What, am I your servant or something?

Last Sunday I followed my almost 18-month-old around with a plastic bright blue colored bowl of fruit, hoping to get in a few more bites of food since he was too busy to sit still.  As I shadowed him around my parents kitchen this evening while we were there for dinner, feeding him small bites of pear by the forkful, I jokingly said aloud to him (and my sister-in-law in the kitchen with me), “it’s like I’m a servant or something”.  

And you know, last night I jumped out of bed at 12:45am as I heard his cry through our cracked bedroom door, responding to his whim to be held and fed.  Earlier I changed his diaper, wiping his bottom and disposing of that which was less than pleasant smelling.  I carry him, I wipe his runny nose, I bathe him.  Here, let me feed you more grapes as you recline on your floor pillow, son.  

A servant is defined as “a person who performs duties for others, especially a person employed in a house on domestic duties or as a personal attendant.”  Thank you Google.  So despite my flippant comment, I clearly qualify.  And I’m okay with that.  Why?  Not just because I’m a mom- in reading the above definition, all moms qualify for the title “servant” (yes, others do too, of course, but I’m speaking about what I know here).  But isn’t servant a derogatory term?  Yes, throughout history it has often been equated with someone of a lower station.  And you know?  That doesn’t really bother me either.

Because it occurred to me in a brief flash of awareness (that I attribute to getting more than just a couple of hours of sleep last night), that I am blessed to be called a servant.  I’m blessed to even be considered of lower station.  Because Jesus was.  And I want to be like him.  

In Matthew 25, Jesus is describing the final judgment- what it will be like when He returns.  He states in verses 24-40, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

So Jesus is describing service to others.  He goes on to state that in caring for others- the least of these- we are caring for HIm.  

Then in Luke 9 the disciples are arguing amongst themselves about who is the greatest.  Bless those imperfect men- they are such an encouragement in their imperfection (and I love how all their sin and mistakes makes Christ shine that much brighter- reminds me that He uses mine for His glory too!).  Anyway…as they are arguing, it says in verses 47-48 that “…Jesus took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”  So again Jesus reiterates serving “the least of these”, and in this example the least of these is exemplified by a child.  

I write this to remind myself, and encourage other mothers especially, to look upon the seemingly mundane tasks of wiping noses, changing of diapers, and the spoon-feeding of our babies as, yes, SERVING.  We are servants.  But we aren’t only serving our children.  We are serving the Lord.  Our kids are “the least of these”.  And aside from getting to be their mommies, they allow us to serve The Greatest of All.  

 

The Struggle

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My cursor keeps blinking as I sit here staring at the screen.  When it’s been awhile since I’ve written, I find it hard to organize all my thoughts and ideas that I’ve had over the past few months; all those moments where I’ve filed something away thinking “I’d like to write about that…”.

This past year has been a struggle.  It’s been a year full of lots of laughter and wonderful moments, but a struggle in many, many aspects.  There is, of course, the struggle of adjusting to having three children- I’m sorry, but for those of you that told me that going from one to two was hard but two to three was a breeze…you lie.  Or perhaps it was a breeze for you and truth be told, at first I thought it was for me,  but once my littlest started moving, it was all over.    We have a climber.  An adventurer.  A daredevil.  A child who at the age of 15 months has already fallen in love with the word “no” (and even though it sounds cute now I’m wary).  He also happens to have a great sense of humor, a terrific laugh, and a very sweet spirit most of the time.  So that helps when I feel my sanity fading.

The real struggle, though, has been in an area that was new to us- the world of food allergies. Food allergies were foreign to us and we were shocked when we discovered that they were the culprits of a horrible diaper rash that lasted from a week old to a couple of months old, congestion and slightly difficulty breathing, and major spit-up issues that required more clothing and clean-up than I ever imagined.

Because I was (and am) breastfeeding our littlest guy, those food allergies required a change in diet.  When the pediatrician told me at his two month well-child visit that I was going to have to cut out dairy (one of the most common allergens in babies), I literally cried on the way home.  What about pizza?!?  Milk chocolate?!? What on earth am I going to eat?  I’m one of those girls who loves dairy.  I’m the granddaughter of a former dairy farmer!  I began the journey of educating myself on what had casein in it, as simply cutting out milk isn’t sufficient.  Of course yogurt, cheese, ice cream, sour cream, cream cheese and milk had to go.  But the myriad of foods that have some form of milk in them is remarkable.  And as I also cut out soy (due to that being a common allergen along with the dairy), I was quite overwhelmed at the number of foods now off limits (soy lecithin is in just about EVERYTHING).

