Friday, September 7, 2018

Girl, You Need Jesus. An Unpopular View of a Very Popular Book


I listened to a sermon recently entitled, Taming the Wayward Tongue. At first, I thought it was going to be about gossip, slander, and potty mouth stuff, but much to my surprise, it was more about “The Influencer.” You know, the people that have a platform, especially on social media – with people watching and hanging on their every word or post? This sermon was talking about the ease in which we can obtain information and turn around and spout it out, just as quickly as we picked it up and sound like an authority or wise counselor who discovered the information by our own experiences or study. He warned against the dangers of having such loose lips, as we will be held accountable for every word that we speak (Matt 12:36) It’s one of the main reasons I don’t come to this space as much anymore, as I am reminded of the verse in James (3:13), “who is wise and understanding among you? By his conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” Anyone and everyone can be a “teacher” in whatever “school” they want these days. Wanna know how to do your make-up? I’ll tell ya! Fancy diet and exercise tips (guilty party writing)? Hear me out… Traveling? I have what you want and need! Double tap! Decorating your home? Look at mine first. Do it like me, or don’t. Whatevs. Are you a mess? I am too!!  I’m all messy! See?? Are you in a rut, complacent, discontent in your subpar, plain life? Girl, Wash Your Face, and then follow me!
I read the ever-growing-in-popularity book, “Girl, Wash Your Face,” by the infectious, talented, witty, I-admire-her-spunk, Rachel Hollis. After hearing glowing reviews and claims of changed lives, I decided to give it a read. As with any book, written by any person, I try to heed the advice of Pastor Alistair Begg: ‘Keep one foot in the world and one foot firmly planted in the Bible.’
After I read this book, I came away with heavy feelings. Feelings that I’ve been wrestling with for weeks. I’ve seen so many friends and women eat this book right up and LOVE it. I took the book with a grain of salt, but many have claimed to be truly enlightened by it. So it is with GREAT trepidation that I write ANYTHING to the contrary of the message of this book. It’s hard to pick apart something when people have claimed that the Lord has used it in their lives. I told my husband that I felt a burden to share my thoughts, but that I was scared to death to say anything, because, while my sphere of “influence” is small (and the word “small” or “influence” might even be giving me too much credit), I don’t want to hurt feelings at best, or at worst be stoned in the streets! So with that honest glimpse into my heart, here I go…
First, I’d like to say that there is a lot that I enjoyed about the book. There is a lot that I agree with! She says early in the book that, “you must choose to be happy, grateful, and fulfilled.” I tell my kids this all the time: You can choose to be happy, or you can choose to be sad, but it’s much more fun to be happy! She also says that, “life isn’t meant to be merely survived—it’s meant to be lived.” Agreed. As someone who sucks the marrow out of every inch of this life here on earth that I possibly can, I agree! And she also says that, “you become who you surround yourself with. You become what you consume.” Well that’s just Biblical! (1 Cor. 15:33 & Matthew 6:22-23). There were several other zingers that she threw out and I chewed up, but unfortunately there was more that I had to spit back out.
I know that it’s not a devotional book. I know that she didn’t intend for it to be put into a Christian Box. In fact, she wants it accessible to every woman, all over the world and for her message to be heard. Many who loved the book would say that it’s not for everyone and have told me so. I think Rachel knows it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea either! But I came away with strong feelings about the book, because Rachel identifies with Christ (had it not, I would not be writing) in the book and because she does, it has entered the church circles and has become one of the number 1 books in the Christian/Spirituality section in many places and Christians are eating up her every word and telling their friends to do the same. So, here I am. Debbie Downer – a new name for me. One that I don’t care for too much, but I feel a conviction and I cannot let the fear of man keep me from sharing. My Father-in-law is probably beaming right now as he is always reminding me of that ugly fear of mine.
There are 20 Chapters in Girl, Wash Your Face, so while there is a lot I could say, I have no intention of picking it apart here. It wouldn’t be fruitful or beneficial to do so.  The best thing that came from me reading this book was that it caused me to measure her words against our Creator’s Words, which I got to do – a lot. And QUICKLY! On page 5 she says, “this is your Life. You are meant to be the hero of your own story.” As a Christian (which is where I am coming from), this is absolutely NOT the case. It’s actually the opposite. I have had dear, sweet, well-meaning friends tell me that isn’t really what she meant. And maybe she didn’t, but my fear is for the person who doesn’t know Christ or doesn’t “know what she meant.” I can only go by what got through her editing process, onto paper and into the hands of millions of desperate women everywhere. Sure, it may not seem that serious, and you might be thinking, “Ashley/Debbie, it’s not that big of a deal! It has helped me, and others, and so it’s all good!” But the message of discovering real joy and worth and fulfillment IS for everyone! And if you are going to identify with Christ, He says there is only one way to find this joy and fulfillment and being a hero of our own story isn’t it. Maybe I’m being hypervigilant and extra critical, or maybe, just maybe, we all need to be a little more discerning.
Here’s the deal. There seems to be a rise in people that are hurting. People are lonely. People are bored. They are discontent. They are sick. They are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Women especially, head to their social media and see meticulously curated lives of other women all over. I see it every day. They compare and when they don’t stack up, they react. They react by falling into a deeper hole of self-loathing, discontentment and often, depression. Or they react by trying to be like the person they are following/admiring/liking. They may react by hitting their pantry and eating, they react by sulking or complaining, they unfollow, block or say ugly things to make themselves feel better and a million other ways! They see people with more than what they have or what they perceive as more, and they think they are less than. They think they are not good enough.  Enter Rachel and a host of other ‘Influencers” out there who are here to tell you that you ARE. You are good enough. You deserve more. Do not believe the lies! ROAR! But the thing is, the gospel tells you the exact opposite. WE aren’t good enough (Rom 3:10), you cannot do it alone (Rom 5:8), and I’ll let you look up what the Bible says we deserve (Rom 6:23), and it ain’t a pat on the back. I know these Influencer’s may not intentionally mean to, but they are ROBBING the real Hero of your story. The real Hero says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30). It is all about believing this message and resting in its sufficiency (2 Tim 3:16)! It’s realizing you can’t, realizing you need Grace, realizing He is there! You cannot do it alone and no “influencer” can do it for you – or for themselves! The self-talk, clever one-liners and inspirational jargon will only provide temporary relief before their witty affect wears off and you’re right back where you started. Why? Because its foundation was you and you – and we all – are weak and need a Savior (Matt 7:24-27).
