July is over! This was a really fun month, so prepare yourself for some cute pictures! :)
We started off the month with a short road trip to Georgia. We try to visit at least once per season, and the children just come alive digging in the dirt and splashing in creeks. We revisited some favorite spots (Providence Canyon and Sweetwater Creek) and spent some sweet times with cousins.
-After much internal debate, I decided I would indeed celebrate the 4th of July with the Old Navy flag shirts. Should I be patriotic when so many of our nation’s and president’s values contradict what is biblically defined as good? I concluded that many people have sacrificed nobly for all the freedoms we have, and I’m still quite grateful to live here, plus the shirts were on sale for $2, so, well, there we go.
-Stephen learned how to ride his bike without training wheels instantly. As soon as Peter took off the wheels, Stephen was riding. The next day they went to the bike shop and purchased a legit mountain bike for Stephen, and it’s super cute watching him ride. If you see him, ask him about his "baddest crash ever", and he will gladly reenact it for you.
-I built up the confidence to take all three kids to downtown Tampa by myself, and despite some stressful moments, we had a blast. We even rode the historic streetcar, which is a totally awesome way to experience the city. I know this is old news for all the hipsters, but Downtown Tampa is seriously cool and great for families.
What I Learned:
-I have learned a ton this month, but to be honest I’ve pretty much written an article about each big insight, so check those out if you want to know more! (See below for links to the articles.)
-Podcasts greatly help my productivity! At the end of the day, no matter how minimalist I'm being, it's quite evident that we've had a lot of adventures in our home and eaten a lot of meals. I really don't enjoy cleaning that stuff up. But I've found that if I have a podcast that I'm excited to listen to, I can just turn that on and gain new insights (and giggle a little) while I work! Here are my current favorites:
Only the Good Stuff - A lighthearted host asks his guests about the top 5 things they're enjoying right now; it's fun and has pointed me to some really good movies, books, and foods!
Phil Vischer Podcast - Phil (the creator of Veggie Tales) is a total goofball and super smart, so I get a lot out of what he and his co-hosts and guests have to say about current events or whatever random things they end up discussing.
In the Room with Ryan Huguley and The Way Home with Dan Darling - I don't listen to every episode, but these are basically where you just get to eavesdrop on meaningful conversations between a humble guy and whatever somewhat-famous Christians he brings on the show.
Freakonomics Radio - A really smart guy interviews really smart people about a wide variety of topics I've never thought about before. Please know, of course, that this podcast isn't from a Christian perspective, but it's well-made, fast-paced, and thought-provoking.
Read-Aloud Revival - A cheerful homeschool mom interviews various authors and parents and students alike can learn a lot about the importance of story and how to be better writers.
Redeemer Nashville Podcast - I've whittled down my sermon-listening for the time being because the preaching is so good at my church and I really enjoy my time in the Word, but I appreciate these concise, insightful, and fun (can I say fun?) sermons by Thomas Mackenzie. He's Anglican, so they do church really differently than I'm used to, but I like the emphasis on art, liturgy, and church history.
Also I should note that I usually listen to podcasts in 1.5x speed, so I'm able to listen to a 30-minute podcast in only 20 minutes.
Stuff I Made and Wrote:
-A couple years ago my parents got me a Silhouette Cameo cutting machine, and this month someone gave me a bunch of free canvases, so I took a picture of Piper in a princess dress and placed her silhouette next to that of her favorite princess, Aurora. I didn’t do a great job writing out the quote by Carolyn Mahaney, but of course Piper still thought it was the coolest thing that she was in a picture with Sleeping Beauty. It’s amazing what technology can help us accomplish so easily these days!
-Monthly Reflection: June 2017
-From One Recovering Eeyore to Another
-When Self-Pacifying Steals Your Joy
-Quantifiable Value ≠ Inherent Worth
-The U.N. Says Humans Should Have the Right to Live
Whelp, that was my month! I hope your August is filled with joy and growth!
Editor's Note: I wrote this on time but forgot to post it...so in case you're wondering, here's what I loved and learned in June. :) Tune in tomorrow for a monthly reflection on July!
June has been the sweetest month I’ve had in a long time. I saw so much answered prayer that I’m still just shocked at the grace in it all. So here are my reflections!
