2009 has been as interesting of a spiritual journey for me as 2008. 2008 was a year of questioning (again) the fundamentals of my faith. I was suddenly realizing that people all around me who I know not to be Christians, were experiencing things in their lives that I considered uniquely Christian. I was also struggling with the, seemingly, God sanctioned way the women in the Old Testament were treated. At the time I felt my faith was flat-lining. In retrospect, I can see that God was working through that to grow my relationship with Him. I did a lot of soul and bible searching, reading and reexamining and came to more of an understanding of God than what I had before, and THAT is progress. It’s just hard to see in the moment.
Now, in 2009, I feel like I am growing by leaps and bounds. I started a women’s bible study in my home on Monday nights with 8 or 9 godly friends from around the area. We did the Bible study “Living Beyond Yourself” by Beth Moore and it did wonders for me and the other women in the study.
Through that I began to realize what an idol guilt had become in my life. Sometime around the time I got pregnant with my first baby, whom I later miscarried, guilt began to wrap its hideous tentacles around me until I found myself paradoxically motivated and paralyzed by guilt. Guilt drove me to accomplish a TON of tasks each day, but paralyzed my relationships with others, and especially my husband and children. My priorities were terribly screwed up because I was either trying to take care of what was causing me the most guilt or avoiding it. When my children would drive me crazy with guilt, I would escape by checking my email, calling a friend, trying to get out of the house and/or away from the kids, or my personal favorite, fishing for compliments from others who could temporarily make me feel better about myself. Of course, those “solutions” only caused me to feel more guilt. There was no escaping it. Everything I did caused the guilt to wrap itself tighter and tighter around my chest.
I have heard of “mommy guilt” many times and just assumed that it went with the territory. “There is nothing that can be done about it”, I thought. There is so overwhelmingly much at stake when we begin parenting these tiny persons who are to grow up and serve the Lord with all of their heart. They need to be healthy, happy and well adjusted with good self-esteems and ambitions dreams that they are to carry out. We all feel like it is our job, our moral duty, our burden to make these things happen for our children. Somehow on top of that it is also our job to keep these husbands of ours hanging around and interested in us and our children. As a result, moms are wracked with guilt and worry, and THAT is that. I just tried to manage it rather than contemplate the possibility of surrendering it to the Lord and resting in His faithfulness to fill in the major gaps in my mothering and shortcomings as a wife.
So, now God hits me with the realization that I am to lay this truly, awful, godforsaken guilt at His feet and rest in His faithfulness. I am to let the Holy Spirit manifest His fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control) through me and let that be my motivator.
“Oh GOSH! Where do I begin with that Lord? What if I lay this guilt down and become a lazy and indifferent wife and mother? What if my house goes to pot because I am no longer driven by guilt to keep in clean? What if I sit and watch TV all day and eat bon bons because I don’t have my guilt to get me up off the couch to care for my children or try to keep my weight down? Where will I be without my guilt? It is my constant, nagging, wretched, necessary friend!”
Again and again and again and again, the Lord reminded me to rest in His faithfulness.
Me: “BUT LORD!”
Lord: “Um. . . rest in my faithfulness”.
Me: “How will. . .”
Lord: “No. Just rest in my faithfulness to be sufficient for you and your to do list and your relationships and your responsibilities and in your need for encouragement and hope and motivation and energy to do all that I have called you to do”. (Another side lesson He has been teaching me is how to discern what HE has called me to do verses what I have heaped upon myself.)
If I am honest, I can say that I really do pour as much of myself into everything I do as I can. I give most everything my all. It is tiresome to the extreme, but I don’t want to look back on life with regrets for what else I could have done. My life is definitely full to the max. That is why when Stephen, totally exacerbated by my guilty burden exclaimed, “Babe, you have NOTHING to feel guilty about! If YOU feel guilt, then who on earth shouldn’t?”, I was shocked to discover I couldn’t think of a single person. What an eye opening moment that was for me. I realized shortly after that, my guilt was not rational. It was just something I clung to outside of the grace, love and faithfulness of my Lord.
