Category Archives: Semi-Serious Stuff I Say Sometimes

The Reason Why We Have So Many Kids (Part 1)

If I had to name one question I get/have gotten asked the most over the last 5 years of blogging, it would have to be: “So, why, exactly, do y’all have so many kids?”

The “funny” answer, of course, is because we just like each other that much.

Although…as my sweet, usually demure mother pointed out that one time: “Oh brother. In your case, you’d only have to have had sex–what–6 times to get this many kids, so what’s the big deal?”

Whoa there, Mom.

Maybe I should take her on grocery runs and let her shut down all of the people who seem so worried about my bedroom TV situation.

Of course, I know that the question is not a literal one (at least I hope it never is) but an ideological one.

Why–when, in this day and age, we could feasibly control or limit the number–would we continue to have more children?

The short answer is that we believe that children, whether there be 1 or 20, are a blessing from the Lord and that we are not the ones “driving this flying umbrella” (as an animated bear named Little John once so eloquently phrased it…please tell me that there are some fellow cartoon Robin Hood lovers out there).

But you know I’m not very good at short answers, so let me just quote an exact question from a sweet reader recently and then do my best to flesh out the answers that she (and the rest of y’all) seem to want.

Here is it:

I have a question that I’ve been wanting to ask for a while now but I’ve never gotten around to it. I’ve been wondering what exactly your beliefs are about children and how you plan (or rather don’t plan) for them. What I mean is, from what you’ve said on your blog, I understand that you give over that control to God and let Him plan your family size. I think that’s wonderful and what a leap of faith! I’m curious where in the Bible you rely on for that truth. I’ve known many large families over the years (I’m the oldest of 11 myself) but often they’re Amish, Mennonite or some very conservative group (think the Duggars, which you must get compared to ALL THE TIME!).

So, one time, I stumbled upon this blog post by a woman who had converted from Protestantism to Catholicism, and one of her chief deciding factors was the Protestant church’s inconsistency in teaching when it came to birth control and trust in God.

As she said, her Protestant pastors were quick to recommend that she hold her money, her time, her relationships, and her possessions loosely, since they were not her own, but God’s. But when it came to child-bearing, they were just as quick to recommend birth control and “waiting, spacing, and planning for an ‘ideal number.’”

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She found the juxtaposition of the two ideologies jarring. And, while I don’t agree with many areas of Catholic theology, I found myself completely on board with her confusion. I felt it when, at 19, I went to standard premarital counseling with my then fiance (not Shaun), and the pastor looked at me with pity when I expressed my conviction that our number of children and methods of conceiving them should rely on the Lord rather than our own engineering. Shaun and I both felt it when various premarital counselors (“official” or otherwise) gave us their “best piece of marriage advice” (their words, not mine): “Whatever you do, don’t have kids too soon. And make sure you’re on the same page about how many you want to have.”

Thankfully, we didn’t consider Ezra “too soon” when he showed up a week shy of our first anniversary (honestly, I remember our looking at each other and saying, “Wow, the Lord planned that well,” since he was born 6 days after I gave my last Spanish final to my high school students…yes, I was a teacher in another life). And we were on the same page from the beginning about the number of children we wanted: however many the Lord has in store for us.

Another reader asked me to Biblically flesh out my reasons for believing that it isn’t our call to be “done,” citing the fact that the Bible is vague on various areas of specific life direction, including exactly when and how many children to have. I completely agree. There is no specific “thou shalt” for this topic. And, while I will reference scripture throughout this blog, I won’t pretend to know for certain how the Lord feels on this subject. I believe that being open to his leading in this area (and every other) is a matter of personal conviction and willingness and one that requires great thought and prayer.

HOWEVER.

On the flip side, I can find absolutely no Biblical basis for the bearing of children to be viewed in a separate category from all other areas of trust. And yet the prevailing modern Christian mindset is one of prevention and control rather than openhandedness.

blessed3

I was talking to a friend of mine recently who became a Christian in her teens and was counseled on her upcoming wedding by numerous Christian women to go on the Pill lest she become pregnant right away. This friend has two kids–a girl and then a boy–and she and her husband aren’t having any more, but she was still bemoaning her lack of knowledge. “I just didn’t know,” she said. “It’s what everybody told me to do, and, as a new Christian, it never occurred to me to do differently or ask why.” (She was distressed both by the physical/abortifacient ramifications of chemical birth control and by the assumption of the need to control it).

I’m the opposite. It never occurred to me to segregate childbearing from all other areas of God-reliance in my life. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my upbringing. My mom only had two kids–not because of prevention but because of her body’s inability to carry more to term. She and my dad always made it clear that they would have happily received any others that the Lord might have given them, despite the fact that we were quite poor  growing up.

Maybe it’s because when I read: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths,” that I can’t seem to find a caveat to the “all.”

Not that I wouldn’t like to find a caveat sometimes. Because my “own” understanding says things like: but, if you keep having kids, you’ll never have a waistline again. Or a clean house. Or any alone time. Or a reasonable grocery bill. Or a peaceful retirement. Or anything other than a used car (okay, honestly, this one has never crossed my mind; I like used cars :) ).

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I know that I should keep going with: your children won’t go to the best colleges (because you can’t afford to send them all), you will be considered an oddity by your community, and your ministry opportunities will be stunted.

But I don’t actually care whether my children go to college (if they want to, and it makes sense, more power to them, but if they’d rather learn a trade, I’m all for it). My community is who I make it. And, even if my only ministry is that of training up my children to be lights in a darkened world, that would be enough (I’ve already had numerous opportunities outside of that, so I really do believe that the Lord can use me and my family in a variety of ways, no matter how large we are/get).

Jeremiah 29:11 says:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

I think we’re all pretty quick to assume that this means physical prosperity. That’s the American dream. But what if it were something so much better? What if it were the ultimate prosperity and sanctification of our souls?

What if, in daily taking up the cross of motherhood (because that whole dying to yourself {that is a suuuuper convicting link to click on, just FYI} business is real when you don’t get sleep for weeks/months/years on end, and your lap/breasts/womb/possessions/time are not your own), the Lord is forging a hope and a future through my children that I would otherwise be denying myself (and them) by choosing the limit of them?

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I think about the cultural norm for America. The Census Bureau numbers for 2015 show the average number of children per married couple at less than 2. That means a) that we’re not even replacing ourselves and b) that if I followed that norm, I would not have: Della, Evy, Nola, Theo or Baby #7 (possibly not even Simon). I can’t begin to fathom my life without even one of my sweet babies (or my kids’ lives without their siblings), and I am in awe of the fact that the Lord might have more already planned for me, prepared since before the foundations of the world, known in the deeps before they ever enter my womb, just waiting to offer me an even more amazing form of “prosperity” than I can even begin to comprehend at this point.

