A God Who Fights For Us

Ezra and Nehemiah have been my chums this summer. God has taught me many things through their accounts in the Old Testament, and I'm not ready to leave this week's lesson. I have to dwell on it a little longer.

Our God fights for us. 

Nehemiah leads God's people to build a wall around Jerusalem, and time and time again they are faced with opposition to their work. To encourage them, Nehemiah tells them "Our God will fight for us!" (Nehemiah 4:20) Then he tells them to equip themselves with swords and keep on keeping on. They continue to build, through taunts and confusion and threats, knowing God is the one really fighting. He's got their back, but they gear up for the battle anyway.

I've been chewing on this paradox all week. Why do we arm ourselves if God fights for us?

Exodus 14:14 "The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still." Other translations write it, "You need only be silent." Many stories echo the same phrasing through Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, even as they go into battle.

Here is what I'm learning. Stillness does not mean inaction. Stillness and silence mean a heart posture of deep trust in a God who fights, and indeed fought for us, even to death on a cross! I think stillness means trust, courage, faith, BOLDNESS that the battle is won before it is begun, because Jesus said "It is finished."

And He meant it. 

So now, every battle is an opportunity to show the work already done for us on the cross. 

And we do that by clinging to our swords, the Word of God. As God's hand is upon us, our hand is on our sword. We now get the joy of showcasing a battle already won. God gave us our swords for protection against the true enemy of evil, and!!! These swords allow us to build gospel moments under its protection. 

And!!! We build gospel moments boldly, because we know who God is. He is faithful. He is a God who fights for us, and offers us a living hope that does not fade or crumble, long after what God is calling us to build crumbles. We do not hope in fickle outcomes. We hope in Christ, and Christ alone. Our Savior who does not change.

If God loved me enough to send his Son to claim victory over death for me, then all other battles seem so much smaller by comparison. And God strengthens my hands for His work, the only battle that is truly worth fighting.

"The things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace."

So, arming myself with the sword and swelling with courage in a God who fights for us, I'm asking God "what next?" Here I am! Send me! 

Another kiddo to love and raise to know your truth? YES. Is it more teaching, more speaking and writing truth to women who desperately need it? YES. Is it leading our house church to come alongside recovering addicts in our city? YES. 

Oh God, what vigor and joy you give me in your salvation! There is nothing sweeter than building for a God who fights for me, to point to a victory long ago won.

The Longest Table

I'm exasperated at the lie I sometimes believe that I, as a stay at home mom, don't have any influence.

THAT IS A BIG FAT LIE. God has disproved it for two years now. There is just absolutely not enough time to do all the things I could do, so I'm asking God constantly how I can specifically use my influence. But my prayer is no longer for God to give me influence. It was there all along. Last night was a reminder that God has put me, my family, and my brothers and sisters in Christ in Dayton for such a time as this.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
— Jeremiah 29:7

Two hours at a table for the good of our city. Two hours of hope, perspective, and purpose. 

Last night I had the unique privilege of attending an event with some members of my house church called "The Longest Table." It rotates locations, but this particular time it was in my neck of the woods, at the Grace United Methodist Church on Salem Avenue. 

You show up, are seated purposefully with complete strangers, people who are different than you in many ways. No fraternizing with people you already know. There was a map of Dayton's neighborhoods and we each circled where we were from and described our neighborhood to one another. We were given conversation prompts like "What do you see as being Dayton's biggest strengths and weaknesses? What do you want Dayton to look like in ten years? etc" We were guided to really listen to one another and to seek to understand our neighbors better.

The concept reminded me a lot of the IF Gathering, that some of the best solutions to our problems can begin when we come together as a community simply to eat some grub around a table. 

When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.

My general perspective was that this is one of the healthiest things I have ever seen our city come together and do. It made my heart swell with pride for Dayton. We met people we otherwise would probably not have opportunity to meet, and really listened to people that don't all think the same way as us.  At my table, for instance, we had an older retired, Caucasian couple that attended the church that hosted, a Muslim, middle aged civil engineer originally from Lebanon who has been in Dayton as long as I've been alive, a Caucasian male Wright State student, an African American, thirty something owner of a nonprofit that helps with several projects to aid our city and his two elementary age kiddos. It was ridiculously refreshing just to break bread with such a diverse group.

In two hours, over dinner, I learned SO MUCH from these beautiful people.

We had very safe, open dialogue with one another on a variety of issues. My table talked about our concern for education in our city, particularly the Dayton Public School System. We talked about the Heroin epidemic, recidivism, racial reconciliation, the food desert in West Dayton, our delightfully growing downtown, and the stereotypes often put upon certain parts of our city.  When I debriefed with Tim and some house church friends later, their tables talked about completely different things! 

I was encouraged by our table's conclusion, that there will always be problems in our city (ie we won't eliminate heroin),  but we can identify issues and patterns and create tangible solutions the best we can. From my Christian perspective, I see "there will always be problems" as "there will always be sin until Jesus comes back." But I have great hope that we can be salt and light to this world, and last night I got to proclaim my reasoning, that my God is all about redemption. God wants to redeem Dayton, every nitty gritty part. 

I left with my journal full of scribbled action steps that I can immediately take. Here are a few: sign up for the Gem City Market co-op newsletter, attend a Hope Over Heroin event, become friends with my county commissioners and school board members on social media, attend neighborhood priority board meetings, continue to be seen out and loving my community, and invite my own neighbors over for a meal over my own rather short (but long enough) table.

After our discussion ended, I gave out Dayton Women in the Word cards out like candy to my table members, even my new Muslim friend. I met a couple Tim and I's age, with two boys exactly like Titus and Matthias. They are running for DPS school board this year. It is good to know their hopeful faces. Then I toured the beautiful Grace UMC church that I have passed every day for seven years and have always wanted to step foot inside. It was every bit as stunning as I dreamed it would be.

As I climbed into my Prius to drive two minutes to my little blue house on Malvern, I felt a little closer to heaven, having looked into the faces of my neighbors made in God's image coming together for a common purpose.

Dayton is not my home. Nowhere on this earth really is. But God has called me to live here and love it to my utmost capacity. It is as close to home as I get until God calls me to my real home.

When I lived with my parents, I wasn't the best at taking care of their home, because it wasn't really mine. When I moved to Dayton, everything changed. God gave me ownership, not only in a physical home, but in a conviction of my heart. 

Dayton is closest to home. At least for now. Today, closest to home means that I take care of this place, Dayton, Ohio. That is what stewardship means, yes? Loving Dayton because God loves Dayton.

Where is closest to home for you, neighbor? How are you being the hands and feet of Jesus in your "close to home?" How are you using your influence today? Would you like to come over and have a meal at my table?

Motherhood, Today 2.0

Last year I wrote a little bit about what motherhood for me looked like on a daily basis. You can read that account here. I'm thankful for this blog so that I can look back and see how things have changed, growth in me, or be refreshed by the encouragement I still need right now.

Today is a bit different. I now have two little guys. Titus is two years old and Matthias is six months old. Here is what I want to remember about motherhood today in no particular order.

 Brothers!

Brothers!