But what about MY needs? What about MY Desires? Towards the end of the book, she wants you to write your dreams down. She wants you to speak them into life and ultimately go and achieve them! She wants you to close your eyes and bring that dream to life. I thought of a dream of mine that I’ve thought of often, a dream that if I wanted to, I COULD make it happen (Side note: we both agree that if you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way and if not, you’ll find an excuse). But with one foot firmly planted in Biblical Truth, I know that me going after that “dream” would mean that other people in my life would have to sacrifice in order for ME to do what I want to do. This is a concept that Rachel doesn’t speak about at all. If she mentioned once, she mentioned 750,000 times how successful she is, how powerful she is, what it takes to get there, and you can have it too! But with all due respect, she is about my age, and we have yet to see the final product of her life. Sure, by the world’s standards, she has it all! The house, the cars, the vacations, the cute kids, supportive husband, and an uber successful company to run! And she may be able to juggle it all, but wisdom would tell us that there is always, always, always a cost. You cannot do ‘everything’ AND do it all well. If you could, then we would need no heroes and we would need no grace! Something will be sacrificed!
Here’s my fear, friends: I fear that some woman in somewhere is going to pick up her book. She will be sitting in a pile of laundry that has been collecting over the course of 2 weeks because she has been nursing a baby every couple of hours. She’s had a whiney, perpetually snotty toddler, biting at her ankles while she’s shackled to the homeschool table with her 8-year-old, until it’s time to prep for dinner, cook that dinner that people will complain about and then clean up from that dinner to do it all again tomorrow. She gave up HER life and HER dreams for HER family and as she thumbs through this book, she’s starting to wonder why?? How did she get here? There must be more. She sees her friends on Instagram with their pretty living room, decorated for Fall already, while she still has some Christmas ornaments shoved under the couch from LAST Christmas. Then she clicks over to Facebook to see another friend who just shared the album from her beautiful vacation and wonders if she’ll ever get to go to Target alone again, let alone a trip somewhere lovely. And the seeds of discontent take root and begin to grow. This life is not good enough. She needs more, she wants more, and she deserves MORE. And if she doesn’t have her foot firmly planted in Truth, she might run towards Rachel’s repackaged and repurposed Health and Wealth Gospel. It’s essentially the Law of Attraction (what you put out, you'll get back) and like Pastor John MacArthur has said of others who share the same message “There is just enough Jesus to appease critics and to deceive followers” And If I’m not careful, this picture could be me!!!!!
The picture I painted above is likely a familiar one if you’re reading this. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for goals. I am all for making changes and I’m all for getting up, washing your face and taking care of yourself! Those are good things! I’m all for taking care of the one body we’ve been given by eating well and exercising. But the question is WHY? The Influencer and this World would say “FOR YOU!” but the Bible would say something different.
Dear, sweet, friend. In the words of Lucy Ricardo (from I Love Lucy), “Are you tired, run down, listless? Do you poop out at parties? Are you unpopular? All of the answers are in this little….Bible!!” (2 Tim 3:16 again) The bible has all the answers! You do not need a kitschy self-help book, I promise. Anxious? Philippians 4:6-7 and 1 Peter 5:7 can be salve for your soul. Weary? Cast your cares on Him and HE will sustain you (Psalm 55:22). Discontent with such a boring, monotonous, unfulfilling life? Seek FIRST his kingdom (Matt 6:33), He will supply your every NEED (Phil 4:19). You see, while Rachel’s book tells you that you have it in you to be everything you want and deserve it to be, so that you can live your best life the way you want it and how you want it and NOW! it’s no wonder the book is flying off the shelf!
On the other hand, the Book I am suggesting tells us to DIE to self (Eph. 4:22), it says that we must decrease, so that the Hero can increase (John3:30). It tells us that whatever circumstance we are in, we should be content (Phil 4:11). It tells us to DENY ourselves, that we are not our own, we were bought with a price (1 Cor 6:20). We are not to serve ourselves, but to serve others (Gal 5:13) AND to do it all without complaining and arguing (Phil 2:14), but with a joyful heart! It tells us to be hard workers (Col 3:23), not lazy and gluttonous (Prov. 10:4), and that we are to use our time wisely (Prov. 21), as we will give an account. It tells us that we were created to worship and either we will worship the Creator or we will worship our own desires (Matt 6:24). PHEW! No wonder Rach’s message seems a little more…fun. But you know what? The funny thing is, we think we need some clever word and the bible actually tells us that there will be a time when people will not want what the Bible has to offer and they will find what sounds good to them (2 Tim 4:3) but, heed the warnings in Colossians 2:8, “see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy…according to the tradition of men, and not according to Christ!” Not that I don’t think that there is a place for a good, convicting book, because I DO!!! As long as that book points to Christ, and the OG Self Help book, we’re good!
And with all that, I’ll leave you. If the Lord used Rachel’s words to open your eyes to things, good! I pray it pointed you to Him and not what you have in you, as the Bible warns about the deceptiveness of our very own hearts (Jer. 17:9)! If you’re thinking of reading it, keep one foot in and one foot in your Bible. If what I have said is utterly confusing, message me! If you couldn’t disagree more with me, EEK! I’m sorry!! I write this from what I pray is a humble place in my heart. I do not have all the answers, all I have is Christ and His word. Thank you for taking the time to read what is probably a very contrary opinion in the world. A position that makes me squirm a little.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