After eight weeks or so of cutting out those two things, the rash finally went away, his congestion began to clear up, and the spitting up did get somewhat better.  But Mr. J did not end up fully symptom free.  This tormented me.  As a nursing mom, I was responsible for everything he ingested, and knowing that something I was consuming was causing him to be in pain or uncomfortable was very difficult emotionally.  At one point I was dairy, soy, egg, peanut, chocolate, and tomato free (only for a week or so with all of them but that week was a loooonnnnngggg one) in an attempt to narrow down possible causes.  Other times I took out gluten for a month, or avoided certain other foods for specific periods of time.

Thankfully, the older he got, the easier it became (unless out to dinner, at a potluck, or at a party) and the more his symptoms cleared.  Around six months, eczema became the most concerning symptom as it was more severe than I had ever seen from my kids or myself (we all have had quite minor eczema issues here and there).  I read everything I could find on food allergies and eczema, and I became pretty efficient at recipe substitutions.  I developed a decent taste for regular almond milk or coconut milk (still doesn’t beat dairy in my book) and rejoiced at discovering chocolate almond milk- which is pretty great and helps my need for a chocolate fix.  I found alternatives for yogurt and began making even more things from scratch, like cream of chicken soup.  Let me just say though, that I gave up on finding a cheese substitute that is worthwhile.  I miss cheese. Anyway, as J began eating solids, I was able to pinpoint a bit better what he seemed to react to, because we had really been shooting in the dark in many ways.  (We had not opted for allergy testing as one, it is SUPER expensive and we self-pay; two, the unreliability of it for a child at such a young age did not make the cost worth it; and three, his allergies didn’t appear severe enough to warrant a visit to the allergist, praise God.)

The eczema continued to be our biggest problem and was the source of many tears and much prayer.  I rejoice in being able to type “was” as a few weeks ago, it just started to clear up.  We hadn’t done anything different regarding food or lotions or such; I believe it was an answer to the many prayers that had been offered up.  I never understood how eczema could really cause so much difficulty but I have definite empathy for those that struggle with it as well as with food allergies.  Eczema can seriously interrupt a life, and serious food allergies, of course, can take a life.  And many people, myself included before J was born, just don’t understand.

All that to say, it’s been a journey.  A hard one honestly.  I don’t need to list every difficulty it has brought as this post is quite long enough already and this is a condensed version of our story, but I did want to share in case anyone comes across this that is facing something similar.  I’m hopeful that he will outgrow his allergies (dairy and peanut are definitely culprits).  And on the positive side, my formerly food-picky self is now eating things I never would have thought I would consume before, so that’s been a great part of this adventure.  But… when J has weaned, I am going to inhale a large pizza all by myself with a cheesecake for dessert to celebrate.


 

On Growing Up

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Almost all of us have some specific remnant(s) of our childhood we carry with us, a symbol of our earliest years.  Things we can look at or sounds we hear that fill us with memories.  Pictures that take us back to sitting on logs near the woodpile in the backyard eating Sweet Sixteen powdered donuts with your grandpa; songs that take us back to that roller-skating birthday party where your biggest focus was not falling in front of the boy you liked.  Or a teddy bear that you named after Big Bird’s teddy bear when you were a preschooler that adored Sesame Street.  We are blessed (or sometimes feel cursed) by a beautiful flood of memories that can come rushing back by association in a matter of moments.

Sometimes those moments come with the realization that life is speeding by faster than you had truly realized.  Once you become a parent, the thing you may often hear the most is “before you know it, they’ll be grown.” And it’s true.  It really is.  As cliche as it sounds, you can just about “blink and those early days are gone.”  We may feel it strongly when our kids take their first steps, say their first words, start picking out their own clothes, or begin their first year of school.  Life is often measured in the “firsts”.  Tonight I was hit by a mack truck of realization that involved a first I hadn’t really thought about and in many ways, am not quite ready for.  It involves one of my daughter’s firsts- her first love really.

It can be argued that it was her father and I that occupy that “first love” place in her heart, and I suppose that is certainly true in many ways.  But Lulu… Lulu has always held a special place in her heart, and it’s Lulu that has consistently been the symbol of my little girl’s childhood.

Lulu is a lamb.  A lovely, lavender lamb that was given to us as a baby shower gift before my sweet girl was even born.  She was the top of the diaper cake made by my friend Melissa in response to the knowledge that the theme for Eila’s nursery was The Lion and the Lamb.  Because of this, we were blessed with many lambs.  It took a few months of course, but Lulu soon became Eila’s favorite.  From about six months onward, they were inseparable.

Like many beloved stuffed animals, blankies, and so forth, Lulu has gone everywhere with Eila- out of state to visit family, around town running errands, to offer comfort when Eila is scared or sad- Lulu is well-loved and well-traveled.  Therefore, in almost every single picture of Eila from babyhood on, Lulu is there, peeking out from Eila’s elbow.  She is like a member of the family- to the point that if I saw Lulu lying somewhere and I needed to move her, I felt almost guilty if I kicked her with my foot instead of gently picking her up and placing her down in a better location.  Sometimes Lulu can almost make you believe, like Sara Crewe did about her doll Emily in A Little Princess, that she is really alive and would move if you left the room.

