Tuesday, May 24, 2016

the gift

"Time stands still best in moments that look suspiciously like ordinary life"

During these last six weeks of not feeling like myself one of the things that has been hardest for me to hold on to is perspective. It has made me realize how much I take my health and body for granted and when I can't do what I want to do that is really hard for me. Depression can set in when I only see things through my narrow perspective.

I am feeling better every week and I know the Lord is teaching me so much about myself...learning to rest, letting go of the to do list, how I handle stress, the voices I listen to and so much more.  My neck and back issues have caused me to slow down, a gift in itself when I can stop fighting long enough to receive it. Every time people have prayed over me in the last month the words have always been about "rest" so I am starting to finally get it.

Sometimes I feel like I can only rest when all the work is done but with a family of seven there is always things to do. At times even when my body is resting my mind can be listing all the things that are still left undone. It is a continuous choice to change my focus point. I can focus on the mess, the laundry undone, the dishes in the sink, the flower beds that need weeded, the garden left unplanted or I can see the child in front of me wanting to read, the view of the meadow from the porch, the children laughing together while making mischief, the blessing of family, the gift of a husband who loves me. When my heart is at peace I can see these gifts so much clearer than when my mind is frantic and the pace of life is busy.

One of our dear photographer friends asked if she could come and take real life pictures of us for her portfolio.  She came on a Sunday morning and captured our weekend ritual of making brunch together. If these pictures had audio it would be loud and messy and chaotic. But these pictures speak volumes in themselves. They remind me of what is important. They put things in perspective.

 The gift of an ordinary day.

*Photography by Laura Burkholder

Sunday, May 8, 2016

take a bow.

For a tired and weary mama a date night is like a cold drink of water in the desert or a life raft thrown to you out at sea or some other dramatic analogy. It is more than needed. It is necessary.

So when a dear friend asked if she could watch the kids for us so we could go on a date I practically shouted "YES" and instantly pulled out my phone to put a date on the calendar. 
Tuesday night we drove together into the city excited to just be alone together. We went to one of our new favorite restaurants and enjoyed catching up on our days without being in competition with five other voices. After dinner we had been given free tickets to the Fulton theater which neither one of us had been at since we were kids. 

We sat in a sea of gray hair and we were the elite few under the age of 60 which we definitely shared a few laughs about. But we enjoyed sitting close holding hands none the less.
The play was good...sad and funny. But what stuck out to me the most was how the main actress totally gave herself to the role. You could feel the emotion she projected and at the end when she took her bow you could still see the tears fresh on her face from the closing scene. She looked spent and yet still in character. It was impressive to watch.

I commented about this to Mark as we walked out of the theater. " That must be exhausting to do that day in and day out...giving yourself so fully to the role"
As I said it there was something inside of me that connected with that feeling and I felt like I could cry. 
Mark turned and looked at me "That's what you do for us every day as a mom"

Tears welled up in my eyes as he said those words. I knew it was true. Sometimes I feel like there is something wrong with me that I am tired at the end of every day but the reality is I am exhausted because I am giving myself to the role. The most important role that I will ever play. The one I have always wanted to be. 

Mother. Mom. Mommy.

I am tired because I am doing it. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Unraveling: Just Breathe

As a baby when I was frustrated or upset I would hold my breath. My mom tells the story of how she put me in the play pen so she could get some stuff done without me crawling all over the place getting into things. I apparently did not like being confined so I screamed and cried and held my breath till my face turned blue...and I passed out. I can only imagine my Mom's horror at her pig tailed one year old turning blue and going limp before her eyes.

Moses did the same thing several times as a baby and he comes by it naturally and I guess it speaks of my stubbornness and strong will. But also how when I am upset or frustrated that I will literally forget to breath. Lately there are times where I finding myself holding my breath and I don't even realize it till I go to take a deep breath and it literally feels like there is not enough air. I don't realize how much I am holding it all in.

