Naps, Quiet, and Joy

This year I have kept a “joyfulness journal”- you know, basically you write down all of the little things in your day that have made you smile. A few years ago I read Ann Voskamp’s Christmas devotional; The Greatest Gift which brought me to her blog and taught me this insightful way of looking at life. I have sporadically kept a list of what I refer to as my blessings-of-the-day ever since. It helps me when I swing toward the sadness end of the pendulum arc. As I look back through it, I’ve noticed a few repetitions and have spent some time thinking about why these things are moments that I count as joy.

First off; naps! My own, my children’s, my husband’s, it doesn’t matter. If someone was sleeping I probably made note of it. This one seemed so obvious to me, though I felt there had to be more to it than just a baby (or older child) giving me a short reprieve from caring for them. My two-year-old still naps, praise God in heaven!!, she went through a rough patch where she fought her nap and bedtime which brought about long, exhausting days! I began allowing her to nap on the sofa in the middle of our daily chaos and she has blissfully rested nearly every day since. The change for her was the power I gave her in allowing her to choose where she napped. I’ve read that around 24 months toddlers discover and begin to assert their autonomy, truly all she wanted was to have some small piece of control in her napping situation. When I see my older children struggling through a hard day my “go-to” cure is suggesting that maybe a nap would help them feel better. They rarely see the wisdom in my advice, they do however, accept my second suggestion with much more ease and even happiness-quiet time.

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Quiet time. I can say those words out loud and they cause me to take a deep breath as if I am filling not just my lungs with air but my soul with peace. My husband works hard so that we can school at home and I am very grateful for all that he does to ensure we are well cared for. His job is not the only way he provides for us though, he also strongly suggests that I take time for myself. He will take all three of our younger children to the grocery store, he will spend the afternoon with them while I go for a walk with a dear friend, he suggests time out of the house or ensures the quiet at home if that’s where I’d rather be. He is very good at this because he knows that the days of mothering are spent at an intense volume, and that I need the silence for my very sanity! It was for this reason that over the past winter I intentionally encouraged my six and nine year old to seek out their own quiet, I helped them to be aware of the times of day when they wanted things to stay quiet around them. I encouraged them to read in their beds before sleep or before coming upstairs to start their day. They are rambunctious, loud, high-energy, normal kids, but they both seek out the quiet in their days now and I count this as a great joy.

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The third item that repeats itself in many different ways on my list is outside time. There are entries about time spent weeding, flower blooms, climbing rocks, hot sunshine, walking in state parks, sitting on our deck, kids splashing in the pool… It definitely doesn’t take a deep thinker to realize that I keep a piece of myself outdoors. There is only one problem with this; I live in Minnesota. We have about five months of what I would call good weather, six if I can enjoy damp, windy, chilly May moving early perennials. If. The rest of the year I have to pressure myself into going outside, I don’t play in the snow with my littles and I’m not sorry! I invite their friends over often though and provide mugs of cocoa with marshmallows when they come inside like any good (sane) mother would. I try to find beauty in snowfalls and sparkly, frozen front yards, but it is forced. My joy is not found in MN in winter and so I soak up summer. I will sit in the heat of the day allowing the sun to pour down its goodness and concentrate on saving it up for January. You do what you can! Gardening season is good for me because of the ability to create alongside the great Creator. I plant seeds and pray for growth, I divide perennials and pray for beauty. I plan out a garden bed and entrust it’s success to the only One who can provide it. I don’t weep (much) if something doesn’t grow, I know that Gods plan is greater than mine, even if it’s a plan for wild, cold hardy roses instead of candied pink, double-full, zone six, climbing roses. I should know by now that the wild always wins out in my heart over the cultivated anyhow. This gardening/creating is my most common cause to note gifts and also the cause for my sadness when it is lacking.

Using this journal as a reminder, I look at my life a little differently. I don’t always see the good, but this book helps me to look for it. On the days when I am in cold darkness (literally or figuratively) I can look through my book and see that the peace is right here in my house, in my yard. Other people have joked that little things such as pink peony blossoms or the smile of a two-year-old are not enough to live a joyful life, but I’d argue that these are the exact moments God wants us to revel in. If we stop seeing the good in the small, we will need ever increasingly large events to provide happiness. While noticing bees buzzing in the Russian sage will cause us to focus on things outside of ourselves, things beyond our control, things that were put into place as a gift from God if we’re willing to stop and look. Is cream swirling in coffee a gift straight from God? Probably not, but it can be counted good if I choose to thank Him for my awareness, my stillness in this moment. The things themselves are not the only point, it’s the way we use those moments to remind us of God’s goodness. This day I will scroll out blessings, moments, and toddler giggles in my book. And I will live a fuller life because of it.

I’d love to know what you count today as joy.

In the One who makes me…

We are, each of us, made to follow Christ and in Him to know that He will make a way through for us.

 

This kid…she is my biggest challenge. She has taught me how to be a mother and how to (start to) do it well. This week she is at Bible camp, a place that she loves. It fills her heart up and brings her so much joy. I have a sneaking suspicion that one day she will aspire to lead other campers and then I will pray over her incessantly as she will be gone all summer long. Do you know how many days that is? I haven’t done the math, but it’s a lot! She is nine and her heart belongs to God. I know this because she often tells me, which makes me so thrilled for her. Not only this though, she walks her talk and shows with her actions that she really, truly, loves God.

