The Life Not My Own

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What My Children See At Christmas

I was determined to have beautifully wrapped presents under our Christmas tree this year.  I'd looked up tutorials on how to make gifts look professionally wrapped, and I had everything all laid out.  But then Miles wanted to help wrap the presents for his daddy.  

As any parent knows, a two-year-old little boy isn't exactly the most helpful when it comes to wrapping presents.  By the time the few presents were wrapped, the paper was wrinkled from being stepped on, there were pieces of tape in various random places, and the gifts looked anything but professionally wrapped.  I found myself snapping at my little boy who had been so eager to help.  I saw the crushed look in his beautiful blue eyes, and I hated myself for it.

I set the presents under our Christmas tree and remembered how just the day before I had contemplated replacing our cheap, Walmart angel and ornaments.  Yet, each piece had been bought in love and excitement by two beautifully happy newlyweds...each item budgeted for and purchased with the little money they had at the time.  No, they weren't magazine worthy, but they were full of memories and love and a symbol of a new family being formed.  I knew then that I would not be able to replace them, even though I could afford to.    

I looked again at my mangled gift wrap job and smiled.  I wouldn't trade those random pieces of tape and the wrinkled paper for the world.  In them I see my tenderhearted little boy, always eager to help and love others.

I pray that my children will not grow up thinking that Christmas means store-bought perfection straight out of a magazine.  May they grow up with treasured memories of family, hope, and love.  May they see Christ in Christmas...and may they see Christ in me.    

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Thursday, December 4, 2014


Today as I drove home from town, I watched fog roll down the mountain behind our house.  The trees were barren and lifeless, the fields empty and brown.  I shivered as I hurried my two little ones into the house and plunked the three of us in front of the fire to warm our chilled bodies.

Winter in Arkansas is often grey and cold.  The damp air makes the cold seemingly settle right into your bones, and many times into your soul as well.  For the girl who spent most of her life in sunny Arizona, it can be incredibly depressing.  I was used to cold winters, but not to the wet cold or the endless days of grey.  Each winter here, I find myself struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Extra Vitamin D helps, but never completely.

Today, though, I actually saw beauty in those barren trees and in that cold fog.  Today, as I warmed myself by the fire, I was reminded of another fire that once warmed my bones, but this one an ocean away.  It's been almost seven years since my friend Caris and I went on our grand adventure to England in the dead of winter.  Seven years since we sloshed through sheep fields in the rain and climbed up hills to abandoned castles together.

It was grey there, too.  It was cold, dark, and oh-so-wet.  Yet, I don't remember anything but joy from it.  Looking back, I see a girl on the cusp of adulthood, full of fear and hope, still trying to find myself.  I realize now how crucial those two weeks were to my journey and my path.

I remember fondly the time spent by warm fires.  I remember wearing cozy sweaters and drinking gobs of tea and hot chocolate.  No thought was given to walking through soggy fields or traipsing down wet streets in the rain.  We adventured anyway.  I remember laughing and singing and dancing, and snuggling in under cozy blankets, reading books quietly.  I remember making new friends and eating pasties and flapjacks; watching movies and letting the rain soak my hair; taking a hot bath and sleeping in late; reveling in the smell of old books in a bookshop; feeling God speaking to me so very strongly, altering my course from there on out...and all in the middle of grey, dreary winter.

That shy little not-quite-woman could never have imagined where she'd be seven years later.  It's ironic, really, that the grey winter days that changed my life and brought so much joy now eat at my happiness.  Yet, I know that they don't have to.

Winter, whether actual or a season of our life, can be hard and isolating.  Like the leafless trees behind my house, it can leave us barren, raw, and exposed.  Some days you may feel like you just can't get warm.  Yet, it shouldn't stop us from pressing on.  It shouldn't stop us from doing God's will, adventuring, and finding joy.  Sometimes it is those quiet, dark winter moments that are exactly what we need to hear Him speaking.  The question is, will we stop to listen?      

This winter I've determined to choose joy and embrace each cold, grey day.  I've even started a Pinterest board dedicated to it.  Will you commit with me to not let Satan steal the beauty of this season from us?

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Being Miles' Mama: Why I'm Thankful for My High Need Child

*Note: When I refer to my son as "high need", I'm referring to Dr. Sears' description of a high need baby.  

