Worth It

I love everything about my Nora.   I love how’s she so laid back, and yet so dramatic when she wants to be.  I love the way she “dances” anytime music comes on, or the way she giggles uncontrollably at her brother’s antics.  I love her fierce, determined spirit.  I love the way little bubble skirts look on her.  I love how she’s already got her daddy wrapped around her finger.  I love the way her hair curls up when it’s humid out, and how sweet her smile is.  Basically, I am desperately in love with this little girl God gave me.

Last year about this time I looked like some mixture between a beached whale/torpedo/prize winning watermelon.  I was having painful contractions all the stinking time, my back was killing me, and I couldn’t sleep.  Then I ended up in the hospital with pre-term labor and was put on full-stop bed rest, and my misery only got worse.  At 37 weeks, when I came off bed rest, I was in so much pain I could hardly walk.  What muscle tone I had left in my legs was met with shooting pains from contractions.  The entire left side of my rib cage felt like it was going to explode.  The next two and half weeks until I was finally induced were some of the longest days I have ever experienced, and I felt wholly helpless and incapable.

This morning as I watched my sweet little Nora Jane play, my heart so hopelessly in love with her, I realized that all that pain and discomfort and waiting was more than worth it.  I would do it a thousand times over for the sweet doll that is my little girl.

If you’re going through hard times, press into God and keep persevering.  Someday soon you may look back and realize that these hard times were worth it.  You see, sometimes the hardest things we go through turn into the greatest blessings.

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

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When You Have a Sweet One

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My son is one of those uncommonly sweet people.  Every time I pick him up from Sunday school I hear, “Miles is so sweet!”.  And then almost every night I hear our doorknob rattle and turn, followed by tiny little tiptoes across our floor.  My almost-three-year-old then silently climbs into bed on my side and neatly tucks himself in next to me before drifting back to sleep.  It’s hard to say no to something so heart-melting.

He’s the type of little boy who tells his mama often that she looks pretty, and you know he means it.  When I was sick recently, he voluntarily would softly rub my back and say, “I’m sorry you’re not feeling good, Mommy.”

His sweetness goes beyond just loving his Mama, though.  He notices peoples emotions, and it bothers him when others are upset.  When we took him to see Big Hero 6 in theaters, we thought that the movie would mostly go over his head.  However, by the time the credits rolled we were left with a sobbing little boy quaveringly telling us that “Baymax fell into the water!”.  He may not have understood everything, but he understood that Baymax was gone (or had been), and was absolutely torn up about it.

As his mommy, I both cherish and fear his tender heart.  I cherish it because it is a gift, rare in this world, especially among males.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s all boy, from his ability to turn anything into a weapon to his obsession with sticks and rocks (especially the throwing of them).  Yet, he has a sensitive streak in him that not every boy has.

I fear his tender heart because I am his mom and I don’t ever want to see him hurt, and yet I know the heartache that this world holds for those sweet ones.  Often in the world we live in, the ability to emote and empathize is degraded and made fun of.  I know that there will be times that my precious boy won’t fit in because of it.  I know that there will be times that he will be misunderstood because of it.  I know that watching the suffering of others will just about break him apart.

I also know that God has gifted him with this heart for a reason.  

I may not know yet what that reason is, but I pray every day that God will give me the strength and wisdom to nurture this precious little heart that He has entrusted me with.  I can’t wait to see the man he becomes.

Because the First Step is Admitting that You Have a Problem

Nobody would have known from the outside that something was wrong.  If you asked me how I was doing I would have said “good” or “fine”.  And wasn’t I really?  I had a wonderful husband with a steady job, a cozy house, and two beautiful children that I got to stay home with every day.  I should have been much more than fine.  Yet, inside, I didn’t feel fine at all.
For a time I denied that there was anything wrong.  I’m just having a bad few days.  I’ll get over it.  Yet, despite my best efforts to brush aside what was going on, I slowly slipped deeper and deeper into the fog.   
In public, I put my best face on, terrified that someone would see me for the broken, messed up woman that I was.  At home, those I loved most bore the brunt of my emotions, the offspring of feelings I couldn’t even describe.  I felt terrible guilt for my moodiness and anger.  I shouldn’t be feeling this way.  Strong, Christian women don’t feel this way.  If I would just do ____ I’d feel better. 
A strange feeling of hopelessness was sinking into my gut, silently squeezing the life out of me.  I tried without success to climb out of the pit into which I’d fallen.  I self-medicated my feelings in my own way.  I drank way too many cups of coffee and tea, wandered aimlessly in Target, and ate more dessert than I needed, desperately clutching for a cure-all.  I poured over my Bible, telling myself my problems were so few that I shouldn’t bother God with them…that I should just snap out of it.  The problem was, no problem can really get better until you admit you have one.            
Then came the day that my ever-intuitive mother asked me if I was maybe struggling with some post-partum depression.  At first I denied it vehemently.  As I thought about it more, though, I began to allow myself to consider the possibility.  What if that really is the problem?  Would it be so terrible to admit it?  Wouldn’t it explain all that I was feeling and experiencing?  

