The House Story

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You guys! I have been anxiously waiting to tell y’all this story for a while now. This is the house story. Oh, I love telling stories! And I am so glad God gave us a fantastic house story to tell for years to come. But if you know me, you know this won’t be a short story, so grab some coffee or a snack and settle in.

First of all, let’s back up a bit. Way back in 1999, we bought our first house. I was pregnant with Rachel, and Patrick had just started a brand-new job. We bought a much smaller and less expensive house than we were approved for because the job was so new and, besides, we just didn’t want to be house-poor. So we got this cozy little 1200 sq. ft. home that needed some work and had plenty of quirkiness. And y’all, we lived in that little 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom house as our family grew and grew and grew — until 2007, when we had 6 children. We had just never had any peace of mind about moving to a larger home. And besides, I was having a baby every 15-20 months, so who had time to move!?!

Then we felt God’s directing us to move to Florida to serve with an international mission organization there. So we sold our house and moved to an 1100 sq. ft. apartment in Florida. But we had 3 bathrooms there, so there was that benefit! I’ll tell you the truth — because we had been in that tiny house, it was easier to move to the apartment. If we had ever gotten a larger home, I may have thrown a bit of a temper tantrum about giving it all up to move to that third-floor apartment.

So after 4 years in Florida, we felt drawn to leave the mission organization and come back to Virginia. We rented a large home in a nice subdivision with double the space we had had in Florida. It was a pretty home, but there were things we didn’t love about it. When the owner wanted to sell it and we didn’t want to buy it, we had to find another rental home. So we ended up renting this older home we’ve been living in for a year. It has a little more square footage, like 2600, and it’s in a fantastic neighborhood.

Back in February, we talked with our property manager about purchasing this home. The owner wanted to sell, so we started the process of buying it. We knew about some repairs we would have to make, but we were shocked when the inspection showed MAJOR foundation issues. We cancelled the contract with great disappointment.

That was a Thursday afternoon. Right away, I started looking for other homes for sale. And right away, I was discouraged. Early Friday morning I looked at the listings online again. After scouring the lists of all the houses for sale in our school district, I explained to Patrick that we just were not going to find the space we had here for the price we wanted to pay. We had an upper price limit, which would keep our mortgage payments about the same as our rent has been, and we were not going to go above that price. So I doled out the dose of realism, “Look, we just aren’t going to find a house with a living room, dining room, den, AND basement space for the kids in our price range. Let’s get our minds settled on that, and we’ll find something that we can be content with.”

As I was looking online that Friday morning, Craigslist Rentals kept popping into my head. Each time, I thought, “No, I don’t want to rent any more. I want to buy,” and I did not check Craigslist Rentals. Finally, after the thought had entered my head 3 or 4 times, I actually said out loud to myself, “Fine! I’ll check Craigslist For Sale!” But there were no homes there that were large enough and in our school district. So I continued to refresh Realtor.com.

When the Craigslist Rentals thought came to my mind another couple of times, I thought, “Hmmmm. Maybe there is a house on that listing I need to see. (sigh) Ok, I’ll check.”

Right away, I saw this house for rent one street over from where we are living now. The picture showed this smallish-looking brick ranch, but the description said 3800 sq. ft. “This has to be a typo!” I thought as I clicked on the pictures. But the pictures just kept going on and on and on.

You people need to know – I am not a bargainer or negotiator. When I go to a yard sale, I pay the price that is on the sticker. I don’t ask, “What will you take for this?” I don’t ask people to throw in this box of stuff with this other box of stuff. I just am not a wheeler-dealer. But that Friday morning, before I could think long enough to talk myself out of it, I called the number on the Craigslist Rental listing. When the man answered, I said, “I’m calling about the rental. Would you want to sell that house instead of renting it?”

He sort of stuttered around a bit and said, “Ummm, uhhh, well, no. Not really. I have a different house I am planning to sell this spring, but well, no, ummmm, no, I hadn’t really planned to sell that one. Ummm, well, why do you ask?”

Later, he would tell us that several people have asked him to sell this house, and he always said no. He didn’t even know why he asked me that question, the words just came out of his mouth!

I told him that I lived in the neighborhood and it wasn’t working out for us to buy the house we’ve been living in. I explained that we love this neighborhood and absolutely need to stay in this elementary school district. We chatted about the school because his daughter went there for a while and they loved it too. We talked for probably 20 minutes. Somewhere during that time I mentioned that we had moved here from Florida and that we chose this part of town because a very good friend of mine, Julie, taught at that elementary school. As it turned out, he and his wife know Julie. She had taught their daughter and they had become friends with her.

“Wait a minute!” he said, “You have a bunch of kids, don’t you?! Julie tried to get me to rent to you when you first moved back here, but I had a renter already. And she tried to get me to rent to you last year, but I still had a renter. I can’t believe this! Yes, you and your husband can come look at this house. I’ll talk to my wife. Now, I don’t know for sure we’ll sell it, but you can look at it.”

