he other day I was chatting with a friend who was telling me about one of her closest friend’s recent heartache. ..not in a gossipy way, but in a “I’m really concerned about my friend” kind of a way. The friend is in a really messy place…not an uncommon situation, but messy nonetheless. With a heavy, hurting heart, I simply commented, “That’s messy. And it’s also really scary.”
Life is messy, isn’t it? And often, our messes scare us; our situations may feel beyond our control or simply out of control. Often when the end is in not in sight, we worry about the effect the mess is going to have on our kids or loved ones, or even our very lives. We get scared. For the past few years our family has been walking through the messiness of grief, and at times the grief has been downright ugly. We’re coming through it now, and my goodness it feels good to be able to see clearly and breathe deeply again. For awhile anyway….there’s obviously another mess around a bend up ahead that we can’t see yet. It’ll come though. It’s guaranteed.
The messes of life come in an endless variety of sizes and force. Some we create ourselves and others happen upon us for reasons completely outside of our control. Grief is messy. Illness is messy. Conflict is messy. Relationships are messy. Parenting is messy. Marriage is messy. Financial strain is messy. And for many of us, the Christmas season, in addition to all its inherent joy and wonder, is also the time when our messes feel the messiest. Grief is more painful; financial strain more stressful; illness more bitter; loneliness deeper; strained relationships more apparent.
Confession: There was a good-sized meltdown in the house today.
Facts: It wasn’t the pre-schooler. It wasn’t the tween. It wasn’t the dramatic 8-year old or the feisty 6-year old.
Conclusion: It was the Mother.
Yes. I had a meltdown this morning. There was really no justifiable cause for the meltdown. I’d been feeling it building for the last few days, and today the tears came like a flood. This actually happens fairly routinely in a cyclical pattern that most women (and their husbands) will understand. Approximately every four weeks there’s a day or two during which my unreasonable desire for recognition and appreciation for everything I do for our family gets out of control and causes me to fall apart. (To those reading this who think this is foolish – you're right. NOBODY gets thanked for everything they do. I know.) Thanks be to God I have a husband who treats me like a queen, listens to me, hugs me, then thanks me for everything, and responds sympathetically when I explain the hormonal influences at work.
Also after my meltdowns, my wise, loving husband usually encourages me to go for a run, knowing full well that’s where God speaks to me, the endorphins kick in, and my mind clears. Today was no different. In the midst of fresh air, exercise, and the most stunning fall morning possible, God gave me the reassurance He always does: “Rebecca, I see your hard work; it is not unnoticed, and I am audience enough.”
On this day a little over twelve years ago, we were blissfully in love. And totally, utterly clueless. Ignorance really is bliss. It was hands down the greatest day of our lives. That day, we didn't see each other before the wedding, and I still remember seeing Paul gasp when the french doors to the sanctuary opened. He got down on one knee as I was walking down the aisle toward him. My Grandfather married us, and he still tells that story every time he introduces us to his friends at the nursing home. We were young and in love and the world was our oyster. Then the honeymoon was over and reality hit.
I was (and am) a fly by the seat of my pants, scatter-brained, messy, extreme extrovert who could not handle downtime. He was (and is) an organized, man of few words, Type A introvert who thoroughly enjoyed people but also needed quiet downtime. While this match has benefited our marriage beautifully and is clearly designed by God, it was a shock to discover just how polar opposite we really are. (And we even dated for two years and were friends for three years before that! We were clueless!)
For a long time in those early years I felt alone, not knowing who to talk to about the fact that in my marriage, we fought. We lost our tempers and said things that hurt each other. What was wrong with us?? Making a home together was so difficult for us that we know there's zero chance we'd ever gotten married had we lived together first...we thank and praise God that we didn't and that we are. At that time in my life, I only had two other girlfriends that ever talked openly about fighting with their husbands...so I called those two friends a lot in our first five years.
