School rules, Prodigals and Pharisees

This Fall I have a new appreciation for “secondary” holidays. As soon as the school calendar came in the mail in August I flipped through it and put all the school holidays in my calendar with little smiley faces next to them knowing that it meant that Hayleigh would be home and we would have sporadic days of our old normal. I am so much more grateful for Christopher Columbus, our Veterans, and Martin Luther King now. I know it sounds totally shallow to say I am appreciative of these incredible people merely because it means my daughter gets a day off from school to cuddle and craft with me, but call me shallow then, because it is true. I love having all my kids home with me. I love not having to change out of our pajamas. And I love just devoting a day to devoting myself to them, even if nothing else gets done (besides sleeping in and a late breakfast). So, call me lazy too I guess. Hayleigh is off school today and tomorrow. Lazy, shallow days like this make me feel guilty for ever taking it for-granted all those years when I had my hands on her all day long. It makes me try to make the most of those precious hours and moments I have with her now.

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All that being said, I feel I should also say that school is going really well. Hayleigh loves school. Early on she struggled a bit socially to find her niche, which I am not going to lie was pretty near heart-breaking for me. When she came home many days crying with stories of mean girls that sent me spiraling back and re-living my elementary years drama/trauma, it was all I could do not to swoop in and decide we really were going to move to that cabin in the woods and be hermits. But I stuck with it, and so did she.
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I knew having a child in school would be an adjustment for all of us. We braced ourselves to adjust, because despite reading books and blogs or talking to other parents, you never know exactly how your family will need to flex until you are living it. I have had to be a bit more structured with my time. I have had to become more organized. No more scrambling the morning of. I want Hayleigh to leave for school with a full bucket, not just a full belly. I would hate to have her leave without a feeling of peace and be gone for 7 hours. This has been a tough one for us at times because we had become so accustomed to leisurely mornings since Peter begins work around 9:30-10 am and Hayleigh was in afternoon preschool last year.  I have had to say “no” to more things so I can say “yes” to other things-like being very present and available from 3 o-clock until bedtime. I am not saying this is how it has to be. It is just what works best for our family, and I am thankful every single day that I get to be home with Braxton and Royce all day and there to pick be the one to see Hayleigh’s face light up as we pick her up every afternoon in the school cafeteria. I love being the first one to hear her stories, even if I often have to remind myself this is not an interrogation and the poor girl needs some breathing room.

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The first few weeks Peter and I were ready for a personality shift. We had heard stories of sweet 5 years olds becoming almost unrecognizable for the first month or so until they adjusted to being “on” all day. We were ready to give grace, ready to coach her (and ourselves) through the emotional tornado we had been told about. But it didn’t come, at least not in the way we expected. She held up really well to the physical toll. She was fairly engaged and energetic when she came home. She obviously missed Braxton and Royce and would jump right in to pretend play with them. We would hear stories from school, learn kids names and hear about her “specials”. What I was not ready for is her neediness and how it would manifest in unfamiliar ways. The past month or so has actually been harder than the first month. Hayleigh’s teacher is tough at times. I remember it from when she was my teacher. I have witnessed it first hand this year and heard some stories from Hayleigh. We know her job is not to nurture; it is to teach. And Hayleigh IS learning. It is so cool to see her learning the beginning stages of reading and math! Hayleigh is very much a “words of encouragement” love language girl. Her teacher does not give much positive reinforcement or really any warm, fuzzy feelings what-so-ever. Again, it is not her job to hug, nurture or praise my girl. And this is not how God has made her. We trusted that God would give Hayleigh the exact teacher he wanted her to have in order to mold her into the person He wants her to be. We are confident that the teacher Hayleigh has is that teacher. But many days Hayleigh comes home with her bucket leaking and nearly empty. She is craving all the attention and affection I can give, sometimes even more than I think I have to offer. When she isn’t getting what she craves some new behavior has arisen. Our once rule-following daughter, who is obsessed with the rules/ adult approval at school,  is testing the limits at home when she rarely ever has before.