Due to Lulu’s loved status, she has become quite worn over the years.  As threadbare as The Velveteen Rabbit and cuddled just as much if not more so, her stuffing began to poke through and she was on the verge of unraveling in many areas.  A kind friend at church offered to crochet lovely pastel colored patches to strengthen Lulu’s worn parts and those have so far held true.

Earlier, as Eila was downstairs playing and I was in her room putting some of her things away, I caught sight of Lulu lying there in the middle of the bed and my heart caught in my throat.  I realized that this was becoming the new normal.  Once always cuddled in Eila’s arms, Lulu is left behind on a more frequent basis.  Eila often says now she leaves her to keep her safe and preserve her from getting torn up and I know this is true.  But… I also know that her leaving Lulu behind is inevitable much like how she is slowly easing out of her childhood.  And Lulu is a tangible reminder of that.

I believe she will always have Lulu, whether she be in a box or on a shelf.  I think that Lulu will continue on with her through adolescence, into adulthood, and may make it to be played with by Eila’s children someday.  Even if she doesn’t, the thought of Lulu will, and is likely to spark many, many wonderful memories for my little girl.   As I looked at Lulu laying there, I was acutely aware that in a day or two, Eila will be starting first grade and that my sweet firstborn girl is a going to be a grown woman much sooner than I can imagine.  It was one of those cliche “blink-and-you-miss-it-moments” and it made me hug my daughter a little bit tighter that night as she clutched Lulu in their familiar embrace.

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My guest post on Organizing A Homeschool Space

I’ve decided it’s time to start blogging again.  I am nowhere near having this mother of three thing down yet, but I think I can safely squeeze some writing time in more frequently than once every five months or so.  I actually started back a couple of weeks ago when a friend of mine (who is also a professional organizer) asked me to do a guest post on her blog about organizing a homeschool space.  If you are interested in checking out her site and want to find out why I laughed when she first asked, here’s the link! http://getsimplespaces.com/guest-blogger-homeschool-organizing/

 

Jude’s Birth Story: A Testimony of Praise. Part 2.

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For the first part of Jude’s story, click here.

I left off in Part 1 with how my discouragement was starting to grow.  I mentioned that I had to fight the thoughts that were making their way into my mind, thoughts like “I can’t do this”, “This is never going to end”, and “If I transferred to the hospital now, I could have a c-section and just be done.”  I knew that I was just weary and that I needed to take those thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5), but I was honestly struggling.  I am guessing it was around 9:15am or so at this point.  I was praying off and on and knew that others were praying for me.  It was at this point that Will posted on Facebook that I was getting tired and needed prayer. My mom had also sent out a request for prayer via email and the staff of the Yahweh Center had stopped during praise and worship at the weekly staff meeting to pray for us.  Prayer was going to be critical in the next hour or so.

God knew I needed encouragement, and He used my midwife at that moment to give it to me.  She looked at me and quoted the first half of Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things…”  and I finished it with …through Him who strengthens me.”  This was significant as it was the verse my mother had quoted to me ever since I was a little girl- my midwife didn’t know that.  I know this was one of the ways God let me know more directly that He was there with me.

My midwife asked me if there was anything going on mentally that I needed to discuss- I didn’t mention my thoughts of c-section at that point because I knew I didn’t really, truly want that, but I did share that I was just tired.  And afraid I wasn’t going to have the energy to do what I needed to do if (when) we were finally ready to push.I remember getting super antsy as I fought my own thoughts there in that pool.  I decided then that I could no longer try to rest.  I needed to DO something and I had the feeling that it was time to get out and have my baby.  I got out, started walking around, and felt a renewed sense of purpose.

Up until this point, my water hadn’t broken.  Like with my first two, we ended up breaking it to move things along (apparently my bag of waters is always super strong).  After my midwife broke my water, as with Asher’s birth although not quite as immediate and obvious, Jude was well on his way in descent and I was ready to push not too long afterward.  With Will behind me on the bed to help be my strength, we began to push.

My midwife worked with me to help me avoid tearing, and I could feel Jude trying to help by turning a bit as he began to crown.  But something wasn’t quite right.  He tried again to help as I pushed but still wasn’t fully coming out, even though they could see his head.  They continued to track his heartbeat with the doppler as they had throughout the entire labor, and at this last check, the results weren’t good.

It is here that things began to happen super quickly.  My midwife had me turn over onto my hands and knees and I could hear the urgency in her voice as she told me to PUSH.  Then, he was out.

I felt that familiar feeling of relief as he emerged and turned, ready to hold him.  But he wasn’t breathing.  He was grayish and floppy.

