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Kicking Insecurity to the Curb: A Mom Talks about the Post-Baby Body

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Ten years ago, I was actually concerned about being too thin and had started talking to a specialist about how to gain more weight. My body looked almost exactly the way I wanted it to. I was diligent to eat right and my very active lifestyle made it easy to maintain an ideal weight.

Then, I had 4 kids in 3 ½ years.  

Ka-boom. Everything changed.   EVERYTHING.

All of my babies were big, and kids # 3 & 4 were 7+ pound fraternal twins.   Add 3 c-sections into the mix, not sleeping for 6 years straight, and not having much time for myself, and what resulted is a much altered version of my former body.

I have a giant, ugly scar that runs from one hip-bone to the other. It’s gotten more pronounced and thicker with each c-section. I walk around in fear that my shirt will accidentally fly up and reveal my misshaped belly-button (moms of multiples will know what I’m talking about), my stretch-mark-laden stomach, or the excess skin (flopping over my scar) that never retained its elasticity after my twins were born.

The last straw was when I weaned my twins (knowing I’ll never get pregnant again) and my breasts actually shrunk to a size SMALLER than they were before I got pregnant the first time. YES! After breastfeeding 4 kids for 15+ months EACH, I was expecting my breasts to stay at a larger size, but instead, I now look like a boy from neck to navel, a weird blob of skin from naval to waist, and like a knife-fight patient from the waist to pelvis.

Needless to say, this was NOT how I pictured my future self 10 years ago when I was running around in my bikini on the beach.

Most of the time, if I just avoid mirrors and pictures, I don’t notice the body changes too much, but this week, as I prepared to be a bridesmaid in a dear friend’s wedding, all of my body issues and self-consciousness suddenly became very apparent.

I was horrified when I looked in the 3-way-mirror at the tailor’s as she altered the length of my bridesmaid dress. I pictured myself walking down the aisle, watching people shake their head and wonder why I’d let myself go. I tried on over 20 dresses at the mall, trying to find a dress to wear to the rehearsal dinner, before I finally gave up. I began having daydreams about the bride’s family wondering why she would chose someone who looked like me to be in her bridal party! It was after I started to feel sick to my stomach thinking about getting my picture taken at the wedding that I realized how twisted my thoughts had really become.

So, as I packed my Spanx, hoping they would help me feel more self-confident, I realized that I HAD to do something about these runaway thoughts. I know that, when I feel insecure, I tend to hide and therefore cut myself off from the blessing of connection with other people. And, I wanted this trip to be a really fun time away, celebrating with good friends, and not a time for me to wallow in self-degradation!

I stopped and asked the Holy Spirit to show me how to proceed and what to do with these thoughts-gone-wild.

You know what He did? He created in my heart a deep thankfulness for this opportunity to stare insecurity in the face and say, “you do NOT have control over my thoughts, my actions, or my beliefs.”

Insecurity tells me that I am only valuable if I look a certain way. Insecurity causes me to shut myself off from connection and from love. Insecurity steals my ability to experience true abundance in my life. Insecurity cuts my legs out from under me and holds me back. Insecurity makes me timid, steals my bravery, and therefore thwarts my destiny.

Listening to the voice of insecurity is as preposterous as giving a thief a key to my house, the code to my security system, and directions as to where my most valuable possessions are located. Wouldn’t I do everything in my power to keep that thief away from my house? So, why do I welcome the thief of insecurity and give him a full-access-pass into my thoughts and beliefs?

After this weekend is over, my body might not look any different, but I hope to be more beautiful on the inside.   I plan to continually kick that thief out of my mind and soul and cast down every thought that exalts itself against the truth about what God says about me. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to kick insecurity to the curve and love myself the way God loves me. If He can love me unconditionally, why can’t I do the same?

Ka-boom. Everything changes. EVERYTHING.

He makes all things new.

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2014: New Hope for Moms Who Feel Like They’ve Lost Themselves

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I had a dream last night in which, unbeknownced to me, the company I was working for had an evil plot to kill everyone on earth, except for those who would remain loyal to the company.   It was a perfectly dramatic cross between the movies “The Firm” and “Armageddon,” only, I was the main character!  I happened to find out about my company’s evil, world-annihilating plot just moments before they began releasing the fatal fumes that would slowly kill every inhabitant on earth.  I had to make a quick, life-altering choice—was I going to conspire with the company’s malicious scheme to destroy the world, or was I going to stand up for the cause of justice and integrity and leave the company right then and there, even though doing so meant certain death?   Dun dun duuunnnnnnn…….

Which path did I chose?  I will get to that later. 

When I woke up, I knew that this dream was telling me something.  No, the dream wasn’t a warning to watch out for fatal gas outside my window, or that I had seen too many apocalyptic movies.  The dream was speaking to me about being a mom.

Did you know that, when baby scorpions are born, their first act as a live being is to eat their mother?  Yep.  They viciously destroy the female that just gave them life. Hmm…this degree of maternal sacrifice hits a little too close to home for some of us tired-of-being-pooped-on-and-peed-on-and-kicked-and-bitten-and-awakened-every-single-hour-for-years-and-tired-of-living-with-sore-nipples-and-stretch-marks-and-pregnancy-weight-and-no-time-and-no-money-and-no-life moms out there.  While my kids have never actually eaten my body limb from limb like scorpions do, I feel as though they have come pretty darn close.  The “me” that I used to know is not the “me” that I see in the mirror every day.   There are days when I feel as though she has been completely destroyed. 

