Hamster Wheel Days

It’s 7:30 a.m. I’ve just tucked my fourteen-month-old, Sam, in for his first nap. Yeah, I know. That’s early for a nap. But we’ve been awake since 4:30. “It’s another hamster wheel day,” a voice tries to tell me, after a series of events like teething, traveling, and sickness that just won’t let us get back into our sleep routine. But then another voice replies, “Maybe not. You don’t have to live constantly struggling to catch up and never getting anywhere. You have choices.”

I have choices.

I’m not blogging this morning to complain. Well, maybe a little. But I’m making a big effort not to complain to my husband this week, or ever again…and I also have a need to express my feelings in order to work them out. I have expressed my feelings to God numerous times, and I am trying to make him my foremost confidant. But a blog audience is a nice audience to complain to, if you need to complain. I can talk about my struggles without being tempted to attack—like I am tempted to do with my husband—and I usually get some encouraging comments from my sweet readers. If nothing else, pounding the keys of the keyboard does something good for the anger inside me.

God is doing a work in me. He continues to do a work. Through this motherhood gig, he is pointing out sins that I wasn’t previously ready to confront.

Hello, selfishness.

I can keep blaming other people and circumstances for my frustration—there are always plenty of excuses. Or I can take responsibility for my actions and my attitude.

The fact is, I’m not (mainly) frustrated because Sam’s sleep is erratic, or my babysitter cancelled again, or my husband doesn’t help with meal cleanup. I’m mainly frustrated because I am selfish, and I have not planned for “interruptions” in my plans.

I am selfish, and I struggle to see motherhood (and wifehood) as my first duty and calling. I am selfish, and I have tried to neatly portion out blocks of time that are “mommy hours,” and blocks of time that are “me hours.” I am selfish, and I have not lived as Jesus Christ, giving my whole self—my body, my time, my attitude–as a living sacrifice. I am selfish, and I have wanted motherhood to happen on my own terms, not on God’s terms.

I have been deeply convicted that my failure to love and appreciate my husband and son in the midst of inconveniences or upsets in schedule are rooted in selfishness. So I am putting my eyes back on Christ—because I need his supernatural patience and love to get me through these “hamster wheel days.”

I have choices.

I can’t right now choose the time of day I want to study my Bible, or choose how long, or even totally choose what hours I want to sleep. (While I am doing what I can to sleep train, factors outside of my control like teething, sickness, and travel back and forth from Texas are legitimate struggles that cause regression and necessitate some babying.) But I still have choices.

I can choose to own this stage of early mornings and night wakings not as a tragedy, but as an opportunity to grow patience and self-sacrifice. Practically, I can also choose to nap with Sam on the really hard days, and realize that the world won’t end if I don’t post a blog or cook homemade food on those days.

I can choose to get my eyes off myself and focus on others who are going through struggles much worse than mine. I can look to mentors and good influences to lift me up. And I can celebrate all the good around me, like the fact that my friend just gave birth to a new baby.

Getting off the hamster wheel means simultaneously lifting up my eyes and lowering my expectations. I must do this—I will do this—so I can stop running on empty and be still sometimes…at flexible times, at whatever times Sam takes his naps. I don’t know what kind of a day you’d call that, but it sure beats the hamster wheel.

It’s Weird…and It’s Good (Thoughts on Our Move to St. Louis and First Visit Back to Texas)

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A view of our new apartment building in St. Louis.

Sam was a different baby when we moved away from Texas. Not yet one, not yet walking. When we returned to our Texas house a few weeks ago, he was one and walking, and this made the house a different house.

I took Sam into the backyard, now that he could walk and explore. I watched as he poked a stick in the dirt, toddled through leaves, pulled up soft green grass, and listened to dogs barking down the street. What a playground for my sweet little boy: It was open, fenced in, and ours…but not ours anymore, because we moved away from this house and this yard, and we were only visiting them, and visiting my in-laws, who are renting from us until we can move back.

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I didn’t yet mention on this blog that Buc’s new job requires him to visit TX often—every one or two months. He is now a regional manager for a St. Louis based company (hence the move), but the region he manages is in Texas (hence our visits “home”). We accepted the position ready for a new adventure, but hoping to move back to Texas at some point, when Buc could work in the field and we could again be close to friends and family.

Until we move back (fingers crossed), Sam and I get to join Buc on business trips and stay in our old house with my in-laws. After our first visit back, I’m having lots of thoughts about our move to Missouri, and our visits to Texas, and the benefits and drawbacks of both. I’ve concluded this arrangement is good, and it’s also weird.

It’s good to be back in a one-level house, where Sam is not at risk of falling down stairs, and where my knee is not taxed by carrying Sam up and down those stairs twenty times a day. And it’s good to have a backyard that is fenced in where Sam can play.

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Sam peering over the very necessary baby gate in our new apartment.

But it’s weird, too. It’s weird to come back to a house that’s ours, but not really ours. It’s weird to stay in the guest room when once we stayed in the master. It’s weird to not have a vehicle of my own to take out at leisure. It’s weird to get out of the routine I set up in St. Louis, being so efficient with naptimes and evenings, to spend time with other people, because there are people around to spend time with.

