Moms United

Yesterday I had the privilege of hanging with a dear friend and her sweet new baby, my sister-in-law and my precious new nephew, and my own darling baby Ella. It was a symphony of dirty diapers, strollers, baby blankets, pacifiers, and the usual chaos you might expect from the coming together of three infants. But something else really cool happened in the midst of all the noise: three moms came together and encouraged one another and it was really beautiful.

Is this rare enough that I should be not only observing it but blogging about it? Well, maybe. The thing is that there is a lot of insecurity in motherhood that can turn to defensiveness that can turn to judgment. Mothers feel shamed for their parenting choices, and shamed for their accomplishments (or perceived lack of accomplishments). But the truth is that there is no better way to help a mother out then by reminding her that you, too, have had the same struggles and that they can and will get through them.

I loved watching as each mom there took time to encourage the others. We were all comfortable being vulnerable about our struggles and mothering insecurities because we knew it was going to be a judgment-free zone. Instead, we knew we would receive encouragement and support, and that made all the difference.

Let’s do our part to change this from being rare to the norm! We can start by extending grace to a mother around us and by lending a helping hand. Let’s unite, moms!

It’s Exhausting Not Being Yourself

My husband and I are coming up on our 10 year anniversary. It’s a milestone that brings with it a great deal of reflection. Part of that reflection, for me, has been an appreciation of just how freeing it is to be with someone with whom I can completely be myself. Jason knows me better than most anyone, and because of that, I never have to put on pretense or a facade in order to please him.

Sadly, this wasn’t always the case for me where others were concerned. I’ve had relationships, be they romantic or platonic, where I felt so insecure about my place in them, that I had to make sure to uphold a certain level of pretense in order to maintain them. It could have been simple things like pretending to be way more into a certain TV show or book so that I could keep up with a conversation, or as sadly significant as changing my stance on an issue in order to gain acceptance. Whatever the case, it left me feeling straight up drained whenever I’d leave the situation and go back home.

In short, it was exhausting trying to be somebody that I wasn’t.

Life is short. Why pretend to be someone you aren’t? The older I get, the more comfortable I get with myself and the less tolerance I have for pretense or false appearances. I know who I am in Christ and I don’t want to apologize for or change that. I have seen firsthand that people respond much more positively to authenticity than they ever will to my attempts at being what they need me to be.

Today, take an evaluation of your speech and actions when in the presence of your most loved ones versus those you are only on a surface level of acquaintance with. I’m not saying you will have the same comfort or familiarity with the two groups, but I am suggesting you take note of any wildly differing behaviors or attitudes in yourself when around them. Do you change yourself to fit in with your surroundings? If so, STOP! You’re doing no one any good by putting on a false representation of yourself. Be yourself! It’s freeing, it’s comforting, and it’s true. Life is exhausting enough without having to add pressure from pretense to your plate.

LMKTM: Kids Are Like Snowflakes

I’ve had a parenting realization lately that I think will free a lot of you up like it did for me:

My child is unique and can never be compared intellectually, physically, or spiritually to any other child.

It’s not about getting my child to do x like y. It’s about finding the strengths that are already there and pulling them out of him or her in a way that makes them shine!

My oldest son is so organized, neat, and perfection-driven, that his teacher has to tell him to not worry about making things too perfect and just remember to play. My middle child is all fun and charm, but at 4 years of age, his attempts at handwriting are hieroglyphic at best. Ella, my baby, is a great night sleeper but her afternoon nap consistency is almost non-existent.

And you know what?

All of my kids are great just as they are. It wouldn’t be fair to compare them to one another. Even further unfair would be to try to compare them to Facebook statuses of my friends who are talking about their children’s latest accomplishments. That’s not successful parenting! Instead, I’ll find so much more satisfaction if I take the time to find out what my child’s strengths and weaknesses are, and to work with him or her individually to be the best they can be.

Parenting is not textbook. There’s no one thing that will work for every child. There’s no one learning strategy that will appeal to each one. There’s no one disciplinary action that will similarly impact them all. They are individual and they can shine as such if I just remember to treat them that way. Let’s ask God to show us specific ways of parenting that are individual to each of our children. Just like snowflakes, no two kids are exactly alike, so why would I treat them all the same? Today, I hope to help all 3 of my kids to shine – each in their own way!