But…isn’t that kind of uncertainty about your future number of kids scary? Yup. But so is giving sacrificially when your husband works for himself from home (or in any other kind of position, for that matter) and your source of income could run dry at any time and being open to fostering-to-adopt or moving to another country for mission work.

And yet, I can find nothing unbiblical about any of those things. They are, in fact, mandated in the Bible when he tells us to give with abandon, care for the fatherless, and share the gospel to the ends of the earth.

And then, of course, there’s this verse:

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children[a] of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.[b]

I don’t think that this means that those who have less than a “full quiver” (whatever that means, exactly) will be “put to shame” (my mother certainly wasn’t), but it certainly seems to view having children–even an abundance of them–as a positive thing.

I can’t write this post without reiterating one of the most crucial things that having lots of children has done for me. It’s not even a “side effect” that I could have really anticipated as a young woman with a conviction but no great yearning for a passel full of children.

Because, truth be told, I never had idealistic dreams of many small hands tugging at my skirts, and I am almost never immediately enthralled with the idea of another baby once those positive signals show up on the test. (It takes a few days). Mostly, it’s the pregnancies themselves that I don’t love, but this much I can tell you: not one single one of my other “objections” has ever been anything other than fearful or selfish.

And that is the great side effect of bearing children of any number, as I’m sure every mother reading this knows. It makes you less selfish. Or at least it should.

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As I said, this is true no matter the number, but I can’t deny that my own navel-gazing has lessened as each new child has joined our family. As our family grows, my own self-importance (not to be confused with worth) has diminished. And, y’all. It is so good.

Because I was never mine to begin with. I’ve been bought with the blood of the lamb, and every last precious child that he entrusts to my arms (and sometimes initially fearful heart) is simply a priceless loan from heaven. It’s a loan I can never repay and one which–like the manager who had much and, when he did well, was given even more as a reward–I desire with all my heart to steward well.

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New Year. New Print. Timeless Reminder.

Hey ho, folks!

Did you think I’d given up this blogging gig for good?

No such luck, people. No such luck.

But! I did enjoy the tar out of my break. I’m not going to say there was a lot of sleeping in or anything luxurious like that (although, I think I saw the latter end of the 7 o’ clock hour at least 4 times…which is kind of miraculous), but we did a whole bunch of cookie baking (too much), movie watching (there was one day we had a triple feature marathon), and doll-making. Huh? Yup. Doll-making. But that’s another post for another day.

All in all, it was just what this tired mama needed. No school. No set schedule. I even gave myself pretty much a complete pass on doing anything for Paint and Prose.

But it’s a new year, and Lindsay and I are excited to introduce new prints and products to you.

Starting with this one:

givemejesuscolor

You may actually recognize it, since we already had a black and white “Give Me Jesus” print, but we had so many requests for a colorful version of it that we decided to whip up a fun ombre sunrise version.

I love it.

So much that the second my Christmas decorations came down, I replaced my, “Joy to the World,” canvas with this print.

givemejesus

 

I think it turned out so pretty, but that’s not the only reason I love it.

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In 2016, it is my heart’s desire to be more like Jesus every day. That may only look like tiny, almost imperceptible changes like not snapping at my toddler when she melts down (again) or suppressing a sigh when my 8-year-old asks me what eight times seven is for the 40th time, but I’m convinced that these little increases in: patience, perseverance, kindness, self-control, love will produce genuine and (eventually) noticeable fruit in my life.

To that end, I am making an even greater effort to consistently get up earlier than my kids so I can get at least a little bit of time alone to sit a the feet of Jesus.

So, how have I done? Well, today is January 6th, and…so far so…decent.

The twins get up between 6 and 6:30 usually, and I’ve been staying up until midnight or later sending/answering emails or doing other tasks (I need to figure out how to shift this, yes?), so I’ve only managed to beat them up one morning so far (ha! That wording is so unfortunate that I’m just going to leave it and let somebody get all ticked off at me until they figure out what it really says).

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Even so, each morning, I’ve squeezed in some semi-quiet time while they play in the guest room. We also do family Bible reading each morning, so that’s kind of my fail-safe at the moment, but I am determined to make this a priority more than ever before.

And guess what I can see now each morning from my perch on the couch with my fluffy blanket, Bible, and prayer journal?

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Yup. I really like this print.

If you need this reminder for your new year too, it’s available in the shop now.

And! If you order an 8X10 or larger of the colorful “Give Me Jesus” print, you’ll receive a 5X7 of your choice for FREE! (Just be sure to specify which one you want in the notes). Offer ends at 11:59, Thursday, January 7th.

Also, if you’re an email subscriber, you get a never-expiring code for 10% off the top of any order. As always, standard first class shipping is included in the price.

Happy 2016, friends! Here’s to a year of growth, change, and renewal! God is good, and hard is not the same thing as bad (I think this might be my personal motto for the year).

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Mining for diamonds

Remember when I talked about how Evy and Nola are finally kind of living up to the “double trouble” hype now that they’re both in full-on threenager mode?

Yeah. That.

We’ve been doing a little better recently (they’re playing together in the guestroom currently with a minimum of squawking), but there were definitely moments in the last 3 weeks or so that tested my resolve not to run screaming for the hills (or the chocolate). Most of those moments involved a fair bit of screaming of their own–in toddler form. Usually while we were all imprisoned in the same car, and the complaint had something to do with the fact that said toddler(s) had asked for a banana, and I had given her one.

If you don’t have a toddler, you’re probably like…huh? If you do have one, then you’re nodding your head like, “Yup, sounds about right.”

Remember that Christina Aguilera song: “What a girl wants, what a girl needs, whatever makes you happy sets you free?” (I do, but only because my sad post 6-kids brain keeps the junk and boots out the important stuff like Bible verses and the location of my keys). Well, good ol’ Xtina had no idea she was writing about toddlers. But she was.

Except the opposite of that.

Because the joy of toddlers is that giving them what they want does NOT make them happy half the time, and doing everything to make them happy all the time only ends up imprisoning them in a cycle of entitlement and discontentment. (Come to think of it, that’s true of just about every age).

Toddler tyranny is real, y’all. And I have only to watch my 3-year-olds’ sweet, (seemingly) guileless, cherubic little faces melt into a mask of ugly, purple rage at the word, “No,” to be reminded that sin nature is real, yo. (As if I needed a reminder when I have so many mirrors in my house).

So, why the discourse on the seedy underbelly of the toddler temperament?