Still, it’s good to have another person in the house during the day besides Sam and me. It’s good to have my father-in-law joke with Sam and make funny voices at him, as Sam toddles into the TV room for the fourteenth time that day and growls, “Papa!” (How Sam loves his Papa!)

It’s good to have my mother-in-law’s helping hands when she gets home from teaching in the afternoons. It’s good for Buc and me to get out by ourselves for a bit, when she’s watching Sam. It’s good to see Sam laughing his head off with his “Nana,” who is a Kindergarten teacher and so good at physical play.

It’s good to be able to help my in-laws just a little, by cooking healthy food for them.

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This arrangement is weird, and it’s good. It also makes me wonder: What did we do, moving to St. Louis, away from friends and family and our beautiful, baby-friendly house that we just finished renovating? (But we didn’t realize how much we would appreciate an open, one-story house while our baby was yet a crawler, not a walker. And I didn’t know that all these stairs would damage my knee—well, it could be partly due to Jillian Michael’s Thirty Day Shred, too, which I have given up indefinitely.

Satan is so good at planting doubts, isn’t he?

I’m not sad we moved. But I see the limitations now. I see the new struggles that have come from this move, and they muddy the gloss of our new adventure a bit. But just a bit.

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God gave me a blessed peace in the days after returning from our bittersweet trip. Sam didn’t sleep well and neither did I, especially because we were all trying to recover from sickness, but it’s like a voice spoke into my frazzledness.

Rest. (I napped during Sam’s morning naps for the next two days, rather than trying to push forward on my writing.) Take care of your family. (I chose to keep up with my healthy cooking plan by grocery shopping and making two big meals for the week. I have learned that good nutrition is a priority; we all feel better when we eat better.) Find joy in the mundane. (I am learning to involve Sam in the daily tasks I have to do; I am trying to see him as the little person he is, a person to involve in life and teach about life, rather than a weight I must lug around.) Laugh with your son. (When I pay attention to Sam, I can catch extraordinary moments of fun and laughter; and baby laughs do more for the soul than almost anything else on earth can.)

And then the sun came out. Spring is here.

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This is the playground down just one block from our apartment.

While strolling Sam in seventy-degree weather, Buc and I talked about the limitations of our current living situation, and decided we will need to move into a house (preferably one-story) at the end of our year lease if we are not able to go back to Texas…especially if there is a new baby on the way. I don’t know how my knee and I could handle a newborn and a toddler in our apartment with all its steps.

There is the regret of not visiting St. Louis before we rented this apartment, but there is the peace that we are here for this year for a reason. Maybe it’s so Buc and I can focus on our marriage, and not yard work, this year. Maybe it’s just to hear the birds singing off our balcony. Whatever the reason, I’m okay with this situation. It’s weird, and it’s uncertain, but it’s good.

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Another view of the apartments, with our covered parking in the distance.

I Realized I Was Starving Myself (or How and Why I’m Baking Healthier in 2015)

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Almost as soon as we moved to St. Louis, I started having what Buc and I dubbed as “eating emergencies.” I’d be going about my day fine, when suddenly a beast inside me would rear its ugly head and demand, “Feed me!” I became irritable at Buc and said words I seriously regretted and had to apologize for—all from hunger.

So now, in addition to a baby who was transitioning to all solids, I had another reason to reevaluate my diet: Apparently, I was “starving myself.” I concluded that, for my marriage’s sake, I better make a change.

If I wanted the “eating emergencies” and “food fights” with my husband to stop, I needed to stop trying to fend off my afternoon hunger with coffee (which was a great weight loss help in the past), and eat instead. As I listened to my body, I discovered that it really was food my body craved, not coffee, even though I love coffee! (A little less caffeine sure wouldn’t hurt my raging emotions either.) I needed to cook more satisfying meals, which I addressed in my last post; and I also needed to have some satisfying snacks on hand.

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This lumpy concoction was my attempt at the “Fruited Cheese Bread” recipe in What to Expect the First Year. I didn’t read the whole recipe before I began, and this ended up being a lot more work than I bargained for. The bread was decent, but in the future, I plan to seek out similar recipes for my bread machine and use the kneading time for writing time (or something more fun).

But the idea of adding more snacks to my diet unnerved me. I was scared of returning to habits that had put fifty extra pounds on my body in the first place. With all this self- and diet-evaluation, I realized that it was my poor choices during pregnancy that had packed on those fifty pounds. Lots of carbs, white flour, starchy things, sugary things. Bagels, muffins, pizza: these were what I craved most, and what I allowed myself to eat because, hello, I was starving for nine months!

Help for the Hungry (and Unhealthy)

Year of No SugarGood thing that during our move to St. Louis I read Eve O. Schaub’s memoir, Year of No Sugar, in which the author and her family go on a yearlong sugar strike (with a few exceptions). Schaub’s conclusions after her yearlong project struck a chord with me. While I didn’t plan to attempt cutting out all sugar (an almost impossible task), she did convince me to cut down on my overall intake.

Two things I am doing as a result of my heightened sugar awareness:

  • Limiting my sweets intake to about twice a week, as opposed to allowing myself to nibble on junk food every day
  • Trying recipes for muffins, cookies, and cakes that don’t contain sugar (incidentally, these recipes also switch out refined flour for healthier options like whole wheat flour, wheat germ, nuts, and oats)

I’ve been implementing these changes for one month, and you know what? I don’t really miss my sweets. And I feel lighter, fuller, and more satisfied.