I called my mom back and told her that I thought she might be right and then I told my husband what I thought was happening.  Surprisingly, an incredible peace flooded over me.  You see, I couldn’t even begin to climb out of the pit until I first lay everything at Jesus’ feet.  In order to truly lay it all at Jesus’ feet, I had to admit that I couldn’t fix the problem on my own…and I had to admit to myself that there was a problem in the first place in order to admit that I couldn’t fix it.
    
So here’s me being open about something that even my closest friends might not know about.  The truth is, I struggled with Post-Partum Depression.  The good part is, I’m not anymore.  I’ve took steps to help straighten out my hormones and emotions, but mostly I learned to laying every feeling and thought at the feet of Him Who was and is able to fix everything…to fix me.  The fog lifted and joy returned as I came out of the pit.  Yet, I still have days where the devil gets the better of me.  And you know what?  That’s okay.  It’s not my fault.

If you’ve ever struggled with similar feelings, you know the guilt and burden they can be.  Just know that you are not alone and that you’ve done nothing wrong to make yourself feel this way.  There is One who can help…but first you have to admit that you need fixing.  

PS: Not everything can be fixed simply by admitting there’s something wrong.  I strongly encourage you to seek out a good Christian counselor and/or doctor.  I firmly believe that God has given these people wisdom for a reason!  Feel free to contact me at thelifenotmyown@gmail.com if you need help finding a good one.  

Bitterness

It’s like a cancer deep down inside of you.  Nobody sees it.  Nobody knows it’s there.  Except you…and, of course, God.

I’ve known the nagging pain of it far too well.  It began with a valid reason.  A blunder.  Somebody did me wrong.  The fact that I had once called that someone a friend made it worse.  That that person claimed to be a Christian sunk me.

Why would they do this?  How could this person not see the hurt they had caused?  How could they claim to have been led by the Spirit when all they brought was pain?  These questions whirred through my brain in a never-ending loop.

Slowly, I found the hurt turning black, rotting my heart from the inside out.  Shamefully, I found myself hating.  I wanted to scream and yell.  I wanted to write a nasty letter.  I even dreamt of doing this person physical harm.

I wanted to hurt them, but instead all I ever ended up hurting was myself.  I let it breed in me and poison me.  With it came anger, sleeplessness, and even depression.  There didn’t seem to be a way to stop it.

But there was One who could…the only other One who knew it was even there inside of me.   One day I realized that I needed Him to fix me.  I needed Him to get rid of this.

It was as if I looked down and saw for the first time that my fists were clenched, holding tight to the wrongs done me.  I didn’t want to let them go.  I wanted to hold onto them until this person paid for what they’d done.

But that is not His way.  That’s not how He works, how He heals.  No, instead of letting me inflict retribution, He asked me to do the opposite…He asked me to let go.

And I did.

It wasn’t easy or all at once.  When you’ve held tight to something for that long, your muscles are tight and unmoving.  It took prying and tears and hard choices, but eventually I was able to let go of that last shred of hurt that I’d held onto for so long.

All at once I saw what the poison had done to me.  What I’d let grow in me.  I vowed to never let it grow in me again, although I knew I could never really keep that promise.

O Lord, cleanse me of the blackness within.

Rid me of this poison I drown myself in.  

Let me know the freedom of true forgiveness,  

And free me from this trap called bitterness.  

Modesty Revisited

A few weeks ago, an anonymous person commented on one of my old posts from my newlywed days.  I had to laugh and cringe a little bit when I reread it, both at my writing style and a few of my thoughts.  Over the three years since I wrote that post, I’ve developed and grown so much, both as a woman and in my beliefs.
The truth is, I don’t only wear clothes that my husband “likes” and, honestly, he wouldn’t want me to.  I’m so thankful to be married to my husband.  We have our fair share of problems, struggles, and fights, but never once has he tried to control the way I dress.  If anything, he’s given me the freedom to develop my own personal sense of style and convictions on modesty.  His questions about why I felt the need to wear certain uber-Conservative pieces of clothing were merely meant to question my motives and help me decipher my personal convictions and tastes from the voices of the outside world.
You see, I’ve come to realize that standards without conviction are legalism.  Instead of coming out of honest prayer and seeking the Lord, they come from other men and women who are very vocal about their belief that their standards are the only correct ones.  My days of wearing long skirts and no makeup stemmed from legalism and a desire to please people (specifically single male ones 😉 ).  Here are some of my latest thoughts on modesty and what it really means:

The way you dress should bring respect, both to yourself and to your husband.