11 Things I've learned in 11 years of Marriage.

In just a couple of days we will be celebrating 11 years of "wedded bliss". In many ways I feel like it was yesterday, but in more ways, it seems like another life ago. Over the last couple years, the Lord has taken our marriage on a journey that I didn't even know I was on until I was delivered on the other side. It's probably best I didn't know the road beforehand, but I'm thankful he took us through it! I've learned so much through some refining "fire". I assure you that many have traveled a much rockier road, and have fallen into much deeper valleys, and for much longer than my short journey. Or maybe you are drowning in a relationship where you can't see any light at the end of the tunnel. I'm not sure what that feels like, but I have been in a place where the seeds of bitterness took root, resentment set in and apathy ruled the day, conversations/arguments followed the same exact script, hitting the same dead end wall, going back to square one, which only made the apathy grow more. The funny thing is, I really had no idea! I kind of thought I was living a normal life, in a normal marriage, one that's as good as it gets! We had both grown complacent, even if we didn't know it.  But through humility and the exposing and confronting of sin, sometimes bringing in help from the outside to deal with that sin head on, as well as being in the Word, reading books and listening to sermons, going to a stellar marriage conference, and communicating, we have come to a place that I never knew was even possible. I have been thinking about all of the lessons I have learned through the years and even recently and wanted to share what little wisdom I have gained up to this point on the likely chance that someone reading may have been feeling the same, and to serve as a reminder to me in the future. So here are 11 things I've learned in 11 years of marriage:
11. As cliche as it is, Communication is key. This is a "Relationship 101" DUH! But I think many don't realize what open, honest communication is and how to even do it. Ladies, don't expect men to read between lines. They only know what we tell them and nothing more. 
10. Confess and admit when you're wrong and seek forgiveness, PRONTO! Don't let your personal sin "go," deal with it- expose it- sin hates the light! 
9. Be humble- LISTEN! If your spouse is coming to you, in love, about your sin, listen. We are quick to see the faults in our partner, with extreme accuracy, but for some reason when it comes to our faults, the blinders go on and the defenses go UP!
8. Work-out together. I hate exercising, but I know I should AND I love spending time with Mr. Clean and it turns out, I get a lot more time with him if we do it together! This single thing has been a game changer in our marriage.
7. Uproot bitterness. Don't let those seeds take root and water it until it grows like kudzu. Get that stuff under control! If it has overrun your heart and marriage, call in help! It may be a hard, humbling call to make, but it will so be worth it when you finally do.
6. *Blush alert* Talk about sex. Seriously. When was the last time you talked to your spouse about how, when and how much you do "it"?  If you don't, do. If you haven't, start. Refer to #11 above. You will thank me, or your spouse will...but that's ok. Don't.
5. GO AWAY! Make time for the two of you to see someplace new. Or at least ship the kids off and see your home in a new, less hectic, way. This is the best investment in your marriage. I heard a pastor say that children are a temporary fixture in a permanent family of 2. Invest in it!
4.Be the spouse you want your kids to have someday. Be the wife you want for your son. Be the husband you want for your daughter.
3.Let the kids see you hug and kiss, laugh and hold hands. A happy and secure marriage is the greatest gift you can give them.
2. In the words of my teen siblings, Stay Woke. Know that your spouse WILL change. The person you married will not be the same person you married. Stay so connected (woke), lest you wake up 10 years later to a stranger in your bed, and instead of Unchained Melody playing in your head, it will be I've Lost That Lovin' Feeling. Marriage requires work. On the flip side, some things never change. If you are hoping some of your spouses "less than favorite qualities" will somehow disappear one day, you'll be waiting a long time on that one. I'll go ahead and spoil it for you, a lot of things will change, but those quirks just won't.
1. IF you maintain your marriage, stay humble, stay "woke", remain open, uproot bitterness and kick it to the curb, seek wisdom and HELP when needed, grow in the Lord and in Grace, and go away, your marriage WILL grow. It will blossom into something so beautiful, your little mind can't even imagine it. The love you have for your spouse will have grown exponentially and when you think back to your beautiful wedding 11 years ago you'll think: Man, I THOUGHT I loved you then. At least, that's how I feel anyway.

Here are some resources of things that have helped me and might help someone who's been in my shoes!
  • The book What Did You Expect by Paul Tripp is one of the best marriage books I've read...and I fell like I've read them all.
  • This sermon series by Jack Hughes of Crossings Church in Kentucky was a blessing to me
  • Here's the link to the marriage conference we attended in Sept. Excellent.
  • And finally, and most importantly, the link to Biblical counseling. Sometimes you just can't do it on your own and you need help. This is a FREE ministry to the public and such a blessing to many seeking God's answers to life's problems.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Pursuit of Wisdom and Women

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Proverbs over the last few weeks and while it has helped me in sharing its truths with someone I love, the Lord has a funny way of exposing His truths to the reader for their own life. While I was searching for wisdom and truth for someone else, the Lord used it to refine me. And it got me thinking about the pursuit of Wisdom in my life.

The Proverbs are chalked full of wisdom, literally, packed to the brim on the importance of wisdom, urging the reader to listen to, walk in, abide in and dwell in wisdom. The younger the person, the louder the call to listen – I'm sure that's because Solomon was hip to how a young person thinks - they don't care about wisdom and it's value. Youngins, from the beginning of time, are and have been, hard headed, know-it-alls that feel invincible (guilty as charged). It's their way or the highway. 