Motherhood today is up and down and all around all the time. I had a group of gal pals at my house just last night and I literally went up and down the steps forty times replugging Matthias with his pacifier. I started going to the gym again three weeks ago but I'm wondering if that is really necessary. But the hour long mental break immersed in an audiobook while the kids are in childwatch is really what I go to the gym for. Tim and I are going on a getaway this weekend and when I think about what I want to do it is literally sit and sleep. Shower would be a plus. That's really all I want. Maybe also to eat a meal start to finish without any interruption.

Motherhood today is waking up from dreams of my Titus drowning after a scare at the park. He ran toward a river without my knowledge and a stranger brought him back to me. A background mom anxiety about something happening to my children has emerged. I've realized our children our God's. He gives them to us and we release them back into His hands. I can try as hard as I can to lead my children well, but at the end of the day I will fail. But God! He is the Shepherd of this family, and He will never fail us. So i'm trying to release my anxiety back to Him, and entrust that He loves my boys more than I do. 

Motherhood is finding trains and cars everywhere, in my coffee mugs, on the window sills, in the diaper pail. 

Motherhood is drool and spit up and suspected teeth hiding under the gummy surface.

Motherhood is rejoicing over the manager special organic baby food.

Motherhood today is a lot of prayer. Praying to start the day. Hitting my knees at their nap time. Praising God Hallelujah at bed time. Praying for God to help me have patience and gentleness when my son head butts me or pulls my hair. It is asking God for the willingness to serve my little people and for the joy to be abundant and intentional day by day. It is realizing that what I am asking God to instill in my boys is his way of instilling or reinstilling it within me. Everyday I pray for God to make Titus gentle and kind. And as I approach Titus, I hear God saying to me, "Be gentle. Be kind." As I kneel down to talk to Titus and pull him in my arms, I feel God's arms also around me. 

Motherhood today is not showering for three days and being okay with it. Am I talking about showering again? But seriously, a few days ago my day started with my baby throwing up on me and it just wasn't even a big deal. It didn't phase me. A few years ago, I think I would've thought the entire day was doomed.

 Me and Titus (2 years, 5 months)

Me and Titus (2 years, 5 months)

Motherhood today is resilience. I don't count the hours I slept or didn't sleep any more because it would drive me crazy. Instead, I try to count the reasons I'm not sleeping as blessings. I have two sons! God has given me these immense gifts. Who am I to receive them, and yes I would lose sleep to keep them well and loved, over and over and over again. They are worth more to me than all the sleep in the world. And yet, how sweet is it that Jesus is teaching me how to Sabbath, even now, with two tiny sleep destroyers?

Motherhood today is owning my motherhood style and celebrating others in theirs. It is also owning my strengths and Tims' strengths as a Dad, and being so grateful my boys have a Dad who covers my parenting weaknesses with his strengths.

Motherhood today is creating simple rituals with my kids like reading library books in Mommy and Daddy's bed before sleeping, eating lunch picnics in our backyard on nice days, making up songs with Titus in my grandmother's old rocking chair every night, pointing out as many "diggers" as we can on any given drive, asking Titus what he learned in church on the ride home, and fancy family breakfasts on Saturday mornings. I love that our family is beginning to have a culture, and we can make it whatever we want it to be!

Motherhood today is becoming a work at home ministry mom. What? Taking on the role of blog and podcast coordinator with Dayton Women in the Word has been one of the most unexpected blessings. I love how God is using my gifts and allowing me so much time with my boys as well. This role and this ministry has made me more joyful in motherhood. Titus loves it, too. Especially on days we have meetings and he gets to hang with all his friends. Matthias continues to be the only male ever present on the podcast. 

Motherhood today is truly caring less about the names of construction equipment but suddenly knowing them all because I love my son. And my son loves construction equipment. Who knew that thing was called an excavator?

Motherhood today is remembering that these boys are my biggest disciples. Titus is beginning to understand. On the ride home from Apex a few Sundays ago, Titus told us, "Jesus died on the cross." In that moment, I realized his heart is ripe for the gospel. He believes everything we tell him. What a joy to lead him to the truth right now! For this reason, and many others, I'm rejoining Bible Study Fellowship next year to go through Romans with my boys. I am expectant that God will continue to foster his heart, and it is a privilege that God has given me the position of mother missionary to my sweet boys.

Motherhood today is recognizing how different my boys are. They look nothing alike. What works for Titus doesn't necessarily work for Matthias and vice versa. They are their own people. Each day I learn something new about how God created them to be! Motherhood is creativity, creatively fostering and calling up their strengths and holding their weaknesses before the Lord. Help me here, Lord! 

 Me and Matthias (six months). 

Me and Matthias (six months). 

Motherhood today is prayerfully considering adding to our family through adoption or foster care. It will be hard. It will be messy. I feel like God is just saying, whatever it will look like, be willing.  And so, I've surrendered the need to know the answers, the timeline, and the specifics to him. I'm praying. I'm listening. And in the meantime, He is showing me that loving other adoptive families is significant and important. I can donate breastmilk. I can make meals. I can give clothes, diapers, money. Adoption is the work of all the church, because we are all adopted sons and daughters of Jesus Christ. 

Motherhood today extends beyond biological children. It is spiritual motherhood, rising up to gently foster a heart for Jesus in and over the women God has given me influence. This does not happen on accident.

Motherhood today is exemplifying to my boys how they treat others, how we love people, because God loves us. It is taking a magnifying glass to my interactions with others because I know my boys are watching me. They may be small, but they know we go to the Victory Project, that we know our neighbors by name, that we embrace our people with gratefulness and that we drop everything to help when someone is in need. 

Motherhood today is encouraging other moms. New moms. Working moms. SAHMs. Moms waiting to get pregnant. Moms who lost a baby. Moms going through postpartum difficulties. I love you sisters. I'm praying for you. Keep the faith. I'm holding your hand and cheering you on. 

Motherhood today is loving our own moms more and more for everything they were and are to us now, realizing the gift of their legacy in Tim and I. 

Motherhood is day by day endurance and dependence on our Savior. Motherhood today is His grace is sufficient and I need thee every hour. Motherhood is a belief in this work for the long haul and a prayer that we will see God's kingdom come in the lives of these littles. 

I am so thankful for motherhood, but more specifically, thankful for Titus and Matthias, my sons. These boys God has given me to mother. I'm so very proud of them and so very humbled for the privilege of being their Mommy.

 

 

 

The Back of my Head

I've been thinking a lot about the back of my head lately. Weird, right? 

I can never quite curl or straighten the back of my hair. Can anybody actually do this? Outside of pinterest world? I always try, but give up and think "eh, it doesn't need to be perfect" and leave it straight or flipped in the opposite direction.  I've come to love the rebellious wisps on the back of my head doing the opposite of what the rest of my hair is obediently not making a fuss about. The back of my head is my "middle child" that you love despite all the fists they shake, maybe more because of them. And even this small quirk about me reminds me of grace upon endless grace.

I have a few friends that are willing to touch the back of my head.

And my mom. Because, hello, that's what moms do. 

