Henry’s Christmas Bells

I’m sure many of you have heard the Christmas Carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. It has been performed by many different musicians throughout time. The song is actually based on a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the 1800s.

Longfellow was already a respected writer when he wrote this poem, but what makes this poem so astonishing are the events that led up to his publication of this poem. He was in a dark place following the death of the love of his life, Fanny. She died following a horrendous accident in which her nightgown caught on fire by a candle. Henry was heartbroken, grasping for strength to carry on for their 5 children.

During this time, Civil unrest was very present in the United States as the South was trying to secede from the Union. War was beginning between the North and the South with slavery being a main point of emphasis. Henry’s oldest son, Charley, much to his dismay, was in the military-fighting for the Union. (Henry preferred his son to stay out of battle).

Charley was wounded in battle with a prognosis of possible paralysis. It was while Charley was recovering in the Longfellow home that Henry was walking outside, and heard the church bells and felt compelled to pen his poem.

The parallels between his feelings at Christmastime in the 1860s and mine in 2020 are not lost on me. Towards the middle of Longfellow’s poem a selection reads “Then from each black accursed mouth, The cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound The carols drowned, Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” He can’t even hear the chimes of peace on earth, good-will to men because of all the explosions and noise going on in the Civil War happening around him in his day to day life. It’s hard for us to ignore the Civil unrest we are facing today as well, isn’t it? Lest we get close to forgetting, all we have to do is long onto the internet and we are quickly acquainted to it.

And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong, And mocks the song. Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

He looked around and didn’t see peace anywhere. That’s easy for us right? Covid. The Election. The race discussions that have once again become paramount. It’s easy for us to feel depressed and overwhelmed right now. It would be justified if we didn’t feel too much in the Christmas spirit this year.

But I love how this poem ends:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

We have hope for brighter days. God does not sleep, nor does He slumber. One day, all wrongs will be righted. The righteous will one day prevail. In the midst of Longfellow’s unhappiness, the bells reminded him of that truth. I hope you take a moment to listen to the tune, or even read the poem-and take a minute to be reminded yourself.

Having it “all” doesn’t mean having it all

I’ve been a devoted watcher of the TV series The Crown since it came on Netflix. This past week they released season 4, which highlighted Princess Diana and Prince Charles relationship. Of course, then I became absorbed in Princess Diana’s story, reading excerpts and watching documentaries on her. Guys, she was utterly miserable. She even tried to hurt herself several times.

This was absolutely heartbreaking to me because I remember hearing about and seeing pictures of Diana when I was younger, thinking she had it all. In a way, she did…but not where it matters most.

It also got me thinking that we spend so much of our lives striving for things that do not guarantee happiness: fame, fortune, status, money, and the like. Oftentimes relationships, family, rest are sacrificed in order to strive for those things listed above. While I do not believe happiness should be our ultimate goal in life regardless-why would we sacrifice the important things in order to gain something that can be fleeting and doesn’t have a record of producing what we all want most in life.

We all want to belong. We all want love. We all want to be seen. Money can’t give you that. Status often doesn’t see the real you. Fame doesn’t build relationships. All the fortunes you can build will some day, eventually, outlive you. These are the goals of so many Americans nowadays, yet we also find more are depressed than ever before. More are needing medication to live. (Now, I’m not anti medication at all). But we can see historically and on the media today that these goals to not necessarily contribute to a life better off.

Does money help reduce stress when you can afford to pay all your bills? Sure. Is it nice to be able to give your family members things? Absolutely. This cannot be where we put our life purpose, however; because it will leave us wanting. Those things are a nice byproduct to have in life but shouldn’t be our ultimate goals.

Aside from those things seldom producing true happiness, they are also all temporary. Money can come and go. Fame changes with the wind. Status changes depending on the crowd you are around. Regardless of what you believe, don’t place your hope in things that don’t last.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time”. Spend time on things that truly matter. Don’t focus on the temporary and fleeting.