Because I want you to understand that I get it. I feel your toddler-angst. Sometimes way down deep into my toenails (I miiiiiight have possibly referred to one of my children as an “emotional terrorist” after the 5th consecutive day of 20 minute car tantrums that resulted in ringing ears for everyone in a 2 miles radius).

toddlers

“Don’t believe a word she says about us. We never do anything wrong. Except maybe put our shoes on backwards.” (Every. single. time)

It’s how I felt one day when I was out and about with only the twins and Theo, and I ran into the dad at Chick-fil-a whose 2-1/2-year-old twins looked angelic enough with their giant blue eyes, glossy auburn curls, and matching Texas-sized red bows.

He saw my girls and said, “Twins?” I nodded, and our eyes locked in a moment of complete understanding. And then he noticed Theo, and said, “But hey! Look at you go! You had another one! Not us. We are so done.”

I smiled and tried to decide whether I should tell him that there were 3 more before this batch. He made the decision for me when he said, “How is it with 3?”

And I said, “Good! But I actually have 3 more already.”

There was a moment of quick math, and then realization dawned all over his face, and he started shaking his head, looking a little panicked. “Six? You have six? Wow. Just wow. Oh man. No.”

I cannot emphasize enough how offended I WASN’Ty’all. Please do not read this as a gripe post because nothing could be farther from the truth.

This poor guy was clearly overwhelmed, and the thought of more than two was enough to make his eyes bug (or maybe it was the thought of 6…either way).

I smiled even wider and said, “You know, though, pretty soon, they’ll be 4, and they can buckle themselves and wipe their own bottoms–because they’re potty-trained, which is awesome. And then they’ll start helping with the dishes and telling you cool stories. And yeah. It’s really fun!” (Yes, I know. It’s not all “fun” at any age, but this guy needed to see some light).

He cocked his head, unconvinced, and said, “Well, that sounds great. I’m just ready for it to not be so hard all the time, you know? My wife stays home with them, and I just don’t know how she does it.”

As much as I appreciated his giving props to his hardworking wife, I wanted him to leave encouraged, so I said, “Yeah, I totally get. (Duuuuude. I get it) But I promise that it gets easier. I have a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old who are so great. They’re really funny and sweet, and they help around the house a ton–dishes, laundry, mopping. They even change diapers sometimes!”

The man chuckled at the thought and then looked a little worried and said: “Well, if mine are ever changing diapers, then we have a problem.”

I’m not going to lie: while I was still completely UNoffended, that last statement made me sad.

Have you ever seen this?

Three-feet-from-gold

I feel like this is a really good metaphor for children. Not just one time, either. But many times over. (Because doesn’t it feel like no sooner have you hacked your way through all of that rock and found a bit of diamond than the whole tunnel collapses on you, and you’ve got to start all over?)

There are so many times when you think, “Nope. This is too hard. I cannot deal with ___________ for even a second longer, Lord. Surely, you can’t expect me to. It’s too much.”

And you pretty much have two choices: 1) walk away (whatever that looks like: giving down to the toddler, eating the entire bag of chocolate, losing your temper and yelling just to get the emotional release) or 2) keep chipping away. Just keep persevering. Just keep pressing on. Just keep swimming (that Dory, though; quite a philosopher, that one).

I’ve done both. I’ve quit too early. And I’ve kept on plugging along. And I’ve always regretted the former and always been so thankful for the Lord’s mercy in the latter.

Because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been absolutely convinced that the discipline is not working, that they’re just not getting it, that they will never EVER choose right on their own, and then–BOOM!–the 7-year-old is crazy-helpful in Walmart and tells you that it’s because he wants to be like Jesus, and your heart just explodes. If that’s not hitting the mother lode, y’all, I don’t know what is.

This post has nothing to do with how many children you have, so I hope you don’t get sidetracked by that. Kids can be tough, whether you have 1 or 20. But I do wish I could have had an honest conversation with that man about why he didn’t want any more children. Because, the best I could tell, his entire reasoning was that: kids equal hardship. And I don’t want that.

Don’t get me wrong, either. This guy seemed like a good egg. He was patient and kind with his daughters and sweet to his wife (at least in the brief snippet of life that I saw portrayed in a public setting). He wasn’t an ogre. He was just human with a human’s naturally shortsighted view of “suffering.”

Me too. When Nola is wailing like some sort of malfunctioning smoke alarm, all I want is for her to quit. I’m not particularly interested in learning some sort of deep spiritual lesson.

My oven broke last night. And I want it fixed. Period. I am a busy mama who does not have time for broken ovens.

But you know what? If the toddler never screamed like a banshee, then I would be infinitely less likely to throw myself on the mercies of Jesus and say, “Help me, Lord! I can’t do this on my own!” (Although it’s no less true when she’s being docile). And if my oven just kept doing its thing, I might never take a moment to be grateful for the magical contraption that usually cooks my food perfectly every time. And to pray for the mamas who don’t have anything like that luxury ever.

I think Romans 5:3-5 says it best:

“…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Hope does not put us to shame. I love that!

Of course, the truth is that I have no idea what actual suffering looks like. Compared to 95% of the world, my life is a cake walk. But I am so grateful that the Lord takes my piddly little trials and works them for good in my life, patiently chipping away at my selfishness and impatience.

And I am so grateful that the Lord sees fit to keep digging through the tunnels of my heart looking for diamonds. I know they’re there because He created me in His image.

He is so kind to this child of His. May I follow His example with my own children.

P.S. This has nothing to do with this post, but we just made a new print all about COFFEE (hey, tired, overwhelmed mamas need caffeine sometimes to keep mining for those diamonds; maybe it is related to the post).

art prints collage1See it there on the bottom right? I don’t even drink coffee, but I love it so much, I’m thinking I may just have to find a place for it in my house.

ANY orders placed by the end of today get entered to win a $15 Starbucks gift card + a Cup of Cheer print + other goodies (see more on the Paint and Prose Instagram).

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The Right Kind of Wings

I am pretty resistant to motivational slogans. I’d like to call myself a realist, but maybe I’m just a grouchy-puss. Either way, phrases like, “Believe in yourself!” and “You can be ANYTHING you want to be!” and, “Dream big, and make it happen!” grate against my nerves something fierce!

Believe in myself? When I’m tired and cranky and short-tempered and didn’t get enough sleep and feel like crawling right back into bed? I know myself too well to believe in myself some days.

I can be ANYTHING I want to be? Really?? Well…I’m actually pretty good at quick, practical math, but when it comes to calculus and statistics, I’m hopeless. So…given that fact, it seems a little unlikely that I’ll ever become a rocket scientist, no matter how badly I want it.

Dream big, and make it happen! I’m all about goal-setting, but some days, my “big dream” is just to pee alone. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what they’re talking about.