And that Friday evening, Patrick and I spent an hour and a half looking at the house and talking with this couple. We fell in love with the house immediately. The owner had completely remodeled the inside and finished the basement. Everything looked new and clean. We couldn’t believe it had been a rental for several years!

At some point, the wife looked at my husband and said, “Hey, did you have some health problems in Florida? I remember seeing on Julie’s Facebook page some prayer requests for a Patrick in Florida who had a bunch of kids and was really sick.” She had prayed for Patrick and our family four years ago, never knowing we’d be standing in her house wanting to buy it.

Finally, the man said, “Ok, tell you what. Y’all guys go home and talk about and think about it and if you want to buy it, make me an offer. We’ll go home and talk about it and decide if we really want to sell.” And we shook hands and got in our car. Make him an offer? Well, based on the prices of homes in the neighborhood and the style of the house and the size of the house, that left a realistic window of about $30,000 from low offer to high offer. That was a big window!

It was nearly 7:00 on a Friday evening. We knew this house would be a higher price than the loan we were already preapproved for, so I texted our friend at the mortgage company and asked when we might know for sure if we were preapproved for more, so we could know when an offer might even be possible. She texted back right away that she’d email me later. Within half an hour, she emailed the worksheets saying we were preapproved for our upper price limit of what we wanted to pay. It was 7:30 on a Friday evening!

Patrick and I talked and prayed that night and the next day. We agreed to meet the couple again on Sunday afternoon to make an offer. On Sunday, after we chatted a little Patrick told them our offer. The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper saying, “Well, we talked about the amount we really would like to get out of this house, and earlier this morning I wrote down the amount on this piece of paper.” He unfolded the paper and it was the exact same amount we had offered! Exactly! Not one dollar difference! Out of all the dollar amounts in the $30,000 window of prices, we had come up with the exact same amount.

All four of us stood there with our mouths hanging open. Finally, he said, “Well, shucks! We don’t even get to negotiate and that’s my favorite part!” She said, “I guess we’re selling y’all this house.” They had been praying that if they were supposed to sell us the house, God would make it really clear to them. And He did.

The week I called to ask him to consider selling it, they were in the middle of installing a new roof. After we signed the contract to purchase the house As Is, they continued to make some improvements to the house because they thought it was the right thing to do. They wrapped the wooden window frames in white aluminum; they added more insulation in the attic; he installed some lighting; they mulched all around the house. Their teenage daughter even planted pretty pink flowers in a couple planters beside the front porch as a housewarming gift to us! Seriously, who does this!? What seller makes the house even better between contract and closing?

Every little detail lined up perfectly. Conversations and friendships and Facebook messages from years ago all played a part in this house becoming ours this week. And it doesn’t even end with us — because they are selling this house to us, they are most likely going to buy some land they have wanted for more than ten years. Because a friend saw God work so incredibly and obviously in this house situation for us, she prayed and asked God to do this same kind of huge thing for her family, and He did that very day!

I have learned to be content in whatever size house we have. I have learned to make whatever space we have a home for us. But oh what a treat that we get so much space and that it’s ready for us to move right in!

When the first inspection had that awful, bad news, I felt such despair and disappointment. But I had no idea that God had something so much better planned for us. So. Much. Better! And He’s been putting all the pieces in place for years – long before I knew we’d even be moving back here! Isn’t He amazing?

My heart is full and overflowing with gratitude.

 

 

 

from a Working Mom ~ what she wants you to know

Yesterday, I shared with you the Top 7 Annoying Things To Say To A Stay-At-Home Mom. As I said then, annoying and hurtful comments certainly aren’t reserved for SAHMs. Today’s guest-blogger is my sister-in-law, Julie, who has worked outside the home for many years. Julie and I both agree that the Mommy Wars is mostly media sensationalism, but we know that there are some attitudes and misunderstandings that feed the Mommy Wars notion. We believe healthy dialogue and listening to each others’ perspectives are always good things. So in that spirit, I share with you Julie’s perspective, in her own words —-

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I sat in my boss’s cubical trying to explain. I liked my job on his ministry team, but I had been there for two years, and there wasn’t room for promotion. The marketing team had an opening and they were interested in having me interview for a full time position. This position also was going to pay almost double what I was making. It would be a great opportunity for me to learn and it would challenge me to grow and break into a new field that held my interest.

Knowing that I had been trying my hand at part-time employment after our 2nd child was born, he said something that day that cut me like a knife –

“But Julie, who will raise your babies?”

A while back when my sister-in-law, Jenn, put it out there on her Facebook page that she was looking for a working mama to write about the most annoying comments they have ever heard, I knew I had to write this post.

