3

But it's a GOOD hard. I mean it.

People sometimes wrongfully assume that because I have six kids I must be some sort of parenting expert.  Let me just clarify something for you right now.

Nope.

I don't know what the heck I'm doing.  And I won't pretend for a moment I've got it all figured out.  If you ask me for advice, my answer will probably be just that - "I don't know."

Because here's the truth -

It's hard.

It's hard whether you have one or ten.

It's hard whether you work out of the house or don't.

It's hard whether you send your kids to public school or private school or homeschool.

It's hard whether your baby sleeps through the night or doesn't.

It's hard whether your child is compliant or strong-willed.

It's hard whether you have a struggling learner or your child is so smart they think they're smarter than you.

It's hard whether you are brand new at it or have thirteen years experience.

BUT....

It's a good hard.  It's worth it.  Just like working out, you take the sore muscles with the exhilaration of a post-workout high and the promise that it will be worth it.  It's worth it.  It's so worth it.

It feels like we're inundated with all of this pressure to be perfect and we have the platforms to pretend like we are, but I say just ignore it.  Anyone who has an answer for everything in life is lying, either to you or to themselves.  No one has it all figured out.  And that's okay.

Having children was the best thing that ever happened to me because it helped me realize that things just aren't all about me.  Want to learn selflessness?  Perseverance?  Patience?  What it feels like to love someone else unconditionally?  A child can teach you those things.  And more.  (Edited to say:  I have obviously not learned these things in totality, but rather have been afforded many opportunities to learn them, thanks to these tiny people.  I'm very much a work in progress.)

I waver each day between trying to focus on the good things and being transparent about the bad.  My hesitation with sharing the real bits is that someone might mistake the negative aspects of parenting for cons on a list of reasons not to have kids.  Those negatives are just circumstantial.  They cause temporary unhappiness.  They don't steal the joy that is had by having kids.

After securing a very last minute Mother's Day substitute for our Sunday School class (to whom I'm most-definitely indebted), we set out for a spontaneous trip to the beach.  You might find it humorous that I use the word spontaneous when it took about 6 hours of furious texting, searching, and packing, but that's the closest it gets with a family of eight.  We embarked on the trip way-too-late, and arrived at the hotel after midnight with a crew of six kids that had slept part of the way.  We managed to get everyone back to sleep without any major crises by about 1am and determined to wake up and get going to maximize our time at the beach the next day.

At 2am, my sweetest-baby-ever, Hannah, woke up screaming.  It was the high-pitched, inconsolable kind of screaming the likes of which can wake up an entire hotel, not only the other guests in the very same room.  It was the kind of screaming I had to get under control just to walk her down the hallway outside, so I could, well, get her under control.  I'm still not sure why she was crying like that (other than the fact that she was a little off her schedule and out of sorts), but I do know she's the reason I ended up spending most of my night sleeping in the passenger seat of our van.  If you don't count the fact that I had an alarmingly real dream about a S.W.A.T. team canvassing the entire parking lot culminating with me sitting bolt upright as a cat plodded across the roof of our van and the slightly embarrassing encounter with a man packing up his vehicle next to me who probably surmised I was either a vagabond or involved in some sort of lovers quarrel, I actually had a pretty good night's rest.

Needless to say, Mother's Day morning didn't go exactly as I imagined it would.  But it began with a giant cup or seven of coffee.  (As all good days should.)

Later in the day, after the hours worth of sunblock application on eight people of varying sizes had certainly worn off and two tiny people were hours late for their naps, we decided to head back to the hotel for a little rest.  Unbeknownst to me, our nearly-potty-trained two-year-old, had left more than a small "present" for me in his swimming trunks, just as we arrived at our van from the beach.  A full pack of wipes later, and he was deemed "clean enough" to ride in his seat back to the hotel.

These are the things, in my rookie-mom-dom, that would have ruined my day.

"Figures.  Little twerps probably planned it.  Don't they know this is my ONE SPECIAL DAY!!? Classic - no sleep and a pooptastrophe."

What it's taken me 13 years to realize is that, these things are hardly real trials.  They're just life.  It's what they do.  It's what I do.  And it's what I did to my mom and what she did for me.  It's what every mom in the history of the world has dealt with.  These things are not new or planned or coordinated by tiny conspirators.  Sometimes, having kids is hard.  But at the same time, it's a good hard.  Know what I'll remember about that Mother's Day trip?