So, I just kind of rolled my eyes as I perched this cute little card on my vintage typewriter in the entryway. I mean, really? Keep looking to the sky, and you’ll get wings? Cute sentiment but hardly practical (even my 9-year-old was like: “Um, that’s not true, mama.” Word, kiddo).

life

Also?

Although I already knew they were heinous, when my mom emailed me some links about what’s going on in the Middle East–how Isis is systematically murdering (via brutal crucifixions, beheadings, and dismemberment), raping, and kidnapping Jews, Christians, and pretty much anyone else who doesn’t support their purposes–my heart just felt so heavy.

Here I am in my cozy, safe, comfortable house with my healthy, happy children, and not far enough away to matter, mamas just like me are watching their children die from starvation (or worse…if there is such a thing). What about their dreams? Their wings? What platitudes could I possibly offer that would do anything but belittle their anguish?

I felt so defeated and downhearted. Not just because of the unspeakable horrors taking place in the world but also because there’s a pretty good chance that, unless someone puts a stop to it (the U.S. isn’t doing tons, and even the help we do send ends up in the wrong hands all too often), this cancer can and will spread (already has, if we’re honest) through other parts of the world, which means it will very literally be my (and my children’s) problem too. I don’t want this evil for these Arab and Jewish families. And I don’t want it for mine either.

It’s overwhelming.

And it makes that little quote on my typewriter laughable.

Except that, this morning, I read these words in Isaiah 40:

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
    and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
    and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

And then these familiar, comforting verses:

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Where is the Lord in the midst of all of this turmoil, both personal and worldwide? He “sits enthroned above the circle of the earth.”

AND he “is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18).

He is above us, and he is right beside us. He hems us in behind and before and lays His hand upon us.

And you know what else? Isaiah 40:31 says that he gives us wings like eagles.

I can look at that little quote on my typewriter now with new eyes. I’m not looking up out of foolish optimism or delusion but because of a sure promise from my Creator who sits enthroned above the circle of the earth. And my wings? They’re not mine at all, but His.

Oh, how my tired, burdened heart needed this perspective reset this morning.

I used those verses this morning to pray for the young (and the old) in the Middle East who are literally being torn to pieces, or if they’re “lucky,” merely being driven from their homes–who are tired and weary, who are fainting from pure exhaustion and from the atrocities that they have witnessed and experienced.

Of course, as essential as prayer is, so is food (and other necessities) for the refugees.

My mom is great about doing research that I don’t often have (or take) the time to do, so I asked her to recommend two reliable organizations that are doing practical things to provide for refugees from Isis in the Middle East.

These are, of course, only two of the myriad options out there, and I highly encourage you to do your own research on both the crisis and the organizations that are stepping in to help. But, at least it gives us somewhere to start!

My mom told me about Liberty Relief International and RUN–both of whom are helping to give practical relief like blankets, food, and shelter to huge numbers of people who have literally had to flee for their lives.

I’ve been talking to the kids about the horrific things that are happening to children just like them in the Middle East, so I think Shaun and I are going to ask them where we should send our support.

Maybe it’s something you could do as a family too?

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The most perfect gift

Happy Monday, friends! I hope you guys had an awesome Easter full of candy and visits with the Easter bunny and egg-dyeing and egg-hunts and baskets brimming with cheapies from the Target Dollar Spot…oh, and Peeps! Can’t forget those little fellas.

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{6 out of 8 looking ain’t bad}

I hope you’re still riding your Reese’s sugar high and finding 27 amazing ways to repurpose plastic eggs on Pinterest. I hope…

Waaaaaait a minute.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, then you may be feeling a bit punk’d right now. Like I’m trying to pull another April Fool’s fast one on you (oh, and just in case I played it a little TOO cool with that whole blonde hair business, and you’re still not entirely sure what happened…it was 100% a joke. Thanks to my husband’s photoshop skillz).

easter

I mean, I’m guessing you expected me to be all: “Hope you guys fully experienced the sorrow and then the joy of remembering Jesus’ death and resurrection. HE IS RISEN!”

More on that in a minute.

But first, let me share something super-rad: we get to meet Harriet this weekend!

Who?

If you recall, our family has sponsored Harriet through an amazing organization called Parental Care Ministries that is local to us and with whom we’ve been involved–through sponsorship, prayer, volunteering, etc.–for over 6 years now. We even sponsored another PCM child–Sarah–for a year through this blog (and then our family took over her sponsorship). We EVEN raised enough money the first year I ever had this little blog to build a new classroom for PCM! Y’all blew my mind with your generosity and support!

Well.

After witnessing and loving what this ministry has done to invest in the lives of over 1,000 incredibly deserving children in Uganda, we get the privilege of hosting Harriet and another PCM girl for a few days as they are here for the 3rd annual PCM choir tour.

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Last week, we met with the tour coordinator so she could brief us on what to expect and how best to bless Harriet and Gaudy, and, at one point, she leveled her gaze at us and said, “I know this is probably something you’ll want to do, but we’re asking that you refrain from buying the girls any gifts.”

That answered a question that I hadn’t even voiced yet, but, as disappointed as I was (I’d had visions of taking the girls to get outfitted in new everything–complete with peppy background music a la every single “makeover montage” in every single teeny-bopper movie ever made), I understood.

Because here’s the thing–life in Uganda is hard. Not as in: I only get a piece of candy and a pair of cast-off shoes for my birthday hard.

But as in: I eat the same bland, watery gruel for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I’m not even sure when my birthday is and would never dream of getting any presents for it if I did…hard.

I only eat meat once a year…hard. I walk 5 miles one way for clean water…hard. 

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Lori (the trip-coordinator) told us that if you ask the PCM kids what they are most thankful for, most will answer simply: “I’m grateful to be alive.”

And not in the sense of being filled with vigor and exciting prospects but in the not dead kind of way.

Because the specter of death looms very large in their lives from an early age. And tasteless gruel topped with beans 24/7/365 is infinitely preferable to a belly distended with starvation.

Lori emphasized that they weren’t expecting anything from us–were happy simply to get to know us and be included in our daily doings–and that material gifts, however needed or deserved, would cheapen and sully the pure joy they felt in sharing life with us.

They were content with “enough” (oh, what a slippery word we have made it) and would not benefit from being “blessed” with a recipe for discontent upon returning to their humble, simple everyday blessings.

When we asked Lori if there were an activity they would particularly enjoy, she said, “Any time you’re praising Jesus together will be their favorite.”

Y’all.

It was like an ice-pick to my heart.

I’ve had enough contact with these precious children to know that they absolutely radiate love for Jesus with a side of pure, unadulterated joy.

But to be reminded of how He is their everything–because they are completely free from the distractions that all of our “stuff” drags in with it–was more than convicting. It felt like a physical blow.