Girl Power…or something like that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “girl power” and what I think that entails. I am an accidental girl mom. I say that because I truly thought I’d never be a girl mom. I always felt I was going to have a house full of boys. I now have 2 boys and 2 girls. I love having each, but I do still struggle more with girl emotions and drama.

I think a lot about the things I want to impart upon my girls as they grow. “Girl power” or “I’m a girl I can do everything on my own” is a pretty popular philosophy nowadays. I am 100% for girl power, but I find the characteristics I consider girl power aren’t often what others consider it to be, and vice versa.

Tonight I was watching my 8 year old daughter at her basketball practice. I noticed when she was running sprints that she was looking at the girls around her. After practice, I told her looking at other people while running just slows her down. I told her to pay attention to her running and her race, then she would run better. (I also feel like that could be used for many different areas of life as well).

I want to write a list of things I want my daughters to know as they grow, as they grow in to their “girl power”:

  1. Never be afraid to stand alone.
  2. Be confident enough in who you are to know you don’t have to explain yourself to others.
  3. Don’t pretend to be less smart than you are. Even if you’re made fun of, you’ll come out ahead.
  4. Know that you don’t have to have your makeup and hair done all the time-a little real-ness can be very welcoming.
  5. Know your worth isn’t dependent upon anyone else.
  6. Be friendly with many types of people. I mean truly friendly, not the “friendly to your face, talk behind your back” kind of friendly. Many viewpoints lead to a better understanding of the world.
  7. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
  8. Where I hope you’ll be friendly with many persons, I want you to also know it’s okay if you don’t want to be friends with everyone. Some people will only drag you down, you are free to say no to friendships like that.
  9. Know and own your weaknesses. Ask for help when you need it.
  10. Believe you can do much more than you think you can: athletically, academically, etc.
  11. Enjoy life. Do not fear anything that cannot kill the soul.

Now, these main points don’t sound controversial to the main stream girl power we hear, do they? But here’s where I see a big difference: the women that come to my mind when I think about “girl power” don’t ever have to discuss it. They are able to do hard things, and they have peace with themselves when they aren’t doing those hard things.

They realize being a woman is an empowering thing in itself. The women I think of also aren’t afraid (or feel like less of a woman) to ask for a man’s help. Because they know we each bring our own gifts to the table. Men having value does not curtail the value of women. We compliment each other, which makes us even stronger.

I raise my girls exactly like my boys, but I know each will have their own different strengths and weaknesses. I raise my boys to encourage my girls, and my girls to encourage my boys. But I feel like when you raise a child (boy or girl) with the values above, you don’t need to tell them “speak up when a guy makes you uncomfortable” or “you aren’t less of a woman because you don’t like girly things” or “you have to bring down guys to appear strong”. When you raise them to know these truths, they become aware of themselves and grow confident in who they were made to be. I don’t want my girls to scream “girl power”, I want them to live it.

Unapologetic About Your Occupation

I still remember the reprimand I received from my public speaking professor while I was in college. We were all discussing something and I made the comment “she’s just a stay at home mom”. My professor then proceeded to tell me she spent 12 years at home while her kids were younger and it was the hardest job she’s ever had. Even with this revelation, I still wasn’t entirely convinced.

Fast forward a few more years, and I found myself pregnant during my Senior year of college. I was able to graduate before my first born made his appearance, but I suddenly faced a dilemma. Do I continue to pursue teaching jobs, as I had already started turning in resumes, or do I stay home with the baby once I graduate college. To say this was an easy decision would be the biggest lie of the century.

I looked forward to teaching. I found great pride in the fact that I was the first one in my family to graduate college straight after high school. I did, however; have many mentors who told me they either a) loved staying home when their kids were little or b) wish they could go back and do it again to stay home with their children when they had been younger. It should be noted that my husband and I also talked about this as well and his opinions do factor into my thought process.

So, I decided to stay home with our baby. I am so grateful to have been home with all our children thus far. I have to admit though, that it wasn’t easy in the beginning. I felt shame for saying I was a stay at home mom when asked by others what I was currently doing. Usually the question that directly followed my stay at home mom revelation was “so when will you start teaching?” I have also received the occasional comments about my college education going to waste because I stay home. These conversations used to leave me embarrassed and ashamed.