Usually this happens before school when getting everyone out the door or at the dinner time crazy hour. It goes something like this. I am trying to make dinner or think about what the heck I am going to cook for dinner. Somebody punched somebody. An anxious thought goes through my head. Another kid is screaming. This kid needs help with their homework or wants me to sign the upteenth paper/folder/permission slip. Mark is calling from work with a question. I think to myself so and so's kids probably don't act like this. A loud cry of "MOMMMY".  And then I try to take a breath and realize I can't breath. I have been holding my breath with each thing coming at me.

I need to learn some new patterns.
I need to breathe. 

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on the religion? Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me. Watch how I do it.Learn the unforced rhythms of GRACE. I won't lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly"~matthew 11:28-30 the message

"A mother's labor and delivery never ends and for years she has to remember to just take a deep breath. Whole battles can be won by one breath and a prayer at a time."
~ann voskamp

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Unraveling: Reviving dry bones

"Anxiety and depression dry the bones. His love is blood reaching every part. His love awakens the dying parts, knits me back together mind, body and soul"
~ Amber Haines

I feel like I am constantly fighting back the demons of fear and worry these days. If it not fear about my own body and the weird process it seems to be going through then it is about something happening to Mark or the kids. Sometimes when the fear comes it is literally like I can't do anything else and guess what my neck starts hurting more too. It is all connected more than I realize.

I felt like the Lord asked me the other day what I was so afraid of. 

I am afraid because I really do have a beautiful life. I am afraid of both not fully enjoying it and also of losing it. Oddly enough the fear is what prevents from enjoying it. There are days and moments (like the  hair pulling, nerve scratching, dinner time crazy hour) where I want to escape my life...melt into the walls or hide in the bathroom because the noise, fighting, constant demands, and internal battles seem to be draining the very life out of me and I fear losing my mind. But that very same life I want to escape at times is the very life I am so desperately afraid to lose. So at times I teeter back and forth between the two feeling like a crazy woman.

Jesus help me.

The truth is, it is hard. This mothering thing is hard. The demands are very real. And I put way too much pressure on myself.
The truth is also this, that I am not in control of much but I can be in control of my thoughts. And worry only drains me.  Fear doesn't stop things from happening...it only stops me from enjoying the moments in front of me.

Jesus drown my fears in your perfect love. Revive these dry bones. Awaken my soul.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Unraveling: Learning to Swim

"I wanted a way of living that felt more like living and less like drowining"
~Shauna Niequist

I had been feeling like I was drowning. Like everything felt like too much and when I tried to come up for air I was more gulping mouths full of water than really breathing. Something needed to change.

After three weeks of continued neck pain I went to a chiropractor. Just going there felt like I was pushing through a lot of fear but I knew I needed help and I could literally feel something moving in and out of place. Just resting wasn't healing it. Also now I was having hip pain too. The X-rays confirmed I had a bunch of stuff going on in my neck and also my hip...degenerative discs and a compressed disc causing the pinched nerves to name a few. They suggested I come twice a week for 6 weeks to start with.

I fell apart when I got the diagnosis. I felt so weak. Frustrated. Ashamed.

At the same time I was drowning in fears. In doubt. In the weight of being a mother. In the pressures of day to day life.

I literally felt like I was being unraveled.

But then God spoke to me tenderly in church one morning that he is doing more than just realigning my bones but my heart also. I am being unraveled but it is out of love not punishment. It is a healing down to my very bones. He is healing me from the inside out.

"You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
My deliverance from my enemies 
Till all my fears are calmed
I am no longer a slave to fear

I am a child of God".

~ Jonathan and Melissa Helser

And when God is unraveling you it is a good thing. It is like He is shining his healing light onto things in my heart. "Here this needs to be looked at" and "I would like to take this from you". My job is to be quiet and listen...and trust the process, something that is so hard when I want instant healing and results. I need to remember this, God wants to restore my joy to the point where life doesn't feel like it is constantly draining and every little thing is exhausting. He doesn't want me to drown but swim and get this, enjoy it.

"Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim."
~Tyler Knott Gregson

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Unraveling: When God has our backs

I am going to start a little series called "The Unraveling". It is about the process I am currently in. Writing my thoughts out has been part of the unraveling process and pushing publish feels a bit scary and vulnerable but my hope is these words might resonate with someone else too. And also that I may someday look back and recall to mind what the Lord has done.


I laid next to the thrashing toddler gently holding her down. I knew she was exhausted, the tears whining and fussing all morning had proven that. Yet here she was screaming and crying and fighting her nap. "Why are you fighting rest?" I wanted to ask and started to. But the words stopped short and seemed to be staring back at me.

It had been a rough week or so. I had woken up one morning with a stiff neck and pinched nerve in my shoulder. The first couple days I just tried to ignore it. I have noticed this pattern that sometimes when I am not feeling well I add more onto my plate. It is like subconsciously I am feeling out of control so I decide that cleaning out closets and organizing the pantry makes sense when my neck is killing me. It is not logical at all but it is what I do. Finally after a week of a stiff neck and discomfort I broke down and cried. Fell apart really. I recognized how much tension I was feeling inside. I wasn't sure what was cause and effect but it didn't matter. I could say I wasn't tense but if a kid touched me the wrong way or didn't respond how I wanted it was like they were reaching inside of me and pushing a nerve and I reacted. Usually with a harsh tone or impatient gesture. I needed to start to unwind.

So here I was laying with Eden wondering why she was fighting rest. All that was waiting for her on the other side was the comfort of my arms and peace for her body and mind. But she was fighting. After continued efforts and encouragement and me gently holding her down she finally fell asleep.

It was time for me to do the same. I cleared off my schedule. Started to take time to rest on the couch. Use the heating pad. Let the laundry and dishes pile up. My neck started to feel a little better. But I 
still felt knotted up inside.

I have been feeling lately like I just want things to slow down and stop, for the merry go round that is life to pause. But when my body started to scream for rest it was hard for me to pause. I didn't realize how much pressure I had been putting on myself and  a lot of the expectations I felt were internal. I am a stay at home mom and my own boss but sometimes I am just downright bossy and a slave driver not giving myself grace. I also started to see how since Eden has stopped napping I had stopped resting too and picked up the mentality that the more I got done in a day the better. When I was finally forced to stop I felt frustrated by how I couldn't do what I wanted to do. It felt like a punishment rather than a blessing of rest. I also realized how easy it was to get distracted from true rest by picking up my phone. Sometimes we need to stop fighting and rest and sometimes we need to fight for the rest.

Around this same time Mark came home from the gym and had pulled a muscle in his back. We were quite the couple with his sore back and my stiff neck taking our Motrin and snuggling with our heating pads and both struggling a bit for perspective. A friend of ours had been praying for him right after it happened and felt like God was wanting to speak something through it and the word was this:
"He has our backs"

Why do I have so much trouble believing this...like deep down trusting this?

 He has our backs. He's got my neck. He has my life.

My heart can be at rest.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Our kids pulled out our wedding video the other night and called for me to join them as I cleaned the kitchen. I reluctantly set down my dish towel and piled on the couch to watch with them. They had pulled out the disc that contained an hour or so of footage of us getting ready and having our pictures taken. It was unedited and raw. And can I say completely uncomfortable to watch. 

I stared at the screen at the young girl before my eyes with the freckles and wrinkle free face. Her hair was pulled back in a simple bun and she wore only a little mascara. She seemed reserved and nervous. Part of me wanted to change how she looked and wanted her to be something that she wasn't yet. She seemed so innocent and child like. I looked at the groom next to her who looked so young and happy and carefree. I wanted to tell the couple what was ahead. How many twists and turns would come in the next 14 years...job changes and moves and many houses. They would experience miscarriages and babies, times of celebration and great disappointment. I wanted to tell the girl she would have someone in diapers for twelve years straight! How she would find and lose herself over and over and would learn her style and her giftings. How motherhood would be the biggest challenge and the greatest gift. I wanted to tell her how that man standing there who she had not even yet kissed would become her best friend. He was the man she rested her head on and cried with when things were rough. How some days he could make her so mad but she is so much more in love with him now than on the day she would say I do.  I wanted to share with her how his hand in hers would feel like home. I wanted to tell her that life was hard but also beautiful and that things really did get better with time. 

