February has had some rough patches, but overall this has been a sweet month. I don't think I've ever seen so many answered prayers in such a small amount of time; God has been proving over and over again to me that He hears me and can change hearts (including my own) like a light-switch. So good.
-Thankfully my husband and I have both been on the same page about simplifying our lives, and as a result we've been so much more freed up to focus on what's important. As a stay-at-home mom, I'm the primary culture-maker and life-planner each day for myself and three little people, so revamping a lot of the ways we are doing things has been transformative for everyone. This month the kids and I slowed down a lot and enjoyed walking around downtown or sitting together doing Play-doh or giggling at the breakfast table. Most importantly, we've been able to invite people into our lives more. I hope we only grow in this in the future. We also went on a blind playdate; I even had to text the other mom a picture of us so she'd know what we look like!
Here's us on a family walk. I love how over-the-top my husband is:
-Eating outside for as many meals as possible (especially when we eat rice/quinoa/something messy, which is all the time) has been so lovely...and helpful for me because it's so easy to clean up! Florida weather is just so beautiful in February. After we eat, I love bouncing on an exercise ball and trying to read a book while the kids dig holes in the dirt. Happy, happy times.
-One of the big highlights of the month was when my husband took me on a really crazy date! The kids were at grandparents' for the night so at 8:30 pm Peter asked me if I wanted to go out on the boat. I laughed nervously but he was serious. Riding on the Alafia River and Tampa Bay is a wee bit scary when the water is black and you know there are some terrifying creatures down below. The tide rose significantly on our way back and we almost got stuck underneath a train bridge. Best of all, we docked at a riverfront restaurant to get some onion rings and were totally naiive to the fact that it was 10 pm on a Friday night and this place was a total bar, just like in the movies---bikers playing pool and everyone yelling---and an intoxicated middle-aged woman held her hand in front of Peter and suggestively told him to "slow down" so she could get a better look at him. That's the kind of date that I love. The weirdness of it is so us.
-The best thing that happened in Februrary, though, is that one of my friends came to know Jesus! Last time I met with her she was content in her lifestyle and completely shut off to anything about God, but through various recent events she was very quickly, in her own words, "hunted down by the hounds of heaven." God was wooing her with His love for her. (By the way, there is an amazing poem titled "The Hound of Heaven" by Francis Thompson and a short film by N.D. Wilson that's a modern take on it. Check 'em out!) She's so much happier now and excited about life, and that increases my joy tremendously. I'm telling you, Jesus really is everything. It's so awesome being able to say to someone, "Wow, I can't believe I'm having this conversation with you! You're a different person!" and for her to agree in happy surprise! Praise God.
What I Learned
-Living with less has made my life so much better! Pictured below is my entire wardrobe (minus undies and pj's.) It's been way easier to pick out my clothes each day because I know that I like everything that's in my closet. I still plan on writing a post about all that I've learned from minimalism and how awesome my house looks now! I never thought I would love being at my house because it's always been a disaster, but I think I'm finally getting the hang of it and a peaceful home is the best feeling ever. I just had to get rid of 2/3 of my stuff, ha! I've been so deceived by commercialism, not just in the craving to buy individual items but in my perceived need for stuff in general.
-I've been continuing to get counseling from one of the pastors at our church and it's been so healthy. He helped me see 1 Corinthians 13 with an eternal perspective; perfect love is what reigns in Heaven. There will be a day when there is no need for faith or hope because my King will have come and everything I'd been waiting for will be realized. But love? Love will remain. When we love well now, we are glimpsing eternity. So that's been pretty big...I shouldn't just love others so that those relationships function better, but because love is the biggest and most lasting thing. What a grand idea that God had! And how He has so liberally drenched His people in love through Jesus.
-I'm not gonna lie, we've been listening to a lot of Baha Men's Greatest Movie Hits in the van. Piper even readily admitted that she is the person "Who Let the Dogs Out."
-Bethany Barnard came out with a new album called A Better Word and it is absolutely incredible. Upon hearing "Covenant" I instantly knew that it was one of the best songs I've ever heard about marriage, but the rest of the album has blown my socks off as well. "High & Lowly", which is reminiscent of Isaiah 57:15, praises the loftiness and humility of Christ. It's glorious.
-I finally heeded my brother's advice and started watching Studio C on Youtube. Best and worst thing that's ever happened to me. They're like a wittier, clean version of SNL, and catching up on 6 seasons has been nothing less than addicting. As with all sketch comedy, some skits are better than others, but for starters I enjoyed Stranded on a Desert Island, Worst Teacher Ever, and of course Scott Sterling.