At this point, I’m not sure of anything other than seeing my midwife calmly and determinedly start applying oxygen while instructing me to pray and asking Will to call 911 in case they were needed.  I rubbed Jude’s chest as I prayed, asking the Lord to get my baby breathing.  I looked at Will’s face and could see the utter look of fear as he called 911 and looked at his baby.  I almost felt like I went on autopilot- it was scary, but somehow I felt that Jude was going to be fine.

Two minutes later, a very long two minutes in many ways while fast in others, Jude turned pink, started breathing on his own, and let out a beautiful, piercing cry that lasted awhile as he made up for lost time.  The EMTs arrived and I was thankful beyond words that they were not needed other than having me sign a form that we didn’t need transport to the hospital.  His first apgar at 1 minute after birth came in at a 3.  His second, five minutes after his birth, was a 9.

Still attached to me because we had not clamped and cut the cord yet, I delivered the placenta while helping Jude to begin nursing.  Will then cut the cord once it had stopped pulsing and all we could do was praise God that He had been the one to truly deliver our praise baby.  Jude means praise.  Our prayer all through the pregnancy had been that his birth would be a praise and a testimony to all those involved.  In talking (processing) with our midwife immediately afterward and on follow-up visits in the next couple of weeks, it was evident that God honored that prayer.  Jude is certainly our praise, and I am incredibly thankful that he is here with us.

After the birth, we learned that there had been a combination of factors going on.  Shoulder dystocia, where the baby’s shoulder is not able to pass below the pubic bone, was a major factor that caused his distress and the drop in heart tones, also affecting his breathing once out.  His cord was also caught by the shoulder.  It appeared in examining the placenta that it had started to separate from the uterus, and the umbilical cord, instead of developing from the center of the placenta, had developed from the side.  Praise again that given all those factors, Jude is here lying in my lap making that sweet little sound with his lips that he is making.

We’ve been asked since his birth if we wish we had been in a hospital given the circumstances of his birth.  Our answer is a resounding “NO!”  If we had been in a hospital, the following scenarios would have been likely:  1) when my cervical lip came back, it is possible I would have been dubbed with the infamous failure to progress label and a c-section would have been pushed/recommended.  2) When Jude was born and not breathing, the cord would have been clamped and cut immediately and he would have been whisked away to the NICU, or at least, away from me and his father.

I am thankful for my midwife’s wisdom (and it is part of her usual practice anyway) of waiting until the cord stops pulsing before it is cut.  This allowed Jude to continue to receive the life-giving blood he was receiving as she applied oxygen.  He was able to hear my voice and feel my touch as he lay there.  She had what she needed to get him breathing- we didn’t need a hospital room for that.  The Lord used her mightily in that moment, and He heard our prayers.

We said from the beginning that doing a homebirth was a huge faith walk for us.  Little did we know how much of one it would be.  Of course, birth is always a faith walk really, wherever you choose to have your baby and however he or she arrives in your arms.

Jude Christian Adair was born at 10:37am, 8 lbs and 3.5 ounces.  21 inches long.  God is so very faithful- we have our praise baby to attest to that.  And we give Him all the glory.

Jude’s Birth Story: A Testimony of Praise. Part 1.

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For those of you that hang with me through my sporadic blogging, you may remember that we were planning a homebirth for the birth of our third child, who is lying here sleeping in my lap as I write this.  As I look down at him going through his series of “going into a deeper sleep-cycle” faces, my heart tightens to think things could have been very different.

Jude was “due” sometime around the first or second of March, and as it was with my first two babies, he took his time.  Unlike my first two, I experienced prodromal labor this go ’round.  The contractions started getting so regular at one point that we actually had my parents come and get our first two kiddos one night because we thought our little guy was on his way.  Or not, as we learned a couple hours later when the contractions ebbed off.  Finally, a few days of this happening off and on, March 5 rolled around.  I had an appointment with my midwife that morning and had my first internal check of the pregnancy (one more reason I love having a midwife instead of a doctor).  Because I had been experiencing prodromal labor, she asked if I would like her to sweep my membranes.  Essentially, sweeping the membranes can get labor going if it is “on the fence” like mine was, but this isn’t a guaranteed jumpstart.  For me, it seems to have worked.

As the evening of March 5 rolled around, it appeared that sweeping my membranes had effectively locked my contractions into a more regular and progressive pattern.  Within the past week or so, I had had a sneaking suspicion that little man was going to start his arrival in the middle of the night, requiring us to wake up not only our midwife and her assistant, but also my parents and our two oldest children.  Sure enough, around 9pm, I begin to sense that Jude was getting started on his journey.  I wait an hour to see if the contractions were going to stop, and when they didn’t ease off, I called my midwife to give her the heads up that I would probably be calling her back later that night.  She advised me to try and get some sleep and requested that I call her when the contractions became too strong for me to sleep through.