They are the ones I call when I need someone to curl or straighten the hair on the back of my head. They make me beautiful in ways I could not have beautified myself. 

These are also the people I have called when I had lice. It's happened twice now in adulthood. I've felt like a leper both times. I have no earthly idea how. No, I don't share hair products. No my kids don't have them. No, I don't hug strangers. My sweet people have not only touched my head, they've picked the darn things out one by one! AND even bought me new hairbrushes and gave me a big hug even against my insistence they stay. FAR. FAR. AWAY.

This morning I read Galatians 6:1-10 with Dayton Women in the Word's Beyond Titus 2 study. It is all about bearing with one another, gently restoring each other when we find each other in sin, and not giving up on doing good, particularly with the body of Christ. 

There will always be places in my life that I could not possibly reach on my own. There will always be licey sin hidden underneath my disguised sandy locks. There will always be one hair going the opposite direction. I absolutely need others to touch the back of my head, the back of my heart, with gentleness, with determination, with love.

I need others to not give up on me.

And. I need to be willing to go there for my sisters. To touch their creepy crawlies. To be the willing hands to curl and straighten. To gently restore. To never give up.

I'm so grateful that I have women in my life who are willing to be my back of the head people. My friend describes this as "she covers my weakness in her strength." I love that. We cover each other.

As God covers us. As God restores us. As God is gentle with us. As God gently created these very hairs on our heads. As God goes there for us. As God bore the cross for us.

No, it doesn't feel good on either end sometimes. I'm typically cranky on the nit picking and the being nit picked side! We would rather our sanctification be a private, personal hygiene affair, behind closed doors, where only we see the rawest parts of our own humanness. We must admit that yet again, for no discernible reason, despite our highest efforts, we can not, on our own, reach what we need to reach. But I think God allows this for our good, because, doesn't He show us that He is never out of reach by doing so? And doesn't He give us others in our lives to show us this? And doesn't He call us to bridge the gap to also show others this hair curling truth?

Can we just all have a good laugh at our own ridiculous shenanigans to try to prove that we can do it on our own? Can we just give up, hold hands, and praise Jesus already?

Bear with me, sister, as I bear with you.

By the way, I love your hair.

 

Stay-at-Home Workaholism

I thought when I quit work, I quit work.

WRONG.

My home, once a respite, is now the hamster wheel.

Anybody relate?

God has really been working on me lately. Telling me to sit down Jillian! For goodness sake.

But this is how that goes:

"If I don't clean it, pick it up, cook it,  make it, read it, organize it, dust it, vacuum it, bleach it, fold it, hang it, (etc etc etc) NO ONE ELSE WILL." And all the "its" get way too heavy and time consuming and some days I feel like all I've done is meaningless things that no one but me really cares about. I feel caged in by my own house. I wonder if I'm making a difference in the world. And over the past two years, I've grown to see such significance in the mundane, the solitude, the small moments. But sometimes I struggle with seeing it for the beauty that it is. 

Now that I work for a nonprofit, I also find the "cracks," the naps and evenings, filled with work, God given, life-giving work to be sure, but still work. 

With both children, I've lost the baby weight quickly. Not because I'm trying. Not because I'm counting calories. In fact, I've been the least intentional about my weight and exercise than I ever have in my entire life and that is a HUGE BLESSING for those who know my story. When other people comment, I usually joke, "Breastfeeding! Crazy, right?" But I know that isn't the whole story.

No, it's because I'm worn thin. Remember in the Lord of the Rings when Sam was talking to Frodo about a thin layer of butter spread over too much bread? That's me! I don't sit down. I forget to eat until I'm dizzy and shaky from the fifth cup of coffee on an empty stomach that I'm drinking because I didn't go to bed when I was tired but when that last load of laundry was folded and put away.

Anybody else there? 

God has been gentle with me in whispering over a period of time, "This is not okay, my daughter." He's been taking my hand and leading me to a peaceful surrender of my striving life. And in writing on the blog, I am recognizing it and calling it out and hoping to encourage some of you readers who find yourself here too. No one is requiring such a hustle from me, from us. Truthfully, if I don't submit my strengths of determination, organization, energy, and good old fashion hard work to the Lord, they become weaknesses, obsessions, sucking life from my body and soul.

My husband, Timothy, and I balance each other out in so many ways, but when we talked about this subject a few weeks ago, we've realized we are not so good at balancing each other here! We are both go-getters, ambitious to a fault. Currently, though not yet 30, he is almost finished with a PhD, which he is working on with two small children and a full-time job. Let me tell you, he is ROCKING it! I'm so proud of him! But can you tell that Tim and I might not be so good for each other in this regard? Some days, we love being a "power couple" and more days than not we wonder, "what did we get ourselves into?'

If you have been following my blog, you have heard these sentiments before, "I am limited, but God is limitless." And. "Unless the Lord builds this house, those who build labor in vain. He gives to his beloved sleep." Today God is reminding me that he "leads me to still waters. He restoreth my soul."

I've been listening. I've been repenting. I've been waving the white flag. I've been changing.

I've attempted to practice Sabbath, follow God's example of resting from work, many times in the past two years. Since I've become a stay at home mom, or now I suppose a work at home mom, I haven't been able to escape the work that is just waiting for me everywhere I look. The dishes, the clothes, the diapers, the toys, the beautiful mess of this beautiful life is ever present. I've been asking God, "How, as a mom, do I rest? I can't take a break from being a mom!" 

I can no longer say, "when the work is done, I will rest." Because the work is never done. It will never be enough. And I think God works in that admission, and in giving us too much sometimes so we recognize it's okay to give him back what He has given us, instead of trying to be God ourselves. My friend Sami likes to remind me often, "God is enough."

So here are some things that have been practically helping me confront my workaholism and embrace a "work from rest" lifestyle. The ways I'm trying to exemplify in my heart and life that God is truly enough:

1. I've asked for help. I've been talking about this with Tim and with my quad, the ladies that I walk through life with on a more vulnerable level. They've been asking me how things have been going and encouraging me to rest. They tell me to put the oxygen mask on myself first. They've been cheering when I choose to rest and gently reminding me that it is okay to say no. And sometimes I sheepishly ask if somebody would help me clean something, even though I know that is not the real issue, it helps me anyway. 

2. I've been looking at those who do this well and trying to follow their example. My friend Natalie sets her alarm to remind her to go to bed at a certain time. I've done the same thing. Last night I went to be at 9 PM YOU GUYS! 9 PM! And I wasn't asleep but I was in my bed, reading, and dozing. I woke up this morning before 6 AM, ready for the day, joyful for the energy to meet with the Lord first in my day. I got a beautiful hour of quiet with my husband before the kids woke up. I can't even tell you how grateful I am for that unexpected time and for how it set the tone for my day.

3. I've been stopping midday to get on my knees. After I put my kids to bed for naps, I usually make tea and stress eat chocolate. I still do that. But I've added a "stop drop and pray" to my ritual. I check in with the Lord, thank him for his provision so far in the day, and surrender the rest of the day and the works of my hands once again to him. I've been meditating on Isaiah 26:3 with this practice, "You keep him (her) in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he (she) trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock."