-We also discovered an amazing new board game called Codenames! It's the kind of game that's actually fun to play in teams; it stretches your mental muscles and makes you feel like you have a super-deep connection with your friends when they actually knew what you were trying to communicate with your one-word clue.
-I've been thinking a lot about the happiness of God. Psalm 119:12 says "Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes!" The fact that God can be "blessed" is a little overwhelming, especially when we consider the other verses in scripture that talk about His happiness. He is "well pleased" with Christ (Matthew 3:17) and His soul "delights" in Christ (Isaiah 42:1.) God does what He does for His own sake (Isaiah 48:11) and because it pleases Him (Psalm 115:3.) Christ endured the cross "for the joy set before Him" (Hebrews 12:2.) God is the happiest being in the universe. He did not make the world because He was lonely but because He was spilling over in love and happiness in Himself. (For the same reason, I do not have children because I am lonely but because I want to welcome other people into my joy!) May He show me the way to be happy!
Stuff I Wrote:
Hobbies, Habits of Grace, and Hanging Out With Toddlers
Judging Others is Too Easy
What I Wish I Knew As a Teen Bride
So anyway, that's my month! I look forward to knowing and loving Jesus more in March!
My husband and I got married on May 22, 2011, when I was barely nineteen. I've learned some things since then, and I'm sure in several years I'll have thoughts about "What I Wish I Knew As a 24-Year-Old", but here are some reflections on things I've learned, of varying levels of importance.
Your husband will severely disappoint you in marriage. You will severely disappoint yourself in marriage. Stop expecting so much from either of you and look to Jesus.
Don’t underestimate the power of meaningful church membership. You don’t need a job in “ministry” to be useful to the church; simply being a part of a healthy church is hugely important. And if the whole church culture is committed to Jesus? You have no idea how amazing biblical community can be.
I have no idea who told you that you’re supposed to put used matchsticks in the kitchen disposal, but no. Just no. That will break it. Common sense, dear self.
It’s nice that you’ve been able to stay thin even though you're addicted to sugar and you never exercise, but that will not last. At some point, you will gain weight and people will notice. But, more importantly, it is so good to be healthy and strong. So strive for fitness now, whether your teenage physique needs it or not. Perseverance and discipline now will pay off not just in your physical strength but all areas of your life.
Some people can handle social media use, but you are not one of them, and that’s okay. I promise you will be so, so much happier when you quit Facebook and focus on real life. Trying to uphold a respectable internet version of yourself is going to harm who you really are.
You’re never going to “graduate” to a level of wisdom and greatness beyond love. Love is the best thing. Never give up on loving others. Never forget Christ’s love for you.
I know you think homemaking isn’t very important, but it’s like your base of operations. Prioritize creating a thriving home environment and it’s amazing how rich your life can be.
You’re entering a completely different life stage now. God doesn’t see you in categories, but people do, and most of your friends are either going to treat you differently or drop you completely. That’s okay. You're going to really hurt some people as well. Show them grace—you need others to show you grace—and seek friends who are outside your life stage. It’s healthy to have friends from all ages and situations. The aforementioned healthy local church is critical for this.
Prayer and scripture memory will never ever be a waste of time. Pursue Jesus hardcore and you’ll never once regret it.
Hospitality is the best way to show people Jesus. Open your home.
You should really buy food storage containers that have lids attached to them. It will make your life so much easier.
In a few months, someone is going to introduce you to this magical wonderland called Pinterest. It’s amazing, but just make sure you guard your heart from comparing yourself to others…and you should actually do stuff, not just pin it to your board and feel productive.
People you love are going to say incredibly hurtful things to you. They can't say anything about you that the gospel can't cancel out. Know Christ's love for you and devastating criticism won't be quite so devastating.
I know you think Romans 8 is awesome now, but it’s only going to become significantly more awesome. Never think you can move onto deeper truths than the gospel. From time to time, you’ll remember that Jesus loves you and you’ll be so pleasantly shocked.
Regularly read good blogs, and get a subscription to The Atlantic. Thoughtful articles have the power to change your life.
In a couple years your family income is going to increase dramatically. Don’t let it destroy you. Invite others into your life to keep you accountable. You might think you’re the last person who can fall prey to materialism and ego, but you are not. More money, more problems!