Specifically What I’m Doing to Get Fuller and Healthier (and Lose Weight in the Process)

Let me flesh this out a bit more, in case you want to tweak your diet, too: I used to eat something chocolate or sugary almost every day—a few candies, a piece of frozen Sara Lee cake, or an iced coffee from Mcdonalds (I especially loved my iced coffees, but I finally admitted to myself they were full of sugar, and majorly preventing weight loss).

Now I am skipping those choices almost every day but baking one healthy thing a week—like oat cookies, pumpkin muffins, or even Sam’s first birthday “cake”—to eat in place of my junk, or to eat for my snacks.

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Sam’s First Birthday Cake, recipe from “The Best Odds Recipes” in What to Expect The First Year. I know it doesn’t look like much, but Sam actually ate quite a few bites! And I enjoyed these leftovers for days to come.

I’m not into finding obscure sugar substitutes like seasoned baker Eve Schaub. But happily, as I perused recipes to feed one-year-old Sam, I found a bunch of no-sugar recipes in the parenting book What to Expect the First Year, in the “Best Odds Recipes” section. This collection is designed to keep kids away from sugar for as long as possible, but it also provided just what I needed for myself.

The recipes I’ve tried have no hard-to-find ingredients, but rely on staples like dates, raisins, apple juice, wheat germ, oats, and whole-wheat flour. I love that everything on the ingredient list is good for me, and good for Sam, and I have enjoyed “indulging” in cookies and cake for a morning snack, or even for breakfast. I genuinely feel nourished by these healthy treats, and with these becoming my usual fare, I don’t feel bad for having a sugar bomb of a treat once in awhile. On a happy side note, already I’m craving those sugar bombs less and less, and finding that I am satisfied with a much smaller serving of sugar than I used to be (say two Hershey’s kisses instead of a piece of chocolate cake).

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Pumpkin muffins, also from “Best Odds Recipes” in What to Expect the First Year. These look good but tasted a little bland, so if I try them again, I plan to experiment with a little more sweetness.

So far I feel great with these changes, and I plan to continue as long as I have the time to make this “bake-ahead” food. Indeed, baking my snacks ahead of time is key, so that whenever I have a food emergency, I also have a quick and healthy solution.

If you find yourself in the same desperate and ravenous situation I was, and if you want to lose some weight, I am convinced that one of the best things you can do for yourself (and possibly your relationships) is to get your hands on some sugarless recipes, use them, and then stock your fridge and freezer with these healthy, hunger-stopping treats. Your spouse, and your waistline, will thank you.

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Epilogue: Thanks to the diet changes discussed here and in my last post (and probably thanks to all the extra flights of stairs in our new home, the busyness of unpacking, and a mobile baby), I dropped five pounds within the first month of living in St. Louis. And now I only have four more to go!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How and Why I’m Cooking Healthier in 2015

IMG_1685One of my resolutions for 2015 was to cook healthier. That’s sounds like a big lifestyle change, but it’s actually not a huge leap for me because I was raised a Seventh-day Adventist, and Adventists are recognized for their extraordinary health and longevity. Huffington Post, for instance, reported that SDAs “live an average of 10 years longer than the American life expectancy of about 79 years.” I’m proud of us for this! (See also this article by The Atlantic). 

Adventists preach and practice healthy living, including a vegetarian diet with lots of fruits, grains, and nuts; no caffeine; observing Sabbath rest; and other measures like fresh air, sunshine, and exercise. Now then, why have I recommitted to getting healthier if I’m part of this exemplary group?

Individual Adventists adhere to these corporate beliefs in varying degrees, and my husband and I are no exception. Although Buc converted me to vegetarianism after we married (previously I had just avoided the “unclean meats,” like pork and seafood), I’m the one who likes to eat vegetables–he’s more of a carbs and cheese guy. So, after I noticed that he didn’t appreciate me shaking up his diet, I largely gave up experimental, “healthy” cooking, and caved too often to pasta, pizza, and other carb-y, cheesy foods. Not the best for health, or for weight loss, I realized, when I couldn’t shake my last ten prego pounds.

So several months ago, in pursuit of shedding those last pounds, I severely cut carbs and learned to substitute grains, like quinoa and couscous, in my cooking. More recently, I identified other areas that needed reform–namely, too much caffeine and sugar, and “eating emergencies” that I was ill-prepared for (I will share more in my next post). But the biggest reason I decided to alter my diet was Sam.

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At one year old (can you believe it?), Sam is at a critical place regarding his future health. From observing other kids, I know that the habits set early often blossom into lifestyles. A toddler who eats veggies turns into a teen who eats them; a toddler who doesn’t have to turns into a teen who won’t. I didn’t want to miss this tender opportunity to set Sam’s taste buds on the right course. But I knew this would take some effort.

With Sam now needing to eat real food three times a day, plus snacks, I needed more foods in my tool belt. I needed to become a better cook. Kids have small stomachs and high metabolisms, and they need stuff to munch on throughout the day. I can’t fend off Sam’s hunger with a cup of coffee like I’ve often done with myself (oops…again, more on my personal food issues in my next post). So I simply need to have good food options on hand.

