Wednesday, September 24, 2014

10 Things I Haven't Learned in 10 Years of Motherhood

I would have thought by the time she turned ten, I'd have been a bit of an expert.

Motherhood? Got it.

Yeah, right.

Instead, last Friday she turned ten and I ran myself ragged trying to please everyone ten times over and maybe I was successful. Or maybe I'm just kidding myself and we're never really a success at this motherhood gig because the world doesn't measure success with the immeasurable.

There's no way to tally up points and determine if I've got it right after ten years because every new day is a journey and a milestone and another twenty-four hours that might mean I've gotten it wrong all over again. Rewards are in the form of tight hugs and sleepy kisses and late night whispers of "I love you" that come after the day is done and the tempers lashed and the mess ups just keep piling up.

But they are sweet when they come.

I took Madelynne and four friends camping for her birthday. We hiked the gear in, pitched a tent (Joshua helped), and spent nearly twenty-four glorious hours in the woods with perfect fall weather. Except for the brief 11 p.m. rainstorm that wasn't on radar so we hadn't put up the rain fly over the tent.

Yeah, ten years of motherhood and endless rainy camp outs and I'm still not getting it right. But she told me I was the coolest/bravest mom ever.

Maybe that's true. Maybe it's just true that I'm the craziest mom ever.  I do know this. In ten years of motherhood, what I haven't learned often seems to far surpass what I have.

I jotted down this list the morning of her birthday when her daddy made homemade cinnamon rolls and I wrote in her Letters with Mama book and tried not to have a panic attack.

10 Things I Haven't Learned in Ten Years of Motherhood

I haven't learned how to keep my temper.

I haven't learned how to keep their rooms clean.

I haven't learned how to say no. 
Actually, I can say this to my kids. Just not to everyone else.

I haven't learned to remember a diaper stash for the car.

I haven't learned how to cease amazement with each child at each new development.

I haven't learned how to make time stand still so I can savor the moment.

I haven't learned how to know my capacity.

I haven't learned how to give each of them enough of me.

I haven't learned how to keep my insecurities from influencing theirs. 

I haven't learned how to believe I'm doing a good job.

The only lesson I've really learned in ten years of motherhood is grace. Pile upon pile of grace heaped up after the hard days, the bad days, the I'm-unfit-for-motherhood days. The saving grace of motherhood is that each day is a new day. A new day with no mistakes in it. 

So in ten years, that's it. That's all I've got that I know is true everyday. The other is what I'm still learning, still trying, still hoping. 

But on Sunday afternoon, do you know what I whispered to the mom with two close in toddling age who run her ragged and stretch her limits? 

It gets easier. 

And it does. So maybe I've learned quite a bit in ten years after all. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Simple Family Fun at the Chattahoochee Mountain Fair

Originally published in The Northeast Georgian, September 12, 2014

I have a confession. Every year when the fair comes to town, we try to keep it a secret from our kids. We avoid highway 17 or taken the circuitous route around so they don’t see the action. The few times in the past they’ve caught glimpses, we’ve managed to change the subject quickly and distract them with other activities. 
It’s not that I’m opposed to the fair, and actually I think we did take them once when we still had only two, and they were too young to care or even notice the carnival. But we avoid it because, gracious, like I told many when we went for the first time, I just about need to sell a kidney to take them. 
That’s what happens when you have four kids. Simple Family Fun becomes Expensive Family Disagreement.

To keep this adventure affordable, we went on Family Night and were the last to make the cut at the gate for discount admission (thank you, Lions Club!). The Monday night crowd was light and there was plenty of entertainment without the rides. In fact, I could happily go again just to wander the agricultural heart of this true county fair. But my kids had a collective mindset. 
Carnival rides. 
So three armbands and a few tickets later we were out of cash and ready to go. I’m going to remember this experience as training for when we finally get to Disney because I learned a valuable lesson. When you have four kids of varying ages and temperaments and fears, carnival rides do not equal family time. 