You finished pre-marital counseling, awesome. But pre-marital counseling has such limited capabilities because, well, you haven’t been married yet. Don’t be afraid of getting marriage counseling after you’ve been married.
This is a biggie: I know you haven’t thought too much about being a mom someday, but (spoiler alert) you’re about to have a bunch of kids really soon. Your daily life is going to look about 5% how you always envisioned it. But guess what! God’s plans are better, and eventually you’ll conclude that motherhood is extremely important…probably the most important job on the planet. So consider that role a world-changing privilege.
Humility's the goal. It doesn't matter if you're right or not: if you're not teachable, you're wrong.
Now that you’re a wife, the facts that “God is enough” and “you are the bride of Christ” are not suddenly irrelevant. Whether your dream has been fulfilled or not, God must be enough. Whether you have a husband or not, the Lord is your husband.
Finally, take a cue from Colossians 3: "And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."
What do you wish you would've known when you were nineteen? Leave a comment below!
About nine years ago, I found myself sinking in a quagmire of my own self-righteousness. I deemed myself “discerning” and looked down upon people who didn’t see things the same way I did. Was I right about what I believed? Yeah, I think so, and after much research and experience I still believe most of those things. But was my heart in the right place? Not at all. I would walk up and down the aisles of the Christian bookstore with my like-minded friends and giggle and snort about the ridiculousness being written, marketed, and—worst of all—sold. I would eye-roll at nearly every preacher I heard and disregard most things that those who loved me said. I put people in blanket categories that God never compartmentalized. I was a “cage stage” theologian by every definition of the word, and it left me feeling so very empty. I remember consciously thinking “This is too easy.” The vacuousness of being judgmental made it quite obvious that this isn’t what I was created to do.
I’ve felt that way multiple other times since then, and parenting has opened the gates to all kinds of new shortfalls. Five years ago when I first started learning about natural childbirth and breastfeeding, I got involved in a group that strongly advocated those things as well—and who respected me for my level of commitment as a “crunchy mama”—and I had trouble seeing how other moms could possibly choose differently for their kids. Then, a couple years later, I started really believing in the value of family, and I simply could not grasp why people didn’t want to have kids right away when parenting is so awesome. Most recently, I think I’ve become even more opinionated than ever and I just really wish in general that everyone in the world would think and act exactly like me. Yikes. Lately I’ve been experiencing that same feeling as I did a long time ago when I was snickering over other people’s bad theology. It just feels way too…natural. I’m going along with the vicious tide of my self-exalting nature and trying to ignore whatever is harmed in the aftermath.
I still advocate reformed theology, natural birth, breastfeeding, the value of families, homeschool, etc. And even in the midst of my most judgmental seasons, I have had genuine love for people who disagree with me. I think it would be an insult to the God who is changing me if I admitted to always being a total loveless monster and hypocrite. That said, I don’t think I can really overstate the badness of my natural disposition. Who I am without Jesus is truly a terrible person. And when that person oozes through this new person that I’m becoming, it’s a bad thing. I need to expose it, I need to kill it, and I need to be overcome by something better.
At root of being judgmental is, of course, pride, but I’m pretty sure it’s the kind of pride that is wearing a sneaky disguise: insecurity. I can reflect on all my most judgmental seasons and see a girl who wasn’t sure of herself and needed to drag others down to elevate myself…if not with my words, I would belittle people with my thoughts. Little judgmental thoughts are like taking bites of a candy bar that help me feel better about my own insecurities. I make a mistake or a poor choice, I start to feel bad about it, but then I remember, “Hey, so-and-so does this all the time and worse!” or “At least I’m still better at this than most people.” That, my friends, is toxic thinking.
So…what’s the solution? Whelp, I’m convinced it’s not “loving myself.” At risk of sounding judgmental, I’m going to firmly disagree with the popular notion that the cure for insecurity is telling myself I’m awesome. Here’s why: self-focus in one way is not going to be cured by self-focus in another way. Self-focus, whether it’s arrogance or insecurity, is going to be destructive. I am so very finite and have so many problems and so many weaknesses that “finding myself”, “loving myself”, etc. can only have, at best, severely limited results. There is only so much “greatness” to peer into, if any, and I have so little to offer myself. Historically I’ve only gotten myself into trouble. Aren’t we all this way?