The Power of the Hug

If you are blessed enough to be on the receiving end of regular physical affection, you may not get it. I know I didn’t get it at first. I grew up in one of the most affirming, loving, affectionate homes in the whole of the United States (maybe even the world?). I was never in want for a hug or a kiss to the point that it almost got irksome to me to have to dole out the obligatory daily affections.

In between my junior and senior year of college, however, I moved into my own apartment where I lived alone for the first time ever. My parents had moved to New York, and I was on my own and suddenly feeling extremely lonely. I don’t think I realized just how lonely I was until I visited a small local church one Wednesday evening and the adorable, gray-haired woman at the door asked me my name. “Elisabeth,” I said warily. “Oh, Elisabeth!” she cried as she engulfed me in a bone-crushing hug, “It’s so nice to see you!”

And I cried. Cried! It suddenly dawned on me that it had been so long since I had just simply been hugged. I realized I was starved for affection and that I needed that hug. It blew my mind. It had never been a problem for me before, so realizing my deep lack of personal contact was eye-opening. At the time I was hanging out in my small apartment during the day and working at a restaurant at night. I had few friends who had not gone home for the summer, and none of my family was local. I was lonely. I didn’t know just how lonely until that soul-searing hug, I think.

I came to appreciate hugs again two years ago when we were walking through a time of deep sorrow and grief. Very few words spoken to me during that time held much resonance, and not for lack of trying on the part of the speakers. I just didn’t need to hear anything at that point. What I did need, however, was the dozens of strong hugs that I got from so many. There was actual comfort in those hugs. They were healing hugs.

I’m in such a place of love and security in my life now. My children shower me with the tight squeezes and slimy kisses all throughout the day. I have a husband who has strong arms that can hold me in times of sadness or celebration. But even just this past week, I had to go to my husband and tell him that I needed a hug. I was facing something and it made me sad, and I needed that extra squeeze to comfort me. The Lis of the past would have scoffed at this or called it needy, but this Lis knows better. This Lis knows that hugs are powerful.

A Free Space To Cry

Last night my weekly ladies Bible study resumed after a summer-long hiatus, and it was a joyous reunion. We laughed about how someone always winds up crying each week for one reason or another, but appreciated how that space is a free space where everyone is welcome to be themselves and let go without fear of judgment. It’s amusing, and yet, as we went around the table and shared, one recurring phrase kept popping up: I need this time each week.

Sound dramatic? It’s not, I assure you. I knew exactly what every woman was referring to, because I also need that time each week. Why? Because it’s a good thing to be able to express a week’s worth of pent-up emotion while also recharging for the week ahead. For many of us, we spend our days uttering little more than baby talk and homework help, so a chance to be able to talk with other adults is incredibly refreshing. More than that, a chance to speak in a space where you feel the freedom to cry or laugh and know you will be met with understanding is invaluable.

Do you have a safe place where you can cry? For me, it’s been my weekly Bible study. For you, it may be a coffee date with a friend or a date night out with your spouse. Whatever it is, be sure you have something. If not, the suppressed emotions can eventually boil over in a fit of despair and magnify your situation to the point of hopelessness. Don’t let it go that far. Be sure to take some time each week to release your emotions and recharge. It’ll make a world of difference in your life.

Don’t Say You’ll Pray For Me (unless you mean it)

We’re all guilty of it. Someone mentions something they’ve been struggling with or a prayer need they’re facing, and we spout off a quick “I’ll be praying for you!” before we even register what we’re saying. There’s nothing inherently bad about that, don’t get me wrong! But my question is, will you? Will you really be praying for me?

When I was diagnosed with cancer over 9 years ago, I made a vow. I promised the Lord and myself that I would never again say the phrase “I’ll be praying for you!” and not follow it up with the actual action of prayer. After having been humbled by the prayers of literally thousands when I was going through my journey with cancer, it felt like the least that I could do would be to give back in my time and prayer for others who would face their own battles.

