On servanthood

I love to serve. It’s in my blood. I feel so much joy and purpose when I am intentionally serving other people.

What does intentional serving look like? Here are some examples:

  • Making a meal for someone in need
  • Babysitting a friend’s kids so she can go to an appointment
  • Picking up some extra groceries for someone
  • Performing random acts of kindness around your community

As women and mothers I think many of us have servanthood in our bones. Perfectly fitting that God has called us to a job that, to it’s very core, is serving. Three meals a day. Wash out the wazoo. Grocery shopping and errand running. Tucking in and cleaning up. And then cleaning up some more.

And while our families aren’t the only ones we serve, they are a large part of those who are blessed by our service.

For a long time, I’ve operated under the guise of availability. A few years back I heard it said that someone held a grudge against homeschooling families at their church because they were too busy to serve in church ministries. Though not directly aimed at me, you can imagine that I was saddened to hear this. Saddened, one, to hear that homeschooling families were viewed this way and then, two, saddened that more people didn’t acknowledge the fact that family ministries like homeschooling are church ministries.

From there forward, I vowed to be available, to never be viewed as “too busy” to serve. I also became overly sensitive, offended even, if I wasn’t asked to be involved in some project or need because “ohh, you’re too busy” or “you have your hands full already.”

While it is still one or our family’s goals to be available– because we are blessed with the flexibility of homeschooling– this homeschool season has had me tiptoeing a few steps back, saying no just a little more often.

And– ya know what?– I’m okay with that. This season is one of hardcore serving my family. I’ve been giving and giving and giving and I’m learning there really is a threshold of how much I can give. I’m learning to choose how quickly I dole out yeses, holding onto them a bit more tightly and reserving them for best opportunities– the ones that allow my family to serve alongside me or ones that don’t wear me so thin that I can’t carry out my first calling.

Lately I’ve also been leaving a lot more of what I like to call “white space” in my days. I’ve been looking at my planner as less of a fill-every-void-of-time challenge and as more of a place to block off the essentials and intentionally leave room for lazy afternoons on the porch and slow evenings playing Yahtzee in the living room.

For far too long I’ve viewed the service I render in motherhood and wifehood as less than [when compared to the other service I could be doing]. Less enjoyable. Less fulfilling. And I’m beginning to realize that part of the reason for my skewed viewpoint is because serving my family has not been intentional service. Instead its been obligatory and mundane.

In order to be more fulfilled in serving at home we must treat our services as unique and carry them out intentionally. As in, with purpose and clarity and conviction.

This is, inevitably, going to look different in each home. In our home it looks like Saturday Special Breakfast with my kids on Saturday mornings. It looks like fresh-brewed iced tea waiting for my husband when he gets home from a long day at work. It looks like supervising longer than necessary bubble baths with essential oils and a space heater and play dinosaurs. Lots of play dinosaurs.

Serving my family intentionally allows me to think– really think– about my work here on this Earth, leaves lots of room for gratitude and fosters contentment in my ever-exhausted, yet super blessed mama heart.

So even if you are serving hundreds at a soup kitchen or singing praises on the church music team, be sure you are leaving enough white space, enough energy and mental capacity to also love and serve your precious family. Your family will reap wonderful benefits from your selflessness and you, too, will be abundantly blessed in doing so.

Becoming MomStrong book review

Motherhood is hard. There’s no way around it. Days can be long and morale low. But women like Heidi St. John help moms like me in bearing that burden just a bit, making life just a bit easier, a bit more lovable. Whether through an encouraging post on her blog The Busy Mom or in one of her books, Heidi has been shining light in this sometimes dark venture that is motherhood. And her latest book “Becoming MomStrong: How to Fight with All That’s in You for Your Family and Your Faith” is no different.20626781_10214150313141256_4111742155754784941_oBecoming MomStrong hits on hot topics like a mom’s need for rest and the importance of community as well as less common yet relevant topics like avoiding drama and handling grief.

As a seasoned mother of 7, Heidi is generous in sharing her wisdom in a very personable, winsome way. The book is full of first-hand accounts (the perfect mixture of #momfails and #momwins) while constantly admonishing readers to stay the course, to become stronger through their unwavering commitment to being immersed in God’s Word.