I am feeling a bit drained from it all, but trying to remember what a wonderful opportunity this presents to remind Hayleigh of the Gospel. She and I are so alike. We are rule-following, people pleasers. Sometimes it is easy to kind of let Hayleigh “slip through the cracks” in my parenting because she is “easy” and “good”. Braxton and Royce are younger and have different personalities that demand more of my energy (and often force me to my knees in prayer). I am reading “Give them Grace” by Elise Fitzpatrick (Mommy friends, read it. Read it. Read it.) She talks about two types of children: Little Prodigals and Little Pharisees. It is easy for me to discipline my prodigals. Okay, not so much easy to discipline, as easy to see the need for discipline. I have ample opportunities to remind them of their need for Jesus’ forgiveness, to encourage them that Jesus has the power to help them do what is right even if their hearts still need Him, and to tell them how wonderful it is that God rescued us from our sins. It really seems like good news to the prodigals. Prodigals know they need help. Us Pharisees though, we are the ones to whom the good news doesn’t always seem as good. We are the ones who often receive praise based on our behavior or performance. We start to think we have got this figured out. Exhaustion and overwhelming guilt and anxiety often follow pretty closely, but when we are clicking along following the rules, getting the nods of approval, pats on the back and stars on our papers, we feel like “we got this.” We thrive on rules. Positive reinforcement is our friend. “Go ahead, tell me how good I am. Did you notice how I not only followed that rule, but I also made a newer rule to follow just so I wouldn’t even come close to breaking that rule??…just so you would think I am awesome?” Ummm….hello modern day Pharisee. Yuck.

School (and all the rules that come with it) and new behavior at home have presented me with fresh ways to share the grace of God with Hayleigh. Rules are never enough to make us “good”. We are good because of Jesus. Hayleigh has been very relieved to hear that while obeying the rules is important it doesn’t make God look at her and see goodness. The reason God sees her as good is because He looks at her and sees His Son. She will often pray “Thank you God for putting the Holy Spirit in my heart so I can never be alone, so I can make good choices and so you see Jesus.” Oh, what a sweet reminder that is for me, a Pharisee. The Prodigals obviously need Him. The Prodigals were Jesus’ friends. Us Pharisees have farther to go, even though we think we are just steps away. I want so desperately to raise children who know they need Jesus, not children who know how to keep all the rules. I want kids who know that their value lies not in what they do, but in what has been done for them-on the cross. I want to raise kids who know God could never love them less or more than He already does. And I want to know that myself.
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Lately I have been having such amazing and beautiful heart changes when it comes to understanding God, His love, His grace. I could go on and on, and maybe I will someday (lucky you!). But for now, I will leave it at this. I wasn’t prepared for this rule following-Prodigal-Pharisee-stuff to be the way God grew us as we entered the school stage. I was expecting for it to be in conflict resolution, peer pressure, curriculum issues, learned behaviors that needed to be unlearned etc. But once again, God has surprised me. Once again God is using Mommyhood to teach me things about myself, and more importantly, about Him.

"Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:12-13
I want my kids to know they need a Doctor, just like I do. I want to introduce them to the Great Physician. I think that is the best possible way I can love them.
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striving to be marginal

Along with his many lines from “Anchorman” (“Don’t act like you’re not impressed.”), and his “hat trick” where he puts a baseball hat on and looks like he is in his 20’s and then takes it off and looks at least 45 (poor bald guy), Peter has another “go-to” that always makes me chuckle. He will say he “strives to be marginal”. I don’t know why, but for some reason jokes about laziness and mediocrity just tickle my funny bone. I mean why not set the bar low, right? Especially when it comes to the things in life that don’t matter much, like marriage, parenting, ministry, personal hygiene. And it is a good thing that those categories are things that aren’t at all important because I feel like I have been blowing it lately in every one of them (and also a few more important categories, like matching socks).

No but really, lately I have been feeling pretty marginal in almost every thing I get my hands on. Instead of everything I touch turning to gold, it seems to just kind of turn to an ugly grey-ish color with a little bit of mildew forming on the corners. (Ugh. That reminds me I need to clean the bathroom.) I feel like all my striving and striving leads me to one place:marginal. Whenever I get like this,  I tend to react in what, for the sake of continuing the sarcasm, we will call “the best possible way”. I wallow. I bemoan, and actually audibly moan, about how awful I am and how everything around me is grey-ish and mildew-y. I have found that this makes things none percent better. So in an attempt to kinda, sorta stop wallowing, but not really get too far out of my mud pit, I look for something to latch on to. Then the twig I have lassoed myself to snaps and I slump back into the pit and wallow some more. It is really pretty and incredibly mature. You should never try it.