I'll remember a husband and father who made the trip possible.  A four year old who wasn't afraid.  A two year old who played so hard we couldn't wake him up for dinner.  A pair of sisters/best friends who must've ridden 500 waves on boogie boards.  A pair of brothers who swam together.  A baby who wouldn't stop smiling (you know except for that whole screaming incident).  

The good stuff.  I'll remember the good stuff.

It's a choice we all have.  We can wallow in the bad or we can choose to see the good.  In our postmodern world it's become trendy to believe that we're entitled to be pissed off.  I have lots of thoughts on what we're entitled to, but I'll just say that I don't think there's anything beneficial about living an angry life.  Don't do that to yourself.  I'm not going to let myself live that way either.

Relish the good.  I dare you. There's so very much of it.

Blessings,
0

Seven

Seven years ago, I met this chick.


She's the one who turned me into an outnumbered mom.  She's the reason I cried inconsolably at the end of my maternity leave because for the first time I just didn't want to go back.  She's the one who stayed home with me while the big brother and sister were at school after I lost my job and schooled me on the ins-and-outs of being a stay-at-home mom.  She was the first child to climb out of her crib before the age of one.  She was the reason I stood post at her door for hours at a time trying to get her to fall asleep for a nap (because, by golly, I was going to win).  She was the first child to have stitches.  She was the first child to have stitches again.

She's the child who nearly cut her finger off trying to open her own toys on Christmas day, left a trail of blood across the entire house, and attempted to stop the bleeding with a band-aid in her bathroom.  She's the child who threw up in the sink in the middle of the night and tried to clean it up herself because she didn't want to bother Mommy while I was sleeping.

She's the girl who puts on a dress, then goes and rolls in mud.  She would never brush her hair if we didn't make her, and yet still manages a still-fashionable, wild and crazy Farrah Fawcett look.  She will not go to sleep without at least two hugs from every member of the family and a seriously sloppy kiss on the lips.  She always remembers to say her prayers at night and before every meal.  She takes good care of her toys.  And she loves her sisters and brothers with every fiber of her being.


She gets up first in the mornings and snuggles with me in my bed.  Sometimes she falls back to sleep, but usually she goes and wakes up a baby or two to deliver to me.  She is an independent woman, despising asking for help.  She's good with numbers.  She's an eager learner, always ready with a million questions, even though the questions themselves don't always make a lot of sense to anyone except for her.  She's a great listener.  And she has a fantastic memory.

She plays soccer with gusto, and when she's not contemplating strategy (you can practically see the wheels turning), she's literally bouncing up and down with enthusiasm.  She does all sorts of daring tricks on the backyard swings and in the pool.  She loves to give gifts.  She loves to eat sandwiches.  Her favorite color is orange (today at least).  She has an imagination that's out of this world.  She gets embarrassed when people laugh at the hilarious things she says.  But she's got plenty more where that came from.

She's just...Sarah.

And she's awesome.



The other day, out of the blue, Leah looked at me and said, "God knew we needed a Leah."

Indeed, precious girl, and God knew we needed a Sarah too.

Happy Seventh Birthday, Sweetest Girl!

Go and Be Comfortable.

Yesterday, we spent the day doing the usual school routine and as I wound down for the afternoon, I could hear from the kitchen table that our neighbor was on his mower, cutting his grass.  I reminded myself I would probably need to do the same thing soon and carried on.  As early afternoon turned to late afternoon, I piled the six kids into the van to head for the soccer fields for back-to-back games for the three older kids.

That's when I noticed the mangled wiffle ball in the middle of our driveway.

At first, I thought, "Oh, he must have hit that with the mower and it landed in our yard."

Upon further inspection, however, there was not a single blade of cut grass anywhere on the driveway.  That chunked-up wiffle ball had been purposely placed there.

Apparently, he'd hit a wiffle ball on his mower and assumed it was ours.  I guess that seems reasonable.  We do have six kids and our driveway abuts his yard.  And sometimes, things roll down the natural elevation change into his yard.

The thing is, though, we don't even own any wiffle balls.  (We're a soccer/basketball family.)

So, my panties got twisted in a hurry.  Who does this guy think he is?!  He hits a wiffle ball with his mower, walks back to it, picks it up, assumes it ours to deal with, and tosses it in our driveway.  The NERVE!  It would have taken no more effort to throw it in his own trashcan or even our trashcan that was less than ten feet from the piece of junk's placement on our driveway.

