Finding Room to Breathe

I recently heard an explanation for why some people feel overwhelmed in large crowds of people, and others don’t. Some people get frustrated about having to fight their way through all the people on a crowded street, or at the mall right before Christmas. They see all the people in their way, as obstacles to maneuver around.

But there are other people who face the same challenge, and instead of seeing all the people in the way, they see the spaces between the people – gaps they are aiming for so they can slip easily through the crowd, almost like a dance with complicated but graceful steps to learn and enjoy.

Sometimes, my life has the same energy as a shopping mall on Christmas eve – lots of hustle, bustle, bodies everywhere, trying to get something done with obstacles everywhere, feelings of joy, feelings of frustration, lots of noise, lots of chaos, lots of busyness. I have three people talking to me at once, more often than not, and the introvert in me starts to go crazy, even though I love almost all of it.

But there are also times when my three angels are playing together so sweetly, it almost makes me hurt because I feel so much joy.

Everett wraps his little arms around my neck, Anika and I explore the depths of fantastic conversation, and Kaylia bares her soul during the quiet moments before bed. These sweet moments make the times of chaos completely worth it, and I start to see there are gaps to aim for.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed and all I can see are the obstacles. But things always balance out, and I find the spaces between the craziness – not because we aim to avoid the hard stuff, but because they don’t seem as a big a deal when we’re not focusing on them.

This morning, I was making granola in the kitchen, and I suddenly became aware of how peacefully quiet and content everyone was. Kaylia and Everett were playing together, and Anika was doing her schoolwork. The house smelled heavenly, it was cleaner than usual, everyone was fed and satisfied and happy. I stood there by the oven, and just breathed it all in, because in that moment, everything was…perfect.

And then the moment passed, and things got crazy again, but that was also wonderful, in a different kind of way.

I’m trying to remind myself to look for the gaps where we can slip through easily and breathe deeply, and slide along through the tough spots, because the obstacles and the gaps together make up my little world right now. We need a balance of both.

So here’s to a beautiful life that slips easily through the tough spots, and we find the gaps to enjoy, as well as the obstacles to challenge us.

 

Growing These Large, Luscious Peaches

I heard a beautiful analogy in church the other day. We were watching a video by Pastor Rick Warren, and he was talking about focus. He shared how he loves to grow his own fruits and vegetables, and has a big, beautiful peach tree in his backyard. He described how the previous year, his peach tree was completely loaded with hundreds of peaches – each branch was heavy with the weight of countless little peaches. “You would think that many peaches would be a good thing, right?” he asked.

But then he went on to share how so many peaches on each branch is actually a bad thing. The energy of the branch has to be divided into growing each of those little peaches, and as a result of the growing power being spread so thin, the peaches don’t grow very large. In order to produce nice, large peaches, it is necessary to pluck about two thirds of all those baby peaches off the tree. The result is less peaches, but bigger fruit, because all the energy can go into growing plump, juicy fruit.

This speaks so beautifully to where I am in my life right now. I love all of the things filling my life, but everything starts to fall apart pretty quickly when I stretch myself too thin. I’ve been saying yes to a few too many exciting opportunities – all those beautiful baby peaches of new possibilities have been luring me in. Everything I’ve added to my plate is something great and worthy of my time, which is what makes it hard to turn down. It feels wrong to pick perfectly good little peaches and throw them away. What a waste!

But I’m reminded once again to pursue quality, not quantity. My family and our home are worth turning down some opportunities for. I want them to get my full focus, energy, and attention. I want to take care of the details so we can do this well.  Ann Voskamp once wrote that you can have it all – you just can’t have it all at the same time. Our culture is obsessed with being busy, and doing it all, and yet when I pray about what to spend my time on, I feel God whispering to me, “You have the opportunity to say ‘no’.” I always connect “opportunity” with saying yes, but these days, I’m being led to think the opposite. As hard as it can be to say no, there’s a little spark of excitement and anticipation in me at the thought of taking things slow. We can’t rush the growing season, and I’m thinking it’s time to sit back and enjoy the long days of ripening fruit.