Wisdom in Proverbs is likened to a beautiful and intriguing woman. She is strong and demands a lot of care and attention to keep up with. She wants to be cherished and sought after and she's oh-so-valuable. "Do not forsake her and she will keep you." Yet so many run from wisdom’s calling.  People seek their own way and the warning against running from Lady Wisdom is loud and made crystal clear. Wisdom can be gained by reading the word, but all throughout the book, Solomon urges the reader to listen for it – literally listening to the counselors all around you to gain wisdom. "The way of the fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice" (Prov 12:15). "Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future" (19:20). These verses tell me that first, we need counselors. That means we need people in our lives that can and will be involved enough to share advice, biblical truths and wisdom and secondly, that we need to be open to listening to them. Proverbs tells us that gaining wisdom is better than having gold and understanding is better than choice silver (16:16), and it's far better than jewels or anything we could ever dream of having (8:11)!!! WOW! Yet, so many don't want any part of it. Their way is right in their own eyes and they don't want to hear anything other than what their hearts want and if you dig a little deeper into the Scriptures you'll find out what it tells us about our hearts...hint: They are desperately sick and beyond a cure (Jer. 17:9). Why do we insist on listening to our sickened hearts?

By the world’s standards I am no feminist, but when I think of all the amazing women God has put in my path to sharpen me as a wife, mother, sister, friend and daughter of the Most High, I am all “hear me roar!” The role that women and only women can play in the lives of other women make me want to parade down a street, hootin' and hollerin'-- kind of like Lady Wisdom does in the Proverbs--and I want to make sure this is a truth that is experienced for all womankind. Amen? Amen! I'll have shirts made up!
While I value and love the leading ladies in my life that the Lord has given me biologically, it is the women in the body of Christ that I wish to speak of. These ladies are not obligated to me. They don’t have to pour into me. They have children and husbands and friends, yet they give of their time and share their wisdom with me, and I don’t know why. When I think of the time that they spend on me, I fall to my humble puddle of tears. I literally did as I went around to share what I was writing about, hence the teary pictures below.

I have a lady I can go to when I am a discouraged parent and she offers advice, counsel and encouragement. She shares all of her tips and tricks as she has traveled a lot farther down the road than I have. Then there is a lady that has helped me think through important decisions in my life, like "should we have another baby???" (By the way, we did). There is a lady that had the courage to confront and lovingly rebuke me when she heard me as a young gal gossiping about someone I love, and the same lady has made a point to pour herself into my life and has served to prod my faith, asking how I'm growing in the Lord and has for years. I have cried on her shoulder during darker days of my marriage when I felt embarrassed and ashamed and she just loved me. There is one that listens to me as I talk through my irrational night time anxiety and she helps me to put off those untrue thoughts and put on Christ and sends me texts to check in. I have a lady I can run to and with one look or one word can send me to the Kleenex box and right into her arms. I call her and she speaks truth to me, whether it's about how to handle conflict in a relationship, or when my husband has changed jobs and I'm uneasy, or when I've been a discouraged homeschool mom. And there are ladies who just have God's word on their mouths at all times and it is sweet encouragement to the soul when I hear them speak. I have women that I can text and say "please pray for me," and they do. Some of these ladies have taken me on as their personal project, consistently and selflessly, making time for me. Others it has been for a time, but they have had an amazingly profound and meaningful impact on my life. And there are some who may not even know the impact they have made on my life. And ALL of them are there when I need it. If every woman could have just ONE woman like this in their life, they would be richer than Oprah. And Oprah doesn't count as your wise woman of choice.
What is something that all of these women have in common? They are all older than me, they’ve lived more, seen more, know more. And they all know the Lord. They have a faith that I envy and a walk that is deep. They have been given grace and share that grace with me. They are faithful and humble and...they are wise. They are Titus 2 women. I want to be like them.
 So why me? I have no clue apart from being it the Lord’s will for my life. BUT, I think it also takes some humility. They didn’t just walk up to me and start pouring into me. I think it takes a heart softening and a big piece of humble pie to make yourself vulnerable and let those walls come down and say, “Hey, I don’t know what I’m doing, but maybe they can help,” and to just talk and to be engaged, but more importantly, to just listen. Proverbs says that "with humility comes wisdom" (11:2) and that is truly what we should be striving for in this world. 1 Peter 3:3-4 says, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight." This should be our heart's desire.
So how? How does that happen? How on earth are these relationships formed? These ladies don’t just come up to me and I don’t just walk up to them and lay my garbage at their feet (although sometimes I do now. If my counselors are reading, they are smiling). The answer to HOW these relationships are forged is, I believe, through service in The Body. The more areas that I can serve in, the more opportunities that I have to be with these ladies. And these ladies, likewise, are servants in the church. Rocking babies in the nursery, cooking meals at kid’s camp, driving for two hours to decorate for a ladies retreat, opening my home for small group, working VBS, serving at luncheons, the list goes on. Serving requires a level of humility too. It's opening yourself up to the fact that you have something to offer the body and it's a surefire way to expose yourself to women in all peer groups. So Carpe Diem! Do it! Serve it up!

