Like Whispers Between Bunk Beds

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It’s an hour past their bedtime and I hear giggling from outside the door. These two boys of mine are sharing a bedroom for the third night as we await the arrival of baby sister, and they are loving it.

I marvel at how they can be yelling at each other one moment and hugging necks the next. And as much as little brother drives firstborn crazy, he is always there to pick him up when he falls.

They disagree on many things. Their personalities are as different as night and day.

One likes chocolate ice cream; the other is a fan of vanilla. One follows the rules and instructions, and the other likes to make up his own.

Will you continue reading with me? Today I’m sharing over at Malleable Heart as part of Jessica Galan’s That’s Amore series. You can read the rest of my post here.

Do I Let Them Fall?

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The longer we sat, the more frustrated my son became. My tiredness came through in my tone and I fought my desire to take the book away from him and finish the reading myself.

“Sound it out, buddy. You can do this.”

He slowly mouthed each consonant and vowel of the next word. Then he came to a more difficult sentence and his impatience mounted again.

“What’s this word, Mama?” he asked with his long eyelashes batting up toward me. He knew exactly how to break me.

“No, you can read it. We’ve gone through this.”

He grunted and turned his face back toward the book. I wondered how long we’d been sitting there.

Every night since my oldest son was an infant, we’d engaged in this ritual. The bedtime story. Only recently, the role of reading had gone from Daddy and me to child.

Today I’m sharing what I learned from story time at Me Too Moments for Moms. You can read the rest of my post here.

 

*Picture courtesy of Derek & Diane Photography (text added)

*Linking up with Kelly Balarie, Jennifer Dukes Lee, and Holley Gerth to encourage and be encouraged. Come join us.

Why Can’t They Just Be Grateful?

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“Why is this taking so long?”

My six-year-old’s words caught me off guard. I was working feverishly to get dinner on the table and my two sons were already sitting down, waiting.

Almost instantly, I could feel my blood pressure rising. Who did this kid think he was? I had spent the past half hour assembling this meal and he wasn’t showing an inkling of gratitude. Did he know how hard I worked each and every day for this family?

Of course he didn’t. He was six.

Fortunately, before a torrent of anger came spewing out of my mouth, my husband addressed the situation. He told our son to apologize. Over dinner, we had conversation about being thankful and informed him he would be helping with the dishes, a chore usually done by an adult. But I couldn’t get my son’s words out of my mind.

My heart’s desire is to raise children who have grateful hearts, not children who think they are entitled to everything without having to work for it. We could delegate more work around the house, but what that it? I sensed I was missing something.

Out of curiosity, I conducted a survey asking some of my readers how they instilled gratitude in their children. I received a single response: Be grateful. The reply left me asking myself the question: Am I thankful?

There are certainly some days when I grumble. A lot. Like the other day when I lost my temper while trying to get the kids out the door in time for school. Often, my body language is enough to do all of my talking for me. It says, “I’m tired and irritable so leave me alone.”

When I take stock of my attitude toward life, I know I am grateful, but do my kids? Our children model what they see, so the best teacher on gratitude is their parents.

Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Whenever I see that word “all” in the Bible, I have to admit it makes me cringe a little bit. After all, who can search for missing socks and clean up endless messes to the name of Jesus, all while giving thanks? 

No one. Not without the help of the Spirit living in us.

When my desire is to become more like Jesus, the best place to start is at the foot of the cross.

Fully aware of my need for guidance, I went before the Lord in prayer. I bared my soul to him and admitted my weaknesses. And right there in the midst of my shortcomings, I found his strength.

As I awoke the next morning, I knew the day was brimming with possibilities. My kids and I made it out the door on time and as we pulled out of the driveway, I saw hint of rainbow in the middle of a huge, dark cloud.

It was getting more vivid with each moment.

Excitedly, I pointed it out to my son.

“Do you see it, buddy, do you see it?” I asked.

“Yes, Mama! And look, it’s following us!” he said with a grin.

As we made our way down the road, I felt giddy with anticipation of what the day held in store. And I thanked God for providing us with a step in the right direction.

 

*Linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee and Holley Gerth

When Communication With Your Spouse Breaks Down

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The snarky remark came tumbling out of my mouth before I had time to think about the outcome. I saw the look on my husband’s face, and I knew I shouldn’t have said it. Immediately, I began trying to explain away the hurt already caused.

But the words were already out there, the line of communication severed. My husband was trying to ease my worry over a stressful financial situation, but instead of hearing him I’d decided to defend my attitude.

We often focus more on being right than trying to mend the wound, don’t we? Our pride blinds us from seeing the damage that is growing with each syllable.

