Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bitterness

It's like a cancer deep down inside of you.  Nobody sees it.  Nobody knows it's there.  Except you...and, of course, God.

I've known the nagging pain of it far too well.  It began with a valid reason.  A blunder.  Somebody did me wrong.  The fact that I had once called that someone a friend made it worse.  That that person claimed to be a Christian sunk me.

Why would they do this?  How could this person not see the hurt they had caused?  How could they claim to have been led by the Spirit when all they brought was pain?  These questions whirred through my brain in a never-ending loop.

Slowly, I found the hurt turning black, rotting my heart from the inside out.  Shamefully, I found myself hating.  I wanted to scream and yell.  I wanted to write a nasty letter.  I even dreamt of doing this person physical harm.

I wanted to hurt them, but instead all I ever ended up hurting was myself.  I let it breed in me and poison me.  With it came anger, sleeplessness, and even depression.  There didn't seem to be a way to stop it.

But there was One who could...the only other One who knew it was even there inside of me.   One day I realized that I needed Him to fix me.  I needed Him to get rid of this.

It was as if I looked down and saw for the first time that my fists were clenched, holding tight to the wrongs done me.  I didn't want to let them go.  I wanted to hold onto them until this person paid for what they'd done.

But that is not His way.  That's not how He works, how He heals.  No, instead of letting me inflict retribution, He asked me to do the opposite...He asked me to let go.

And I did.

It wasn't easy or all at once.  When you've held tight to something for that long, your muscles are tight and unmoving.  It took prying and tears and hard choices, but eventually I was able to let go of that last shred of hurt that I'd held onto for so long.

All at once I saw what the poison had done to me.  What I'd let grow in me.  I vowed to never let it grow in me again, although I knew I could never really keep that promise.

O Lord, cleanse me of the blackness within.
Rid me of this poison I drown myself in.  
Let me know the freedom of true forgiveness,  
And free me from this trap called bitterness.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Modesty Revisited

A few weeks ago, an anonymous person commented on one of my old posts from my newlywed days.  I had to laugh and cringe a little bit when I reread it, both at my writing style and a few of my thoughts.  Over the three years since I wrote that post, I've developed and grown so much, both as a woman and in my beliefs.

The truth is, I don't only wear clothes that my husband "likes" and, honestly, he wouldn't want me to.  I'm so thankful to be married to my husband.  We have our fair share of problems, struggles, and fights, but never once has he tried to control the way I dress.  If anything, he's given me the freedom to develop my own personal sense of style and convictions on modesty.  His questions about why I felt the need to wear certain uber-Conservative pieces of clothing were merely meant to question my motives and help me decipher my personal convictions and tastes from the voices of the outside world.

You see, I've come to realize that standards without conviction are legalism.  Instead of coming out of honest prayer and seeking the Lord, they come from other men and women who are very vocal about their belief that their standards are the only correct ones.  My days of wearing long skirts and no makeup stemmed from legalism and a desire to please people (specifically single male ones ;) ).  Here are some of my latest thoughts on modesty and what it really means:


The way you dress should bring respect, both to yourself and to your husband.


I know without a doubt that my husband will still love me and think I'm good-looking no matter what, but I want to walk into church or the grocery store dressed in a way that will make my husband proud that I'm his.  
"Her husband is known in the gates, 
When he sits among the elders of the land."
(Proverbs 31:23)  
The infamous "Proverbs 31 Woman" brought her husband respect.  Similarly, while I have my own personal style and convictions, (hey, I'm a daughter of the King, and I want to and should be respected), I also want to bring respect to my husband.  I don't want to bring upon him jealousy, mockery, or pity because I'm either dressed too provocatively or too frumpily (is that even a word?).


Modesty is not about wearing the "right" things and avoiding the "wrong" ones...it's about not drawing undue attention to yourself.  


Sure, I want to be dressed nicely and attractively, bringing respect both to myself and my husband, but if I'm drawing attention to myself because I'm standing out too much, then I'm basically defeating my whole purpose.  Sometimes, covering up too much can actually draw more attention to yourself than just dressing tastefully and appropriately for the situation.  Anyone who's ever seen a woman wearing a burka on a hot beach knows exactly what I'm talking about.  Dressing in a certain, Conservative way will make people think "Pentecostal" or "Fundamentalist"...not "Christian".  Not that there's anything wrong with those descriptions (especially if you are Pentecostal or a Fundamentalist), but if you're not, is that really the image you want to portray to people?
"An attitude of humility, avoiding improper self-exaltation or excessive flamboyance. Scripture urges modesty in personal behaviour, forms of dress and forms of behaviour" (Dictionary of Bible Themes).