That began to change when I changed my viewpoint on staying home. I wasn’t doing “lesser work”. Every occupation or position you occupy in life is to be fulfilled to the glory of God. Yes, there are days that feel absolutely mundane. But that is true of any job. In any occupation, you will have tasks that seem mundane and tedious.

We are told “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”. We don’t compartmentalize our relationship with God. I don’t live parts of my life to give Him glory, and live other parts of my for my own or others glory. If homemaking is my current calling, then this is where I am to glorify God. And any task that is aimed at God’s glory can never be a lesser task.

Another thing that has helped me to change my outlook is the realization that my children are all I will (God willing) leave in this world. Any job occupation I will ever have will be filled in my absence, but there is no one else who will ever be my kids mother. That burden and blessing takes this calling to new levels of importance.

Don’t ever feel your tasks are unimportant, whether it be that of a SAHM or a job occupation you are ashamed of. Anything done with eternal significance simply cannot be unimportant. You decide what is important with how you decide to live your life. We all live most of our lives in the little moments. I’ll leave you with a quote from Paul David Tripp: “Our lives are comprised of 10,000 little moments and maybe only 3 or 4 dramatic ones”.

Guys, be confident in your little moments as well as the big.

Faithfulness in School Days

My kids went back to school in person today. Our district offered different modes of learning at the beginning of the year. We had elected to do school remotely to start out the year because child #3 had horrible asthma. We wanted to see how it was going to look before we sent them back.

Then I received an email from the school asking if I’d be okay with them going in person the 2nd 9 weeks. I discussed it with the hubs and we decided we were comfortable enough to send them back. The house is awfully quiet today with just the 1 year old at home.

It’s funny though, looking back on the first 9 weeks, I don’t remember wishing I had more time to myself. I don’t remember feeling resentful that they were home with me. Yes, things were more hectic, messy, and loud. Yes, we were some times short tempered. Yes, I did raise my voice some days (most every day). I just don’t remember focusing on it during that time.

I don’t say this to make it sound like I’m a super mom for teaching my kids the first 9 weeks. I don’t want to sound like I think I’m more of a loving momma because I didn’t get sick of them or that I didn’t struggle with the idea of them being home.

I’m also not saying God’s Will is that all children be remote or homeschooled during this time. Any situation you find yourself in (even a bad one) can be used for the glory of God. We simply did it because of health issues for our daughter. Since we haven’t had huge outbreaks in our district, we felt comfortable when asked about returning early.

I’m also not going to say that I’m completely worry free with my kids being in school. My heart broke not being able to walk them in for their first day. I do still worry about sicknesses with my third. But our reason for keeping them home currently isn’t the issue we thought it would be. However, I know where to take any worries I may have. (Yeah, I may have been up last night at 3 am praying about them). There is only One who is never changing and completely dependable.

I look back and it simply amazes me that God gives us the grace when we need it. Oftentimes, we don’t realize we needed it until the moment has passed us as well. I enjoyed not rushing around all morning trying to teach all 3 of them this morning, even though it didn’t bother me at the time.

It’s not my strength that carries me but His. I’m not saying God’s Will would be that all teach their kids remotely and that’s why He carried me. Rather, in whatever situation we find ourselves led to, God will sustain us if we are looking to him as our source of hope, strength, and joy. Just like God sustained me through the first 9 weeks, I know He will sustain me (and them) through the uncertainties of going back to school as well.

I’m going to share a quote by Elisabeth Elliot that I think best sums up my feelings. She is referring to motherhood in this specific quote, although I think you’ll find it applies to any calling that you find yourself in: “This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness”.

I want to remember the hard and ugly, not just easy and pretty.

Lately I’ve felt a stronger pull to live in the moment more. Our community has lost persons in it recently. I’ve read about things on news pages about lives lost at young ages. I’ve really felt the shortness of life being emphasized around me.