The day when I looked around and realized that I seemed to have lost myself was one of the hardest and scariest moments of my life.  Some of you moms out there might not know what I am talking about, but I’d be willing to bet that many of you are nodding your head with complete understanding right now.  Maybe you feel lost too.  When my baby twins were born (a little over a year ago), I also had a 2 year old and a 3 year old.  Life wasn’t just busy.  It was impossible.  I felt like I failed constantly, though I was working harder than I ever had in my entire life.  For the first 6 months or so, it literally took every second of my day to simply keep the kids alive, fed, and mostly diapered.  I practically never took breaks and never stopped working until around 11:00pm (when all 4 kids were finally asleep).   Then, I would start the long process of feeding two babies through the night at around 11:30pm.  And the whole thing would start again.  Those of you who have had multiples know that I am not exaggerating.  Each day, while I fought to be the best mom that I could be in the midst of chaos, the “me-light” was growing more and more dim, until one day, it felt like it had completely burned out.

Have you ever felt like this?  If so, you’re not alone.  But, there is hope.

Back to the dream.  (The suspense was killing you, huh?)  I had to decide whether or not I would pledge my allegiance to an evil company, and therefore, preserve my life—or, whether I would do what I knew was right and quit the company, even though doing so meant certain death for me.  In that moment, I knew that there was really only one choice.  I had to do what was right.  And, as I quit the company and walked out of the safety of their building, I saw missiles being launched into all parts of the earth, containing fatal fumes.  People began to fall, dying, all around me.  But, then the strangest thing happened.  Though all around me fell, I didn’t.  I didn’t even feel sick.  I didn’t even falter at all.  Some how, by making the choice to give up my life in order to do the right thing, I was able to live!  I was petrified at first, but began to gain courage as I realized that I was not going to die.  I started helping people around me who were hurting and dying, and they were saved.  Then, as I called my family and friends, others were being revived just by listening to my voice on the phone.

I had made a choice to sacrifice my life, and by doing so, many others were able to thrive (including me).   We started a revolution, and the world was saved.

Being a good mom is the most sacrificial thing that I could possibly do with my life.  It is literally laying my life down.  My entire life down.  All day and all night.  Day after day after day after day.  It is very hard.  It’s, arguably, the hardest job in the world.  And, I’ll admit, there are days when I have wondered if it’s worth it.  But, this dream put it all into perspective for me.  I am not really lost or dead.  I’m not even dying. The company in the dream represents the true state of the unsanctified world—pure evil, damning people to doom and certain death.  But just as I did in the dream, by being a mom, I am standing up for the sake of integrity and justice and love and righteousness and servant-hood and hope and patience and life.  I don’t do it all perfectly, but I’ve given life to 4 little people, each who has the chance to partner with God and change the course of human history.  Each who, within his or her tiny heart, has the power to love the hopelessness out of someone, breathe peace into an anxiety-ridden world, and shower compassion upon the forgotten.  I gave birth to 4 little lives.   My personal army of freedom-fighters, justice-bringers, and truth-declarers.  By sacrificing my life, my life is now worth so much more. Being a mom is my ministry to those who, without my love and nurture, would otherwise die all around me.  Revolutionary, indeed. 

This year, I want to remember that servant-hood, though not always glamorous, is one of the most important and eternal gifts that I have been given.  I can also breathe easy knowing that God wants me to be happy and fulfilled and to live an abundant life.  He gives abounding joy for me in the midst of laying my life down.  I just have to receive it (which, sometimes takes some practice).  If you think about it—Jesus invented the concept of laying His life down for the JOY set before Him.  So I can trust Him that He really does know what I’m feeling and He really does have hope for me!

So, happy new year to all of you amazing moms out there!  Love and grace to you.  You’re so very important. 

Hope For the Stay-At-Home-Mom (and Dads!)

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Even though I am a right-brained, non-numbers-person, every day at around 1:00pm, my life, sanity, and happiness begins to revolve around a number.  Sixty.  I know that there are sixty more minutes left until I can put my 2 and 4-year-old boys into their room for a little quiet time and put my 10-month-old baby twins down for a nap.  Ahhh, sixty.  Sixty minutes until I can use the restroom in peace (wow, I’ve been holding it in since 11:00!), I don’t have to hear anyone talking about Swiper or Thinking Chairs or how to get to Sesame Street.  Sixty seconds turn into 1 minute.  And now everything revolves around fifty-nine.  Ahh, fifty-nine.  Fifty-nine minutes until I can make myself some lunch and watch a short TV show or straighten my hair or just lie on the couch. 

 The minutes slowly tick by, then it’s 2:00, and it’s finally quiet.  No one is asking me questions.  No one is crying.  No one is singing “the Wheels on the Bus” at the top of their lungs.   But even though it’s quiet, some days, it’s peculiarly loud inside my head.  My mind shifts from being on diaper duty to being a soldier, arriving for front-lines duty in a war inside the deepest parts of me.  