So I pull baby peaches of opportunities off my tree, and I trust with all my heart they aren’t wasted, because these sweet peaches of mine are worth the sacrifice. For every time I say ‘no’ to opportunities, I’m saying ‘yes’ to something else – yes to rest, yes to family, yes to slowing down, yes to noticing the little things, yes to more space and time with Jesus. The growing is good and the fruit is juicy!

Everett and Kaylia

 

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We Have a Teenager in the House!

When Anika was a little girl, we had friends who often talked about how scared they were to have teenagers someday. It made me feel nervous, so I tried to block it from my mind.

AnikaA few years later, we met a couple who had two teenage boys, and they said, “The teenage years are so much fun! They’re our favorite – we LOVE having teenagers!” I decided to listen to them.

I have no idea how these teenage years will go – I know there’s a lot of big challenges and issues that can come up, but I’m realizing a couple of things:

  1. When we look too far ahead, it looks scary and unknown. When Anika was two, thinking of her being a teenager was quite overwhelming. But now that we’re here, it feels right and good, and I delight in seeing the person she is becoming. Let’s take things as they come.
  2. Because I love her, I also love her as a teenager. She’s not some random kid – she’s my kid. Before she was born, I was worried because I’ve never been completely comfortable with newborn babies. I’m never the one at baby showers who’s desperate to hold the new baby. I kinda used to wish they’d come out three months old. But even though I don’t love random newborn babies, I fiercely loved our newborn babies. And I will fiercely love our teenagers.
  3. We can always choose life-giving words. If we say, “The teenage years will be TERRIBLE!”, there’s a good chance we’ll be right. If we say, “The teenage years are going to be AWESOME!”, there’s a good chance we’ll be right! Becoming an adult can just be hard – there are a lot of tough adjustments to make, but there’s also a lot of exciting things to look forward to. Today, I’m choosing to celebrate where Anika is at, and all the good things to come.
  4. She was made to do this. Whenever it feels as though my kids are growing up too fast, I have to remind myself this is God’s plan. He created all of us to grow up and become adults. I have to believe that His plan is right and good and perfect, and that He has given me just enough time with my kids to do what He’s asked me to do. He had a great idea when He made Anika, and she will be an amazing adult. I will love being her mom then, just as I love it now. It will be different, but it’s meant to be.

I believe all these things, but hey, we’re only two days in!;) You’re welcome to check in with me in a few years to see how it’s going!

Anika & meSticking with tradition around here, we take a moment to record “birthday favorites” – what Anika is enjoying right now. She’s loving fried potatoes, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, and sliced/baked in butter potatoes. She is also very passionate about sushi, Cat Warriors or Christy Miller books, and sleepovers with friends. She loves writing her own books, babysitting, attending the youth group at our church, finally being allowed to sit in the front seat when we drive somewhere, and having her own bedroom and bathroom in our newly finished basement.

siblingsShe is a loving, conscientious big sister, and she is incredibly helpful with babysitting or doing work around the house. I love our one-on-one talks early in the morning before anyone else is awake, or curled up in her bed at night. She’s wearing my clothes, and it won’t be long before I look her straight in the eye. She’s growing up! My favorite teenager ever.

Anikaphoto credit: Morgan Braun

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When I’m Parenting a Rutabaga Instead of a Pumpkin

A few years ago, I was at a conference and heard a speaker say something I still think about regularly. He was talking about parenting, and said,

“We don’t get to choose the seeds we grow. God gives us the seed, and it’s up to us to water it, make sure it gets the sunlight it needs, and care for it in every way we can, but we don’t get to control what kind of plant it grows up to be. If God has given you a rutabaga seed, but you want to grow a pumpkin, it doesn’t matter how hard you try, you will never get a pumpkin to grow from that rutabaga seed.”

I love my rutabagas very much, but there are still times when I have to fight back the pumpkin urges. Sometimes I think about what an awesome parent I would be if everything were perfectly organized and under control, with my three perfect little pumpkins all in a row. But I’m raising children, not pumpkins, and life gets crazy and wild, and how I react in the heat of the moment is more important than it’s ever been.

kidsI feel like parenting is a magnifying glass for all of my strengths and weaknesses – it provides a glaringly obvious look at my spiritual, emotional, and social health. Things which might be a bit of an issue for me with other people is going to come up with my kids, multiplied times ten. I can be socially acceptable in public for short periods of time, but you stick me at home with three kids, in the midst of homeschooling, housework, busy schedules, tantrums, lack of sleep, whatever else, and suddenly those pesky little personality flaws become crystal clear.