My instincts told me to get defensive. After all, hadn’t I tried to address this situation a week ago? We’d exchanged a few sentences over the subject and I thought we were on the same page.

When it comes to relationships, assuming the other person can see the inner workings of your mind only leads to frustration and disappointment.

If I’d talked to my husband about the matter nearly as much as I’d thought about it, perhaps we would understand each other. But between kids and bedtimes and chores and other demands, somehow the conversation kept getting put off. Over and over. Until the tension mounted and my snide words came tumbling into the room.

In my tiredness I had let the mind-numbing noise of the T.V. do the talking for us both for weeks on end, but The Voice doesn’t do a very good job of voicing my thoughts.

As I stood there in the kitchen regretting my words, I realized the need for me to be intentional. The need to communicate with my husband instead of just thinking about it. That means not trying to have a conversation when I’m rushing out the door to make an appointment or assuming that he knows what’s bothering me without my taking the time to explain it.

When I don’t take the time to communicate with my spouse, I sever the bond that unifies our marriage.

Proverbs 25:24 says, “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have my husband in the house with me than on the corner of a roof. Nor do I want be the reason he wants to live there. I want to our kids to see a unit that is strong, healthy and reflective of Christ.

And a healthy marriage is not something we simply find. It is something we have to work toward. Each and every day.

I knew I was wrong after uttering those hurtful words and I apologized. I explained what I wrongfully assumed my husband already knew, and we made plans to sit down and talk about a solution.

If there is a problem or cause of tension that is creating disfunction in your marriage, can I encourage you to sit down and talk to your spouse about it? One of the worst reactions is to simply do nothing.

When we invite our partner into our world, the loneliness and stress start to dissipate. When we realize that we’re working together as a team, we become stronger.

 

*Photo credit (text added)

*Linking up with Suzie Eller’s #LiveFreeThursday. Come join us and be inspired.

When You Don’t Know How to Pray

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Sometimes I forget one of the most powerful things I can do for my family is pray for them. I worry and I strive. I try to control situations that are far beyond my ability to control.

And then I wonder why everything seems to be falling apart when I neglect time spent before the throne of grace.

On a trip home a few months ago my mom put a book by author and speaker Stormie Omartian in my bag before I left. The Power of a Praying Parent. She has written an entire series of books on this topic. Prayer for your husband. Prayer for your marriage. Your family. Prayer for every aspect of your life and the lives of others.

This is a woman who has seen God move and act through this two-way communication with our Heavenly Father.

In her book, The Power of a Praying Parent, she states that one of the most effective weapons we can wield in our prayers is the Word of God. After all, isn’t this the same weapon Jesus used against Satan when He was tempted in the desert?

When we employ God’s word in prayer, we are laying hold of the promises He gives us and appropriating them into the lives of our children.” (page 22)

As I walked through my house praying this morning, here is what the Lord laid on my heart: teach me that I may teach them.

He led me to Psalm 86:11-12:

“Teach me your way, O Lord,

and I will walk in your truth;

give me an undivided heart,

that I may fear your name.

I will praise you, O Lord my God, with

all my heart.”

If I want to raise my children in the ways of Jesus, my heart must be fixed on Him, and Him alone. When the distractions of this world divert my attention from the One who gives life and peace, my greatest desire is for the Spirit to lead me back to my Maker.

As I lifted my words up toward Heaven, I stopped in the living room. The room where we gather around the wood stove in the colder months and read bedtimes stories. The room where our Christmas tree will go up next month.

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I realized that as a time of reflection on why Jesus came to earth approaches, I don’t want to be distracted from what really matters: Him. I don’t want to be running around in frenzy and stress, as it is so easy to do during that time of the year. I want my children to see the love of Jesus shining through my words and actions, not a mama who is stretched far past her limits.

With these thoughts running through my head, I saw that that verse I’d fallen upon today was perfect.

Teach me your way. Give me an undivided heart.

Sometimes, my words wear thin and I simply don’t know how to pray. Today God gave me a reminder that his Word is always the best place to start.

 

*Linking up with Suzie Eller today as we talk about prayer over your home. Visit her blog for encouragement and community.

When You Wonder Which Way Your Child Should Go

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As I watched my son kick the dirt on the field, it was painfully obvious that soccer was not his thing. When we asked him if he wanted to play another year, he said, “Yes,” but I knew better.

I watched him get excited about singing. I watched him get excited about building stuff. I saw his enthusiasm over camping, forging trails, and learning a new musical instrument.

But I rarely saw him get excited over kicking a ball.

In the journey of motherhood, it is so easy for me to jump on the bandwagon of what other parents are doing. Other moms are signing their kids up for soccer, so I sign my son up too. Their kids are participating in multiple sports. So I naturally wonder if my son should have a full docket of sports activities as well.