It’s not that we don’t know it deep down, but at certain times of life events bring it more to the forefront. I’ve seen posts about wanting to savor moments when kids have done something cute, or are wearing something cute, basically anything good that people want to remember. I get it as well. I want to remember the good times all the time. Those are the memories that keep us a little bit encouraged when facing hard days with them.

I want to start living in the moments that seem harder at the time as well though. The days I’ve told (and been ignored) by my one year old after telling him “no” a million times-I want to be there. The days I’m exhausted from the time I wake up until my head hits the pillow at the end of the day-I want to be there. The days my girls fight nonstop and I feel like all I’ve done is referee-I want to be there. The days I feel like I’ve done nothing but keep my kids alive-yep, I want to be there too.

I don’t want to just live for the good moments. I want to be an active participant in every part of my life. Why? Because it all serves a purpose. When my one year old does finally listen to that “no”, it emphasizes how important the incessant “no’s” were. The days I wake up exhausted, I know it’s because I’m busy with little people who are some of the most important to me in this world. The days my girls fight and are forced to make amends, relationship is being built. (You can’t have two divas in the same house and it expect arguments to occur while living in close quarters). The days my only accomplishment is keeping them alive is reason to celebrate-because it’s no easy task.

Another reason I don’t want to wish any day away is because I’m not promised rainbows and butterflies throughout life, let alone try to plan it so that’s what I get right before anything bad ever were to happen. Life doesn’t only have purpose when it’s easy. Life doesn’t only have purpose when it looks good. Every moment has purpose because you were given it to live in. In James 4 we’re reminded that life is a vapor. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. We’ve got today, and regardless of the circumstances, I want to be all in.

We don’t live life with only today in mind. A life lived for the short term, in any aspect, isn’t very encouraging. You can’t spend money without thought for tomorrow. I mean, you could but it’d probably get you into some monetary issues. We don’t think of our diet in terms of today. We don’t gorge ourselves daily because we would careless about the long term. The good and the bad total up the sum of your life-and it all has value. Let’s not forget there is purpose in moments of adversity as well.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved”. -Helen Keller

Break Pride to Pieces

This past weekend, I had a moment of dread when I thought I had been doing something wrong to my daughter’s hair the past 5 years. For those that don’t know, child #3 is adopted and is a different race than me. I’ve spent hours and hours reading, watching, practicing, and talking with others in order to better learn how to do her hair.

I initially learned how to do it because I do not ever want my daughter to feel like she HAS to go outside the home to have her needs taken care of. Yes, it will look better when it’s done at a salon as she gets older. Mine looks better when I go to a salon as well. So, it’s never bothered me that some day we may end up at the salon.

The other night revealed a less desirable trait in me as well. The first thing I felt when I thought I was wrong, was embarrassment. Embarrassment because I was worried what people would think if they found out I had been doing her hair wrong? Would it confirm the idea that multi-racial families are just too complicated? Would people think I’m not the best fit mom for my girl?

After this brief moment of doubt, I was reminded that I felt embarrassed because I had put too much pride in myself and my own abilities. Pride has no place in the heart of a believer, when placed in anything other than God. Can I have pride during my lifetime? Absolutely-but I put my pride in the right context when I realize any and every ability I have is given to me by God.

I’ve been reading a Puritan prayer a week from the book The Valley of the Vision by Arthur Bennett. My prayer this week is called “The Great God”. There is a section that goes like this: “Annihilate each clinging shred of self-righteousness, Implant in me true lowliness of spirit,… break me, then bind me up;…Thus will my heart be a prepared dwelling for my God;”. To annihilate means to utterly destroy. To implant means to establish. We should ask God for the grace to utterly destroy every shred of our own self-righteousness. (Because we cannot do it on our own). We should then constantly ask for lowliness of spirit to be established in us. (Because it’s not easy to not feel full of ourselves).

I get that the Christian life is often a topsy-turvy, upside down kind of life. What we are told to do often doesn’t make sense to the masses. But remember there is freedom in learning to die to self and live for God-in all aspects of life.

