Saturday, February 28, 2009

Random Picture Challenge 7.0

I'm getting back on track with the random picture challenge... September 2007, 11th picture in the folder:

Ah, yes, the Annual Read Across Iowa Bug Parade! At the start of the school year, the 2nd graders set "read across Iowa" reading goals, and when they meet their goals, they're the main attraction (okay, the ONLY attraction) in a VW bug parade, complete with a police escort, that loops the loop several times, honking and waving at whoever will pay attention. And believe me, they draw some attention!

Mrs. Ribbens (one of our all-time favorite teachers!) is driving the black bug, and even though you can't see him, Ethan is in the backseat, grinning and trying to see and be seen over the side of the car from the confines of his seat belt. Good times.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Is it just me?

Just wondering if it's my own visits to my blog that have actually crept the counter up past 100... That would be sad, but not impossible.


Let me just begin by telling you (and reminding myself) how grateful I am to be a SAHM. It would tear me apart, both emotionally and physically, if I had to work a full-time (paying) job. There is nothing I would rather do than what I'm doing right now. If someone is going to mess up my kids, I want it to be me! :) But my passion about this role as SAHM is also one of the things that makes it so difficult, because I'm never able to do it as well as I intend, and often not even as well as I should. Today, the half-joking line about messing up my kids feels all too accurate.

Seriously, I'm totally overwhelmed by the fact that I'm expected to be responsible for the character development of 4 precious little people. And somewhat discouraged by the awareness that my own spiritual health is a huge indicator of how well I will do that.

Because I am fed up. Spent. At the end of my rope. I feel like every day I face a list of about 30 hours worth responsibilities to handle in a 24-hour day. And every day I start with the greatest intentions to control my tone of voice, do first things first, catch up on the "musts" so I can get to the "shoulds," the "I'd really like to's" and maybe even some of the "wouldn't that be fun's!"

And every day I lose my patience (usually before the kids are even out the door for school!), finish maybe 10% of what needs to be done so I start the next day even further behind, and seldom figure out in the midst of that how to squeeze in the spontaneous and fun things to make our family life more joyful.

If I weren't too vain, I'd post a picture of what my home looks like right now.... Fruity Pebbles crunched on the floor from the breakfast spill, counters crusted with drips from yesterday's meal group cooking and this morning's milk spills, laundry everywhere in piles and baskets and overflowing hampers... I could go on and on. Some days that list just feels like my reality and I can just live in the midst of it, completing small jobs one by one as time with the baby allows. But today it really just makes me feel like crying.

I find that I hit this overwhelmed point at 2 recurring times:

1) When things come up that really NEED doing, things that are important, urgent, or just really valuable and have time constraints on them. Things that I care about and feel called to do. Things that can't keep being pushed back from one day's "to do" list to the next. And I simply don't have time to do them, and feel like I have no one to help pick up the slack so I can without feeling further overwhelmed by the day to day.

2) When I attempt to bring greater self-discipline into my own life and behavior. No matter how early I get up, one child or another seems to wake up earlier. No matter how intentional I am about asking God to order my day, I end the day feeling like important things are being left undone. No matter how determined I am to get enough sleep so I can be as patient and gracious as I wish to be, I find myself awake into the wee hours of the morning trying to finish the "musts" for the day.

Yes, I know all the right questions to ask about why I'm feeling like this. What are my expectations? Why? What are God's? What is truly important? What do I need to let go of? What selfishness or other sin plays into these feelings? How is the Enemy trying to steal my joy?

But some days, even those questions are enough to wear me out. Some days, just putting one foot in front of the other (or one load of laundry in after the other) is all I can handle.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Random Picture Challenge 6.0

I know I missed a couple, and the blogger who hosts the challenge didn't post a new one this week because of computer issues, so this is a week belated. But here's random picture for you nonetheless.... January 2007, 3rd picture in the folder:

Don't ask me what they were doing... some combination of dress up and just plain wackiness. Anna is wearing my slippers, summer pj shorts, a too-small stocking cap, and.... a jump rope. Like I said, don't ask me. And it looks to me like Ethan just didn't want to be left out of the picture so he pulled a silly pose!

