Words Redeem Us

Tonight at midnight, my family was supposed to wake up and hit the road. We were going to have the car already packed, put our three sleeping babies in the backseat and start a journey from the chilly southern Indiana spring to sunny Panama City Beach, Florida. Sand, sun and the Hafeles…it sounds so nice. I would have never dreamed two weeks ago deep into our vacation planning that instead of a beach dream, we’d be cooped up at home, afraid to go to the grocery store or to talk to our friends and neighbors.

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Life in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic is anything but normal. Schools are closed and our children are learning online for the foreseeable future. Restaurants have closed to diners and are only providing carry out. The grocery store shelves are empty as people panic and have started to stock up on dry and canned goods. There are no sports, no activities, no parties. I don’t recognize this life, and it is scary. But I don’t have to tell you all of this…because you are living this new life too.

In these times, how do we ground ourselves? How do we face the unknown? My devotional this week stated, “Who we really are, what we truly believe, is always evidenced in turmoil. Good and bad, the future must come. God’s children must grow.”

Just a month ago, before China and Italy were in the news, before the word Coronavirus was the center of every headline, before anyone had ever heard of “social distancing”, I had a conversation with a friend. We talked about the importance of knowing our core values, those values that define our innermost motivations. We talked about how knowing and identifying these values can lead us to consistently be true to ourselves regardless of circumstance.

I had heard all of this before. I’m a self-help junkie, so I’ve read the books, listened to the podcasts, understood the concepts, and tried to put this very idea into action in my own life. But to my own confusion, I had not had much success. I could never quite connect my values to the tough conversations and circumstances in my personal or professional life. I couldn’t make my values work in my every day life.

My friend asked me what my values were. Immediately words started to fall out of my mouth. I believe in hard work…in being kind always…in always doing my very best…and on and on. He asked me how I could apply these things to a difficult conversation I had just been through, and again, I was stumped. I just couldn’t translate these values to my life. I left the conversation a little frustrated with myself, but excited. I knew I was missing something. I needed to dig deeper.

It hit me! These values I had identified…hard work, kindness, doing my best…these weren’t values at all. These were the symptoms or results of my values. So I had to ask myself, what are my actual values? What are my words? What drives me to work hard, to be kind, to do my best? What is going on in my soul to make these things so important in my life?

Eek! I had a project! So I did what any nerd does…I began to look up words in a thesaurus. The words that I felt like described me and that I believed in…I looked up synonyms and antonyms….I made lists….I wrote pages of words. And then I slept on it.

I woke up the next day and looked at my page of words. They didn’t work. There was no spark in these words for my inner feelings and drive. I knew I had to start again and this time, rely on my own mind and leave the internet on it’s own. Yes, I know, shocking….there are some things the internet can’t do. It can’t tell us who we are. We have to uncover that on our own. I was able to find a great article on a process to follow to uncover your values, and I recommend it to anyone looking to find the same meaning I have found in this exercise: https://scottjeffrey.com/personal-core-values/

I followed the process I had read about online, and I wrote words upon words. Then I slept and took these words and put them into groups. Many of the words were similar or related in some way. Once the words were broken into groups, I looked for the word in each group that stood out to me, that I connected with most. And there, on the page were five words. Five words that perfectly spoke to who I am, what I believe in and what drives me: grace, gratitude, purpose, joy, and potential.

I write about this exercise in values because I had no idea a month ago how vital these words would become in this crazy life we’re living. I cannot count the number of times I’ve found myself panicked, scared, upset, worried, unsure…and I’ve been able to fall back on one of these words to ground me in the moment, to guide me back to who I am, to bring peace to those around me, to see the good.

My Core Values

Grace – Grace first, for myself and for others.

Gratitude – A deep gratitude for each and every beautiful, dark or mundane moment God has put in my path.

Purpose – The boldness to live with the purpose my creator has designed just for me, and the courage to lead others to do the same.

Joy – To approach every moment in joyful celebration of life’s abundant blessings.

Potential – The determination to continually seek out undiscovered potential within myself and within others.

