The Mommy Wars, or Why Stay-At-Home Moms are Silent

I grew up with a brilliant, strong woman for a mother who had left off scaling the career ladder to be a stay-at-home mom to my sisters and I.  We were encouraged to do the same someday, and I came into adulthood and motherhood (by no fault of my mother’s…just my own convictions) staunchly believing that being a full-time stay-at-home mom was the best way for a mom who actually wanted to mother her kids and be a godly mother.

Actually being a mom changes things.

Since entering the world of motherhood, I’ve met moms from near and far and from all walks of life.  If I’ve learned anything, it’s we can’t put godly motherhood in a box.  It doesn’t look the same for every mom.  I have friends who are working moms who are doing exactly what God has called them to do. 

I’ve also come to realize that most moms are self-conscious about their own chosen path.  Working moms, in particular, complain that they don’t feel comfortable around stay-at-home moms…that they feel judged for working and still pursuing careers.

Working Moms, let me let you in on a little secret…stay-at-home moms feel judged too.  They’ve heard the whispers about how they’re lazy, or must be bored just sitting home all day, or are just lucky that their husband’s bring in the big bucks.  And each whisper stings deep.   

Many stay-at-home moms struggle with feelings of inadequacy.  They watch their working mom friends juggle a career, kids, and a home with seemingly flawless ease.  The old argument that you’d be paying someone to watch your kids while you work anyway (and, therefore, being a stay-at-home mom is a real job) only serves to fuel their feelings of worthlessness.  They want to be seen as more than a glorified baby sitter.  They want to feel like they are doing something important and worthwhile…but some days they’re honestly lucky to get out of sweatpants or fold a load of laundryTheir hard-working men march off each day to bring home a little to put in their bank account, and they meanwhile only seem to drain it. 

They listen to their working mom friends talk about all the awesome things they’re doing and accomplishing at work.  They listen to talk of grand, important things and a kind of busyness that makes the bottoms they wiped and the PB&J sandwiches they made seem insignificant and mundane.  

And so, they keep silent.  What, really, can they say?  “Oh, you saved a patient’s life today or taught a room full of third grader’s math?  I picked up blocks and cleaned up cracker crumbs.  My main struggle today was getting my son down for his nap, and I cried when my husband called and said he’d have to work late tonight.” 

The truth, however, is that a stay-at-home mom’s job is just as important as a working mom’s…it’s just different.  Take it from someone who’s been both a SAHM and a working mom…you feel just as exhausted, drained, and sucked dry after a day at home with your children as you do after a day at the office dealing with people and papers and money.  Yet, there can also be just as much joy, just as many accomplishments, and just as much self-worth.  What truly matters is that your day was spent right where God wants YOU to be, doing the things that He’s called YOU to do.

We are all moms, but we are also all unique.  The way we mother and live our lives should be unique as well.  We need to stop criticizing one another’s choices and instead encourage each other on the path God has led us each on specifically.  We won’t always understand each other or agree, and that’s okay.  It’s okay to be different from one another.  What’s not okay is to demean someone else for being different from you in order to build yourself up and make yourself feel better about your choices. 

Ladies, being a mother is stinking hard work.  We all have those days that we lock ourselves in the bathroom knowing that we’ll have a nervous breakdown if we hear that nasally, whiny, “MOM!!!” one. more. time.  Being a mom is tough enough without having to deal with the constant critiques and judgments from other moms.  Lets stop arguing about whose path is better, and start encouraging and supporting each other instead.  Lets stop focusing on our differences and start embracing the similar experiences we share as mothers.  Lets stop the mommy wars and start building each other up. 

Working mom, stay-at-home mom…what does it matter really?  What matters is that we are all women trying to navigate the unknown waters of motherhood. Better we do it together than all alone.   

Seasons of the Mundane

The newborn season of motherhood is full of seemingly mundane busyness.  Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, or just on maternity leave, it often seems like all you do all day is feed the baby, change dirty diapers, and attempt to go to the bathroom (mostly unsuccessfully).  In reality, that’s probably all you are doing.