You see, for 17 years I have worked outside the home and I’ve heard it all. From well-meaning people who say, “It must be nice to have all of that extra income!” To which I want to respond, “Yes, our family is just rolling in the bank. Um we live in Colorado, hello, it’s not cheap” To not-so-well-meaning questions that, when my children were younger, sounded like “How do you leave your kids with a stranger every day?” To which I wanted to respond with an instant eye-roll and “You know it’s great. I’ve found a great serial killer for a sitter!”

My kids are older now and I’ve matured. I don’t get nearly as defensive as I used to feeling like I have to justify my path as a mother who has chosen to work outside of the home. But instead of focusing on all of the negative things that have been said to me through the years, things that have also been said to countless women who choose to work outside of the home, I realized this week it was the one line said to me by my old boss 14 years ago that encapsulated them all.

Why was it such a blow to me? Why does it still cause a bit of anger and hurt to rise up in my gut when I recall that conversation?

I was in my twenties, and I had two beautiful kiddos, a supportive husband, and a growing faith that I was using my gifts and abilities to help families—for Jesus. I was eager, and excited to give back to a ministry that I felt was making a difference in the world. And what was I getting back in return?

Guilt and shame.

It wasn’t so much what he said, it was how he said it. Condescending and self-righteous. Looking back now I realize, he was a supervisor losing a valued team member. He was going to have to find a replacement. I know this guy. He is a good guy who loves Jesus and his family. He didn’t mean to hurt me. He was speaking from years of what I believe is an attitude that many evangelicals have adopted. They put their personal cultural preferences over what the Bible actually says about certain subjects.

This is often played out in the cultural Mommy Wars. Jenn and I agree that the Mommy Wars are often brought to you by the media hype looking for a good catfight on programs like The View or The Talk. Things aren’t really that bad between my friends and family when this subject comes up. But one place that I have found the Mommy Wars raging the hottest is within evangelical circles. It almost feels like there’s a select few trying to hold on to a sense of what once was or an unrealistic ideal that just isn’t possible in society today.

I am older now and I quit allowing myself to feel guilt for working outside of the home. I made my choice because it was God who opened up doors for me. By feeling like I had to justify my path, I was allowing this false guilt to creep into my thinking. I was cheapening His work in my life. Often this guilt and shame from desiring to work outside the home would come from what I thought others expected of me. When I stopped allowing myself to be manipulated by this way of feeling, I realized that I have gifts and abilities that I can humbly say that the Lord has used through the years in some pretty incredible ways.

I am often asked now that the kids are teenagers, did they suffer as children? I can honestly answer “no” because the spirit in which I took my responsibilities was forged in being obedient to God’s leading in my life. The fact that suffer is a word actually used in this conversation is crazy talk to me. Were there times that I have been off-balanced? Worked too hard? Didn’t give them as much attention as they needed? Yes, yes, and yes! But any mother will attest to being guilty at some point of all of these things. No matter if they choose to work outside the home or not.

You know what? Every mother I know works. And you know what else? We need to stop arguing about how and where she does it. Period.

For the life of me I just can’t understand why we all just can’t agree that Mommy Wars wrapped in the Biblical justification for whatever side you fall on is just nonsense.

We must stop this craziness for our daughters, for our nieces, for our granddaughters. They are watching and we have a great opportunity. Let’s not blow it.

So to help end the negativity surrounding this subject, I wanted to do my part. I want to share with you five positive observations that have been said or done for me—or I have learned over the years as a working mother. Now that I am older, I use them as guide to help me support other mothers, no matter if they work outside the home or not.

If you have other mamas around you, I challenge you to think about some of these examples, and use them to love on the women God has put in your path.

Aunt Sue
Whenever we visit my husband’s family I often find myself having these beautiful conversations with his Aunt Sue. I’m always attracted to talking with her because she has this way of drawing you into conversation in such a loving way. When I was in 20’s and working with babies, I noticed right away that the way she would always make a point to ask me how my work was going. What did I like most about my job? What I was learning? She still does this today. Aunt Sue models how I should take an interest in all mothers around me. She showed me through her actions and words how to see past the stereotypes and ask about the individual. The world needs more women like Aunt Sue.

Treat It Like A Season
After being hurt so badly by my former boss, I sought advice from a Vice President in the company who just happened to be one of the few women in leadership. She wisely looked at me across from her desk after this incident 14 years ago and said something I have never forgotten. Treat this like a season Julie. Don’t be angry. Instead, step back and ask yourself to do something intentional. Look at this as a season. One day, God may ask you to be at home. One day you may have to work more. Treat it all like a season. So when you see a mom who is struggling, hurt or torn, remind her it will not be forever. Point her to being faithful in the season, and to the one who has her there. Do this because time will eventually change the landscape for her. This advice helped me get the focus off of other’s opinions of me, and see the big picture. I am forever grateful for this lady’s ability to redirect my thinking.