Every mom has her own challenges.  I know some moms who work full-time, and they have their own fight, but for me, a stay-at-home-mom, I find that, in those moments when I am not wiping noses or changing diapers or making lunches or potty-training or dishwashing—it’s in those moments when the real battle begins. 

 Let’s get real.  This battle is more than just a bug on my windshield.  Like many stay-at-home-moms (and dads), I’m fighting for something that is central to my entire being.  I am having a knock-down-drag-out, winner-takes-all, I-might-just-die-on-the-front-lines war to find out who I really am and if I have what it takes.  I’m fighting for my identity. 

 And, the opposing side on this war is not playing around.  I have a brilliantly skilled enemy that’s equipped with the most dangerous of weapons.  He’s really good at finding all of my flaws and reminding me of every single slip-up.  And sometimes, frizzy haired, pregnancy-weight-retained, in-over-my-head little me feels like I’m fighting-to-the-death with only my bare hands. 

To make matters worse, my enemy’s powerful weapons are unconventional.  He isn’t firing a gun at me.  He’s not that overt.  He’s not calling my phone, leaving threatening messages on my voice-mail.  He’s not that loud.  He’s stealthy.  So stealthy that I often don’t even notice that he’s got me by the throat, choking the life out of me, until I’ve almost passed out.  That’s because my opposition knows that, if he can get inside my mind, into my thought life, I have just given him an all-access pass to destroy my identity, one thought at a time.  These thoughts can sound like this: 

  • I didn’t check anything off my to-do-list today.  Therefore, I am inefficient. 
  • I didn’t give each of my kids the kind of attention they deserved today.  I even snapped at one of them.  Therefore, I am a bad mom. 
  • I can’t make my kids do what I’ve asked them to do or share their toys or take a nap or clean up their messes.  Therefore, I am a failure.
  • My friends are posting pictures on Facebook of their kids eating vegetables and going to fun places.  My kids mostly stay at home (a side-effect of having 4 kids, ages 4 and under) and won’t touch a vegetable with a 10-foot-pole!  Therefore, I am not as good of a mom as they are and I wish I had their life.
  • My life has come to this—diapering, taxiing kids all over town, nursing babies.  Therefore, I am missing out on real life.
  • No one can relate to me.  Therefore, I am all alone. 
  • With 4 young kids, I am facing day after day and year after year of being stuck inside the house.  Therefore, my life is hopeless. 

So some days, by 2:00pm, negative thoughts have caused my identity to take quite a beating.   And, in the quiet, I am fighting to stay encouraged. 

Have you ever felt this way?  Do you find yourself feeling discouraged as a stay-at-home mom or dad?  Do you ever feel alone, depressed, and unsure that you have what it takes to be a successful parent?

If so, you are among friends.   But, one thing is absolutely true, whether we believe it or not.  There is hope.  The Bible is teeming with hope.  Our battle is real, but hope is real-er. 

In my own struggles, I have found these four hope-filled, battle-winning weapons to be a powerful tools in the war for my identity…but we might need to dust them off and practice using them. 

  1. Connection with God.  I must connect with God every single day.  It will probably look different than it did before I had kids.  I may have to speak to God while I’m unloading the dishwasher and print off a scripture and tape it to my bathroom mirror so that I can read it while I brush my teeth in the mornings.  Don’t get discouraged if you can’t connect with him in the way you used to.  If you need it, I give you permission to change the way you connect with God.  But, you MUST connect with him.  Every day.  Otherwise, your enemy has gained major ground in the battle.  Without hearing the TRUTH from God about who we are each day, we will most certainly begin to believe what our enemy is saying about us. 
  1. Connection with Others. I don’t care if you’re an introvert, extrovert, Republican, Democrat, male, or female.  Every person on earth was created to be in relationship with God and with others.  How do I know this?  Genesis 2:18 says, “And the Lord God said, ‘it is not good for man to be alone.’” How long has it been since you’ve connected with people who fill you up and encourage you?  I’m NOT talking about a group that only commiserates with you about the trials of parenthood or allows you to stay in your place of discouragement.  I’m also not talking about people who make you feel worse or guilty about the job you’re doing as a parent.  I’m talking about a group that understands and acknowledges how hard things are, but encourages you into a place of victory.  I’m talking about friends who stand beside you in the battle lines and encourage you in the fight.  Can’t seem to find a group like this?  You might have to start your own.  Pray about who God wants you to connect with.  Since he has designed us to be people who need connection, he also has the grace we need to find such connections. 
  1. Stay Vulnerable.   If our enemy can keep us isolated, then we will lose the war for sure.  We can’t fight a battle of this caliber all by ourselves.  But the thing that keeps me the most isolated is when I am not vulnerable with people.  If I feel like I can’t be real, ask for help, or if I’m so ashamed of my mistakes that it keeps me from letting people in, I cut myself off from connection—which is often the very help I need.  I have found that, when I open up to someone about something I’ve done, am afraid of, am ashamed of, etc., they help me see that (a.) I am not alone in my struggle, (b.) my struggle is not hopeless like I thought it was, and (c.) I am loved no matter what.  If someone doesn’t know the real me, I will always wonder if they truly love me and will fight my battle with me.  Vulnerability is KEY.  Moms who are too afraid to look bad in front of other moms are going to lose the war.  Plain and simple.  It’s just too hard to fight off the ememy’s lies by ourselves.  We weren’t designed to do that.
  1. Watch Our Mouths.  What am I saying about myself and my situation?   I often find myself telling my husband, “today was hard.  I feel like everything is hard.  I don’t know if this will ever end.”   I have just allowed hopelessness to rule my home and my situation.  What I say matters.  “The Message” version of James 3:2 says, “If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life.”  The other day, I got sick of feeling hopeless, and I started yelling some truths from the Bible out loud.   “God wants me to have an abundant life.  Therefore, my life is NOT hopeless.”  “I am more than a conqueror.”  “With God, all things are possible.”  “I am lovely.”  “God has given me everything I need for life and godliness.”  “My voice matters!”  “I am not a screw-up!”  I couldn’t believe how good it felt to declare these things about myself out loud!  Let’s take charge of our thought-lives and make our speech “perfectly true,” only saying what God says about us.  If we say the truth out loud, we will begin to believe it (and so will our enemy!).