I woke up off and on but managed to get some rest until around 11pm.  I then got up with the realization that I was in pain and that I couldn’t stand lying down any longer.  I walked around awhile before deciding to wake up Will and begin calling everyone we needed to call.  I called my midwife around midnight, and then called my parents.  We gathered the kids’ things (they were going to be at my parents house during the birth) and got them downstairs.

My midwife arrived and was coming in right as my parents were heading out with the kids.  At this point contractions were starting to get more intense but were still somewhat manageable.  Once our midwife’s assistant arrived, she began setting up the birth pool upstairs in our baby’s room (one of the only rooms that would allow enough space to assemble the pool since we hadn’t put his furniture in yet).  My midwife regularly took my vitals and then checked to see how dilated I was.  I was at 5cms, so halfway there.   We all sat and watched a few Cosby Show episodes as I labored, often by hanging onto my husband during contractions.  It is somewhat surreal watching the Cosby Show at 3am.

As labor became increasingly intense, I was really hoping the birth pool would be ready soon.  It took quite a while to fill it- I’m not sure how long exactly because I was otherwise occupied but I know it took longer than an hour.  We watched Cosby until the birth pool was ready and my midwife was sure I was far enough along to get in, so that it wouldn’t slow down labor.  I was thrilled when I could get into the water because, while it didn’t take the pain away, it was relaxing and took some of the pressure off.

I can’t exactly tell you how long I labored in the pool.  My midwife and her assistant continued to do periodic vitals checks and used the heart doppler periodically to make sure Jude was still doing well.  Like with my first birth, when the midwife checked me at one point we found that I had a bit of a cervical lip and had to wait for it to fully dilate.   I could see that it was getting light out and realized that my assumption that Jude’s birth would be quicker than Asher’s (my second child- his story is here) was not going to be a reality.  I remember getting out at one point, relieved, when it was discovered that I was at 10 centimeters and ready to push.  I ended up on my bed despite plans to do a waterbirth- it just felt better to me somehow.  Yet as we began the pushing process, we found that the cervical lip had come back and that I couldn’t push anymore.  There are no words for how discouraged I felt at that moment.  I was getting tired.

My midwife recommended I get back in the pool and take time to allow my body to rest.  Will, the midwife, and her assistant were all continuously encouraging and made sure I stayed hydrated and had food to give me energy.  I was in the pool probably for another hour or so, attempting to rest between contractions but realizing that my mind was not having it.  I had to fight the thoughts that started coming as my weariness and discouragement grew.

(See Part 2 here).

Why I Don’t Want to Be a Supermom

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It seems to be everywhere.  The Supermom complex, I mean.  The growing pressure in our society to “do it all”.  Whether pressure we feel from others or pressure we place on ourselves, it is a very real thing.  Oftentimes I hear (or see if on social media) people complimenting moms by calling them a supermom, implying that they have it all, do it all, and don’t break a sweat in the process.

But you know?  I don’t want to be called a supermom (and all of you that know me well know there is no real danger of that!).  I do not aspire to be the perfect cook, perfect decorator, perfect homeschooling parent, perfect crafter, sewer, baker, mom, wife, and so forth.  There are times where I long to be better than I am at any or all of the above, and I strive to do my best in the variety of roles I am called to.  However, I feel there is a difference between “Supermom” and even an example of a woman such as the Proverbs 31 woman.

Granted, reading through Proverbs 31 can be intimidating, and I confess, has left me feeling a bit inadequate at times.  Yet the P31 woman is meant to be a composite of Godly, womanly characteristics rather than a very strict job description to be followed.  For example, I may not know how to sew bed coverings (Proverbs 31:22), but I can make sure my family has what they need to stay warm at night.  If that means using a coupon at Kohls to get a blanket for 75% off, then I believe that works!  The point, from my understanding, of the P31 passage is to illustrate characteristics we as women should strive for (and characteristics men should look for in a wife): industriousness, kindness to others, honoring our husbands, loving our children, taking care of our families, being wise stewards of what we have been given, and so forth.  Will these be done perfectly?  No, of course not.   Can we do these in our own power?  Not at all.  And that is the point.

To me, the supermom moniker indicates that that mom can do it all, that she is in control and on top of things- that she doesn’t need any help and does it all in her own power.  Is a woman like that even easy to relate to?  Speaking for myself, I am much more comfortable around women that are honest about both their successes AND their failures.  It’s just more real.  When women feel pressure to do and be everything, it is exhausting and overwhelming and unrealistic.  Ironically, it can lead to the exact opposite of characteristics like caring for your family and being kind to others- I know the times where I have taken on too much in order to appear “super” in some way, I have been less than the best mom and wife I can be!  I feel like the Christmas season brings out this need to be perfect more than many other times of year.  We lay high expectations on ourselves to perform so we can have a Norman Rockwell-esque Christmas, all the while wearing ourselves ragged and missing the simple joy in the smaller things.