Last night I was escaping my family. It was, as my dad often said/says, “so loud I couldn’t hear myself think”. Since I am not quite so far below marginal to completely desert my family, (for more than maybe a couple hours), I just zipped over to Joann’s to buy some crafty things for myself and let my head compartmentalize some things without people singing “Let it go” at about 10,000 decibels above “enjoyable” and for the 10,000th time past “oh, that’s sweet”, or fighting over who was fighting over the sting from the bow and arrow toy, and someone being almost two, and someone losing their poop because there was a bruise on one bit of banana and they really wanted apples slices annnnnyyywwwaaaayyyy. As I was driving and my head was sorting things as they fell  Tetris style, a song came on the radio, just faintly enough for me to hear it over my own thoughts. It was one of my favorites, so I turned it up and temporally turned my brain volume down.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name
Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Savior's love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all
When Darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
My anchor holds within the veil

I have sung this song countless times. I have whispered it to myself in the noise. I have shouted it with buckled knees as I thought about my trials and my sin and my suffering. But for some reason I have never applied it to being a Mommy, ya know, the thing I spend my days (and nights) doing. I guess maybe because other things although they don’t necessarily seem more important to me, they may seem bigger. Does that make sense? “The darkness” in the song has always seemed to me to be speaking of extreme pain and suffering, or big tests and trials, not something as mundane as the dark moments of  motherhood.  But there are dark moments here. Moments where it all seems to be unraveling and the one who is supposed to be winding it back up into a nice, neat spool that makes sense and has a smiley face sticker smacked on top ,and is wrapped in a Biblical principle, is unraveling just as fast as everything else.  It is when you screw up again, yell at the kids again, model the same sinful behavior you are trying to discipline them for and don’t feel like you have a leg to stand on (or the leg you want to stand on just stepped on another Lego). Yeah, there are dark moments here in Mommy-land. Lately I have really been wallowing in that darkness. And it seems to hide His face a bit in this arena of my life.

Last night as I drove, the line “I dare not trust the sweetest frame” cut to the core of me (Baxter…that’s for you, Peter). What am I trusting in when it comes to my parenting? I try to parent with scripture. I try to shepherd their hearts.  I pray for and over them. I try to remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. It is not like I am doing this thing apart from Christ. But in my exhaustion and heaviness I realized that since Jesus says His burden is light, clearly I am not carrying His burden. I am trusting in some other frame. Am I relying more on my parenting books and blogs than on Christ…alone? Am I putting more weight into the heartfelt advice from beautiful friends that Christ…alone? Am I expecting a formula to “save” my kids? Even the “formula” that “no formula will save them”? Is the “sweetest frame” that I am relying on myself? (Now normally I would never call my frame “sweet”, but for the case of this example, and because as you can see clearly from this post both my self-esteem and personal hygiene are lacking, just humor me on that one.)