So what have I gained? I pray, some wisdom! A few months ago, one of my biggest mentors came to me at my house and told me that I am no longer a ‘younger’ and that it was time for me to start pouring into ladies that are younger than myself. And while she may be right, I certainly don’t feel ready! Just last week, I told another one of my greatest counselors my plan on how I was going to deal with a certain issue in my personal life and she graciously and tenderly told me that I was wrong. The Lord used her in that moment to turn a light bulb on in my head and literally changed my course and subsequently my relationship with this person that I was planning to execute an otherwise, unwise plan! I have sooooo much to learn still. I have also saved my husband a lot of money on counseling/therapy, but more importantly, I have safety. "Where there is no guidance, the people will fall, but in the multitude of counselors there is safety" (Prov 11:14). And if the scriptures are true, my safety net is quite large and secure.
Why do I share all of this? Because I want this for you, dear reader. If you are reading this, I want you to think, "Who is speaking truth into my life? Do I have an older person/people that I can glean from?" If you are not able answer this question, we need to ask "why?" Are you making yourself available to your Body of believers by way of service? Is there a wide variety of people in your midst? People who may not think just like you? People who are older than you? I have plenty of like minded friends that I can gab with, laugh with, mourn with, commiserate with, but I NEED the older women (and men) in my life, and I'd venture to say, you do too! Do you take the opportunity when you can to let your guard down and ask other women questions? Questions like "What was the best piece of marriage advice you've received?" or "How on earth did you discipline your kids when they did ____?" The more you talk and ask and LISTEN, the more you'll learn and then you'll be able to call them or pull them aside and say, "I don't know how to communicate _____ with my husband. I am feeling so discouraged and frustrated. Please HELP ME!" or "ACK!!! I'm drowning at home. It seems like all I do is yell! I can't keep up with all of the stuff on my plate. What did you do when you had little kids at home?" Oh, how I want this to be true for every woman I know. This is the healthy body at work! Iron sharpening iron. If you do not have any older women speaking truth into your life, you are missing out on the richness of Wisdom! Do not be wise in your own eyes, you don't have to be! And you're likely not! "Blessed is the one who finds wisdom and the one who gets understanding" (Prov 3:13). Be blessed, go find that wisdom. And know, I'm here. I don't know much, but I'm learning from the best...

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Dog Days of Motherhood and Other Things About My Day.

I've got a million different ways I could start this and have tried to find the time to string these words and thoughts together for the last 2 months. Literally. These days I write when I can-- Carpool, 5 minutes in the bathroom, when I'm tied to a rocking chair-you get the gist-and I write because I kind of find it to be cathartic and stress releasing.
I will start, first, by saying that I love my life. I am richly blessed beyond what I deserve and I don't know why. I'm also a generally cheery person who loves to have fun, but takes healthy doses of "down-to-earth" on a regular basis. I don't call myself an optimist or pessimist, but a realistic optimist with the some pessimism looming in the corner rearing it's ugly head at times. I enjoy the small things in life, but realize the big picture can be daunting at times. My glass is always half full, but my plate is over filled. 

This picture says "Happy" but I see "Sleepy"
I'm writing this here so that I can look back here as a reminder of what my life looked like in this season and see how far I've come. And someday, when I'm through the thick of this fog, I can look at young momma's walking around in what they likely wore yesterday, covered in spit up, with cheeto dust in their hair and tell them "honey, I know. It's all going to be ok, let me buy your lunch" and finally, I write this so that someone reading can know that they, in fact, are not alone. And you're not. So here goes nothing...or everything. 

Everyone is busy. Everyone is tired. Everyone has a full plate. But I had forgotten what 5 months of rocky sleep will do to a person. It turns out, it's not so good. And whoever said that the jump from1 to 2 kids was the hardest, clearly didn't go on to have 3 or more. But the truth is. One is hard. 2 is hard. 3 is hard. 4 is hard--you get the gist. Parenting is hard.You go momma!
 What is also hard? Trying to do "life" while nursing every 3 hours, round the clock (yes, I chose this path), changing diapers, spit-up, blow outs, fuss fests, nap strikes, nursing strikes, and so on and so forth, but dang, shes cute. But why oh why won't she eat during the day? But dang, she's cute.

Let's add Homeschooling a first grader to the plate. The kid can't do anything independently (again, another choice. A choice I have been questioning since Christmas), being tied to a table for 4+ hours a day teaching a person, literally everything they know. Math, reading, phonics (don't even get me started), science, social studies, spelling and--my favorite--handwriting. FOR THE LOVE, BUMP THE LINE. Is it Summer yet?
 And then there is the preschooler who is around here somewhere. I just follow the mess trail to a big pile of my mom guilt, glitter and nail polish spills and there she will be. Bless her little heart. Middle child, she is.
  I then turn my head to see my husband who works 2 jobs to keep our world spinning. He is my rock, my dream catcher, my teenage dream. He is mighty fine, but sorry. That's gonna be a hard no from me, dog. 
Let's not forget groceries--the bane of my existence these days and pure torture when taking all 3-- and there's the laundry, keeping up with a house (Mrs. Mister Clean over here) and a floor that hasn't been mopped since Christmas, and cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the daily, except who am I kidding? It's cereal or ball field most nights... And that's just the basics. 
 Why don't we throw in a photography business with emails to answer, calendars to manage shoots to do and photos to edit. Again another choice, but it affords us the ability to do things we can't do otherwise. 

And baseball. Why? I ask myself every other day. Because my kid loves it, that's why. 

Oh crap. And ballet. Let's just remember to go. It's the one thing I can do for our girl...wherever she is.

And let's host small group. It's one of my only chances to talk with adults during the week, It stays. And it's our joy to do it.

But wait, when did I last shower? No worries! I'll just change my nursing pads, undies, slap on some gloss, throw on a hat and it's all good, because...That's a no from me dog.

And ya know what? Thank goodness for Social Media. It's the only view of the outside world right now, so yeah, I indulge.

I open my Bible, read a few verses and then a spill, a fall, or a fight. Get behind me, Satan. I go to work out and 15 minutes in, a spill, a fall, or a fight. The jiggle-y bits will stay for now. I go to lay down for a nap and then a spill, a fall, or a doorbell ring...I'll sleep when I'm dead.

Sister-friend, Have you ever felt like you're on an island, alone with your burdens and exhaustion? Your husband is around, but isn't tethered to that island like you are? There have been times that I have felt jealous of my husband. While he's equally as busy, his burdens are just as great, if not more so, he spins lots of plates, but he can freely roam. He isn't shackled. He can get on a plane this week and be free and he will be. He can drive somewhere without listening to the Moana soundtrack on repeat. He can eat with both hands. He can sleep and only knows of the rough nights when I give him a swift kick under the covers, or give him "the look" when he says "wow, last night was good, right?" Moms are always "on call" 24/7. 