The week after the Beth Moore study ended I taught a lesson on guilt and shared my struggle with the women there. I shared scripture after scripture of encouragement straight from the Word that, with the help of His Holy Spirit in our lives, He is sufficient in each and every area of our lives. And so, on a trial basis, I decided to test out my own theories by absolving myself of guilt for one whole week and see what would happen. I was determined to not analyze whether or not my feelings of guilt were well founded, just let them go wherever they popped up and see where God took me. I can honestly say that that week was one of the best weeks of my life in terms of emotional and relational well being. My kids were still kids and my husband was still my husband, but I was so much more loving and joyful, peaceful and patient, kind and good, faithful, gentile and self controlled. He WAS faithful to get me through the week with a cleanish house and well cared for children, and I even got to keep this crazy husband who loves me no matter what. Who would have thunk it?
I would be a hypocrite if I said guilt didn’t rear its ugly head 1000 times a day, but I am learning to identify the ways it manifests itself, and then be mindful enough to surrender it, yet again, to the Lord and rest in His faithfulness. I certainly don’t want to hand down a stronghold of guilt to my children, so I have got to lick this thing once and for all. I am confident in the Lord that I will.
I want to say this one more thing about guilt, and then I will move on. Last week I was in need of encouragement and hope. I wanted to know I didn’t stink as a mother and that it actually was possible to raise all 4 of my children into godly adults. My first instinct was to call a friend and fish for compliments, but I was convicted not to. I said, “Ok, Lord. Then I am going to need you to encourage me today”. Shortly thereafter I remembered a book one of my best friends in the world, Sharon, gave to me a few weeks ago called “Mommy Grace: Erasing Your Mommy Guilt”. I pulled it out of the drawer and headed out to the yard with the kids to let them make mud pies in the sandbox with creek water while I read for a couple of hours. It turned out to be a love letter from the Lord to me. The author says in the first few pages that she just wanted to be an “encouragement” to young mothers and give us “hope” that it is possible to raise our children up to love and respect us, serve the Lord, and to even do it without our guilt. Those words came from the heart of God straight to mine that warm May afternoon. All of this is really just the tip of the proverbial iceberg on this topic. I could write a book (but I won’t) about all God has revealed to me in His word about myself this year.
Wait, did I say one more thing about guilt, I mean 100 more things. My whole life now revolves around strategies for minimizing my “need” for it. For example, I decided that if I am going to be more relationship oriented instead of task oriented (since I avoid relationships that cause guilt and throw myself into tasks that make me feel better about myself), I am going to have to get more organized so I can spend less time cleaning. Once again my good friend Sharon played a part in this. She had organized her whole house and freed herself of clutter in the process of getting her house ready to go on the market and found that it was easier than ever to keep it clean. I endured nearly daily 30 minute battles with my children to keep Julia’s bedroom clean which came to a head with miserable cleaning spree one night. The room was so trashed I had to clean it just so they could climb into the beds they now have in Julia’s bedroom so I could teach the baby to sleep through the night. They then subsequently destroyed it again within 10 minutes AFTER I tucked them into bed. I screamed and cried and decided to empty Julia’s bedroom of all things she didn’t play with constantly. I moved the rest to the play room in the basement. I spent a total of 5 easy minutes over the next several days quickly picking up her room without trouble or fighting. I was amazed. That inspired me to organize my whole house and rid myself of time consuming clutter. It has been a revolutionary change in my household. It took weeks of hard, hard work to get it there, but it has made one heck of a difference. I have taken several before and after pictures which I have included below.
-starting about a week after she turned 4, she would tell me her memories by saying, “A long, long time ago when I was 3. . . ” Or if I ask her when things happened she says the same thing.
-loves to bake and cook. She has gotten really good at cracking eggs, a skill I only picked up a year or two ago.
-started to understand the concept of reading the night before she turned 4. With my help she could sound out a word and then make the leap to figure out what it said. Now I just have to buckle down and teach her to read. She wants to know how to read very badly.
-I call her story tell technique a “spiral”. Here is an example of a story Julia told me a couple of weeks ago. I walked into her room and found her playing with her doll house and I said, “Julia, what are you doing”? Julia said, “I was coming up the stairs and saw my doll so I brought her up to my room and decided to play with my doll house. I was playing with her when I heard you yell my name up the stairs and then you came into my room and asked me, ‘Julia what are you doing’, and so I said that I was coming up the stairs and saw my doll so I brought her up to my room and decided to play with my doll house. I was playing with her when I heard you yell my name up the stairs, and then you came into my room and asked me, ‘Julia, what are you doing’. . . and so forth. She just really likes to jabber and has to figure out some way to keep it going.