What reinforces this belief? The fact that when I realized doing my daughter’s hair correctly or incorrectly is not about me. It’s about her, because I want it to be done correctly. It’s mostly about God though, because in all areas of my life I want to glorify Him. There are times that only way we can glorify Him is correcting our mistakes and trying to do different. We try to do different by reminding our selves of the truths of the only person who truly can bind and heal our hearts.

I mean that as this story relates to where my mind goes when I do make a mistake, and how I handle the mistake. Long story short-I reached out to a friend who told me I was doing it correctly. I didn’t have anything I did need to correct. If I did, guess what? I would have corrected it next time and life would still continue.

If I wouldn’t have been focused on self, I wouldn’t have questioned whether or not I was the right mom for my girl, because I know God has given me this child on purpose. I don’t have to care about what others think of my mothering, because only one opinion truly matters. I wouldn’t focus on the difficulties of multi-racial families because I would recall the truth that no life is without difficulties.

Moments like this are bound to reappear all throughout life. Thankfully God’s truths are still here and they apply to all facets of life, even hair.

The Most Important Relationships

I stayed home tonight from my oldest son’s football practice to clean my house. I know I have 4 kids but my house will not be a disaster regardless. Yes, throughout the day there are many toys and other items strewn throughout the house, but I know those will easily be picked up at the end of the day. I do not like messy bathrooms, kitchens, dust on furniture, etc.

When my 8 year old daughter heard I was staying home, however; she decided it was a perfect night for some mommy and me time. We went on a walk. While on the walk, we stopped and watched the Monarch butterflies fluttering about the empty land around our area. She pointed them out to me. She stopped and took pictures. She was elated. I offered up a silent prayer of thanksgiving because I knew these are the moments.

Our kids long for relationship with us. More than any other thing in their life, they long for connection and acceptance at home. They want to know we’re a safe place for them. Kids want to (and need to) know that no matter what happens, we are there for them.

A lot of times this looks like us giving up our time, or talking about things we don’t want to talk about. (No, I don’t know Patrick Mahome’s favorite color). (No, I can’t dance like that). How many times have I done girls hair while secretly wishing I could relax? How many times have I laid with them for a couple minutes to tickle their arms? I read a quote somewhere listening to the little things so they will learn to trust you with the big things.

Some of you are thinking “that’s not how I want to spend my life”, “what about me?” The people in my home are the closest proximity to share my witness and testimony with. It is my life’s joy to walk side by side with these little people, not because it’s easy. It’s my joy because I’m not nurturing to be my little people forever. I’m nurturing them to be adults. Who I am around them matters. So many of us save our best selves for those outside our home, but friends, it ought not be this way. Yes, we may apologize more to them (because they’re more likely to see our flaws), but even in our faults-relationship happens.

What makes it easier to want to live a life of flexibility with my time in order to build connections? In Philippians 2:6-7 in reference to Christ it says “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:”

We know according to John 10:30 that Jesus states He and His Father are one. So by that verse, we know Jesus doesn’t think he’s anything he’s not. We also know that Jesus didn’t come to the earth in the form of a King. He came as a servant to men, even until His death on the cross. So I know if I am to be like Christ, I am to live a life after His example. We should bear a resemblance of His life, if we expect the benefit of His death.

On our walk, my girl asked me what she would do if an anything ever happened to me and she was with me. Of course, we had to play out several scenarios. Then she said “I just don’t think I’d be able to do anything”. I told her “Yes, you will because you don’t walk alone. You have the strength of God with you as well”.

How am I able to have conversations like that with my daughter? Because of my relationship with God. Relationship is what He wants from us as well. More than any other thing in my life, I have connection and acceptance with Him. I know He is my safe place. I know that no matter what happens, He is there for me. It’s because of my relationship with God that I can attempt to emulate relationships with my kids. God doesn’t leave me as I was when I first went to Him. I don’t plan to let my kids leave me without trying to show them the truth, where I can, in whatever ways I’m allowed to. If we would do it for others, we should be more than willing for the ones we’re entrusted with.