We can do this, moms!  Remember, the battle is real, but hope is real-er.  And do you want to know what’s real-est?   Jesus already won every war.  When I look at the battle-field, I see Jesus’s precious blood shed on the ground.  I am fighting a battle he has already fought…and won.  He died that we can LIVE in FREEDOM as a daughter in his house.  Princess Tiffany.  THAT is my unquestionable, nothing-can-take-it-away, unshakeable, no-lies-can-alter-it identity.  

Shame-Free Parenting

I recently read a booklet, written by a well-known Christian mom, entitled “Everything You Need to Know About How to Get Your Babies to Sleep Through the Night.” She listed 10 strategies that she’s implemented and have worked well for her kids. One morning, while guzzling my 3rd cup of coffee (after a particularly horrific night of poor sleep with my wonderfully fussy twin infants), I opened the booklet, hopeful that this mom’s advice could help me.

The problem was, she used words like “always” and “never” and “without exception” when describing what you should and shouldn’t do to ensure a good night’s sleep for you and your baby. At first, I began to chuckle, recalling the years of sleep deprivation that I’ve endured (and am still enduring) while raising my 4 kids. I rolled my eyes as I realized that I had, over the years, tried to implement each and every one of her suggestions, and yet, very few of them ever proved helpful to me or to my babies. But, here she was, claiming that these strategies WILL work, and implying that, if they don’t work, you are doing something wrong. I grimaced. An ugly aroma had entered the room. It was the stench of shame.

I’d smelled that disgusting odor many times before, after reading well-meaning parenting books who explained, in detail, the ways in which you should handle certain parenting situations (such as sleep-training, potty-training, baby-feeding, etc.). I’ve spent countless hours trying to implement these strategies with my own kids, but guess what? Very few of the strategies have worked exactly the way the book-writers have said they should, if they even worked for my kids at all! And after I read them, I’d smell that stench arise and fill my house.

Please don’t hear me say that I’m against parenting books. I am actually so grateful for the knowledge and wisdom that others offer through such books, and they’ve often given me hope and direction! But, what I don’t like is when authors, pastors, friends, other moms, and bloggers use words like “always,” “never,” and “without exception,” because such absolutes leave no room for individual preferences, personalities, environments, ability levels, and specific temperaments of mother and child.

Saying that “there is only one way to do things” is as preposterous as saying that God only makes one kind of person.

Have you ever eaten at a Mexican food restaurant, and you can still smell the scent of fajitas in your hair and on your clothing after you return home? The problem with scents is that they can follow you. I’ve often carried that shame-stench with me after learning how other parents raise their kids, and feeling like I’ve missed the mark because I (a.) wasn’t able to implement their strategies because I am not good at doing things their way, or (b.) their strategies didn’t work for my kids for one reason or another. Either way, it’s so easy to feel ashamed.

So, as I read that booklet, a righteous indignation rose up in me. I wasn’t angry at the author, I was angry at the stench of shame that affects so many of my mom-sisters. We are trying so hard to be good parents, but when parenting tips are presented to us as absolutes—through books, through blogs, and through friends—and when those tips don’t work for us, shame is heaped upon our heads. And that literally stinks.

Shame stinks. And it makes us reek. And I sure don’t want to be around someone who smells bad. Which is exactly the point. I believe there is a real battle, for parents, over this issue of shame.

The Bible has other ideas of how God has created us to smell.

2 Corinthians 2:14-15

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.

Whoa, jump back! Did that really say that I am the FRAGRANCE OF CHRIST!? Then, why do I let myself smell like poop? (and I’m not referring to the countless times that a baby has pooped on me—that is, sadly, unavoidable).

Shame keeps me from one of my ultimate callings—smelling so good that I’m attractive to those who are perishing and helping them find the only true way to be saved.

So, what do I do now? How do I wash away the scent of shame, and have a shame-free approach to parenting? You’re probably not interested in reading a 100 page blog entry, so here are a few of my initial, not-very-well-developed thoughts.