Pretty much my entire day yesterday consisted of nursing a baby who was obviously going through a growth spurt, and taking a potty-training toddler to the bathroom while the baby screamed bloody murder.  Supper came in the form of a crockpot freezer meal hastily eaten in front of the tv while my husband held the baby.  On days like yesterday, it’s easy to look in the mirror and wonder what happened to all your dreams and goals.  Wasn’t it just a few short weeks ago that you were more than just a sleep-deprived, milk-producing, diaper-changing machine?  

This isn’t my first rodeo.  I know from experience that all too soon this newborn phase will pass.  In the blink of an eye that tiny screaming newborn will be the potty-training toddler proudly announcing every time she toots, far too busy to happily snuggle with Mama all day.  Even still, I have to fight off negative thoughts:  I’m not getting anything done all day.  I’ve abandoned the other passions and ministries God has called me to.  I’ve lost who I am in this whole business of being a mother.  All lies meant to distract me from the glorious, fleeting things God has called me to in the here and now.

Each time I take that toddler to the bathroom, I’m taking one more baby step in the process of molding and shaping him into the man God is calling him to be.  Each time I feed that baby, I’m providing her with the nourishment she needs to grow and one day fulfill the wonderful things God has in store for her.  Each time my husband holds her as I eat, I watch him fall more in love with her, becoming the daddy that she needs.  Each time I apologize to the toddler for snapping at him for kissing the baby too roughly, I see a little more clearly God’s heart towards us…and see Him using this season to shape me into the woman He wants me to be.

No season of life is ever mundane or meaningless…it only seems that way on the surface.  

Stop Saying "I’m Introverted"

Sometimes people hold me up as an example of someone who is independent, confident, and outgoing because I was able to move far away from my family and build a new life with my husband.  The very idea makes me laugh.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been a self-proclaimed introvert.  As a child I loved books and playing by myself, and I was hopelessly shy.  I remember distinctly a time when my mom sent my younger sister and I into a gas station to pay for something.  I was too shy to pay for it myself, so I made my younger sister do it.  Yes, my younger sister.

Later on, a 17-year-old me sat in my mom’s car crying because I was too afraid to go into my first college class.  For years, I would get so nervous going into new situations where I knew no one that I would throw up beforehand.  But, oh yeah, I moved 1000 miles away from my family, made new friends, and now have little trouble going into a big new group.  Real life confession, though?  I still don’t like calling people on the phone and I am still definitely an introvert. 

Being an introvert is something you’re born with.  You can’t change it anymore that you can change the color of your skin or your eyes.  What you can change is how you respond to it.  Too often, I see the phrase “I’m an introvert” used as an excuse to shy away from situations that make someone nervous or uncomfortable.  Believe me, I get it!  I’ve used the very same excuse.  I know from experience, however, how unfulfilling that excuse can be.  Life has pushed me out of my comfort zone and away from that excuse.  I’ve become unafraid by being forced to push through my fears.

That day I cried in the car?  My mom made me go anyway.  A few months later I went to England for two weeks with a friend.  I puked a lot on that trip, but I came back the better for it.  That same year I timidly submitted an application to be a small group leader with the on-campus Christian group I was a part of.  My two friends and I nervously joined the 40 other leaders (that we didn’t know) on their weeklong camp.  We had an amazing time and made many new friends.  Just a few months later I went to a conference where there would be 300 other homeschool graduates…none of which I knew.  I puked the morning I left…but I went anyways, and while there I met the man that one would day be my husband.

I could have let my introversion hold me back from all of those things.  If I had, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today, nor would I have the wonderful life I have today.  Without a doubt, I would be just as afraid, shy, and lacking in confidence, and probably miserably unhappy and lonely.

I will never regret pushing myself out of my comfort zone.  When I started to do so, I suddenly started thinking a lot less about myself and a lot more about others.  You see, as introverts sometimes we get so caught up in our feelings and fears that we completely forget about the feelings and fears of othersOften times, we miss out on being a blessing to others by letting our introversion be a cop-out or an excuse.  In turn, we never get out of our own selves, and we sink only further into our introverted “ways”.