You see, I had seen pictures of cute little Easter baskets brimming with “stuff” popping up all over Instagram, and I’d been so, so tempted to run to the Dollar Store or Target and fill up a basket for each of my kiddos. So I could witness that shine of joy that new toys and treats always produce (at least temporarily). So I could feel like a super-mom. So I could “bless” my children.

But after talking to Lori, that desire vanished.

And not because Easter baskets are inherently evil or if you did that (or any of the other things in the first paragraph of this post), you’re a bad person/Christian.

But because I, too, want Jesus to be my everything–to be honestly, truly, fully thankful that I’m alive. That He has sustained me. That He is (so much more than) enough. I long for that for my children as well.

Jesus said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Clearly, the problem is not with the gift-giving. That is simply a reflection of a trait our heavenly Father has perfected. But the rub comes in defining the word, “good.”

After being reminded of the simple gratitude and reliance on Jesus that my PCM brothers and sisters in Christ have cultivated, it was plain to me that a basketful of cheap goodies was not going to be “good” for my children. That it would, in fact, detract from their (and my) already distracted focus on what Easter offers us: the chance to remember the precious sacrifice that Jesus made for us and the wonder of the fact that the grave could not contain Him.

Harriet and her friends understand, so much better than I–with my petty complaints about insufficient hot water and my discarded pizza crusts–that  “every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

They grasp, better than any of us who live in the self-indulgent world of drive-thru restaurants, Bath and Bodyworks shower gel, and the “need” to change our clothes with each season’s new trend, that the most perfect gift of all can be a plate full of warm food–no matter how bland–and a thankful heart.

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Oh, that I would grasp even 1/10 of the same.

{Clearly, as you might be able to tell from these pictures, we didn’t completely forego all-things-egg; we attended our neighbor’s annual Easter egg hunt after church on Sunday–see last year’s recap here–and the kids had so. much. fun. Our neighbors are precious and ridiculously generous, and it is always a privilege to share this fun tradition with them}

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Mary, did you know?

I never wanted a Christmas baby. Mostly because I love birthdays and celebrating them, and I didn’t love the concept of one of my children’s birthdays being swallowed whole every year by the hustle and manic rush of our country’s most cherished, most overblown holiday.

And yet, here I find myself, 40 weeks pregnant, not-so-patiently awaiting the arrival of a baby boy, not unlike a certain Jewish girl 2,000 years ago. (Although, yes I realize that Jesus wasn’t actually born in December).

I’ve never given Mary too much thought. I mean, after all, she was just the vessel. Just the container for the miracle that was God incarnate. Nothing special, really.

The thing is, it’s easy to dismiss Mary as ordinary until you read the Magnificat. I mean, historians estimate that Mary was somewhere between thirteen and fifteen-years-old when she received the news of her impending pregnancy.

So that’s…young.

If an angel of the Lord had appeared to my 14-year-old self and proclaimed that I would be supernaturally impregnated with the Savior of the world, I’m pretty sure my reaction would have been as follows:

1) pass out

2) wake up, remember what the angel said, and burst into tears

3) curl up in the fetal position and suck my thumb

And yet, Mary, a simple, uneducated teenager had this to say (among other things):

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of his servant…he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Not only is her eloquence surprising but her poise is just astounding.

Was she scared? I have no doubt. Worried? Um, yes. Aware of the repercussions of a virgin pregnancy that no one would believe? I’m sure.

And yet, she chose to praise.

Which is very different from the response I had yesterday as I was lettering the words, “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,” on a piece of burlap with a black Sharpie, feeling all of the weariness and none of the rejoicing.

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My body has been trying to go into labor for over a week now. At first, I was cautiously hopeful. After 5 babies, I am on a little too friendly of terms with my old friend, the Braxton Hicks contraction. But these were different. And if they could just establish a pattern and kick in, darn it, we could get this baby out.

9 days of (sometimes painful, always distracting) contractions later, and I’m no longer hopeful. In fact, I’m downright jaded. And annoyed. Maybe even a little persecuted feeling.

But as I was having yet another hormonal episode (right in the middle of touching up the word, “rejoice,” ironically enough), I thought about Mary.

Mary, who was forced to ride aback a bony donkey for days, hugely pregnant, with no hope of a bath or anything resembling a decent bed.

Mary, who, even when she did finally arrive at the closest thing to the prospect of a bath and a decent bed, was rejected out of hand with the terse declaration of, “No room.”

Mary, who suffered through contraction after contraction, crouched in the filthy hay, surrounded by lowing, braying, baaing creatures. No midwife. No dresser full of tiny, clean little clothes she didn’t have to sew herself. No freezer full of meals just waiting to be thawed in a magical contraption called a microwave.

Y’ALL.

My tailbone is getting sore just sitting here on my comfortable couch as I type this. If you asked me to get on a donkey, much less ride him for longer than 2 minutes, I might drop-kick you across the room.

Can you imagine her discomfort, her uncertainty, her worry that she might somehow manage to completely bungle this whole being-the-mother-of-God assignment? I can’t, and I’m feeling considerably more empathetic with her than I ever have before.

You know that song, Mary Did You Know? It posits all kinds of questions about whether Mary fully understood the impact that the tiny baby in her womb would have on the world. For eternity. I have to think that she didn’t. Couldn’t.

And yet, Mary did understand this: God is God. Period. And not only that. But he is Good. And that was enough for her.

May it also be enough for me (and you) this Christmas season.

Today, I am asking the Savior of the world to remind me, in “my humble estate,” to “magnify the Lord.”

Regardless of when these contractions finally decide to stop teasing and start torturing me to the point of delivery. Regardless of how much I don’t want to tackle another mound of dirty dishes. Regardless of how fed up I am with getting screamed at by teething toddlers.

Merry Christmas, friends. May a joy that has nothing to do with your circumstances and a peace that passes all understanding fill your hearts and minds this blessed season.

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Joyous sadness…

Before I say anything else, I wanted to show you a picture that would have required more explanation than I was ready to give before now.

But first, the after (yes, I wrote that right):

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You might remember this group shot from our dinner party this last spring. Don’t we look all cute and normal?

But what came first was this: IMG_1568

(Just know that I really love you to show you this picture; I look like a fluffy-haired braying donkey)

This would be right after my husband said, “Say, ‘ABBIE’S PREGNANT!’” instead of, “CHEESE!” to get everybody to smile for the picture.

I absolutely love the fact that my friend Jolinda’s response was to jump for joy. I also love that most everybody else’s response was just to smile knowingly like, “Abbie’s at it again.”

That was a joyful moment.

As have been most moments of this pregnancy, which has been easy and complication free.  Not to mention universally celebrated by family and friends who are pretty clued in by now to the fact that popping out a baby or two every couple of years is just what we do.