Watching the video the kids laughed and made fun of me and I cringed hard at myself but laughed along at the awkwardness. Sarah scoffed at my dress and puffy veil and sparkly flip flops and asked if I would change anything. I wanted to say yes and started to but I paused and thought about her question. Yes, today our wedding would look different and yes, we are very different people from those two standing before me on the screen but that was who we were then and it has shaped who we are today.

"No Sarah, I wouldn't change a thing".

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

the couch.

Thirteen years ago a newlywed couple went couch shopping for their new apartment in the city. The bought a comfy couch on sale for a great price and proceeded to get into a huge fight on where to put it in their new living room. They eventually worked it out and the couch found a spot that they could agree on and they made that apartment home.

That same couch moved with us seven more times to different homes and living rooms. City row houses and country farmhouses and a beach house in North Carolina. The couch was a constant. We brought five babies home from the hospital to this couch where I would sit for hours nursing and burping and changing diapers. I laid on this couch pleading to God to save my baby when we had our first miscarriage. I threw myself on this couch and bawled on the day I found out we were miscarrying twins. I spent many nauseous days laying on this couch. On sick days we spread blankets on its seats and it become a refuge of rest for children to get better. Couples too numerous to count have sat on this couch sharing laughter and stories and tears. Movie nights and forts and jumping antics have inhabited these cushions. Bedtime stories, afternoon naps, and winter nights cuddling with the man I love...all happened on this same couch.

The couch has held up remarkably well for all that has encompassed these thirteen years but lately it has been looking a little sad and saggy and I have found myself pining away something different. In September we bought a building with some close friends in downtown Lancaster that houses Mark's office and new co working space.We spent most of the fall working on the office and buying things to furnish the space. I think watching his office get transformed made me want to buy new furniture. I convinced myself a new leather couch was just what I wanted and would transform my living room. I found a leather couch on Craigslist that was a great price from Pottery Barn and even though it was way darker than I liked we decided to go for it. Mark drove an hour and half away to buy this couch and brought it home and...I hated it. It was way too dark, not at all the look I wanted. I have been drawn to the "boho" style with its warm earthy colors and plants on Pinterest and have been pining pictures of leather couches not taken into consideration that nothing in my house matches that look. Ugh. I cried. Over the couch that I hated. From disappointment and embarrassment that I didn't really know what I wanted. And I cried because I was now still stuck with my thirteen year old couch.

Long story short, the hated leather couch (which is actually beautiful) found its way to Mark's studio and looks amazing with its white walls and floors. The old velveteen rabbit of a sofa want back to its initial home. And you know what...I actually feel happy.

I learned what I don't want. The old couch looked much better in our home than the leather one. And I found a new love for our couch and all the faithful ways it has been there for us over the years.

Maybe a new couch is still in my near future but sometimes what you already have is better than you think. You just need a new perspective.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

if you are worried about being a bad parent you are a probably a good one.

Almost four years later I am finally working on a baby book for Eden. Recently we got out the other kids baby books that I faithfully scrap booked back in the day and Eden kept asking "Where's my baby book? Where's my pictures? Where's ME?". So I started the process of going through a gazillion files and sorting and editing. In the process I came across pictures I had never seen. Snapshots of our every day life. I also came across pictures that I remembered being critical of but was now thankful to have. As I sorted through the images I was looking at myself through Mark's eyes and how he captured our life and it was changing my point of view.
So often I see how I fall short as a mom or how I can improve and I miss the ways I am actually getting it right. But as I looked through the pictures I was seeing myself loving on my kids, reading to them, sitting with them around the campfire, feeding them as babies, combing their hair, being with them. Mark captured me smiling at them and kissing their cheeks. And I actually looked happy...which is a fear of mine that all they will remember is a tired grouchy mom. 
The pictures were ministering to me.
I am a good mom.