-May ended and June began with a bang: I was six weeks pregnant and all three kids had tummy issues for a week. Lots of snuggling happened all day long, and for several nights in a row Stephen and I would wake up at 2 am so he could throw up. Afterwards we would replenish his body with Cheezits and his spirit with laughter. Believe it or not, slowing down for that week and simply being there for my kids gave us all joy and richer relationships. I’ve been trying to pull back and slow down a lot more lately, and it’s been very freeing. I’m really grateful for how God sovereignly leads us.
-Piper (age 3) is proving to be an excellent older sister. She and Evangeline (age 1) love to hold hands while walking around the house, and I don’t even know how many hours they've spent each week simply sitting in closets and piling up pillows. Evangeline is fiercely independent, but when her sister is leading she will gladly follow. It’s so precious. And it makes both of them have better behavior, which is nice. “Large-family logistics” are the real deal, man.
-The kids and I listened to an audiobook about Mary McLeod Bethune, the incredibly inspiring African-American woman who has did tremendous work in education, social justice, and racial reconciliation. When the kids learned that only decades ago, children with dark-colored skin couldn’t go to the same schools as white kids or even get a library card, they couldn’t believe it. They were furious. We were able to have some really good conversations about how racism still exists today—and some of our friends even experience it—and God hates it so very much. It’s incredible that a five-year-old can be more angered by racism and injustice than a 55-year-old. I need to beg God that He uses my kids as part of the solution, even now.
-Another benefit to my nausea slowing our lives down is my husband and I have started taking more time to enjoy a couple quick episodes of Parks and Rec at the end of the day. Sitting on a couch and watching TV doesn’t sound like it requires discipline, but for my hyper-productive husband it does, and I’m really grateful for the times we’ve had eating frozen grapes or drinking pomegranate juice and giggling together at a funny show.
Things I Learned:
-One day I made my own butter, garlic butter, and buttermilk, and though it was extremely satisfying to feel like a homesteading pioneer for a couple hours, I soon learned that it’s one of those things that is certainly not worth the effort, ha!
-One of my children broke my Apple Watch. It’s not merely a cracked screen but destroyed, so I’m pretty sure this was an intentional crime since the child in question was very angry at the time of the incident. The watch was a Christmas present and has no warranty, and there’s no way I can get it fixed for less than $150 (which I will not pay), so I no longer own an Apple Watch. I’m okay with that, but it’s difficult figuring out how to parent in this situation. I want my kids to learn to make restitution when they harm people or break items. I want them to make things right when they’ve done things wrong. But $150! How could a preschool-age child ever do enough extra chores to raise $150? It might as well be a million dollars. Thinking about my child’s plight made me consider my own insurmountable debt before God. I have directly, repeatedly, and constantly rebelled against the God who made me and has only showed love to me. My debt might as well be eternal, and, well, it is. But God, my merciful God, has sent His Son to take my debt and make restitution since I certainly couldn’t. Being a recipient of mercy is painfully humbling and yet it makes me so very free! Still not sure how to parent the child, though, ha!
-Laying out cloth napkins underneath my work surface in the kitchen makes cleanup so much easier. The little things.
-The library is an incredible resource! In my laziness I've been avoiding it, but finding new books each week is an enormous delight to the kids and me. But we attended a library-hosted yoga class for toddlers during which the yoga instructor made them all say "om" and chant something in another language, so that was...unwelcome.
-God answered some huge prayers this month. There are things I have been begging God about for four years and that have only seemed to get worse and then almost-unbearingly worse. There were situations that I couldn’t really imagine being made better. But God loves to redeem terrible things.
Jesus gives us a formula for joy in John 16:24 - "Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full." Pray -> See God answer prayer -> Joy
After seeing what truly feels like a miracle happen right in front of me, my faith is so strengthened and my heart is so light. This has also been a huge encouragement to those who have been praying for me through this whole time!
Things I've Enjoyed:
-Your Story Hour audiobooks. So far we’ve learned the inspiring stories of Lottie Moon, Lillian Thrasher, Mary McLeod Bethune, and many more. Through the sound effects, good writing, and skilled voice actors, we were captivated at every turn, and whenever we’d arrive at our destination the kids and I wanted to stay in the car to finish the story! So many good conversations ensued.
-Other audiobooks! The kids and I have listened to Ribsy (brilliantly performed by Neil Patrick Harris), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (significantly better than the movie), and Encyclopedia Brown mysteries (which are aimed for elementary students but at least 75% of them stump me.)