 Yes, I've been there over these last few months. Even when we've gone out of town, I'm still shackled to that island. BUT while I may feel alone on that island, I know I'm not. In the dark of night (sometimes 2 or 3 times), I have time with my Lord and last baby. I remind myself the He promises to give rest to the weary and He grants sleep to those he loves (Matt 11:28-29, Ps 127:1-2). There's my silver lining.

I have had days where things have not gone according to MY plans and my attitude has followed suit and it has spilled onto my little island like flood waters and that day has turned into days, that has turned into a week and the guilt has mounted like Everest. The weight of that ugly becomes so heavy that I remind myself that even a crack heads kid loves their mom (yes, I've thought this), I have to be better than that, right??? And then I have to step back. I'm doing the best I can. I will screw up, I will ask forgiveness of my husband, of my kids and of my Lord. He always forgives. Fresh slate.The Lord has given me this work. It's hard work, but good work. It's all gonna be OK. Like I said at the get go- I love my life. Like, really love my life. What you see from me is the real deal, but see this too and know that this high-on-life girl has lows too. This particular season has just been physically and mentally exhausting, but this too shall pass and too soon. This is the thick of it. The dog days of motherhood. I'm convinced that we will be at this Full Plate Buffet for quite some time. And just when I think the plate can't fill anymore, the server will give me a bigger plate and that one will fill up too. I know the table might look different and it'll be a new menu of options, and I will still be tired, but there is no tired like the new momma with young kids tired. Some day in the near future, I will sleep more than 3-4 hours at a time and I will have a little bit more time (maybe??) to write or shower or both, back to back! But tonight I will go to bed thinking "maybe the baby will sleep through the night? Or for at least 4 hours in a row!"
You're not alone, sweet mom! 

(excuse typos. Ain't no one got time fo dat)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

I Love Lucy and She's 4!

I don't know what it's like to have an older sibling as I'm the oldest of 8 kids in my family. Not only that, but I'm significantly older than most of them. I'm so much older that I'm more like an aunt--or even a mom to about 5 of them! I am 6 years older than my sister that is closest in age to me and that's the closest thing I have to a typical sibling relationship. And I was not very nice to her as a kid. As a matter of fact, I was downright awful. I don't have many regrets in my life, however one of the biggest regrets I have is the way I treated my little sister. But the Lord is good and showed me my ugliness, (perhaps too late, after the damage was done) and brought me to repentance. I hope she knows how sorry I am and thankfully, we have a good relationship now. I would do anything for her and she has my back as well.
Why on earth am I mentioning this in Lucy's birthday post? I do have a point, I promise. When we were kids my little sister was the most beautiful baby/toddler/kid ever! Everyone knew it...and I knew it. I, on the other hand, wasn't quite as cute. I had a big personality along with a big head that made up for what I lacked in looks. My sweet sister was very shy and timid and hid in my big ugly shadow and I jumped on that weakness. I suppose I was jealous or annoyed or selfish or I don't know what, but I know I said and did such unkind things. One thing I do remember being ugly about (although the list was long) was her smile. She had a crooked little smile and I would get frustrated with her when we were smiling for pictures and she wouldn't "smile right." I'd voice my frustration in a way only I could and she kept smiling the way she did because--well--that was her SMILE!!! So, what's my point? My girl has her smile. My Lucy has the same crooked little smile that my little sister did and I'm so glad she does. It's a forever reminder to me of having patience and being kind. I'm so thankful the Lord saw fit to give my girl the smile she has. He is good. 
This year Lucy was thrust into a new role a couple months ago. She can now add Big Sister to her lot in life and she shifted from baby of the family to Middle Child. I spent a lot of time with my girl before our baby made her big appearance into this world. Twice a week we had "Momma Lucy Days" while Coop was at school. I showered her with all the milkshakes, chicken biscuits, Starbucks frapps, and Happy Meals that daddy's money could buy, along with allll of my undivided attention. It was the sweetest time and I am so glad we had that time together. Just me, her and that crooked little smile.

She is a great big sister, already better at it than I was. She is nuts about her baby--too nuts! And while I have tried my hardest to make sure she doesn't get the shaft that comes along with being the "middle child," it seems to be happening anyway. Mom guilt is a very really thing and I am suffering from it the most with her. I homeschool her big brother and when I'm not, I'm nursing a baby and when I'm not nursing a baby, I'm taking a nap. Yeah, she's been on her own a lot these last few weeks. The plus side is that she is fiercely independent. She plays on her own remarkably well and one of my greatest joys in life is hearing her play. I thought her brother was imaginative, but she really puts him to shame. 

She is so girly, but can hold her own in the woods with her brother too. If you ask her brother who is tougher and braver, he will say his little sister is every time.
She has an attitude that is bigger than the Titanic and is sharp as a tack with her mouth (it gets her in trouble). She is really funny for such a little thing. And she has a mind of her own. Don't ask her to show anyone anything on demand, she won't.  
Her brother is easy as pie and happy go-lucky, but she is a girl with many facets. She keeps us on our toes for sure!
She loves to put make-up on and to do get her nails done. It's her life right now. If you give her a tube of chapstick, she will have the entire thing applied to her lips by the end of the day. No joke. 
She loves to sing and dance and to change her clothes 2 dozen times per day.
She is fierce, but she's extremely sensitive and I am reminded of this many times before noon.
She wants us to call her "Sweet Pancake" and her feelings get a little hurt when we call the baby pet names and not her. Lucy loves her daddy and he's crazy about her.
She is all girl who loves all things pink and she says she wants to be an animal doctor someday. I think she would be perfect at that.
Tonight I tuck in my 3 year old for the last time and tomorrow she will be 4. I am so thankful formy girl and all of the sugar and spice she brings to our life. I pray big things for her! Let the good times roll...

