Roots: A Reflection

I smiled at him from my spot on the futon as he walked through the door and set his keys on the table before coming over to kiss my forehead. From its perch on an old train table, our garage sale television played the theme song of The Office, signaling the beginning of our nightly wind-down routine. We were newly married, we were broke, and the forecast was unchanging, as far as we could see. Family, however, had opened their shed doors to us and happily passed down their old furniture – a train table, a futon, used Christmas decorations.

Connor lifted my feet onto his lap. They had started to swell, a side effect of standing in the classroom all day. Teaching was stressful. A job market that was only offering my husband a part-time retail job was stressful. We knew we should have waited to get pregnant. We even told some people the baby was a surprise. It felt like what was socially appropriate. But, when our front door closed and we caught each others eyes, there was such a fullness there. We were having our baby.

My husband’s musician hands were strong from years of piano, drum, and guitar practice. I was grateful, like I am when he fills our small apartment with music, for his hands as they rubbed the stress and pain up and out of my tired feet.

“I tried writing him a song today,” he said slowly, nodding towards the baby boy held safely in my round belly.

My heart skipped a happy beat as I paused the show and sat up straighter, “Can I hear it?” He set my feet down and brought his guitar in from the other room. A soft melody and his familiar tenor voice filled our little living room as he sang.

Your mother and I had been praying so long,

Then along came our soldier – our strong little one,

Found rest from our wandering, from love came our son.

Unsure of our future, our home, our careers,

Still all we can think of is having you here.

Fear thou not,

Fear thou not,

My right hand will hold you

Fear thou not

His reference to Isaiah 41:10 brought tears to my eyes. We had no idea what we were doing, having this baby. While our hearts were eager and overjoyed, we were also afraid. This was new territory we were entering into. We knew nothing, save where we’d been and where our feet were then.

When we said “I do,” our love grew roots. When we moved into our apartment with the hand-me-down Christmas ornaments and train table those roots started to reach out, spreading underground. When we saw two pink lines, those roots got thicker and spread wider, anchoring the love that was growing one person taller. Watching love grow, feeling the weight of all these new things, I wondered about our future. Were the roots strong enough for what was to come? Were we growing too fast; would our roots starve or hit rocks?

Surely. Surely, they would. Fertile ground is not abundant. Lack, though, lack is abundant. Rocks are abundant. We had learned this already. Earlier that evening, we had eaten Top Ramen for dinner for the third time that week. We had checked in on a bank account that was flirting with negatives.

It was also clear though, that we were not in this alone. Someone was tending to our roots, watering where there was dryness and digging out rocks as they came. When we turned our faces upward to see where the help came from, I had heard it, and Connor had too:

Fear thou not.

My right hand will hold you, fear thou not.

Connor squeezed my knee when he finished and my heart felt full and heavy with the goodness, even in our uncertainty. And that’s the thing about roots –  gathering strength from the sun, strength from above – the strong ones decide to keep growing, no matter what they hit.

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When the Devil Whispers

Photography by: Kylie Farmer Photography

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  Ephesians 6:10-12 

She was looking at the jeans. The reflection of the dirty dressing room mirror showed that they were too tight, not right, her skin bunched up and overflowing onto the waistband. She had barely gotten them on and felt immobile, her too-big body locked straight-kneed by the new jean fabric. The knot in her stomach grew tighter because she could feel it coming. She could feel it crawling out of her throat, with its corrosive fingers. Hate.

She remembered the small friend, sitting with her on the bus after the track meet, and how this small friend had laughed, and confirmed the insecurity she had just whispered in confidence, “Yeah, you do have big thighs.” And then, how they moved on, talked about something else, as though she would not remember that conversation for the rest of her life and feel crushed under the laugh and the condemnation.

Now, alone in the dressing room, she stared at the barely buttoned jeans, and the hate slid with sinister drips off her tongue, unrecognizable and burning as it left her mouth. “You pig,” it spat, “You fat, fat pig.” She moved her face closer to the mirror so she could see her breath on the glass and curled her lip in disgust as she whispered, “I hate you.” As the hate circled, it kicked the side of her mouth into a sneer and then her body shook, drunk with adrenaline. The tears that fell then seemed to burn rivers into her face.

