the world calls it bittersweet

 kindergarten

My alarm clock has been going off at 6 am every morning now.

A new schedule has taken over our home.

Rising early, packing lunches, making breakfast and pulling the girls out of bed.

And I’m not sure how I feel about it.

This whole idea of driving them to school, walking them to their classrooms, leaving them for seven hours – I know it’s good for them, it’s good for me yet it’s hard.

Week two is coming to a close and there is still that anxiety and that fear and a lot of “I don’t want to go” and “I don’t want to be here.”

Both are struggling with this new change and I’m struggling too.

My oldest cries into her hands as we get into the car because she is terrified of learning math.

My youngest clings to me as I try to leave, begging to be four years old again because being little feels safer.

And I wipe their tears away and tell them it’s going to be okay and that learning is necessary and growing up is a part of life and Jesus is always with them.

But what I really want to do is throw out their backpacks, grab them by the hand and run.

I want to run to the beach, I want to forget about all this stuff, I want to freeze time and just build castles in the sand and have them stay small forever and ever.

. . . . . . . .

A little while ago my husband came home and told me how a long hug every single day not only does wonders for the soul but is also really good for your health.

It relieves stress, restores the mind, encourages the heart and soothes the nerves.

“I heard it on the radio,” he says and pulls me in a for a solid, thirty second squeeze and I laugh, inhale his soft cotton shirt and feel the weight of that day fall right off me.

Then during my drive to a prenatal appointment, a Christian station starts a discussion by asking parents how they wake up their children for school.

“What is your routine? How do you start that very first part of the morning?”

And I immediately think about the mistake I don’t want to make.

The mistake of hurrying, rushing – the whole go-go-go, we gotta go, we are running late.

It’s vicious and it’s ugly and it wounds the spirit and I’ve been guilty of it more times than I can count.

So when the sun begins to filter in through the blinds, I zip up the lunch boxes, shuffle my feet to the girls’ room and tell myself to start this most fragile nugget of the day with a lot of snuggling.

It’s so quiet and they look so lovely and I don’t want to wake them up.

But I know I have to.

I gently nudge and pull on the covers.

I lift each one right into my arms.

I hold them real tight for a few minutes.

I whisper good morning, I rub their back and kiss their sweet face.

And I see how it sets the tone, how a sliver of affection enables them to get out of bed.

. . . . . . . .

The due date is looming around the corner and even though I thought I’d have this baby by now, I’m still pregnant and very much relieved.

It has given me a chance to be there for my daughters, to help them ease into all this newness.

Especially for my kindergartner.

I’ve been able to watch her day in and day out step into her classroom, sign her name on a clipboard, and put her bag in a cubby.

Together we sit down at her table and do the morning activity.

Coloring the school bus.

Or making a spider out of play dough.

Or drawing her favorite meal.

Thirty precious minutes with her which I know I won’t have once baby comes and daddy starts taking her to school.

So I’ve been soaking it in and then crying in the car because I cannot get a grip on this reality that the kids are growing up.

People tell me over and over how it’s okay, how I will get to have another little one soon and I know they mean well.

But having another one doesn’t change the fact that my other two aren’t babies anymore.

Having another one doesn’t fill the void or take away the pain.

Because what I would really like is the ability to go back and smother them more, hold them tighter, have more fun and relive every single one of their firsts.

. . . . . . . .

I’ve heard it often, how fast it goes and in a way I never really believed it.

Now I’m here, envying all the mommas who have toddlers under their wings.

I see them at bookstores, at grocery stores, at the park, on social sites.

And it takes me back to when my oldest was two years old.

How we would wake up and treat each day like an adventure.

Yeah, I know that age, the toddler years; it can be stressful and exhausting and your heart skips a beat when bedtime comes around.

But she was my little pal and I loved seeing the world through her eyes.

Absolutely loved it.

Everything was exciting, everything was fascinating, everything had a new meaning.

And I’m standing in the kitchen, drinking my tea, spacing out and reminiscing and it dawns on me that I am grieving.

Actually grieving and I finally get why all of this has been so hard for me.

Having both of my kids in school full time.

Feeling like my hands, finger by finger have been slowly unclasped without my asking.

Wondering if I did anything right.

Hating on all the moments I let my mouth run.

Knowing mistakes were made and wishing I could have a redo.

The world calls it bittersweet and I don’t really know if it’s even the word for what I am feeling.

I simply never expected it to hurt so much.

The letting go part.

Right now, my youngest has one top tooth missing and the other one hanging by a thread.