I know without a doubt that my husband will still love me and think I’m good-looking no matter what, but I want to walk into church or the grocery store dressed in a way that will make my husband proud that I’m his.  

“Her husband is known in the gates, 

When he sits among the elders of the land.”

(Proverbs 31:23)  

The infamous “Proverbs 31 Woman” brought her husband respect.  Similarly, while I have my own personal style and convictions, (hey, I’m a daughter of the King, and I want to and should be respected), I also want to bring respect to my husband.  I don’t want to bring upon him jealousy, mockery, or pity because I’m either dressed too provocatively or too frumpily (is that even a word?).

Modesty is not about wearing the “right” things and avoiding the “wrong” ones…it’s about not drawing undue attention to yourself.  

Sure, I want to be dressed nicely and attractively, bringing respect both to myself and my husband, but if I’m drawing attention to myself because I’m standing out too much, then I’m basically defeating my whole purpose.  Sometimes, covering up too much can actually draw more attention to yourself than just dressing tastefully and appropriately for the situation.  Anyone who’s ever seen a woman wearing a burka on a hot beach knows exactly what I’m talking about.  Dressing in a certain, Conservative way will make people think “Pentecostal” or “Fundamentalist”…not “Christian”.  Not that there’s anything wrong with those descriptions (especially if you are Pentecostal or a Fundamentalist), but if you’re not, is that really the image you want to portray to people?

“An attitude of humility, avoiding improper self-exaltation or excessive flamboyance. Scripture urges modesty in personal behaviour, forms of dress and forms of behaviour” (Dictionary of Bible Themes).

Over hyped-up modesty only makes us ashamed of our womanhood.

Please don’t try to argue with me on this point.  I’ve talked to many, many women who’ve come out of very Conservative circles, and the majority of them have experienced this at one point or another.  They were told that their bodies could make men stumble, as if they were wholly responsible for a man’s thoughts.  They were told that the mere outline of their womanly bodies could cause a man to lust, and thus they became ashamed and paranoid.  They wore bulky, ill-fitting clothing in an attempt to be “modest”.
Ladies, God created the female body as an exquisite, beautiful thing.  We should never, ever be ashamed of our bodies.  I don’t want to get into a debate here, because I really don’t have all the answers.  I just want to assure you that the fact that you have a chest, or a waist, or legs, or a rear end–the fact that you are a woman–isn’t going to make any guy stumble.

To this day, I’m still guilty of dressing differently depending on who I am going to be around.  

Not that it’s wrong to want to avoid offending someone or to dress situation-appropriately, but, at least for myself, I can definitely go overboard.  In truth, that just means that I’m being fake.  People are seeing the me I want them to see, instead of the me I really am.  

Summer in the South is brutal, especially for someone not accustomed to heat or humidity.

Honestly, a lot of over-Conservative clothing styles are impractical and downright oppressive.  When it’s over 100 degrees and feels like a sauna, even jean shorts will stick to you like nobodies business.  I garden and do things outside in the heat.  I couldn’t do that if I had to wear a floor length skirt or a short-sleeved sweater over everything.  This summer when it starts to feel hotter than Hades, I’ll be thanking the sweet Lord that I have a husband who has no problem with me wearing shorts or a tank top.

I’m all for dressing modestly and covering up parts of ourselves that should be only for our husband’s, but modesty standards are a deeply personal thing.  

I don’t think that God convicts us all about the same things.  I have friends that have different standards from my own, but I honestly believe that we are all following what God has convicted us individually to do.  Because of that, I respect their standards and they respect mine.  In the end, the way we dress should reflect who we are in Christ, as well as the unique, beautiful women God created us to be.  
Have your views and modesty standards changed over the years?  I’d love for you to share about them!