And yes, the chair in the background is where I lay clothes that need to be taken upstairs and hung in closets. It almost always has a pile hanging off the back of it. Just keepin' it real for you!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Right back where I started

Well, maybe not exactly, but the territory sure looks familiar.

I remember Beth Moore reminding us in one of her studies (I don't' remember which one because I've done so many in the last 5 years!) that if the same issue keeps coming up in your life, then God isn't finished with you in that area. He will (graciously) keep bringing it to the forefront so you can move out of your "desert"...pass the test, learn the lesson, be healed... whatever it is that still needs doing in your soul.

She also teaches in her Daniel study, which I'm currently in the middle of, that we also can find ourselves back in familiar territory because the Enemy loves to send us right back into our areas of captivity, and he is wily enough to attack those areas in our lives that are inconsistent, weak, and not well-protected by our spiritual armor. (Ooh, I hate him, by the way!)

Evidently God decided now would be a good time to give me a retest on some things, and/or my armor has just a few holes that the Devil is trying to poke through....

First, it feels like our family life is in a similar place to nearly a decade ago. I'm adjusting anew to the role of SAHM to an infant with little "freedom" or participation in life outside of my own 4 walls. Steve is busy and somewhat stressed at work. Our finances are stretched to the max. All of these issues characterized our early years of marriage and parenting. Somehow 15 years and 4 kids later, we're right back there. (Praise God for those areas in which He's already changed and grown us so we don't repeat ALL of the same mistakes this time!)

Another area in which I feel like I'm just driving around the cul-de-sac over and over on is in one significant relationship in my life and the way I often respond in and to it. Again, I have to thank God for the things He already has healed and changed, because not all that long ago my emotions were in constant turmoil, my heart very seldom was right toward this person, and all of it was trickling down into my immediate family relationships. God has performed great things in my life regarding this relationship. But just lately, it seems that the condition of my heart toward this person is coming to the forefront once again, because I can't leave an interaction with this person without feeling irritated or agitated or just plain YUCKY.

Finally, I must have made the mistake of getting mentally lazy and thinking things were going well with our kids, because whenever I do, some ugly issue that we have to discipline our kids over comes up. And often, that points back to some failing of mine/ours in the way we've trained them so far. It can easily stir up in me discouragement, resentment, shame, guilt... all sorts of emotions that certainly don't aid in parenting well and don't reveal a strong faith in God when it comes to my role as a mom.

(You wouldn't think there is an emotionally healthy bone in my body reading this marathon-length post, would you? But that's why this is my blog... if you didn't read my early warnings about the nature of this blog, you may want to do so now.) Anyway....

I have to ask myself what God is trying to further redeem in me, and how the Enemy is trying to drag me back into old patterns. I think I'm seeing the answer to that in some small ways, but I, of course, try to analyze it with my own little human mind. I have to remember that God's ways are not my ways and be aware that the Devil is tricky, deceitful, and just plain evil, so it is likely much deeper than first glance might suggest.

Really, I guess I shouldn't be surprised by this return journey, because before Tori was born, I felt like God told me through scripture He was going to use this season in my life to prune me. I'm so thankful that He also promised that the pruning was for the purpose of bringing greater beauty. I'm not exactly sure what that means, and I'm quite certain that we're still in the cutting back stage of pruning and not in the beautiful new growth stage yet, but I'm holding on to that promise. I may not ever fully know how God's purpose will play out, but the one thing I know for sure is that I don't want to miss His purposes and I don't feel like I'm "getting it" yet.

What struck me about this whole idea of ending up back where you started is this thought: When I'm driving, if I drive the same route repeatedly, after a while I don't even notice where I am. I drive out of habit and sometimes end up at my location with no memory of passing the landmarks along the way.

I wonder if that isn't also true of my spiritual journey; am I somehow missing the "signs" along the way because the road is so comfortable and familiar that I'm not fully aware of where I am and where I'm headed? Am I running on autopilot and missing some turnoffs or even u-turns that God wants me to take? I'm thinking if that's true, I'll just end up coming right back to this same place again.