She’s feisty and talkative and speaks her mind with this innocent little lisp.

She makes sure to tell me as often as possible how much she dislikes the school uniform.

She asks me why she has to be like everyone else.

She throws a fit here and there about the whole thing and informs me that she will only wear the ruffled laced socks.

And I’m savoring it.

I stand in the hallway at 3 p.m. sharp and watch her run to me with that big smile on her face and holy cow, it ties me up in knots . . . . . .

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to trust him is to praise him

beachy

There are exactly 10 days left until this baby comes and the midwife tells me it will probably happen much sooner than that and I get all giddy.

Then nighttime rolls in and I feel quite the opposite.

As I carefully lift myself off the bed at two in the morning and sit there for a bit before waddling to the bathroom for the fifth time, I take notice of just how tired I am and it gives me a vivid reminder of the exhaustion that is yet to arrive.

Suddenly, the excitement isn’t there.

Instead there is a whole lot of apprehension.

God, give me the stamina, I whisper, give me the endurance.

Because I know my body.

I know how it deteriorates on very little sleep.

The migraines that torture, the body aches that overwhelm.

And all I want is to enjoy her. I want to relish every single moment.

Yet it is so hard to do when physically, you’re barely hanging on.

. . . . . . . .

Not too long ago, I get an email from a visitor to my site.

I tense up as I read her words.

She takes the liberty of labeling my writing as depressing and negative.

She informs me that my so called faith spits in the face of God, that I love to torment myself with the struggles of this world, that I am infecting my children with fear.

And I stare into the distance with utter bewilderment as to how someone can foolishly believe they have me all figured out, how someone can accuse me of simply being human.

Then the Holy Spirit speaks, “It’s okay. It’s okay. You don’t write for her”.

. . . . . . . .

What I see though is how easy it is to gain approval when one blogs about everything pretty.

An Instagram profile can have a following in the ten thousands when every single photo oozes of glamour, luxury and sex appeal.

But the numbers are deceiving and frivolous and mean nothing.

Because the moment you get personal, the moment you start sharing what you really believe in, what you wholeheartedly stand for, the popularity dwindles.

The adoration decreases.

Which is the reality for a writer.

It’s much harder to bare your soul than it is to post a fancy snapshot of your shoes with a bible verse attached.

At times my hands shake as I sit in front of the computer.

Because here you won’t find something easier to chew.

Here, I pour out my honesty on motherhood.

I reveal the tidal wave of emotions that come rushing in.

I share how there are days where my faith is sky high and days where fear starts knocking.

I talk about what stirs me up, what brings me to my knees, what convicts me.

I look at what’s around me, the pain people walk through, the lessons that come and go, the blessings in between and I write it all down.

In my prayer journal.

Or a notepad.

Or a piece of scratch paper in the car.

Whatever I can get my hands on at that moment, I write it all down.

And I know rejection is inevitable.

There will be those few who will roll their eyes, who will criticize like vultures.

But God has numerously pressed it upon my heart that I am not here to please everyone’s palate.

Whether my words resonate with a reader or not, it’s not about me nor is it about them.

He knows what to do with every syllable.

He is uses it all for His purpose. He gets all the glory.

. . . . . . . .

This past Saturday we were all over town, running errands.

School uniforms at Old Navy.

Black, close toed shoes at Target.

Groceries at Whole Foods.

A quick lunch at Chipotle.

Then onto more pit stops, checking things off my list, girls laughing in the back seat, husband holding my hand, the sun slowly, beautifully settling behind the trees.

I walk through the baby aisle, looking for a thermometer and pacifiers and in the Middle East, Christians are being slaughtered.

Children beheaded, wives raped and killed.

While I’m here tucking my daughters into bed.

Here, in a completely different world that is quiet and comfortable.

But really, there is so much horror.  Not only in Iraq or Nigeria or Ukraine or Syria. It’s everywhere. It’s down the street.

And I don’t know what to think as I slip into a thick, white robe after a hot shower.

Yeah, I feel safe, I feel blessed but there is also this ugly heaviness and it stirs a sickness in the pit of my stomach.

For I can’t wrap my mind around all that is going on. I try and I just can’t.

. . . . . . . .

Today it’s first of day school.

I pack pita bread sandwiches into 2 colorful lunch boxes.

I put in sugar snap peas and sweet cherry tomatoes.

And it takes me some serious will power to not cancel the whole thing.

I want to keep my children under my wings.

They are mine only for a moment. All I have is today. It’s all I really have, I tell God.