It tells us in both Romans 12 and in 1 Corinthians 12 that God gave us all different gifts.  While these passages speak mainly of spiritual gifts, I believe they can also be applied to the various skills and talents we have been given.  These gifts are given to us to be used to glorify the Lord and bless others, not to glorify ourselves.  And how beautifully they allow us to complement each other instead of compete with each other.   I’m not saying we can’t be excited about something we accomplish and share it with others, but I know we are supposed to point others to Him in the process.  It’s something I do strive for even though I often fall short.

How freeing is it though to really throw off the desire or attempt to be a supermom?  Think about it!  Less pressure to perform, permission to be who we are while growing in who we are called to be!  Drawing attention to Christ rather than ourselves?  I find that to be a beautiful, wonderful thing!  Yes, there are times I want to be praised, admired, have something I’ve made be pinned repeatedly on Pinterest or liked ten times over on Facebook.  But that’s when I know I need to keep my perspective in check and make sure that while my works may praise me (Proverbs 31:31), that ultimately, they praise the One who gave them to me.

Be encouraged ladies!  You don’t have to be a supermom!  Working to glorify Him and bless others is what we are called to, and we do it in His grace, not in our power, and with the unique gifts He has given us.  So relax, enjoy this season, do what you have been uniquely given to do and stop comparing your Charlie Brown Christmas tree or attempts at baking homemade bread with the mini Rockefeller trees and braided loaf breads of others.  ;)

Holiday Traditions- Part 2

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I decided to blog on holiday traditions after our MOPs group came up with a wonderful list of ideas to inspire anyone looking for some traditions to throw into their holiday fun.  They are great ways to make memories and bless your family!

For anyone who is interested and missed Part 1, you can find it here.  Part 1 focused on Thanksgiving traditions- now we are moving onto Christmas!

1) Ornament exchanges.  If you do a Christmas tree, one memorable thing to do is to exchange ornaments each year.  I grew up with my parents exchanging with each other and my brother and I exchanging.  We typically did it Christmas Eve and an added benefit of this as little ones was that it always gave us one gift to open early.  An added bonus of this idea is that when we were both older and starting our own families, we already had a wonderful collection of ornaments to decorate our first “grown-up” trees with!

2) Reading Luke’s account of the birth of Christ on Christmas Eve.  There are tons of variations on this- some families tie this to setting out their nativity set (adding in a new figure as they get to that part of the story).  Another option is to set up the nativity set on Christmas morning- have family members look at the nativity set on Christmas morning before eating or opening gifts as a parent reads Christmas story in Luke. However it is done, it is a great way to keep our focus on the reason we celebrate Christmas.

3) Making Jesus a birthday cake.  We started doing this once we began having children, and it is one of my favorite traditions.  It is a terrific, concrete, and enticing way to help children grasp the reason for Christmas!

4) Speaking of sweet things, one way to bless others is to make an abundance of Christmas cookies, fudge, etc and deliver to neighbors, various local ministries, local law enforcement, and friends.  We like to make cinnamon rolls and share them with others.

5) Getting hot chocolate and riding around to look at Christmas lights.  Or a twist on this…Living by the Light, where one evening, choose to do everything by candlelight.  Talk about the verse 1 John 1:5 “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.”  Talk about what life would be like without light, and what life would be like without the light of Christ.  Then get in the car and go look at Christmas lights!

6)  Another one we personally incorporate is giving three gifts per child, to symbolize the three gifts given to Christ by the Magi.  Not only does this also relate directly to why we celebrate Christmas (even though the Magi didn’t visit Christ until he was a couple of years older), but it helps keep the craziness of commercialism down a bit!  There are also variations on this idea (you could do something like a gift to wear, a gift to read, and a gift to play with; or one family does a play off the gold/frankincense/myrrh idea- gold is something to give that is valuable, so something that the child really wants, their heart’s desire; frankincense was a spice used in the temple during prayer and fasting, so this gift could draw the child closer to God- a Bible, a Noah’s ark toy, etc.- myrrh was a fluid used upon death that covered the whole body, so perhaps something like pajamas, a sweater, jeans, etc.). Another idea with gift-giving is to give gifts to various ministries in the name of a loved one- World Vision has a great catalog that explains how you can bless families living in poverty with a goat or cow to provide milk, or hens to lay eggs.

7)  I can’t wait to start this one this year!  25 Names of Jesus for 25 days of ornaments- 1 to hang each day.  The idea is that you either take ornaments and write 25 names that are used for Christ, ie Wonderful Counselor, Alpha and Omega, Rock of Ages, etc.  You can make your own or use store-bought.  I came across this idea at http://www.iammommahearmeroar.net/2011/11/christmas-kojo-designs.html and think it is fabulous!