If Mama Ain’t Happy Ain’t Nobody Happy
Another great lady and mentor friend of mine gave me this sage advice one day when I was communicating how much joy I felt when I worked, but I felt guilty because, you know I should feel guilty. She told me about her own mother who was very accomplished. How she would get the “guilties” and stay home with the kids when she caved into external cultural pressure. When her mother was home, my mentor told me it was terrible. Her lovely mother would get cranky and frustrated. My dear friend told me, her mother was the happiest when she worked, and that she set the whole tone for their family. I never forgot what my mentor then said to me. If Mama Ain’t Happy Julie, then Ain’t Nobody Happy. So work if it makes you happy. Stay home if it makes you happy. Your kids will reap the benefits of your being in tune with who God made you to be.

Remember The Broad Appeal of The Proverbs 31 Lady
I realize that every Christian woman wants to see herself in this lady. That is why she is there. And you know what else about her? She has a broad appeal. She could be a work from home kind of gal, or a market place chick. Either way you see her, she is a class act. And as long as I don’t put her in a box (I think God wouldn’t like that—that is why she is in Proverbs) she is a fantastic example to all women. No matter where they choose to work.

Refuse To Allow Work (Of Any kind) To Define Who You Are
For years I allowed my work to define my worth. You say well of course don’t do that, but I will challenge any woman, it is easier said than done. Women like to point to men who are most defined by their jobs. But I think women are just as guilty. And it sneaks up on us. From the CEO mom on the cover of Working Mother to the homeschooling mama who just wants a clean house. Our roles and jobs are so personal and shape who we are that they sometimes become our whole identity. We must keep in mind that these “jobs” here on earth are all temporary. We must first and foremost find our identity in the Lord. Jobs will change, family situations change and if this is the identity we have built for ourselves it is a farce. I’ve learned this lesson more times than I would care to, so I share it with you. Go deep with your work and with your family, but always allow God to be your source and vision.

So folks lets keep it positive. End the Mommy War today. Be sensitive to all moms around you, because we need the support no matter what path we choose.

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Julie Abel loves Jesus, her husband Jeff, her kids Jacob (16) and Jessa (14), and their sheepadoodle Monroe. She has worked the last 19 years for Christian universities, in large corporate ministries, small affiliate ministries, and locally focused nonprofits. She and her husband own a consulting business, Rocky Mountain Media Group. You can check out her journey of leaving her suburban life in Colorado Springs behind to live in Estes Park, CO through her blog JulieAbel.com Work and Family.

Top 7 Annoying Things To Say To A Stay-At-Home Mom

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Approximately sixteen years ago, when my first child was born, I became a stay-at-home mom. I’ve officially transitioned to part-time work-at-home mom, but my schedule is so flexible I still consider myself a stay-at-home mom. Over the years, I’ve heard my fair share of ridiculous comments about stay-at-home moms (SAHMs), but I’ve also received a lot of support and encouragement. Many of my friends are moms who work outside the home, and I haven’t felt any animosity from them. I actually tend to think the Mommy Wars is a thing sensationalized by the media, perhaps even fabricated by the media. But a couple months ago, I read something by a young woman mocking the notion of a SAHM being busy and complaining about SAHMs not pulling their weight financially. So I wondered how many people think what this young woman was bold enough to say.

I asked my SAHM Facebook friends what sorts of annoying or absurd comments they have heard. Based on their responses and my own 16 years of experience, I have compiled a list of frustrating and outrageous comments and our responses.

So – here are the Top 7 Annoying Things To Say To A Stay-At-Home Mom

1. Oh, you don’t work?  Ummm, yeah, I just spend my day doing leisurely things, like scrubbing bathtubs and doing laundry and volunteering at my child’s school and mentoring other moms and, you know, managing a household of eight people — not work at all. And when my children were smaller, I spent my days teaching preschoolers and toddlers their shapes and colors and letters and numbers and changing diapers and feeding babies and cutting up grapes and picking up toys and cleaning up spit-up and wondering when I’d find time to brush my teeth. So yeah, I didn’t work in the same way a preschool teacher or daycare employee doesn’t work.

2. Since you don’t work, you can volunteer for this. Just because I have a flexible schedule and I don’t receive a paycheck does not mean I am available to volunteer for everything. I do volunteer for many things, but I also have a lot of demands on my time and I have to protect some boundaries. Please don’t assume I am available for everything you need simply because I don’t go to a place called Work during the day.

3. Of course you have a clean house! You’re home all day! You have All.That.Time! No, because we are home all day with small children (AKA mess-makers), our homes are being wrecked all day by the blocks and Little People on the floor and the play-dough on the table and the crumbs from morning snack and the half-folded laundry that we tried to finish but were interrupted five times during our attempts. If you work outside the home and your children are in some sort of daycare or preschool or school-school, your vacuumed floors get walked on for three or four hours every evening; a SAHM’s vacuumed floors get walked on for 12+ hours a day. Besides, I never stayed home to clean my house; I stayed home to be with my children. Often, those two things seem mutually exclusive.