  1. I must always remember—each kid is different, and every parent is different. I must be free to be ME and let my kids be free to be THEMSELVES. If I am trying to be just like another mom, my world is hopeless. I will never be just like her. I will always fail.
  1. In order to know how to be myself, I must KNOW MYSELF. I love to take personality tests and to learn as much as I can about my strengths and weaknesses. One of my favorites is the “StrengthFider’s Test.” (www.strengthsfinder.com) It’s up to me to figure out what I’m best at, to capitalize on my strengths, and to be humble and accept God’s help in my weaknesses. (2 Corin. 12:9—“my power is made perfect in weakness.”) Most importantly, though, I need to know who God says that I am. That means, I must learn to listen to His voice above the voices of the authors of parenting books.
  1. In order to help my kids be themselves, I must KNOW MY KIDS. I must put down my phone and my lap-top and really pay attention to them. I like to ask teachers and other friends what they see in my kids. What are their strengths and weaknesses? It’s also important for me to spend time asking God to show me who He has created my kid to be— the deepest part of who he or she is. Then, I can keep that in mind when I’m having a particularly trying time with him or her. I can call him or her up higher. I can remind myself of the gold within each kid.
  1. I’m at my best when I’m SPIRIT-LED. Every kid is different. Every mom is different. I believe we aren’t born with all of the answers because God wants so badly for us to be in relationship with Him. If I could figure it all out on my own, I wouldn’t need Him. I operate at my best when I listen to what He is saying about me, about my kids’ needs, and about each difficult situation. (for more about this, see my blog about this: https://kenandtiffanywilliams.com/2013/03/11/how-a-mom-can-get-through-the-day-god-is-like-a-radio/ )

I guess my options are clear—I can smell like Christ, or I can stink like shame.

I guess it’s up to me.

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How a Mom Can Get Through the Day: God is Like a Radio.

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Whether it’s…

“Just hang on a minute, kids. I need walk a few laps around the backyard, and I’ll be right back.”

Or….

“I just need to walk out to the mailbox. Try not to feed your 4-month-old sister any marbles while I’m gone.”

We moms understand the need to escape from our kids from time to time. Even if it’s just for a few short minutes. We might take the time to apply blush AND eyeliner one morning, just to gain a few more minutes of peace before venturing into the land of Lego’s or Elmo. Or we spend an extra long time washing our hands after using the restroom. We just really want to make sure they’re clean.

For me, yesterday morning, I just “couldn’t decide” on an outfit to wear for the day, and needed to “hang out” in my walk-in closet for a few minutes in order to decide. Hudson was having a particularly bad day. He was refusing to eat breakfast or lunch, was screaming every time his 2-year-old brother got within 5 feet of him, and was following me around like a piece of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my shoe, screaming, “Mommy! Mommy!” With four kids ages 4 and under at home (including one set of newborn twins), I feel like I am constantly dealing with kids who need something right away. They can’t wait for a second. Everything is a huge deal to them, and yesterday, all of the screaming and whining had taken its toll on me.

So, there I was, hiding in the perfect serenity of my closet, taking my time as I surveyed each article of clothing, trying to “find something to wear,” while secretly wishing I could bore a hole in the floor and escape, kid-free, to the mall for a while. Ah, the mall. I could almost taste the Dippin’ Dots when, suddenly, I heard my bedroom door fly open, followed closely by a shrill scream and the words “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” I bit my lip in frustration.

I thought I was so perfectly hidden in here! How did he find me? Doesn’t he know that I just need a few minutes without someone tugging on my leg or needing to nurse or spitting up on my new silk skirt, or asking for juice, or spilling my coffee on the carpet floor, or crying because his graham cracker “fell” behind the couch.

I squeezed my fists together, clinched my teeth, and let out a silent scream before kindly answering, “What, Hudson?”

“Mommy, I need some milk and some snack and I need my Leap Pad and my Hex Bug needs batteries and I need a waffle. With peanut butter on it.”

“Drat! He’s found my hiding place!” I wanted to scream! “Give a girl a break! I just want to spend three minutes alone, hiding inside my closet. Is that too much for a grown woman to ask?” I thought.

Ensue loud screaming, dramatic flinging onto the ground, and about 25 rounds of “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”

As I let out another not-so-silent scream, the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit stopped me dead in my tracks. “He just needs YOU today.”

“What on earth do you mean? Believe me, he HAS me! He has me every minute of every day! I quit my career to say at home with them. I go almost nowhere and I work tirelessly to take care of every little need that my kids might have. I am well aware of the fact that he needs me!”

“No. He needs YOU.”

I thought about it for a minute, and realized that I had been away from Hudson, at several meetings, for the past few nights in a row. And, ever since having twins in October, I’ve been less able to spend one-on-one time with him the way I used to. I suddenly knew what I needed to do.

I walked out of the splendid solitude of the closet, ran to my little man, and hugged the heck out of him. I squeezed him as tightly as I could, and I told him how proud I was of him, how much I appreciated him, and a few of the things I really love about him.

Hudson grinned and then contentedly walked away, as happy as could be. For the rest of the day, he was on his best behavior—a total 180-degree shift from the way he was behaving only minutes before.

I stood there in disbelief. “What just happened?” I thought to myself.

The gentle voice of the Holy Spirit came again. “Now, that was easy, wasn’t it?”

I wanted to cry, just thinking about how I wanted to react to my fussy child. I wanted to yell at him and tell him to stop whining. I wanted to discipline his behavior without trying to figure out why the behavior was happening. And I sure as heck wanted him to get out of my closet!

