4 Ways Serving Others Turned My Home Right Side Up

My day started long before my kids awoke.

When they stumbled down the stairs in search of breakfast, I was meeting with someone at the kitchen table, notepads out, laptops open. I asked my kiddos if they slept well and then pointed them towards a do-it-yourself breakfast.

I returned to my meeting for the next hour and they got ready for the day and entertained themselves upstairs.

The rest of the day looked much the same–a Skype session in Kenya, and a Fair Trade Friday planning meeting. I was busy and they kept themselves busy with library books, Legos, laundry and Minecraft.

Thankfully, I have a flexible schedule. This isn’t my everyday, but it’s often because I work from home.

At one point, I had a pang of guilt at my busy day, even though most of it was built around serving others. I remembered the countless summer days in the past where we spent most days doing something fun–either crafting or at the local pool with snow cone breaks and day trips in-between.

Of course, we still have those days.

But something amazing happened when we transitioned from a child-centered home to an others-centered one with Jesus as our focus: my kids stopped demanding that every day, every moment, be about them, for them.

I did, too.

My husband led Bible Study a couple of weeks ago for families in our weekly House Church. I cringed when he described how we spent the first 15 years to ourselves. We rarely invited people over to our house. We rarely reached out to others. Everything was about us. It wasn’t all bad either–we did devotions with our kids, attended church regularly, led a safe and comfortable life. But it was missing something.

We served only ourselves.

But when we refocused our home and made Christ the center, it changed everything.

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A normal day now might include rolling yarn balls during movie time that we will pass out to the refugee class we serve at on Fridays. That’s not to say we don’t have idle hours and leisure days–we do. They are a must!

But I don’t think we realized how often we served ourselves until we began serving others. It’s hard to do both–put yourself or even your family first when you’re putting someone else’s needs before your own.

Serving has changed our family. It has turned us right -side up.

We are still a messy family. But I’m learning everyday that “God wants us right in the middle of our mess because it’s the perfect place for Him to shine through our imperfections.” Rhinestone Jesus.

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4 Things Serving Will Do For Your Family:

  1. Serving will reveal our family’s ingratitude- Yeah, yikes, huh? Nothing has exposed our humanity and self-centered ways more than serving others. There have been many instances when we just didn’t want to put others before ourselves. There has been grumbling and complaining in the midst of serving. It’s revealed selfishness in my family. But we can’t improve without realizing first how hard serving actually is.
  2. Serving will get our eyes off ourselves- It’s harder to be selfish and only think about ourselves when we are exposed to those who have less and need more, it’s changes our perspective. A change of perspective is one of the best gifts we can offer our families.
  3. Serving will ignite compassion for others- Even if we don’t see it immediately, serving changes our family. We can’t always see growth, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. When we make serving a part of our regular lives, it can’t help but change us.
  4. Serving will renew our family’s gratitude- Just as serving brings out our ingratitude at times, it also give us an opportunity for gratitude. It feels good to give to others and reminds us of the blessings in our lives.

 


What I Want My Daughters To Know About My Wedding

Dear Daughters,

A few months ago you were both in a wedding and between that and all the popular TLC bridal shows on Netflix and the breathtaking wedding boards on Pinterest, it’s got you asking questions about my wedding.

So, I want to tell you about it.

First of all, it was ugly.

No, really, it was. It was 1994, so that didn’t help.

Neither did my temporary romantic love for the Victorian era. My accent colors were mauve and forest green. Yeah. They were interesting colors against the burnt orange pews of the church and twinkling Christmas trees on the stage. (It was a December wedding).

The bridesmaids wore handmade mauve tent-like dresses that could accommodate an array of sizes, including a very pregnant bridesmaid. I’m pretty sure they were burned while I was on my honeymoon.

I had always planned on wearing a long-sleeved ivory Victorian gown. But instead I fell in love with a white off-the-shoulder sequined contemporary one. I had multiple themes going on.

Remember when you found my dress in a box in the attic a couple of years ago and asked if you could try it on? That kind of stuff is hard on moms.

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The reception was in the small, dimly-lit fellowship hall. There wasn’t dinner or dancing or enough satin to cover the drabness of the room. There was some sort of Sprite punch, a delicious wedding cake, groom’s cake (with a plastic fisherman on top) and some mixed nuts.

There weren’t party favors or sparklers. The guests threw birdseed as we ran to my blue Isuzu compact car, awash with ridiculous writing and a condom on the muffler (your Uncle’s contribution). I can still remember the look on the pastor’s face as we waved goodbye.

We immediately stopped at a fast food restaurant where I dumped a pint of birdseed from my underwear on the floor of the bathroom. That was wrong. But it was itchy.

I can’t think of a single pin-worthy picture from the day.

It wasn’t trendy or lavish.

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There wasn’t a dance floor or fresh orchids and chandeliers hanging from trees.