4. I don’t know how you do it! I could never stay home with my kids all day! They’d drive me crazy! I think I get the thought behind this — it’s that we’re all different and fueled in different ways and have different priorities and stress-levels. But please know – sometimes our children do drive us crazy. Sometimes the crying and the spit-up and the monosyllabic conversations make us feel just a little bit like sipping Xanax smoothies in a room with padded walls. But sometimes the office politics or the seemingly impossible sales goals or the difficult parents of students or the whatever stresses of our former jobs made us a little bit coo-coo-crazy too. None of it is easy, friends. Stress is everywhere.

5. What do you do all day??? See the answer to #1. It probably looks different for every SAHM. When my children were little, I nursed and changed diapers and read board books and sang nursery rhymes and stacked blocks back up after a toddler knocked them over and clapped for the tenth time. I did all the things with my children that your child’s preschool teacher does with him. Now that my children are in school, I spend my days organizing the lives of eight people and volunteering in a Bible study and for the school and for the community and I write and sometimes I even clean my house or do some laundry or take my dog for a walk.

6. You stay-at-home moms don’t contribute financially. I have saved my family so much money by staying home! We never paid a penny for daycare or preschool — that’s a HUGE amount of savings! I never bought a work-outside-the-home wardrobe. We have spent much less money on eating out and convenience groceries, coffee shop coffees and commuting expenses. We are in a lower tax bracket because I do not have a full-time job outside the home. But that’s not even the point for me! The intangible benefits of being home with my children cannot possibly be measured monetarily. I nursed every ear infection, saw every first step, heard every first word. I taught them their colors and shapes and how to sing their ABCs and count to one hundred. I taught my children to read. I snuggled on the couch and napped with them after a sleepless night of teething or sickness or night terrors. You can’t put a dollar amount on any of that.

7. You’re so lucky! I wish I could stay at home, but I could never afford it. For some women, this is absolutely true. You are a single mom or your husband is disabled or unable to work. You truly have no option except to work outside the home. And you say this to SAHMs with full sincerity. For you, my heart is filled with compassion; I wish you could stay-at-home too. But I think this comment frustrates so many SAHMs because this is not a luxury we have happened upon. Most of us are not lucky. Most of the SAHMs I know have made great sacrifices to be home. For years, we lived in a tiny house and rarely ate at restaurants. We drive old cars and purchase things at thrift stores and consignment shops. Well over half the furniture in our home was owned by someone else first. We have never had cable TV. We don’t take week-long vacations to the beach each summer. For a long time, Date Night for my husband and me was eating Sonic take-out in our living room while playing Trivial Pursuit after our children were in bed because a babysitter and a movie or a nice restaurant were not in the tight budget. We have sacrificed because we believed it was best for me to be home with our children, because I felt compelled to stay home with them. (And I don’t say that AT YOU in any sort of accusatory way. It’s just that this is the choice I knew that I knew that I knew was best for us.) That initial choice for me to quit working outside the home was a huge step of faith. But over and over and over again, we have seen God provide in amazing ways — so, yes, we are blessed or fortunate. But I believe that blessing has come as a result of my being a SAHM, not as a cause. I have been blessed to see God provide for our needs in some pretty incredible ways, and I have been blessed to spend the past 16 years pouring into the lives of my children in a way I could not have if I had also been pouring into a job outside the home.

Are you a stay-at-home mom? Have you heard these comments? Did I miss anything?

I know not every mom wants to be a stay-at-home mom. I know some women decide it is best for them and for their children if the mom works outside the home. Some women feel as compelled to go to a place called Work as I have felt to be at home. And I know annoying comments aren’t only reserved for SAHMs, so coming soon — a perspective from a mom who works outside the home.

Love – with all your broken, tattered heart, LOVE

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Jesus was pretty clear about what he wanted his followers to do — love God and love other people. Over and over and over in the New Testament, we’re reminded to do everything in love, to be rooted in love, to bear with each other in love, to put on love like clothing, to spur each other toward love, and to love in action, not only in words. Paul even says the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. And just in case we may not understand what love looks like, Paul spends a lot of time in his letter to the Corinthians describing what love is and what love isn’t — love is patient and and kind and protective and hopeful, but it is not envious or boastful or self-seeking or easily angered.

I know all this. I know that my main job is to love people. And I do love people. Or at least I try. But I’ll be honest with you – sometimes it’s just too much. I know loving people means my heart is supposed to be tender toward other people, but sometimes I feel like my heart is a big piece of meat that is constantly being beaten on by a heavy metal tenderizer. Because loving people means hurting with their hurts. And there is just so much hurt.