Grumble, grumble, angry text messages to complain about it some more, grumble, grumble.  Consider passive-aggressive counter move of tossing it back into his yard.

My heart condition is the best.  (Can't you tell?)

Now let's rewind a few nights ago to when I was sitting around the house after finishing a Jen Hatmaker video series called "Pulling the Thread" after which I felt empowered to view my mission field as right where I'm planted.  It seems more genuine, more noble, somehow, to hop on a plane for the remotest areas of the world and tell others about Jesus, but is it really less noble or even less necessary to do the exact same thing right here in my home town?  Overseas, short-term missions are awesome.  The missionaries who serve overseas are amazing, and deserve our unrelenting support, but does that mean I need to beat myself up about not being able to go right now or yet?

I contend that it does not.

You see, I might be living in a prosperous, not-very-diverse area, but these middle-class/upper-middle-class white people have souls that need Jesus every bit as much.

It's true.  Don't be mad.

I don't pretend to know the heart condition of my neighbor.  Maybe he was just doing what he thought was the neighborly thing to do - he returned what he assumed to be our missing ball.

The point is, I have neighbors whose heart conditions I don't know.  I encounter people every single day in whose lives I can make a difference in some small or large way.  But I have to see them.  I have to encounter them.  I have to be willing to be uncomfortable.

I like my home.  I'm a homebody, and if it weren't for my adventurous husband dragging me out of my comfort zone on epic cross-country "field trips," I would probably never leave my kitchen table, or the familiar territory of the local Aldi, our home church, and the public library.  I don't think it's inherently wrong to like being home or to like familiarity, but I don't think it's okay to remain there and limit ourselves.  There's so much more to see and experience in this world, in our country, and even (perhaps, especially) in our home towns (where we spend the majority of our lives) when we dare to leave our own comfortable corner of it.  It's hard to think about others and recognize how others might view the world if everyone we see looks and thinks like us.

I just finished reading Kristen Welch's Raising Grateful Kids in and Entitled World and a few things have jabbed me like a knife.
Being others-oriented is about as countercultural as it gets.  Self-centeredness is so prevalent in our world that we don't even recognize it anymore.  We are a society of the entitled; we think we deserve whatever we have - and then some.  
Society screams me, and Jesus scream them.  Becoming others-oriented is not a matter of flipping a switch; it's a lifestyle you cultivate. 
I have a knack for making the simplest things complicated.  I have two purposes for my time here on this earth - to love God and to love others.  If my relationship with Facebook is any sort of indication of my spiritual condition, I'm failing pretty miserably at both of those.  Instead of realizing my worth and value as a child of God, I seek "likes" on the internet.  Instead of loving others, I promote myself.  Instead of leaving the familiarity of home where I might have to feel awkward or uncomfortable I consider myself first, and others second.  This flies in the face of the Gospel.

So what does that mean?  I'm grateful for grace, thankful I'm forgiven, and I'm working towards looking even slightly more like Jesus each day.  It means I'm terrified to do so, but praying that God will make me uncomfortable.  I'm actively seeking ways to serve others instead of hiding behind my selfish tendencies.

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.  And above all of these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  Colossians 3:12-14

Jesus didn't tell us to Go and be comfortable. He said to Go and make disciples.  He said it would be hard.  Guaranteed.  Jesus lived a life of discomfort, culminated by the ultimate pain and agony - the recipient of all of God's wrath for my own sin.  The very least I can do is take a first step outside of my comfort zone and make myself second.  If only I didn't have that darn inherent sin nature to make this all about me, and less about Him.  What can I say?  I'm a MAJOR work in progress.

5

Broken Mint Candy

Last week the kids and I returned from a trek to Maryland, where I hoped to help my parents begin what will be the long process of cleaning out my late great aunt's home.  It's no secret that she liked to hold on to things longer than most, and that she kept many things most people would consider to be trash.  As a child of the depression, she saved and stored and kept.  I think that generation learned through living with nothing to collect and store up things long after collecting and storing was no longer a necessity, I suppose as an insurance policy.  Working through the kitchen mainly disposing of expired food, I came across one particularly noteworthy item that really stuck with me.


It's a prescription pill bottle.  Filled with pieces of broken peppermint candies.

At first I laughed.  "That's insane!" I thought.  And really, maybe it was.

But...

Then...