-I really enjoy the podcast Only The Good Stuff, in which Stephen Altrogge basically talks with Christian-celebrity guests about the top 5 things they’re enjoying right now. Though the items on everyone’s lists range from tangible (candles, mystery novels, etc.) to intangible (friendship, marriage, particular scriptures, etc.), all things are intended to direct our hearts to worship God, even yummy snacks or good movies. I especially enjoyed his conversations with Jimmy Needham, Lore Wilbur, and Tim Challies.
Whelp, that was June! I hope you had a good one too!
Do you struggle with discontentment? I sure do, but I think I've had a breakthrough recently.
My parents teasingly called me Eeyore when I was a kid, because from a very young age I have had a special gift for seeing the negative in any situation. I've always been able to maintain a rainy cloud of discontentment no matter how sunny my life is. Like a good millennial, I constantly feel stifled and suffocated by my surroundings, even if my miseries are such petty first-world problems as "living in nasty Florida" or "my house is too annoyingly big."
But the movies and inspirational Instagram posts make it look like "spreading your wings to fly" or changing your situation in a dramatic way is easy, or at least that it merely requires "bravery." In reality, however, plenty of brave people don't have that option.
When you're married to a well-established local business owner, conversations of "let's ditch this town and get a fresh start" don't go over well.
And when you're the mom of three strong-willed kids whose personalities you might sometimes want to tweak a little, you don't get to roll the dice again and hope for a different turnout.
And, of course, no matter who you are, serious issues of actual suffering can't just be wished away. Life is short and, at risk of sounding too capitalist, you have to work with what you've got.
I've been thinking about that a lot in terms of creativity though. How many times have constraints beautifully shaped art?
Oftentimes the most creative stories don't begin with a blank sheet of paper, but with a prompt, a specific idea, a deadline.
The best improv skits don't begin with "Ok, just go onstage and be funny!" There's always a scenario, a prop, subject matter, or song style. (Oh, Wayne Brady, I admire you so.)
Russ Ramsey recently wrote a fantastic and insightful article about Michelangelo's famous sculpture, David. Other artists worked on David before Michelangelo was even born. He had to step into art piece that had already been begun and do the best he could with it. Limiting, sure, but if he had started from scratch, David wouldn't be the same masterpiece.
So we need to look at our lives squarely and acknowledge what we've been given, the desirable and undesirable. What we consider "hindrances" to fulfilling our goals are really what C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity might call "raw materials"; they're what God has given us to work with. Whatever disappointments or broken promises or shocking turns of events we encounter---whether it's an annoying professor or a difficult marriage or lifelong disability---we can see them as the creative restraints God is giving us. These limitations help us depend on Him, look outside ourselves for answers, and joyfully accept all things as a part of the masterpiece that God is making. Yes, God is the One making it. Though we work hard to persevere and we celebrate the glimpses of progress and beauty, He is the one creating a masterpiece.
So, friend, when you scroll on your phone and see your friends living the life you always thought you'd have, you can express your disappointment to God and know that He cares for you. But you can also remind yourself that He is giving you a joyful life of trust, dependence, and pioneering. You're figuring out how to work with something that wasn't part of your plans. There is adventure in that.
When you sit at your kitchen table, exhausted by your work that feels so very meaningless, dreaming of more "ambitious" endeavors that could have been, you can tell yourself, "I'm being given the opportunity to find a meaningful life that looks even more beautiful than I imagined it would be."
When you weep on the floor over a dream you've had to bury---at least for the foreseeable future---you can trust that the reality given to you by God is richer and fuller than the mirage you had planned for yourself. You're not entering this disappointment with knowledge of how many beautiful things will come from it or how many ways this will strengthen you. But God knows, and He cares more about your joy than even you do. He just takes the "let them see My glory" approach to joy-giving (John 17:24) instead of the "give them whatever they want" approach we all might prefer. :)
We can see our limitations as necessary, given to us by a God who ingeniously crafted the universe and for milennia has created unbelievably redemptive stories with the lives of very broken people.
From one recovering Eeyore to another, I love you, friend.
"In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials." 1 Peter 1:6
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:10
"Tonight if I don't sit and watch Parks and Rec, I'll probably cry," I told my husband the other night. It had been a stressful day ending a stressful week, I had just read a heartbreaking book about a 12-year-old girl who died of cancer, and I was feeling a lot of sad emotions. Peter had to do repairs and I generally don't watch TV by myself, so I ended up staying true to my prediction and crying for a little while.
Sad story, right? But the next day I realized something beautiful as I was in the car with my 1-year-old.