Another person who wasn’t surprised? My midwife, Thalia.

But then, she falls squarely into the “friend” category, rather than simply “healthcare professional” and knew me pretty darn well.

I loved her. She was kind and funny and just a little bit gritty, which is my favorite kind of person. She loved Jesus and showed it by her love for people. She helped me through a really hard time on a really inconvenient day to have a hard time. She shepherded me through a bout with Shingles when the twins were only one month old. She always made time to talk to me at my appointments and always answered my calls or called right back if she was with a client. And, most importantly of all, she helped bring Simon, Della, and the twins safely into the world.

She would have delivered this little boy too if she hadn’t suddenly gone home to Jesus on Friday, June 27th.

I got the call on the evening of Thursday, June 26th informing me that Thalia was in hospice care. At first, my brain absolutely refused to accept it.

Hospice care? Hospice. That’s reserved for dying people. I just saw her! Like the day before. She wasn’t dying! She was FINE. This is not okay.

I had just had my 15 week check-up, and Thalia and I had chatted about our recent trips to Europe. She had mostly been her usual warm and slightly prickly self (we both shared a laugh about a sign hanging on her wall that said something like, “Pretending to be this nice all the time is wearing me out”), but she was stressed about several things happening in the midwifery field and seemed a little down and preoccupied. Other than that, nothing stands out as different about that appointment.

If only I had known. If only I had sensed that this would be the last time I would see her this side of heaven–that she would be hit by a massive stroke less than 24 hours later.  I would have thrown my I’m-not-a-big-hugger caution to the wind and given her the kind of squeezing hug that makes you lose your breath. I would have told her how much she had helped a young mama muddle through some pretty nasty stuff and how, if I hadn’t had her, I wouldn’t have had a clue how to deal with a lot of it. I would have told her that she was an inspiration to me. That she had, on more than one occasion, been Jesus to me.

I am confident that she knew that I loved her, but I still would have cherished the chance to say it out loud one more time.

I cried a lot for about a week after she died. I doubt I would have nearly as much without the baby hormones helping out, since I’m not usually much of a crier, but I’m grateful for the hormonal nudge because all of those tears were pretty cathartic. (They still are as they slip down my cheeks right now).

Of course, it still slaps me in the face sometimes. When I find a comment on my FB wall from her that I somehow never saw and that there’s no point in responding to now. When Words With Friends asks me when the last time I played Thalia Hufton was. When I have a midwife appointment. When I even let my mind get close to thinking about delivering this sweet baby boy without Thalia there beside me.

And yet, as much as my heart aches at her loss, it rejoices too that I got to know her in the first place. And that she doesn’t have to stress about ridiculous midwifery laws or how she’s going to pull off three back-to-back births (again). Instead, she’s in the presence of her Lord and Savior praising Him and hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant” in return. Oh, glorious day!

This is so much a part of the Christian life. Joy in sadness. Beauty in ashes. New life in the face of death. Rejoicing in mourning. Knowing that we have Jesus as our hope, “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

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(That’s Thalia on the left, holding Nola just minutes after she was born)

Every girl needs a Thalia in her life. And I am very grateful that I got to have mine.

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God’s got this, Mama.

Update: I whipped up this simple little printable for you guys just in case you need a visual reminder of this truth (just click the image, then right click, “save image as,” and print—up to an 8X10)

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A few weeks ago, a friend of mine with five little boys in a row (I think the oldest is 6) looked me straight in the eyes and said: “Are there ever days when you just feel like you want to give up?”

My answer (while laughing) was a resounding: “YES!” I wasn’t laughing because I found her question funny. I was laughing because I was thinking, “Doesn’t everybody??”

And then she said: “Well, what do you do on those days?”

My answer? “The next thing. When I’m overwhelmed, I shove my extra to-do list out of my mind and do whatever needs to be done that doesn’t seem like too much work. Like laundry or dishes or putting the pillows back on the couch. That usually helps my perspective and gets me going on the next thing after that. If that doesn’t help, I take a nap if I can.”

And then this week, a young mama left this comment on a post:

“Please oh please, tell me your secret! How do you have time for travel and dinner parties and thrifting and decorating and have 5 kids?! I have 3, ages 4, 2 , and 7 months (my Ezra, btw :) ). I can’t seem to do anything besides cook, clean, and keep my kids alive.”

I thought about it for a bit, and this is what I came up with:

“Hi Leslie! Yay for Ezras!

You know, I was originally just going to be all self-deprecating and say, ‘I don’t have any secrets.’

But really, I have three very practical ones:

1) I have really nice family 30 minutes away. My mom is an angel, and keeps my older kids (sometimes all of them) one day each week for me.

2) I have worked with my kids a lot. I know that sounds like bragging, and I’m sure you work with yours too, but I honestly believe that one of my greatest strengths as a mama is my tenacity. I will keep hammering the same thing until my kids get it, even if it’s torture for me! :) Which means that, while my kids have lots of things that they still need work on, and I am by no means perfect in my consistency, they ARE pretty dang good at helping out with things like laundry, dishes, vacuuming, getting their own food, cleaning their rooms, etc. And we’re adding new tasks all the time as they get older.

So hang in there and keep fighting the good fight in teaching them how to be self-sufficient. It will pay off BIG time before you know it.

AND AND AND

3) Mine are older than yours. Seriously, the hardest mama-ing time of my life was when I only had two kids and they were both little bitty. Seriously. 5 is actually easier because my boys, while not old, are old enough to be extremely helpful, and, because of all the afore-mentioned training we’ve done, they are genuinely so.

You have three little bitties very close together, and it may just be that during this particularly season in your life, not much gets done other than the keeping alive and the cleaning and cooking (HEY! That’s a TON!).

Try not to be too hard on yourself and ask Jesus for help every second you think of it. You got this, Mama! :)

………………………………………………………………………………………………

Over the last three years of blogging, I’ve gotten a lot of  emails with similarly themed questions, and it’s taken me a while to swallow this concept, but I’m realizing that, even with very small children still, I’m entering a different phase of Mamahood. I’ve made it through 5 rounds of sleep-training and nursing/feeding transitions. I’m a three time veteran of The Terrible Twos and potty-training. I’ve taught two children to read.

At almost 32, I’m hardly a “seasoned pro,” but I’m no longer the clueless 23-year-old I was with Ezra.

Color me surprised, but I might actually have some hope to offer to younger moms who are still deep in the trenches of that fumbly, what-in-the-world-have-I-gotten-myself-into place of motherhood that feels so profoundly terrifying and isolating (never mind that if you were to get a straight answer from a fellow mama of littles, she would know just how you feel, no matter how put together she appears on the outside).