If you find yourself swimming in the chaos of the current world, you are not alone. It’s hard to know how to move forward in such uncertain times. Knowing our core values, knowing what defines us, understanding those unique qualities given to you by your creator, centering yourself in those words, I assure you these things will carry you through.

Your words will look different than mine, because what makes you wonderful and beautiful is unique to you. I encourage you to take some time to focus on your words, because our values will be what carry us through this time. I’ve seen this play out in our community as my co-workers order lunch every day to support our small businesses, as our local companies create programs to protect and support their employees, as our school systems work to educate and feed our children even outside of the traditional school setting, as our internet companies provide free wifi to children so they can continue to learn…all of these actions…these are humans connecting with their values.

What will your list look like? What words will you rely on?

You have purpose, and it is in the darkest times that that purpose shines. Shine on. Let our words redeem us, define us, lead us. “We know all things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

With my values tucked safely in my heart, I am moving forward day by day, enjoying my family, taking this time to love every moment and just be thankful. I hope you can do the same.

Real Talk

Appearance.  We all appear to be so many things depending upon who is watching. To some, you may the positive one, the one who lifts others up, the one with just the right words when someone is in need. To some, maybe you’re the super mom/dad, volunteering at your kids’ school, finding time to make healthy lunches, covering homework duty, sports and bike rides. To others, you’re a doting wife or husband, supportive and caring and so in love…even after all these years. And still to others, you’re the consummate professional, striding forward in your career, furthering your education and experience, with your eyes on the prize.

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Some of these things might even be true about you. You may actually hit these marks most days. My hope is that you are happy and content and thankful in life. But know, that doesn’t mean you can’t also be sad, scared to death and heartbroken at the same time. And it’s okay….in fact, it is absolutely necessary and normal.

My hope is that your are happy and content and thankful in life. But know, that doesn’t mean you can’t also be sad, scared to death and heartbroken at the same time.

I feel the need to write this because the images the world sees, our outward appearance, the FB posts, the public persona, these are the things we choose to share of ourselves.  These tiny slivers of life are never our whole entire self. Not because we try to hide the ugly parts necessarily, but because it’s impossible to be so raw and vulnerable 100% of the time.

The problem this creates is that we as human beings begin to compare our entire lives, our whole entire raw selves, against what someone else chooses to present to the world. We hold our doubt, insecurity and failure apples up against someone else’s Instagram oranges. It’s not a fair comparison. It hurts our hearts and it holds us back from happiness.

We hold our doubt, insecurity and failure apples up against someone else’s Instagram oranges.

So let me give you some real talk about a moment in my life that the world didn’t see this week. I hit a point on Tuesday evening, after work, after the kids’ homework, after supper, after the dishes…I hit a moment when the stresses that I don’t share freely, the battles to just keep this life moving forward piled up for me.  Add to that the hormones of a 7-month pregnant lady, and I hit a moment when I didn’t want to hear the word “Mom” even one more time.  I didn’t want to make anyone ice cream or bathwater…I didn’t want to do anything but sit down and cry. So I did.

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Not at all glamorous. Not a proud moment. Not a strong moment. But a real moment. I stole away five minutes to cry and let myself feel exactly how I felt in the moment.

Here’s the deal. That five minutes and all of the difficult things that led me to that moment, are the things that the world doesn’t see. We all have these things, these heavy things, these hard seasons, but we seldom carry them into the light. This fact is why it’s so vital that we remember that what we see isn’t necessarily the full story. We get into dangerous territory when we begin to compare someone else’s sunshine story to our full time life. We all have troubles and difficulties…every single one of us.

Whatever you’re up against, chances are the person you admire has been there too. Take solace in knowing that there is no such thing as perfection. Perfection is an appearance, not a reality.  There is not a soul who has it all together. And let me tell you, if the queen of the PTA does in fact have it all perfectly together like she appears to, kudos to her…no need to bring her down.  However, the other 99% of the population will take comfort in the perfectly imperfect rest of us.

Perfection is an appearance, not a reality.

These hard moments build our character.  We are stronger for the battles we wage.  We are kinder for the hurt that we’ve felt.  We develop empathy and understanding and compassion.  And we learn to recognize how truly blessed we are for the good things in life.