Today, I don’t get sick to my stomach in new situations or panic talking to new people.  My instinct is still to wait for someone else to initiate, and I avoid making phone calls, but I am no longer afraid of them either.  I embrace who I am as an introvert, but I don’t let it control my life. 

Pushing past your introversion is never easy…but it is always worth it.

Dancing in the Kitchen

It had been a long week.  Cramping and Braxton Hicks had almost sent me to the hospital, my husband and I had both been busy with work, the days had been hot and muggy, and I was just trying to clean up the dishes so I could put my son to bed and sit down to veg on Facebook.  My phone was blasting a favorite Pandora station.  Suddenly I heard a sweet little voice say, “Mama, dance!”  I looked down to see my almost two-year-old son reaching up for me. 

I almost told him “not now”.  I was too busy, too tired, too worn out to be bothered.  But I didn’t.  Instead, I remembered how fleeting these moments would be…how quickly I’d be aching to hold him and giggle and dance.

I pick up my sweet halfbaby, halfboy in my arms and we dance.  He crinkles his nose and rams my face with his little boy version of an “eskimo” kiss.  His pudgy little hands hold tight to my neck.  I soak up the sweet smell of his soap mixed with dirt and grass.  He pats my back and whispers a contented, “Mama.”

Dirty dishes sit in the sink.  Laundry needs to be followed.  But right now I’m dancing with my son…and that’s all that matters.

The Life Of Faith

Searching vs. Desperation

Marriage is a very beautiful and wonderful gift.  There is nothing like going through life and serving side-by-side with your partner and best friend.  It is a rich blessing, and something that should rightly be desired.

I talked last week about how dangerous and damaging desperation can be for a single woman.  I’d like to clarify, however, that seeking a spouse is not the same thing as being desperate for a man.  If we as women truly desire marriage, then sitting back on our heels and waiting is not the wise alternative to desperation.  I don’t feel that it is wrong in any way to put yourself in positions were you’ll meet nice, godly guys with similar hearts for the Lord.  God has put desires in your heart for a reason.  While we have to wait on his timing and trust Him, sometimes we also have to actively seek…and there is nothing wrong with that.

There is a big difference between seeking and being desperate.  When you’re desperate, you’re eager to find just about any guy.  When you’re seeking, you are actively looking, or at least keeping your eyes peeled, for a man who you’d be a good fit with.  Desperation consumes your time and your life, whereas seeking merely takes up a small portion.  With desperation comes a willingness to compromise who you are to “snag” a guy.  Searching  involves finding out who you are and what you believe, and looking for someone who matches that.

Here are some ways that I have found for single women to seek a spouse without becoming desperate for one:

Don’t hide away at home.  When I was a teenager, I worked with a guy who took a Pilates class in college.  He was quick to admit that he was only taking the class because he wanted to meet girls.  He knew something that a lot of single Christian women miss: getting out there, being social, meeting people, and making friends is one of the best ways to meet and get to know nice guys.  Shocker there, I know.  Aside from the plus of meeting men, I don’t believe God called us to lock ourselves away in service to Him.  He called us to be lights in the darkness, a city upon a hill, and He also emphasized the importance of fellowship.  So go to the young adults ministry, take a class in something you’re interested in, or sign up for a mission or service project. 

Take pride in your appearance.  Disclaimer here: I am in no way trying to say that you need to dress a certain way or weigh a certain amount to get a guy.  I don’t believe, however, that we are doing ourselves any service by dressing frumpy or carelessly.  As Christian women, we are daughters of the King.  As such, we are representatives of Christ to this world, and we should dress accordingly.  Balance is key.  The term “modesty”, while skewed slightly in modern thinking, merely means to not draw attention to ourselves.  We can draw attention to ourselves in more ways that one.  What are we portraying when we are dressing showily, revealing too much of ourselves, dressing legalistically, or masking the beauty that God has given us? 

The other benefit to all this, of course, is that a man who is truly seeking and following the Lord will notice your confidence, dignity, and true modesty of dress.  Let your dress and your appearance reflect who God created you to be…a unique and beautiful follower of Christ.