She watched the intensity in her eyes burn until shame and defeat sat in the ashes. Her imperfection was unforgivable.

She peeled the jeans off and put her maroon sweatpants back on. She sat in the dressing room, holding her head in her hands and hugging her knees to her chest. She had been raised in a home that knew the gift of worth. Her parents had, upon receiving their baby girl, wrapped the special gift in the prettiest wrapping paper. They had prayed over the gift. They had set it in front of her every day, eager for her to open it. They told her what was inside, how good it was, how it was meant just for her. But the little girl had just picked at the wrapping. It was pretty, after all. And now, sixteen years old, she had not unwrapped it, still. She knew it sat in front of her, but the hate had rendered her hands useless.

She wiped her eyes, stood up and, avoided the mirror as she walked out of the dressing room. Her mom was waiting over by the swimsuits.

“Did the pants fit? Look how cute this swimsuit is! Here, try it on.” Her mom said, waving the swimsuit at her.

“No.” The girl responded, keeping her eyes busy and away from her mother so she couldn’t see the tears in the corners, still hot from the fire, “I’m ready to go.”

On the ride home, the pain of the burns left by hate overwhelmed her. She broke down and sobbed about this heavy evil that lived in her. She felt like an utter failure.

“Oh, honey, you really think you’re fat? You are not fat,” her mother said with sadness in her eyes.

“I don’t know how to fix it, Mom,” she said, as she looked out the window, wiping the tears away, “I can’t stop thinking that it’s true. I don’t have control over it.”

Her mother was quiet for a few minutes as the heaviness sat around them. She sighed before answering, “When I became a mom, Satan told me lies too. Every morning, as soon as I opened my eyes, he would tell me that I wasn’t a good mom. He told me I could not take care of my kids, that I wasn’t enough for them, and I was just no good. It paralyzed me. I believed I was a bad mom and I started getting really depressed. I was living in Satan’s lie.”

The girl narrowed her eyes. She was absolutely positive that her mother had never been a bad mother. This did not seem related to her problem.

“I started reading scripture and I realized that it was Satan, taunting me, whispering to me. Just because those thoughts are there, it doesn’t mean they’re true. I told your dad that I had believed Satan and we prayed about it. From that point on, every time those thoughts came into my head, I prayed and used scripture to combat the lie for truth and gave the thoughts to God. Then, I was able to wake up in the morning and sing praise songs, instead of listening to Satan’s whispers. Those thoughts you’re having about yourself are from the devil. You have to break the cycle. Don’t let him do that to you,” her mother looked at her, “I will help you however I can.”

“Okay, thanks mom,” She said and continued staring out the window. She was sure nothing could be done about the sludge in her heart. The rest of the ride home was quiet as they both were lost in their thoughts.

When they got home, she went straight to her room and closed the door. She had had enough of this day. She sat on the edge of her bed. On a whim, she opened the top drawer of her nightstand. Inside were her blue spiral journal and her Bible.

She pulled out both.

She opened to Psalms and started flipping through some pages. Maybe she could try asking God for help, like her mom had said. She didn’t have any other kind of plan. Her flipping stopped on Psalm 138. She read it and thought it was nice. Then she moved on to Psalm 139 and found herself crying tears for the third time today, but this time they were cool on her cheeks. She read aloud quietly, alone in her room, as the tears continued to come.

“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.”
Psalm 139: 13-18

Here was the gift. The one she had not opened before. She was created. She was purposed. Intended for life by a God who thought enough of her to knit her together, body and soul. What He had fearfully and wonderfully made she was now a steward of; she could not hate what God had made. God had spent time thinking of her, specifically her, and how he wanted her put together inside and out. She didn’t want to disapprove of God’s good creation. But, was she really? Was she really a good creation?