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Let’s keep our heads up, be thankful, remind ourselves that our difficulties too shall pass, and never, ever compare ourselves to another human being. Imitation of another will rob us of our happiness. Only in embracing ourselves, our whole entire messy, ugly, crazy, perfectly designed, beautiful, awesome selves, can we find our path to fulfillment and happiness. So let’s do that…let’s get real and embrace our struggles as our path to becoming a better, stronger, more resilient person.

Clean Those Filthy Lenses, My Friend

Wow, this life is good…this feeling is hitting me especially hard today while reflecting on the week that is ending.  There are challenging days and moments in my rear view, but my heart is so full, and I’m left with a feeling of pride and hope.  I didn’t get a pay raise or promotion.  I didn’t achieve a lifelong goal.  I wasn’t given an extravagant gift or compliment.  Instead my wonderful life-view this week was the accumulation of the ordinary extraordinary moments.

I have weeks like this past week all of the time, as I’m sure you do as well.  I experience these extraordinary moments every day, but the difference in my life experience is actually not life at all; it is me.  The difference is that many times my lens is out of focus….or more likely covered in dirt and fingerprints….or truly, covered in my worries, heartaches and anxieties.  Have you been there?  Are you there right now, unable to see the beauty before you because you can’t see past your challenges?

the difference in my life experience is actually not life at all; it is me.

For me and my family, the hard times were there this week.  The sadness of illness, the pure exhaustion of working, keeping a household and having a million kids (okay, maybe we have two kids but it often feels like a million), and the injustices and unfair things that sneaked their way into my world daily.  What is different for me today is that when I look back on this  week, I am looking through a clean lens, a lens of gratitude.

I am looking through a clean lens, a lens of gratitude.

So how do we get there, to the clean lens?  How do we maintain the gratitude that helps us to appreciate the good and to weather the not-so-good?  Here is a simple recipe:

  1. Ask for help when you need it.  Ask with clear, direct requests for the specific things that you need.  Don’t be a martyr or a victim of your situation.  Figure it out and be honest with those around you about how they can help.
  2. Read something that you’re interested in and invest in your own personal growth.  If you’re one that just doesn’t enjoy reading, I get it….but there’s this wonderful thing called Audible.  Download it.  Today.  Make the most of your time driving or bathing or washing the dishes…and put new and wonderful ideas into your mind and soul.
  3. Listen to music and podcasts that make your heart happy and inspired.
  4. Exercise, whatever that means to you.  It may be a five mile run, or it may be a ten minute walk, but move your body and treat it like a temple…it’s the only one you’ll ever have.
  5. Do nothing. No dishes. No laundry.  No cleaning or planning.  When your body and soul tells you that you need to do nothing, just do nothing and be okay with that.
  6. Say yes.  When your son asks you to play cars.  When your daughter asks you to go on a bike ride.  When your spouse begins a conversation, say yes and tune in.  When real joy is offered to you, say yes.
  7. Spend time physically close to your spouse…intimacy is so important and healthy for your relationship and for you as an individual.  We all need to feel physically connected to the person we love.  Hold hands.  Give hugs.  Look them in eye.  Connect.
  8. Be honest about your feelings.  When you’re disappointed, be honest about it.  When you’re struggling, be honest about it.  When you’re mad, be honest about it.  Putting all of those feelings out into the open allows you to deal with them and move on, and then, when the happiness comes, there is clear open space to let the good vibes in.
  9. Eat well.  Think about what you put into your body and treat your food as fuel most of the time…with the occasional mocha muffin splurge now and then.
  10. Don’t hold yourself to all of these things at one time.  Don’t strive for perfection.  Choose progress instead.  One step into the right direction.  One moment at a time.  Being better today than yesterday.  Living in this very moment.