Over hyped-up modesty only makes us ashamed of our womanhood.


Please don't try to argue with me on this point.  I've talked to many, many women who've come out of very Conservative circles, and the majority of them have experienced this at one point or another.  They were told that their bodies could make men stumble, as if they were wholly responsible for a man's thoughts.  They were told that the mere outline of their womanly bodies could cause a man to lust, and thus they became ashamed and paranoid.  They wore bulky, ill-fitting clothing in an attempt to be "modest".

Ladies, God created the female body as an exquisite, beautiful thing.  We should never, ever be ashamed of our bodies.  I don't want to get into a debate here, because I really don't have all the answers.  I just want to assure you that the fact that you have a chest, or a waist, or legs, or a rear end--the fact that you are a woman--isn't going to make any guy stumble.


To this day, I'm still guilty of dressing differently depending on who I am going to be around.  


Not that it's wrong to want to avoid offending someone or to dress situation-appropriately, but, at least for myself, I can definitely go overboard.  In truth, that just means that I'm being fake.  People are seeing the me I want them to see, instead of the me I really am.  


Summer in the South is brutal, especially for someone not accustomed to heat or humidity.


Honestly, a lot of over-Conservative clothing styles are impractical and downright oppressive.  When it's over 100 degrees and feels like a sauna, even jean shorts will stick to you like nobodies business.  I garden and do things outside in the heat.  I couldn't do that if I had to wear a floor length skirt or a short-sleeved sweater over everything.  This summer when it starts to feel hotter than Hades, I'll be thanking the sweet Lord that I have a husband who has no problem with me wearing shorts or a tank top.


I'm all for dressing modestly and covering up parts of ourselves that should be only for our husband's, but modesty standards are a deeply personal thing.  


I don't think that God convicts us all about the same things.  I have friends that have different standards from my own, but I honestly believe that we are all following what God has convicted us individually to do.  Because of that, I respect their standards and they respect mine.  In the end, the way we dress should reflect who we are in Christ, as well as the unique, beautiful women God created us to be.  


Have your views and modesty standards changed over the years?  I'd love for you to share about them!


Thursday, February 12, 2015

What I Want My Son to Know

Today a beautiful package of flowers and chocolate was delivered to my door from my sweet man.  Miles, of course, being the curious 2-year-old that he is, was full of questions and wanted to know where his flowers and chocolate were.  I told him that Daddy only sent them to Mommy because I'm married to him (marriage being a concept he is just starting to grasp).  

He said, quite honestly, "You married?  Where your dress?"

I couldn't help but laugh at his little brain trying to figure this whole situation out.  He'd looked at our wedding album the other day, so he knew that I had worn a wedding dress at some point...he just thought that I needed to be wearing it in order to be "married" to his daddy and receive that gift.  He didn't understand that a wedding is a one-time thing, whereas marriage is lasting.


It seems like our time these days is full of Miles asking a million questions as his growing brain explodes with new knowledge and concepts.  It's my responsibility to help him grow and teach him about this world.  Frankly, that scares me like crazy.  There's so much I want to teach him and so little time to do it.  Being a woman, I also feel inept to teach him how to be a man.  Yet, I realize that, being a woman, I have a unique perspective on what it actually means to be a man.  Here's what I want my son to know:  
  • You should do and be whatever God has called you to be.  Far be it from me to stand in your way.
  • Women should be treasured and treated with honor.  They are not for your personal pleasure.
  • Being obsessed with hunting, guns, and toughness isn't what makes a real man.
  • A real man puts God before anything else.
  • A real man desires the responsibility and fulfillment that comes from marrying a good woman.
  • A real man puts his wife and his children before himself.
  • A real man has a tender heart for children.
  • A real man is not afraid to cry.
  • Being smart or intellectual doesn't make you any less if a man's man.
  • It's okay to be different.



Friday, February 6, 2015

I'm So Glad You Don't

Some people criticize Valentine's Day for its materialism and its promotion of the idea that chocolates and flowers one day a year are enough to keep a relationship strong.  I get their reasoning, I really do.  But you have always felt that Valentine's Day was one of many opportunities to rekindle romance, and to proclaim your love for me.  I'm so glad you feel that way.  