I've probably given the wrong impression. It's not that where I am now is horrible, or even that it's a bad place to be. I already have a beautiful life in so many ways, and God has been faithful and good. But God has promised even more. More pruning. More growth. More beauty. And that's the destination I want to be moving toward.

Monday, February 16, 2009

February Scripture Memory 2

It's not too late to join.... commit to memorize 2 scriptures a month for the year. (I'm sure you could even memorize a few extras to catch up if you're one of those for whom it wouldn't feel complete starting partway into the year!) I've got one down, 21 to go (I'm choosing to let good enough be good enough and not give up if it's not "perfect," so I'm going with 22 rather than 24 since I joined late.) Here's my second passage for February:

Let them praise the Lord for his great love
and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
For he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.
Psalm 107:8-9 (New Living Translation)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

But I never win anything!

One day a while back, I was reading about an intriguing sounding parenting book on Bring the Rain (one of the blogs that originally got me hooked... check out the older posts about their journey with Audrey Caroline--incredibly moving). Anyway, the blog author Angie Smith was hosting a contest to win a copy of the book Parenting the Way that God Parents: Refusing to Recycle Your Parents' Mistakes. Bring the Rain has a huge readership and receives hundreds if not thousands of comments on each post, but this book sounded great, so I decided it wouldn't hurt to leave a comment to "enter" the contest.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to last night. I was browsing Bring the Rain again to find out how to create a music playlist on a blog like she has on hers. The book contest hadn't ever entered my mind again since the day I commented/entered. But as I was scrolling down the screen, I saw the name "Tiffany" at the end of the list of 10 winners.

"You're kidding," I thought. "I wonder if that could actually be me? There are 2031 comments/entries into the contest, so odds are it's a different Tiffany somewhere out there in Blogland. Because I never win anything! But I may as well check it out." So I scrolled through about 1800 of the 2031 comments and found the "Tiffany" comment she was referring to, and believe it or not, I won! "I guess I can't say I never win anything anymore."

Oh, my, but I'm afraid I can. I was really just quite tickled about it all.... until today, when I figured out that I did not win. And on top of that, I had already sent a gushing e-mail to the author, letting her know where she could send my book. Just a tad embarrassing, wouldn't you say?

I discovered my mistake when I went back to the contest post today to see what my comment actually said (Something about it being unlikely I'd win with the volume of comments she receives. I thought it would be so clever of me to add that to my blog post announcing that I actually won!)

I scrolled through those 1800 comments again, and somehow, what last night was clearly my comment linking to my blog was now a comment left by Tiffany Carter. What in the world? Seriously, I am so certain that last night I found the comment, clicked on the link, and saw a picture of me and my cute little family, confirming that I was indeed the winner. Yeah, well, today, I saw a picture of Tiffany Carter and her cute little family.

Maybe I shouldn't be browsing blogs so late at night because clearly, my tired mind couldn't handle the excitement of potentially beating the 10 in 2031 odds to win a book. (Unless my conspiracy theory that someone somehow moved my comment so they could win the book is true!) I guess I'll put this book in my Amazon shopping cart along with the 5 dozen other books I have saved there and see if I can find a little cash to buy it sometime. Bummer.

So, even though it turns out my not-winning streak continues (losing streak sounds so negative), this whole thing has really got me thinking. Since my blog is so new and I haven't done nearly as much posting as I hoped, I haven't written much yet about our family's, or perhaps it's primarily just my, journey this past year and a half since the surprise of discovering Tori would join our family. And quite a journey it's been.

But you'll have to check back later to hear more about it. No telling what might happen if I try to blog late into the night again.... And I don't want to give Tiffany Carter a bad name.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ready for Summer

Because seriously, who doesn't want to see these cute little leggies in some short shorts?!?

Why am I so sweaty?