For me this week, my extraordinary moments through my lens of gratitude looked like this:

  • My husband and I met with our children’s teachers for parent-teacher conferences, and got to see our children through their teachers’ eyes.
  • I spent one evening just curled up on the couch with my husband (not so easy at seven months pregnant…the two of us trying to fit on the couch together looks more like like an assault on my furniture than cuddle time, but we took time to make that happen and my soul is happier for it).
  • I saw my son set academic goals for himself and then put in the work to meet those goals.
  • I read my daughter’s latest book where she chronicled our back-to-school shopping adventure, and my heart melted in knowing that time together meant as much to her as it did to me.
  • I watched my son pitch, play first and second base, and get some good hits in at his ballgame.
  • I found my children snuggled up in my son’s bed this morning sleeping like angels, and came across one of those rare moments in between all of the sibling arguments where their love for one another shone through.
  • I went on a bike ride.
  • I had my 27 week OB appointment, heard my baby’s heartbeat again, and felt her move countless times.
  • I had lunch with a good friend, talked about hard things, and also laughed a lot.
  • I had a meal with my parents, sister, niece, nephew and my children.
  • I started reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and am loving it.
  • I listened to the Rise Together Podcast by Rachel and Dave Hollis and found myself so inspired that I was in tears.

In this moment I am GRATEFUL.  Just completely grateful.

The Good

Thursday was a bad day.  The bad mojo actually started on Wednesday evening, when I made the unwise decision to binge watch Bachelor in Paradise instead of going to sleep at a decent hour.  I’m six months pregnant and sleep is my very best of friends, so I have no idea why I thought it would work out to stay up until 11:30 to see who got a rose.  Temporary insanity…wait, scratch that…Bachelor insanity.  I swear, those producers know what they are doing!

So I woke up groggy on Thursday morning, wishing I had thought more about my wellness than my reality television addiction.  And while I set with my coffee trying to readjust my attitude, my husband woke for the day, also in a very foul mood.  We’ve been married for a while now (just celebrated 12 years of marriage).  But even prior to marriage, we had discovered that morning is just not a good time for us.  I know other couples wake together, roll over and look lovingly into one another’s eyes, but that just isn’t us.  We have an understanding in the morning that we just don’t speak to each other.  He gives me my time to adjust to the world, and I give him his.  It works out perfectly for us.  This Thursday however, my husband dearest decided on his own to break our sacred agreement, and he unloaded his frustrations to me at 5:30 in the morning.  Ugh.  Not to sound like the worst wife ever, but I don’t even want to think about my own frustrations at that hour.  He realized his folly and apologized before giving me my morning kiss goodbye and heading out the door for the day.

I began the day’s routine, waking up my son.  Then off to my daughter’s room.  Sitting on the edge of her bed, I kiss her forehead and immediately feel the heat radiating from her tiny body.  Fever…there’s no mistaking it.  She wakes, telling me her throat hurts and sure enough, the thermometer confirms what my ther-MOM-meter already detected: 101.2 degrees.  What to do now?

My mom-planning starts to spin.  I begin to make phone calls and send texts.  I need to talk to my boss, arrange for someone to cover my responsibilities for the work day, find someone to stay with my daughter for an hour while I go to a scheduled OB appointment, write my son a note so that he can walk home from school instead of taking the bus to the sitters, call the school and let them know my daughter will be absent today, message my husband and ask him to request a vacation day for tomorrow just in case there isn’t a quick recovery this go-around.  These are the things that parents go through when life throws a curve ball, the thinking-on-our-feet, the quick reactions to make sure everything in life just keeps on moving along smoothly…we never miss a beat.

I saw my son off to school and snuggled my daughter, and I let the frustration of the unplanned, unscheduled day go.  I let it roll off my shoulders and I focused on my daughter…my puny, sore-throated, coughing, feverish, precious, little daughter.  That is the moment that my phone dinged.  A message, I had a message.  My husband messages me “I’m coming home at 9.  My machine is down today.  You can go to work today.  My work issue should be better tomorrow.”

What?!

Wait….what?!