As I walk them to their classrooms, my third grader smiles and waves her hand, so brave, while my kindergartner wraps her arms tight around my neck and tells me she can’t be strong, that she is scared and I can’t tell her how I am even more terrified than her.

For I’ve never left her with a room full of children she doesn’t know, with an adult she has never met, for a whole seven hours and the fact that I have entered into a season where she isn’t a baby anymore, where I have to let go . . . . well,  it all just feels ludicrous to me.

I blow her one more kiss, walk to the car and weep.

Then I enter a quiet home, send my husband a text about how weird it is and for a split second I see myself in 15 years with an empty nest and wow, the whole thing hurts and I cry some more.

You know what is comforting though?

Nothing surprises God.

Not my anxiousness, not my doubting, not my insecurities, not my fears, not my rage, not even my joy.

He doesn’t disapprove or question when a hurricane of emotions thunders in, whether it’s positive or negative.

He is the writer of my story. He knows what I will encounter before it even hits ground.

And it’s silly that someone would reprimand me for feeling anything at all.

Because He has uniquely fashioned each and every one of us, He knows what makes us tick, He allows us to walk through stuff, He invites us to be fragile, so that we can see we are not invincible and be reminded of just how lost we are without Him.

. . . . . . . .

The secret, if it’s even a secret at all, is to always look to Him.

Ever since I woke up one morning with Acts 16:25 – 26 on my mind, God has been repeatedly showing me to fill my home with praise.

Day after day for the past few months, He has been speaking the same message.

“Rejoice in me! Let your mouth continuously pour out praises to My name!”

And then our pastor hands me a book on cultivating a home that welcomes God’s presence, a home that is drenched in His glory, and I smile and see it as no coincidence.

I make myself comfortable on the couch that very same day and read page through page and swallow back the tears because I clearly hear Him saying how all I need to do is trust Him and the way to do it is to praise Him.

There is so much going on for a lot of people.

Many of us are being hard pressed in some shape or form.

We look at the atrocities happening far, far away yet we feel weary from our own battles as well.

Maybe they aren’t that big or that serious and maybe we have a lot to be thankful for.

Regardless, God is calling us all to set our eyes on Him.

Sure, my prayer list is long, my to do list is long and weariness tries to consume at every sunrise but there is a reason He is telling me to do what matters most.

Because He’s got everything under control . . . . . . .

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who you should be running to first

looking to him

After two weeks of staring at turquoise waters with white sand between my toes, it was hard to walk through the door of our home.

Because the changes that we were slowly preparing for were now so very close.

A new place to call home, a new baby on the way, a new school for our daughters.

Which meant there was a long to-do list waiting on us.

With packing as the first and foremost.

As much as I was excited, I was also feeling a bit terrified.

Anxiety was creeping in as I pulled the luggage behind me and set it near the couch.

The girls wasted no time in running to their room and becoming engrossed with their Barbie house.

Hubs was already taking stuff out of his suitcase.

And I was simply telling myself to not freak out.

. . . . . . .

At church, a friend shares how she was having an off day.

Wondering if there was anyone that cared, anyone that was praying for her.

In the midst of these emotions, her phone rang.

It was her dad.

Just randomly calling to see how she’s doing.

He tells her that he loves her, that he’s always praying for her.

And she’s sees right there and then what God is trying to say to her.

How there is no need to question whether anyone cares, no need to feel alone.

Because she’s got Him, her heavenly daddy who loves beyond all comprehension and is always working on her behalf.

As I listen to her story, I feel all weepy.

Maybe it’s the darn hormones raging all over the place.

Or maybe I wholeheartedly understand where she is coming from.

There are mentors and counselors and close friends.

Our natural inclination is to turn to them.

We vent, we cry on their shoulder, we pour out the mess that makes us feel so heavy and weary.

It’s all valuable – a blessing to have this listening ear.

But I have come to see and understand that they can’t do what God can do.

He has the ability to make something out of my nothing.

He takes my every word as a precious seed and plants it into the rich soil of His endless possibilities.

Choosing Him first brings in comfort like no other.

Because He doesn’t just listen.

He gets straight to work. He makes things happen.

. . . . .

Of course, we are forgetful creatures.

We read about the Israelites in the Old Testament and gawk at their constant worry and despair.

They witnessed miracles upon miracles of God providing, God rescuing, and still the slightest discomfort had them acting like they were doomed, like they had been forsaken.

And so we shake our heads in disbelief and call them foolish.

We tell ourselves that if we had witnessed the Red Sea separating before our very eyes, then we would never doubt.

Instead, we would believe and believe and believe no matter what came against us.