I wouldn’t be being truthful if I didn’t admit that it scares me a little though. I didn’t begin chasing after God until I was thirty, even though I was raised in the church and knew about Jesus for all of my childhood. So why does it scare me that she knows and loves the Lord at this tender age? It makes me nervous as to how hard the devil will chase after her. From my own experiences I realize that the more in love with God you are the more the devil will try to trip you up. I pray that she continues to be strong in her faith and that evil never has a chance to break into her heart, but I’m pretty sure that she has difficulties ahead of her.

I know because this girl fights hard against all of the things that come easy for her. She has to really prove that she can do something. For example, I am certain she says things like; “Even though math is easy for me, lets see how many of moms hairs she’ll pull out before we get to be done today.”. Rollerblading was a piece of cake to learn so she had to learn how to skate backward. “Want to learn a foreign language girlie?” I ask. “YES!!” she replies, CHINESE!!” I’m not ashamed to say that I’m still trying to figure that one out. My point is that the girl walks the hardest line. So in her walk to meet Christ personally I feel that she will ask the hardest questions, push the most dangerous limits, and wait on God for answers longer than seems reasonable to most.

I have honestly wondered if she takes the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength…” as a personal challenge. Is she really trying to find something that He can’t or won’t help her with!? I’ve read that praying scripture back to God aids in memorizing those verses we want to hold on to. I struggle with Bible memory work myself (not my sweet girl though, she would memorize verses so quickly that I had her recite in crazy voices or while skipping rope just to make it fun for her!) and I believe that by praying it back it becomes more personal, like even more of a love song because of the relationship that I attach to it.

So since I feel that this verse defines her so well I read through it and underlined it in my Bible. I also searched its translation out from the Message Bible, I read a pretty traditional NIV Bible daily, but the message version always speaks to me so personally. Here’s the surrounding text from Philippians 4:10-14;

 I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.

When I read it here I realized that this verse is not just Paul making some off the cuff statement. I’m no Bible scholar, but in my opinion he’s saying “Look, its great that y’all have been praying for me and your help was really, well helpful. It’s just that I know you only helped me because God put it on your heart to do so.”. “Besides, I’m okay whether you help me or not, I know where all the good things come from.” My chosen verse sits there making this bold claim; “…I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”  Paul doesn’t just say that he’ll be fine. He say’s that no matter what-with little or much, beaten, starving, imprisoned-he can make it through. He must know that the devil is trying to break him with all of these hardships, Paul must see that every day until his death will be a struggle. Yet he counts it all good, not in his own power, but in the power and love of Christ.

Christ made my daughter to be this exact person, He knows what is to come for her and each day I try to entrust her to Him fully. He has given this child an exact plan to follow, He has laid out a path for her to walk and, right now, she is striding confidently on her way. He also made her to need Him, and not in a small way. He created her soul to long for a relationship with her creator. We mess that up a lot, confusing that longing-for-Christ-feeling with a longing for earthly pleasures. As she grows I will remind her that all of the gifts she has, all of the good that fills her life is from God and not her own power, that the drive she feels to do something well was placed inside her by her Father and Creator. I pray that she will never feel like she is enough. Yes you read that right. I don’t want her to be too confident in herself, but rather to trust that God is her “enough” and that in Him she will be provided for, in Him she will make it through.

She knows the NIV version of this verse but I wonder if she knows that it is “hers”, that she can make it through anything in the One who makes her who she is? Do you know that? Do I?…  Life will cause us to stumble. Only in Him will we make it through.

 

Growing a Garden and a Faithful Heart

 

I LOVE gardening. Before the birth of any of my children I would spend entire days in the yard. I went through a season where, because of my choices for happiness, I couldn’t garden. While those two years held some of my darkest moments all on their own, not being able to dig in the dirt made me sink into a sadness that I didn’t know was inside of me. My sweet husband built me garden boxes to put in front of our townhouse and I filled them with Belles of Ireland, Nasturtiums, Shasta Daisies, Sweet Peas…more. Everyday they made me smile.

Then we spent $30 that we didn’t have on a community garden plot for the good of my soul as much as the good of our grocery budget. I was in gardening heaven! I had a 25×25 foot plot and I filled it. As in; there was barely room to put your feet between the plants. I gardened here for three summers and I have to say the intentionality with which I gardened rebuilt the gardener inside of me. I grew tomatoes and basil, watermelon, onions, and friendships. I learned patience and peacefulness from the old men who came to the plot early in the mornings to water and weed in the quiet (little did they know my 5 and 2 year old children were already there running in the wet grass and squealing with excitement if they found a caterpillar!). I learned from the moms who drug their toddlers into the gardens mid-morning, that I am not alone in this mothering journey, that if I were bold enough I could (gasp) speak to them and possibly make a friend. I learned persistence from the people who came to harvest at the end of their work day, pulling muck boots on with suits and skirts. These people were dedicated to their piece of land, even if it meant squeezing the time in between work and the dinner table.