Heidi says, “MomStrong moms know the Word, and they respond to today’s challenges with God-centered wisdom.”

Becoming MomStrong is an uplifting, fun read that’s more like a bunch of meaningful conversations between old friends over a cup of coffee.

Despite my somber introduction, motherhood is not all doom and gloom. We all know it’s also full of afternoon snuggles sessions, laughter and late-night heart-to-hearts. The truth is, motherhood is a beautiful roller coaster of ups and downs. Motherhood is a high calling that bears tremendous responsibility.

In the pages of Becoming MomStrong, Heidi reminds us of the challenges we face as mothers in a volatile culture.

“God has given this generation of moms a special challenge: to train future warriors for the spiritual battle that’s unfolding around us. God is asking today’s mothers to be strong in the midst of an incredibly powerful cultural shift away from the truth of God’s Word,” explains Heidi in Becoming MomStrong.

I’ve left this book not only feeling encouraged but also feeling empowered; empowered to move forward on my mothering journey– with goals appropriate for each season of life God has put me in (as Heidi suggests in the book)– and with greater determination to give my children the best of me, not the rest of me (as Heidi also suggests in the book).

And I’ve never been more certain of this truth: by being a mom, we are not just line cooks, laundresses or nurses, but we are world changers, not only through our own lives but also through the lives of those He has entrusted in our care: our children.

“Through motherhood, you are impacting the world for good, one young life at a time.” -Heidi St. John, Becoming MomStrong

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Becoming MomStrong releases on September 19, 2017. A supplemental Bible Study and Journal are also available. Fun and functional MomStrong swag can be purchased here on Heidi’s website.

 

Confessions of a former martyr mom

Woe is me. Have you ever felt that way? At times I can be worse than a whining toddler. “The kids were so naughty today” and “the baby barely slept” and “little girl spilled her milk for the 127,829th time.”
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With each passing travesty, I can go from meek mom to martyr mom in less than 60 seconds. I can go from gentle to enraged just as fast. And– over what?– these little humans and their inevitable flaws because, in case you haven’t noticed, they’re pretty new here.

It’s so easy to forget that they’re young and inexperienced (yes, even at making sure their cup doesn’t get tipped over even though it is placed nowhere near their chubby, little flailing arms). It’s so easy to forget that, just like me, they often learn best by messing up. And that children messing up means parents jumping to the rescue and picking up the slack because that’s our job.

When I stop right there and think about this awesome responsibility in front of me I feel both humbled and a little bit ashamed. Ashamed that I often am so bogged down by the here-and-now, the do-this-do-that that something as basic as a troublesome toddler can set me over the edge and lead me down a path of martyrdom.

Martyr Mom says, “This work is just too hard, I need a break!” Martyr Mom says, “My life is so not glamorous, I wish I was in Tahiti.” Martyr Mom says, “I am the only mom who deals with these travesties, I just know it!” And then, “What did I do to deserve to be mistreated this way??”

And on and on and on.

If we want to get all technical about it, a martyr is a person who is killed because of their beliefs. Pretty intense. Pretty radical. And yet so many times I can be that martyr mom. That woman who feels like my life is dead because I’m a mom. Like my future is bleak because so. many. messes.

Then I live motherhood in this hurried cycle, rushing things along. How long until I can get baby out of diapers? How long until they stop eating like rabid beavers (who leave a trail of Goldfish crackers wherever they go)? How darn long until they learn not to spill the milk?!

And the answer, my friend, is not very long. In the blink of the eye the training wheels are off, the driver’s license is issued and the bags are packed. Oh, my heart honestly aches to think about it! And yet, I’m trying to rush things! What is wrong with me?

Motherhood does not have to be about martyrdom. It should not be about martyrdom. It should be about life. It should be about celebrating all the firsts and clutching onto all the moments– the good, bad, the ugly– that are being created for these little humans we are raising (and for us)! Everything that happens in our lives has the potential to shape us for life, affecting how we think about the world, how we love others, what we believe. That is anything but a dying cause. That is a living cause.