But, even though I didn’t deserve His help, the Holy Spirit knew exactly what I needed to do at exactly the right time. Just as a radio station is always broadcasting, but you must tune into the station in order to hear the music, the Holy Spirit is always talking, ready to give us the keys we desperately need in order to raise our kids. All we need to do is tune in.

There are always so many things gnawing at me throughout each day—things that I know I should be doing with my kids. Things they should be learning. Things they should and shouldn’t be eating. Milestones they should be meeting. Experiences they should be having. Do they feel enough love and attention from me? How can I treat each kid as an individual—with unique needs, giftings, and desires? You know, really important things! Things that my kids might or not might talk to their therapists about in 30 years, depending on the way I handle them today! And yet, with 4 little kids, I feel like I’m constantly reacting to their basic needs (diapering, feeding, sleeping, kissing boo-boos, cleaning up messes, etc.), that I don’t have much time left over to tackle the seemingly HUGE parenting challenges in front of me. It’s overwhelming, to say the least. It’s easy to feel like a giant failure when I haven’t been able to check anything off my list in a given day, though I was busy all day and all night, taking care of my kids’ basic needs. It also feels like an insurmountable task to try to accomplish any big goals, when I’m spending all my time wiping noses, breaking up cat-fights between my 2 and 4 year-olds, nursing babies, and picking up 100 types of mysterious sticky substances from the kitchen floor.

But, this simple experience that I had yesterday, when the the Holy Spirit spoke so simply and so perfectly, reminded me of how God doesn’t want me to be stressed out each day. He knows exactly what I should and shouldn’t be focused on in any given day. And guess what? He also has instructions on how I can accomplish those things. Unique instructions that take into account my specific situation.

I’ve just got to tune my dial to His frequency. To His voice.

Simple.

Ok, Holy Spirit. What do YOU think I need to work on today? And how can YOU help me do it?

I’m listening….

Sleep-Deprivation and Free-Will: A Tired Mom’s Viewpoint

Since becoming a mom, “sleep” has not been my BFF. My first-born, Hudson, didn’t sleep through the night until he was 15 months old. At that point, I was in my 2nd trimester with Cooper, who didn’t sleep through the night until he was 20 months old. At which point, I was in my 2nd trimester with twins. Now that they’re 3 months old, you can guess how hard it can be to get any sleep while nursing two babies through the night. So far, my years of mommy-hood have been a time of delirium and coffee-addiction.

If you’re anything like me, you may have spent many nights crying out to God that your babies would fall back to sleep. My husband and I have tried everything. Books, videos, crying-it-out, Ferberizing, occupational therapy, keeping the baby on a schedule, keeping the baby off a schedule, using a weighted blanket, swinging before bed, praying over the kids’ rooms, and anything else we could think of. Still, they didn’t want to sleep. Take last night, for example. I counted 31 times that I awoke to put a pacifier in little Knox’s mouth (afraid that his wailing would wake up his twin sister). I also nursed them each three times (that’s 6 nursing sessions, if you count both babies). So many times, I have gotten offended at God over this silly, yet crucial issue: SLEEP! Over the years of sleep deprivation, I’ve begun to grow tired of finding the TV remote in the refrigerator, mistaking my earrings for car keys, and completely forgetting my children’s names and birthdates (yes, that happens daily). Each night, I could feel the brain cells in my head slowly dying with each hour of nighttime wakefulness.

But, this morning, as I guzzled my 4th cup of coffee, I recalled an incident that gave me a little perspective on this whole sleep issue (or lack there of).

A few years ago, my husband and I made the long trip from Northern California to Texas with our 8 month old and 2 year old. This trip included waking them up at 3:00am, driving 2.5 hours to the airport, taking several flights (including a horrendous lay-over in which we almost lost Hudson about 6 times, as he’d repeatedly wiggle his hand from mine and take off down the crowded airport hallway), rocked a crying baby to sleep for an hour on the plane (yes, we were THAT family), and finally made it to Texas at 10:00pm. We had a wonderful visit with family, but I caught a nasty cold in the process. Meanwhile, little Cooper (8 months old) couldn’t seem to adapt to his new surroundings and would wake up 6 or more times each night. Not wanting to wake the house full of relatives, I would nurse him each time he awakened, just to try to get him to fall back to sleep. As every mom knows, I couldn’t just take a sick day. It didn’t matter that I felt like a family of bees had taken up residence in my face, like I’d swallowed a set of Cutco knives, and that I was sweating like a wrestler and freezing like a popsicle. I had a crying baby to tend to. So, I was awake all night.

One night, I’d nursed Cooper many times through the night, rocked him, sung to him (though I could barely make a sound due to the aforementioned knives in my throat), and swung him in my arms until they’d lost all sensation, and yet, he still wouldn’t fall back to sleep. All night, I prayed and prayed. At 6:00 AM, Cooper was awake again.

“Please, God.” I begged. “If you love me at all, you will help Cooper go back to sleep. I am sick, tired, and angry after a long night of trying to console my child back to sleep.”

Cooper stirred again.