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Eliza's Great Escape: A Birthday Story....

All photos (except 2) were taken by Joanna Penny
**This retelling is detailed. I didn't want to forget a thing. While you're welcome to read it, I'm really writing it for myself to serve as a reminder in the future**

When I found out that I was pregnant for a 3rd time, I thought that maybe I would like to try to deliver a baby Au Naturale, without an epidural.  And as much as I have loved to see those cute Anesthesiologists, those epidurals aren't worth the eye candy when I'm hurling into the blue bags, convulsing and shaking my way into motherhood. My other 2 labors lasted between 8 and 10 hours, both chock-full of convulsing and throwing up, hours of pushing (with the first), delivering a 9 lb 8oz bouncing baby boy and then a 8lb 6oz, brown haired beauty with dimples, respectively, and both with brown eyes. So I began to prepare my mind to go the natural route. I read a number of books on the subject of natural childbirth and really started to think that maybe I could do it. But soon self doubt would kick in and I'd think "there is no way!" and just as quickly, I would tell myself that women have been doing this since, literally, the beginning of time--I'm a WOMAN. HEAR ME ROAR! I knew I was going to need support though, so I highlighted and tagged a few pages for Mr. Clean to read and told him that I was going to need his commitment and involvement. Unlike the last 2 times where he slept his way through all the "fun" and woke up in time to see a head come out. You think I'm kidding. Now one thing about Mr. Clean is when you ask him to do something, he does it. And that guy does it 100%, so when I asked him to support me and coach me through natural childbirth, he took it pretty seriously. After he read his required reading he walked into the room, book in hand and said "Ashley, you are NOT prepared for this. You really need to start training" (you can laugh out loud, I know I did!! Training? This is NOT a triathlon) and with that, my uber diligent, super focused husbandhad me on a very strict training/nagging regimen. I was not allowed into bed until I got in my required daily squatting and stretching routine. Many nights, I did it, but many nights I just stared at him and put my butt in bed.
So here we were, 40 weeks later and my confidence in myself started to wane as the inevitable was fast approaching. Here's how I envisioned this "show" playing out: On Friday, I'd go to the doctor, he'd tell me I was at 3cm, he'd strip my membranes to get the ball rolling. He'd tell me that He'd see me at the hospital later that night, I'd breathe, relax and maybe even laugh my way through those contractions, I'd ride those waves, I'd read my inspirational flashcards, we'd have dim lights and my special music playlist would serenade my baby into my arms. I'd have her Saturday morning and would be home on Sunday. You can laugh again. I am.
So what really happened? I went to the doctor on that Friday...with a cold. I had decided I didn't want to risk having a baby that night as I felt so lousy, so he checked me and I was only dilated one centimeter so he wouldn't have been able to help me anyway. I went home and cleaned and organized like a madwoman on Saturday, I went to Scalini's for their labor inducing eggplant parmesan on Sunday (my due date) and went walking and lunging my way around the neighborhood. My due date came and went and I went back to the doctor, and  that time I was at 3 cm and she stripped what she could, but I really felt as if this child would stay for another month if I let her and we scheduled an induction for the following Sunday, just in case.
As Tuesday rolled around, I felt nothing. I went along my day as usual. Took Cooper to breakfast and dropped him off at school, took a nap, spent the day with Lucy and later in the afternoon Mr. Clean told me to lace up my shoes, we were going to walk our neighborhood. He was ready for this baby to come (the house was spotless and he was caught up at work)! So we walked. We walked 2 miles and I pulled Lucy in the wagon up the hills. We came home, I cooked dinner, cleaned up the kitchen and sat down to watch Wheel of Fortune at 7pm. And then it hit. My first contraction. A couple minutes later, another and then another. I decided to start timing them and they were about 3 to 4 minutes apart and strong. I went to the bathroom, and I lost my plug and what seemed to be a pocket of water. At that point, the contractions were becoming very strong, so I told Chris that I thought it was time and to pack the kids up for grandparents and I was going to take a shower quickly. Yes, I took a shower. I had just walked forever, so I was sweaty and I wanted my hair done! I also thought maybe it would help ease the pain (that's what the books said to do). Well,  it was the quickest, most painful shower of my life. I spent most of it on my hands and knees moaning my way through the contractions...we needed to go. I went to do my hair (because, you know, pictures), but my blow dryer broke coincidentally and at that point "wet hair, don't care". It was time to GO! We loaded up and as I shut the door to the house, I told Chris I was scrapping the whole natural route, I wanted the epidural and I wanted it as soon as we got there and I didn't want him to talk me out of it. I didn't know how long this labor would last, but the pain wasn't worth it. I had called my mom and my photographer friend to tell them it was time and I collapsed in Chris's arms as the pain became unbearable. I began to cry. The time was 8:40 when we pulled out. Chris called his parents and told them we were coming in hot and they needed to meet us at the curb. He literally threw everything on the side of the road, handed off crying kids and off we went, running stop lights, hazard lights blinking and high beams flashing. It was the one time in my life I didn't mind his aggressive driving habits. At this point the contractions were coming every 2 minutes and the pain was unbearable. I braced myself and moaned and yelled our way down 575. Chris didn't know what to do, so he offered his hand for me to squeeze. I did. I put on my labor playlist and tried to breathe, I tried to remain calm, but that was easier said than done. In between contractions, I really tried to focus on the music. I remember hearing Amos Lee's "Arms of a Woman" as we sped down the highway and as we pulled into the hospital, Patty Griffin's "Oh Heavenly Day."  We got to the hospital just after 9.