Be joyful.  Have you ever met someone that was incredibly beautiful, but whose critical or angry spirit made them entirely unattractive?  Conversely, have you met someone that is far from beautiful physically, but whose joy, compassion, and love made you want to be around them?  We must learn to be joyful and thankful every day, in every season.  Guys aren’t looking for a woman who’s dramatic, whiny, or depressed all the time, and acting that way only demeans the wonderful blessings that God has given us.  Our outward attitude should mirror our inward redemption.

Pursue interests and be diligent.  No guy will be interested in a boring girl, or especially one who doesn’t really do much.  Laziness is very noticeable.  If you find yourself lonely or bored, chances are you’re wasting a lot of time on frivolous, self-centered activities.  Instead, try your hardest to become a well-rounded, diligent woman.  Take the time now to carve out and develop the passions and talents God has given you. 

Portray the best version of yourself.  With the advent of social media, it’s easier than ever to portray yourself as something or someone that you’re not…even if you’re not meaning to.  If you want to be seen as the mature, confident woman of God that you are, portray yourself accordingly.  Don’t post your life’s drama or your constant loneliness on Facebook.  Don’t act ditsy or write with pseudo-babytalk slang (mature guys are not interested in girls who act like babies).  Don’t post 5 million selfies.  Avoid long-winded posts full of unnecessary facts, and steer clear of petty controversy.  Don’t overpost, either…this makes it seem like you don’t really do much all day except Facebook stalk.  If the most interesting part of your day is seriously what you ate for breakfast, then chances are you’re not living to your full potential anyway.  

Consider actively seeking.  There are more websites out there for adults looking for a relationship than ever before, and I’ve known many happily married couples that have met that way.  While Andy and I didn’t meet through an official “dating website”, we did meet at a conference put on by a social networking site.  There’s no shame in that!

I love the line from Win a Date with Tad Hamilton where the one gal tells the other that her dad always told her, “Your odds go up when you file an application.”  It’s so very true.  You may think that actively seeking a spouse like that is taking things out of the Lord’s hands.  I don’t.  I firmly believe that if you’re meant to meet someone online, you will, and if you don’t, then at least you learned something about yourself.  The same goes for just about any other way of trying to meet someone.  Ask friends and family to be on the lookout for you (hey, my parents met on a blind date!).  Join a singles group.  Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.  While God can bring you a spouse in the most unlikely of ways, if you’re never in places where there are eligible young men, then you may find yourself waiting awhile.  The more people you come in contact with, the higher your chances are of meeting just the right man for you.    

God has a very special plan for you during this season of singleness, no matter how long it lasts.  Know, though, that if your heart’s desire is to be married, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong in seeking a spouse while you’re doing what God has for you at the moment..  Search out what the Lord has for you in this season of singleness, but don’t cloister yourself away.  Become the best possible version of yourself, put yourself out there, and then let God do the rest.

Desperate

As a single young woman, I was desperate to find a husband.  For as long as I could remember, my biggest goal in life was to be a wife and a mom.  That dream only grew as I was exposed to more Conservative groups in my later high school years.  Any other aspirations I had faded in light of the all-encompassing calling of being a helpmeet.  I decided to go to college, but only so I could get a teaching degree that would help me homeschool my children with fewer problems.  I worked a part-time job, but the rest of my free time was spent scouring blogs trying to figure out how to dress and act to snag a nice “Conservative” homeschooled boy.

Looking back, I wasted precious time.  I was so focused on my goal of getting married that I missed out on much of the work that God had for me at the time serving others.  I was so desperate for a man that I didn’t even have a clue who I was or what God was calling me to do with my single years.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a spouse.  The ache in a woman’s heart for a man is normal and natural.  The problems come when that ache and that dream become the driving force behind your actions and your time.  Desperation to get a guy is a terrible trap, and one that I see many Christian girls falling into.

The first reason desperation is so common is that, like I said, that ache is natural.  It’s not wrong or shameful, but it must be fulfilled in God’s perfect timing and way…not ours.