Don’t worry, my bathrooms got cleaned as well. 😉

Suffering with others

I went through a hard time a few years ago. It was about a year after the failed attempt to adopt our daughter’s sister. I think it took a year to realize she probably wasn’t going to end up with us. Losing hope like that is heartbreaking. I found myself being discontent with life, the way my life is. Should I be more than just a mom? Did the hubs really appreciate me? Am I ever going to fit in with my family and friends?

This led me to act different with others. I wasn’t calling to God as I once did. I wasn’t reaching into His Word when I needed answers. I knew I was angry with the situation, but I wanted to mull in that for a little bit. I wanted to be angry. I wanted to live in the disappointment I felt for a little bit.

One of the most surprising things, was that throughout my struggles, some of my Christian friends were the ones who didn’t have patience for my struggle. They were ones that just kept their distance, and I guess waited to see if it would pass or not.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that feelings are not always truth. God made us human. He gave us feelings. We see that Jesus felt things while He was here. (Weeping when Lazarus died). We must not be afraid to feel, but we must also reflect on those feelings in light of what we know to be true.

I did have a friend (and many others), but one sticks out, that just tried to love me during that. Yes, she is a Christian so this is by no means a bash on Christians. But she met me where I was. She asked me what was going on. I knew she was praying for me and she was sharing truths we both depended on. She also wasn’t afraid to sit with me in the pit for a little bit. This made all the difference in the world in my seeing the goodness of God in the midst of my struggle. That’s why we’re here anyway: to spread the love, truth, and wisdom of God.

I fear this is something we forget far too often nowadays. You can log on to any social media platform today and within minutes see people attacking others. We have so many opinions out there anymore it’s easy to get caught up in it. I’ve found myself in it a time or twenty.

We are told to love one another, bear with one another, be patient with one another, serve one another, teach one another, comfort one another, encourage one another, and the list goes on. We cannot do that when we are caught up in our own self righteousness.

In order to do any of those tasks we must humble ourselves. I realize it’s not always easy to walk alongside others during certain events in life. I get it. I don’t know of many other ways that show the love of God more than suffering beside and for others. After all, that’s what Jesus did for us.

May we start from a place of humility before we approach others who are struggling, or even those who are joyful. May we remember that we are reminded in Romans 12 to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

Continue reading “Suffering with others”

The year we didn’t ask for…

I love stories. I remember one of the first children’s books I fell in love with, The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister. The shiny scales captivated me. I remember the sadness I felt the first time I read Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park.

My fascination with stories has continued well throughout my life, but expands further than just books. I collect antiques because I love picturing the person who once owned the piece before me. I like imagining how they might have decorated with that item. I put stickers on my vehicle from where we visit because I like looking at the locations on the stickers and remembering the trip and stories that go alone with it.

I recently read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. In that book, Alexander goes through all the bad things that have happened to him throughout the day. He wakes up with gum in his hair. He found out he had a cavity. He falls in mud. His brother calls him a cry baby, along with many other wrongs in that particular day. The book ends with saying “mom says some days are like that”.

Well guys, this is our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (year). It seems as though things have been piled on one right after the other. We adjust to one thing and a new situation appears. Things have been piling up one right after another.

We can focus on all the things going wrong or we can accept the fact that, in life, there will be times like this. Generations before us have faced difficulties in life. Some have faced problems that affect a big population and others have faced personal problems in life, ones that others may not know about.

Our reactions to these situations can make all the difference. This is a difficult part to our story or life, but we get to choose how it ends. The statement “mom says some days are like that” changed the entire tone of the book. It went from a story of hopelessness to one that is hopeful.

I hope where ever you find yourself today, you are able to find moments of happiness or calm. If you are struggling to find the good right now, I hope you find the courage to keep moving forward. I hope you realize that you are never alone. I hope you know, this too, will pass. I hope you know “some days are like that”.

Continue reading “The year we didn’t ask for…”