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Tofu veggies and oat burgers. Yum!

To my advantage, I already had a reliable rotation of healthy meals (some of which my hubby will eat!), like lentils, chili, and vegetable potpie; and I had plenty more recipes at my fingertips in the Adventist cookbooks sitting on my shelf. Now, it was just time to use them…but use them wisely, in such a way that Buc would go along with me.

I didn’t think I could change every single meal from cheese- or pasta- to plant-based—and I honestly didn’t want to, as I enjoy a good stuffed crust pizza as much as the next American. But I figured a couple tweaks would ensure a generally healthy baseline, so it would be okay to splurge once in awhile.

The plan I came up with, as outlined in a previous post, was to cook two healthy meals per week, to let Buc choose meals on two other nights, and to go out to eat once a week to give us all a break with cooking and cleanup. So far, our plan is going great!

I’ve found that two “real” cooking sessions per week (I define “real” cooking as having to slice and dice, not just heat up) provide enough to furnish lunch leftovers for our small family on most weekdays. This schedule also leaves room in the supper schedule for Buc to make or request meals closer to his liking, so he is more likely to eat healthy with me on my “real cooking” days. As another benefit, cooking only twice a week (I’m talking on weekdays, not weekends) has freed me up to write more, or do other things for my home and family.

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Vegetable Potpie

So, how is Sam liking this healthy food, you ask? Surprisingly well! Since I’ve implemented my plan, he has eaten oat burgers and tofu veggies, vegetable pot pie, and a mess of other things not often associated with kids, such as onions and kale (I’ve found a strong soup base does much to camouflage these tastes!). Buc is less enthusiastic about my healthy cooking, conditioned as his taste buds are to crave nachos and cheese enchiladas, but I won’t give up providing healthy options, now that I have an extra eating buddy in the house. After all, even if Buc doesn’t always eat my cooking, two out of three ain’t bad!

 

 

My SMART Goals for the Year (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound)

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Photo Credit: “Orange and Measuring Tape” from freedigitalphotos.net

Previously I published three resolutions for 2015, but they were vague and hard to measure (except the one about getting pregnant), so today I delineate SMART goals for my resolutions: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.

In other words, I am breaking my goals into small chunks so I will be more likely to attain them. I have also typed out these goals in measurable formats and have posted them where I will see them every day.

Resolution 1: Focus on my Family.

This list of "family stuff" hangs on my fridge. The list of weeks is where I will write in the weekly song I will sing with Sam.
This list of “family stuff” hangs on my fridge. The list of weeks is where I will write in the weekly song I will sing with Sam.
  • Have nightly family devotions, if even just a song and a prayer together (I’ve learned that a song and a prayer is a notable accomplishment with a one-year-old!)
  • Do one fun outing/activity a month as a family
  • Sing with Sam every day: Pick one song per week. (I included this one because the Bible commands me to “sing and make music in my heart to the Lord” [Eph. 5:19], but I don’t naturally do this; if I’m going to develop this habit and pass it along to Sam, I need a reminder!)
  • Finish Sam’s baby book
  • Fill photo albums with the pictures I already have, then start making electronic albums

Resolution 2: Make healthy choices for myself and make healthy food for my family.

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I got Buc’s input on our family meal schedule, because he is not, shall we say, as experimental of an eater as I am! He generously agreed to take on the cooking for two nights a week–a relief for both him and me, because I can use those afternoons for other things, and he can count on two meals he is sure to like per week. He also agreed to take the family out to eat once a week to give us both a break in the cooking and evening cleanup departments. I sure have a good hubby!

Resolution 3: Get pregnant in 2015 with my second, and final, child.

I’m leaving this one to nature.

Resolution 4 (Recently Added): Write When I Can, and When It Doesn’t Interfere with Family Time

I’ve added “writing” as an area I want to focus on this year, even though I intend it to take a backseat to family life. Below are some goals that seem realistic for me this year; but because I can get obsessive in the area of writing, I’ve listed the third goal to give myself grace if I don’t meet my first two goals.

  • Post a blog once a week
  • Submit five magazine articles this year
  • Give myself grace if/when I don’t meet these guidelines. I have a toddler.

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Inspiration for Completing My Goals

In case you’re curious, I’m getting a lot of my ideas and inspiration (such as the SMART acronym) from Crystal Paine’s Say Goodbye to Survival Mode. (And I got the book recommendation from hearing Crystal interviewed on Family Life Today–which radio program I also highly recommend). If you’re interested in getting help with setting and following through with goals, check out her book, or her very popular blog, moneysavingmom.com. In her book, she walks readers through setting up goals, a daily schedule, and more, all with the hope that the reader will Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore [their] Passion for Life.

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Just be warned: Crystal is a highly driven woman with many, many goals, some Herculean (at least from where I sit in life right now), so I am trying to take her advice to not to compare myself with her, and to set my goals in the context of my individual circumstances. I realize my goals may change as I go along, should my circumstances change or should I discover a better fit for my life, but for now I am committed to implementing the suggestions she’s given, and doing what I’ve identified as most important to my values at this time. Stay tuned to see how it all goes! We can journey toward our goals together.