But I wouldn’t change a moment of it.

Somehow even with our less than glamorous wedding photo album and honeymoon on an extreme budget to exotic Arkansas, your dad and I will celebrate 20 years of marriage this Christmas.

Because we understood that a marriage isn’t about a wedding.

We discovered that a lifetime of love and commitment trumps an event any day. We learned that starting our new life together debt and doubt-free was a gift to each other.

Yesterday, I read that 70% of girls creating wedding boards on Pinterest, aren’t even engaged yet. With every other marriage ending, do we have time for all this planning and pining for one perfect day?

It makes me sad that the world you’re growing up in concentrates more on the wedding than the marriage. It’s over in a sunset and it’s easy compared to the long marathon of becoming and staying one with your one and only.

I want you to know marriage is more than a venue or a menu. It’s far more than The Perfect Day or saying yes to the dress.

And I know you will probably want all of the above some day. And that’s okay.

I just want you to spend more time praying than planning. I want you to sacrifice more than you spend. I want you to understand your commitment to the man of your dreams is more than a certificate—it’s a covenant to God.

Most of all, I want you to know love. The kind of love your dad and I have that lasts through heartache and headaches. I want you to know that you are loved. You don’t have to earn or achieve it. It’s not dependent on a good hair day or bad. It’s not something you can lose. Whether you’re swept off your feet or remain a confidant single woman, you are enough.

I have seen how fast time flies. I know the days are long and the years are short. I put away the toys and clothes you outgrow regularly. I know while I write this, one of you is practicing eye shadow upstairs and the other is practicing cartwheels in the yard, and I will blink and it will be time to give you away.

You are just beginning to dream. Don’t stop.

And on this regular summer Monday, I want you to know that my wedding wasn’t much.

But my marriage is more.

Love,

Mom


Parenting: Why It’s More Important to Be Wise Than Generous

“But, Mom, please

I knew what my answer had to be.

Sneakers and Mini Daisies

But it wasn’t going to be easy.

Sometimes right before I tell my kids no, that split second before the word comes out of my mouth, I am afraid.

I am afraid to be strong.

I am afraid I can’t follow through.

I am afraid of what will happen when I say no.

I think every parent knows this fear.

Because it’s often easier to be generous than wise.

Lately, it seems the harder we work at raising grateful, hard working kids that put others first, the harder the job gets.

And when kids resist chores and grumble about dinner, slam doors and argue constantly with their siblings, it makes a parent feel like a complete failure.

We had all of the above going on at the same time the other night.

My husband and I left our kids to clean up dinner dishes and locked ourselves behind our bedroom door. And we asked questions we couldn’t answer: Why is parenting to hard? Are we doing this right? Do we have wine?

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We reassured each other with these truths: It’s okay for children to be temporarily unhappy and their resistance doesn’t mean our failure.

But it’s not going to be easy.

Easy is saying yes to cultural norms.

Easy is giving in to demands.

Easy is being like everyone else.

Sticking to standards, saying no, choosing wisdom over generosity is hard.

I think parental generosity comes naturally. We want to give our kids what we didn’t have, we want to see their faces light up. We want them to be “happy.”

But when we give in too early, too soon or too much, or just because standing our ground is tough, we lose more than we might think. When we cower to an unsatisfied child we both lose.

I’m sure that’s why there are triumphant toddlers leading the shopping trips at Target, young kids playing teen-rated video games and high schoolers in brand new Mercedes. AmIright?

But generosity like this–born out of fear–can be dangerous. Because when we give too much, too soon, we exchange hard work and the hard knocks of life for the easy road. And sometimes the easy road, is also a dangerous one.

And this societal norm of giving kids what they want is causing destruction.

Generosity is great. It’s freely giving to our children. But wisdom is more important because it gives us the insight when to be generous and the courage to say no when our world is saying yes, more, now.

Back in the kitchen, I answered her question. “No, I’m sorry. You’re grounded for the day, remember?”

I braced myself and stood my ground and calmly suggested another day.

When I returned later, that same child was humming in the kitchen, making dessert for the rest of the family. There wasn’t pouting. The anger was long gone. She didn’t ask again.

Sometimes our kids ask for something or demand their way, not to get us to say yes, but to see if we will stick with no.

And sometimes our wisdom begets their generosity.

Moms, don’t give in.

But mostly, don’t give up.


25 Summer Hacks For Moms

We went swimming yesterday.

Which also doubles as bathing.

Because summer.

And we had popcorn, which obviously counts as dinner.

That made me think of all the great shortcuts summer allows.

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And then I asked the brilliant moms in my Facebook community to share their summer hacks.

