemingly mundane aspects of sheltering, clothing, and feeding a household, Peterson has offered a challenge to view these tasks not as futile, but as exercises in faithfulness (p. 39); to establish routines that provide for the needs of the house and the people in it (p. 85). She’s quick to say that this does not require a large house or a hefty income or a subscription to the trendiest magazines for interior design. In fact, she speaks against these things, or at least our culture’s obsession with them.

And I like that. With our humble home and our limited resources, I can keep house in a way that provides for our needs, encourages us to care for one another and for others outside of our home, and directs our attention to God’s greater, gracious, undeserved provision.

Entitlement

Do you ever experience a period of time in which the same idea, thought, or word seems to be in everything you read and hear? Doesn’t it scare you? As in, “Shoot. Now it’s obvious that God is trying to get my attention, and the process of learning and growing may be hard and ugly.”

I’m having one of those weeks.

And I’m grateful for friends, including my husband, who will listen as I work to process difficult things.

My buzzword this week is entitlement. I’m seeing it everywhere; so much so that I now see it in my mind, plastered to the very forefront of my brain in bold red letters.

From Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, a book I read with some ladies from church:

“When we take simple blessings for granted as if they were owed to us, or conversely, when we start to think that our house, our car, our wardrobe, or our general station in life is beneath what we deserve, ingratitude finds all the oxygen it needs to thrive” (p. 55).

“Ungrateful people tend to hold tightly to their rights. And when others fail to perform the way they want or expect them to, they feel justified in making demands and retaliating emotionally” (p. 88).

“Arguably the most affluent, materially blessed people in the history of the world, we have become angry, bitter, proud, and ungrateful. We have gotten this false sense of entitlement and the entirely unbiblical idea that God owes us ease and luxury or at least the chance to go for two weeks without having to deal with this one particular matter that is so difficult or discouraging” (p. 157).

From Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear by Scott Bader-Saye, a book I’m reading and discussing with my friend Cassie via weekly long-distance phone chats:

[Referring to some Christians the author is associated with in Uganda:] “They are somehow able to be grateful for every offering without being offended or angry that there is not more. Everything that comes their way is a gift from God; they are not burdened by a sense of entitlement. God does not owe them something, and even in the midst of devastating circumstances, they find reason to give God thanks.
…When we have more, we have more to lose. When we have more to lose, we have more to fear. The attitude of entitlement saps us of our ability to give thanks, to receive the goods of life as gifts.”

And from an unpublished manuscript I’m currently proofreading:

“We are encouraged to believe that we are entitled not to suffer, that we should be able, somehow, to transcend the pain associated with loss, death, grief and mourning.”

Entitlement to material possessions; to ease and comfort; to health and smooth sailing; to right relationships; to the perfect job or the flawless appearance; to bigger and better and more, more, more. This theme has struck me with such force this week that I felt the need to sit down tonight and ponder it — to think about the areas of my life where this sense of entitlement is preventing me from being grateful for what I do have. In one gift alone, in the gift of Jesus, God has given me more than I deserve; more than I could ever have the audacity to ask for. And yet, farther beyond that, he has put in my life — in my current circumstances — blessings upon blessings even in the most mundane aspects of my day. And I don’t merely mean material items, though I have too many of those to count. I mean relational and spiritual and physical blessings as well. And even the challenges I’m facing, the things that overwhelm me with their urgency, can be perceived as blessings from a heart that is grateful: “Everything that makes me need God is (ultimately, in the truest sense) a blessing” (DeMoss, p. 139).

I don’t have a right to a comfortable and cushy life. If I am given these things, they are gifts to be received. And I hope that these things I’m reading and processing will burrow deep down in my heart in a way that challenges me to interact with people, pursue opportunities, parent my children, love my husband, and live in my home and my community all from a sense of gratitude, and not entitlement.

The Never-Changing

September 2004. Jeff and I had just moved to Vancouver to begin his studies at Regent College. We attended Regent’s fall retreat at Warm Beach in Washington State, and there I heard the contemporary hymn “In Christ Alone” for the first time. I loved the song immediately. I remember reflecting on the significance of standing in Christ’s love, especially in the midst of so many uncertainties.

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

March 2011. We sang this song in our church in small-town Kansas (while, interestingly, standing next to friends from Regent, who were visiting us for a few days!). I have sang this song a million times in the in-between, and I have loved it and been moved by it each time. But this past Sunday, it struck me anew: the significance of standing in Christ’s love, especially in the midst of so many uncertainties. I remembered standing among Jeff’s fellow students at the retreat, recognizing that I stand in Christ and that he is constant. And even now, I stand in Christ, and I recognize that he is constant. It was a moving experience connecting this song’s influence on my life during very different circumstances, and knowing that even with all the changes and transitions Jeff and I have been through since September 2004 — moving, having a baby, moving, changing jobs, moving, new friends, having a baby, moving, changing jobs, new friends… — I stand in the exact same love of Christ now as I did then. If that isn’t comfort and security, I don’t know what is.