I have my own ideas of how a situation should be handled, and they have theirs, and suddenly I’m feeling the tension of a rutabaga. They are each their own little person, and I don’t get to control how they react or think. The only thing I have control over is how I react. It would be so much more convenient if I could change them instead of myself!

But I keep remembering this quote I shared a few weeks ago:

quoteI was thinking about it in relation to people in general, but Ben and I have been talking lately about how it applies to raising kids. Ben says we still have the responsibility to try our best as parents – the Bible tells us to train our children in the way they should go. But who gets to determine that way? We can guide our children, but how much can we really change them?

Ben has told me stories about his horrible temper when he was younger, and I find it almost impossible to believe, because Ben never loses his temper now. And although I am sure his parents did many awesome things in raising him, there was only so much they could do. It took maturity and deep conviction on Ben’s part to finally make a life change when he was in college.

This reminds me of a few truths to hang on to:

  1. God has a beautiful plan for my rutabagas.
  2. I need to be faithful as a parent, but also trust the convicting power of the Holy Spirit.
  3. Between trying to change myself, and learning to entrust my kids to the Holy Spirit, I have plenty to keep me busy without trying to control my children.
  4. I’ve never tried rutabagas, but they could be fabulous, and I might like them better than pumpkins.

As I just reread that list, I mentally changed it from parenting to relationships in general, and they all apply! I am never “just” a stay-at-home mom – I’m learning, growing, and being challenged every single day, as are my sweet kids.

We can all be rutabagas together. Pumpkins are so overrated!

 

The Story in My Head

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I just finished reading Rising Strong this last week. It’s the first book I’ve read by Brene Brown, and I loved it, which is evidenced by how many page corners I folded down to remind me where my favorite passages were…
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The whole book is amazing, full of many different ideas which I will be mentally chewing on for some time, but the one which impacted me the most was the idea of “the stories we tell ourselves”. She writes about the tendency we have to fill in missing details in our effort to understand ourselves, as well as other people.

“Storytelling helps us all impose order on chaos—including emotional chaos. When we’re in pain, we create a narrative to help us make sense of it. This story doesn’t have to be based on any real information. One dismissive glance from a coworker can instantly turn into I knew she didn’t like me. Our stories are also about self-protection. I told myself Steve was blaming me so I could be mad instead of admitting that I was vulnerable or afraid of feeling inadequate. I could disengage from the tougher stuff. That’s what human beings tend to do: When we’re under threat, we run. If we feel exposed or hurt, we find someone to blame, or blame ourselves before anyone else can, or pretend we don’t care.”  (source)

I love to analyze, and I spend a lot of time in my own head, trying to figure things out. This can lead to some nasty storytelling, which I’ve been aware of for a long time, but it wasn’t until I read this book that it became clear to me while I was in the process of doing it.

It was one of those long, bumpier than normal kind of days, and I had already helped our sweet children through a long list of complaints, negative attitudes, and many other parenting challenges by the time Ben got home from work. While he was still by the door, yet another behaviour issue exploded, and I reached my limit. Ben could tell I was done for the day, and any parenting after that point could get a bit scary, so he, in an effort to be helpful, said, “Why don’t you go into the other room and let me handle this?”

Because of the frustration of the moment, I misunderstood his intent – Ben was trying to be helpful, but I thought he was telling me to go to the other room because I couldn’t keep calm while dealing with the situation. Instead of getting mad at our kid, I got mad at Ben. I held it in until I got to our bedroom, but I was furious with him, and feeling extremely justified. How dare he suggest that I was not capable of parenting our children in an appropriate manner? How could he make such a comment in front of our kids, criticizing my self-control and ability to handle the situation? “Somehow,” I thought to myself, “I manage to care for all three children every single day, all day long, while he is off relaxing in his office at work without any tantrums, screaming, or bad attitudes exploding in his face repeatedly!” (Like all he does all day is relax, but in the moment, I was not entirely reasonable!)