So, I give you awesome:

  1. Leftover birthday cake is breakfast.
  2. Toweling the floor after a bath equals mopping.
  3. Playing with your kids counts as a workout.
  4. Raisins double as vegetables.
  5. Waking up a little later every day, so instead of breakfast, lunch and dinner, we’re eating just two larger meals each day. With snacks like yogurt, string cheese, trail mix etc, when needed.
  6. Make-Your-Own-Breakfast was such a hit, we added Make-Your-Own-Lunch.
  7. Getting to the library semi-regularly equals the homeschooling structure you were going to keep over the summer.
  8. Playing in the rain or with a hose counts as bath time. It also waters the yard.
  9. Let your boys wear just their underwear to bed. Less laundry!
  10. Or dress in shorts and t-shirt to bed. Already dressed in the morning.
  11. Sandals! No washing socks!
  12. More outside time means less messes created inside to pick up.
  13. Berry picking farms….kids stay busy, they leave full – on fruit, no less! and you have dessert for a few days with some ice cream or cobbler-making.
  14. Visit Costco or Whole Foods when they are passing out samples=free lunch!
  15. Watermelon for lunch.
  16. PJs -> swimsuits -> PJs. Repeat the next day.
  17. Ice cream sundaes once in a while for dinner=happy kids &  “Mom of the Year” award. Win-win for everyone!
  18. Having the older kids read to the youngest to “practice” their reading.
  19. Swim naked in the backyard. Less laundry.
  20. Put soap in the baby pool=bath
  21. Trade screen time for kids for house cleaning chores.
  22. Spirited running through sprinklers = Homeschool PE.
  23. Cereal: a meal or snack.
  24. Jammies all day .
  25. After swim lessons, walk through public shower, put on pj’s, fall asleep in car on way home! No bath, no fighting bed time, no “just one more story, pleeeeeeease!” Grand Slam!

What would you add?

 

*Photo by my friend Taylor Handfelt


5 Things I’m Learning in This Dance With My Strong-Willed Daughters

I see the anger before I feel it. Her fists clench at her side and her dark eyes flash.

I brace myself because I know what’s coming.

Some times it happens when I say the word no or when I say you can’t.

Her passion erupts and she fights hard for what she wants.

She’s not the only one.

I take deep breaths and try to remain calm, controlled.

But she pushes. And I push back.

Words and attitude can be daggers to a heart.

Hers and mine.

I take the bait.

We battle.

I have two daughters, both strong-willed. Both like me.

girls.

Wavy hair. Olive skin. Dark brown eyes. Same nose. We even share identical birthmarks.

But our similarities run much deeper. We are short-tempered. Passionate. We want life to be fair and just. We are fighters. We want our way. We long for control.

And in those strong-willed moments–when daughters demand their way–their strength amplifies my weakness.

Some days we laugh and push through the tough moments. Other days are filled with harsh words and regret.

And I know as I certain as I stand in my kitchen arguing with one of my strong-willed daughters, there will be no winners.

In moments like these when we fight for what we want, we both lose.

When we put our will above all else. we leave a wake of casualties.

Battle-weary, we find a place of peace and talk through the damage of our words. We say our “I’m sorry’s” and we end up stronger in our weakness. I am not her captain or her companion, I am her cavalier, her company and we are on the same side. We are not enemies. It is not my way or hers.

I’m not a teacher on this strong-willed dance floor. I’m a student. Here’s what I’m learning:

  1. Not everything is a battle–but it can be if we make it one. If we are in constant battle about the same things–messy rooms, laundry and attitude, we might win a few, but it might cost us a relationship. Leave the small things, small. That’s not to say we let them have their way all the time, instead we focus on what really matters.
  2. Not everything is personal–but it can be if we take offense. That eye roll or audible sigh–it’s normal. That doesn’t make it right or less frustrating. But most words flung are coming from a hurt or misunderstood place. If we choose to be offended by every word or action, we are choosing something much bigger. Look past the words and get to the heart of the hurt.
  3. Not everything can be won–and if we try to win it all, we will ultimately lose. We are raising, unique, one-of-a-kind girls who will surprise and satisfy us. We have to step back and let them learn and grow and mess up. Most of all, we have to help them find the beauty in every place, especially the hard ones.
  4. Not everything is eternal–but everything is significant. Things in her world might seem small to us. And they probably are–that zit, that boy, that mean girl, that first B on her report card. But if we make what’s important to her insignificant to us, we wound.
  5. Not everything is understood and that’s why listening is the best gift. We may not always understand the drama, the emotion, the passion over the trivial. And that’s okay. We can offer them what they really want and need–it’s not a fix to their problem, it’s a listening ear. Some times the best thing we can do is close our mouth and let them talk.

I’m raising strong-willed daughters. And I’m discovering their passion and determination are the very things that carry them through their toughest times. I’m watching them deflect the world, stand against cultural norms and leave a mark on those they impact. They shine.

And more than ever, I need to remember what the fight is really about.