Motherhood does have to be about self-denial and self-sacrifice. A dying to self of sorts. The newborn babe is not going to feed herself just because you want to sleep instead. No, when you are a mom, you crawl out of that bed to nurture and sustain that tiny life that can’t live without your help. You give up part of your desires– be they for sleep or beauty or being fed first– because you’ve been given a tremendous responsibility to care for another life. I am not the same person I was as a 22-year-old new mom. Not even close. I’ve lost some aspects of myself but gained others I never knew I could have. Self-denial and self-sacrifice– at the expense of training up beautiful, beautiful souls– is so worth it. Every crumb-filled room, sleepless night, every drop of milk trickled on the floor, is worth it.

So let us shift our thinking away from this hopeless estate that is martyrdom and move toward living out a beautifully messy, oh-so-hard, yet worthwhile life as a kingdom-advancing, world changing, mother.

With hope,
Jenny

Moms, what do you need a break from?


I’ll let you in on a little secret: God designed us to do hard things. And not necessarily do them well or with an ounce of beauty. Our futile attempts usually look anything but Instagram-worthy. Messy. Even ugly. However, it’s in those ultra-weak moments that His strength intervenes and His glory best shines through.beauty review

As moms we must be real with ourselves and with our thoughts. We must constantly question our motives and weigh them against Scripture. We must allow ourselves to experience mom guilt.

Yes, I said it.

Of course, self care is important. Of course, alone time is important. Of course, date nights are important. However these things should never become an idol causing us to abandon our current, Biblical responsibilities.

Moms, this may seem harsh and it may seem condemning or even unfair but it must be asked. Have you shaped your life around your Biblical responsibilities of being a mother and wife or have you shaped your Biblical responsibilities around your life?

I am fully aware that each of our situations look very different from one another. And no one can or should accuse each other of making the wrong choices. I also know that, as believers, we are called to help and encourage each other toward godliness. And few things break my heart as much as witnessing godly roles being abandoned by women everywhere and, perhaps, even worse, godly roles being devalued within the Christian community.

I have been in many situations where I clearly needed a break. And sometimes God has granted me that privilege and sometimes He said “not yet.” In Job 23:10 we are reminded, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” The problem, for many, with this stance is that is requires patience and perseverance and steadfastness. Boy are those attributes I often lack!

Rest assured moms, there are going to be moments when God blesses you with a break. A friend who offers to take your kids for the afternoon; A time when your husband takes the kids for a walk so you can get a nap; A sitter who comes once a month to watch your kids so you and your husband can share a quiet dinner.  But those moments may not always be possible, consistent or part of God’s right-now plan.

It is not wise to fall into the “I deserve” camp especially when your desires cause some abdication of your Biblical responsibilities.

The unchanging fact is that we only have so many hours in this life to carry out His work. If majority of our week is spent away from our children, we need to be extra protective of our time together. The same is true for marriage. If the majority of our week is spent away from our spouse, we need to be extra protective of our time together. And we do not always “need” the break that we think we need. And yet sometimes we do.

So, it’s a very fine line, you see.

I end with the rhetorical question– moms, what do you need a break from? Some of these needs are so real– a crying infant who just won’t sleep, a household of sick kids. And other perceived needs, if I am going to speak for myself and be real with you– a quiet house, a clean house, a dinner date– they may not be as truly necessary for survival.

The good news is that God knows. He knows what’s best and He is a loving, caring Father who wants to give us the desires of our hearts so long as they are good for us. And when they are not good for us, He will answer with a “no” or “not now” or “wait”. And, moms, that is going to have to be okay.

Keep seeking Him. Keep communing with Him in prayer. And live a life submersed in His Word so that your mind is full and clear and able to rightly handle these ever-occurring tiring situations of life. Never losing sight that this life is short and temporary, stressful and joyful yet beautiful.

With compassion,
Jenny

 

8 things you can do to foster a loving relationship with your child

I spend a lot of time with my kids. A lot. And because I have unlimited time with them right now– being an at-home, homeschooling, DIYmom– that must mean that I make sure the time is quality, right?

The truth is, not always. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work of keeping a home, helping my husband and making sure the kids don’t eat grass or the baby doesn’t climb the stairs that sometimes it’s really easy for me to forget to stop and just focus on the child.IMG_8436

It’s usually then that one (or several) of them start acting out or causing trouble that I realize, that I’m spread pretty thin and I need to stop and love.