Right now, people in my circle of love are fighting cancer and nursing sick parents and looking for jobs and trying to hold broken marriages together. People in my circle of love are recovering from past hurt and learning to forgive. And some people in my circle of love are not recovering, not learning; they are hurting themselves and flailing and floundering, and I am praying enough life preservers are tossed so they can grab onto one. And loving all these people pounds and pulls at my heart until I feel so raw and ripped up.

So I pray and lay bare my broken, shredded heart before God. And when I am alone with God, I don’t even have intelligent-sounding words to pray. You know, sometimes my prayers are more like suggestions to God of how to fix the problems. But when love has made my heart so tattered, there are no words, no suggestions. There is only Oh, God, please help. I don’t even know. I can’t even imagine. Please, please help. 

In those groaning prayers, I find a little peace, a little comfort that God draws near the brokenhearted. Being near God fortifies me so that I can get back up and love some more.

There is the temptation to toughen up, to harden my heart a little, barricade it, protect it. There’s that self-preservation thing in me that suggests maybe I should keep people a little more at arm’s length, that maybe I could care and help and be kind without loving so daggone much. We’re afraid to love any more because it’s just so exhausting and painful and messy. But you know how things are always so upside-down with God? With him, the more we receive his love and then love others with his love, the less afraid we’ll be. Because perfect love drives out fear. So if I resist the natural urge to protect myself and go against my instinct and keep on loving, the fear will get smaller.

And loving people may keep my heart raw and broken, but if God is near to the brokenhearted, then broken is OK. It’s better than OK.

And so I pray for strength and stick-to-it-tiveness to keep on loving. I ask for help to not grow weary in doing the right thing, in keeping his command to love. And then I love. With all my raw, stretched-out, tenderized heart, I love. Because the only thing that counts is my faith expressing itself in love.

The Sunrise of Grace

 

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I love Easter. Resurrection. Hope. New life. Beginning. Overcoming. Love. All of that. I love all of that. And Cadbury eggs, I love those too.

I love that Easter is the sunset of Working hard and doing it myself and the sunrise of Jesus did it all for me. That’s it. When I wake up to the Easter sunrise each year, I am reminded all over again that it’s not up to me. And what a relief that is!

I know myself. I know the deepest, darkest, most unattractive corners of my heart. I know that no matter how many times I tell myself Today, I will not lose my patience. I will try hard and speak kindly no matter what grates on my very last ever-lovin’ nerve, I still lose it and feel annoyed and often, I act and sound annoyed. I know that no matter how many resolutions I make to do better, act better, be better, I fall back into old patterns and habits. No matter how many times I turn over a new leaf, my old self turns right back up. If it were all up to me, if a relationship with God or an address in Heaven were all up to me, then I would have no hope. No way would the good I do outweigh my every mistake and bad thought and selfishness and outright, willful sin.

That is what I so love about Jesus! He is all about loving people like me. Jesus knows we could never be good enough. He knows that no matter how much I try, I just can’t pull myself up by my bootstraps and get my act together. And so Jesus came to be perfect and die and come back to life again. For me. As a totally free gift. Grace. Sweet, sweet grace.

The cross is the death of my working hard and trying to earn God’s approval. The cross is the end of my own efforts. On the cross, Jesus did for me what I couldn’t do. And Easter is all about giving up and receiving Grace. Easter is all about this new life, this living in Grace. Resting in Jesus, trusting that He is enough.

If you’re exhausted from all the hard work of trying to do it yourself, maybe you’d like to let all that die this Easter. Maybe you’re ready for the Easter sunrise of Grace, a new life of resting in what Jesus has already done. Or maybe you just need a reminder – stop trying so hard, as if it all depends on you; we’re living in GRACEland now, Friend.

Happy Easter!

My King & His Amazing Love

*originally posted March 25, 2013 

Yesterday morning I stood in church singing, “You are my King. Jesus, You are my King.” As I sang, I imagined people lining a road into Jerusalem, laying down coats and palm branches for Jesus to ride over. I imagined their voices rising, “Hosanna! Blessed is the coming kingdom of David!”

I imagined they too were singing, “Jesus, You are my King!”

For a long time I was baffled that some of the very same people who lay down their coats and shouted, “Hosanna, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” would, just days later, shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” 

Yet there I stood on a Sunday morning singing with all my heart, “You are my King. You are my King. Jesus, You are my King.” And hours later those same lips would be stretched tight in anger, shouting to my sons to put the mattresses back onto the beds, to stop trashing their rooms, to stop disobeying me. And later, that same heart that overflowed with praise for Jesus would ignore His Spirit’s promptings to calm down. Instead, I’d go right ahead and speak angry words to my husband.

My own sin would cry out my need for His crucifixion. “Crucify him! Crucify him!” 

And that’s not the first time. Many times – an uncomfortably embarrassing amount of times – my heart has filled to brimming over with praise for God and His goodness. But then, He doesn’t perform as I expect. Circumstances don’t turn out the way I plan. He’s not the King I anticipated. There’s far more suffering and pain and blood and gore and sacrifice than I ever imagined. So my heart fills with disappointment and anger. I move on to Plan B, figuring I’ll just take it into my own hands because I could probably do a better job.