The second is that the Christian subculture has put almost too much emphasis on a woman being a helpmeet and mother.  Single Christian woman find themselves portrayed as less important than a married woman because they have yet to achieve that “highest calling of womanhood”.  Single Christian young women in very Conservative circles have it even worse because, oftentimes, they are taught that having any other career ambitions are wrong.  They are encouraged to stay at home and “prepare for marriage” with no idea when or if Prince Charming will appear.  As the years pass and they watch friends marry off, they wonder what’s wrong with them that the “highest calling” hasn’t come to them.  Oftentimes they struggle with loneliness, aimlessness, and depression.

Finally, there is a huge emphasis placed on wives submitting to their husbands, a biblical and wise exhortation to be sure.  However, this teaching is often used to encourage young single women to bend to a man’s wishes and to be the only one compromising.  This is not good either.

It’s no wonder that these single women end up desperate for a man, and desperation can be a very dangerous and damaging thing.  You see, when you’re desperate to catch a man, your focus shifts from meeting and evaluating guys to trying to become what a guy “wants” in order to snag him.  As a single woman, I was an expert at changing my dress and speech to suit the eligible guys around me.  I was willing to compromise on a lot of things.  If a guy thought women should only wear skirts, by golly I would have been the best skirt-wearer that ever was.  If a guy thought women should never work outside of the home, or that any form of preventing pregnancy was wrong, I would have jumped right on board.  It didn’t matter that none of these were my own convictions.  If a guy was actually interested in me and was convicted about those things, I would have compromised completely, asking nothing in return.

I’m so glad I married a man who doesn’t want me to wear skirts all of the time, has encouraged me to work outside of the home at certain times, and who isn’t of the “quiverfull” movement.  Not that any of those things are wrong, I just know now that I would have regretted giving up all of the things that I was and I believed for him.  I know that, had I done all that compromising, I would be bitter today.  I would go along with all those standards outwardly, but inwardly I would be dying to just be the woman that God had called me to be.

Desperation can also blind us to the calling God has put before us for today.  When I first started classes to become a teacher, I saw them as a means to an end.  The funny part is, I ended up loving teaching.  Through it I came to have a heart first for the children, then the people of the rural county in which my husband and I now reside.  While I am no longer in the season of teaching in the schools, that heart carries over to my new passion for reaching the young moms of the area. 

Similarly, there are other talents and passions that I have only pursued and developed since getting married.  If I had wasted less time on trying to be somebody that I wasn’t when I was single, I would be a lot further along in my development.  You see, although my biggest task right now is marriage and motherhood, there are other talents and passions that God has put inside of me, and He has done so for a reason.  These are the things that make me uniquely me as God intended.  They are the things that now make me the wife, mother, and woman that God intended me to be.    

The right guy will love and respect you for exactly who you are and what you believe.  You will love and respect him for the very same reasons.  You may not agree on everything or have all of the same convictions, but the compromise will be mutual, not one-sided. 

My husband likes to say that he wasn’t “desperate to get married…but he was desperate to marry me”.  Don’t be desperate for any guy…be desperate for the right guy.  Be desperate to marry a man you agree with and believe in.  Be desperate to find a man who you can be a partner with in life.  Be desperate to marry a man who loves and encourages you to be the woman God created you to be, and not a man who wants you to be what he wants in a wife.  By all means, be desperate…just make sure it’s the right kind of desperation.

In the mean time, seek out the other passions and skills God has gifted you with and pursue them.  Find out what God wants you to do with your time right now and do it.  The places that serving God will take you are the very places where those “nice” eligible guys end up.  What better way to meet a spouse than by serving God side-by-side with him?

I don’t really know if every young woman can truly be “single and content”, as the phrase goes.  What I do know is that God has a unique and awesome plan for every woman in a season of singleness.  Don’t waste that plan on desperation.     