Don’t tell someone you’ll pray for them and then walk away to never think of it again. It makes your words empty and starts to diminish your integrity and credibility. Think before you make that promise. If you’re not going to follow through, save your words. People need those prayers and it would be better for you to not make the promise at all then to make it and not keep it.

LMKTM: Crumbling Control

It’s hard to believe that my sweet Ella is already 8 weeks old! She is full of gummy smiles that pop two precious dimples out in her squishy cheeks, and this mamma can’t get enough of her! Her sleep habits are getting better and more concrete. As I told a friend recently, “It’s like I’m starting to feel human again!”

But one thing is still true about my baby girl: she will not allow me to have any false sense of security. What I mean by that is that the moment I think I can count on something – a definite nap time, sleeping or behavior parameters – she changes it up on me just to keep me on my toes. If you’ve read this blog at all, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I crave order and stability like a rat craves cheese. I don’t just like it, I need it. Mix my penchant for certainty with a baby who likes to “keep it fresh” by constantly changing up her routine, and you can wind up with one frustrated Lis.

Or…you can try, as I’m very slowly learning, to embrace the uncertainty and live in the moment more. Really, even Ella’s arrival should have clued me on the fact that she was going to change my entire world. I had willed her to come on a certain date (yes, that’s right, folks, us planners think we can control even a baby’s arrival), but she decided to come two days after that. I had thought I’d get to schedule my delivery and have my choice of doctor, but Ella arrived on a day my doctor wasn’t on call. I thought I’d have plenty of time to get my epidural, but I arrived to the hospital already basically complete and almost ready to push.

The point is that Ella, in her sweet little 8 weeks of life, has already taught me so much just by existing. She’s shown me that I can’t always plan nor can I count on anything remaining unchanged. The only constant is my Heavenly Father and His love, and so, instead of stressing over the things I can’t control, I need to choose to throw all my trust, time, and energy into the certainty that is my Lord and Savior. By doing that, I’ll find peace and stability even in the midst of changing circumstances. I’m slowly learning that there’s beauty in the unknown, but I have to allow myself to embrace it first.

Craving Control In An Out Of Control World

Do you have friends that can just read you up and down? I do. I’m thankful for them even though at times I wish their truth was a bit less…truthful? The truth can hurt. It can also, however, set you free. This happened for me last week during a particularly rough day. I was talking to a friend on the phone about my struggles with newborn life and how I felt terrible for even complaining about it all. What she said next hit me so hard that I had to stop and marvel at the simple yet profound truth it revealed:

“You’re not a bad person, Lis, you just crave control.”

Ouch. But wow, so true! The thing about life with a newborn baby is that you just can’t control so much of your day. A newborn may have a wonderful day of sleep and behavior on a Wednesday, only to turn around and be constantly fussy and sleep-refusing on a Thursday. It’s just how they are. They’re newborns. You can do the same routine each day and night with completely different results from your baby. And oh, for those of us who fight the need for control, how frustrating that can be to our sense of balance!

Ella has already had such an impact on my life in the 6 weeks that she’s been here. She’s shown me that I have some pretty major control issues that I have to surrender. I won’t be able to tell you exactly what my day will look like right now, and that has to be okay. If you’re like me and you feel off-centered when control seems to slip from your grasp, then let me encourage you today: we can do this! Not only can we do this, but we need to do this. It’s good for us to feel a bit out of control every once in a while. It reminds us that the idea that we can control even the smallest aspects of our lives is laughable. Often the things we find security and stability in are just giving us a false sense of control anyway.

All except one thing.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

- Hebrews 13:8

Is your life feeling out of control? Be encouraged! There is One who never changes. In the midst of the most changing and uncertain of times, He is the same. Isn’t that comforting? There is security! There is constant! There is stability! Find your anchor in Him. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. For this control-craving mama, that’s like medicine for my soul.

Impressions for the Impressionable

It seems as if the past year or two has been particularly wrought with situations that have raised racial tension in our country. It’s heartbreaking to sit back and watch as some people’s true colors of preconceived prejudice are revealed in the aftermath of such situations. It’s had me thinking about what it will take to eventually eradicate this hateful bias from amongst our culture.