All of these interests are worthy of pursuing and help build character. But here’s the thing.

In all of my preoccupation with what other mothers are doing, I miss out on the unique personality of my child.

I want to train up my child in the way he should go, not in the way every other child is going. And my child is distinct and special just the way God created him. My desire is to push him to be exactly who God designed him to be, not to try to be someone else.

Not to be who I am or who his dad is or his cousin or his friend. Just his one-of-kind self.

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In the words of Thriving Family writer Wess Stafford, “The spirit of a child is a lot like wet cement. It doesn’t take much effort to make an imprint. Any time you see your child go skipping by, you’re in the presence of a construction zone and out to ask yourself, ‘What is being built here? Is there anything I can do to advance this cause?'”

I looked at my son and considered his personality. I thought about what I could do to help him not just survive, but thrive.

So the other night when the flyer for the Cub Scouts came home in my son’s school folder, I looked at my husband and said, “This is something Jaden would love.” He wholeheartedly agreed and took him to his first pack meeting the following Thursday.

When my six-year-old came home that evening, he was grinning from ear to ear.

“I’m a Cub Scout now, Mama,” he said as he showed me his new hat and stood proudly in the kitchen with his bag of popcorn.

The hat was so big it made his head look tiny.

“Wow, look at that! That is the coolest, buddy!” I listened to all of his latest adventures as he put his gear in his room, where he supposed it would be safe from the mischievous hands of his little brother.

As we winded into our bedtime routine and got the kids down for the night, I reflected on the events of the evening. My son had found something that fit. He was going to be a part of a group that would help him develop into the man he would one day become.

When I saw his smile and watched him walk tall, I knew we had taken a step in the right direction.

 

*Linking up with Meredith Bernard, Holley Gerth and Jennifer Dukes Lee.

There’s Glory Right Here in the Mess

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Our first family camping trip with our church friends began with a torrential downpour, which caused me to let go of any future expectations of how the weekend would go.

Instead of complaining, we laughed. Three families huddled around a picnic table and ate soggy burgers under a leaking tarp. We made jokes. We took pictures. We watched the red areas on the weather apps move directly over our campsite.

Memories were made. Community was forged. And the rain just gave us something to talk about.

That evening, when we were all beyond tired and ready for rest, my two-year-old decided it was party time. It was his first night outside of the confines of his crib. This fact did not escape him. I closed my eyes and feigned sleep, thinking this might calm him.

Instead, he crawled to my side of the tent, put his face directly to my ear, and in a loud voice said, “Hey!”

It was an extremely long night.

As much as I love my bed and a good R.E.M. cycle, I will never forget that night. Even as I type about it now, a smile comes to my face.

When we embrace what is instead of wishing for what isn’t, memories that last a lifetime are made.

We have the freedom to open our hands and receive the blessing that is right in front of us with gratitude, instead of clenching our fists because things didn’t go as we’d planned. We can receive what’s given to us as grace, because everything is.

Our God is not one whose miracles are limited to saving lives and healing the sick. Everywhere we look, the earth is filled with them.

A beautiful sunset after a storm. An expanse of stars that forms the Big Dipper. A dry tent.

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The following day after our restless night, we took a hike around the lake. As I was walked hand in hand with my oldest, he looked up at me, all of a sudden, and said, “Mom, I love you. I really like walking with you.”

I would have given a hundred sleepless nights for that one moment.

So today, I’m opening my arms to the unexpected. I’m embracing the glory in the mess, and letting go of those unseen ideals.

And I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me next.

 

Far But So Close

My family used to live so close I could throw a pinecone and almost hit their house. I would wake up in the morning to find them in my front yard, with my mom planting flowers and my dad mowing the grass. Because that is what they do. Their love language is acts of service all the way, and they would literally give you the shirts of their backs if you were in a bind.

My definition of family changed over the last eight years. I got married. I had two beautiful boys. And we moved over two thousand miles away. Then we moved again, closer but still far from the place I was rooted.

And lately I’ve been feeling a little homesick for my South Carolina abode. But I realized something.

Yesterday, when I was talking to my Dad on the phone and listening to him laugh, I knew we are closer now than we’ve ever been.

We share stories. We listen. We digest each word spoken over the miles that divide us. We talk about faith and hope and those sweet boys that have stolen our hearts.

When the miles between us evaporate into the sultry hot summer sky, we savor each moment spent together. I put away my phone, my schedule, and my consciousness of time and just sit. I soak it all in. The smell of the home where I grew up, azalea bushes and fried okra.

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I understand now that though we are far apart geographically, we are close. Closer than we’ve ever been.