8) Christmas movie traditions.  This is a common one, as many people and/or families may choose to have certain movies they watch annually, like It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, and so forth. :)

9) Another one I hope to start incorporating is that of Christmas Mail: sometime a few weeks before Christmas, family members write letters to each other and use stockings as mailboxes.  Family members read their letters quietly at the same time on Christmas Eve.  Obviously with really young ones this could be tricky, but pictures can be drawn or short letters can be dictated also.

10) For those that are fans of crafting or baking, one tradition that could be fun are incorporating parties with friends as you make handmade gifts.  Bring potluck and enjoy time together while preparing gifts.  Cookie swaps can fall into this category.

And as always, there are many ways to serve others with the love of Christ- mentioned above are giving gifts through groups like World Vision and making baked goods or items to serve to others.  As in the Thanksgiving post, you can invite others to share a Christmas meal with you.  You can visit nursing homes and pass out handmade cards or sing some Christmas songs.  There is such wonderful joy in giving to others, especially to glorify the One who gave all for us.  My family is trying to do a better job of remembering this and putting it into practice!

I’ll stop there to prevent this from becoming way too long! If you want more ideas, a great resource is this site, which has a list of 50 Christmas ideas (some from this site are in my list above): http://www.defrumpme.com/2011/11/50-things-to-do-at-christmas-25-days-of.html

And feel free to share any of your traditions in the comments below!

Holiday Traditions- Part 1

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Since we are already halfway through the first week of November and Thanksgiving draws near (as does Christmas, according to Target and other stores I noted that have already decorated en masse), I thought I would share a list of holiday traditions we compiled at a recent MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting.  I’m going to condense the list down to 15 (or so) traditions, as it grew to become quite a few pages long!

A disclaimer before I start: don’t feel pressured to do all or any of these.  Different traditions work for different families.  You are not a terrible parent if you don’t have any specific traditions, or if you only do one or two.  Sometimes taking too many on causes us to forget why we are celebrating and becomes just one more thing to check off on our to-do list.  Also, never let yourself feel trapped by a tradition.  If it’s not working, change it or stop it.  If you miss it one year or are off by a day, it doesn’t ruin it (I speak to myself here as I have this crazy way of feeling like everything is messed up if I get off even a little bit.  I’m ridiculously melodramatic that way and am working on it.  Well, I’m asking God to work on it.)  This list is just meant to inspire anyone looking to incorporate some new traditions this year.

Anyway…despite our culture’s tendency to skip over Thanksgiving, our group started there and some of the ideas included:

1) A Give Thanks journal.  My family actually started doing this last year.  The idea is to have a notebook of some sort to record what each family member is thankful for each year.  My favorite moment when we started this last year involves my son, who was almost 2 at the time.  As we went around talking about what we were thankful for, his answer every time was “God”.  He said it so earnestly and yet so deadpan that it still makes me laugh to remember it.  It serves as a great way to look back at our blessings through the years.

2) Another fun idea related to the journal, but especially great for young children, is a Thanksgiving tree.  We did it for the first time this year- I cut out a tree shape from some brown construction paper and each day we cut out leaf shapes and write things we are thankful for on them before taping them to the tree.  Here is the one we have in process- definitely nothing fancy :)

3) Getting/putting up a Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving.  We like to add on getting peppermint milkshakes from Chick-fil-A as part of this. ;)

4) Fruit of the Spirit in the Horn of Plenty (Cornucopia)- I love this idea. Nine days before Thanksgiving, place one piece of fruit in the horn to represent one fruit of the spirit (do this each day leading up to Thanksgiving).  I think it allows a wonderful (and visual) way to illustrate and discuss the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control).  From my understanding, they have horns of plenty at places such as Michaels, Hobby Lobby, etc.  It also can make a pretty Thanksgiving centerpiece! :)

5)  Run the Table with Thanks- take a piece of muslin fabric and turn into a table runner (cut piece 12 wide x 36 long) and then sew a ½ inch hem around all edges.  Place in middle of table with a selection of fabric and permanent markers and ask guests to write something they are thankful for.  I don’t sew, unfortunately, but this could certainly be done without having to sew and sounds like a sweet idea and great way to include Thanksgiving guests or family at Thanksgiving gatherings.

So I was going to stop at 5 for Thanksgiving, but I need to add in a bonus which happens to be the best of all of them in my mind.

6) Serve as a family in some way.  Perhaps at a soup kitchen- to get even a remote idea of what it is to be hungry, one option may be to not eat yourself (or skip a meal) that day until done.  Serving others is a beautiful holiday tradition to incorporate and along those lines, another option is connecting with a group that is organizing an Invite a Troop to Thanksgiving event for those that are deployed and away from family for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes is one my family currently does as the collection week falls the week before Thanksgiving.  It’s a great way to help my kids give to other kids in need around the world.  Here’s a link if you want more info: http://www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/OCC/  

So those are some of the top Thanksgiving traditions we shared about in our meeting.  If you have any to add, feel free to comment below!