So this list is just as much a reminder to myself as it is an encouraging reminder to other moms. People aren’t always easy to love– and miniature versions of ourselves are no different!– but there are some easy ways that require a little bit of effort but go a long way in showing our children that they are special and important and loved. Because the truth is that if our children don’t find support, encouragement and love in their homes, from their family, they will search for it elsewhere.

I don’t know about you but, personally, that worries me. As parents we only have a short span of time to influence our children for good and to instill in them our values, and ultimately, our faith. Let’s try not to waste it. Here are some things we, as parents, can do:

  1. Read to her
    There are few things so simple yet powerful as reading to your child. It’s you, pulling her into your lap, giving her your undivided attention for even just four minutes that can make her feel special. Delve into her favorite genre and you’re pretty much a superhero in her eyes.
  2. Find out & cater to his love language
    It’s important to know that not all people experience love in the same way. Taking a little bit of your time to “learn” your child and the way he responds to your loving attempts can make all the difference in his life. It’s also a good general rule of thumb to show him love in many different ways so that he begins to recognize and appreciate each way (even though he likely responds better to 1 or 2 ways).
  3. Include her in as much as possible
    In our hurried lives, it’s easy to push her aside while we take care of something else that’s requiring our attention. And that’s okay. But how much better would it be if we brought our child alongside of us in all that we do? Doing so not only teaches her valuable life skills but also teaches her confidence. She will remember the times that you pulled up the stool and let her cook dinner with you. And she’ll look back on those memories and smile.
  4. Set aside one-on-one time
    If you are a mom of many this can be tough or at least appear to be tough but I’m here to tell you that one-on-one time does not have to be expensive outings or whole days alone with one of your children. One-on-one time can be spending 15-minutes painting your daughter’s nails while talking about horses or playing a board game with your son right after everyone else goes to bed. Don’t be so paralyzed with complicated (read: impossible) ideas that you miss out on the simple, here-and-now options.
  5. Listen to him
    With most children there comes a certain age when they just love to talk. They walk around chattering about with their plans and ideas and facts. It really is a beautiful thing but after multiple hours of this, it can get a little tiresome and it’s easy for moms to crave quiet. Let me give you some advice: listen to him. Set down your phone, put down the whisk, stop folding the laundry and just listen. Listen to him talk about his Lego creations and his fort and the time he caught a ladybug and his plans for building a robot and how he got to level 8 in Mario Brothers…
  6. Smile & laugh with her
    Smiling at her will encourage her to smile. Laughing with her will encourage further laughter. Life is short and beautiful and busy, remember to take the effort to not be too serious.
  7. Hug & tell him you love him
    Human touch is special. So are words. Use both daily. Stop what you are doing and give him a hug. Interrupt his video games to tell him you love him and, hey, go the extra mile and tell him why you love him.
  8. Take an interest in what interests her
    This is yet another attempt for you to “learn” your child. By watching and listening you will soon learn what makes her tick. What drives her and brings her joy. When she is young this will likely change often, keeping you on your toes. If you know she loves animals, go out of your way to teach her more about animals, take her to the zoo with some friends, read her books about koala bears and kangaroos. Use her interests to not only teach her things but to prove to her that you are, in fact, listening and that you do, really, care.

On this journey along with you,

Jenny

A well-spent life

Where does it all go? That’s a question I’m often asking myself.

When I think about spending habits, I’m certain to first think of money. Maybe I’m more of a consumer than I should be but, let’s face it, raising a growing family puts a little bit of a dent in your bank account. I think it’s safe to say most of us try to be cognizant of our spending habits when it comes to money. But what about other expenditures?

Like time.

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Where does time go? Yesterday my baby was swaddled in my lap, pink skin touching mine as he nursed. Today he’s days away from taking his first steps. Time flies.

Lately I’ve been thinking about whether or not I’m a “good spender”– of both my time and my money. I think I’m pretty fiscally responsible. I can budget with the best of them. But budgeting my money isn’t just about pinching every single penny to get the most monetary value out of it. It’s also about pinching every penny to get the most life value out of it.