To be clear, I am an administrative assistant.  I have to communicate with a minimum of five different people to be out for one day.  I had sent all of the messages.  I had made all of the calls.  I had everything lined out to be off of work on Thursday and back to work on Friday.  And now, that was all for nothing.  My mom-mind was spinning….if the husband was off today, then he couldn’t be off tomorrow, then I need to be off tomorrow, so I need to go in today, so I need to call my father-in-law and let him know I don’t need a sitter for my doctor’s appointment, I need to send five more text messages and….ugh, I need to take off my fuzzy pants and shower and brush my teeth, and make the switch yet again from mommy-mode to professional-work-Melissa-mode.  Again, my day turned upside down, and I felt like I was just along for the ride.

I sucked it up.  I showered.  I dressed.  I gave my husband a frosty welcome home.  I was sad, unhappy, frustrated.  There are other things brewing in our life as well.  And to be honest, while all of these circumstantial life events may have shaded my and my husband’s mood for this day, the real culprit…the real, gut-wrenching, terrifying, hard thing in our lives in this moment, in this season, has nothing to do with the happenings of Thursday.

My mother-in-law has been battling renal cell carcinoma for two and half years now.  She has faced brain surgeries, kidney surgeries, radiation treatments, and recently we had moved on to immunotherapy treatments.  I write “we”, but that is a lie.  She has faced these horrible things.  She has been the strong one.  She has endured.  She has survived these ugly things, and we have only been here to support, love and pray for her.  Because that is all there is that we can do.  The immunotherapy was supposed to be the saving grace, the magical medicine that would keep the cancer at bay so she can continue to enjoy this life with us.  We got the news a few days prior that the immunotherapy did not work.

I hesitate to share this at all, because this is not my story.  This is her story, but if I’m going to be completely honest with my readers, this is such a raw, close and intense part of our life, that I have to share.  I have to give you the full picture of the good and the scary parts of our lives.  We are not at the end of this story.  My mother-in-law has an appointment with MD Anderson this month.  She is strong and amazing, and all of the wonderful things that the rest of us can only hope that we have inside of ourselves.  She is truly a rock for us many times, although that is so backwards…we should be a rock for her.  But that’s not the truth.  This is our reality.  She is the strong one.

I left for my OB appointment with all of the weight of the world sitting squarely on my shoulders.  I felt heavy, sad…I felt like I was failing…at life.  My heart hurt.  My soul ached.  I sat in the waiting room.  This was my 23 week appointment.  At my 19 week appointment, we had an anatomy scan in which the doctor was able to clear everything for our little growing bud, except for her heart.  She was still just too small to get a clear picture of her heart structure.  So here I was at my 23 week appointment, heading to get another ultrasound, so that we could clear her heart, showing four beautiful chambers, working just the way they should.  I laid on the table with the lights dimmed, the tech placed the scanner on my belly, and on the screen appeared my baby, my third child, my second daughter, my beautiful blessing.  She had grown over the four weeks and her heart was bright and clear, pumping away, beating like the most beautiful drum.  And then I got to see her face, her perfect sweet little chin, her upturned nose (just like her sister’s), the sweet curve of her cheeks…and I realized, that this moment, this moment was good.

this moment was good

And isn’t that how life is?  The quote popped into my mind, “Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.”  There is so much that is hard in life, so much that drains us and breaks us.  There are moments we want to give up.  There are moments that we cry, and scream, and times that we hate the things we are going through.  But even on the worst days, we are given these beautiful moments.  Even on the worst days, I can look at my son, at my daughter, at my baby bump, at my silly dogs, at my sweet husband, I can look to my parents, my siblings, my in-laws, our family, the cousins.  I can pull back to the memories, the trips, the beaches, the rides in a teacup, the hugs from a princess.  We can feel the breeze on our face, the sun on our skin, the floor beneath our feet.  We can find the good in the worst of times.  That ability is what makes us as humans so very unique, so resilient, so incredible.  The ability to find the good is truly our gift, and it is what makes this life possible.

The ability to find the good is truly our gift, and it is what makes this life possible.

Wherever you are today, whatever life has thrown your way, whatever difficult, unfair thing, I challenge you to find the good.  Hug the good, kiss the good, absorb it into your being, absolutely squish it into yourself until you feel it inside, and you are no longer observing it, but feeling the good.  And if you can’t seem to find the good, I challenge you to be it.  Be the good because I guarantee those around you are in need of it.  We are capable.  We are survivors.  We are strong.  We are the good.