So...this "love your spouse" blog is dedicated to any newly (or not so newly) married couples who also feel blindsided by the realness of marriage...those of you who are wondering if happily ever after actually happens. And PS - it does. Today as I looked over our 12 years of marriage while choosing pictures for this blog, I was overwhelmed and swept away by the tsunami of grace that has covered our marriage. We have come so far. We still have rough patches of course, and we have far to go, but oh my, we've come far. It's been more work than I ever imagined it would be, a ton of blood, sweat, tears, and lots of prayer.
re there any other women out there who are nearly constantly second-guessing themselves? Wondering if they’ve made the right decision, from small and inconsequential things (like whether or not to pay for a waterslide pass at the pool) to significant things that actually matter (like discipline, finances, family life, and this maddening election)? The mind-games in my head of "ifs," "buts, "what-ifs," "should haves" and "could haves" have been exhausting this summer and need to stop. Last week one day I exclaimed, “Paul what is with me! I cannot make one decision without fretting about it all day!” I've experienced depression/anxiety in the past and I'm certain this is not that...so what then? Well, thankfully in the last week or so since I named this problem out loud and started taking note of this mental interference, the burden has lessened. I’m certain that the enemy of my soul has been whispering lies of doubt to me and is now aware that I’m on to him and his devious schemes. That’s a good thing. The enemy should always know that we are on to him and that we will not tolerate his deception.
We love parks. At our house, a new park discovery is a reason for a picnic celebration, complete with Doritos and fruit roll-ups. Apparently I post maybe a bit too much about our park days on Facebook, because I get asked frequently for suggestions of parks. So, I had my kids make a list of their top ten favorite parks in the city. Trust me, it was hard to narrow it down...so our "Top Ten" isn't actually limited to 10. There are just too many good ones.
We'd love to share our list with you. We don't actually know the names of most the parks we love, so my kids make up names. I'll do my best to let you know how to find them!
Ahhh Summer. The countdown is on and I am so giddy. Maybe even more than my kids. The sun, swimming, parks, biking, camping trips, lakes, and the not-getting-ready-for school – I love it all. (My husband calls me solar-powered.)
Yet I know that many moms anticipate summer with a little more panic and a little less sheer joy. I get it. I don't live in a fantasy land where summertime is all sunshine and roses every minute. Having the school-agers home all day with the younger children definitely creates a different dynamic that gets challenging. Certainly, the fighting and bickering increases as the school-agers get bored with their siblings and just want their friends back. Sometimes summer fun can bring added financial stress that makes Mom tense. With more people at home needing us all day and less structure to occupy everyone, we Moms tend to loose our sanity more quickly than normal. Just yesterday my oldest child told me that I frequently seem too overwhelmed to be approachable for questions. Ouch. I'm so grateful she could say that to me and that she did so before summer.
Truth be told, after the events of the last hour in my home, during which I came unglued on my boys due to the unfortunate events of a very bad bike ride, I feel totally disqualified from writing about savoring summer moments; but I’m pressing on in hopes that my very real life is exactly why I should. We live in a real world with real messes, real fights, real sin, real kids, and real mood swings.
The other day I had an accidental run-in at the park with a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. I’d been thinking about her lately and hoping our paths would cross, and then there she was! We started to chat about her new adventure of being a stay-at-home mom and had just barely brushed the surface…just enough for her to tell me that she loves staying home but that it’s not at all what she thought it would be…when her youngest child had a diaper dilemma that required them to go home. As she apologetically loaded her girls in her car, I heard myself say, “No worries! I remember those days!” Then, realizing what had just come out of my mouth, I laughed. Remember those days? Umm, duh, they were like yesterday. Well, more like a year ago, but still, do I really have a right to say “I remember those days?” Yet maybe those words are encouraging to hear from someone who just made it through the baby and toddler years as opposed to someone who changed her last diaper decades ago.