Finding Yourself in Motherhood

Four days after my son was born, I bawled like a baby as I heard the little cry start again.  It was 3 am, I was utterly exhausted, and this was the fourth time I had tried to lay my new son down and slip into bed.  Thirty minutes later, I fell asleep with him draped across my chest…something I vowed to never do…something the pediatrician who had checked him out in the hospital had told me to never, ever do.  As I slipped into sleep I cried again, feeling like a failure as a mom. 
I’d always wanted to be a mother.  I was pretty sure that, when the time came, I would know exactly what I was doing and that motherhood would come naturally to me.  I was so wrong.
Sure, I had those amazing feelings of love you always hear about.  Changing dirty diapers didn’t make me cringe a bit.  Once the struggle of the first tough month was over, I even enjoyed nursing.  What I wasn’t prepared for were the feelings of inadequacy and uselessness.  My filthy house, dirty dishes stacked high, and inability to get one decent meal on the table made me feel completely incapable as a house wife.  The fact that my son was not a “typical” newborn (as I thought he should be) made me feel out-of-control.  My exhausted frustration at my son when he would scream for hours every night from colic made me feel like a terrible mom.  Most of all, though, I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything all day.  I struggled with feeling a sense of purpose.
I knew that taking care of my son was my purpose for this season of life, but there was a disconnect between knowing that and feeling it in my heart.  I knew I was doing something very worthwhile and purposeful, but most days I felt like I was just treading water.  The problem was that, deep down, I wasn’t just a milk-producing, diaper changing, baby holding robot…there was a very real and individual person just dying to be let out!  The challenge in any change of seasons is finding the balance between who you are as a person and the tasks God has put before you for today. 
For me, finding this balance meant two things.  The first was that I had to change.  I had to let go of my need for control and desire to do things the “right” way and instead be flexible and learn to be the mom my son needed…not the mom I wanted to be.  Anytime God refines us, the process is far from easy and painless.  There were days that I despised the new mom posting on Facebook asking for ideas of things to do because her baby was so easy and she was bored.  Yet, I have come to realize that God gave me Miles with all of his out-of-the-boxness so that He could mold me and force me to let go of my controlling tendencies.  He gave me a very real little individual so that He could change my individual self.
Finding the balance for me also meant fusing who I was as a person with the role of mother.  Again, this isn’t an easy process.  I have come to believe that, in any season or role we find ourselves in, our personality should still shine and show through.  I don’t parent the same as any other mom because I am not any other mom.  I am a tea-drinking, outdoor-loving, greenthumb-wannabe who loves traveling and good food.  Consequently, my son spends a lot of time outdoors, is well acquainted with garden tools, has traveled more than most people will in a lifetime, and will eat just about anything…including spicy food or strong-flavored ethnic cuisine.  He is his own person, but his daily life is the way it is mostly because of who I am as a person.  God placed Miles in my care because He knew that the mama I am is the mama Miles needed.   
As I approach my two-year anniversary of being a mother, I’ve gotten into a better groove.  I have a system down for at least keeping the house manageably clean.  We do eat a home-cooked meal most nights, even if it was something I stuck in the freezer two weeks ago and just dumped in the crockpot that morning.  I already have long lists of freezer meals to assemble and preparations to make for whenever Baby Baker #2 decides to enter our home, knowing very keenly how needed those will be.  I feel very purposeful as I order our home, chase my toddler around, and reach out to other moms in our community. 
I am not the same person I was before my son was born.  And yet, I am more than just a mother.  I am Caitlin Baker, wife, mom, homemaker, and very real person…something that brings me very great joy.    

Dear Single Girl: Would You Follow Him?