Best Mom Ever Status????

Something has occurred in my household numerous times over the last….well, I’m not even sure how long…as long as I remember, I guess.  I’ll be snuggling my children on the couch, or at bedtime, or we’ll be sitting down to supper, or we’ll be doing nothing in particular, and my children, my son or my daughter, will look at me and declare, “You’re the best mom ever.”  The statement throws me off every single time.  I usually respond with, “Well I do love you with all of my heart.”  I don’t say thank you, I don’t own that title, I don’t feel deserving…instead, I feel a kind of guilt sweep over me, thinking “No, no I’m the not the best mom ever. I could be so much better.”

Have you ever felt that?  That feeling that you’re being credited with something that just isn’t yours to own…and by the person/people that you love more than anything else on this planet.  Those people that you owe everything to because they bring you the most happiness, the most contentment, the most joy.  A feeling of shame because you can’t or won’t do more for them.  That feeling, that shameful, guilty feeling is the one that sweeps over me, when my beautiful children look to me, thinking that I am someone that I am just not.

That feeling, that shameful, guilty feeling is the one that sweeps over me, when my beautiful children look to me, thinking that I am someone that I am just not.

Here are the things that keep me from owning that “Best Mom” status…these are the things that make me feel guilty and less than:

  1. I don’t listen.  I don’t listen to my children.  I started a tradition a long time ago with my children for them to tell me each day about their high and low moment.  I did this out of fear that they would grow up and not talk to me about their lives, so I thought I would open the communication channels early.  Let me tell you, talking is not a problem in my house.  My children talk all the time, non-stop, every moment…about sports cars, YouTube videos, music, video games, friends, teachers, cell phones, animals…you get the idea.  And some times, more times than I care to admit, I nod my head without listening, because I can’t take it all in…knowing full and well a day will come when their chatter won’t fill every moment of my life.  Knowing I shouldn’t take this for granted, but still, I don’t listen.
  2. I feed them crap.  Not literal crap, but you know…poptarts, cereal, Beefaroni, Ramen Noodles, lunchables.  I know these are not healthy choices…far from organic or natural…definitely not fresh or nutritious.  My children deserve healthy, wholesome, nutritious food, and I try to get those things to them them regularly.  But I also just settle for feeding them the instant, easy junk because, well because…it’s instant and easy.  No other excuses.  Along these same lines, I also don’t fix my kids’ lunch for school.  No fancy, pretty bento lunches for the Hafele children.  My daughter actually asked to bring lunch to school the other day, and I just said “No” for no other reason than I don’t want to fix my kids’ school lunch every single evening…or ever.
  3. I haven’t exercised with my kids for a long time.  In the past, I have had great parenting moments where my kids and I ride bikes,go for runs, walk to the park and do all of these great active things together.  But I’ve not had one of those moments for a long time.  For a while because I was finishing my MBA, and now because I’m pregnant and out of shape, but they deserve to have a mom who gets down and plays with them on their level.  The fact that I can’t and haven’t done that, makes me feel nothing short of horrible.
  4. I love to go to work.  I love my job and my career and working.  Even if I had the option to stay home with my children financially, I don’t think that I would.  I love spending time with my children, but my career is fulfilling for me as an unique human being.  I feel challenged by and excited for my career  in a way that is 100% my own, and I’m not willing to give that up.  I grew up in a household where my mother stayed home from work to raise me, so this is a tough one for me.  Don’t my children deserve that same focus and dedication?  Does it make me a bad mom that I’m not willing to sacrifice my professional aspirations to be a full time mom?
  5. I don’t remind them to brush their teeth every single night, I forget to give my daughter her allergy medicine some mornings, I don’t always remember to clean their ears or trim their nails, my daughter’s finger nails aren’t painted, she doesn’t have ear rings in, I don’t watch my son practice ball in our yard, I don’t craft them homemade items, I don’t scrapbook for them, I never finished either of their baby books, I fail at turning in their paperwork 5/10 times, I watch movies with them that other parents would think are too mature for them, I listen to music with them that has cuss words in it, I feel irritated when I have to stop my podcast in the morning because my bathroom has been overrun by my children, sometimes I just want a break and then I miss them like crazy when they’re gone, some days I don’t want to do tuck-ins at bedtime, sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility, and 100,000,000 other things I that do wrong or at least not perfectly.