So! For what it’s worth, young mamas, if you’re wondering whether I ever have those throw-in-the-towel kind of days, the answer is most definitely affirmative.

But I have fewer of them than I used to, praise Jesus. And I have the perspective of knowing that those peskily adorable little blessings will eventually sleep through the night. They won’t always prostrate themselves on the stickiest, nastiest aisle in Walmart, screeching until their throats are raw because they didn’t get their favorite cereal. The ability to share and play independently will slowly take the place of grunting and grabbing and SHE-TOOK-MY-TOY tantrums.

It won’t happen on its own, mind you. Oh no. It will take years off your life in perseverance and patience. You will grow so weary of hearing your own voice repeating phrases like: “Put your bowl in the sink. Say ‘thank you.’ CLOSE THE DOOR!!!” You will weep and question God’s judgment in ever making you a mother because surely no other woman in the history of ever has lost her cool 326 times in one hour.

But one day, after all that praying and crying and monotonous repetition, you will come down the stairs to discover your 6-year-old changing a toddler without being asked, the 8-year-old getting snacks ready for everyone just like he was asked, and the 3 1/2-year-old putting her shoes on (the wrong feet, of course) without melting down every time the straps don’t do what she wants.

The heavens will break open, and legions of angels will descend upon you singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

And then you’ll do something crazy like take your older boys with you to the grocery store while all the littles are sleeping, just because it sounds like fun.

shopping with the boys

And you know what? It will be!

So, don’t despair. Remember that children are proof that that whole, “God won’t give us more than we can handle” business is a load of crock. And that’s okay. Because the realization that we are insufficient drives us toward Him, which is always a good thing.

I ended my response to Leslie with, “You got this, Mama.” But that’s not quite true. Because the reality is:

“God’s got this, Mama!”

And that is infinitely better.

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Nothing formed against me shall stand—not even screeching toddlers

A few days ago, I ended up in town from 8 AM until 6 PM with all three girls due to an unexpected confluence of, well, quite a few things actually.

I’m not an intensely scheduled person, but we definitely stick to a loose daily routine, and, ideally, that routine, always includes a nap for the twins.

Doing back to back (to back) errands accompanied by two 19-month-old napless toddlers is a bit like doing errands accompanied by a couple of baby wolverines. Which is why I was so very grateful when, on the way to the always-dreaded Wal-Mart leg of our trek, both twins fell asleep. And then, due to my mad Mama ninja skillz (or their utter exhaustion…whichever), they stayed asleep during the transfer from the van to the grocery basket, even in blinding sunlight. They stayed asleep, in fact, the entire time I shopped.

Oh sweet relief! It was a modern day miracle.

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And then we got to the checkout line.

And Nola started to squirm and whimper.

And I started to pray. Desperately. “Lord. Please. PLEASE. I just need 8 more minutes. Just 8 minutes! Could they please stay asleep that long? Then, they can scream at me in the car all they want. I won’t mind.”

(I know. Worst bargainer ever).

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(Side note: I don’t love being in public with my children when they’re screaming no matter what, but there’s just something about being trapped in a checkout line with screaming children that is uniquely capable of making my blood pressure skyrocket . You’re in close quarters with lots of other people. There’s a really good chance that someone will shout something like, “Well, they’re not happy, are they?” over the screaming duet {or chorus, in some cases}…and you’ll want to put your head through the nearest wall).

Pretty much the moment the last words of my prayer of desperation evaporated from my mind, both girls woke up and proceeded to make that noise that makes the hair on every mama’s neck everywhere bristle.

It’s not screaming. It’s not wailing. It’s not even shrieking. It’s screeching. Screeching is the worst, especially at the decibel levels that my children, who all inherited their mama’s big lungs, can achieve.

And this wasn’t just momentary screeching. It was inconsolable screeching. In stereo.

And I thought, “Gee, thanks, Lord.” (I am convinced that God is fluent in sarcasm in such cases as these).

I shoved bananas into four little outstretched, flailing hands. I prayed, stream-of-consciousness style. I pushed the basket back and forth enough to wear grooves in the tile floor.

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{Look how angelic I am. I would neverput my mama through any kind of discomfort in public}

Nothing worked. The girls woke up disoriented and hungry, and nothing—not even the sight of food and a familiar face—was going to rob them of their opportunity to express their displeasure.

At some point, I stopped praying, “Please make them stop,” ad infinitum and prayed this instead: “Okay, Lord. I get it. They’re not going to stop right now. So forget whatever’s easiest. Please, just do whatever sanctifies me most.”

I would love to tell you that they stopped crying immediately. That Della stopped yanking on my shirt while droning, “MAH-ma, MAH-ma, MAH-ma” on a constant loop. That I looked up to discover all of my groceries magically and neatly bagged and deposited in my basket. That I felt even a tiny bit less tense.

None of that was true, though. In fact, I think the screeching reached new heights, and a lady a lane away chose that moment to lean over and holler, “ARE THEY TWINS??”

But as I heaved a box of diapers into the basket with one hand and attempted to force-feed a banana to Nola with the other, I heard a quiet voice say, “What can I do to help?”

I looked up to discover my friend, Holly, a fellow mama of five (although hers are older), leaning in with an expression that said, “I totally get this. I’ve been there. We both know this is no big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it kind of stinks right now.” There honestly wasn’t much for her to do. I was almost done loading the basket. Getting the twins out of their car seats was only a temporary fix that I couldn’t sustain. I just needed to get the heck outta Dodge. But her expression and those calm, quiet words were helping already.

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{Deep in concentration, planning her next moment of public mayhem}

Sadly, I couldn’t leave quite yet since I needed to go to the in-store bank, which was a whopping ten feet away. So, I wheeled my basket of apple juice and bawling children over to the bank desk and finally capitulated to releasing the twins from their seats, since it’s awfully hard to tell the cashier you only want 10’s and 20’s when she can’t even hear you over the screaming (by the way, I think getting your license back from someone while holding a baby on each hip should be an Olympic sport).

Before I knew it, Holly was by my side again, filling out deposit slips and helping reposition car seats and babies. Just as I finally started to wheel my way towards the exit, a man came up to Holly and started chatting about life. I heard him say something about Super Mom (Holly) coming to my rescue and about how he had five kids now too.

I had Nola on my hip, Evy strapped into the seat in the front of the basket, and Della riding on the side. And everyone was finally and blessedly (mostly) quiet.

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At some point during the unloading process at the van, I noticed that my basket was resting against the truck next to me. And I looked up to discover the owner, who looked vaguely familiar, approaching. I started to apologize and drag my cart away from his truck, but he waved me off and said, “No worries. I have kids too. I know how it is.” And I realized that, of all the people that I could have parked beside, I had ended up next to Holly’s friend, a fellow parent of 5.