My first child was a really hard baby.  I feel qualified to say that now because my second baby is significantly easier.  In many ways, my laid-back second born has made me feel vindicated.  I can now say, "See!  I did know what I was talking about!  I wasn't just a hormone-crazed new mama grossly underprepared for motherhood (although I was)!  It wasn't my parenting, eating habits, or personality that made him that way!  He was just plain hard."

One of the mysteries of motherhood, however, is how fiercely in love I was with that colicky, high need baby.  Even more mysterious is how that love still grows each I think it always will.  Beyond all the incredible love, however, I look back and truly am thankful that my first baby was high needs.  Here are some reasons why:

He humbled me and revealed my heart.  I came into motherhood with the idea that I had everything figured out.  I knew what kind of mother I would be and why.  I was prideful and, sadly, judgmental.  Then my beautiful, screaming Miles entered this world and threw me for a loop.  He wasn't what a baby was supposed to be, and I quickly had to let go of all that I thought I knew about babies and about motherhood.  He showed me how wrong I was.

I had to depend on God for my strength and wisdom. I always felt myself to be an intelligent, capable young woman.  However, being Miles' mom has often made me feel utterly incapable and weak.  The beauty of it all is that when I couldn't go on, God sustained me.  When I didn't know what to do, He led me.  I simply couldn't rely on myself, and instead learned to rely on Him.  

I was forced to relinquish my need for control.  I have control issues.  I really do.  While that's something I'm still working on, I've gotten immeasurably better since Miles was born.  I had to let go of scheduling anything or the idea that I could somehow control my baby's behavior (because I really couldn't).  Most of all, I had to get over the idea that I could somehow manipulate my life to create the"perfect" family and "perfect" marriage.   

I learned not to care what other people thought.  I use to dread people asking me if Miles was a "good" baby or if he slept good.  If I told them the truth, I was quickly given advice about how I could "fix" the problem.  If I mentioned that Miles was "high needs", I was often met with raised eyebrows and skepticism.  I could tell that certain people thought that my parenting style was to blame.  I held him too much.  I didn't schedule him.  I didn't let him cry it out.  I was too clingy.  I wasn't persistent or resilient enough.  I had to learn to brush off comments like these and be confident in my parenting.

I became less critical and more sympathetic towards other moms.  Criticism from other people made me much more careful about the comments I made to other moms.  Just as I had learned that my baby and I were both unique individuals, so I came to see that every baby and mom is, in fact, different.  I could never know every circumstance of a person's life and, therefore, I had no right to judge another mom.  I began to look at the mom in the grocery store with a toddler way past due for a nap with sympathy, rather than judging her for shopping instead of getting her child a nap.

I learned to pay attention to him as a little person instead of treating him as a generic baby.  Miles never went "by the book" as a baby.  That used to drive me crazy.  I am now thankful for it because it caused me to really learn about him and mother him accordingly.  It taught me to be responsive to my children, instead of expecting them to fit into my parenting style.

He taught me how important it was to be proactive in my marriage. For awhile after Miles was born, Andy and I had a pretty strained relationship.  Not that there was really anything wrong.  It was just that, up until Miles' birth, pretty much every night was a date night for us.  Miles demanded so much of our attention that we spent most of our time tag teaming instead of doing things together.  Our own relationship was put on the back burner, and we felt like two ships adrift at sea.  Thankfully, we began to learn what was necessary in our marriage in order to keep the flame, and even the friendship, alive.  This is something we're still working on, and I'm sure always will be, but we're much more on our guard now.

I got a glimpse into how God loves us.  Miles wrecked my life.  He left my nerves frazzled, my brain foggy, and my self-confidence lacking.  Yet, somehow my fierce love for him only grew.  Through it, I got a taste of God's love for us.  I began to see how unfathomable it was for Him to love us so indescribably, when we can never begin to reciprocate...when we forget Him and fail Him and betray Him.

I now get to watch him blossom into an intelligent, intuitive toddler.  Miles was a hard baby and he's definitely a challenging toddler.  Yet he's also so very sweet and fun.  He loves to talk and is very communicative.  He's also very observant and intuitive.  He quickly picks up on people's emotions, whether they be his mama's or a strangers.  His hawk-like eyes miss nothing, and he'll often bring up things later that I had already forgotten had happened.  I love it, and I love him.

I'm enjoying having a more laid-back baby this time around...and getting more sleep.  Yet, I wouldn't trade Miles and his personality for anything.  I firmly believe that I am a much better mother to Nora because of what I learned from Miles.  God doesn't make mistakes.  He knew the children that I needed.    

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