This list could go on forever.  But the truth is that I love my children deeply and wildly.  I thank God for them every single day, even when I’m tired and overwhelmed.  And for all of my faults, I truly do the best that I can.  My logical side tells me that God made these children just for me, He is all-knowing, and He would never put them in my hands if I wasn’t the best mom for them.

My logical side tells me that God made these children just for me, He is all-knowing, and He would never put them in my hands if I wasn’t the best mom for them.

So certainly, I am not perfect, and the older I get the less I try for perfection.  But maybe through the laughter we share, through the hugs and the kisses, through the silly faces and dances, through the homecooked meals and dinners at the table that I do get accomplished, through setting an example for them of what hard work and passion looks like, through dedication and devotion to their father, through forgiveness and understanding, through real conversations about the joyous and hard things in life, through moments in the garden, through movie nights on the couch, through family fun days…maybe through these moments, I deserve the best mom status.  Best for them, my children, my gift, my greatest accomplishment.  Maybe next time I hear those words, I can feel pride and not shame.  Maybe I can say thank you, smile, and let them know they are the best children too.

Maybe I can say thank you, smile, and let them know they are the best children too.

Maybe we all can do just that…and take pride that our children see us as we actually are, not in the flawed ways that we see ourselves.

Some Days You Just Have to Say WHATEVER

Some days are better than others. Some days grind at your will to stay a sane, practical human being. Today has been a day (and by today, I mostly mean the last three hours of my life) that has made me want to throw my hands up in the air and say “WHATEVER”. You know what kind of “WHATEVER” I mean…for those of us that don’t use four letter words….”WHATEVER” tends to summarize the effect that this mom is D-O-N-E.

Tonight this is what I made for supper. We have switched to a vegetarian diet (nearly vegan when possible), and I put a lot of energy into trying to feed my family something healthy, fresh and delicious. Tonight’s meal was stuffed sweet potatoes…a mix between sweet and savory. It was good, really good. I know because I ate it. My family however reacted as though I had served them poison. “Sweet potatoes?! I HATE SWEET POTATOES!” they say. Who hates sweet potatoes??? Weirdos.
6000 – 3746 ….this is the math problem that brought not only my son, who was performing the work, to tears, but this piece of arthmitic also had my daughter crying. She can’t be in the vicinity of someone having a bad day and not one-up them. I waited through two melt downs as Jace resisted listening because he just needed to play after a long day at school. I stared at my daughter as she squealed in distress because her brother touched her with his toe. 

Tonight I wanted to say “WHATEVER”….don’t eat….go hungry….don’t learn….who needs subtraction. I wanted to run away (fast!). But I didn’t. We got through every grueling bite of sweet potato. I watched as Jace held his nose, tilted his head back, swallowed hard and then chased his putrid potato with his drink. 

Now I will get up and wash the dishes and I will scrape my husband’s full dinner into the trash (he consoled me for his refusal to eat the food I cooked by apologizing to me that he didn’t like my “yam thing”). 

I can’t help to think back to Sunday morning. I sat in church and listened to my Pastor say that we’re all created in God’s own image. She told us to look at the people sitting next to us and we are actually looking at God’s creation, His creation in His own image. I looked over and saw my children. In that moment I knew without a doubt that she was totally and completely right. These crazy, whiny, emotional, picky-eating children. These loving, caring, funny, sweet, little creations of God. 

They were made by God in His own image just for me. They’re all mine. Every day. On the good days. On the not-so-good days. Every single day they are my gift. So I’ll get up and do my dishes, we’ll read bedtime stories, I’ll tuck them in and I’ll be thankful. I’ll be thankful that I didn’t say “WHATEVER”. I’ll remember that they need me to guide them. They are my responsibility, but even more than that, they are my gift. I am incredibly and bountifully blessed. And instead of saying “WHATEVER”, I’ll say “Whatever He asks of me.” That’s the trade. My children are a gift and it’s not supposed to be easy. So even on the bad days, I’ll do whatever I’m called to do….because I get to be called “Mom”.