Dear Single Girl Who’s Wondering if He’s “The One”:
When I was twenty years old I did something crazy: I got married and moved a thousand miles away to the hills of rural Arkansas.  My husband and I didn’t have much to our name and I was still in school.  To top it off, I had never lived away from home before. 
Four years later, I look back and am shocked by that bold step.  Yet, I’ve never once regretted that decision.  Our marriage has had its ups and downs, just as any marriage does, but we are very, very happy.  I do miss my family and the endless sunny days in Arizona, but I have never once cried from homesickness.  In all honesty, that move from Arizona to Arkansas was not terribly hard for me. 
I get asked almost daily why it wasn’t that hard.  I’ve come up with all sorts of answers.  My personality.  I was ready to have my own home.  I was raised to be independent.  Modern technology makes staying-in-touch easy.  All true reasons, but not enough in and of themselves.  The real truth is that it wasn’t all that hard because of Andy.
When I was a young teenager, I got it in my head that I wanted to marry a man that I could follow.  For a stubborn, bossy first-born such as myself, that was not an easy requirement.  Yet, in my heart I knew that that criteria would be the make-or-break factor for my marriage.  “Would You Go With Me?” by Josh Turner became my anthem.  I longed for a man who would ask me if I’d go with him “to the ends of the sea”, and with whom I knew that I would.
I thought I knew what such a man would look like.  He’d have to be loud and outgoing to balance out my quiet side.  He’d have to be a good speaker, but a poor writer, so that I could be his helpmeet and write for him.  Oh how wrong I was!
Thankfully, I would indeed follow my husband to the end of the sea.  Yet, this man of mine is not what I thought he would be.  He is quiet and reserved and gentle.  When describing him, his grandmother once told me that still water runs deep.  He has a tender heart, yet he can be sarcastic.  He’s a good speaker, but he doesn’t like to be the center of attention.  And he’s a wonderful writer.
When I married Andy, I knew I was marrying a man I could follow.  I have come to realize that it is for this reason primarily that moving away from everyone and everything I ever knew wasn’t so very difficult.  You see, when you marry a man that you can follow, actually following him isn’t all that bad.
You may never follow your man to the ends of the sea.  You may end up getting married and never living farther away than the house next door to your parents.  But I can promise that the time will come when you will have to follow him, and you will be asked to give up or move away from something or someone that you love.  The question is, will you be able to do it? 
And so, as you look for a man to marry, I encourage you to not settle for anything less than a man you can follow.  Don’t look for a man who is good looking, or well off, or charismatic, or seems to have to have it all together.  Don’t look for a man that you will always agree with or that will go along with anything you want.  Instead, look for a man you can follow
I know all too well how important that is.

Of Hymns, Drums, and True Worship

Music is something very near and dear to my heart.  As a musician, music worship is one of the single greatest ways I connect with God.  I love and crave the times when I get to sing songs of praise to the Great Lover of my soul, and I’ve experienced the whole gamut of music worship types.

Before getting married and moving to Arkansas, I attended a Conservative Southern Baptist church with my family.  We still sang mostly hymns, the choir still wore big, shoulder-padded choir robes, and quarterly business meeting/potluck were known to last for hours. 

I played my violin and sang in the choir almost every Sunday.  I even accompanied the choir on the piano for some of our bigger performances.  The music was traditional, beautiful, and very much like a performance. 
I’ve also been at churches where the music was all contemporary, loud, and emotion-driven.  I appreciate aspects of both.  I like both.

However, in the past few years, my view of what worship should be like has been shifting.  I’ve come to realize that, in truth, music worship is not about what we like or what makes us feel good or comfortable.  Music worship is about worshiping God.  Plain and simple.

Those that lead us in this area should be focused on worshiping God themselves and leading everyone else into true genuine worship.  It’s not about how great the choir is, or how well the musicians play.  All too easily, “good” music can turn into a show instead of a time of worship.  While it’s important that music be pleasant and sound good (otherwise it’s distracting in and of itself), that’s not the most important thing.  The real question should be, “Am I truly worshiping?” 

I’ve been in many “traditional” services where the hymn singing is rote and completely unemotional.  No one is truly worshiping…they are merely going through the motions and enjoying music the way it “should” be. 
Conversely, I’ve been in many “contemporary” services where the music worship is nothing more than an emotional high.  There is no true substance…no true, genuine worship.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Thankfully, I’ve also had the privilege of seeing this first hand.  I’ve watched a congregation of mostly senior adults, moved by the spirit while singing “How Great Thou Art”, stand to their feet, one older woman with her hands raised high.  You could just feel God there.  I’ve also watched as 40,000 college students worshiped honestly and genuinely to the tune of loud, beat-heavy music. 