I remember the heart ache that Valentine's Day used to bring.  "Single's Awareness Day" it really was, for I was painfully aware of my singleness.  No matter how hard I tried, each Valentine's that passed only seemed to stir up feelings and aching that could not be fulfilled.

And then you came into my life, soft yet startling.  Soft because it took a little while for us to actually get together.  Startling because I knew pretty early on that you were the one, and I didn't know how I could possibly know that about someone that I barely knew...or that may not even reciprocate my feelings.  But somehow I did know.

Our first Valentine's Day together we weren't even a "Facebook official" couple.  You bought me roses and we went on a double date with your parents to a quaint little Italian place.  The wait for dinner was a little long, so we made a quick trip to the McDonalds across the street while we waited.  You bought me a hot chocolate and we sat next to each other on the cold, hard fast food booth.  And I remember feeling so thrilled inside.  For once, I wasn't alone on Valentine's Day...for once, I had a guy to take me out and pay for my drink.  The fact that I was so crazy about you made it all the sweeter.

I realized today that this approaching Valentine's Day will be our 7th together.  Each one spent together a changing reflection of where we were in life.  There was the one where we were engaged and went back to that same Italian restaurant together before heading to premarital counseling.  Then there was our first as a newlywed couple, where I scrimped and saved to buy a steak to cook, only to have to keep it warm for hours as you unexpectedly had to work late.  There was the time we got to take a special weekend getaway, and there was the time that we merely went out to dinner.  Work, pregnancy, children, buying businesses...our Valentine's Days saw it all.

Yet, in each one of them, you made me feel special and loved.  It didn't matter the trials and struggles we had been through in the previous year.  It didn't matter how we or our family had changed.  There was always something special, always chocolate, and there was always you.

I'd still love you even if you forgot about Valentine's Day every year...but I'm so glad you don't. 




Wednesday, February 4, 2015

5 Things That Make Me a Better Mom

1. Being a stay-at-home mom.  I always knew that I wouldn’t want to work after my children were born.  While there have been times since I became a mom that I have worked (check out #2), I’m thankful that I haven’t had to work for the majority of the time.  I get to spend my days focusing on and pouring into my children’s lives, yet I also have the freedom to do some things that I’m interested in (gardening, writing, random Target day trips…).  I’m pretty sure I get more sleep that all the amazing working moms out there too.  I don’t have to get up early to rush out the door, after all.  Lots of sleep=happy mama.  

2. Having been a working mom.  For a time before Nora was born, I worked part-time.  I never thought I would work after I had children, but I did, and I learned a great deal through it.  First, how valuable my time is.  When you work outside the home, your time at home is precious.  You have to be incredibly diligent to keep your house running.  Second, how important it is to wake up and get going in the morning.  Even if I don’t have anywhere to be, my day is far more productive when I get up and going first thing.  Third, I have a new appreciation for working moms.  I realize how hard it is for them, even if they have to work or honestly enjoy their job.  As a stay-at-home mom once again, I’m much more productive and cognizant with my time.  In turn, I get a lot more done.  

3. Having a high-needs child.  I’ve talked about this before.  The gist is that I see my children for who they are instead of who I think they should be.  Most of the time, anyway.

4. Having a low-needs child.  My sweet, easy-going daughter has made it very obvious that my high-needs son was not my “fault”.  Each of my children simply has their own, unique personality.  I’m also thankful that she’s so laid-back because I would have probably lost my sanity otherwise.

5. MOPs.  I’ve been a part of our local MOPs group since Miles was just a few weeks old, and now I’m on the leadership team.  I love it and I have a huge heart for it.  In those early newborn days with Miles, and more recently as I’ve learned how to be a mom to two, my mom friends from MOPs were the support I needed.  I’ve gained some amazing friends through MOPS.  I also love the opportunity it presents to serve others right where I’m at…by letting motherhood be the common denominator.   
  

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Shadow of the Past, Shadow of the Future

I hear it often enough.  I’m thin, as I always have been, and the scale balances a mere 10 lbs heavier than it did before my babies came.  “You look so good!” is common to my ears.  “You don’t look like you even had a baby!"

In many ways, I do look good for having two kids, one only three short months ago.  Yet, I remember well what my body was like.  These days when I look in the mirror I only see a shadow of what my body used to be.  Stretch marks dot my skin...scars from carrying new life within me and then bringing it into this world twice over.  Love handles that never used to be there, even after my first baby, hang over the top of my jeans.  My belly pooches out in a squishy mess of extra skin (thank you, Nora, for making my belly so stinking big!).  Things sag that didn’t used to and squish where there used to be firmness.

