My kids are not my source of joy.

More often than not, my girls make me happy. They’re sweet, helpful, nurturing toward everyone from me to their stuffed animals, and they say really weird funny 2-year-old things all day.

But they are most definitely not my source of sustaining joy. When I look to my two-year-olds for my hope, I am putting an impossible expectation on them they’ll never be able to fulfill.

That was brought home to me once again at 5:40 yesterday morning, when Catalina stood at the door yelling for me and waking her sister & Bryant, who’s been sick and working long hours. No matter that Lucy would sleep later. It’s 5:45 or bust and sister had better get up too.

I’ll admit, I was not thrilled. Every time I set my (Silent! Far away from her bed!) alarm earlier, she seems to instinctively wake just then. I wanted to say, can’t I have fifteen minutes to myself before I start meeting your needs for the next 14 hours?

Mercifully I was reminded in that moment of frustration that drinking hot coffee alone, obedient children, smooth nap & bedtimes and a day free of meltdowns are not going to satisfy my soul.

And yet again by nap time, I was feeling frustrated again by the small stresses that pile up and can totally sap my joy. I tried to find satisfaction in cleaning up, starting dinner, a short nap. I didn’t feel better, though, and realized I needed to look to the Word. I read Psalm 33:

“Shout for joy in the Lord, Oh you righteous! Praise befits the upright…
For the Word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness
He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord…
Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.
Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield.
For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”

My joy is in being counted righteous before God, something no one but Jesus could accomplish for me. Nothing can change that. Praise befits the upright. Not because my kids slept til 6:30 and I had a great quiet time alone, or because we had a fun day and nap and mealtimes went smoothly. Those are definite sources of temporary happiness and I am thankful for them when they do happen. But because of God’s steadfast love toward me that will never change.

Maybe that sounds too philosophical and eternity too far to bring joy in those super tired moments and super exhausting toddler tantrums. But when so much of motherhood is a fight to love well and keep on serving when you just want to put yourself first, the knowledge that everything that matters in eternity has already been accomplished for me by One who loves me can change everything about my heart attitude.

I’m definitely thankful for my girls, and the boy on the way. They bring so much real joy to my life. But it’s the sort of joy that points me to the giver of a joy no tantrum can take away.

By the way, Risen Motherhood has a great recent podcast about this very topic. I was excited to listen, because this has been on my heart a lot lately as God uncovers the “broken cisterns” I run to for satisfaction. I found it really encouraging, like every podcast of theirs. They also share a lot of good blog posts that have helped me check my heart attitudes and realize where I’m seeking for hope that I shouldn’t be.

Grace for future patience

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I’m beyond excited to meet our baby boy this fall. It will be such an adventure, and I so look forward to newborn squishiness and snuggles– and yes, having one small person in the house who can’t go anywhere.

But this toddler phase is so emotionally demanding, and sometimes it brings out the worst in me. I find the more independent Lucy & Catalina get, the more they’re expressing their own feelings and preferences, the more demands on my patience come right and left like smart missiles threatening to make me explode. As soon as I get used to one challenge– the endless bedtime drama, for instance– another pops up.

To complicate things, summer living is easy: park, lunch, nap, pool, dinner, bedtime, repeat. Fall brings the challenge of much more time inside as well. So as I emotionally and spiritually prepare for this baby boy, a discouraging voice keeps whispering: “But how will you ever have enough patience to love well?” 

Several truths have stilled that insinuating voice and armed me to face the fight ahead with joy.

Fear of the future is unbeliefThis reminder came from, of all places, the lesson I taught my preschool class at church on Sunday. God always provides exactly what we need when we need it, as we look to him for provision. The story was of the Israelites in the desert, one generation losing their entrance into the promised land because of unbelief and another receiving a gift beyond what they could have accomplished alone. And Matthew 6:33-34 reminds me that I don’t need to borrow patience for later:

33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” 

God provides patience as I need it, from his own perfect store of steadfast love, not my own. And even more reassuring, God will forgive and redeem then just as he does now. I need to dispel the fear that the days I lose patience and really blow it will be a loss without a chance of redemption. God’s mercies are new every morning, but he can redeem a day hour by hour, too. He can also grant me patience not my own, and he often does, quieting my heart in a moment of impatience and helping me to love better.