Maybe she was. The psalm said she was. She decided to fight. She would make a stand and try to recover ground in her mind and claim it for Christ. It seemed too much for her, and the thought overwhelmed her. How could she take on re-programing her brain? She couldn’t. So she opened her blue spiral journal and wrote, asking God for help. Then she ripped out a blank page and wrote down verse 14, committing it to memory: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

She tucked the paper in her Bible and stood up, feeling so much lighter than she had.

As she opened her door a sinister voice whispered in her ear of her inabilities and imperfection. She closed her eyes and spoke the verse out loud. The words drowned out the thought and she opened her eyes. She kept walking. Here, was the beginning.

As she walked past the glass case full of traditional German treats she stopped, adjusted the textbooks in her arms, and looked at the chocolates, cakes, pies, caramels, and fudge before deciding on a small piece of raspberry cake. “Eins bitte,” she said in her clumsy German. Her semester abroad in Germany had been full of new experiences, wonder, and unfamiliarity. The waitress behind the counter nodded and motioned that she would bring it to her table. The young woman’s companion had gone straight to their booth, ordering them both coffees.

As she settled into her seat, thankful for the quiet café near their classes, the hot coffee was set in front of them. She and her classmate were meeting here between History of Middle East and Humanities to share their testimonies with each other. They had both been selected to serve as spiritual advisors for incoming freshman the following year and wanted to take the chance to connect and share their excitement.

They laughed and shared their joy together, as well as the struggles they had seen. She shared her head-to-head with self-hate and how she had fought a battle for her worth for so long, having to arrest each sin-whisper and slice it with the sword of truth. She explained that she’d felt silly at first, speaking scripture out loud against thoughts, but how, as a result, she had found herself in a battle she was not losing. Her weight no longer defined her. She sipped her coffee and spoke her struggle straight into a six foot grave, clearly cold and dead.

The friend listened intently and when the impressive tale had finished she asked, “How are you doing with that struggle, now?”

And the young woman blinked. Because that was not the jubilation of triumph she had expected.

And she stuttered. Because the truth was, she was no longer standing on a grave. She had been. She had found peace and worth in Christ and freedom from her sin of believing lies. But then she had become complacent in her peace. She had not noticed the demon behind her, gleefully digging, uncovering her insecurities.

“I..I..am doing okay…I guess. To be honest, I still struggle with it. I still feel obsessed with my weight sometimes. Like I’m not good enough.” She said with shame, realizing how much of a testimony-fraud she looked like, having just declared victory one minute and defeat the next.

The companion nodded though, like she understood both the victory and continuing struggle. She said, “You know, when people share their story with me and there is no more struggle, I have a hard time with that. It’s like they’re saying, ‘this is how you overcome that! I used to struggle, but now, no way!’ I wonder, then, if I’m really a Christian because I’m over here still struggling. It helps me more when someone shares their story and admits that they are still in the midst of it at times.”

She left the conversation feeling in awe, again, of her God. He knew she had been struggling. She had been freed from the desperation of hate so many years ago but then, in the quiet after the battle, she had been distracted and left her post abandoned. When Satan came back around, looking to lurk in the old places, he found them unoccupied.

But, God.

God wanted her back. And she wanted Him back. She wanted to know again that her worth wasn’t a number on a scale, but a gift already bestowed, a security unshakeable.

She went back to her dorm room and pulled out her journal. It was a small black notebook now, the original blue journal tucked away in the attic of her childhood home, but it served the same purpose.

She wrote about her conversation and asked God to turn her heart towards Him again. She thanked Him for seeing her before the world did and purposing her time here. Then she went to her Bible and opened it to Psalm 139. Tucked into the pages, she found a faded piece of journal paper. She didn’t need to read it, because she knew it by heart, but she did anyways. It was her battle cry.

“All Done”

Of all my parenting battles, one particular encounter with Micah, from when he was around one year old, will forever be stored in my heart. I wrote about it then, but I’d like to share it here now.

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Micah has been signing “all done” for a while now. After a meal we ask him to sign “all done” before getting him out of his high chair, and so he does. It’s been working great.