New Mom? New Home? New Year? Resolutions.

Photo Credit: “Two Thousand Fifteen On Balloons Shows Year 2015” by Stuart Miles
Photo Credit: Stuart Miles

Three things. That’s all. I asked God what he wanted me to focus on this new year, and this week I distinctly felt impressed with three things.

1. Focus on my Family.

2. Make healthy choices for myself and make healthy food for my family.

3. Get pregnant in 2015 with my second, and final, child (God willing).

The first seems easy, the second harder, and the third, terrifying.

Part of the Journey

As you can read in my archives, I’ve been on a journey to embracing motherhood, and the life of self-sacrifice it requires. But this is not an easy journey. I go back and forth in my resolve. I still ask God every day to give me his love and spirit of sacrifice to serve my husband and son in the ways they need me.

It’s discouraging to me that I could want kids and family so much, yet still wish for days of single childlessness. Part of the problem is my selfish nature. But the other part is an attack.

The enemy buffets me with fear about possible ways my family could disintegrate. Investing time in people doesn’t feel as safe as investing time in self-advancement, or career-advancement. I’ve blogged about this before.

But God is helping me to face these fears and combat my selfishness; this year, through three resolutions:

  1. Make my family my mission field.

God is teaching me it is honorable to devote my life (for a season) to raising children, and raising them in the fear of God. He tells me he knows my selfish heart, and teaches me that what the world honors is not what he honors (Luke 16:15). And he assures me that even if something happened to my family, this time of self-sacrifice would not be wasted. Through marriage and parenthood, God is refining my character, teaching me to serve his children (that includes my own, and humanity in general), and helping me develop vital life skills. Like cooking.

  1. Cook healthier food for my family.

I don’t have much patience for cooking. I’m a simple girl who likes a simple life–some blank pages, a pen, and a good book–so I’m glad God has shown me what’s vital and what’s not. Being a Pinterest mom is not vital (though the world might say so). My family can do without scrapbooking. They can do without elaborate home decorating. But they can’t do without good food, because food begets life and health. So, this year, although I don’t feel the need or want for any new hobbies (you should see my stack of unread books), cooking is my new “hobby.” No matter whether I always have family around me or not, I’ll always need to eat, right? But as for having family around me, I really would prefer it, and that’s where resolution 3 comes in.

  1. Get pregnant in 2015.

When we finally decided to have kids eight years into our marriage, we decided on the number two. We didn’t want an only child, and two seemed like plenty: one for each parent to corral. As it turns out, I’d prefer to have the kid/teen/young adult periods without the baby stages. What can I say? I just don’t resonate with the woman who wrote: “I’m afraid to stop having babies.” With that the case, I figure it’s best to get on with the baby-making show, get past these tough years, and then enjoy my children who, as a side benefit, will be close enough in age to play together. This is all God willing, of course. In my limited understanding, this two-kid plan seems best for my family and our situation, but I realize it’s totally up to God whether or not we will conceive again. All we can do is try, wait, and see! (Hold on! We are not trying quite yet. There is a lot of 2015 left to go.)

So there we are. Three things in 2015. The first seems easy, the second harder, and the third, terrifying. Good thing God has recently reminded me of this promise:

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think (Eph. 3:20).

I claimed this promise yesterday, while clutching an”impossible” to-do list. But as the day wore on, I checked off thing after thing–phone calls to pediatricians and pharmacies, phone calls to friends, a batch of healthy cookies, minestrone soup, some writing time, a trip to the grocery store, and clean dishes. God delivered on his promise! And I know he will again.

I Prayed a Prayer in Texas . . . and Wound Up in Missouri

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Photo Credit: jodyandjanie.blogspot.com

Several months ago I prayed: “Something about our lives and our home feels broken; we need a change.” I haven’t posted for the last month because, in that time, my husband got a job in St. Louis that we could not at first make public; and we have been busy moving. Now that we are here (as of one week), I finally have some room to exhale, rejoice, and explain how this move answered my prayer.

When I prayed my prayer a few months ago, our lives looked pretty perfect. Buc had a good job; we had a nice house, a good church family, and a beautiful baby; and I got to stay home with that baby. But there was definitely a problem: Our family of three wasn’t “gelling” like I knew we should. We weren’t bonding and creating traditions and just “being a family” like I knew God intended.

Details like Buc’s early commute, Sam’s erratic sleep patterns, and Buc’s arrival home around Sam’s bedtime made Daddy-and-Baby time nearly impossible on weekdays. These facts also made it hard for us to eat meals together or have family outings. And for those months when Sam was waking through the night, and waking at 4 and 5 and 6 a.m. for the day, I was plumb exhausted. I had nothing left to give.

As I looked around our home, saw our neglected dogs, overgrown flowerbeds, unused backyard, and the garden Buc had failed to plant, I realized Buc had little left to give either. We were just “getting by.” We didn’t have energy to really enjoy life, and enjoy our baby, together.

You might say there was nothing deeply wrong with our setup; they were just logistical things keeping us from family time. But I would be careful about saying that. A lot of wise people have observed that it’s the little things in life—the daily patterns and routines—that make up the whole life. If we’re not careful about those little patterns that are just a degree or two off target, we will soon find ourselves far from where we originally intended to be.