We've all heard the saying, "Don't sweat the small stuff." Or how about "Major in the majors." However you phrase it, it's all about priorities. And priorities seem to be something I'm still struggling with after 12 years of being a SAHM. I think I must really be "sweating" some of the "small stuff," because there never seems to be time to "major in the majors!" I've struggled with time management on and off for years, and a sense of discontent with the quality of my days continues to stir in me. The need to prioritize hit me right between the eyes after recently reading this quote:

"Those who make the worst of their time most complain about its shortness." - La Bruyere

I don't know who La Bruyere is, but he seems to be talking about me! I constantly feel like there's not enough time to do all the things I must do, let alone the things I'd really like to do. So what I'm setting out to discover is whether the primary problem is in my expectations--attempting or hoping to be able to do more than is realistic; or in my execution--the way I schedule and use my time on a daily basis given the basic details of my life (several kids including both older kids and an infant, a busy husband, my own personality, etc.). I realize that I tend to rebel against being scheduled and structured because my "all or nothing" thinking often leads to frustration when I can't do things as well as I'd like (which is pretty much always) or to being hyper-focused on one project or task while letting all other things fall by the wayside.

Along with that, I'm wrestling with how much of my struggle is tied to my lack of consistent time spent with God. I'd love if there were a formula promising that an intimate relationship with God would result in perfect wisdom for how to live daily life. While I know that formula doesn't exist, I do know from seasons in my life that being more connected with God and His will for me somehow lessens the "sweating" I do over "small stuff. The song "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" comes to mind:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.

(Anyone know why suddenly everything is double-spaced and won't go back to single?!?)

So I'm seeking to more fully focus on Jesus and follow His guidance for how to use each day rather than to be consumed with making lists and schedules and plotting out my time in my own human strength. His ways are not our ways, you know.

All that being said, there remains a practical side to living this life and especially to doing the SAHM thing well. In an attempt to make my external reality line up more closely with my internal intentions, I think I need to explore what in my life is truly necessary, what's pretty important, what needs to go, and decide with Jesus' guidance how I will discipline myself to live a life that holds true to what I value. Here is an initial list to work from:

The Majors

  • General care for kids/family


Food prep. and grocery shopping,

Acceptably tidy house for the sake of function

Consistent naps for Tori

(Honestly, this category alone takes up pretty much all my time....)

  • Family time

Debriefing after school

Supervision of homework and chores

Bedtime prayers and talks

Weekend activities

  • Time with the Lord

Praying the Divine Offices

Bible study lessons

Listening/conversational prayer

Corporate/musical worship

The I'd Like To's

  • Thoroughly cleaned house on a regular basis, especially bathrooms
  • Declutter and organization
  • Off-duty/alone time for me
  • Exercise
  • Hobbies - reading, blogging/journaling, scrapbooking, writing
  • More quality time with Steve

The Small Stuff

  • Spotless house, including kids' rooms (I don't even attempt this, but I think it's a self-imposed unrealistic expectation that causes stress)
  • Blog reading (or at least the high frequency of it)
  • Excess recreational internet ("window shopping," unnecessary "research," etc.)
  • Hmmm.... there must be more here, but the 2nd and 3rd bullet points are definitely my major time-wasters

I'm not sure where to go from here, but it's a start. I'll be revisiting this post frequently to think about and pray for direction.

UPDATE: I had further confirmation that I need to figure some of this out as Caleb and I were talking tonight about the tasty cookies our neighbor makes (he was trying to tell me hers are better than mine without offending me). He said she is always doing "extra-terrestrial" things. I suggested that perhaps he meant "extra-curricular." He said she just spends time doing what she wants to rather than always working like I am. That makes me sad, because that's exactly how I feel, too. The thing is, the only reason he thinks I'm working all the time is because I never get anything done, so I'm always trying to get something done! I don't want his memories of me to be that I spent more time working than just living--especially if my house is still going to be this dirty!

The Desert Song

I'm placing this video here for my own easy access... This song often has spoken to my heart about God's faithfulness in desert seasons:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

An unexplainable equation

There are some things in life you know you always can count on:


The sun rising and setting every day.

The changing of the seasons.