4. I've been releasing my to-do lists, both written and mental, to the Lord. I admit to him that I know it is too much, so I'd like for him to show me what is the real priority for that day. With true joy, I tell him I know that if nothing gets done that day, but my life still glorifies him, that this is all I really need. And then I thank him at the end of the day for what He allowed me to do, instead of stressing over what didn't get done.

5. I've been keeping our bedroom, our place of rest, sacred. No toys allowed. No laundry, either. And no kids if we can help it. I need one place that I can shut the door to the work that is tempting me, and I'm grateful God has given me this haven to protect me, to protect us. Unfortunately, with moving around our boys rooms, we eliminated our office, and our computer has made its way into our bedroom. I'm not happy about it, but I know it's just a season. It doesn't have to undo the good God has done. Computers do turn off!

6. On Sunday, I Sabbath. I do very little housework. I don't work on Dayton Women in the Word. If I have to cook, I always listen to an audiobook. I don't worry about my fitbit steps. I lay on my bed and READ while my kids nap. I drink coffee because I enjoy it, not because I need it. I light a candle. I say no to most social engagements. It is all very indulgent, yes? But this is God's love, his beautiful design. He restoreth my soul!

God isn't done with me here, probably won't be until I'm dead, truthfully. I know He wants me to remember to take my prenatal vitamins. I will always need more sleep and less coffee. I admit that I say yes more times than no. (I just noticed this paragraph has started to become a to-do list for how to rest better. The irony! The hustle is laughable, you guys!)

So here I will end, with gentleness for all of you moms that have trouble turning it off, whether you stay-at-home, work-from-home, or are working outside the home. My prayer for us is that we would really trust God to do all the things and release the work He has given us back to him. I pray for less guilt and more rest, in our bodies and in our souls. I believe truly this is what God wants for us, and maybe for the first time in my life, what He wants for me.

Tears, always, when I write this blog and realize He is tenderly writing to me. 

Loaves and Fishes

I've got ants in my pants. 

That is the kindergarten way of saying I'm discontent. 

Not in the "I want more crap" or "I wish my life was different"  kind of discontent.

A discontent to see things fixed already, and a discontent in the rate and ways He is using my life to get the job done.

I've kind of been arguing with God lately. It goes something like this:

"Okay, God. I hear you. You love the orphan. You love unity. You love the city. You want people to live and die and breathe by your Word. You are about the widow and the marginalized. I hear you telling me that to stay put on these things is actually hurting others. Conviction is telling me to hurry it up and get moving, because my brothers and sisters need me. I've learned that, in fact, the option to stay put is a sign of my power and privilege, gifts you given me to leverage for the neediest in this world. Because you, the God of the freaking universe, discarded your power to die for the likes of a sinner like me. So I'm trying to move, but I feel like I'm getting NOWHERE."

I'm convicted. I'm willing. I'm impatient. I'm frustrated. 

A lot of I'ms. Woof.

This year God has given me the challenge of Matthew 20:28 "Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." My prayer is that he would help my heart's posture to be that of a servant. I'm frustrated. Because I'm trying. I finally feel unafraid to do what the Bible tells us plainly to do. Love everybody. Give it all. Use every opportunity for the gospel. Adopt. Take care of the widow.

Then I hear the voice of the Lord saying: Who should I send? Who will go for us? I said: Here I am! Send me!
— Isaiah 6:8

So why is everything going at a snail's pace? Why is the timing all wrong? Why so many "no's" and "let's reschedules?" I think that somehow my sacrifice and willingness means that God is going to show up the way I think He should. Funny how I try to tell God what to do sometimes. What a brazen attitude.

In our house church, we've been learning about prayer. We learned how to pray through the Psalms a few weeks ago and God brought me Psalm 127: "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate."

I've been praying this prayer. I've been praying it over my household, my husband and my kids. LORD BUILD THIS HOUSE! I've been praying it over Dayton Women in the Word. LORD BUILD THIS MINISTRY. I've been praying it over Dayton and my church. I've been praying it over adoption and racial reconciliation. I've been praying for it in my community, how I minister to my neighbors and my librarian and my maillady.

Because I've had too many sleepless nights lately trying to be God. Trying to finagle all the problems of this world that only He can fix, that I believe He is fixing. 

When what He wants from me is willingness. When what He wants from me is faithfulness. When what He wants from me is worship. When what He wants from me is rest.

The Lord has to build this house and watch this city. No amount of toil from my ridiculously meager attempts could do what only God can do. 

Something my gal pals like to encourage one another to do is to take small steps of obedience. I'm constantly combating the urge to be an all or nothing kind of person. But the truth is, I think the Lord wants my all. He wants my whole heart, my total devotion. But you know what He also wants all of? My trust. He wants me to trust that He can do it, and worship Him because He already has. He's already won. It is finished. I know the ending.

You keep him in perfect peace who mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
— Isaiah 26:3-4

So. I'm apologizing to God for trying to takeover his job. And I've asked Him to help me remove my self-promoted status as house builder and city watcher. I'm trusting He is going to do it and worshipping Him because it is as good as done.

I'm exalting him, because truly He has made very clear the next small steps of obedience. He is saying, "This is the way. Walk in it." Isaiah 30:21.

I'm supposed to read a book on adoption and go to the next adoption group at our church. He's leading me to invite my 93 year old neighbor who still lives on her own to have tea. I think I'm supposed to walk with my neighbor who has two dogs and is going through an awful break-up but I'm not quite sure how my double stroller skills will keep up with her power walk strides. I'm asking the black mama at my library's story time to let me into her world and go to the science museum with our boys next week together. God's telling me to invite someone new, an Asian sister maybe? to learn from on the DWITW podcast next week. He's whispering for me to snuggle with my toddler and sing Jesus loves him one more time. He's there when I'm exhausted and still find the words "How are you?" when my husband comes home from class.

O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
— Isaiah 25:1

He IS DOING IT ALL OVER THE PLACE. He is showing me the way. He is letting me be a part of what he is already doing. These are my loaves and fishes of today Lord. I don't have much to give, but Lord, You are in me, and YOU ARE ENOUGH. Your grace is sufficient. It abounds. It multiplies. 

Small. Steps. Of. Obedience.

Willingness. Faithfulness. Worship. Rest.

Loaves and Fishes.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, readers. He is already behind and before us. He has given us the way today. He has empowered us to do exactly what He has for us today, no more and no less. 

Often before we put the boys to sleep, Tim and I sing, "He's got the whole world in His hands!" And now I believe that although the words are coming out of my mouth, God is singing that to me, to this oatmeal heart.

 

The Gritty Mom Life

This week, I fell down the steps with my three month old baby, knocked my shoulder and heart silly, watched my two year old grab my hot coffee mug and walk away unharmed, held my croupy son in my arms in the emergency room praying that God would help him be able to breathe, laid on the floor next to his crib at three in the morning praying that he would sleep, trying to adjust my exhausted body so my shoulder wouldn't ache against the hard wood floor, and called poison control after he then persisted to spray himself in the face with Febreeze. I stepped on the scale and had lost 5 pounds in about two weeks because I can't even tell you the last time I ate a meal start to finish. All this within the first two weeks of Tim's new semester. I'm spread thin. 