Originally, we decided to have a baby because we wanted to grow our family; we wanted to create new traditions and spend time together and just be a unit. So the fact that I was doing most of this baby stage by myself, without my husband, was sort of devastating. I found myself growing resentful of my baby and even my husband, and I didn’t want to resent them. So, in addition to complaining at home a whole lot (sorry honey), I prayed.

As I prayed about our brokenness at home, Buc felt things breaking work. Situations pushed him to seek employment with another company. And he started praying too. He set forth a number of conditions that God would have to answer in order for him to move his family over 600 miles from home. Guess what? God answered every single one.

So while our church and Texas family members scratched their heads over why we were leaving such a nice life, I sighed with relief. No more breakfasts alone. No more days of waiting until 6 p.m. to talk to my husband. Perhaps some lunches together (we now live within ten minutes of Buc’s work). Perhaps some suppers out with the baby. No more yard upkeep, at least while we remain in the townhome we’ve rented. No more dogs to take care of, for now (two kind families at our Texas church adopted Bill and Ted). A much needed break from church positions that were gobbling up precious weeknights. Just…a much needed retreat from a life that had grown too busy and clumsy to facilitate a new family learning to “be a family.”

No, I’m not happy to have left all the wonderful family, church members, and friends I’ve gained in Texas over ten years, but I know this is God’s plan for us, for now. And for that, I give thanks. For me, the New Year ushers in an exciting period of growth and change, and hopefully a well maintained blog so I can document what God is doing in our little family of three, and stay connected with my friends and extended family. Happy New Year, dear readers!

Embracing Imperfection

"Hands4" by TACLUDA
“Hands4” by TACLUDA

“I don’t watch TV and don’t feel like I waste my time. So why don’t I always have time for God? What can I cut out of my day to spend more time with Him?”

I asked my husband this question last weekend during a heart to heart about putting God back at the center of our lives. Buc admitted he needed to cut down on media use, but I couldn’t put my finger on any “time-wasters” in my day; everything I did seemed useful, even needful.

“I know what your problem is.” Buc answered. “You’re a perfectionist. You might do all good things, but it takes you three times as long as most people. So you do everything well, but you don’t get much done.”

Ugh. He’s told me this before. And I guess  I haven’t truly listened. But I’m finally starting to, because God has stepped in to send the message home. Over the last few weeks (during which I haven’t posted because I didn’t have time to write a “good enough” post) God has been teaching me that his idea of perfection is not the same as mine.

My idea of perfection looks something like this:

  • I should have morning worship every day
  • I should be a good and responsive mother to Sam (whatever that means while he is without language and can’t tell me what he wants/needs)
  • I should exercise vigorously every day
  • I should get to eat at least one meal with my husband (two would be better)
  • Those meals should be mostly healthy
  • I should get 8 hours of sleep every night
  • I should be writing every day
  • I should be blogging regularly
  • I should be involved at church
  • I should be preparing personalized Christmas gifts on Shutterfly (or similar sites) for my family
  • I should keep in touch with all my friends on a regular basis
  • I should keep my house clean–or, at the very least, should be able to get the dishes done at the end of every day
  • I should have clean hair every day

My daily reality is far from my daily “wish list.” And understandably; it’s an impossible list. Over and over in the past weeks God has been talking to me about my impossible standards, trying to redirect them to his standard. He says his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). That sounds better than the crushing yoke I’ve created for myself.

So what is God’s definition of perfection? I’m working on piecing together an imperfect definition, based on some verses he has directed me to lately:

“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.” (Ps. 18:32, NIV)

“…count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4, NKJV)

 “…from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the (wo)man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim. 3:15-17, KJV)

From these verses, I know there is nothing I can do to be “perfect”; it is only through God and his Word that I can aspire to “perfection.” And what is godly perfection? From James I am starting to understand that I can’t measure my “perfection” by my outward appearance; it has to do with my heart and my state of mind. Also, James tells me the road to becoming “perfect” is messy, paved with trials; and Timothy tells me that it may take some “reproof” and “correction” before I get there.

As I ponder and pray over these lessons from God and his Word, I am becoming more okay with days that don’t live up to my expectations. Good rest and good hygiene and healthy meals and quality time with my husband and robust writing production and everything else on my list would be really nice, but we live in an imperfect world–so these things won’t happen every day. So I have to become okay with that; I have to learn to embrace “imperfection” according to how I define imperfection (my shallow, outward definition), and embrace the “process of perfection” God has designed.

My house might be a mess, my hair might be a bit greasy, and it may be a month or more between blog posts…but that’s okay…as long as my connection with God is still intact.

In my imperfect world, maybe all I can do is a five-minute Bible study, or fifty distracted prayers throughout the day while chasing down a runway baby. Maybe I get blessed with an hour of “free” time in which to crack open my Bible commentaries. Maybe I only get to read a few scriptures on my index cards before motherhood calls.

The important thing is to not let the possibility of an “imperfect” Bible study or prayer session keep me from having that Bible study or prayer session. God has told me this recently. He told me, “Lindsey, ALL scripture is profitable for you…so even if you only get five minutes, take them.” And through a new favorite author, Lysa Terkeurst, he has also told me, “Your job is obedience; my job is results” (from Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions).