So, I understand. I get it. I can see how even good people could stand alongside a dirt road in Jerusalem and shout “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David. . . . Jesus, you are our King!” I can believe they meant it with all their all-too-human hearts. And then they watched as their expectations crumbled, their hopes were dashed, their plans fell through. I can understand how they’d think, “Wait! . . . He’s not the King I anticipated. This isn’t the way I planned for it all to work out.”

And though I’d like to think I wouldn’t have been one of the many screaming, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” I know chances are I would have either been shouting with the crowds or hidden away in fear with the disciples. And whichever the case, my own sin would necessitate the cries, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

But the beauty is — Jesus knows this about me. He knew it about me before I was even born. He knew it about that crowd in Jerusalem that day when He rode the donkey and watched them hail Him as King. He knew the truth about His disciples, that they’d run and hide and deny Him. He knew it as He taught them and poured into them and loved them all those three years. He knows we’ll fail. He knows we’re capable of praising Him one minute and cursing the next.

That’s why He came. That’s why He died for us. That’s why He rose again. To overcome our sin. To overcome our failures.

“Amazing love, How can it be, That You my King would die for me? Amazing love, I know it’s true. And it’s my joy to honor You. . . . Jesus, You are my King. Jesus, You are my King.” (*lyrics by Chris Tomlin)

 

Adjusting Expectations

When my children were younger and I was younger, I felt disappointed often. You see, I had these crazy, ideal expectations. And, of course, they were rarely met. And by rarely I mean never.

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I would plan a a family day of going to the zoo. Inside my head, I would imagine my six offspring in adorable outfits, looking like Children’s Place child models even though the only Children’s Place clothes we had were hand-me-downs that had been worn already by three children. These children of my imagination would hold hands and smile and stay to the right of the walkways throughout the zoo. They would ooh and aah over the mind-blowing information on those little signs by each animal. When it was time to walk to the next animal, they would all walk together to the next enclosure. In my imagination, no child ever tried to climb onto fences that clearly had large No Climbing signs on them. No child whined, But I don’t wanna waaaalk that waaay. It’s too looonnnnggggg. Birds are stuuuupid anywaaaayyyy. My expectations never included one child calling another monkey poo or one child running half a mile ahead while another lagged half a mile behind. My expectations never included children complaining about the granola bars and water bottles I had packed and throwing themselves on the ground in a sorta-kinda-hunger-strike demand of ice cream from the zoo snack bar. Which is all quite odd since I actually live with my children every day of the year and know how children can be. I guess I just somehow thought that for Family Day, they would all change personalities and develop absolute self-control.

So I would feel grouchy and disappointed. And then I would start acting all grouchy and disappointed and not at all like the idealized version of myself I imagined I would be. Of course, then I would get annoyed with myself because really, what kind of mother whisper-screams through gritted teeth at her kid for acting like a tired and grouchy child when he is actually a tired and grouchy child? 

Every holiday and family day and special anything would result in disappointment and frustration. For me. Later, though, my children would speak of these days and remember only the good parts. Somehow, they’d forget about the brother who sat down and screamed and cried and refused to take another step because there was a pebble in his shoe and the world was sure to end any second. This sort of Children’s Brain Feature is the exact same one that compelled my son to once say, “Momma, I loved the way we used to all have church at home on a Sunday morning. Daddy would play the guitar and we would sing songs and talk about what we were learning about Jesus. I loved that! We used to do that all the time!” And really, we had done that exactly ONE time. ONCE. Ever. This Children’s Brain Feature is surely one of the most beautiful expressions of grace God has given to parents. We get like ten times the credit for doing something once. Grace upon grace.

Anyway, as time has gone by, I have gradually shifted my expectations to be a little more realistic. As I look ahead to special days or family outings, I expect that my children will act exactly like they act every other day of the year. I expect that we will have moments when all eight of us are feeling kind and happy and having fun, but that these moments will happen on a backdrop of the rest of the day, in which one or more of us will be hungry or tired or have a headache or feel irritable. And then I choose to feel incredible gratitude for the sweet moments and file those in my mental scrapbook and try to block out the rest.

This weekend has been an opportunity for me to practice this different-expecatations sort of approach to parenting and life. We don’t want to call it lowered expectations, so we’ll go with different expectations or, perhaps, more realistic expectations.

On Friday, we loaded up the family in the big, red van to drive to Lauren’s away soccer game. From there, we would all go two-and-a-half hours away to North Carolina for Caleb’s first dive meet. We’d check into our budget hotel and get some sleep, then we’d spend the entire day Saturday at the aquatic center for the dive meet. In the past, I would have imagined a fun van ride singing along to songs and reading aloud to the children followed by a cozy night in the hotel and a day of everyone excitedly cheering on Caleb in his first ever diving competition. But I’m older and wiser now. This time, my expectations more closely matched reality.