I believe that we can worship anywhere, in any place.  We don’t have to have “contemporary” music or “traditional” hymns.  We don’t have to have a choir or select instruments.  We don’t even have to have the type of music we prefer.  All we have to have is a pure, open heart that is focused on worshiping our God, simply and fully.     

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you worship:

Where is my heart?  Is it on adoring and thanking my King, or is it on the girl wearing the mini skirt in front of me?  Am I having a moment with just God and me, or am I thinking about how off-key someone in the choir is?

Am I listening to the words and truly meaning them? When I’m singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”, am I thinking about every word and truly standing in awe of my God?  When I’m singing “with arms lifted high”, are my arms actually lifted high?  Am I just going through the motions, singing familiar songs?

Does this music make me say, “Wow, that was awesome!” or “Wow, God is awesome!”?  Is the music so showy or polished that it distracts me from the meaning?  Is this music a performance or a worship experience?

Does this music speak to my head, my emotions, or my heart?  Is this music a mere emotional experience?  Is this music pure rote memory and nothing more?  Am I actually worshiping from my heart?

While you can learn to worship anywhere, to any music, sometimes (okay, many times, sadly), you will find yourself in a church where the music is either all for show or all about tradition.  These factors may simply be too distracting to your worship experience.  I would encourage you to pray fervently about where God would have you.  While we need to follow God’s leading regardless of our personal preferences, I don’t believe that God would put you in a church where you can’t truly worship Him.  Sometimes distractions are a sign that God is leading you elsewhere.

Whatever the case, remember that the style, setting, and volume level of the music is not important.  What matters is that you can worship there.  Personally, I would rather be in a church where the music is boring, simple, and flawed with a worship leader whose goal is to lead us into worship, than in a church that’s missing the point of worship.  True music worship is not a performance…it’s a time of praising, adoring, and thanking God together with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Of Dreams

Dreams.  We all have them.

I use to have so many dreams.  Horses.  Love.  Marriage.  Children.  Travel.  Writing.  Security.  The list was never ending!

The past few years the idea of dreams has been almost constantly in my thoughts.  God’s been sifting my heart and my life, and as a result I’ve been questioning what place, if any, dreams should hold in my life.

If I say that I want all of me to die and all of Him to live in me, does that mean that my dreams have to die too?  Is it even okay to dream?  What does it mean to dream God’s dreams?  How do I know that my dreams are His too, and not just mine?
In the midst of all this, I’ve let many of my dreams slip away into the background.  I’ve busied myself with the things of the day, and in turn all but forgotten what those many dreams were.  And yet, I found that no matter what I did, there were burning passions and dreams deep in my heart-of-hearts that could not be stifled or quenched.  Like embers, they remained.  It was like they were waiting for the perfect time to once more burst into flame.  
You see, the thing about dreams is that they’re not all bad.  Yes, sometimes they can be selfish.  Sometimes they may be good things, but just not what God has for us at this time…or ever.  But sometimes–just sometimes–they’re things that God has placed in our heart and soul for a reason.  We may not understand how they fit into His plan ultimately, but make no mistake…they have a purpose.
Its okay to dream.  It really is!  Those things that stir our very core are there for a reason.  Yet, to fully experience them and see them blossom, we must first lay them at Christ’s feet.  We must let them die in Him.  We must trust that, in His perfect timing, the small seed that dies and falls to the ground will sprout and grow into something beyond our wildest imaginings.

And so, I’ve been digging into the treasure chest of my heart, once more.  I’ve been rediscovering those many dreams I dreamed.  Some big, some small.  All buried away for a time.

Some of the dreams I dreamed have faded away.  I can hardly remember why I dreamed them in the first place.  Others I’ve seen bountifully fulfilled.  Still others I’m still waiting on.  The strangest are those dreams that have changed.  They hold glimpses of the old dream, but they have been transformed into something far different…something far better.

You see, that’s what happens when we let God have our dreams.  He takes those burning coals, molds them and refines them, and makes them His.  He takes those passions He created in us and uses them for His plan and His glory.

Dream big, little passionate one.  Just don’t forget to place them on His shoulders.  He can be trusted.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” ~Jeremiah 29:11