Grace upon glorious grace, we have all made it out alive. 

But today, I took the liberty of phoning a friend. I need a break, my friends.

I planned it during nap time so that no one would have to deal with my sensitive and snotty toddler. It took about an hour to leave my house because my toddler staged a coup. How did he even know?!?

Have you ever felt like this mom life is an absolute battle field? As I'm writing this, one of my besties sent me a picture of her son with the BIGGEST goose egg on his head that he procured while he was AT THE PEDIATRICIAN FOR AN EAR INFECTION! What in the world? The struggle is real!

It's amazing that when I look back at these two weeks of absolute mom boot camp, I've thought I was DONE many times, and then God gave me more to give away.

Today I called it. I sensed God saying "enough is enough," Jillian. Time for a refill. 

Looking back on this week, I watch God protecting us. I see him giving me the strength to climb out of the covers at three in the morning. I see him causing me to fall just so, in such a way my baby wouldn't be hurt. I see him causing the coffee to be cooled enough not to burn Titus. I see him bringing that doctor with the absolute best bed side manner to make Titus smile in that ER bed.  I hear God's voice singing to me as I sing to my babies. 

It may be a little half hazard. It may look a little, okay, a lot gritty, but glory be to God, He provides, every time. He has done it the past two weeks, my friends! And I know He will continue to be there every step of the way. 

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
— 1 John 3:1, NIV

We are his children. Even at my best momming, friends, I need to tap out. But you know what? God never has to. His love never runs dry, never has a limit. It's never resentful, never selfish. This love is LAVISHED, gushing, overflowing. This love died and rose again on my behalf.

Moms, do you ever just wish you could trade places with your kids? Be loved on and served and tucked in just for one day? That's me! Sometimes I honestly just stare at my three month old in his electric swing, going back and forth and back and forth in it's soothing, addictive loop, thinking, "That looks like heaven." If genies were a real thing, I would ask to abdicate two wishes because I only need one: to be a baby again in that baby swing. Sounds a little desperate, I know, but you just have to see this swing you guys.

But you know what? I'm God's child! He is LAVISHING love on me all over the place, and giving me the strength to lavish it upon my children. He is ADVOCATING for us, rooting us on in his calling over our lives, going to battle on our behalf! You are never alone, never without his help, never without his abundant love and grace over your life and the lives you serve every day in your weakest of moments. Mama's you can love your children because you yourself are a child loved. Your love will never run dry because you are filled with a love that does not run dry. You will be able to provide because you are provided for. You will be able to fight for your children because you are fought for. We may not have a mommy sized electronic swing (if you know of one, sign me up!), but we can be sure that he restores our soul (Psalm 23). 

Today I'm thankful to be at a coffee shop for an hour writing this blog post with a latte next to me (next best thing to a swing). And I'm thankful for a complete love so much greater than anything I can ever imagine, yet get to somehow experience every day, and somehow give away every day.

Praying for you mamas, and your precious gritty mom lives. Keep on keeping on. 

Unfinished Business

New guest walks in. Giving them the tour. Explaining all the unfinished parts of my home. Why I would choose a different paint color now. Where the white subway tile backsplash will maybe, someday be. Pointing out the open construction on the cupboards. I'm apologizing for all the ways my house is unfinished, and in some way, why I am too.

In this season of loving my littles, I have a genuine sense of living in unfinished business all the time. When I'm in my home, I can feel caged by all the items left to do, staring face to face at the projects awaiting us for the exact, someday, maybe never, but hopefully soon, open-ended, unscheduled time. 

I wrote a list of these items so I could stop repeating them in my head. They range from writing letters, to printing our family pictures from Matthias' birth, to scrapbooking my Christmas cards, and tiling my kitchen backsplash. When I looked at the list, I laughed a little. Yeah right, that's never going to happen. And then I got mad. You are NOT the boss of me list! Or should I be mad at the tasks that I think I can't finish? I so can do this! And this! And...this? Crap. Then I shut my journal, squeezed my eyes tight, and let it fester for a little while.

Why do I care? Why do I desperately want to finish, all things big and small? Why, when it doesn't even matter to anybody but me in the first place? I'm so...discontent. Disheartened.

God is a finisher, isn't he? He always finishes what he starts. And what a huge relief. What if he hadn't come and died and rose again? What if he hadn't proclaimed that "it is finished?"

He's still finishing all over the place. He's never done with us, is he?

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
— Philippians 1:6

I'm so glad He doesn't start and leave the kitchen backsplash in the renovation of my heart. I can't even believe he thinks I'm worth the time to finish. Truth is, I'm not. But through Christ, He is finishing this good work in me. Nothing I've done has merited the finisher to finish. And yet, I can picture Him bringing out his Fat Max toolbox on the daily to restore his handiwork in my life.

But you know what? Not all things in my life are worth finishing. Most of the items on my to do list are so ridiculously trivial. Would it be nice? Absolutely! Essential? No! And some of the items I decided to cross off to "finish" in my brain and heart by calling them not worthy of my time right now.

So what is worthy of my time to finish? Many things come to mind. This blog post, for one, which has been sitting, unfinished, in my draft folder for quite some time. My breakfast and coffee, which usually sits cold until I throw it out halfway through the day. Studying 1 John, with all its love, abide, children of God goodness. The puzzle I started with Titus. The text I was drafting to my husband to check in on halfway through the day four hours ago. This podcast season of DWITW, which has opened my eyes to the upmost importance of discipleship in our lives.

Even more than these "things," I'm praying for a "holy discontent," as John Piper puts it. 2 Peter 1:5-8 says, "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." THAT, my friends, is what my heart longs to be discontent over. The problem is not my discontent, but rather where that discontent is directed. I get so distracted with the undone that impacts nothing and no one that I am blind to the undone that has the real Kingdom power: the undone in my heart.  

I need God to create a deep discontent within me over the state of my heart. 

And I need to realize I can't finish what God started. Only He can. 

So today, I'm asking God to keep working on me. To give me a holy discontent. And when I fail in all the ways, that He would help me realize I can't master any of these virtues without Him. I need him to finish it for me.

And I'm going to stop apologizing for being unfinished. Instead, I'm going to invite people to see where God is working to redeem and restore me, where He is adding the nuts and bolts and finishes for His glory.

Lord, give me grace for today, while I'm living in this unfinished world with this unfinished flesh. And thanks, God, for always finishing what you start.

 

 

 

Let's Talk about It

I firmly believe when you utter something out loud, it loses power over you. Maybe it is the counselor in me. Maybe it is the external processor. Maybe it is my freedom in Christ. I refuse to let something fester inside me, chain me down, when I've already been released from it long ago. I prefer the John Mayer, "say what you need to say" kind of life. Hence, Oatmeal Heart.

What do you need to say? What came to your mind? What do you think you are not allowed to talk about? Sex? (Well now that it's out of the way). Stretch marks? Why people are so into that Jesus dude? Why some people can have babies and some can't?  How your husband keeps forgetting to ask you how your day was? How hurt you are when your friends don't post Instagram pictures of you on your birthday? Your parenting insecurities? The dreamy thought of what you think God might be calling you to be, to say, to do? 