Around Mother's Day there was a precious video popping up all over social media with a darling little girl dancing on the beach, which turned out to be a tear-jerker childhood montage with a song about needing time to slow down. It was precious and yes, I did choke up. But I also thought, “Goodness, as if the Mom of littles needs one more thing to make her feel guilty.” Because even though we wouldn’t trade the precious young years for the world, can we at least just admit that they are downright hard? Instead, parents of little children are told that they must "love every single second" and "pray for time to slow down." Really?? I mean, if what is glued in a person’s memory is only the pure bliss of rocking a sleeping baby or the heart-melting moments of a little boy picking you dandelions, then yes and amen. But those moments don’t last all day long…those are the moments that get us through the rest of the day. We need those moments and praise God for those moments. The truth is, as sweet as these moments are, there are also a whole lot of good and exciting things to come as kids get older. There are hikes and camping trips and deep conversations and great books and the ability to take road trips without constant crying. Good things are coming. It does get easier.
A few weeks ago I watched and read quietly while social media went hay-wire regarding a certain national chain store and its bathroom conundrum. As far as I can tell the frenzy has now passed, and everyone has moved on to the next thing and nearly forgotten about what it was we were all in an uproar about 2 weeks ago. Yet I’m guessing that many out there like me who are still pondering the right thing to do…now that the frenzy is over, what do we do in real life?
I’ll admit, I clicked on several of the articles that came through my news-feed that week. My concern was heightened and I very much wanted to know what others that are older and/or wiser were saying on the issue. Unfortunately, in true social media style, not much content proved helpful. I was either encouraged to boycott the store altogether, as if that store is the only store that’s ever going to adapt their bathroom policy, or I was informed that anyone struggling with this situation is a judgmental bigot and hater of people. That’s terribly unfair, unhelpful, and untrue. As a mom of four young children, two of them girls, I can’t say it’s a non-issue. It is an issue, and it’s one that is unprecedented by any other generation of parents. The store in question isn’t one that I particularly enjoy anyway, so it’s been a bit easy for me to sideline the question. But this particular struggle is going to continue, we are rightfully concerned, and we all need to consider how we will respond.
Tonight was big at our house. But I almost ruined it.
My girls and I finished Narnia. We started the series, which was a Christmas gift to my kids, on December 26 and we plowed through them because we could.not.stop. And tonight we closed the book on the Last Battle. It was breathtaking. From start to finish, the series was epic.
But tonight, which we had been giddy for all day, started out really crummy; and it was my fault. All day long I knew that tonight we would finish Narnia...a night much awaited and anticipated. But it was also "Art Night" at our elementary school and a solo-parenting night for me, which meant crabby Mom trying to keep an eye on four kids (one of whom is a 3-year-old boy) in an overcrowded school building filled with families, art stations and a hundred third graders putting on a recorder concert (Oh my!). After listening to all ten recorder songs with a three-year-old clinging to my neck and then crawling under the chairs (because it's 7pm and all his behaving powers are gone for the day), while simultaneously trying not to drop all the clay creations my kids had just created, by the time I got home and tucked in half of my children, I was done. Exhausted.
When I finally plopped down on the couch to finish Narnia, I instead heard my own voice lecturing my girls on the decibel of the laughter coming from their bedrooms as I'd been trying to tuck in their brothers. Lecturing made me even more "done" than before. (To make matters worse, I don't even think that their decibel level was actually too high; pretty sure I was just so crabby and over-stimulated from the evening that I was making a mountain out of a mole hill). Their eyes pleaded, "Aren't we gonna finish? It's Narnia!"
I sighed deep sighs. My sinful nature was fighting hard against every single fruit of the Spirit within me. I told them my mood wasn't up to finishing the greatest book series of all time tonight. (Jerk!) They looked so sad. I sighed some more. My spirit fought some more. And then, only by the grace of God, I looked into their pleading eyes, pulled up my big girl panties, and started to read. Within a few pages, the wonder of Narnia worked its magic on my sour mood and we finished strong. It was breathtaking.