If I were so concerned about stretching every single dollar to the fullest monetarily, I would never eat at a restaurant again (because, of course, it’s way cheaper to cook your own food); I would walk to my neighbors instead of take my van (because, of course, gas costs money and, well, walking doesn’t); I’d never buy portioned, pureed applesauce pouches for my kids (because, of course, whole apples are cheaper).

But sometimes in life it’s not purely about monetary value. It’s also about life value.

Last year my husband and I committed to once a week at-home date nights. He was working long hours and time was just so limited. Even though his paycheck had not increased, we decided that we would make $25 takeout a priority. And, you know what, God saw us through. We did not find ourselves in want or lacking anything last year. Quite the contrary, we found ourselves full, our marriage full, from that one, small expense.

Over 10 years ago when I was expecting my first child, we needed a new mattress. We could have gotten by with the cheapest one on the market but, instead,  we decided to purchase a Sleep Number bed with the rationalization that it would help us both have better-quality sleep. We also knew that this was just the beginning of my childbearing years and very likely I would find myself pregnant again (4 more times to date!) and a good mattress would be helpful. And, indeed, has it been helpful! Something as simple as a mattress, has incredible life value to us.

Lately I’ve been thinking about taking my kids to the park more often. It’s something we all enjoy so much but the problem is that we don’t have a park super-close by. Meaning that every park is about 10 miles away. However, I thought about date night and where we were at just a year ago– hardly ever enjoying a date together– and where we are today and I think, the 20 miles round trip to the park will be so worth it. Yes, it will cost some gas money but I believe it will be a small price to pay. How soon it will be that my kids are all grown and too big for monkey bars and jungle jims and tires swings! Am I really going to forgo this aspiration just because it’s going to set me back a couple of bucks?

This same principle can be applied to the spending of time.

My husband and I agreed about a year ago that one thing we wanted to impress upon our children was how to spend time wisely and be productive in life. Do we always set the best example? Of course not! But what a great motivation to try harder, knowing little eyes are watching!

So, when I look at my average day, I try to question myself: Am I spending my time well? For our family the majority of my time goes into taking care of my family and training my children. What an incredible responsibility! And time well spent for sure. Some other ways I choose to spend my time are reading God’s word daily, growing a business from home and having evening alone hours after everyone is in bed. There are, of course, other ways I spend my time but these are my priorities right now.

Just like with money, some things take more time but have greater life value. Examples being: taking a road trip rather than traveling by plane to get somewhere, baking bread with the kids instead of buying it, using your God-given gifts to help others instead of watching TV, preparing your family’s favorite meal instead of making boxed macaroni & cheese as an afterthought. How we spend our time really, truly matters. How terrifying and liberating at the same time!

For me, it’s been so helpful to just spell it all out. Just like it’s helpful to have a budget on paper with numbers and guidelines and goals, it’s the same way with our time. Knowing where we want to spend our time can actually help us to get there. It can help us say no to the things that we need to say no to and allow room to say yes to the things we need to say yes to.

As a recovering fearful spender, I say to you–don’t ever be afraid of spending, be it time or money. When your days are up and God calls you home, time and money will be of no good to you. Do your best to be a good steward of all He has given to you. Don’t be frivolous with it, don’t waste it, don’t take it for granted. Strive to have a well-spent life.

With a light wallet & a full heart,

Jenny

 

The necessity of self care (part one)

Lately I’ve been feeling awful. Though I can’t really pinpoint one specific ailment, I’ve just felt all-around junky. My attitude has been bad, my mood has been swinging and my energy has been low. I’m not here to complain but just to explain to you all where I am at.

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The thing is, I’m no stranger to feeling like this. I try to give myself a little props though– I’ve been pregnant or nursing for all but one year of the past ten years. My hormones have been up and down, my sleep patterns have been up and down, overall my health has been up and down. But I press on.

A few years ago, between babies, I got to the point where I felt the worst I had ever felt. It got so bad that I was waking up, taking care of the kids for an hour or two only to collapse back onto the couch and fall asleep– a deep sleep– for a few more hours. Then headaches came on every.single.day. And I reached my breaking point.