As these very heated thoughts blazed their way through my mind, Brene Brown’s question popped up: “What story am I making up in my head?” Immediately, I started to get curious. Why was I responding this way? What was making me so mad? What was going on behind all this anger?

The realization struck me – I was taking Ben’s words and interpreting them in a way which fueled insecurities about my parenting, rather than hearing what he was actually saying. He was offering me a break after a long day, but I was taking it as criticism of my parenting, and responding with anger on the surface, when deep down, I was actually feeling hurt and insecure in my parenting. I was ashamed that I couldn’t keep things under control, and disappointed with myself for how the day had gone.

It’s a lot harder to be honest about insecurity than about anger, but it makes for a much calmer, less explosive conversation. Because my issue was not even about anger, we would have gotten nowhere trying to work out what was making me “mad”, until I could recognize what was truly going on underneath. Once our kids were in bed, we had time to talk it over, and I couldn’t believe how much harder it was to tell him I was feeling shame and inadequacy as a parent, as well as hurt because I misunderstood his offer to help as a subtle sign of judgement.

I wanted to be mad, because it was easier, but admitting to the messier stuff underneath brought things to the surface which I needed to work through on my own, and had nothing to do with Ben.

Brene Brown Quotesource

It is really tempting to deny responsibility, or deny the messy, ugly truth deep down inside us. But that incident with Ben, which really had nothing to do with Ben, made me feel so much better when I could identify what was truly going on, and face the messy stuff. I still have a lot more internal housecleaning to do, but it makes a big difference already to be aware of these feelings of insecurity or inadequacy I have as a parent, and the lies they’re telling me.

All of this makes me curious about what else is lurking down there. I think I have a lot more stories to explore, and some brave new endings to write!

Adults Choose Their Work, and So Should Kids!

This is a follow-up post to The Box That Cleans My House – collecting kids’ items left lying around into a box, and having them do a chore to “buy” back their stuff. As I’ve read the comments on Facebook, I realized there was more to say on the topic….

A few months ago, I read this post about “paying” your children to do extra chores around the house, pointing out that adults choose to work for money, so why shouldn’t kids? Ben and I talked about the idea, but felt it didn’t fit with what we choose to do in our family – our kids get an allowance because they’re part of our family, and we work together because we’re a team.

However, I loved the idea of allowing kids to choose what work they want to do. There are days when I am suddenly motivated to do something in particular, which on any other day might have felt like too much work. I like to go with what motivates me. Also, Ben got to choose his job. He has to work, but nobody is forcing him to do the job he does.

So I sat down and made a list of every job I could possibly think of that the girls could do, and put the list on the fridge. We’re trying to have them do any two each day, but if they’re buying back items from the box, they do extra. These are in addition to the regular chores they have to do every day – make beds, clean up their bedroom, polish the bathroom, empty the dishwasher, sweep the kitchen/dining room floor, and set and clear the table.

laundry

I wanted to find easy, manageable jobs for them to accomplish quickly, because this isn’t supposed to feel like a punishment – I try to talk a lot about learning to enjoy work, or at least enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when it’s done.;)

Here’s the list:

  • Wash bathroom, entrance, or kitchen floor
  • Sweep bedrooms
  • Fold towels
  • Wipe bathroom cabinets
  • Dust baseboards
  • Dust piano
  • Dust bookshelves
  • Wash a window (inside)
  • Organize the Tupperware drawer
  • Organize shoes in the closet
  • Empty garbage
  • Collect garbage/random objects from inside the SUV
  • Water the garden

dishwasher

Sometimes I let them help in the kitchen or take care of Everett as a “chore” – depends on what needs doing each day.

What has been most interesting to me is seeing which jobs the girls choose. Kaylia chooses anything in the kitchen, or organizing things, and a shiny piano is her new pride and joy. Anika loves washing floors or sweeping.

Judging by that list, one would think my house is spotless all the time, but it’s not – things get busy, and I don’t always have the time or energy to make sure the girls are doing two extra chores every single day. But it’s a process – I loved this post: Why Teaching Your Kids to Do Chores is Like Paying Your Mortgage. We’re thinking long term here – long term benefits for me and for them. I like to think about what kind of adults they will grow up to be if I can train them well!