Maybe I’m being too selfish. Let me try this. “God, you know, it’s actually best for Cooper if he gets a good night’s sleep. His poor little body needs rest. Please make him fall asleep.”

Cooper started to whimper.

Hmmm….ok, I will quote a scripture. “He gives sleep to his beloved,” Psalm 127:2. “You love me, right, God? Now give me some sleep!”

Now, Cooper was full-on crying.

I started whipping out every tool I had in my belt. I made declarations and blessed his spirit. I released peace and grace over him and over the room he was sleeping in.

Cooper was now wailing.

It was way too early. I had a fever and had barely slept, but I knew I’d better get him up, or else I’d wake the whole house. In a near-rage, I sat on my sister-in-law’s couch, silently yelling at God. “I don’t understand. Why didn’t you listen to my prayers? Don’t you care about me at all?” And, for the rest of the day, I was mad. Worse than that, after years of praying for my kids to fall asleep, and yet I remained sleep-deprived, I was disappointed in God.

That night, as I nursed Cooper and put him down in his crib, crossing my fingers that he’d stay asleep for at least a few hours, I angrily asked God again why he’d forsaken me the night before. The Bible says ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, and yet all my asking and seeking were in vain, it seemed.

This is the point in the old cartoons when the character who’d challenged God would be struck by lightning or fall through a gigantic cavern as the earth opened up and swallowed her. But, God’s mercy always amazes me. He gently spoke to angry little me and said, “Did you ask me why Cooper didn’t sleep last night?” It took me off-guard. Interestingly, in all of my praying, declaring, scripture quoting, and begging, I’d failed to ask God why my little guy wasn’t sleeping. Again, I heard the gentle voice of God say, “It’s because he has a free-will. Just as I don’t force you to do anything, I don’t force him to do anything either.”

I was instantly convicted. God had given little Cooper, though only 8 months old, a free-will. All this time, I’d blamed God for not making my kids fall asleep, but I’d forgotten a fundamental characteristic about God. He doesn’t force us to do anything. That’s not the way true love works. If my husband had tried to “make” me marry him, I’d have run a million miles away, wanting nothing to do with him. Conversely, I’d feel no pleasure from my kids’ hugs and kisses if I forced them to show me affection. Love without choice is not real love.

I’ve tried so often to control what my kids do. I think, “If only they’d do this_____, they’d be so much better off. But it doesn’t take long to realize that you really can’t force anyone to do anything, whether it benefits them or not. Take the sleeping thing for example. Try as I may, I can’t make my kids sleep through the night, just as I can’t make them grow teeth or hair.

Think of how much easier it would’ve been on God if he’d forced Eve not to eat the apple in the Garden of Eden. Sin never would’ve entered the world. No one would’ve known famine, loss, murder, anger, destruction, or any other evils. But, God didn’t do it that way. He valued freedom and free-will so much that he allowed Eve to make the biggest mistake of all time. Freedom didn’t scare God. Mistakes didn’t scare God. Sin and all manner of evil didn’t scare God. He had another trick up his sleeve—redemption.

When I beg God to “make” my kids do something, or when I’m frustrated at them for not making the best choice, I guess I’m missing the whole point. Just as God celebrates my freedom to make decisions, I want to celebrate my kids’ wills. I want to celebrate their differences and the fact that they are passionate about things (even if their passions make me deliriously tired). Don’t I want my kids to learn to think creatively and independently—so that they can eventually make decisions without my help? I guess God knows what he’s doing with this whole free-will thing. And, after all, with the hope of ultimate redemption, what am I so afraid of?

So for now, drinking 4 cups of coffee a day seems like a small price to pay in exchange for the greater good—raising kids who know the freedom that God has intended for them to walk in. Not trying to control them. Not getting offended at God when my kids don’t do exactly what I think they should do. Not getting scared when they exercise their free-will, which is actually one of the greatest gifts that God has given them.

Thank God for freedom—and that I’m free to get another cup of coffee right now. Oops. That makes 5 cups today. But, right or wrong, drinking that much caffeine is my decision. And I celebrate it. Yum.

The Power of Vulnerability: Being Beautiful Means Being You!

It’s 11:00 AM, and I hear the doorbell ring.  In a moment of sheer terror, I try to decide if the person ringing the bell has already seen me through the window, or if I could possibly get away with not answering, pretending like I’m not at home.  A lump in my throat arises as I see my friend, Alex, waving at me through the window.

“This is a nightmare.  She knows I’m here,” I think to myself.

I approach the front door, still in my pajamas, thinking, “will she believe that I’ve actually been busy since the moment a crying baby woke me up this morning?  Just because I’m still in my fuzzy pink PJ pants doesn’t mean that I’ve been online shopping or checking Facebook.”

As I approach the door, I catch a glimpse of my unkempt hair in the hall mirror.  I slept on my hair while it was wet because I didn’t get a chance to take a shower until 10:00 PM last night, and Lord knows I didn’t have time to dry it before my twins were hungry, and then I collapsed into bed.  So my hair is now about the size of San Francisco, and just as wild.

My four-year-old and two-year-old  boys are sitting on the couch, glued to cartoons on TV.  Cooper only has a shirt and diaper on (in the 40 degree weather) and Hudson’s hair-do looks like a cross between Elvis and a Dr. Suess character.  My twins are lying on the sullied carpet floor, right next to several dirty diapers that I failed to throw away after their last diaper change, because I had to stop everything to reassemble the fichus tree that Cooper knocked over and managed to de-leaf.