My oldest is scared of heights which meant she wouldn’t ride anything her sister wanted to ride. So then my second daughter was mad because we wouldn’t let her go off with a friend (family time remember?), and by the end of the night she hadn’t gotten to ride any of the big rides she wanted.  Since we were literally out of money, I couldn’t buy tickets to ride with her. Which made me a little sad, too. 
Not my husband, though. He’s about the same as our oldest when it comes to carnival rides. 
Then we had a four year old daredevil who wanted to ride big rides by herself, but she needed a “responsible person” and her sisters were riding the only thing they could agree on together. So there might have been a tantrum or two about that. 
Finally, we had to divide and conquer with one of us referring the carnival and the other taking two year old Gus away from the rides since he was out of tickets. That’s when I really had fun. We petted the cows and watched the acrobats and he made a new friend. The sweet pup standing guard at the milking demonstration received lots of love that night from a little boy who was reminding his mama to just enjoy life’s simple delights. 
Like Family Night at the County Fair.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

When All You Really Need is 10 Quarters to Do Laundry

I came home from the beach a week ago to this greeting from my husband who likes to try and reduce my stress.

"So, you want the good news or the bad news?"

Hmmm....well the bad news was the washing machine had been broken since Tuesday. But he thought he could get it fixed.

With at least $85 and a technician.  Luckily we had this conversation in my parents' kitchen over pizza after I had napped in the car while my daddy drove two kids, me, and lots of our stuff back home from a week at my favorite place.

Cushioned the blow. And my dad chimed into this conversation with, "You know I think I saw a YouTube video on how to fix that problem."

Really, sometimes I wonder how people survived before YouTube and Google were actions that can solve anything.

But...fixing it required more hands than Joshua has and more patience than our eight year old has when she's out of shorts. Plus, I honestly wasn't sure if this would work (much as I wanted it to) and I had the crazy notion that the laundromat could be a good experience.

Yes, I think taking all four of my kids into a laundromat on a Monday afternoon sandwiched between school and Family Night at the Fair could be a good experience.

I wanted them to see how the other side lives. What it's like not to have a washer/dryer handy for your favorite shirt at any time. What it means to choose between after school ice cream and clean socks. What it is to mingle with people who look a lot like us but don't walk in our socio-economic circle in which a laundry room is a necessity and not a luxury.

I wanted to have a smidge of an experience of what it might look like to live out words I penned nearly a year ago.

Because we don't really know each other until we do dirty laundry together.

So we did. We got an education from a kind gentleman who wasn't put out that they had taken over the folding tables in order to complete homework. We exchanged smiles with a Hispanic father whose daughter was infinitely calmer than any of mine. We marveled at those who do this on a regular basis and are pros.

But mostly we just learned about Georgia's habitats and fourth grade algebra and listened to the refrain of the Daniel Tiger app. Being stuck in the laundromat meant I couldn't escape into the internet or my bedroom or even a novel because between four kids and four washers with timers, something constantly needed attention.

Which was the real heart of this experience for me.

In my own home, I often hole up and overlook the outside world. Including the world of my kids, sometimes. It's easy to let them retreat to their rooms to complete homework or a project or a book. It's easy to flip on a show and call it "family time." It's nice to fold laundry by myself in my bedroom with a podcast going.

But sometimes that means I'm out of step with all that's going on around me. I want to see. I want to experience. I want my kids to know how good we really have it.

Even if that sometimes means I need 10 quarters for every load of laundry that needs washing.

What about you? Any new experiences lately? 

Oh, and YouTube worked. He fixed the washer. And after seeing Madelynne's photo on Instagram, I had no less than five friends tell me I could have used their machines. Which was kind and a lesson to me about remembering it's okay to humble myself and air my dirty laundry with a friend, too. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Because I Know the Feeling {A Bit of My Depression Story}

After reading Ann Voskamp's beautiful challenge to the church and because I was saddened that Robin Williams lost his fight, I sat down and let the Spirit move. That was two weeks ago, and I've sat on this for a while and listened for the prompting to post. It came.

I was heavy with the swollen belly of my second baby girl when I got the call. I'd eased myself into the narrow space of a middle school desk only a few minutes after the last bell sounded and that phone on the wall rang. It was nearly nine years ago. Land lines were still common and I was teaching seventh grade language arts and drowning in my own depression as we faced months of financial strain and uncertainty. All the while I was preparing to do this new baby thing before the ink had hardly dried on the first's birth certificate.

But he told me to sit down and so I did, and then my husband gently told me Michael was dead.

There was no way to cushion the blow or sugar coat the news and I'm not even sure if I cried right then. I think my whole body went numb and I know I kept breathing long and hard and deep because he asked me if I was going to be okay or if he should come get me. And I asked what happened and he told me in softest way he could.

Our dear friend had taken his own life after calling his wife from the top of a mountain and telling her goodbye.

Bipolar disorder had ravaged his joy and the man who used to be known for his 1000-watt smile and insatiable zest was put back to the dust a mere three days later.