So that’s the list of chore choices at the moment, but I’d love to hear your suggestions! Can you think of any quick chores I can add to the list?

Learning to Love Well

Ever done the whole “Love Language” thing? My main language is quality time, followed by acts of service. This means that if you want to show me love, you spend time with me. Or do something practical and nice for me.

It also means that when I’m trying to love somebody, I’m going to give them my time, and make them food or do their laundry. Most of the time, this means I feel like I’m being super loving to my family – I stay at home all day, and do stuff for them around the house. How much more could they be loved??!!

The only problem is that they have different love languages than I do. So I try to work on that, because saying “I love you” in French to someone who only understands English does not get you very far.

But something important clicked for me recently – Ben and I were talking about parenting, and I said something dramatic, like “I’m giving EVERYTHING for our girls!!”

As soon as I said it, something inside my head stopped me, and I thought, “Wait, no, I don’t. I don’t give EVERYTHING. I give most of my time, every day, but there are lots of other ways in which I could be less selfish, and love more.”

I’ve never thought about it before, but I think this may be one of the reasons why I homeschool. I’m giving our girls my best love by spending all this time with them. Why would I want them in school all day, and spend my time on something less important to me than them?

I think it’s a significant thing for me to realize, because it gives me permission to not be with them all the time. I can still be a loving mom, even if I do other things.

Kendra and Anika

Even more importantly, maybe I can hold time a little looser, and not see my love as being measured by how tightly I hang on to this time with them.

You know how people always tell you to enjoy every moment with your kids, because they grow up so quickly? This has always put a ton of stress on me, because of this whole “loving with time” thing. It’s as though I see the best part of my life as being with my children, and this precious time is slipping away, and I MUST HANG ON TO IT AND SOAK IN EVERY SINGLE MOMENT!!! Because even random strangers tell me to do so.

But I read an amazing blog post this week:

There is a difference between having an awareness that time is fleeting and having anxiety that time is fleeting, and the latter is born out of the same fear of scarcity that makes women panicky for their opportunities in life. There are only so many chances–get it because another woman will. There are only so many baby days–soak them in because you’ll never feel this happiness again. Lies, lies, fear and lies.

The truth is, time is moving just as quickly as it moved 100 years ago–as quickly as it moved for our mothers and their mothers and their mother’s mothers–60 minutes to an hour, 24 hours to a day.

Last year, after accepting that we were done having kids, cleaning the baby clothes out of the attic and tucking Lainey’s kindergarten projects in a safe place to save forever, I challenged myself on the language I use and the terminology that folds over and over in my mind and heart when reflecting on my kids’ childhood. They’ll never be this little again. Time is fleeting. We’re done with 6-9 months clothes. Toddler days are over, soak up the preschool ones! Never, fleeting, done, over. Scarcity much? I’ve worked hard to replace these words with powerful, progressive ones in my motherhood vocabulary–growing, moving, learning, blooming–and take great pride and pleasure in the opportunity of forward movement, the gift of time and more time.

Guess what? I get to love my kids and give them my time, even when they are adults! And there are tons of ways to love my kids well, that don’t involve all this pressure on time. I need to know that.

I need permission to let the days flow through my fingers with pleasure, instead of tightly grabbing hold of every single moment. I need to know that when I look back, this time will have been good, and I gave a lot to them, in the ways that mattered most to me and to them.

Anika started randomly listing all the things she loves about me one day. I think she knew I was discouraged, and wanted to cheer me up, so this is what she said:

  • “You let us play Civilization on the computer.” (True love right there, hey?!)
  • “You homeschool us when you could send us away to school.” (Melt my heart – she’s speaking my language!)
  • “You believe in Jesus.”
  • “You’re a good cook.”
  • “You love us.” (Maybe they’re getting the important stuff??!)

Then Anika asked Kaylia, “Why do you love Mommy?”

Kaylia said, “Because.”

She was quiet for a bit, and I wasn’t expecting anything more from her, but suddenly she said, “She prayed for us before we were in her tummy.”

My sweet girls, I don’t love them as well as I should, but how wonderful to be reminded that sometimes I get it right, and they feel it! And we keep trying.

Kendra and Kayliaphoto credit: Morgan Braun