I’ve gardened a few other places, but really came into my own five summers ago when we bought our current home. See, I left a house that I didn’t necessarily love, but a yard that I had filled with part of my soul. I was excited to have the yard I have now, but I was nearly heartbroken to leave my plants…it sounds lame, I know. We moved in February with no idea what our new yard would look like. I sat in my van in front of the plants I was leaving and I cried. Then I prayed and I continued my prayer for months. I had recently decided that God was actually in charge of my life and that I was done ummm, lets go with messing it up. So I told God that I trusted Him to provide plants for me in my new yard. I silently begged for garden beds brimming with blooms. I humbly asked for even a few flowering plants to nurture. I even prayed that if the yard had no plants, the craigslist ads for free flowers would abound when the time was right.

Over the next four months I cleaned and painted and ripped cabinets off walls. There was a lot of work to be done on our new-to-us house. God met needs I didn’t really even know that I had over that time. I have a vivid memory of my husband being amazed at some thing that I found. He said, “I know God loves us all, but He must REALLY, REALLY love you!” I grinned from ear to ear knowing in the saddest part of my heart that this was true. Then spring came…

Months of asking for any matter of growing things and trusting that there would be something were about to prove fruitful. Plants began showing up in the shady back yard. All over the back yard actually. I took my shovel and began to dig out beds in the sunny front yard. I hauled turf to the back where it could break down, then I built hills in the beds that I was creating, then I built up a big garden bed by a tree with more sod from the front. I moved a lot of earth because there were SO many plants. I was absolutely overwhelmed with Gods kindness toward me. I dug out daisies, wild ditch lilies, lilacs, an insane number of peonies, though I didn’t even know that’s what they were until they flowered. My neighbor from down the road gave me a clump of comfrey, primroses, and tomatoes. I dug a vegetable patch in the back yard. My neighbors next door absolutely thought I was insane. They came over and laughed, actually laughed at me. They told me years ago there had been roses, Asiatic lilies, dogwood…So I looked.

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The second summer I found the roses, moved the lilies, and literally tripped over the dogwood. I continued to trust that God was in control of all of my life. That He cared deeply about my day to day. I know that Gods goal is not just my happiness, He wants me to search after Him with all of my heart and soul. He doesn’t need to lavish His love on me, but I believe that He wants to. He wanted to remind me that there was good for me still. That even though I had been lost and I had made bad choices, there was nothing that I could do to remove myself from His love. Each summer since we moved in I have found new plants, something that was not growing the year before. I have had to work for these gifts. The number of hours I spent with a shovel underfoot can not be counted. In this garden I have built the soil, built muscles, and built my faith and trust in God.

Looking back I can see that these years of trust, love, and flower blossoms are Gods love letter to me. Gardening has been the way God has lured my heart back to His. The way He has kept me close by His side. The way He keeps me looking to Him for provision and the care I will need. While the sea calls to a place deep inside of me, in the earth is where I am at peace with Christ and I know that in the garden is the place I belong.

 

What I want for them

What are your goals and expectations for your kids in their education?

Someone recently posted a question to a home-school board I am a part of; “What are your goals and expectations for your kids in their education?”. There was more to it than that, but after really thinking about it for a day or two, I realized that what I want for them is lofty. I thought I’d share it here (mostly so that I can find it on the hard days of mothering).

I want my kids to have a childhood.
I want them to chase their imaginations and sit with their boredom.
I want them to learn that people are (often) unkind but we get to choose our response to them.
I pray they learn self-control alongside self-indulgence and that both are necessary to live joyfully, peacefully, and care-fully.
I want them to love God first and share His love by acting in kindness toward all people.
I want them to respect life, the earth, and their grandparents.
I want them to read whatever they are passionate about-even if it’s Lego Ninjago.
I want them to get lost on dirt roads and have to follow the sunset home.
I want them to look up and recognize constellations.
I want them to see sacrifice and that a life lived differently is a good, good life.
I want them to be weird, no-I want them to be true to themselves. To have and to (really, really) know their identity.
I want them to speak out, to reach out, and to hold out for what they know deep in their soul is right. Unabashedly.

I’m (obviously) not going for main-stream, mold-fitting young adults. The world shapes young people, and it doesn’t do it kindly. My goal as a mother is to give my kids the base from which they will jump. However high or far they choose to jump is not my concern. I can show them how them to make those choices for themselves…I’m here simply to hold their hands until they are ready to take the leap.

It’s been a process of re-learning that these kinds of future decisions are outside of my control. I’ve been realizing that no matter my plans, children are people. They aren’t going to be people someday. They are people right now and I get to walk alongside them while they learn how to navigate life. They are not tiny versions of me, and their life experiences (I pray) are going to be much different than mine. This has brought me to my knees many times and I guess over the years I’ve discovered that what they need from me is safety to “try out” who they are becoming. So I aim everyday to be their base, their home, the person and place they feel comfortable and safe with, because in a strange and changing world that is what they will need. All other choices can be made and dealt with if a person has that safe place where they know they are not alone, where they know there is love for them.