A few days ago, Micah was eating lunch. He finished and started whining to get down. I sat in front of him and said, “Are you all done, buddy?! All done?” While making the sign with my hands. He looked at me for a few seconds and then, for whatever reason, very clearly decided that he was NOT going to do what Mommy was asking him to do. He began kicking and screaming and banging on his tray and refusing to make the sign.

Fifteen minutes later, my arms hurt from making the sign and my teeth were dry from smiling at him in an effort to get him to cooperate. Surely he was almost at the end of his defiance and would give in soon. Do babies even do stuff like this on purpose? I should probably just take him out of his high chair.

Thirty minutes later his screams of protest were only getting louder and his flailing arms were only banging harder. He was determined to get his way. I was not so determined I was going to get my way.

FIFTY-NINE MINUTES into this, my own mom popped her head in the room and said, “You’re doing the right thing. Do it now before he’s older.” I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had tears in my eyes. I felt like a terrible mother who was abusing her child by leaving him in the high chair until he “obeyed.” Maybe he was in pain! Maybe he was just being a baby and didn’t know better! At this point, he was literally falling asleep between screams. I’m just going to pick him up, this is beyond ridiculous.

And then, he put a little fisted hand in the air and made the sign. I hesitated for only a second, was this really happening? But it was. IT WAS. My joy was overwhelming as I scooped him up into my arms and hugged him tight. “You did it Mick-Mack! You did it! I’m so proud of you! I love you so much buddy.” He was already asleep on my shoulder. And I cried. Because I was mentally and emotionally exhausted from sitting with my sweet baby for AN HOUR before he submitted his will to mine.

I can only imagine how much greater God’s joy and relief when we finally let go and do it His way.

Realistically, though

We didn’t do anything out of the ordinary that night a few weeks before our fourth wedding anniversary. But I remember it, I remember the warm tendrils of hope taking root in a winterized heart struggling with frustration and defeat. We had just put the kids to bed and were sitting on the couch, my feet in his lap, watching Chuck. We were squeezing out a few wind-down moments together before we went to bed ourselves.  In general, we were thankful and exhausted. That season of life had not been particularly easy. We were regularly financially strapped, Connor worked 12 hour days, and our newborn was colicky (what felt like) 23 hours a day. The “good” moments were less frequent and the arguments flared hot and ready. It had been hard to love each other well and we had both failed more times than we’d succeeded. We knew this. We also knew that we were thankful for the life we were building together.

The topic of marriage came up and I expressed my frustration that we still had so much to work on. Why weren’t we getting more “wins” if we’d been at this for four years? But Connor shrugged and said, “Well, what do you expect from a four year old?” And it clicked for me that while I felt then like I should be fully knowledgable and fully capable of doing my marriage ‘right;’ while I felt like my marriage should already be ‘there’ – the reality is that four year olds still need to hold someone’s hand to cross the street. They need to ask a lot of questions when it’s craft time, and they can’t be expected to read. Although they have grown from drooling, weak, little messes to running, talking, puzzle-doing persons in just four years – they have so much farther to go.

So do we. And I shouldn’t have expected our marriage to be a 40 year old adult.

The early years of marriage can feel like a dance where you don’t know how close or far to stand during certain spins, how hard to hold on at the dips, or where your eyes should be looking amidst all the movement. (Although, I would not hesitate to tell you now that you stand CLOSE, you hold TIGHT, and you look to JESUS.) There will be mistakes, toes will be stepped on, and you might come out of it feeling more bruised than confident. But the more you lean in to your spouse by treating them with respect and honor (whether you feel like they deserve it or not), the more fluid your dance steps will become. The more you look to Jesus to replace your emotional perspective with truth, the faster your mind will be able to pick up new steps.

And with that realization, I felt hope in the growing pains of young marriage. We weren’t supposed to have it figured out. Even now, approaching our seventh anniversary, we don’t have it figured out. That’s okay. We know where we should be, with our eyes on Christ and our efforts in opening our hands to each other to begin our dance again and again. We know that at the end of this, and even amidst this process, that the beauty and fullness of an “adultish” and grace-filled marriage will meet us.