Patience grows as we gaze on the Supplier of patience, sit under his word, and walk in his Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3 reminds me that we become more like Jesus, in his patience and in every way, as we gaze on him. God’s patience will grow and overflow in me not as I strive in my own strength to cultivate it, but as I see Jesus. As I spend those intentional moments in the Word and in prayer, in meditating on verses, listening to worship music, listening to the voice of the Spirit, patience will be some of the fruit of slowly, painfully, gloriously becoming more like Jesus.

That season, too, will sanctifyAs much as I’d love to just get perfect in time for Baby Boy, that’s not happening. Some of the challenges I dread will change me and refine me into a better mother, wife, friend, and most important, a better worshipper of Jesus. So instead of wallowing in mommy guilt or trying to put myself through a nice-mommy boot camp before November, I’m clinging to the words of Paul:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Parenting is like sanctification boot camp. Instead of dreading it, I want to press on toward Christ, because he has already made me his own and will continue to make me in his image.

All these truths have helped me truly look forward to welcoming Baby Boy and being the best mom I can be right now. I know as time passes, I will grow in patience and grace and joy, but I also know there is so much grace for right now, for every day. It will be a good, joyful, and sanctifying thing to be a mommy of three, with God’s help.

These twos are anything but terrible

 

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Before you pat me on the head and think, “That’s so cute, just wait til the twos really get started,” be assured we have our double share of tantrums, screaming matches, poop on the floor, running into streets, random sudden fears, and hair-pulling. They intensified just around two with a force that was definitely terrible, and happened about the same time they moved to toddler beds and got rid of the pacifier once and for all, so we had a rough month of “It can’t be like this forever!”

But with a few adjustments and the expectation that tantrums will happen, we’ve settled into two and I love it. Their imaginations are amazing– right now Catalina says her stroller is an airplane and her baby doll is flying it. But she had to fix it first, with a hammer. Yesterday Lucy was pushing a car up the walls and saying to herself, “Airplane? No. Car.” (Can you tell they love airplanes these days?)

Maybe because of their growing imagination, they’re able to play together happily for 10 or 20 minutes at a time. This morning while I made breakfast, Lucy read to herself, narrating aloud, and Catalina made chocolate milk and coffee in her kitchen. Of course everything is punctuating by them asking for 75 things at the same time– “Mommy, read the book!” “Mommy, hold!” “Popsicle!” But they can play for a long time without fighting.

This is adorable, and also pretty awesome for me to listen to their cute conversations while doing dishes or working on my Bible study for a few minutes without crises.

For me, every new stage has had its overwhelming weeks til I got used to it. Around 10 months I wondered how it was possible to nurse and feed them solid foods without feeding them allllll day. At 14 months I wondered how to cook real food for them and us every day. At 18 months I wondered if I’d survive all the emotions because they wanted to do everything themselves — get dressed, put on shoes, change diapers– but couldn’t. And then it took 20 minutes just to get to the car. (It still does.) At two I thought, “Eighteen months was nothing to this!” And it wasn’t. But it’s so good; I think every new stage is better than the last. So here’s to the not-so-terrible twos.

 

Fight the itch, save a life 

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All pregnant women get itchy, right? It’s normal. Your belly is stretching, stretch marks inevitably make their appearance, and you’re generally uncomfortable.

But what if it’s not normal? What if it’s actually a life-threatening itch? With Lucy and Catalina, I had a rare condition called Intrahepatic Cholestastis of Pregnancy, a liver condition that can be fatal to the baby past about 37 weeks gestation. My only symptom was itching, and the only cure is delivery.

June is ICP awareness month, and because the condition can be so subtle and so dangerous, I want to share my story in case it helps someone else protect their unborn baby too.

The itching began on the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet, but quickly spread up my arms and legs. It was worse at night, often keeping me awake while I tried not to keep scratching.

But scratching didn’t help; anti-itch lotion didn’t help; nothing helped- the itch was inside. I still thought it was pretty normal, though, so I checked a few pregnancy forums to see who else was experiencing the same thing. But no one seemed to have quite the same symptoms, til I found a support group for ICP. The inside-out itch nothing can stop– it wasn’t normal, and it was dangerous.

My OB practice is full of amazing doctors, thank the Lord. As soon as I described my symptoms the next morning, my doctor ordered liver tests and confirmed that I did have ICP. She put me on medication to help control my elevated bile acids, and the girls were delivered early.

The condition only occurs in about 1% of pregnancies, and a lot of obstetricians aren’t well-educated about ICP. Even if they believe there’s something to the itching and do blood tests, they’re often reluctant to deliver early. Many women have to fight hard to get a safe delivery scheduled.With an uninformed doctor and a general lack of awareness about the condition, ICP can be a scary condition.