“Hi, Alex,” I say with a fake smile as I open the door and greet her.

Entering my house, she steps over the three baskets of dirty laundry that I left there two hours ago.  I got distracted on my way to the washing machine by a crying baby who needed to be diapered, and then my 4-year-old who had an accident on his way to the bathroom.  She walks to the kitchen, where cheerios have been dumped on the floor.  I was trying to sweep those up as I heard the doorbell ring.  I see her eyes glance at a Tupperware container with soiled pants and underwear soaking in it (after Hudson’s early morning accident) and then at last night’s dirty dishes, which are still in the sink.

She was in the neighborhood and just wanted to say hello, she says.

Thanks a lot, Alex.  So glad you did.  (Next time, call first, why don’t ya?)  

After the most awkward, briefest, most embarrassing visit known to man, I shuttered as I closed the door behind her.  She just saw me at my absolute worst, I thought.  Then, for the rest of the day, I couldn’t shake the feeling of mortification.  I was exposed.  She saw the truth about the way that mornings often go in my house these days.  I didn’t have time to make myself look good before she showed up.  She saw the real-deal; the down-and-dirty me.

I flashed back to the 4-years-ago me.  The pre-kid me.  The girl with a cute, clean house with nice, non-stained furniture.  The 15-pound-lighter version of me without post-baby tummy-flab, who could afford cute clothes because she wasn’t paying $6 a day to diaper twins.  The girl who seemed somewhat successful; who had a good job, a master’s degree, a clean car, and a social life.

This morning, that girl and the frizzy-haired girl I saw in the mirror seemed to be two completely different people.

It used to be so much easier to look good when I didn’t have kids.  But, once I become a mom, I was just bumbling and fumbling my way through motherhood, learning as I went, making mistakes, losing it sometimes with my kids, getting behind on laundry, running through the drive-through because I didn’t have time to make a healthy dinner, and I felt fruitless and flawed.  It doesn’t matter that I was once successful in many ways.  So, I spent a lot of energy trying to look good in other’s eyes, so that, deep down, I would feel successful.

Even when I only had two kids, I could still manage to fake like I was actually on top of things.  But last spring, I got pregnant with twins, was very ill, and was put on bed rest at 21 weeks.  Suddenly, I was unable to do the things that made me feel more successful.  Bending down to pick up toys, sweeping, vacuuming, cooking, or cleaning could actually prove fatal to the babies I was carrying in utero.  And, to make matters worse, sweet friends and family came to my house every day to help with my kids (I couldn’t have done it without you all!), so many people were daily seeing me at my worst.  I struggled with feeling embarrassed, exposed, like people must think less of me because my house wasn’t in order and my kids looked slightly homeless…but there was literally nothing I could do about it!

It was during this several-month period that I learned something.  First, none of us were meant to carry the burden of being perfect.  Perfectionism is a trap.  It’s like the time I dreamt that I desperately wanted to walk across town to a friend’s house, but after I’d walked for miles and miles and hours and hours, I realized that I was walking on a treadmill, and was no where closer to my desired destination than I was when I started.  It’s one of the most beautiful privileges in life to learn and grow, to sharpen our character by learning from our mistakes.  It’s a beautiful thing to learn to be content with who we are—not continually striving to reach some pinnacle of perfection—not continually trying to look good in front of others.  Perfectionism takes me away from my kids and makes me “me-focused”—worried about what others think about ME, wanting to be the perfect ME.  ME, ME, ME!  I will never be a successful mother when I only think about me.

And most importantly, I learned the power of vulnerability.  While I am still working on totally understanding this, there’s something so liberating when you expose your inner-self to others—because then there’s nothing to hide!  When my friends would come over, and dishes were in the sink, laundry was strewn throughout the house, etc., I would think to myself, “well, here I am.  This is the real me.  I am a work in progress.  Love me or leave me.”  When I adopted that attitude, I found that life was much easier to live!  I didn’t need to rush around every time I knew a friend was coming over, trying to look good in front of her.  Oh, what a joy it is to drop the perfectionistic persona I’d tried so hard to be –and just be me!  Flawed, but growing, little me.

Recently, a friend came clean about a particularly ugly aspect of her past.   She was impressively open and vulnerable about it, and when she was finished, I was aware of one fact—she, though imperfect, was the most beautiful person in the room.  She had exposed her ugliest self to me, and all I could see was beauty.  I was so proud of the person she had become, and the picturesque life she’s managed to form out of malice.

As social-worker and Ph.D., Brene’ Brown, says “what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.”

I want to live out loud, warts and all, and not fear what others might think about me, or what might happen if they find out that I am….shocker…not perfect after all!  I don’t want to waste time trying to look good when I could be spending time with my kids or doing something of eternal significance.  Now, that is a beautiful life.

So, thanks, Alex, for this reminder that I am more beautiful today—with my dirty laundry hanging out for all to see (literally)—than I would’ve been had I cleaned everything up and tried to be picture-perfect.

Being vulnerable makes you beautiful.  And you can’t have “beautiful” without the words “be you.”