Caleb woke up Friday morning with strep throat, so he stayed home from school and went to the doctor to get started on an antibiotic. Rachel came home from school with strep symptoms, so I scrounged around in a drawer and found half a bottle of an antibiotic from last fall and started her on that. Yes, I am aware of all that is amazing about my parenting from that last sentence, but I hope you don’t feel too jealous or intimidated. So – for those of you keeping score at home – we started the trip with two sick, feverish children and a boy with a badly-broken arm still in a soft cast, on a Friday evening after a very long week. So it was no surprise that everyone was tired and a little grumpy and eager to plug into headphones and tune out everyone else on the ride down Friday night. It was not a sing-along, read-along, play the license plate game sort of van ride. But there were only a handful of he told me to shut up or she needs to mind her own business or no, I’m not an idiot; you are! kind of moments. So I chose to call the ride down a success, a good memory in my mental scrapbook.

At the hotel, three children slept in the room with Grandpapa and Grandmama and three slept in the room with my husband and me. Shockingly, there was only about one minute of arguing about who would sleep where before we came to a plan everyone could be happy with. Again, we’re going with success and happy memory here.

As we were falling asleep, Silas – the one with the arm in a cast – began this moany cry about how his arm was itching and he couldn’t stand it and it was horrible, just awful, absolutely awful, and really, really itching and he couldn’t scratch it and we didn’t understand how awful it was and aaaaaaaaahhhhhh. And for the first 30 seconds, I felt deep motherly compassion for him. But after my initial, “I know, sweetie. I’m so sorry it’s uncomfortable.” response, he did not stop the moany cry and calm down, like he obviously should have because of my awesomely sweet 30 seconds of mothering. We had already given him Tylenol for pain and melatonin to help him sleep, which was a huge ordeal because, for some inexplicable reason, he didn’t want to swallow those things, so there were kind encouragements, followed by desperate pleas, followed by threats. And so that had already all happened before the moany cry had begun, which meant we could not give him the very last dose of Tylenol with codeine (which we were saving for Saturday anyway). After my 30 seconds of sweet Carol Brady mothering, I quickly transitioned to Rosanne mothering mode. “Yes, we get it. You itch. For the LOVE! Can you please learn to cry in a quiet way? I cry and tears come, but I don’t wail and moan. It’s possible to cry without wailing and moaning. Try it. Stop wailing right now. You are waking your brother, and he needs to sleep because he has to compete tomorrow. Stop it. Moaning and wailing is not making you feel better; it’s just making everyone else feel worse. Stop it. Stopitrightnow.” Finally, I had a blessed epiphany! The bottle of Benadryl was in the suitcase. Benadryl is designed for itching! Also for making children sleep. But, in this case, he was actually itching and so I had a very good, solid reason to give it to him. So we gave him the Benadryl and he slept. And this child-wailing and mother-snapping did not ruin the weekend -or even the night- because I had totally expected something like that to happen. Success!

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Though I was tempted to want all the children to be interested in diving and watch expectantly for each of Caleb’s dives and ooh and aah and cheer, I knew that just having them present in the stands was enough. Good enough is good enough – my parenting mantra you may steal as your own.

I expected Silas to tell me he was bored 50 times, but he only told me about 20 times. Success! I expected Jackson and Griffin to crawl under bleachers and run around and bang on the seats and annoy everyone around us. And they only did that a little of the time instead of all the time. Success! The girls read books, and when we said, “Caleb’s up!” they turned their eyes toward the boards, watched him, clapped a couple times, then returned to their reading. Success! Silas napped for a while on the bleachers. While he was napping, he could not tell me he was bored or itching or hurting or anything. Success! When Lauren told me her throat hurt for the fifteenth time and I had already told her to take a drink of something and that I couldn’t do a thing about it, I just smiled and said, “Yes, got it! Your throat hurts. Now you don’t have to tell me any more. Until further notice, I’ll know your throat hurts. So only tell me if it stops hurting. OK? Ok.” And I didn’t feel irritated or annoyed or disappointed.

And since this was Caleb’s first meet, we had no clue what to expect for him. We were just happy to be there and hoping it would be a learning experience. When he came in seventh out of eight divers in one event, there was no disappointment. Only pride that he hadn’t done any belly flops or back flops or total fails. And when he won first place in another event – mostly because he was the only kid in that division, but whatever, First Place, baby! – we clapped and cheered and congratulated him and told him how proud we were. Success!

In the midst of all of this, there were moments of kindness and happiness and fun. I’m filing those in my mental scrapbook. Remember when we used to always go to North Carolina and stay in that cozy hotel and Caleb won first place in diving and we had that fun picnic in the parking lot and we had so much fun? We loved that! 

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