If you think you might have it, push hard for bile acid tests, for medication and for early delivery. Symptoms to watch for: mostly nonstop itching that nothing external can stop. But other symptoms can include fatigue, nausea, malaise, lack of appetite, upper right quadrant pain, and sometimes jaundice. If you have any of these symptoms, go get tested now!

ICP Care is an amazing resource, and they have a lot of information you can bring to your OB, as well as a doctor discussion guide. You can find more information at their website. And if you hear a pregnant mom complaining of itching that won’t go away, tell her to check out the site– it could save a life.

 

Taking back the [very] end of the day

When I finally subscribed to the Risen Motherhood podcast after several recommendations, my first listen was their recent podcast on taking back last hours of the day– the dreaded “witching hour.” It was a great podcast and I recommend it.

But the idea of taking back the end of the day caught my attention because the very end of my day usually needs just as much help and grace as the witching hour. On any given weeknight, the girls are in bed before 7:30, dinner is ready, I still have rooms and messes to clean up and I just don’t feel like it.

What I really want to do is turn on Netflix and pretend I’m going to fold laundry. Or fold it and keep vegging for another episode or two. Maybe with a bag of tortilla chips, if we’re being real. Forget my to-do list– once the kitchen is clean and I can safely walk through the living room, I am on the couch.

Besides the neglected to-dos, there’s the ambitious end-of-the-day plans I always make during the post-naptime energy boost : do a barre workout, write a blog post, read a book, finish the chapter of the Bible I got three minutes into this morning. And yet, the post-bedtime slump comes and day after day, I neglect the things I want to do for the easy thing.

It’s especially hard not to do this when Bryant is traveling or at work late prepping for a trip. I feel so done by the end of the day when I’m alone, and without my everlastingly energetic husband to inspire me, I just veg.

So, I’ve been thinking about strategies for overcoming this habit, borrowing some from the Risen Motherhood podcast that you should really listen to. For instance:

  • Planning ahead. Just like making dinner while the girls sleep to avoid the worst of the witching hour, I’m working on planning a project into my day a few times a week and making adjustments. If I want to have time for barre or writing, I might do a little extra clean-up during nap time to make room for that.
  • Scheduling it. If I have a list of 5 things I could do at 8p.m., I will do none. But if I have a workout picked  or a book set aside and it’s on my list just like the bills were earlier, I am so much more likely to be excited and actually do it.
  • Adjust expectations & plans. I am not going to do an intense 45 minute barre class or clean the bedroom closet at the end of the day. If that’s my goal, I do it during nap time.
  • Make Netflix time valuable: sometimes I really need to fold diapers, stretch, or do extra toy pickup. I’m working harder  to push through and get those done during a show, instead of just meaning to.
  • Block Facebook after a certain time of the evening: this is such a time-sucker because I have a few groups of women I actually know and see in person that I follow daily on Facebook groups too. Having a real conversation thread about how to fit running in as a mom can be totally valid, but 9:30 p.m. is not the time. I like the StayFocused browser extension because there’s no way to get around the settings after the site is blocked for the day except my phone, which I can only surf for so long.

Of course, there are days when I’m beat and my plan is to watch a show and go to bed. I think we all need those days sometimes. And there are other days Bryant is home and all is well even if we’re doing separate activities. But for the other days, this is my plan of attack. Here’s to productive evenings and better rest.

Treasuring Christ: a book I can’t stop re-reading

There are a few books that have forever changed how I live, view the world, and think about God: The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis, Man Alive and Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. And I’ve just added a new one to the list: Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full, by Gloria Furman.

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As you can tell, I read this book in the midst of mothering.🙂

I’ve never read a book that was so gospel-focused, and yet had so much relevance to every part of my life. Actually, that’s the point of the book: how the gospel is relevant to every part and every moment of my life, and how that helps me treasure Christ in all those moments. Not just including, but especially, the mundane and difficult ones.

The idea relate to all of us, but especially if you have kids, you will resonate with what she says:

“I want to hope in God when my kids wake me up before my alarm. I want to love God’s Word all day when I’m entrenched in the mundane work around my house. I want to meditate on God’s promises and praise him and remember him  when I’m up with the baby at midnight and 3 a.m. (and 10 p.m., and 2 a.m., and 5 a.m. during growth spurts.)
According to Psalm 119, there is no time of the day or night when God’s Word is not relevant to our lives.” (page 54, emphasis original)

She shares about how her idea that relationship with the Lord requires time and solitude was totally shaken by the constant and unpredictable demands of new motherhood. I knew exactly what she meant when she said she’d feel as if the day was a wash, spiritually, if she wasn’t up before the family and spending time alone in the Word. But over time she came to learn that God is ready and willing to fellowship with us now, in the midst of life and work and mothering.