The thing that struck me was that our kids are not born with racial stereotypes and prejudices. I see how my children interact with other children, and it’s as if skin color is a complete non-factor. So where does racism begin?

I don’t think there are many parents who would admit to voluntarily passing racism along to their children. But do we realize the jokes we make or the insinuations we imply when our children are present? Do we do things, even subconsciously, that give strong cues to our children as to who is more worthwhile? What signals are we giving off that we think are meaningless and yet could be shaping our children’s views on race and prejudice even now?

Take stock of your heart and mind. Racism begins in our thoughts. From there, it flows into our attitudes and actions. Our children will catch on to much more than we think they will. The way we think, speak, and act affects them in so many ways, but particularly in the area of racial prejudice. Let’s do our part to put an end to hatred and ignorance. It may be too late for generations long gone in their presuppositions, but we can impact the future by carefully handling the way our children view the world.

And it came to pass…

photoLife with a 19 day old baby is a little intense. Even as I’m writing this, I’m also balancing a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios in one hand so as to ensure I got some breakfast in before Ella wakes and inevitably demands the whole of my attention until her next nap.

Somehow with babies, time becomes everything. You have to be aware of the time that they last ate so you make sure they are getting fed properly (because, you know, unlike my boys, she can’t come up and tell me she’s hungry and request fruit snacks). You have to make sure she’s getting her naps in at certain times in order to ensure that her sleep in the evening is at maximum efficiency. There are certain things she can’t do until a certain amount of time has passed – no baby food until 4 months – and certain things she should be doing by a certain time – is she rolling over by that same time. Time, time, time. Babies and time seem to go hand-in-hand.

There is a temptation with babies to wish for certain times to pass so that other certain times can arrive. You may, like me, have been up in the wee hours of the night/morning, praying with God to miraculously transport you to the first night when your precious bundle sleeps through the whole evening until the morning. Not sleeping can do funny things to the mind, so surely it’s understandable to fantasize about a time when you will once again luxuriate in uninterrupted rest.

The funny thing about time, though, is that it is no respecter of our wishes. While we may want to see time speed up in preparation of an anticipated event, we cannot make the clock move even a second faster through sheer mental force of will. What may be worse, is when we turn around to realize that the clock has moved far ahead of where we would like for it to have gone, and we suddenly want to be able to turn back the hands of time. That’s just as impossible as speeding up life’s timepiece, though, and maybe even more devastating.

The picture above was taken last Sunday. I was still feeling a little shell-shocked at the world-shaking event that was turning our family from a quartet into a five member team. We ventured outside for a walk and I couldn’t help but revel in the scene spread before me: I have three children! Looking at the picture, it was so perfect for capturing the idea of time and how life is just one season after another. I look at 4-year-old Gavin out in the lead, charming and sure and completely endearing to anyone he meets. I see my strong, honest Joey in the middle, now mere days away from his 7th birthday and becoming such an individual each day. And then I see sweet Ella in the stroller, brand new and making discoveries each and every day. Seasons. Time keeps going on and brings new seasons with each beat that passes.

I remember hearing something years ago that struck me as simultaneously funny and profound. Comedian Mark Lowry said that one of the most overlooked yet comforting verses in all of Scripture comes out of the well-known Christmas story found in Luke. Just five words that speak such simple truth.

 

“And it came to pass…

– Luke 2:1

 

It didn’t come to stay, he said, it came to pass! I chuckled then and you may chuckle now, but oh wow, it’s so true! No matter what season of life you’re in – good or bad – it won’t stay for long. It may seem unending in the midst of it, or it may be so glorious that it flies by before you feel you’ve even grasped it, but it will pass!

Whether these words are encouragement today for those facing a trying time that feels like it will never end, or a reminder to those who are in a beautiful season that need to remember to cherish each moment, the truth is the same: it came to pass. The picture above is proof of that. Each one of the boys was once a baby in the place where Ella lays now. Blink, turn around, and suddenly they’re leading the pack and exploring their individuality. Life is just a series of seasons, which one are you in now?

 

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