I was concerned that I was having thyroid issues (which sometimes can happen temporarily after a baby). The thought sort of bothered me because I really didn’t want to have to rely on a medication to feel better.  In the end, it was confirmed that I was suffering from something altogether different– candida overgrowth.

It may sound silly but I was kind of happy with the diagnosis. I was familiar with the condition and knew that a few simple (but big) changes should result in a complete restoration of well-being. And I was right. I changed my diet to include mostly whole foods, steered clear of grains and sugars and added a bunch of supplements that my body was lacking– including a good probiotic, extra vitamin D, a fiber powder and more.

After a short time, I felt better than I had felt in YEARS. It was incredible. My energy was through the roof and my headaches disappeared (I’d also eliminated dairy products due to a sensitivity I didn’t know I had). I lost 10 pounds without even trying. The changes were so profound not just for me, but for my whole family who I was given charge over.

Fast forward to today. Here I am a couple of years (and another beautiful baby!) later and I’m starting to feel pretty UGH again. I’ve let my healthy lifestyle slip away. My hormones are definitely shifting again but I suspect there’s some other stuff going on as well. The positive thing is… I now know how to take care of my body. I know what it’s like to feel good and to truly be healthy and I am taking the steps to get back there. I realize now (again!) that I need to take those big (but simple!) steps toward taking care of little ole me.

This is not a self-centered approached, as I’ve often let myself think. Moms, this is about making sure we are on top of our game. I need to be a side-kick (help-meet) and cheerleader to my husband. I need to be a nurturer and teacher to my children. When I can barely peel myself out of bed in the morning and my head is throbbing, I am no good to anyone. And that’s not good or noble or God-honoring.

I know, Lord willing, that I can feel better. And so can you. Yes, our families need us but they need a high-functioning, healthier version of us.

Because I’ve rambled, I’m breaking this into two parts. The next post, part two, will spell things out a lot better and give practical solutions to combating this dilemma that plagues so many of us DIYparents. Let’s do this together! Stick around to read more!

With eagerness,

Jenny

Looking past interuptions

It’s as if something clicked. I was contemplating some mom struggles I’ve been having lately. And then I realized– I’m so frustrated with the kids lately (as in the past six months) because they’ve been interrupting me. Both literally and figuratively my kids have been interrupting me. They’ve been not only rudely jumping into conversations when they shouldn’t be but they’ve also been getting in my way of accomplishing what I want.

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My thoughts, while most definitely were silently occurring in my head, were as deafening as a nearby freight train. And also as frightening.

My kids are distracting me. That’s the lie I was feeding myself.

Distracting me from seemingly good things– a quiet morning cup of coffee, my daily devotional time with the Lord, an important conversation with a sister.

Yes, my kids need to learn obedience, they need to learn when to talk and when to refrain from talking, but I am just as guilty.

I need to learn that what I want to be doing is not always the task God has put right in front of me. My kids, my husband, my family– they need me. And they need a gentler, less frazzled, more-grace-extending version of me. Not only that, but they need to know, to feel, to see that they matter and they are worth my time and my energy.

It’s so easy to become sidetracked with good works– and for me this is my love language, this is how I feel loved and how I love others. But sometimes I forget that just going through the motions of motherhood is not enough and is surely not God-honoring. Slapping a heaping spoonful of home-cooking onto a paper plate with a begrudging attitude and a hardened heart is not love. It’s rebellion and a reflection of my brokenness.

And boy am I so broken sometimes.

But, then, there’s grace. There’s a loving Father extending an open hand saying, come to me, let me carry these burdens with you, my grace is sufficient.

And so this momma gives it another shot. I approach another day, another week with a refined outlook. I try not to cling to what went wrong in past weeks but learn and grow and look forward.

This time, I’ll try not to look at knotted hair as just another head that needs brushing but a beautiful daughter that needs my undivided attention for that five minute task. I’ll try not to look at requests for seconds at the dinner table as a pesky child always wanting more but a little boy who is growing and already appreciates the blessing of good food.

This shift will not come easily, for sure, but it is necessary and desired and a step toward right-reaping.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

Each day I am thankful for a new chance, new opportunities to live this life to the full and to honor God with what He’s given me. This week, and in the weeks ahead, I’ll keep trying to do better…

With determination,

Jenny