Then there’s the rest of my physical appearance.  My fingernails sit chipping and needing attention for weeks because I can never seem to find the time to paint them.  When I do finally paint them, invariably some child will unexpectedly need my attention and they’ll end up smudged and imperfect.  I usually manage to get makeup on, but by the end of the day it’s badly needing to be refreshed.  I tend to go one too many days without washing my hair, and my outfits are planned around nursing.  I never wear white because that would just be insane, plain and simple.

Yet, I’ve honestly never felt more beautiful.  I’m lucky enough to have a husband who thinks this post-baby me is more attractive than my pre-baby, skinny-as-a-rail self…and he makes sure I know it.  My children find comfort in my squishes and rolls.  My extra skin is Miles’ favorite place to snuggle when he’s sick or tired.  As I gradually transform my wardrobe to accommodate nursing and motherhood, I find myself discovering better my own personal styles and tastes and dressing accordingly.  Most importantly, I am proud of each stretch mark and roll.  They’re the lasting memorials of the two precious babies I bore…my two little blessings from God. 

Maybe, after all, my current body is not the shadow of its former self.  Maybe it’s the other way around.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Grey Days of Motherhood, Outside Voices, and Joy

It's late afternoon and I sit in my car on the side of the road overlooking a lake several hours from home.  We were supposed to be enjoying a rare, midweek getaway, but my husband had had some service calls to make and work to do, and I’d had to entertain the kids most of the day.  Both little ones were recovering from a nasty cold and were terribly overtired, and I finally just had to escape the room, thinking I’d get some peace and quiet.  But then the baby screamed in the car and wouldn’t fall asleep, and I couldn't take it and had to pull over

So here I sit, parked in a dusty parking lot.  In the rearview mirror I watch the toddler’s head sag as he finally drifts off to sleep, and I look down to the fussy baby sitting on my lap.  The grey skies outside seem to reflect my heart all too well.  A hotel coffee mug with strong, black tea sits next to me, getting cold.  I decide to sit here until it's gone, and then I turn up the music, heart weary.

"Messiah/You're Beautiful” comes up on shuffle and peace immediately floods over me.

***

My head swirls with outside voices.  Voices proclaiming how strong and worthy working moms are.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, voices proclaiming how you should be able to handle baby after baby in succession and be happy about it.  And all I feel is failure in light of those voices.  Because I trudge away at home.  Because I don’t want to, or feel called to, have baby after baby for the rest of my childbearing years.  

I feel tired...so very tired.  And not just because of how little sleep I got the night before.  I feel soul tired.

Earlier that day I went to Target thinking I would be refreshed and instead spent the whole time bouncing and nursing a fussy baby, and wishing I just had a kid who’d fall asleep and stay asleep in their car seat.  Wishing, too, that I had more money to spend.  Wishing that the tall Starbucks coffee I’d bought wasn’t too small for the nifty coffee cup holder on the cart.  Wishing that I could just sit in a coffee shop for a couple of hours…with just quiet and coffee shop music to distract me.

***

The baby on my lap finally nurses.  I put her in her car seat and sing along to the music playing.  She rewards me with a big, toothless grin.  I realize that I wouldn't trade a million quiet hours at a coffee shop for that one smile…that I wouldn't trade a job or being super mom to a billion babies for that one sweet smile from my girl.

And I know that I won't always be so tired.  That someday I'll sit in a coffee shop, heart aching for the fussy baby smile.  

And I know that those voices are just voices.  They are not me and they are not God, and all they do is make me lose sight of what God has given me to do…and they steal from me the joy that is found in being exactly where God wants you.

And I know that my days will not always be easy.  Sometimes I may just want to scream and cry.  Some days may seem pointless and rote.  And that's okay. That doesn't make me a failure.  Even in those days, I am right where God wants me.  I know that He will give me the strength and wisdom to see them through.  


***

Later, I pause before going back in the hotel.  The sun is setting burning orange in a beautiful painting from the Lover of my soul...the perfect balm for my worn and weary heart.  And He knows it.  I am not alone.  He is what I need.  He is all I need.  

Both babies are napped and happier.  I think of the good food and good sleep that definitely hopefully awaits me inside.  Almost imperceptibly, joy creeps into my heart.  Joy that is only found in the center of His will…joy that cannot be quenched or lost, even on the greyest of days.  A smile creeps across my face.  And inside, I’m smiling too.