Okay, God. I will embrace imperfection, as long as you keep helping me (and I know you will). As long you keep “perfecting” me according to your will, I will keep loosening my grip on my own imperfect ideas of perfection.

Messy house, greasy hair, and hasty blog post, here I come! This is my day, and that’s okay.

If I Were a Single Mother

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Buc is out of town this week, which has given Sam and me extra bonding time. It has also made me wonder: What would this journey of motherhood look like without the support of a husband?

Pondering this question makes me sad. I have friends who are making this journey, some of them in silence. But I know there must be pain. Any time a baby comes into the world under questionable circumstances, there is the feeling of rejection, non-acceptance, loneliness, abandonment. I grew up in a home where a baby was born under such circumstances.

This event—or more accurately, the negative roots, or bad emotions and feelings (and the misguided marriage), that led up to my baby brother–led to my family members eventually turning against one another and the five of us living far apart, both emotionally and physically. Today we have reconciled to a great extent. Forgiveness, understanding, and grace have been extended, and we have made up for lost time by creating new happy memories. But not all can be restored.

When families come apart, there is un-restorable loss. I have my husband today, and I have Sam, and God has healed much of the childhood wound, but there is still a hole.

Anytime we lose a family member, or a family structure, we have holes. And while God can soothe them, and partially refill them, they will remain until we are restored to our heavenly image and the heavenly blueprint for families. Single parents, and kids with divorced parents, and kids who don’t know their parents, and kids who do not get to see their parents, was not God’s plan for the family. No matter how much family members may bother us at times, we are not complete without them. We miss them when they’re gone.

And yet, sometimes during the daily grind, I have thoughts about my husband like:

  • If he weren’t here, I could actually keep this house clean.
  • If I didn’t have to cook and clean for him, I could have more time to myself.
  • I would eat healthier without him around.

Terrible, right? But it gets worse. I’ve had similar thoughts about my baby. (Oh come on moms, you’ve had them, too.) Christian writer/speaker Lysa Terkuerst admitted to wishing her kids were older so she could finally get something done. A friend of mine has admitted that she often wants her husband out of the house so he will stop messing it up. These are just the kinds of thoughts we have, aren’t they? We are so quick to dismiss the blessings God has given us.

But as I look back at my childhood family, I don’t care about the little inconveniences we caused each other, such as my brother’s pranks on me, Dad’s boring cooking, Mom’s “too helpful” comments on my homework. I don’t much remember them, honestly. I just regret losing the support of a two-parent family, and family unity and harmony. I regret the hurtful words that flew between us and the barriers we erected.

If I were a single mother, I would have cleaner house, sure. I would have a better diet, I think. And I would have more free time to write and do my “own thing.” But these things are poor consolation prizes for what I would lose.

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I would lose the joy of seeing Buc make our baby belly laugh. I would lose a warm body to cuddle with at night. I would miss good conversation over dinner (when we are lucky enough to eat dinner together and in quiet). I would miss feeling loved and needed. I would miss relationship.

God created us to exist within relationships, and no matter how full our lives are in other ways, the lack of close, familial relationships leaves us feeling empty at the end of the day. I know. I’ve lived that way. And living that way left me not wanting to live.

I’m glad I’ve gotten these days away from my husband to remember how much I love and need him. This time alone has reminded me to keep the main thing the main thing. If my home is not in order, then it must get my priority attention. There is nothing else more important.

I’m also grateful to remember how Jesus cared so much for me that he addressed my holes…by taking them into his own body and soul. A year ago I was Christmas shopping and came across beautiful poem by Anne Peterson called “I Have These Holes,” framed as wall art. I cried right there in the store as I read it, because it rang so true for me. And I bought two copies. One I gave as a Christmas gift (which I think got forgotten by the owner), but the other hangs just to the left of my writing desk.

Here is the poem.

I have these holes

(Find more from the author at AnnePeterson.com)

This poem still makes me cry because it reminds me how Jesus brought me through the loss of a mother for some of my crucial growing-up years, the loss of a father for a couple more of those years, and the loss of a two-parent family. I can’t say the holes are gone, but they don’t ache like they used to. And they have largely been refilled. And one day they will be completely filled.

If I were a single mother, I would have different holes. But in that case, Jesus would offer different ways to fill me up, to ease the ache, to provide support.

Today, if you are a single mother or dealing with the loss of any family member, Jesus understands. And he has ways to fill you up of which you can’t even dream right now. Just hold on.

Call Me a Desperate Housewife

I’m not gonna lie. Even though I’ve had what I call an “attitude change” about motherhood, I still have days when I feel like a desperate housewife. And not the sexy, Hollywood kind either. See below for the depressing details, but then keep reading…this post ends well!

sleep deprived 1Picture me bedraggled and frumpy as I haul myself out of bed at 1:50 a.m. to change a poopy diaper, administer medication, and give a bottle. At 3 a.m. he cries because he doesn’t want to go back to sleep. At 3:30, I cry because now I can’t go back to sleep. Sometime in the 4 or 5:00 hour I fall into an uneasy snooze, but by 6 a.m., the telltale wakeup cry pierces the monitor again.