Room for Doubt

My faith has become a center for my life.  My marriage, the way I raise my children, my friendships and even my career are heavily shaped by my faith and where I feel I fit into God’s world.  I have talked friends through times of crisis.  I have pushed myself and my family through times of grief all on the back of my sturdy and solid faith.  But I have to share that I’ve had moments where my faith fell.

I hesitate to write on this because it feels a bit taboo as a Christian. Is it okay to say I have moments of doubt? Is it okay to admit that in my life’s darkest moments, I have felt the terror of wondering if I am alone? Does this make me a bad Christian?   

It was nearly a month ago that I found myself in this dark place. It hit me like a ton of bricks. My happy, peaceful little life was turned on its head. My plans were interrupted. The things that had been important the day before, suddenly had no significance. And with this swift turn of events, I felt incredibly weak in my faith.

I struggled in my pain and confusion and I wondered, is my God real? This idea of a soul, is it more than an elaborate, hard-wiring in our brains? Are we nothing more than the most amazing computer that biology ever evolved? The feelings I had in those moments with my thoughts are hard to describe. I don’t think I can find a way to write the emptiness of doubt.

I have heard of people hearing an answer from God. I mean actually hearing. There are Biblical stories and those experiences my friends have shared. But those have always been just stories. Something that happened for someone else, but not me. I have cried out in loss to God and felt resentful at the return of silence. But this time, in the silence of my doubt, I could hear for the first time.

I received an answer.  I heard a clear, calm voice and it told me, 

“No. This life is not it.  You are more than your personality.  You are more than your intelligence. You are more than the way you feel about one another.  There is more to you than the way the world perceives you.  You. Are. More. Than. The. World. Can. See.”  

I was astounded in my heartbreak.  How did I never understand this?  I had thought the soul was so simple. I have explained it to my children time and time again saying, “Our soul makes us who we are…why Jace is funny…why Jera is stubborn…why we feel and cry and think.”

But suddenly I knew with absolute certainty that that isn’t it at all. We can change the way the world sees us.  We can mimic another’s behavior.  We can pretend to be someone we’re not.  We can fool the world. We can make the world love us. We can make the world hate us.  But only God sees who we truly are…only God has access to our souls.  Only God knows us, the deep down, secret parts of us.  The parts that we don’t show our lovers and our friends.  The parts that our family never knows.  The part that we might not even recognize.  The part that is tucked away and is only for God, our Creator.  

This part of us knows only God. Our soul doesn’t create a persona. It doesn’t design an interesting human being.  Our personality is certainly a gift to us. It is a tool that can be used to do God’s work.  And our relationships and the way we relate to one another, again, are separate from our soul. These bonds are again, a way for us to show God’s love to one another in this life.  But our personality and our relationships are not US.  They do not determine who we are and without them, we are still us.  

If tomorrow something happens in this life, my memories are taken from me and you can’t recognize me as the often bubbly, sometimes overly serious, too guilible and always passionate person, wife, mom, sister, daughter, friend that I have always been….God will still know me. He can see past all of the qualities that the world uses to define me. He can see what I’m made of. 

This is my answer. This was my experience. My gift in my time of doubt. I’ve never felt so certain of anything in my life.  In my darkest moment, in my doubt, God was listening and he provided my answer.

I still went to sleep that night with a troubled and heavy heart.  But I knew I was not alone.  Difficult times are not over for my family. Over the past month, God has shown himself to my family and to me…little, undeserving, doubting me…again and again.  I hope to tell the world about God’s work in my life.  It is my greatest responsibility to share it with you. 

I hope you read this and know that if you doubt, it’s okay. We are only human. I never thought I would react with doubt in a time of desperation…but I did. And my faith grew in leaps and bounds from this experience. Our faith can grow from our human experience. It should. I’m starting to realize, that’s the whole point. And when you doubt, God will love you anyway.