And I hugged and held his wife and buried my grief in the shoulders of lifelong friends and stayed strong for the new little life growing inside me and didn't scream into my pillow at night even when I felt like the weight of this world would crush my chest.

I didn't say what I thought--that if one of the most godly, Jesus-loving men I knew could lose this fight how could I believe I would even survive a round in the ring?

I stayed choked up quiet and tried to pray harder and there was no one to hold my hand and let me weep who had walked through the fire and come out the other side and I bought the lie that I just wasn't good enough until it broke me into pieces.

Broke me into pieces all over the honey hardwoods of this house when it was still our new house and the paint color that we paid a man so many dollars to slap on the walls came out all wrong.

And I knew then that I would never do anything right or good or better but I kept feeding myself the lie that I would get better and it was just hormones and stress and a thousand other causes.

And no one told me it was okay to take the antidepressant and I didn't even know it was okay to ask and I gulped water when what I needed was air and everyday I drowned a little bit more.

Everyday for a year until the next summer when I was home alone with two toddlers and a lost mind and the idea that maybe I should just lock the door and leave and hope someone else would come along and be a better mother and a better wife.

I don't remember when the decision was made to ask for help. I don't remember if there was advice from my closest friends or my mother or another mom who whispered to me that I could try some medicine and it would be okay. It didn't make me weak. It didn't mean I had no faith. It didn't mean I was doomed to a dose for the rest of my life.

It just meant I needed a life preserver until I could get back to shore.

I'm on the shore now, almost always, but sometimes my toes wander a little too far from that sand and I recognize the crash of waves getting too high and I know when I need to back up, take a break, ask for the physical help of hands that can feed, and clothe, and love as well as I. I know I have a tendency toward depression, likely genetic, as I learn more family history and see more of my own tendencies manifest in those who share my DNA. I know I'm creative and have long tried to make myself fit a box that isn't my shape and as I settle more and more into this skin that the Creator Himself stretched over my soul, I know the warnings and how there are some thorns I will always have no matter how much I may pray for their removal.

I know how to ease the sting though. How to count blessings and beg forgiveness and believe in each new day with no mistakes in it yet. I know how to be proud of the talents I've been given and I'm working on not resenting those that weren't tasked to me.

And I'm treading carefully when the Lord prompts me to share the bits of my story that struggle with depression and anxiety because I know the sensitivity of the topic.  But here's what I know even better--

I sure wish I'd known how to share this with Michael. Because no matter what we think when we reach the pits of despair, there is always someone waiting to pull us out.

For more about how Michael's incredible wife Natalie has lived in the wake of his mental illness and death, visit her author page or pickup a copy of her book, Tears to Joy

Monday, August 25, 2014

In Which I Clean My Dyson and Ponder Being the Temple

Jesus Calling - 365 Day Perpetual Calendar for Kids - Large
We read about it this morning on our Jesus Calling perpetual calendar for kids. How we're the temple, the indwelling of the Spirit, the place where Creator God has chosen to reside.

So today as I'm trying to make a literal sweep of the last few hard days by cleaning my dirty floors and wondering how on earth four little people can wreak such havoc upon such a small space, I'm struck by the realization that even temples get dirty sometimes and need a good housecleaning.

I think the revelation really came when I had to give up on sucking up the dust and crayon bits and dried gummies from under the couch because the vacuum just simply wasn't going to do it anymore. I resigned myself to a chore I hate, a chore that should not even exits, because excuse me, but why in the world is a vacuum not self cleaning?

And I took apart our refurbished Dyson on the hope that even though there's a hole in the hose, if I give it a good cleaning, surely it will continue to function. The thought I just couldn't get past was this--the very appliance that is designed to clean my house gets grimy and dirty and just plain nasty doing that job. Even though I might be left with less grime in my carpet, there's filth inside the very item that did that cleaning. And if I ignore that, eventually I'm left with something that can't perform the job it's intended for.

Lightbulb moment.

I'm full of filth and grime and there's dust clogging up my heart and soul on a regular basis. Yet, I'm claiming to be a place where Christ is. I'm good at cleaning up the outside and making myself presentable to others. I'm good at words that encourage and suppers that feed new mamas and putting my name on the list of volunteers.

I'm good at helping clean up others.

But I'm not keeping it up inside myself. Every now and then I need to be taken apart--just like that Dyson--and given a good rinse. The beautiful comes when I realize that once I'm apart, I need to be put back together to work. To function. To fulfill my calling.