This book is not about using the gospel as a tool to become a better mother. It is about being so transformed by the glorious gospel that it changes our mothering as an outpouring of our trust in and worship of Christ.

Nowhere does she say, “memorize this verse and you’ll stop yelling at your kids,” or “grasp this gospel truth and you’ll never grumble about serving your family again.” She says, over and over, that these truths will help us image Christ as we serve — but that we will fail, and the gospel truth growing in our hearts will lead us back to the cross, where we find our only sufficiency.

The book is rich with Scripture. There are verses quoted and referenced on almost every page, affirming and expanding on what she’s saying. I loved that just as much as I loved what each page said.

She uses Scripture to battle the idea of “mommy guilt,” reminding us that Jesus’ atonement cleanses us not only from sin but from guilt.

“We tend to wallow in shame or  scoff in cynicism over our inability to keep our hands out of the proverbial cookie dough…. Then we must boast in the gospel, because in it God mercifully gives us Christ to be our valued treasure. Things like ‘mommy guilt’ cannot crush us, because Christ was crushed on the cross in our stead. Jesus is our consistency; he fulfilled God’s highest expectations of perfection, and in him all the promises of God find their Yes. In him we find mercy in our time of need– which is always,” she writes.

I have read some sections of the book three or four times, and the only thing keeping me from a complete re-read is her new book, Missional Motherhood, which just came out. I really can’t recommend Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full enough. I hope it will fuel your worship and heighten your appreciation for the gospel as much as it has done for me.

I did it!

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Do you ever feel like texting someone a picture of your folded laundry, non-frozen dinner or empty, clean sink just some so another person knows you did it?

I used think it would be so nice to become an adult and get good at things like folding the laundry when it needs folding, or making a non-frozen dinner every night, without it feeling like a huge accomplishment. I thought the Domestic Goddess talent would somehow kick in around the time I had my first apartment, like a mothering instinct. Kind of how I thought I’d turn into DJ from Full House when I turned 16.

Then I became an adult (I guess?) and discovered those things are actually life skills, things you have to  practice and learn to do better. Meal planning, cleaning the kitchen for the third time in one day, the tomato sauce smeared on the wall– the struggle is real.

My sister-in-law recently shared a video of my niece trying so hard to put two blocks together. When she got them, she squealed, “Did it!” and then tried again. Every time she got it, she was just as excited.

And you know what? That’s about how I feel about every time I get to the end of the day with dinner cooked, the kitchen cleaned, the toy tornado picked up, and maybe some laundry  folded & put away. I’m still waiting to feel like a zen homemaker instead of a frantic toddler mom in yoga pants and sort of clean hair when Bryant walks in the door to find me in a war zone of a kitchen wiping gobs of dinner off our little Ikea table.

I’m not very good yet at cleaning as I go, or using my time in the most efficient way. But I’m learning. A few favorite survival tactics: I’ve learned that if I make dinner way early (we’re talking any time after breakfast), I can avoid trying to juggle raw meat and hot pans with clingy, tired toddlers. Cooking before the witching hour is my favorite life hack to date.

I also find it so much easier to get laundry actually put away if I fold each item as it comes out of the dryer. Obvious, right? But somewhere in the sleep-deprived early months with the girls, I stopped doing that and started throwing clean loads into a basket as quickly as I could to make room for the wet load to make room for the dirty clothes. In reality, folding one or two loads of laundry doesn’t take long, but it’s a major mental hurdle for me. So, back to folding as I go.

And, I’ve just started using a (generous) list of rotating meals to pick from each week, to make meal planning go faster. My hope is it will also make shopping & cooking faster, since they’ll be recipes I make all the time, like throwing together a batch of our favorite muffins.

What are your favorite ways to make the homemaking easier? Or should I just start wearing pearls & heels as I attack the mess?

When life hands you mud puddles

We’ve had a record rain streak here and it has thrown a bit of a wrench in our spring routine. Park days, runs in our trusty double jogger, and spontaneous walks to look at the ducks who have taken up residence in our pool have all been infrequent. We spend a lot of time cooking in their kitchen– I’ve had a lot of “coffee a milk” this week!