Seasons of Change

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For the past couple of weeks, many of our science lessons have consisted of studying some caterpillars I ordered using a gift from my parents of a Kaplan educational gift certificate.  I spent a good deal of time scrolling through the hundreds of options on the Kaplan site to determine what would be the best use of the gift, reading reviews to ensure I wouldn’t end up with something that would be a disappointment.  We finally settled on a butterfly kit, and I eagerly ordered it and then used the coupon it came with to send away for our caterpillars.  We received 6 caterpillars instead of the usual 3-5, which was a nice bonus. Almost every day Eila and I would spend time making observations regarding growth, appearance, and the like.  I quickly began to realize that I was more excited about watching these caterpillars prepare for their transformation than anyone.

I had never watched the process before, so I learned a few new things.  I did not know, for example, that before the caterpillars begin to develop their chrysalis, that they spend a good deal of time hanging perfectly still upside down, in a J- like formation.  The pamphlet that came with the kit states that this is an intense and vulnerable period of rest and preparation immediately before the chrysalides form and the transformation begins.

This struck a chord with me.  I guess this caught my attention because I have been in a season of paradigm shift and change for the past 6 months or so.  Homeschooling is  a huge paradigm shift in our culture- despite the fact that it is becoming more common and accepted, it definitely goes against the grain and the norm in our culture.  It’s a faith journey in so many ways, as I have to rely on Christ in ways that are new and unexpected in educating my children and in regard to my own need for patience and ability to be flexible.  We did preschool last year, but knowing that we chose to dive into kindergarten this year (due to Eila’s readiness) has made it all more real.  I love the freedom of homeschooling, the opportunities to be so actively involved in my children’s education, and the time we have truly developing a love for learning, but the responsibility is downright scary some days!

Another crazy paradigm shift for me is that of homebirth.  As I sit here 22 weeks pregnant with our third child, knowing we are past the halfway point and that our goal is a safe and uneventful homebirth, I alternate between excitement and that feeling of “what-on-earth-are-we-thinking”?  I don’t know if I would have considered it if Asher’s birth hadn’t been such a great experience overall.  I have a few friends who have had homebirths, and I have strong feelings on the rising rate of hospital interventions and the risk they can pose when not needed, so as Will and I began to talk about trying for a third, we were in agreement that we would plan for a homebirth.

Once we conceived and began seeing my midwife, the reality of this decision kicked in on a more elevated level and while I am still wholeheartedly wanting a homebirth, I will not lie and say that I don’t get fearful or overwhelmed at times.  This is when I remind myself of the following:  that God is just as present in my bedroom as He is in a hospital room.  Sovereign is sovereign.  My midwife does not do daring births and at the first indication of anything wrong is quick to send the mom to the hospital.  We prayed about it and feel it is the right thing for us for this birth.  And since, in God’s grace, I was able to deliver Asher naturally and without anyone around for most of the birth, I’m trusting that we can do it again.

So what does homeschool and homebirth have to do with a caterpillar preparing to become a butterfly?  Maybe not what would seem obvious.  For me, it is not really about the end result of transformation right now.  It’s about the process.  The caterpillar to butterfly analogy is frequently used in our culture to describe something more ordinary becoming extraordinary.  In Christian circles, it is often an illustration that accompanies the idea of a person becoming a new creation when they become a follower of Christ (“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation has come.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17).  And this is absolutely appropriate and thrilling to think that we are made new!

Yet as I mentioned, it is the process of being made new that has recently caught my attention.  As I watched the caterpillars hang there in a J shape, vulnerable and preparing for the changes to come, one of my favorite words came to mind.  Abide.  The concept of abiding is to wait, to endure, to bear patiently.  To abide in Christ is to do these things in Him and by His power.  John 15:4 states, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” As I read this verse and think about both homeschooling and homebirthing, it occurs to me that unless I rest in Christ and endure the difficulties every new thing is guaranteed to bring at some point, I will not be able to accomplish what I hope.  I won’t bear fruit.  In resting, in enduring, in bearing patiently as I hang vulnerably swaying in the wind of challenge while I wait, He is preparing me for what is ahead.  The process cannot be underestimated, we shouldn’t rush through it in our eagerness to be made new, to become more beautiful, to accomplish a certain goal.  And it may not seem like we are doing much, that we are moving towards our goal; we may feel that life is dull and monotonous as we wait.  But feelings don’t equal truth, and the majority of such times we discover that it was these quiet or lackluster periods in life that preceded some of the most beautiful moments we have been blessed with.

It really is a privilege to rest in Christ as He prepares me for things ahead.  That doesn’t mean it’s always wonderful and that I revel in the process, but I am trying to remember to trust, even (especially!) as I hang there still or slightly swaying, in the One who planned my transformation.

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