And none of those good deeds or encouraging words are capable of reassembling my parts.

And I'm not self-cleaning.

But there is One who lives inside me. There is One who wants me to be the very best I can be as a home for His love, His grace, His mercy. So He cleanses. He restores.

He puts me back together and He will do so over and over and again and again because we're never capable of helping to clean others without getting a little dirt on ourselves.

Here's a sweet surprise if you're looking for daily encouragement and hope. Now through September 1st, DaySpring has their entire line of Jesus Calling devotionals, calendars, and cards for sale. Just click over here and use the code JCOFF40 and you'll receive a 40% discount off your purchase! Jesus Calling Collection- 40% off with code JCOFF40

Sarah Young - Jesus Calling - (in)courage Exclusive Edition image

Monday, August 18, 2014

That Time We Didn't Grocery Shop for a Month {guest post}

One of my few paying gigs as a writer is the marketing I do for Red Dust Ranch. Each week my family participates in their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and receives a paper grocery sack full of fresh vegetables. Lately, that sack hasn't been able to contain all the squash and watermelon that the farm's abundance is blessing us with. It's been a banner farm year, for sure, and when we were hanging out with our Red Dust friends and making barbecue pizza with their pasture-raised pork, I got to hear Sandi and Tim's story. She tells it best, and I hope it inspires your family to appreciate the food that's on your table.

BBQ chicken, potato salad, slaw, squash and zucchini, green beans, pickles. Nearly every thing on this plate came from our CSA one week this summer.
My husband, Tim, and I had tried gardening ourselves for two years. The first year was great. We had a robust garden with lots of veggies that we begged people to take it off of our hands. The second year was awful. We made our plot bigger, we added variety, and we did everything we did the year before. Our garden got flooded out and next thing we knew we had a forest and no veggies.

This year, we decided to try a CSA per the suggestion of my husband’s wonderful coworkers. They led us to Red Dust Ranch and it was the best decision we ever made. Not only do we get veggies weekly for a great price, but we have made some great new friends and are stocking up on frozen veggies for winter. Oh yeah…we didn’t go grocery shopping for a month and a half.

I know what you’re thinking…what about bread, milk, and eggs? It sounds daunting, but in reality it was actually really liberating. Every week we went to get our veggies and we got creative. We had meat in the fridge from Sam’s Club and enough other things to keep us from starving. When we ran out of something, we wrote it on a list and we improvised.

Every morning, I like to eat a cup of Greek yogurt. Well, I eventually ran out and was left with the decision to go to the store or find something else. I found something else. We had a lot of oatmeal and grits that had not been eaten and I am not above a simple toast breakfast. Until we went to the store upon returning from vacation, we ate what was in the house.

The week before our vacation was the hardest. We had run out of just about everything. We had no milk, no eggs, no yogurt, no orange juice, etc. The fridge was bare and our grocery list was massive to say the least. But why should we go to the store if we are days away from leaving the state? So, most breakfasts became the raisin bread that was lost in the back of the freezer, lunches were leftovers of dinner, which usually consisted of rice, a veggie, and a meat. Sometimes there was sauce, sometimes there wasn’t.

But we made it to vacation and then went shopping when we got back. We got enough to be able to go another month or more. This time we MIGHT go back for milk.

What this experience did for us?
  • Made us appreciate all that the Red Dust Ranch CSA is and all that it has done for us in a short time
  •  Made us realize we don’t have to rely so heavily on a store to survive
  •  Forced us to be creative
  • Forced us to eat the often ignored items in the pantry
  • Gave us a clean fridge and pantry to start anew. We realized what we do like eat and what we don’t. So now we make sure not to buy those unnecessary things.
I tell others that joining this CSA has been better than couponing from a money saving stand point. I used to clip coupons and desperately hunt through various websites looking for the best deals. It was incredibly time consuming, it was stressful, and honestly it was a giant pain.

So not only are we eating better, we are eating smarter in every way.

Thank you Red Dust Ranch!

Tim and Sandi Suda live in Demorest, Georgia with their two dogs Mattie and Courtney. The two met at Piedmont College over seven years ago and were married on December 31, 2010. Neither grew up in the north Georgia area, so it's a wonder how a military brat and Atlanta native found each other and settled in a city with a population less than 2,000. Tim is a Technology Specialist for the Banks County School System and Sandi is a Communications Specialist for the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

When You're Finally Able to Really Rest {Some Recommendations}

I think every blogger I follow is writing on rest right now. Rest and saying yest to whatever plan God may have up His sleeve for you next.