Ephesians 5:2: “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”

Guest blogger

Today you can find a blog post I wrote over at Transparencies of Motherhood. Thanks, ToM, for inviting me to contribute my thoughts!

A weighty issue

I have been composing this post in my mind for a long while now, and still, I have no idea where to start or where to go. It is a post about myself and a struggle.

Like most women, I have faced my share of issues with self-image and weight and confidence. I have memories of comparing butt sizes with a friend in junior high, and that awareness of “skinniest is best” has plagued me ever since. We all know it: one glimpse of a magazine cover or a roadside billboard and we know exactly what is valued in our culture.

But that really isn’t what my struggle is about anymore. Back then, yes — I wanted to be thin. And it really wasn’t an issue because I was involved in enough sports and activities to keep my body moving. After high school, however, I realized that I have a very real weakness. That I am not immune to weight gain. And that as I get bigger and my clothes get tighter, I feel less and less like myself.  This has almost nothing to do with cultural expectations, and everything to do with my heart.

I experienced a few ups and downs with my weight in college and early marriage, but nothing drastic enough that the world would notice. Toward the end of our few years in Vancouver, our first baby was born. The weight dropped off quickly, most of my clothes were fitting again, and I was almost ready to proclaim my body “back to normal.”

Then we moved to Chicago.

That first year in suburban Chicago was one of the loneliest, isolating, and emotionally challenging periods of my life. I was a new stay-at-home mom, I didn’t know a soul, my husband was making friends at work, and I was gaining weight. I felt out of control with my eating and desperate to make some changes in my life. It was during this time that I recognized the seriousness of my tendency to overeat. Food was now something that had control over me, and I thought about it constantly. When can I eat again? What am I craving? How can I satisfy that craving right now? I thought I “deserved” a special treat every day, sometimes more than once a day. I finally did manage to drop a few pounds and feel better through workouts at the gym, but I knew in the back of my mind that the issue went deeper than that. My heart needed an adjustment. My issue wasn’t really about weight; it was about idolatry. Sin! I was using food as a source of comfort and identity, a role that only God is meant to fulfill.

In Chicago, I became pregnant for the second time. This pregnancy was a sort of turning point for me — downward. I thought I was obsessed with food before I got pregnant, but my struggle only multiplied. (Once the nausea of the first trimester was over with, my appetite returned with a vengeance.)

I expected the struggle to wane once our daughter was born. But I never was able to shake the constant need for food.  And when she was a tiny 2 1/2 months old, we moved again. To Kansas. To our families. Home.

Again my expectations were high. This time, I wouldn’t feel so isolated. I could focus on this new life, and these wonderful people, rather than food. But the desperate cravings only grew worse. Even among people I love, I felt out of place and uncertain of our future. And stressed to an extreme degree. My clothes didn’t fit comfortably and I was embarrassed. Not because I was large — I wasn’t. But because my body was completely unfamiliar to me. I didn’t feel confident. I felt the very heavy and dark burden of being in bondage to something — being controlled and shaped by something other than God. I tried to commit to various workout routines, but I knew that the real issue was not my lack of activity. Sure, a daily habit of exercise couldn’t hurt (and Jillian did indeed help me lose about five pounds!), but I knew deep down that I had to address the food issue if I hoped to lose any more weight and feel like myself again.

In early September, I signed up for Weight Watchers online. Within a week, I could tell a difference — in my clothes, in my attitude toward food, in my whole outlook on the struggle. I felt hopeful! And excited! And maybe, just maybe, a little bit less obsessed, a little more in control, a little more like the me I want to be.

Today, I am ten pounds lighter than when I started Weight Watchers. That’s twenty pounds smaller than my peak non-pregnancy weight. And I feel pretty great. I love that I can step on the scale with anticipation and not with fear. I love that I can pull out a pair of pants from the depths of the basement storage bin and button them easily. I love that I can look in the mirror and not grimace at my love handles.

But even more importantly, I feel more free than I have felt in several years. I admit, though, that I feel like a failure after most weekends, but as a general rule, I’m convinced that food’s grip on me is weakening. And this is not at all by my strength. I tried for years to free myself by my own strength, and I always ended up disappointed. And this “success” is not even by the strength of the Weight Watchers program. Weight Watchers is not my savior. God has given me a Savior in Jesus, and he has graciously used Weight Watchers as a tool in my life — to get my attention, to open my eyes to my weakness, and to deal with it. In a very practical way.

I am not completely free of this struggle, and I may never be. But regardless of my size, regardless of the intensity of the battle, God, not food, deserves my loyalty and my love and my energy. And his grace, not my own weak self and not a weight-loss program, will be what empowers me to give him all these things and more.

“Our insatiable need or craving for too much of anything is symptomatic of unmet needs. . . . Either Christ can satisfy us and meet our deepest needs, or God’s Word is deceptive” (Beth Moore, Breaking Free, p. 203-4).

“We all worship something. . . . The focus of our worship can be determined by the gaze of our eyes — what or who is the object of our primary focus. Don’t miss this: whatever we worship, we will also obey” (Breaking Free, p. 229-30).