But there is one pretty great thing about endless rain.

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Lucy and Catalina love splashing in puddles. They consider any amount of water a “puddle” and will splash in it for as long as I’ll let them. Today was a prime splashing day, with a late afternoon break in the near constant drip that let them splash and jump without their jackets.

With an equally record-breaking streak of late nights and skipped naps last week, I can’t say I even noticed how endless the rain has been til this week, with sleep back to normal. (Hallelujah!) But now we’re really missing the playground, and I’m missing my mini runs on the way to the park, and wondering how much longer til we can wear the shorts we optimistically broke out last month. Summer, we’re ready for you!

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Things I Love: Tired Mom Eyes Edition

This week, all two days of it, has been One Of Those. One poor sick sister kept them both up hours past bedtime Monday, then Catalina skipped her nap yesterday and kept me hopping, then they both managed to spread all three folded & sorted loads of laundry across the entire living room in the two minutes I walked out of the room.

But, a few favorite things make even terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days better. (Besides the amazing babysitter, bless her– she took my girls to play with my friend’s son, because she was nearby and knew we’d had a week.) 

I’m especially excited about my new mascara.  When I’m dragging and unshowered, I hate to look even more tired than I feel. But for years, almost as soon as I put on my mascara, I’ve had smudges under my eyes that got worse and worse. I tried different brands, super waterproof and all, and nothing worked… until:

L’Oreal Beauty Tubes Mascara. 

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Game-changer. The mascara binds itself around your eyelashes as it dries, and then it doesn’t budge, whether you laugh til you cry or get caught in the rain. Then, it comes right off with warm water. You can see the little eyelash-shaped tubes when they wipe right off. No more smudges, no more tired mom eyes, and it’s a drugstore brand. Magic.

Cold Brew Coffee. 

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Stumptown cold brew is my favorite, whether it’s the chocolate in the carton for special days or the nitro-infused stuff in a can for realllly tired days. I can usually find it at Whole Foods and some of my local coffee shops. But at $4 each, it’s not exactly a pantry staple, you know? So instead, I sometimes splurge on Trader Joe’s cold brew coffee concentrate. It’s almost as good as the Stumptown and lasts me a whole week if I stick to my usual cup a day. (I have been known to have an afternoon cup, though, because it’s just so good.)

Rifle Paper Co. Notepad 

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I’ve always been a list person, but it’s not always been pretty. Before Rifle Paper Co. entered my life, it was more like an explosion of variously colored sticky notes and lists in any of several notebooks. I could never find my to-do lists and didn’t want to see them when I did. But pretty paper will do wonders. I don’t lose these to-dos– until they’re done, and then I just throw them away. No more cute notebooks filled with a year’s worth of meaningless to-do lists interspersed with more important notes. Just inspiration.

I’m off to kiss a cute baby and bring a new mom some of our favorite snacking cookies! Have a wonderful Wednesday.

These aren’t paid advertisements– just things I love enough to share! 

 

Our favorite snacking cookies

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I’m no food blogger, but I think all moms need a good snacking cookie up their sleeves for park days and playdates. I like them slightly health-ified, so they’re filling enough for busy afternoons.

These Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies are gluten free and can be dairy-free if you use the appropriate chocolate chips (or sub all raisins). They have a hint of earthy nuttiness from the buckwheat, but they taste surprisingly like the real thing.

And while I (and the girls!) love hummus, berries, and cheese for snacks, sometimes bringing the cooler to the park is just a little much. These are easy to stash in my diaper bag along with a few clementines, and just go.

I adapted the recipe for several friends with dietary restrictions from this delicious recipe on Two Peas & Their Pod, so feel free to use butter or whole wheat flour if you aren’t making them for someone with allergies!

1 1/4 cups buckwheat flour (or whole wheat)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil (or butter)
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp almond milk or milk
1 cup oats (certified gluten-free if you need them totally allergy-free)
1/3 cup chocolate chips (whole foods sells non-dairy ones)
1/3 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350*. Mix together the first four ingredients in a separate bowl. Mix together oil & sugars for about a minute, then add the egg, vanilla & almond milk. Add the dry ingredients just until combined. Stir in the oatmeal, chocolate chips and raisins by hand. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment, and bake for 10-11 minutes (they’ll look a little soft).

These pack well in a plastic container, and taste delicious. Get baking & get to the park!