I'm not going to talk about that right now. Mostly because I haven't really had any rest lately and we're just in a season where it seems that I have to get what I can, when I can, however I can and accept that right now God's plan for me may look like chaos to every one else.

I'm okay with that because I know we're going to work through this busy season and a period of quiet, intentional work is coming.

That being said, we are done (DONE!!!) with The King and I at the community theater. It was great fun and my first experience being in a big musical, but I don't think we will do another summer play any time soon. Or a Christmas play either, for that matter. However, Madelynne was cast for Alice in Wonderland this October, and I'll be directing again in the spring (Thornton Wilder's Our Town--hearkening back to 11th grade literature), so we're not really on a theater break at all. It's fun, though, and I've always seen this as a place where we can serve and use the gifts God has given us in unique ways.

The advantage to being part of the ensemble in a big show is that I got lots of down time backstage. So I took along my ipad and finally got around to reading some of the great ebooks I purchased through the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle last year. Oh my word--so much goodness! (And so much fluff, too. Honestly, some of those books made me wonder why I haven't taken the plunge and written an ebook yet because they were 30 simple pages of tips I already know. But the bundle was still worth it because the good ones were so, so good.)

My favorite backstage reads are hopefully going to help me give my days some more structure AND flexibility. If you're looking for a great book on intentional motherhood, I'm recommending Steady Days for Jamie's simple, practical approach to mothering. Yes, there's emphasis on "routine" which is something I've always struggled with because I want to be that spontaneous, fun mom who isn't bogged down by what has to be done between certain chunks of time, but let's be honest. A routine is something we all have--even when we say we don't. I like that I can take some of her ideas and suggestions and maximize them for my family and my needs. Plus, I'm getting focused on writing as an income source and in order to do that, I have to carve out intentional time. Another plus for having a steady day with a simple routine that we can all live with. You can read more about this over at Steady Mom.

I also delved into some crazy cooking goodness with Kitchen Stewardship. Her book Healthy Lunches: Sandwich Free Secrets to Packing a Real Food Lunch has inspired me to think outside the standard ham&mayo combo that my kids eat almost everyday we pack lunch (they get to choose school lunch once a week, it's a cost effective, nutrition concern, keep the peace decision). I enjoyed the book so much that last Saturday when I spent the night in the hospital with my grandmother, I stayed up way too late reading recipes and interesting perspectives on real food. We're not totally on the bandwagon (this week there was a meltdown when I tried to suggest something other than Aunt Jemima syrup on the waffles), but I do think we already make pretty good decisions involving what we eat around here. But we could always do better, and with my sister's and nephew's recent diagnosis of allergies and ulcerative colitis, I'm wanting to up my repertoire of foods I can serve when they're here so Ash doesn't have to worry about dairy-egg-soy-gluten making them sick. If you're interested in any of Katie's great books, I encourage you to check them out here and visit her site. Today she's giving away a $100 lunch package to make lunch packing fun on even the most hectic of mornings.

Finally, as our first week of school post-play is winding down, I'm trying to re-establish my Sacred Hour. It's been challenging with Gus and Amelia crawling into bed with us the past few nights at 4 a.m. (not sure if this new room situation is working or not), but I'm committed to getting back in the Word. I know now that I am never going to reach some great spiritual plateu and get to consider myself a graduate of understanding the great grace that is Christ, but I also believe fully that the more time I spend in the Word God has given us, the better I will come to know Him and have peace with things I just cannot understand. One of my favorite devotionals right now (and what I'm using until Good Morning Girls kicks off) is the Jesus Calling devotional app. If you have not read any of Jesus Calling I highly recommend the app or this beautiful hard copy from DaySpring. And if you follow me on twitter, you might notice that I'm trying to regularly post a line or two that speaks to me each day.
It's such a simple little book with enormous capability to point me back to the living Word of God. Which is where I always find my best rest. Oh, and by the way, stop back Monday for a link to all of the Jesus Calling collection at DaySpring and a great coupon code!

So tell me--what are some of your recommendations for establishing routines, packing school lunch, and having a quiet time? I'd love to read about what works for you in the comments below. Or you can find me on Facebook and join the conversation there!

Coming Next Week:
A Trip to LeConte Lodge
One Family's Story of How They Didn't Grocery Shop for a Month
A Reflection on Depression

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