I had another thought this morning as I was vacuuming the down stairs in an attempt to drown out the noise. Yeah, I was vacuuming so it would seem quiet…or at least so it would be uniform droning. And I would rather deal with the kids waging war against the vacuum cleaner as it “attacked their house” than waging war on each other. Anyway, so I was vacuuming in the quiet. As I fend off arrows and swords and one screaming toddler with more than her fair share of snot, I was mulling over a verse that came up in my “quiet time” (ha!) this morning, a verse that our pastor spoke about a little while back: Philippians 2:12-13.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
The balance here seems so hard for me to grasp. I am the person who wants to be told exactly what to do and I will do it. Tell me how to achieve success. Tell me how to make you happy, God. Give me instructions on how to obey you, a formula even, and I will follow it. I am trying to get away from that tendency as I “grow up” but all to often I find myself falling back there. So, these verses about working out my salvation and God working in me, seem to contradict. Am I supposed to be working my butt off for God or am I supposed to be resting in Him allowing Him to work in me??? Tell me what to doooo!!! Our pastor explained it really well. I am going to butcher it as I try to summarize. What I took away from the explanation he gave was: God works in us to make us want to want what He wants. Then when we want what He wants, we go for it. Makes total sense, right?
Okay, here is a link to the first sermon in the series if my totally clear summary was somehow murky to you.
While I was vacuuming I was still wrestling with making sense of those verses, along with other verses about doing verses abiding etc. Those thoughts, coupled with how mediocre I have been at life lately and a desire to stop being so marginal, left me crying out for answers. Do I do? Or do I wait? Do I press on? Or do I allow God to bring about my fruit? Then where these verses have often left me feeling agitated, now I suddenly saw them as encouraging. It is a comforting thing that it is God works in me. I can’t work in myself. I wallow, remember? I am thankful that He is the frame I should cling to; He is the name I should trust in. He is the anchor that holds, even amidst the strongest, loudest (or the most mundane) storm. He compels me. He equips me. He makes me want to want what He wants. From another passage I have been reading/memorizing “He redeems my life from the pit and crowns me with love and compassion”. (Psalm 103:4). Sahweet. Because I want that. I need that. Isn’t love and compassion what I was backwardly trying to find in my mud pit anyway?
And since He is all those things I chose to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. No more wallowing in my pit. I have been given a crown. And even if the trembling is from feeble limbs not used to striving and working out their salvation, I will step forward. I will stagger and limp along the path He has for me, until He raises me up to walk or even jog (with a soft “j”…again for you, Peter). I am not sure of the balance quite yet. But God is working on me…and in me. And instead of feeling bogged down and confused by those passages, I will chose to rejoice that it is God who prunes me back, God who tends my fruit. It is God who planted the seeds to begin with. And it is for God’s glory that I have any fruit to offer at all. So, because of Him , I am lifting this “sweet frame” out of the pit and working it out. (Don’t act like you’re not impressed.) And yes, there is fear and trembling. But “my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.”

Apple picking 2014

I figured since we went apple-picking close to 2 months ago that maaaayyybee it was time to put the pictures on the blog. Apple picking is one of my favorite traditions. I love to look back and see our family grow from year to year. It is amazing how much God has done in and for us over the past year. Traditions are a wonderful reminder of His faithfulness. So, here is a recap of our apple picking adventures over the years
2008-2011: here
2012: here
2013: here

And this year.
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I picked only one apple this year (one more than last year) but somehow we ended up with 62 pounds of apples!

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moments without a camera

The giggles intertwined with the hot, moist “under the blankets” air and danced around me. Like fairies covered in pixie dust, they flittered through the air, which grew denser with happiness, and tickled my face at the corners of my mouth where the smile lines are. I felt them reach down and tickle my heart too, as this girl and her squinty-eyed, scrunched-face giggles have many times before. Her scraggly hair covered one eye. Her chubby hand clumsily swatted it back. Then suddenly she gasped and turned her ear toward the door. “Ah, what dat? You hide wid me, Mommy?!” She dove into me and burrowed herself into me. “Ssssss, Mommy. Dey comin!” One hand stroked her disheveled scraggles- just twisting and bouncing into curls at the nape of her neck. The other hand gave her naked thigh a squeeze or two, just enough to make her pop up, her head raising the ceiling of our fort, and giggle some more. It’s like a drug to me-those giggles. She whipped the blankets off of us to inspect. The late afternoon light shines in golden though the windows of our bedroom. As it glowed behind her her wisps of hair made a halo. I was so glad she didn’t cooperate when I wanted to brush it back this morning. Then under the blankets we dove again. More giggles. More squinty, winky smiles, which pudge her cheeks out as if they are literally, audibly calling for a kiss. Her bee-bo peeks out of her shirt, the one her big sissy wore for Christmas when she was a full year younger, the one this girl has insisted on wearing even though it barely covered her round little belly bulge, the one with Snoopy on it- holding mistletoe.  She throws herself into me again. “I yah you, Mommy”. I echo her. Then she responds “I yah you. I too, Mommy. I too.” I smell the cinnamon oatmeal from breakfast in her hair, and the air has a lingering smell of macaroni.   Our comforter casts a grey hue on us. It is as if I am watching this whole scene unfold in black and white. I close my eyes, hoping a slow shutter will capture this moment and file it away. I feel her excited breath on my face, she squirms up, scrunches her face up and back,-cheesing for my “camera”. Then collapses in giggles. And we lay there together, under the comforter, in the grey-golden light, completely lost in this moment. Completely found.

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