-finished AWANA Cubbies strongly this year. She was awarded patches and also won the distinct “Cubby of the Year” award which came with a certificate and a gift card to Wal-Mart. She was so proud of herself. She worked hard and was a lover of Cubbies. I told her that this meant she had to be a strong leader in 4 year old cubbies next year. She has been extremely shy this year.
-turned 3 years old today. He had fun at his large birthday party, though he spent most of the time off to the side blowing bubbles for himself, and then later playing with the toys he got. He always has been a wee bit of loner when playing with toys, but he likes playing with Evan and Julia too.
-is already making plans for when he turns 5.
-anything before right now is referred to as “last night” and everything after now is “tomorrow”.
-finished AWANA strongly this year by being the first kindergartener to complete his book back in February. He was awarded several patches, jewels and a ribbon at the ceremony at the end of the year.
-figured out all on his own on Sunday that it was the last day of May because Harrison’s birthday was on Tuesday, the second of June. I am not really sure he did that. I even have trouble with stuff like that from time to time.
-will argue with me about anything and everything. I am teaching him to be a critical thinker, which makes my job MUCH harder. He wants to critically think his way out of or into everything.
-favorite food is Avocado.
-has become quite the biter. Also enjoys tackling. I am sure he learned it from being tackled so very often.
-is working on cutting 3 of his one year molars. All the other kids were miserable messes for this process, but Eli hasn’t shown any pain.
-did not end up needing tubes in his ears after strictly following the guidelines from my chiropractor to reduce the infection and fluid. After 5 months of constant infections and fluid, he was infection and fluid free after less than one month of alternative care.
-has a vocabulary of about 4 words now. Mama, Dada, No No, and his personal favorite, pointing his finger and saying “GO”! He also makes car noises while he drives toys cars around and clucks his tongue. I think his speech is a bit delayed (compared to his siblings) because he couldn’t hear well with the fluid and infections in his ears for about 5 straight months.
-is just a loud child. He still screams a lot in joy or in anger. I am hoping that once he can talk he won’t feel the need to scream so much.
This is the before and after of my playroom organization system. It’s mostly just diaper boxes used to organize the different categories of toys. All toys in my house are now stored in the basement and must be returned there each night. I organized other rooms as well, but didn’t have good pictures of them.
This SCUBA diver at the Georgia aquarium swam along and posed for pictures with the children. Eli was totally mystified by this guy.
All 4 kids at the Georgia Aquarium. I wish these would have turned out better.
Running around the skate park.
They all helped each other get the most out of this experience.
I don’t know why Eli loved this thing at the park so much.
I love to dress the boys alike. I have red and blue for Julia as well, but she won’t hear of it. I also dress them alike when we go to a public place so I can spot them easily.
They talked me into letting all 3 of them cram into this tiny tent in Julia’s room for the night. Only Harrison made it all night.
I moved the baby swing to the tree so all 4 kids could swing at once.
Muddy monster truck course that we water down with creek water. Good for hours of fun.
Grandpa Ringsmuth and Eli.
Stephen and I went mountain biking for our 11 year anniversary. It was soooo great to have the day off to do something with just the two of us that was really out of the norm in my life. I haven’t been able to go more than a few times since Evan was born.
I was totally stoked to get hightlights, a hair cut, eye brow wax, and make-up consultation for just $75 from my great new stylist. Plus, getting a couple hour break from the kids to be pampered didn’t hurt.
This fat, lazy squirrel lives on our deck and eats the food the kids drop. He also chews through the line from the propane tank to the grill and sucks on the gas. He is a nuisance. You can see him compared to a less fat squirrel who he later mated with, on the deck, in front of the kids. If I go out on the deck to shoo him, he jumps on the railing and screams at me.
This day he was sprawled out on our deck, legs stretched out behind him, sunning himself. When I knocked on the window to prompt him to run away, he just rolled his eyes over and looked at me. He’s creepy.
Eli is dead tired.
Eli points and says, “Go”!
A moment in the life of the kids.