I’m only ever becoming more and more convinced that the key way to grow in self-confidence is to grow in confident humility. Say what!? I am privileged enough to know some of the happiest and most awesome people on the planet, and guess what! They care so much about others that they don’t have much time to think about themselves. And that is not to their detriment. When we’re not seeking approval from other people (or ourselves), we are freed up to love recklessly. And, of course, the only way we can see ourselves rightly with a sense of confident humility is if we behold the Greatest thing, the only being in the universe who does not need to be humble (because there is none greater than Him) but who willingly chose to humble Himself and become a servant. Jesus said that anyone who wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all, and He has exemplified that in His birth, His life, His ministry, the washing of His disciples’ feet, His prayers, His death, His resurrection, His Church, and then there’s that gloriously mysterious verse in Luke 12:37 in which Jesus suggests He will have us recline at the table and He will serve us. (What!?)
This weekend I heard a speaker say something quite profound: Christianity isn’t rocket science. It’s simply good news. I need a Savior, God has provided a Savior. He changes me. Notice that little children aren’t fretting about insecurities; they’re not thinking “Wow that person is so weird” or frequently comparing themselves to others (unless we train them to do so.) They know their parents love them and that's all they need to know. They’ve got too many holes to dig and Play-doh snakes to make to worry about if they dig more holes or make better snakes than most kids do. Why can I not learn from them?
So, to summarize:
Being judgmental is an easy but empty way to live.
As we get older, we should grow in graciousness; we must not mistake “crotchety” for being the same as “wise.”
Confident humility and loving others recklessly will free us.
There is no true humility without knowing Jesus and beholding God.
Let’s become like children and live in delightful assurance of being truly, deeply loved.
For some reason we as mothers tend to believe that once we have kids, our interests have to be separate from theirs. In other words, we have to watch Paw Patrol and listen to I’m A Little Teapot and read Goodnight Moon and playdates at the park during the day, and if we want to do the things we like or need to do, it’s gotta be when the kids aren’t around. So, in the little years, we drop pursuits such as art and reading and exercise and prayer and personal Bible study and spending meaningful time with others. Or, we find someone to watch the kids so we can do some of those things. More likely, we tend to grow a little resentful towards our children for all the limitations they’ve put on us in this season of life. We firmly put a cap on our family size so we can get back to a sense of normalcy.
I don’t think this has to happen!
Our interests and our children don’t have to be exclusive of each other.
All the time I’m seeing the poor thinking on my part that is robbing myself and my kids of enrichment. Because the truth is, most of the things I need and want to do for my personal health and growth (and ministry!) can happen with my kids, even when they're 4, 3, and 1. Here are some examples:
Media - I’ve always had a rule about this and it’s been quite helpful for us: If I don’t personally enjoy whatever my kids are watching or listening to, my kids don’t need it either. We want to consume things that are well-made, pleasing to the senses, and instrumental in our growth. And I want to join them as they watch things. If TV must be a babysitter, I try to at least fold laundry and watch with them so I can ask them what they learned. (Wild Kratts is awesome, and Prince of Egypt is our go-to movie.) If we’re going to listen to silly songs in the car, I want to pick music that I find amusing as well. (Slugs and Bugs is such a Godsend for this.) We read a lot of books because they are well-illustrated, well-written, thought-provoking books that I truly enjoy reading. I get excited when we pull out Farewell to Shady Glade or One Smart Cookie or Nurse, Soldier, Spy.
Crafts - I’m not particularly good at art, but I’m a human made in God’s image, so it’s healthy and delightful to me when I express myself creatively. I used to think I could only do that when I have “free time,” but I found my “free time” being absorbed by cleaning up the kids’ art supplies. (They’re absolutely crazy about art, especially after I got rid of almost all their toys.) So then I realized, why can’t I just craft with them? I remember how much I loved coloring with my mom; she outlined the edges with darker crayon and colored lightly—perfectly—inside the lines. In the same way, my kids love watching me do paint and draw and sculpt and use washi tape. I have about 4th-grade-level skills, but my kids act like I’m making masterpieces. They’re getting guidance about how to be better artists, and I’m getting practice and learning too. Plus, we use our best art to display or give away, so it’s a productive and worthy activity.