She's the only one of my kids that has accepted a pacifier, and that has made her the easiest baby yet. I mean, wow, pacifiers work miracles. Eight months ago the doctor told me that I need to take the pacifiers away, but that feels almost impossible. She cries so much more when she doesn't have it.
But during this car ride I had successfully kept the pacifier from her, and out of nowhere from the backseat I heard a beautiful little voice singing. No words, just sweet, high-pitched sounds coming from my precious daughter's mouth. I realized something quite poignant about pacifiers in that moment: they might block the crying, but they also block the singing.
We as grownups are no different.
There are limitless ways to pacify ourselves, drugs and alcohol being the most obvious and Netflix and social media being the most pervasive. Though most of these things are not inherently bad, we are cheating ourselves if we use them simply to silence our feelings...or even our boredom. Study after study has been churned out in recent years (like those mentioned here) about how boredom is fertile ground for creativity.
Hopping onto Facebook during that minute-long red light might have prevented you from a brilliant and revolutionary idea. On the other hand, sitting on a bench and thinking about nothing in particular for even five minutes might inspire you in a way that you'll remember for the rest of your life.
In the same way, it's in those moments that we're weeping over a hard situation that we might have a helpful new thought of clarity about it. In my emotional struggles over the past several years, I began to really treasure the idea of my crying-closet as a crucible, a place where different elements are melted together to make something new. Thankfully, God has lifted me out of that dark time, at least for now, but I've come out of that season as a much stronger and more robustly happy person. The pain was not just worth it but necessary.
The Bible strongly supports crying; look no further than John 11:35 ("Jesus wept") or the entire book of Psalms, chapter 6 especially. The difference between self-pity and godly sorrow is that self-pity looks inward and around, but godly sorrow looks up. Godward crying---or even Godward groaning or blubbering or whatever undignified sounds and faces you make when you're sad---is a good and healthy thing. He's the one who holds the whole universe and has given you this situation with intentionality, wisdom, and love. He loves to help His people know His love deeply and personally. Our joy increases depending on our desperation.
This is one of the reasons I aim to have natural childbirth. I quite acutely feel all the pain of pushing out a baby (and I'm super wimpy about it), but that sense of awareness not only helps me focus on a healthy delivery, but it's replaced by unmedicated feelings of delight when my child is finally born.
If we never face our feelings of sadness head-on, we never learn to hope. If we don't look sin and death in its ugly face and say "You've really messed things up," we won't feel as much of a need to look Jesus in His lovely face and say "You've conquered death, soon it will be swallowed up forever, and You will wipe away every tear." (1 Corinthians 15:57, Isaiah 25:8, Revelation 21:4.)
So let's evaluate whether we're seeking a healthy enjoyment of good gifts or if we're trying to silence our feelings. If we're blocking our pain, we're probably also blocking our joy.
And please give me advice for how to wean a kid off a pacifier. At this point, she is definitely going to need braces. ;)
The Perfectly Written Sub-Sub-Sub-Plot That is My Life
This Life Is Not Our Rest
Also, I really benefited from this week's Phil Vischer podcast and the interview with Andy Crouch about how technology is changing us.
And Charles Spurgeon's commentary on Psalm 6 will blow your mind. Since it's so old you can read it online for free.
Shortly after I turned 25, I suddenly felt compelled to action.
I spent hours writing punchy articles and sent them to the New York Times and Washington Post.
I planned multiple book proposals and plotted a Kickstarter campaign.
I even tweeted one of my favorite podcasters in hopes of convincing him I was interesting enough to be featured on his show as a non-famous guest.
None of these things came to fruition, in case you were wondering. But I did certainly learn something about myself:
I still think my self-worth needs to have numbers or titles attached to it.
I've got to have a life that's worth writing a biography about.
Or at least a byline that sounds a little more impressive than "I'm a wife and mom who lives in Tampa and writes for a blog that about eight people read." (Of course I'd figure out a way to mention that I've written for Christianity Today---meaning I wrote one article four years ago---because that's my biggest claim to fame.)
And I'm not alone in this desire to have quantifiable value, or a worth that can be measured by objective achievements. In simpler words: we want to prove we're important. Our culture is sick with it, and that's part of the reason that investing in the next generation isn't prized as an intelligent woman's way to spend her days.