I roll out of bed scowling and muttering. Buc, my husband, is in the shower and will be gone by 6:30, and it takes every ounce of self-control I have not to blame him for how I feel like a single mother during the workweek. When he emerges from the bathroom, I break my vow to speak peace and instead pounce, listing all that’s wrong with my world. These are the only words he will get from me for the next twelve hours until he returns again. This is his sweet sendoff. Man, I feel terrible. This is where I realize yet again: I am a desperate housewife. Desperate for sleep, yes, but also desperate for wisdom to handle these days when adequate sleep is but a dream.

About four months ago, or half of Sam’s life ago, I made the remark to a fellow parent, “At least the hardest part is over.” He only laughed at me. Now with Sam’s mobility, I know why. Yes, the sleep is better some nights. But not always. And days have gotten 100% harder. Now during waking hours, Sam needs constant supervision, because he will almost certainly hurt himself if I’m not there to catch him, redirect him, or take something away. When does this phase end?

About two months ago when I noticed my attitude consistently lurking in the pits, I recognized a desperate need to get back to the basics. Hence the attitude change I blogged about a few weeks ago. This change happened as I committed to using my “spare time” to uplift my soul, as I paid attention to everything I fed on, from food to books to music and television. I made sure I put good “fuel” in my brain, such as Christian radio programming, the Bible, and other inspirational books. And it helped. Tremendously.

sleep deprived 3aBut then Sam started having trouble sleeping again. And it didn’t matter what nuggets of wisdom I found time to gobble up (not many, by the way), not as long as my hunger for sleep went unsatisfied. Despite my prayers and good intentions and promises to myself that I would not be unpleasant, I often woke up a witch.

Things came to a head as this weekend hit. By Friday, not only had Sam strung together several bad nights, but my babysitter for that day got sick and canceled, and then I started to feel sick. I fought to get Sam to nap in the afternoon, but my best efforts only resulted in a half hour siesta for both of us. Late Friday afternoon found me, head buried in hands, moaning, “I’m a failure,” texting Buc at work and asking if he could sneak out of the office early to help me. I was tired, I was sick, and I felt like a failure as a mother.

I had read enough books to know that babies can be trained to sleep well, and I knew several moms whose babies slept well every night, but I had obviously failed in that department. “Lord, help me!” I cried. I was, indeed, a desperate housewife. And until I got Sam’s and my sleep sorted out, I knew the desperation would continue.

To make a long story short, Buc stepped in like a champ this weekend to give me a much-needed break, time to regroup, and time to tune in to the wisdom God has placed all around me. While he and Sam went to church Saturday morning and to my in-laws’ for Saturday lunch, I rested, read the wisdom of Proverbs, and refreshed myself on what the sleep experts in my parenting books said.

sleep deprived 2The verse that spoke to me in Proverbs was: “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many counselors bring success” (15:22, NLT). Proverbs has a lot to say about fools, and I faced the fact that I’d been a fool on the sleep issue, too often going with my feelings instead by wise counsel. Ever since Sam’s separation anxiety (and his “mommy” attachment) manifested, I’d become lax on having him fall asleep by himself and instead often allowed him to fall asleep in the stroller, with a bottle, or in my arms. It was no wonder his sleep had gotten worse. I had been coddling him far too much. But being soft on the sleep issue was not kind to him or to me.

So on my sick Saturday morning off, I spent several hours poring over the wise counsel of the sleep experts (whom I’d silently shut away on my bookshelf), and then I wrote out an action plan for what to do at naptimes and bedtimes. I knew myself: if I didn’t have a plan, and if I didn’t rehearse it in my mind before testing time, I would resort to what “felt right” when Sam cried—and we would go on and on in our desperate, sleep-deprived cycle indefinitely. But I needed still more help. When Buc got home Saturday afternoon, I enlisted him as my assistant. I ran the plan by him, we tweaked it a bit, we prayed, and then we implemented it last night at bedtime and this morning at naptime. And guess what? It’s working!

I don’t believe in “crying-it-out” indefinitely, but Sam can go five minutes, then ten, by himself. (I am relying heavily on the method known as “Ferberizing,” for those interested). So far, we haven’t had to wait more than about fifteen minutes for him to go to sleep. Of course, this morning after he went back down at 5:15, I was wide awake. But that’s okay. I had gone to bed early as a preemptive strike, I felt strangely rested, and I got to write in blissful silence for a whole hour and fifteen minutes!

How I have missed this! Not just the writing, but the quiet morning time. The settling, centering time before the day wakes. This is how days were meant to begin. This is what I need to refresh my soul. Quiet time with God and quiet time with my pen and the blank page.

parenting-quoteI’m glad I can admit when I’m desperate, because that’s when God can help me the most. He helps me by telling me where to go: sometimes to bed early, sometimes to the writing desk. He helps me by telling me who to talk to: this weekend, my husband. He helps me by telling me what to read: down to specific scriptures, and sometimes specific parenting books.

And he also talks by just whispering to me in his still, small voice: “You’re not a failure, my child. You’re just learning the ropes. And as long as you lean on me, you’re never a desperate housewife.”

So maybe I shouldn’t call myself a desperate housewife. But maybe I should. It made for a good blog title; and honestly, I never want to stop being desperate for wisdom. Because when I ask, God answers (James 1:5).