Heavy-handed humanness

It is very important to me (as I assume it is to most moms) that my children LISTEN to me. They will need to be able to submit to authority when they are older so it’s my job to teach them to submit to my authority while they are younger. Which I understand to be one of my roles as a parent based on verses like Proverbs 13:24, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” All good things. Except when I get 100% focused on their submission to my will and marginalize everything else, you know, like their well-being, feelings, opinions, thoughts.

That single-minded pursuit of their submission to my authority had the drivers seat this morning. While we were trying to get out the door no one except the baby was doing what I asked them to do and, so, I lost it. Fully. My voice is actually hoarse from yelling so much. The problem I ended up losing it around? Noah was pretending to be a ninja and hiding in blankets, waiting patiently for me to notice him missing and come searching. He was being extraordinarily stealthy and another day I would have found his imagination funny and engaging.  However, since I was coming fresh from dealing with being smacked by a three-year-old for not “allowing” him to buckle himself into his carseat (which he is not even physically able to do at this point), I was not in the mood to play along. Suffice it to say, no one could have done anything right after I started in on the yelling.

We all eventually got in the car and most of us were crying and my eyeballs were boiling. We made it a couple blocks from the house, the volume of my voice and their voices getting progressively louder, before I whipped the car to the curb with a foot stomp on the brake and barreled out of the door, fully intending on berating Noah in his face for whining so loud. Maybe I’d even spank him. As I rounded the bumper of the car on my way to his door, full of righteous huff, God allowed me to walk into the fullness of shame in my actions. My insides were liquid regret. I was behaving like a child who was a lot bigger than all the other children so EVERYONE SHOULD LISTEN TO ME. I slowed way down as I opened the door and looked in at Noah. I was at a loss for words. Here I am, looking at the tear-filled eyes of my preschooler, and I have nothing to say. I had literally just yelled their ears off before stopping the car so we were all a little in shock I think. I heard myself ask Noah if I could say a prayer. He sniffled and said yeah. So I grabbed his little hand and reached over to touch Micah and I asked God to forgive me. Then I asked Noah to forgive me. He said, “Okay. I forgive you, Mom” (Oh man, to be able to forgive like a four-year-old).

I got back in the car and we went on our way. The intricacies of who had disobeyed and how and what needed to change fell behind us and when I looked into the rearview mirror I saw all of us chewing on grace.

I hate that I treated my children so terribly this morning. I hate that it’s a part of their story now. But I love that we got to talk about how Mommy let anger win in her heart, instead of compassion and patience. How Mommy raised her voice when she shouldn’t have and how Mommy was wrong. I got to see the wheels turning in Noah’s head and knew that the next time he lashed out in anger we would be able to talk about the time I lost it and had to apologize to everyone.

My humanness is so heavy-handed but God’s grace is so miraculous.

There’s a Cracked Egg on My Living Room Floor

I opened my eyes this morning to the sound of my three year old losing the contents of his stomach onto my bedroom floor. I grabbed him under his arms and rushed him to the toilet but was met mid-hallway by my four year old who took my disheveled jumped-from-deep-sleep-to-panicked-running look as an invitation to tell me how he’s sorry he put an egg under the recliner and that it cracked all over the floor.

This was not at all how I pictured my morning going. But, whatever, “hope springs eternal,” I think as I start to clean up the sick one (who, I later discover, was not sick but had eaten a handful of cheese although he is ALLERGIC to dairy and has a body that violently ejects all dairy contents from both ends until everything is out). After he is taken care of I begin to get things ready for preschool drop off.

After getting the four year old’s backpack together, I discovered the little egg-cracker had shut himself in his room and smashed a mini pumpkin he had smuggled out of the living room. Did you know mini pumpkins actually have a surprising amount of guts and seeds? I didn’t. But the carpet in the boys’ bedroom now knows it. “Yeah, I’m sorry Mom, I just broke it open because I wanted to see inside,” he said with a shrug when he saw the incredible tightness of my face and eyebrows-to-the-sky response. He may be struggling with heart attitude and intention but the boy knows how to check a box (Do the thing I want to do even though I know I’m not supposed to – CHECK; find mom, say sorry – CHECK; get away with the thing – CHECK…he wishes).