It's not that I want you to blurt out everything that comes to your brain. That would be a dangerous way to live indeed. But I firmly believe if you don't tell something where to go, then it will explode on the most vulnerable people in your life. And that most vulnerable person may be you.

In my case, it could be two sweet little guys who I have the awesome responsibility of caring for each day. So I'm just not going to take that chance. 

2 Peter 2:19 "For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved." 

I'm just saying, if you have to vomit, get a bucket. And, if you have a beautiful song inside of you, find a microphone. Take responsibility for what is already inside of you. Don't be naive enough to think it will never come out if you just ignore it. Let's not let this enslave us. Let's tell it where to go before it tell us first.

This is the beauty of counseling, where you can say anything to one person without it ever coming back to haunt you. But I'm just not satisfied with having only one (paid) person in my life with whom I can share my heart. For all the crap we are afraid to share, there is also beauty and goodness and truth in there too. So for fear of the crap, we withhold the good that could bless a zillion people. That's not a trade I'm willing to make. 

So what's bugging you? What's bringing you ridiculous joy? What do you see people doing that drives you bonkers? What is it that you admire greatly in a person? Explore that. Turn off your phone. Listen to yourself for a hot second and examine that over Scripture and with Jesus. And find a person you can hash it out with.

In the Christian life, this is both confession and calling, navigating the tightrope of a tamed tongue while still using it for God's glory. What's the point of asking God to tame it, if you don't want Him to use it?

Our relationships are never better with unspoken words. Sometimes we never talk because we are afraid of what the other person will think, say, post or what the other person will not think, say, post. Our refusal to be vulnerable creates shallow and unsafe relationships, when maybe, the other person is scared of the exact same thing. So we never trust each other, and never give ourselves the opportunity to build up a history of walking through the tough stuff together. 

But we don't have time to waste on scaredy pants marriages, friendships, jobs, ministries, or any relationships for that matter. I refuse to be caught on my death bed with all the words to say, because in all reality, I won't have time to say them. I would rather die with nothing left on my chest. And maybe, if one brave person tries, we can teach each other that we are safe, that we can say all the things and the other person isn't going to leave, shame them, or share those words with another without permission. 

God has given you a contribution. No one is without something to give. So choose wisely how to steward it. Pause and pray. Write it out. But don't let it stay there. Ask God where he means it to go. And refuse to let the fear of a mess prevent you from getting your hands dirty in your for real, life fulfilling, words and work. Start the conversation. Ask the hard questions. And take that next step towards the dream in your heart, towards the hard discussion that might bring healing, towards living a more open kind of life. 

I have the insane blessing of relationships like this. But they didn't happen by accident. It takes work and courage and someone to say, "me first," and take the diving board of vulnerability.

So here are some topics I've been awkwardly, but vulnerably jumping into with my people:

  • I'm really sad I have few deep relationships with those who look different than me, who grew up in different places, have different skin colors, who speak different languages. 
  • I wish I didn't think about what I look like ALL THE TIME, how I look in photographs, if I should or should not curl my hair that day, if I will ever fit into my favorite clothes ever again. It's embarrassing that my brain is still there, after all this time, after all this fight. Just wish I could stop it already. If it were only that easy.
  • I'm flabbergasted that I get to be a part of Dayton Women in the Word's ministry, podcast, and blog. I feel genuinely fulfilled, and I know that is not the point, but I'm just accepting that gift and calling it what it is: a Godsend. 
  • I feel crazy clumsy at navigating in relationships with my dear friends who are struggling with miscarriage, infertility, divorce, and singleness. I'm so afraid that if I say anything about the day to day struggles of a married mom with two young babies, it will be insensitive, or negate the fact that I know, I know, I have it really, really good. The child bearing years can be hard on relationships, but I'm so grateful that these struggles don't have to separate us. Maybe, somehow, we can be closer now than further apart. 
  • Politics, you guys. Just kidding! I'm not that brave.
  • Behind every mom conversation, there seems to be an unspoken question, "Am I doing this thing right?" It can be so hidden and sneaky, but I notice it in almost every exchange. Inside, I roll my eyes. Deeper inside, I know I'm doing the same thing. Deeper still, I'm frustrated that this feeling of mom insecurity might never completely go away. I want to call it out of all of us and smash it to pieces. YOU ARE A GREAT MOM STOP WONDERING IF YOU ARE A GREAT MOM AND JUST STEP INTO YOUR MOM GREATNESS SO YOU CAN CHEER ON OTHERS IN THEIR GREAT MOMNESS. 
  • I want to write a book, but every time I sit down to write it, I've forgotten the words, so I write a blog post instead. And then I realize that is quite enough.
  • Next two are the kickers...How am I doing in this relationship? How do you feel after being in my presence?
  • I feel (blank) because you (fill in the blank). BOOM. All you passive people be like "no way Jillian." BUT I DARE YOU TO DO IT.

These are just a few. I know there are more. I know I'm a hypocrite. I'm just saying, let's practice the art of directing our mouths, hands, feet, heart. Let's not pretend any further that there is nothing inside of us. Let's be courageous, call it up and out of ourselves, and into the world which desperately needs true, life giving voices. Let's work towards safe and vulnerable relationships. Practice being both the first to listen and the first to say the brave thing. 

So thanks, reader, for allowing me to practice with this blog, for listening with your eyes, and for allowing me to work through tough stuff on this Oatmeal Heart.

 

 

 

 

My Hands Are Full

Excuse me, friends. I had a baby and took some time off. This post immersion blends the past two months into something like a nice butternut squash Jillian thought puree. You have been culinarily warned. 

Deuteronomy 3:23 "And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers."

Since I've been a mother, I've been brought out and back in several times. God gives us seasons of land and seasons of wandering, some longer and harder  or more beautiful and bountiful than others. He gives and takes away. "My heart will choose to say, Blessed be your name."

I've begun to venture out more and more on my own with the two babies. Two months ago this seemed impossible, but somehow you just do it and then one day you realize it wasn't so bad and life is actually getting easier. We are hitting our new normal.

As I've been out and about, I've heard the saying from several, stranger and friend, "You look like you've got your hands full." I've joked back, "Yes but I haven't dropped a baby yet. Several other things, but never a baby!" I'm a serial dropper. I've been guilty of dropping a bowl of oatmeal, mugs and mugs and mugs of coffee, papers, laundry...you name it...all as I've carried my baby securely over my shoulder, in my arm, on my hip.

When God gave me Titus, my hands and heart were full. Overloaded, really. And I felt that nudge to give up a job to take another one up, but really several in 2016. My life was quiet for a season after that new baby, but as full as ever within my soul. Slowly, he gave me a ministry through that story, one of discipleship, to my children, to my church, and to other women. It morphed into my new, very full lifestyle: momming, house church shepherding, meeting in a one on one discipleship relationship, and serving with Dayton Women in the Word.