But let’s face the truth.

We really aren’t any different.

Nothing has changed under the sun.

Even though God has shown Himself in every situation I have ever walked through, I still have moments where I wonder if He’s genuinely there when another storm rolls in.

And it’s got nothing to do with whether I have enough faith.

Because it’s not about faith.

It’s about the spirit of unbelief.

It doesn’t sleep and will sneak up repeatedly.

The key is what you do when it does come.

. . . . . . .

A few months ago I found myself thinking about Paul in the book of Acts.

Each morning I would wake up with this specific scripture on my mind.

And I knew God was trying to tell me something.

Paul and Silas were both beaten with rods and thrown into prison.

Wounded and in serious pain, they had every right to feel anguish.

But they chose to glorify the Almighty.

They refused to believe He was far from them and made the conscious decision to sing praises to His name and it was their praise that broke the prison gates.

I had read and heard the story countless times before and only now was it seriously blowing me away.

Because here was my answer.

In moments of desperation, of unbelief, of feeling like there is no miracle in sight, I needed to worship Him, I needed to delight in Him, I needed to lift His name up in adoration.

It all sounds so simple, so textbook, like “duh” that is exactly what a believer should be doing, no big surprise there, I’m preaching to the choir, etc.

However, let’s be real.

How many of us actually feel like praising Jesus when all hell breaks loose?

. . . . . . .

At our new place, there is chaos with all the boxes.

I force myself to sort through the dishes and the clothes and all the little knick knacks and feel a heaviness dragging me down.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know it’s unbelief.

I feel it pushing me into a corner.

And I’m just too overwhelmed with grief to rise above it.

Because it hurts.

This waiting game, waiting for answers to countless prayer – it hurts.

And the girls are whining about everything.

And dinner needs to be made.

And husband walks through the door with the weight of hopelessness upon his shoulders.

And there are explosions in Israel and people dying in Ukraine and planes crashing.

And I look at myself in the mirror and completely lose it.

I know I need to pray, to worship, to press in harder, to do what Paul and Silas did.

Yet I can’t.

My mouth feels like a ton of bricks and it reminds me of the apostles walking with Jesus.

He asked them to stay awake, to intercede, He knew His time had come to be taken captive and even though they didn’t really understand what He meant, they felt something too, a heaviness inside them, a grief so exhausting that they couldn’t bring themselves to utter a single word.

Instead, they fell asleep.

And it’s what I wanted to do as well.

I wanted to hide under my covers and numb all that was in me with sleep.

However, the Holy Spirit was nudging me to follow Christ’s example.

He was struck with deep anguish and it was painful.

But He didn’t let it consume Him.

There, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed with intensity beyond comprehension.

He pressed in so hard that His body sweat drops of blood.

. . . . . . . .

In the morning, I get up and think about how our faith goes beyond “feelings”.

How it’s about having the discipline to always worship, to always rejoice even though everything around us tells us we have no reason to do so.

It’s a choice we have to make every single day.

“Sing praises to Him, rejoice in Him,” the spirit beckons.

And I don’t always want to.

As my flesh groans, I turn on some music and reach for my prayer journal and start looking through all the promises God has spoken in the last few years and listen to Nicole Binion sing about how when He draws near, all fear is swept away, distractions disappear, how she is not moving, she is here waiting on Him, how He is so good, always good and she is standing on His promise and the lyrics engulf me like a tidal wave.

Life can be too much sometimes and it feels like my small voice gets lost in the rubble of this world, it feels like He is far from me.

But we all know that’s foolishness.

Because the moment I cry out to Him, He bends his ear to me as if I am the only one and gets straight to work.

No one else can do that.

No one  . . . . . . .

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raising daughters: little girls watch and learn

raising daughters

It was year 1996 and I was 15 years old.

Sitting on the floor, daydreaming to Backstreet Boys new radio release “As Long As You Love Me”.

I had it playing on repeat on my little black boom box and a part of me felt it was written just for me.

I had this vision of being at their concert.

Front row.

And out of all the girls there, Nick Carter was going to be mesmerized by me.

He was going to take my hand and pull me up on stage and sing that song without ever having his eyes leave mine.

There would be a spark that neither of us thought was possible.

A connection beyond words.

The beginning of a love story.

Where we were going to become absolutely inseparable.

Meant for one another.

To be together forever.

. . . . . . .

After dinner, I am packing up the leftovers and hubby is wiping off the counters and I tell him the story of how I was convinced I was going to marry Nick Carter.

“I just knew that all he needed was to simply see me,” I say, “and it would be love at first sight.”