And this simple equation:

1 tuckered out baby
+ 1 mommy in desperate need of some "me" time
= 1 baby who won't fall asleep

Maybe I can find my way into the history books if I can come up with an explanation for this problem!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Paul and I must be twins

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: "I know that all God's commands are spiritual, but I'm not. Isn't this also your experience?" Yes. I'm full of myself—after all, I've spent a long time in sin's prison. What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

(The Solution Is Life on God's Terms)
1-2 With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

Romans 7:14-8:2 The Message

Role reversal

I felt a little like I was the child and Ethan was the parent during a conversation we had the other day.

We were talking about the goings on at school, and I was mildly lamenting the fact that I am rarely at school to volunteer in their classrooms, get to know their teachers, or just have lunch with them. Ethan said, "Well, would you rather be in our classrooms or have a baby?"

I replied that I really wish I could do both (I know, I struggle with accepting reality sometimes). Ethan looked right at me and repeated, "Would you rather be in our classrooms or have a baby?"

Okay, I get the point. Thanks, sweet boy.

Having the outlook of a child can be really good for keeping life in perspective.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

February Scripture Memory 1

Beth Moore is "hosting" a scripture memory plan for 2009. Two verses a month, starting on the 1st and the 15th of each month. I hadn't signed up originally because I didn't want to jump on the bandwagon just because everyone else was and it was something I should do, but I've been convicted lately that I need to be filling my mind with truth, so I'm joining late. I'll be placing my verses here to keep track of all of them:
And my God will meet all your needs
according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I love church

Encouraging. Hope-giving. Revitalizing. So good to be back there today.

Some words that stirred today:

Overcome. Victory. Continual conversion. A place of belonging.

Thank you, Jesus, for a rain shower today. You are faithful.

Dry Spell

It seems I'm in a dry spell of sorts, spiritually and emotionally speaking. There are lots explanations, really. Like maybe the fact that lately I get to church about once a month because of sick kids or Tori's nap schedule or other life complications. When I was pregnant with Tori, I totally expected that and was dreading it. But then the first 6 months went so well that I hardly missed a week of church and could tote our sweet sleeping baby wherever I wanted.

Somehow during that honeymoon stage I fooled myself into thinking we were going to breeze right through and somehow not deal with the reality of an infant's schedule. Guess not, because reality seems to have set in.

This dry spell also could be the byproduct of major cabin fever. A few weeks back, between snow days, a driveway drifted over with snow, and sick kids, I was literally in this house for 188 1/2 out of 192 hours. 188 1/2 hours breathing the same air, doing the same tasks over and over, rarely speaking to another adult...all the time with at least one, and often four children needing your attention...yikes!

Or maybe this Sahara-like feeling could have overtaken my heart because, since Christmas, I've only been doing my Beth Moore study--as interesting and motivating as it is--about once every other day. Before Christmas I was praying the Divine Offices faithfully 3 times a day and feeling like I was connecting pretty well with the Lord through prayer. Right now I'm just not being intentional about getting fed the same way.

Then this past weekend I tried to talk through it with Steve. How I'm struggling to embrace this season of raising an infant and being "just the mom" again without being swallowed up in it. How I don't feel like I have anything to talk about but baby stuff, and how I can't seem to find any focus outside of home when I am home 99% of the time.

Somehow as I shared my thoughts, Steve heard me saying that taking care of our kids runs counter to being who I want to be. Aaagh! That totally isn't what I was saying! So not only am I stranded on an emotional desert island, but I also can't communicate effectively with the one person I'm stranded with. Sigh. I was trying to explain how I'm trying to figure out how to fully engage in this season... to allow it to be "enough" to care for the kids and our family, while at the same time feeling like I'm becoming more fully me. Right now I don't feel like I'm succeeding at either one of those things.

That probably sounds like complaining. I hope not. But maybe it is; at this point I don't even know. But I'm wondering why I feel powerless to find relief in this dry season. I could tell it was coming, and I'm feeling hyper aware of being in it. I know the "right" things to do to get out of it, but I know they won't work because I've learned that it really isn't up to me to find the solution, so much as to trust that this desert field trip is just a stop on the journey.

So, here I sit. In the desert. Waiting for a little rain shower. Just a few drops would do. Or maybe even a drifting rain cloud over head to cast just a little shade on the scorching sand. I guess I'll have to keep my focus turned upward to watch for incoming relief.