 

*This post was written for Five Minute Friday. Where hundreds of writers gather each week to write about one word. No hyper-editting. No backtracking. Real. Raw. Words. Today’s word was “close.” Click the button below to find out more.

*Azalea photo courtesy of gardening.wikia.com

 

Five Minute Friday

When You Want to Be Right

As startled awake sometime after 3 AM, my anger was almost as palpable as the laminate floor. The air mattress which had been my bed for the past two nights was deflating rapidly since I’d failed to seal it properly. I clumsily got up and fastened the seal, inwardly counting the hours until I’d have to wake my oldest for school.

For two weeks our family had battled rounds of sickness and I wore my tiredness like an emblem across my eyes. I used it as an excuse for my poor attitude, my snippy tone, my lack of attention to details and anything else I could. Now my husband had strep throat and I was doing everything in my power to keep the rest of the family from getting it.

Since he had refused to go to the doctor when his first symptoms of illness emerged, I hung this fault over this head like a dark cloud, reminding him that I had told him at the first of the week to get checked for a possible infection.

The morning after my fight with the air mattress, my oldest son stopped me in my trek of self-righteous anger. Five-year-olds have a staggering way of doing that.

“Mama, do you have to take care of Dadda since he’s sick?”

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I hung my head in shame. Yes, I should have been taking care of him. Instead, I was whining and using his mistake as a reason for my behavior. Was I really mad at my own husband for being sick?

When I promised to take care of him in sickness and in health, I don’t recall an addendum that said, “when you make wise choices.”

Sometimes our obsession with being right becomes the sin that blinds us to our wrongdoing.

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We convince ourselves that because we are right, we don’t have to apologize. And then the pride sneaks in and blinds us to the truth. And the truth is that any act which isn’t done with love does not reflect Christ.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

Transforming my mind is a discipline. It does not come naturally, or simply because I want it to. I don’t know about you, but once I start complaining, I find it difficult to stop. I sink deeper and deeper into my self-induced pit of pity until I don’t know how to get out.

My five-year-old’s remark was the trigger for me to snap out of it. Because they’re watching. Each and every day, they are modeling my behavior, my tone, and my words. As he keeps his eyes on me, I’m filled with a huge sense of responsibility.

I want to raise a child who respects and loves his spouse as Christ loves the church. And to do so, I must start in my own home.

 

 

 

Homesick

As I told my son to go to bed for the fifth time this Mother’s Day evening, I reflected on how patient my mom was with me.  How she never turned me away when I tiptoed into their bedroom at night, trying not to wake my Dad.  How she’d scratch my back and my arm to lull me back to sleep.

A dull ache overwhelmed my heart for the first time in months, and I immediately recognized it as it settled in like an old friend.  Homesick.

I inwardly laugh that there was a time not very long ago when I wanted nothing more than to put distance between myself and my southern roots.  To leave the endless humidity, the obsession with college football, and the wretchedly hot summer days.  I longed to explore the other forty-nine states.

Less than a year after getting married, that’s exactly what I did.  We left.  And two cross country moves and nearly five thousand miles later, I realized something.  South Carolina is in my blood.  I can’t escape it.

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I look back at the woman I was nearly eight years ago, and though my roots haven’t changed, I have.  I’ve been stretched and pulled and forced outside the zone of comfort I’d built around myself.  My faith was renewed during those years of packing, repacking, not knowing where we were going to live or how we were going to build a new life.

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When you move away from the place where you’re rooted, your definition of home changes.

I gave birth to my first son nearly a continent away from the place where I spent my childhood.  Utah, with it’s majestic peaks, spectacular sunsets, and crystal crisp rainbows became our home.  Our new friends became our family.

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Then, after nearly four years, we did it all over again.  The mountain side of Maryland, with it’s rolling hills and small town feel became the place we would welcome our second son.

I wouldn’t trade the way these experiences have shaped me.  How each move has pushed me to seek community and friendship.  My sense of control was replaced with complete surrender to the God who makes all things new.

My relationship with my husband became stronger than the forces which threatened to pull it apart.  We were driven to rely on each other through every struggle which came and passed.

But tonight I am homesick.  I know that no matter how many times we move and rebuild, my anchor is rooted in the Palmetto tree state.  And that anchor is deep.

Phone calls, texts, and Skype conversations can never replace a hug and a face to face conversation over a glass of sweet tea.

Like an accent that creeps back into my voice when I’m around my family, South Carolina will always call me back.  With her sandy beaches, real barbecue, calabash shrimp, and sentences that start with y’all.

Instead of trying to fight the call, I will let it settle like a slow refrain that gives rhythm to my step.  As I dance my two-year-old to sleep and sing with that southern drawl creeping into my tongue, I know I will be okay.

I will be more than okay.