I thought about that generation of men and women.  These are the men and women born in the teens and twenties.  These are the same men and women whose childhoods took place during the bleakness of the Great Depression.  These are the men and women who watched the entire world go to war and they either served in the armed forces or pitched in at home, but there was no opting out.  They were brave, savvy, and resourceful.

They had very little, so they learned to treasure everything.  Even broken mint pieces.  (She might have used those someday!)

How far have we come from this mindset?

Now, we have everything, and yet we treasure practically nothing.

I'm not suggesting we should start bottling our broken mint candies.  But I am suggesting that we pause for 0.2 seconds every once in a while and recognize the blessings staring us in the face.

Jon Acuff said on Facebook a couple of years ago:
If my grandfather, who fought in a tank in WWII, was alive I'd tell him what a hassle it is when a website makes you scroll a lot.
It's the fact that we totally ignore just how easy we have it.  We literally have the entire world at our fingertips.  And, what do we do?  We find ways to complain about it.

 
My own father once told me:
As my old friend from Bethlehem Steel used to say, if the Russians knew what kind of shape we're in they'd attack today.
And that's funny, except, it's not.  Because, by and large, my generation doesn't know what it is to be scared, or to struggle, or to think outside the box.  My generation is used to being served on a silver platter.  Only, we have grown tired of the silver platter and we're hoping to upgrade to platinum on someone else's dime, forgetting all the while that ceramic is more durable, cost-effective, and practical.

Folks, we've got it made.  And for some reason, we're constantly dissatisfied.  Let's not be.  The next time we're tempted to whine about something ridiculous - like, Saturday when my coffee tipped over at the kids' soccer fields and I declared something like, "Well, this has been a complete waste of a day!" - let's stop, take a deep breath, and remember -

If this is the worst thing that happens today, I'm doing alright.

Let's find things to treasure.  Smile at the perfect baby handprint on the glass.  Notice the sun rays peeking through the storm clouds.  Watch as a flock of birds flies through the sky with perfectly coordinated movements.  Thank the person with the thankless job who serves you every day.

Treasure all of it.  Even the broken mint candy.

Why Are You Afraid?

Most of the time being a life-long cynic means I am pleasantly surprised when things don't turn out as badly as the doomsday scenarios my mind has become so adept at conjuring up.

But sometimes, those worst case scenarios actually happen.  And I sigh and say, "See.  Told you.  The whole world is stupid.  Now leave me alone so I can cry in the shower."

I will admit that crying in the shower doesn't do much actual good.  But patterns bear repeating.  Hot showers and tears are as cathartic as a cup of coffee and a bag of Twizzlers.  Because eating when you're sad or stressed is totally healthy too.  

I waver between caring way too much about everything and throwing my hands up in the air and saying to heck with it all.  I can't decide whether to educate myself more or bury my head in the sand and pretend I'm an ostrich.  I think, "But one person can make a huge difference in this world."  Then I turn in an instant and wonder, "But honestly, what can one person really do?"  My mind is a jumbled mess of incoherent trains of thought and then, suddenly (and usually briefly), moments of clarity.
And he said to them, "Why are you afraid?  O you of little faith!"  Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea and there was a great calm.  -Matthew 8:26
That's me.  The one of little faith.

Why am I fearful?  Because I make it about me.  I think I'm the one who has to control everything.  Spoiler alert:  It's not about me.

Instead of fretting and worrying and agonizing, I need to trust that the God of the universe who numbered and named each star, who feeds and shelters the sparrows, who knows how many hairs are on my head, can calm any storm.  I need to remember that while many things that happen in this life surprise me, nothing surprises God.  He saw it coming.  And he already has a plan to make it work for his good.

God can take ugly and make it beautiful.  He can take evil and work it for good.  He can.  I don't have to.  At least, I certainly don't have to alone.  I don't have to serve him up optimal conditions or circumstances.  He can work with bad.  That's frequently his specialty.  And it turns out so good.

I often console myself with the words, "It's going to be okay."  That's my human nature talking.  Ultimately?  It's all going to be better than okay.

Some days are hard.  That's life.

Tomorrow, I pick up my pieces, brush myself off, and give it my best shot.  I'm just one person, but I can be the best Jennie I'm able to be.  I will trust God with details beyond my control.  Thankful for those fresh mercies every morning and a life verse to keep me motivated.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.  Colossians 3:23
But seriously.  It's going to be okay.

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