Since God gave me Matthias, I've been learning this lesson again, the ebb and flow of giving and receiving, a full hands kind of life. One where you have to make some painful nos in order to give your best yeses, because my hands are full and I don't want to drop my babies. My Dad and I were talking about this over breakfast, as I was chewing on hashbrowns and my recent decision to find my dog a new home. He told me, "You can't have it all, and at some point, it is self-destructive to try." I can't carry it all my friends, and that used to disappoint me. Now it is freedom.

I received a job offer in my inbox the other day. In my exhaustion, can I tell you, it was darn tempting? Something to get me out of the house a few days a week, something that is easier to explain than the stay at home life, something where I use my degree, something to contribute. Like a new boyfriend, it was so nice to be pursued. I felt all kinds of pretty and valuable and recognized again for like a millisecond. My toddler and infant don't do that for me.

I LOVE counseling (my old fulltime gig), but you know what? All those things above? WRONG REASONS to do it. And not what God has given my chapped hands with chipped nail polish at the moment. And all the kingdom impact He is giving me right now through these ministries of home and heart? Not worth trading for the other paycheck, the put together look of a working woman, or the affirmation of a boss. I believe God gave me that job offer so I would be forced to remember why I'm doing what I do every day, and why I'm not doing other things, and to be honest, this week, why I can't own a dog right now.

Over the last month, Matthew 20:28 has been repeated in my life several times. My mom quoted it as she gave a challenge to my nieces and nephews in the form of an acts of kindness book during our family Christmas. In the card our house church gave us as a thank you for shepherding this year, it appeared again. When God repeats himself, I've learned to listen. 

Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many
— Matthew 20:28, ESV

January 1st is rolling around my friends. Me and new year's resolutions go together. I'm a goal setter, a tangible, "let's do it," planner, task oriented, action steps kind of gal. But to be honest, two babies under two and specific goals don't seem to go together. Too many times, I've laid out expectations for my day in the form of a to do list and resented my kids for my inability to get it done because I had to care for them. And there lies the problem. My kids aren't distractions from my life. Jesus is my life, and he has graciously given them to me to be my main focus right now. I want to be present with them and not trade them for a check off my list. So how do I marry a life of intentionality with a life with small children? 

I'm not quite sure, besides to hold my list and goals with an open hand to the Lord. And to keep my main goal to live a life not to be served, but to serve. And in my life, serving my husband and my kids comes first, and then everybody and everything else.

SO, I won't be setting goals, but I have chosen Matthew 20:28 to be my life's verse for 2017, with Jesus as my example. And, can I tell you, I have peace that it is enough? That I am enough? And that this is the most worth-while goal I have ever had? And that my hands are full, but in the best way? And that, by God's grace, I've necessarily had to drop a lot of things, but just as securely as my babies are in my hands, I know I am even more securely in His? I am fully carried, and fully served, and fully loved.

His scarred hands are full to the brim, but never too full for me, or for you, for that matter. And I will drop everything to show that to my kids, to my people, and to you too, dear reader. 

 

 

 

 

I'm Just a Little Salty

"How the heck am I supposed to use this stuff?" Two weeks postpartum, I had an unreal need to feel clean, scrubbed raw of all the bodily fluids that I had encountered in the recent past. So I stepped in the shower. My friend had thoughtfully packed a bath scrub with the meal she hand made and brought to nourish us in the hazy first newborn days. Everything about it seemed luxurious. It was proudly labeled "Made Right Here" from Whole Foods, with a light rose vanilla scent, and it felt oh so soft when I touched it lightly with the tip of my finger. I texted her sheepishly for instructions. "Do I pour it all in the bath tub or just rub it in all the crusty parts?" She replied graciously, instructing me just to rub it in where ever the Spirit led.

Well the Spirit led to my hands and feet, the driest, cracked parts of my epidermis. My logic was that I would just scrub off the old skin and make way for the new. Another friend had made a sugar scrub the year before, so I confidently set off to scrub in the same fashion.

As soon as it hit my hands I realized my mistake.

This was not sugar. Sugar doesn't sting when you apply it to open wounds.

But salt does. 

It was a salt scrub. 

Ouch. 

My cracked knuckles, open from washing my hands after God knows how many diapers I'd changed, screamed bloody murder in protest. My hands were softer, sure, but it wasn't the route I would've chosen.

"Really?" I asked God. I just wanted one freaking minute of luxury and even this was taken away from me. I had a serious attitude. I admit I've been having some second time mom entitlement issues.

Lately I've been asking "Really?" a lot from God. I want his sanctification. I want his humbling. I want the oatmeal heart. I just want to be the one to tell him how to do it. I want the sugar, not the salt. I've never craved salt, but I could probably eat a killer brownie every day for a week without being phased.

But Jesus didn't tell us to be the sugar of the earth, now did he? Matthew 5:13: "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot." 

Isn't salt a bad thing? The things that stings our wounds? The thing that makes our wedding rings tight for a week after we eat the Chikfila waffle fries? Why else would Wheat Thins ever think it was actually a good idea to sell a low sodium kind? Don't we eat the saltines when we are sick, when we can't stomach anything else in all the world?

I think in Jesus' day, the salt of the earth was a preservation technique, something that helped sustain and nourish people. It kept food good without the help of modern refrigeration. Our bodies actually need a level of sodium in order to survive. Salt can be quite a beautiful thing, but sometimes, it hurts.

This two under two mom thing, you guys. It is salty sanctification. It is tired upon tired. It is a body that feels, and looks, like a sack of potatoes. Not the roasted pretty red rosemary kind. The gnarly, roots everywhere 10 lbs that won't go away bag of russets. It's God calling you to face down a toddler throwing around all the things you just picked up when company is coming over. It is a colicky baby screaming all day unless you pick him up. Right when you pick him up, the toddler throws a fit. One always crying it seems like. It is being outnumbered, overtaken by the monsters that you yourself created. What's weirder. You love those little monsters, so much that you are racked with crazy guilt anytime you think a selfish thought about them. And I question all the time if I'm being too harsh or disciplining correctly so my two year old doesn't grow up to be an actual monster. And then it is God asking you to give more of yourself, to remember to ask your husband how his day was, to let him sleep more for his final the next day even though you are dying just for a few more minutes of shut-eye. It is wondering, how am I ever going to have room for anything, or anyone, else again?

Some days, I feel rubbed raw and then God adds some salt.

But I know what He is doing. He is making me knew, sloffing off the old skin that I don't need anymore. In fact, it would be toxic to keep it. He is adding salt to preserve me for His glory. He is nourishing me. Because God has an upside down way of doing things, he has given me some salty days, so that I can have a new body, a new heart, that showcases him, nourishes others, and points them back to Christ. If I lost my salt, I wouldn't be much of a testimony to him. If my life was all sugar, who could trust Christ with their trials by looking at my life? Who could honestly say their life was better in their brokenness with Christ than without? My life is abundantly more now that I am abundantly less and Christ is everything. And motherhood is the tool He is using to do that. Two beautiful babies who need me all the time. And gosh, I've never been more grateful for anything in my entire life, the salty parts and all. 

My heart's taste buds have changed. I'm craving the salt.