And as much as I wish I had gone into tonight with the right attitude, the way it all played out is really a perfect example of why we still read together. Because it is so very worth it. Because those last 20 or 30 (or 60) minutes of reading together can take a sour day and end it well. Because that time on the couch, when we are wrapped up in a story together, makes all the mother-daughter conflicts and sister rivalries of our day just fade away into the distance until we no longer remember them at all.
The most important week of the year is upon us. We welcomed it this morning with palm branches and praises, and the days ahead will hold every emotion known to mankind. I sat down with my Bible this afternoon to sketch out a family reading plan to help us focus on the main thing this week.
This week in Jerusalem, as recorded in Scripture, is packed solid with the unfolding of the greatest story ever told on planet earth. To have experienced it first-hand, like Mary Magdalene or Peter or John, would have been unfathomable. But we have this precious treasure of God's Word that has recorded the events of that week in stunning detail, through the span of four Gospel accounts. What a privilege to get to dive into that week of history through the pages of Scripture. Rather than rushing from the "Hosanna!" of today to the "He is Risen!" of next Sunday, let us pause and deeply consider the painful prayers of Thursday, the "Crucify Him!" of Friday, and the silence of Saturday.
I'd love to share this reading plan with you (although, we haven't actually tried it yet. Try it with us!). First though, I need to give some disclaimers. This plan is focused for families with young children, focusing on the major events of the week but in segments fit for short attention spans. Because the events of Thursday night (the night prior to Jesus' crucifixion) are so detailed and so rich, I started with Thursday events on Tuesday. Also, this plan takes you to all four gospels accounts. A person could pick one account (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John), and read the entire story of Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday. But since each Gospel includes slightly different details, I love the richness of seeing the different perspectives. So this plan includes all of the major events of the story, pulled from various Gospel accounts.
So here's what our family is reading this week:
Sunday: Luke 19:28-40 and 45-48 (The events of Palm Sunday; Jesus cleanses the temple)
Monday: Matthew 26:1-16 (The plot to kill Jesus; Jesus gets anointed)
Tuesday: Luke 22:1-23 and 31-34 (The last supper; Jesus tells Peter about his denial. These events actually happen Thursday evening)
Wednesday: John 13:1-17, John 14:1-6 (At the last supper when Jesus washes disciples feet; Jesus teaches about preparing a place for us. These events also actually happen Thursday evening, after they share the meal at the last supper)
Thursday: Luke 22:39-62 (Praying at the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane; Jesus gets arrested; Peter denies Jesus three times)
Friday: Mark 15:1-41 (The crucifixion account as told by Mark. For those families who do devos at the kitchen table, I suggest moving to the living room for this one...it's longer and deserves the time it takes).
Saturday: Matthew 27:62-66 (The chief priests concerns on Saturday) and Isaiah 53:1-12 (one of the most detailed prophecies of our Savior being crucified)
Sunday: Mathew 28:1-15, John 20:1-18 (Two of the four resurrection accounts. I'd read them in all four Gospels if my kids would sit for it all!)
Easter Monday: John 20:19-31 (A few more appearances of Christ. Don't you just love John 20:31??)
If your family hasn't developed a habit of family devos, this would be the perfect week to start. I'd encourage you to take 5-7 minutes either at breakfast, supper, or bedtime to read together and maybe just ask your kids a couple of discussion questions afterward. Keep it simple! And don't wait for a time when it could go perfectly without interruption - that will never happen. Devotions at our house are never perfect. (Oh, we try to lay the smack down, but at least one child falls out of his chair during devotions every night and someone always has to use the bathroom desperately.)
Remember that Jesus loves little children, wants us to bring our children to Him, and can handle the chaos of family life. Also, these texts are heavy...fight the temptation to water it down for your kids. This is the most important stuff in the world, and our kids need to hear it time and again. Remember that God's word is living and active, and He will speak to your kids through it.
And cling to John 20:31: "These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
He is risen indeed. Amen and Amen.