So friends if you are struggling to feel like you are not measuring up today take a moment to reflect on all the ways you are loving on your kids and all the ways you are getting it right ...because I think if you are afraid you are not a good mom its means that you are exactly a great one. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

beautiful chaos: when your expectations trick you.

This mothering thing is hard. This season of parenting has many challenges that some days makes me want to melt into a puddle of tears. There is so much noise, and fighting, and emotions and working things out and attitudes, did I mention attitudes?

Recently good friends of ours offered to take our kids overnight. I called them like five times to make sure I heard them right. "you mean like all five. Are you sure? do you know what you are getting in to?" And did I mention my friend is pregnant with twins. Oh my. 
I felt like such a horrible mom dropping five kids off to a pregnant woman and to make matters worse Moses and I had a big fight on the way over and attitude levels were high,  Hope suddenly says she maybe sort of has a sore throat and Eden broke out into a coughing fit. We were a mess.
After I apologized like fourteen times and dropped off enough sleeping bags and suitcases to look like we were moving in, I said goodbye and shut the door. Mark happened to already have prior plans so it was a rare night that I was alone. I met a friend for dinner and then headed to Barnes and Nobles to look for a book to read. Being out in public at night by myself was weird. I felt a little off kilter like I didn't know what to do with myself. I found the book I was looking for, paid for it and drove home looking forward to snuggling in by myself and reading in a quiet house something this introvert mother often craves. Silent time to myself. Ahh.

For some reason though the quiet and the night unnerved me. I missed Mark and the kids. I got home to a dark and silent house. I looked around at the house that just a few hours ago was bursting with life and yelling and fighting and the scurry of getting everyone out the door. It felt too quiet. I went upstairs and peered into their empty rooms and beds still unmade and I cried.
 I recognized how lately I have felt some resentment and irritation with being a mom. I think the older they get it is easier in the physical sense because they can get themselves dressed and bathe and brush their own teeth (well when they want too) but the emotional side is so much more challenging navigating their big emotions, their conflicts and their attitudes while trying to maintain control of what is also going on inside of me. So many times I take responsibility for them thinking if they mess up it is a reflection of me so I take everything personally. It can be exhausting knowing how to handle the conflicts and issues that come up. I want to get it right this mothering thing but so often it feels like we are just flailing around working through our stuff.

But standing there in the hallway by myself in an empty dark house I knew I wouldn't want it any other way. I love my house bursting with life. I love our five kids and the joy and craziness they bring. Standing there I was given the gift of perspective. In the quiet I could see how much I was given. In their absence I could see how much I am blessed.

Heading into the holiday season means more family time together. Usually I conjure up expectations of what that means whether it is getting our family picture taken for Christmas cards, finding our tree or whatever and I almost always am frustrated by how different the real experience goes. There are times I am pleasantly surprised but a lot of times when we are all together it is like a huge ball of energy and tension. Which is maybe just the reality of seven different people trying to get along and work through their own expectations and wants but I can easily get discouraged. We attempted three different Christmas card photos and each time the experience made me feel like poking my eye out. It felt tense and chaotic and not at all ideal. But when I look at the pictures now they are not bad at all, great even, and I am reminded that sometimes my expectations trick me. They lie to me and say I am falling short when really they were something that was unrealistic in the first place.

The point is I need to keep the perspective I got that night in the quiet house in the forefront of my mind. This crazy loud life is exactly what I want and it is a gift even if I do sometimes want to scream and pull my hair out. This house full of energy and noise and preadolescence hormones and mommy emotions and toddler tantrums and imperfect people is beautiful.

When Mark came home that night the kids were away I told him how much of a mess I was at home by myself and we both laughed at the silliness. But we both ended up with tears in our eyes at the thought that some day we will have an empty quiet house and we will look back with fond memories and a smile on the craziness that it is today.