Shadow of the Past, Shadow of the Future

I hear it often enough.  I’m thin, as I always have been, and the scale balances a mere 10 lbs heavier than it did before my babies came.  “You look so good!” is common to my ears.  “You don’t look like you even had a baby!”
In many ways, I do look good for having two kids, one only three short months ago.  Yet, I remember well what my body was like.  These days when I look in the mirror I only see a shadow of what my body used to be.  Stretch marks dot my skin…scars from carrying new life within me and then bringing it into this world twice over.  Love handles that never used to be there, even after my first baby, hang over the top of my jeans.  My belly pooches out in a squishy mess of extra skin (thank you, Nora, for making my belly so stinking big!).  Things sag that didn’t used to and squish where there used to be firmness.
Then there’s the rest of my physical appearance.  My fingernails sit chipping and needing attention for weeks because I can never seem to find the time to paint them.  When I do finally paint them, invariably some child will unexpectedly need my attention and they’ll end up smudged and imperfect.  I usually manage to get makeup on, but by the end of the day it’s badly needing to be refreshed.  I tend to go one too many days without washing my hair, and my outfits are planned around nursing.  I never wear white because that would just be insane, plain and simple.
Yet, I’ve honestly never felt more beautiful.  I’m lucky enough to have a husband who thinks this post-baby me is more attractive than my pre-baby, skinny-as-a-rail self…and he makes sure I know it.  My children find comfort in my squishes and rolls.  My extra skin is Miles’ favorite place to snuggle when he’s sick or tired.  As I gradually transform my wardrobe to accommodate nursing and motherhood, I find myself discovering better my own personal styles and tastes and dressing accordingly.  Most importantly, I am proud of each stretch mark and roll.  They’re the lasting memorials of the two precious babies I bore…my two little blessings from God. 
Maybe, after all, my current body is not the shadow of its former self.  Maybe it’s the other way around.  

The Grey Days of Motherhood, Outside Voices, and Joy

It’s late afternoon and I sit in my car on the side of the road overlooking a lake several hours from home.  We were supposed to be enjoying a rare, midweek getaway, but my husband had had some service calls to make and work to do, and I’d had to entertain the kids most of the day.  Both little ones were recovering from a nasty cold and were terribly overtired, and I finally just had to escape the room, thinking I’d get some peace and quiet.  But then the baby screamed in the car and wouldn’t fall asleep, and I couldn’t take it and had to pull over
So here I sit, parked in a dusty parking lot.  In the rearview mirror I watch the toddler’s head sag as he finally drifts off to sleep, and I look down to the fussy baby sitting on my lap.  The grey skies outside seem to reflect my heart all too well.  A hotel coffee mug with strong, black tea sits next to me, getting cold.  I decide to sit here until it’s gone, and then I turn up the music, heart weary.
“Messiah/You’re Beautiful” comes up on shuffle and peace immediately floods over me.

***

My head swirls with outside voices.  Voices proclaiming how strong and worthy working moms are.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, voices proclaiming how you should be able to handle baby after baby in succession and be happy about it.  And all I feel is failure in light of those voices.  Because I trudge away at home.  Because I don’t want to, or feel called to, have baby after baby for the rest of my childbearing years.  
I feel tired…so very tired.  And not just because of how little sleep I got the night before.  I feel soul tired.
Earlier that day I went to Target thinking I would be refreshed and instead spent the whole time bouncing and nursing a fussy baby, and wishing I just had a kid who’d fall asleep and stay asleep in their car seat.  Wishing, too, that I had more money to spend.  Wishing that the tall Starbucks coffee I’d bought wasn’t too small for the nifty coffee cup holder on the cart.  Wishing that I could just sit in a coffee shop for a couple of hours…with just quiet and coffee shop music to distract me.

***
The baby on my lap finally nurses.  I put her in her car seat and sing along to the music playing.  She rewards me with a big, toothless grin.  I realize that I wouldn’t trade a million quiet hours at a coffee shop for that one smile…that I wouldn’t trade a job or being super mom to a billion babies for that one sweet smile from my girl.
And I know that I won’t always be so tired.  That someday I’ll sit in a coffee shop, heart aching for the fussy baby smile.  
And I know that those voices are just voices.  They are not me and they are not God, and all they do is make me lose sight of what God has given me to do…and they steal from me the joy that is found in being exactly where God wants you.
And I know that my days will not always be easy.  Sometimes I may just want to scream and cry.  Some days may seem pointless and rote.  And that’s okay. That doesn’t make me a failure.  Even in those days, I am right where God wants me.  I know that He will give me the strength and wisdom to see them through.  

***
Later, I pause before going back in the hotel.  The sun is setting burning orange in a beautiful painting from the Lover of my soul…the perfect balm for my worn and weary heart.  And He knows it.  I am not alone.  He is what I need.  He is all I need.  
Both babies are napped and happier.  I think of the good food and good sleep that definitely hopefully awaits me inside.  Almost imperceptibly, joy creeps into my heart.  Joy that is only found in the center of His will…joy that cannot be quenched or lost, even on the greyest of days.  A smile creeps across my face.  And inside, I’m smiling too.