I smiled and said, “Yeah. It’s fun. And I mean that, even though the last 10 minutes were not my favorite.”

He grinned back and said, “Yep. It’s hard. And fun. And the two don’t cancel each other out. Praise the Lord for that.”

And then he helped me load my groceries and left with a, “God bless you. Have a great day!”

Y’ALL.

Can I just say how thankful I am that God sometimes ignores my survival prayers? That, instead, He looks deeper into my true needs and hears me best in my moments of submission and brokenness?

Because what I needed most that day was not just for the babies to stop crying. That was just survival. What I needed most was an opportunity for surrender and an assurance that I’m not alone. That there are others who have gone before me and lived to tell about it…and help others who are coming behind them. What I needed was an encouragement to do the same. That’s sanctification. And the Lord gave me that. Twice.

Right after we got in the car, I heard these words on the radio:

Nothing formed against me shall stand.

You hold the whole world in your hands.

I’m holding onto your promises.

You are faithful. You are faithful.

Amen and amen.

P.S. I do not actually think that having screaming babies in Wal-Mart for ten minutes is a huge hardship. I am grateful that they are alive and well and healthy-lunged. Neither do I think that anyone is doing anything wrong by asking, “Are they twins?” or “Why are they crying?” Also, I’m sure there’s something practical I could have done to avoid something like this scenario in the future. If you have any of these concerns or any others I’ve missed, feel free to share them. But I hope you hear my heart in this and not just the specific details that stand out along the way.

P.P.S. If you’d like to hear a little more about my Mama-ing process, head on over to Brown Sugar Toast and read my portion of a fun Mom Series she has going on just in time for Mother’s Day.

P.P.P.S. (: )) Speaking of Mother’s Day, have you entered to win a set of Mama printables yet?

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An Imperfect Room Reveal (and my thoughts on imperfection in general)

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Confession: I have entire rooms in my house that you’ve never even had a peek at.

Why? Well, because I don’t like revealing “imperfect” rooms.

Don’t get me wrong: there are no perfect rooms in my house. There are way too many little sticky fingers and tired mamas (well, just one; no sister-wives here) around for that. And I never want you to believe otherwise. Which is why I shared a rather unconventional house tour with you and why I show you pictures of my laundry room overflowing.

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But I do have a mental block about revealing an entire room if I haven’t gotten it just how I like it. Of course, the truth is that there is only maybe one room in my house that is “just how I like it.” (And that includes the ones that I got just so for 2 seconds, only to have them get messy again 2 seconds later).

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All the other ones are in a pretty constant state of half-decorated, half-cleaned, and very lived in. And with a blogosphere bursting with prettiness, with creativity, with downright brilliance in the home decor department, it feels more than a bit intimidating to offer up anything less than my best, closest-thing-my-meager-photography-and-styling-skills-can-get-to-magazine-perfect effort.

Which is why my room reveal rate has slowed down to a tiny trickle of about one per year.  There’s just always something else that ends up being more important than getting that last little thing painted or hung or styled just so.

Which is where Project Elephant came in. The idea was to break down these big projects (home-related or otherwise) into small, bite-sized, weekly tasks until—TADA!—the whole thing got done. And it’s worked beautifully in many ways. Flowerbeds got overhauled. Plate walls got hung. Fabric art got finished. Pictures got hung. Closets got cleaned. Ottomans got recovered.

Huzzah! Progress!

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But if I’m honest, even one project a week on top of the usual daily madness of diaper-changing and cooking and cleaning and blogging and nose-wiping and homeschooling and story-reading and baby-bathing and photographing and photo-editing and exercise-class teaching and grocery shopping and Bible studying and husband-interacting and…well, you get the idea…

Sometimes, even that one little extra project each week is too much. It just doesn’t get done. And that frustrates me. Sometimes, it’s my fault because I’m just too “lazy” to force myself to paint something during naptime instead of just sitting still for 30 minutes. Sometimes, it’s my husband’s “fault” because he gives me a day off when that was the one day I had time to ______________ (you name it, it probably needs doing around here). Sometimes, it’s sickness (Evy and Simon have gotten sick this week after I thought/hoped/prayed that we were finally out of the flu woods). Sometimes, it’s a massive traffic jam of tiny little LIFE details like needing  to drive out of my way to sign the boys up for soccer (because, of course, they won’t let me do it online or over the phone) or do store returns or go to a play date.

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I’m sure most of you know just how I feel, but sometimes when I see perfect rooms on blogs or Instagram, I have to remind myself that almost none of those bloggers have 3-5 small children at home with them almost constantly.  It’s not an excuse or a complaint or a criticism. It’s a reality check.

I have lots of imperfect little people who have a very imperfect mother, and we all live together in this not-at-all-surprisingly imperfect house.

So, just like I got over myself to post some pictures of me that I didn’t love, I’m getting over my blogworld-perfect inhibitions and showing you our unfinished, unstyled, un-perfect upstairs sitting room.

Yes, I have big plans for it. And no, it’s not because I feel like everything in my house needs to be magazine-worthy all the time (or ever) but because I genuinely enjoy sprucing my nest—especially when I don’t let the specter of perfection perch in the back of my mind like some vulture just waiting to swoop in and pick at the carcass of my best efforts until nothing is left but words like Failure and Not Good Enough.

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Honestly, I had no intention of saying all of this today. I was just going to share a half-finished room, with the caveat that I had plans to make it better.

But, honestly, I want even more truth—in my blog, in my life—this year. No, I’m not going to show you pictures of my sink full of dirty dishes on a regular basis. But yes, they’re there, and I’m constantly working on them. And yes, I did put the toys away, straighten the pillows, and sweep before I took these pictures (it all needed to be done anyway). But I get too many comments when I post a picture of my bed-head on Instagram, for example (and by too many, I mean ANY) that go something like, “I’m so glad you shared this; it’s nice to know you’re actually human.”

We can’t have that, y’all. I am so very human. I am fallen. I am in desperate need of a Savior. And I am so glad I serve a God who doesn’t require perfection (quite the opposite) before I limp before His throne and lay down my exhaustion and my frustrations and my laziness and my whininess and my all-encompassing inadequacy.

I’m not going to stop plugging along. I will keep taking chomps out of my elephants, even when it feels like I’ve been chewing on the same bite for months.  But please don’t ever confuse my dogged refusal to give up (no matter how tempted I am some days) with perfection or even its 3rd cousin’s second wife’s aunt.

I’d really much rather just be imperfect and overcoming anyway by the grace of God with the rest of you guys.

Deal?

Deal.

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