“JUST. JUST please put some pants on!” This was all I could spit out without coming completely unglued. It took him twenty minutes to put pants on and I was like I’M LOSING IT GET IN THE CAR RIGHT NOW I DONT CARE IF YOU DON’T HAVE SHOES ON.

We may or may not have been late to preschool.

So, let’s talk about control.

I want it. I want control over my house. I want control over the cleanliness of my floors, the contents of my refrigerator, the amount of sleep I get, the amount of sleep my children get, the laundry, the toys all over the yard, the food that actually goes into my children’s mouths, their behavior, and the fact that they are suddenly tall enough to crawl onto the kitchen counters. I WANT CONTROL.

When sin entered this world in the garden all that was perfect became tainted with sin, including myself, my children, my house, my marriage. The devil came bearing down on all of us and whispered “control” into our ears.

“You can control this. You are enough to control this little thing.”

That expectation of control pressed me into a flat hopeless pancake this morning. Because I couldn’t. I couldn’t control my children and I couldn’t control my time.

But, thank goodness, I don’t need to be in control. All of the above, as well as the souls and well-being of my family, are in the hands of Christ and “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Romans 8:28)

So instead of remaining a flat hopeless pancake, I’m going to drink another cup of coffee, read another chapter of Romans, clean up the cracked egg, and mentally prepare myself as I pray over preschool pick up. Maybe I’ll listen to a gospel-centered podcast or audio book while I clean because what fills the heart is what pops out of the mouth in those moments of complete loss of self-control. So I’ll try to fill my mind and heart with goodness and grace and pray they bring me clarity in those “eyebrows to the sky” mornings.

Moral of the story: Never let your children go to bed without bells on, lest they wake up at 100% and rearing to go, without your knowledge.

 
 

These Days

It’s definitely about time for a personal update around here. While Micah has been a newborn I have been very busy trying to figure him out. He’s a tricky one. And then there’s Noah, a 1 1/2 year old who spend his days trying to convince me he is actually in his “terrible twos.” I haven’t had a lot of spare time to sit down and think about writing.

I loooove my boys. Love them. But I will always be one of the first to throw up her hands and admit motherhood is tough. It’s killing me, ya’ll.

But it’s killing me in the way that it should. I have little to no time for “me things.” (Let’s just not talk about how neglected my eyebrows have become.) I feel incredibly awesome when I get to take a shower, and when I get a shower TWO days in a row, I want to write it on my calendar (it’s that momentous).

I am dying a slowww painful death to “me.” Not by choice, mind you. If it were up to me, I would be painting my nails the perfect winter shade, sipping my Starbucks, and watching Parenthood right now. What I’m actually doing is  sitting on the floor next to an almost three month old who is trying to roll over, typing with one hand around the toddler in my lap, and watching Curious George. And my nail color is two weeks old and chipped to high heaven.

But it’s good, guys. It is SO good. Lately, the phrase “taste and see that the Lord is good” has been floating through my head. It’s just so true. Parenting is a “taste.” It’s hard and I honestly don’t know how people without Jesus can do it. When everyone is screaming, pooping, and spitting up all together and I feel like crying, I look at my ceiling and plead with my Father. Helllllllppp mee pleeeeeese.

And he always does. Whether he extends my patience, gives my heart a refresher, or soothes the crying babies. Sometimes I feel no help and so I put my head down and do what needs to be done. I focus and hustle. And probably still feel discouraged and overwhelmed. But later that day I will get a text or a phone call from a friend that lifts me up and puts me back where I should be. Yep, God is GOOD. I’m tasting and seeing.

In other family news, Connor and I are good. We are loving Colorado and our sweet little townhouse. It is perfect in every way….except for how the fireplace’s chimney is apparently blocked. So when we lit a cozy fire this weekend our whole downstairs filled with smoke. That was STRESSFUL. HA. The scent of camping is now gone and someone is coming to clean the flue out on Friday. Thank goodness.

I am much better at doing updates on instagram, so please follow me there if you want to know more! ;)