 “Wow,” he chuckles, scratches his head.

Clearly speechless and amused all at the same time.

And I laugh out loud because oh my goodness all of it sounds so ridiculous, so hilarious.

I was a typical bookworm teenager with long brown hair, big round glasses, trying to cover up the pimples on my forehead and waiting for my prince charming to sweep me off my feet.

I was a girl uncomfortable in my own skin, admiring the beauty queens in a Seventeen magazine, buying that blue eye shadow or that voluminous mascara, hoping it will make me pretty.

Now I was a mom.

Where did the time go?

. . . . . . .

Day in and day out it feels like my daughters will be little forever.

Then I notice the shoes are getting tighter, clothes are getting smaller, and they are getting taller.

They are growing into women.

Slowly yet so quickly.

And I look at the reflection in the mirror and see that I’m aging as well.

I am convinced I am still 22 but the fine lines around my eyes, the way my skin feels, the way my body looks, the way my face has changed – all of it reminds me how fast the clock is ticking, how fast everything is moving.

Slipping into my pajamas, I observe the cellulite, the sagginess, and voice the distaste with my body out loud.

Husband hears the words and frowns.

He tells me, this time more seriously, how it really wounds him when I insult myself.

He asks me to stop.

Reminds me that I am fashioned by God’s hands.

“And the girls hear it,” he says, “Don’t give them that example.”

A knot forms in my throat as I listen and nod and fall even deeper in love with this man.

. . . . . . .

A few years back I was at an outlet mall and didn’t think much of the advertisement ahead of us.

In fact, I don’t think I even noticed until my oldest, who was 5 at the time, spoke up.

“Why is she doing that, mommy?”

She pointed to a large poster plastered on a window of a Victoria’s Secret store.

An image of a models backside.

Wearing absolutely nothing but a lacy black thong.

Arching her back with her arms up against a grey wall.

Legs slightly parted, derriere sticking out high.

“Why, mommy?” she asked again.

I looked at the ad and sighed.

“They call it modeling,” I explained, “The truth is, it’s inappropriate.”

I took her hand and together we kept on walking while my mind was racing all over the place in trying to figure out how I could further this conversation with words that were easier to understand.

I wanted to tell her that what she saw was not the definition of beauty, not the definition of being a woman.

And it angered me.

To be in a situation where no matter how I was going to put it, no matter what I was going to say, it was still going to be TOO much for an innocent 5 year old to grasp.

. . . . . . .

We live in a world where self appearance is idolized now more than ever.

Wherever we look, women are being told to be sexy, to be flawless, to flaunt what they’ve got.

Young girls and mamas are chasing beauty above else.

Flipping through Victoria’s Secret catalogs and provocative fashion magazines.

Vying for the perfect hair, perfect makeup, perfect outfit for a perfect selfie.

While little daughters everywhere watch and learn.

One pastor’s words immediately come to mind.

“Some people have the entrance of a palace and contents of a hut.”

It makes me think about my girls, how I want them to be far from that description.

I think about their self image, their future, what I want them to value most.

They sit beside me as I put on mascara and blush.

They ask me to paint their nails and beg me at the makeup aisle to buy them that shimmery lip gloss.

With fresh curls bouncing against their face, they twirl in their new Easter dresses and feel beautiful.

I watch them and smile and know how there is so much fun in being a girl.

They will have latest obsessions and boy crushes and relish in the moments of getting all dolled up.

And I want them to enjoy this process of flourishing and maturing and discovering.

But my heart is overwhelmed with a desire for them to hunger for God more than anything.

I want them to awake each morning with a strong sense of who they are in Christ.

To start each day with the question of how they can serve others instead of trying to look like some vogue ad.

I want them to become women of substance.

. . . . . . .

Two summers ago I read this prayer.

A prayer for a daughter.

As a mom, I knew this was the declaration I needed.

I needed to hang these words somewhere where I can see them, where the girls could read them again and again.

A daily reminder.

A discussion starter.

So I finally pulled some blank canvases out of my closet, squirted a tube of black paint onto a dish and began to write.

May she be bread and feed many with her life and her laughter
May she be thread and mend brokeness and knit hearts
May she be dead to all ladders & never go higher, only lower, to the lonely, the least & the longing.

Truth is, at the end of the day, it all comes down to more than just words.

It all starts with leading by example.

And I pray they see in me who I yearn for them to be.

That they won’t see a mom struggling with insecurities or a mom busying herself with the things of this world.

Instead they will see a mom after God’s own heart . . . .

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