Think about it: how many of the most highly-esteemed careers of our day actually involve spending time with children or the elderly? Our promotion-driven mindset leads us to believe that if we're actually growing in skill, knowledge, and value we've got to do something bigger and better. "Progress" is moving past humility and in-the-trenches lifestyle. If your job makes you wear the kind of clothes that need to be dry-cleaned, you've found yourself a legitimate career.
Even in mom-world, where I'm with other people who agree that people-investment is a valuable occupation, I find myself establishing worth by my achievements. At my first La Leche League meeting, I made sure to mention that my son was born at home, and I immediately gained approving nods of respect and knew I had reached "crunchy-mom" status. I've noticed that I've even begun to relish the quantifiable-ness of how many children I have. Four kids at twenty-five! I've got to be doing real stuff if I'm managing that.
I also have friends who are doing majorly important things and they don't have a fancy career or children.
One of my close friends earned a masters degree and spends her days working with blind students who don't want to learn. Many days---especially due to failures in the school system---surely feel like a total waste of time and effort. But it was difficult for these students to mask their joy when they found out that their teacher is actually going to stick with them for another year, unlike everyone else who was wearied by them after a year and moved onto "bigger and better things." Who knows what will become of these students who needed just one person to love them and think they were worth investment.
Another one of my smart, productive, and beautiful friends spent a long season as a stay-at-home wife with no kids. She stepped away from her lucrative career because she wanted to focus on being a good friend and neighbor. And she most certainly was to me. Her impact on the world is incalculable but vastly important.
One of the phrases that makes me grit my teeth is "if you don't start making something with your life, you're going to be flipping burgers at McDonald's." I'm sure there are burger-flippers at McDonald's who are being a bright and shining light of joy and encouragement to their co-workers, their friends, their families, and whatever else they're involved in off-the-clock.
My husband spent much of our first year of marriage shoveling sand into a concrete mixer; a couple years later he started a successful business and his salary quadrupled. Did his inherent worth change even one bit? Nope. Different joys and struggles, same importance as a person.
Let's stop talking about people of less-glamorous vocations as if they're less-than. People are made with great purpose and an inherent value that none of us can even wrap our minds around. To objectify someone---in praise or pity---because of their achievements is to have a very short-sighted perspective on the world.
This certainly doesn't mean we should spend all our days scrolling on our screens and fleeing from any scent of ambition. But I think it's high time we put our goals, dreams, and definitions of success on the table and evaluate what's really going to matter in, say, 10,000 years. (I'll write more on that later.)
Platform and prosperity are fleeting; just ask Lindsay Lohan and Haley Joel Osment how their once-enviable careers are continuing to flourish and satisfy. (They're not.) Whether we're seeking quantifiable value through bank account or job title or family-size, let's remember that we're already valuable, and it's qualities like faithfulness and forgiveness and self-sacrifice that are going to be what really changes the world.
Last week I listened to a fascinating and compelling Talks at Google presentation by Stephanie Gray, and I highly recommend it. But it's an hour long, so if you only have three minutes I want to draw attention to a U.N. document that Stephanie mentioned because I couldn't believe I haven't heard anyone talking about this.
In 1948 (three years post-holocaust), the United Nations put together a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It's very readable and I recommend viewing the whole thing. At the very beginning of the preamble, it says, "Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."
Article 3 says "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person."
The U.N. says human beings should have the right to live. I am certainly not advocating the U.N.'s every word as absolute truth and goodness, but these statements about the right for members of the human family are completely necessary since, historically, sometimes people get caught up in popular lies and start treating fellow human beings like they're less-than-human, just because of their ethnicity or religion or sexuality or...age.
This is where there's controversy where there should be none.
A human being is a human being who deserves the right to live, no matter how old they are.
Even if they're five weeks in-utero.
If you claim to care about human rights, you need to truly consider whether you believe in the human's right to live. Ms. Gray also made an excellent argument that that if two humans make a fetus, its species is obviously human. It's not alien or dolphin or cat or dog. It's a human. A member of the human family. A fellow human being who simply cannot speak up for himself or herself and needs time to grow. A human who should have the right to life, liberty, and security of person.
So, please, let's support moms who are in tough situations. My 5-year-old son recently worked his tail off doing extra chores to raise $10 to send to a pregnancy care center (his idea) because he fiercely believes that young humans should have the right to live, and that their moms should be well-cared-for. Let's talk positively about new life. Let's have real-life conversations about human dignity and inherent value. Because all people are valuable.
Feel free to read my related article But What About the Moms?
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today