Exercise - This one is new for me as I try to figure out how to exercise. I don’t want the kids watching my exercise videos because the camera zooms in on the bodies of the athletes, and my son doesn’t need to be staring at a lady’s six-pack and perfectly toned butt. But a friend told me that she finds time to exercise by playing with her kids. I might not have time to run on a treadmill but I can play tag. Going to yoga is a laughable idea in this season, but I can play Twister. (When my son is in charge of the spinner, he takes his time watching it spin and calling out the commands and I’m holding the poses for awhile. My daughter, on the other hand, makes up commands quite quickly and says “One foot on red, one hand on green, two feet on blue, two feet on green, one hand on yellow” and I get more of an aerobic exercise, ha!)
Reading - One of my favorite memories growing up was “Reading Circle,” and I wish I would’ve participated more often. My mom would summon my brother and I to the family room and we would all read our own books. (She and my brother still do that, but now it’s Reading Line Segment since I’m not there. They're so dorky and I love it.) Since the kids don’t read on their own yet, we can’t do this, but I permit reading during lunchtime, and when the kids are playing outside I like to sit on an exercise ball in the yard and read while I lightly supervise. If my husband isn’t in the mood to talk while we’re driving, I’ll read in the car. We’re making it work. I’ve got to make reading a priority, because my whole family benefits as I become wiser and more knowledgeable through books.
Time with My Friends - One of my resolves since becoming a parent has been “Don’t only hang out with other moms, and certainly don't only talk about motherhood!” Frankly, mommy talk is so boring and it would drive me to madness if all I talked about was naptime schedules and growth chart progress and ballet class. Indeed, it can be helpful to discuss these things with others (I can't imagine how frustrated I'd be if I never got advice from other moms about some of these boring but pressing issues), and of course I care about how my friends’ kids are doing, but that can’t be it. My goal every time I’m hanging out with others is “explosive with joy.” I want our time to be rich. So, when we’re sitting around the table, I can ask my friends questions and my kids can listen in. I can say “Stephen, Ms. April was just telling me about this awesome opportunity she had to talk to somebody about Jesus” or “Piper, you should ask Ms. Lauren what she did today! It was so cool!” Of course there are private matters that my friends wouldn’t want my kids to hear, but so much of our conversation is edifying to my children. And my children can be edifying to my friends and me!
Prayer - The biggest spiritual discipline to take a hit since I left my single life has definitely been prayer. In my pride I have considered other pursuits more urgent than private prayer—seriously, I almost never ever do it—but I always have so much more joy when I’m depending on God and seeing Him work powerfully in the ways I ask Him to move. Several months ago we had some time to kill before we left for our church gathering, and my heart was really heavy for some things. Then I realized that I didn’t have to put the kids in front of a TV so I could go pray. I could just invite them to pray with me. So we got on our knees and begged of God. Why can’t we just do that all the time? Mealtime and bedtime prayers don’t have to be cheesy rhyming repetition and they don’t have to be the only times we pray. We can beg God to change the hearts of ISIS, we can ask Him to lead our arrogant and self-seeking president, we can ask Him to encourage our friends who are having a hard time, we can praise Him for being so wonderful and letting us partake in beautiful things He has made.
Serving Others - We have not been exemplary in this so for now I will just share examples I’ve heard from moms I admire. One family would visit a particular nursing home every other Friday to play music and spend time with the residents. I was amazed watching a 16-year-old and a 5-year-old sit with an elderly woman and ask her questions. Another family makes it a point to give thoughtful little tokens of thanks to their garbage collectors, postal carriers, etc. And foster care, of course, involves the whole family. In this season it probably wouldn’t be helpful if I brought my very-young-and-not-quite-obedient kiddos to a soup kitchen, but as a family we can welcome hurting and lonely people into our home. Who cares if they use language we don’t use or have lifestyles we don’t encourage? It didn’t phase Jesus when he hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes. We can just have conversations with our children before and after about varying worldviews and matters of the heart.
Other hobbies - Whether it’s baking, gardening, hiking, or origami, chances are that with a little bit of sacrifice and flexibility, you don’t need to give those things up when you become a parent. (Obviously interests such as welding and motocross cannot be done with children, ha.) In fact, if your passions bleed into your kids’ passions, they’ll be better off for it. And who knows, they might have a major underlying talent! By abstaining from a busy schedule, not having too much stuff, or refusing to obsess over appearances, it’s amazing how much we can be freed up to learn and grow and enjoy. Pleasure is God’s idea and it’s a good one. Have fun, do the stuff you love, and welcome your children into it! :)
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a rad guy, and raising three little people ages 1,3, and 5...and I'm now expecting my fourth. I like chartreuse, calligraphy, Coke Icees, childbirth, crocs, Studio C, and...alliteration.
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today