As we pulled up, we left our car at the Labor and Delivery door, hazards on and Chris went on the hunt for help-- and a wheelchair. Apparently, the Labor and Delivery doors close at 9 and they want you to go to the main entrance. Wherever that is. I was growing impatient waiting on him (for about a minute and a half) to return so I started to look for my own way. I got about 10 steps before another contraction hit so hard it took me to all fours, in the middle of the breezeway, screaming at the top of my lungs. People drove by. No one stopped. At least, I don't think they did. After what seemed to be an eternity, the love of my life arrived with my chariot. A swivel chair from an office desk. I pointed for him to try another door, which again was locked, but I saw 2 people in scrubs and I began pounding on the door, yelling. The sliding doors magically opened, and they just stared at me as a yelled my way through a contraction. Still staring, Chris told them I was in labor to which the man said "I can see that, just wait til she get through that contraction." Turns out, Mr. Bedside Manner was the anesthesiologist on call that night, I wasn't as enamored with this guy as the other anesthesiologists of my past. We took what seemed to be the longest Sunday Stroll of my life up to the 3rd floor, stopping for every contraction. Mr. Bedside Manner told me if we could just get up stairs he'd hook me up with the drugs. And when we got in the elevator, he told my husband that there was no way I was going to be getting an epidural. And with his Twizzlers in hand, he left us, never to be seen again.

The women at the registration desk looked at us like we were crazy, over dramatic, first time parents or something. You think they'd never seen a woman in labor before! At this point it's some time after 9, my contractions were not stopping. I might have had a minute between each, but they were insistent I go to triage to hook me up to all the monitors, get my IV going, and find out allllllll about me. None of that ended up happening. I was pretty sure I might just die or pass out from the pain.  I remember looking at Chris and telling him I was scared. The room was a furnace, and the nurse kept telling me not to push and that I needed to calm down and wait. She checked me quickly and I was at 8cm, and she was still insisting that we go through all the formalities as she took her sweet time doing it all. In reality, we were only in there a matter of minutes, but it might as well have been hours. Things were moving quickly for me and she needed to know it. I told her I was feeling so much pressure, that I wanted to push and finally I screamed "I NEED TO POOP!!!!!!" I knew that those were all key words they need to hear to know, this is for real. She stopped what she was doing and yelled something out the door and the next thing I knew I was in a room with a half dozen people running around trying to prepare the room. It was almost like they didn't know what about to happen. My mom made it in time and they grabbed the first midwife they could find until mine could get there. I had never met her, nor did I care, but I am so glad she was the one that came. The Lord knew that she was the right person for me.  I was scared and panicked but the midwife took control beautifully and helped reign me in. She knew just what to say to help me get the job done. Things went so quickly that whatever Mr.Clean and I had read those weeks leading up to that moment was for nothing. We lost our heads and if it were a play we had been rehearsing for, this is what you would call "choking." But Leah, that wonderful midwife, fed me those lines and we made it through to that final curtain call. I pushed 5 or 6 times. No one was in that room except for me and Leah, she reminded me not to scream but to growl, deep growls to push that baby out. She encouraged me by telling me how great my pushes were. She looked in my eyes and told me that she could see her head and she had dark brown hair, I needed to push one more time so I could see my "diamond."
 The next push was a blur. Water broke everywhere and I remember with my other deliveries that I was worried I'd poop on the table. Not this time. I didn't care what came out and I didn't care how much came out, just get out! And I'm quite sure it all did come out. The next thing I knew, I looked down and a baby was in my arms. It was surreal. With my others, I had HOURS to prepare my brain for what was coming, even during the pushing, I was fully present. This time it was all business. And what has probably taken you much more time to read, and much, much longer for me to write, really only happened in less than 20 minutes from the time I got to the hospital to holding baby. We showed up at the hospital after 9pm and I had Eliza Grace at 9:33, all 8lb 7oz of her. I couldn't believe how light her hair was and I was shocked that she had blue eyes!! I thought she looked so much like Cooper and none of us could believe how big she was. Meeting a new life is surreal. I can't explain it. With a single push our world is rocked forever in the most miraculous of ways.

After she was born, my mom stayed with me while Chris went to park the car and to get us registered. They waited for him to come back to cut the cord and they had a billion questions for me after Eliza joined the world. It was slightly overwhelming. It was all a blur. I kept saying "I did it! I can't believe I did it!!"I just wanted to hold my baby and look at her, but because we bypassed all of the formal introductions and paperwork, we had to do all of that after she came. Thankfully my sweet inst-friend who came to photograph the birth made it about 2 minutes after she came, and it worked out perfectly, because I don't think I want to see any picture of me during the birth. I'm told it was not pretty, but she captured everything else and I'm so thankful for it!! Because of her pictures, I could relive what seemed like a dream at the time. That's the power of a picture.
 Her first shot when she walked in

She also came the next day to capture our kids meeting their new baby and the little "Born Day" party we had to celebrate. It was a room packed full of family and love.
I've been asked many times if I had it to do over again, just like that, would I?? Mr. Clean says YES, for sure! Me??I don't know. It was a pain I can't describe. And here we are only 3 weeks later and I'm already starting to forget just how deep, hard and fast that pain was. But it was over very quickly and I didn't throw up a single time. So, I guess maybe I would go that route again if I had to.That is the only way to do a drug free delivery. Fast and Furious.
She has been the sweetest baby and we can't get enough of her, and just like I tried to savor my last pregnancy as much as I could, I'm trying to enjoy every minute this newborn stage. It was rough the first 2 weeks as I had bronchitis and trudged through the early days of nursing, which is never a cake walk for me, but we made it through the woods! If you made it to the end of this post, Congratulations! Unfortunately I have no medal for you, just like there was no medal for me once she came out! But that, my friends, is the story of Eliza's Great Escape.

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