One phrase from 1 Peter sticks with me. "By his wounds, we are healed." You see, this seems all like white girl mama problems. Maybe they are. But laying down my life everyday for these two is the hardest thing I've ever done. And I'm extremely humbled knowing I am saved by Jesus, who willingly endured huge wounds so we could be saved. Not only that, so that we could be changed, and reflect that selflessness of our Savior. And if God uses salty, selfish, sanctifying days to do that to my heart, then so be it.

Pour it and rub it in.

Make my heart new and massage down into my hands and feet, so I can bravely love these littles on the daily. Help me shed my hard, selfish exterior for a courageous willingness, and a softness, to go wherever it is you want to take me. I'm laying my knees and heart gently down on the hardwood, giving myself over to all the laughs, screams, diapers, toys, day old milk cups, and dog bones. Salt of the earth begins for me right here.

 

 

Two Weeks Postpartum

A few days ago, my toddler hit my infant in the head with a toy he received as a big brother present from a very generous friend. When people ask me, "How is he adjusting?" and then me wondering if they really want to know or if this story would make them feel too uncomfortable.

Today, my hair is flipping in on one side and out on the other. 

This morning, my two week old spit up down the front of my newly showered self, on the one article of non maternity clothing that is starting to fit my unreal new size of milk boobs. 

This week, I've snuggled with both my boys on the couch and realized I had everything I really need in my life.

The first few weeks postpartum are the highest of highs and lowest of lows. My best friend says she remembers nothing of the first year of her second born. She describes it as a haze. A writer friend has been keeping me accountable to taking notes the past few weeks because God is doing crazy oatmeal things in my heart. Too many to let go. My babies could wake at any moment so without delay, here are some of those moments:

My sweet husband telling me he is so proud of me, over and over again.

My closest girlfriends curled up on the hospital bed with me, oohing and ahhing over Baby Matthias.

My eldest son, Titus, meeting his baby brother for the first time. He was more interested in the graham crackers the nurses had brought me to revive me post two hour labor. I didn't eat them, because my life seems to be inundated by them. Not even in the hospital can I escape their crumbs. True to form, Titus scooted away from his brother and toward his beloved crackers. I don't despair. If I was one, that would probably be my choice too.

Apologizing to my mom, a lot. My mom came for the first week, which is always the hardest week and despite all my efforts, my tongue often got the best of me. I so wanted her to know how much I appreciated her, but sleep deprivation is an ugly shadow over my struggle for a James-esc tamed tongue. Postpartum sanctification right here. In trying to give her a break, I told her to go grab a shower. I would be fine, I promise. I got this mom thing. Titus tripped over my foot and busted his lip open. Blood. Lots of blood. While I was changing Matthias. Poop, lots of poop. While my shirt was half off. Milk. Lots of milk. Mom rushed down, towel still on her head. Bless her nurse soul, she got Titus a wash cloth with an ice cube. She wrapped a rubber band around it and called it his "little man." I snapped at her, telling her I knew he wouldn't suck on that, he never sucks on ice or popsicles or whatever frozen thing we have, and I know my son better than she knows my son, and all the terrible stupid things that rolled off my bodily fluid soaked self. Wouldn't you know it? He took it right away and sucked on it FOR AN ENTIRE SESAME STREET EPISODE. Darn it. So many sorries mom.

My mom calling the movement in Matthias' seat "the vibrator," calling the milk catcher my "apparatus," and stating she "fricasseed" her soup every time she put it in the microwave.

Writing a lot of thank you notes and letters. Postpartum always humbles me to the point of saying the things I should've said a long time ago. A lot of apology notes. A lot of sympathy cards. And a whole lot of thank yous. I seem to fit in what I've been trying say all my life into the first few months of post baby motivation.

Stepping on the scale for the first time in months, wondering why the heck I thought that was a good idea. 

Praying. A lot. For everyone I know. Thanking God over and over again for my baby.

Finding milk sippy cup after milk sippy cup that we neglected to put back in the fridge. Wondering how much organic whole milk money we poured down the drain. Wondering how long I will be this absentminded.

Leaving my gate open and letting my aggressive dog out, not noticing until he was at the mail lady's heels. Feeling the serious consequences, and heavy heartedness, of my absentmindedness. Wondering if it is time we let Champ go to someone who can care for him better than we can.

Changing Matthias and hearing the quick tearing of the beautiful journalling Bible my parents gave me for Christmas get torn up. Turning to see my toddler ripping out page after page of 1 Peter and Revelation, two books close to my heart over the past year, filled with notes after notes. Weeping, fighting for the truth that those words are already where they need to be, in my head and in my heart.

Guilt, so much guilt, over babies lost when my Matthias, "gift of God," is right here in my arms. 

My son Titus, outside, playing in the rocks and dirt like everything is the same after these two weeks of nothing being the same.

My son Titus kissing my foot after he dropped his tray on it, displaying perhaps one of the first signs of empathy I've ever seen in him.

Changing the words to "You are my sunshine" and "Sleep now, Baby Boy," two lullabies I modified for Titus, and now have modified again for Matthias. 

Sobbing in the corner of my dining room after my toddler bit me, while I was explaining to him that I put him in time out for biting. Calling Tim to come take him to bed. Realizing parenting under this extreme exhaustion requires Gods grace, upon grace, upon grace. 

Being so scared I couldn't do it on my own, only to realize when my husband pulled in from work that I did.

There is more, so much more, but I hear my toddler awaking. I love and hate postpartum days. I need to go through them to see my Savior fully right now, in all my weakness, He is strong, gracious, and good. He gives good gifts. He gave me my sons, this body and heart to be their mama, and the village to keep the mama sane (and fed) in the process. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come As You Are

Welcome to our mess.

To the Unpinterest party. 

To my  paper plates and nonvaccumed surfaces self.

To our, yes my kid is watching more Sesame Street kind of day.

To the yes my dog just ran around the neighborhood kind of feeling. 

To it is nine o'clock and I still have a towel head, but I'm gonna snap chat you anyway.

Welcome to the exposed, found out, un-put-together person that I am, that you are.

We can meet in this place. We can reach one another. We can even put each other's dirty underwear in the washer.

I want to really see you. All of you. And I want you, although I'm terrified, to really see me. Really. 

 

Last night, the gals from my house church met at my house. At one point during the day, I got a text. "I'm really stressed about this Bible Study. I only got half way through the week and don't have time to finish before tonight." 

Oh, I know that feeling. Of behind. Of upcoming judgment. Of being exposed. 

Immediately I texted back, "COME! DON'T STRESS! We are going to celebrate the time God did give you!"

After she arrived, immediately another friend said, "ME TOO!" And I saw, before my eyes, the beauty of the "me too" life, the "me too" kind of healing we can give one another. When we step over the barrier of who we are supposed to be and show people instead who we are. When we stop trying to be God and start allowing others to see His grace upon grace in our life.

 

This morning, I hosted a freezer meal swap. One of those crazy adventures where we all cook a billion of the same thing, freeze it, and trade so none of us have to cook for two weeks. Unless you are insane and you actually space them out and save them. I'm just not that kind of martyr. 

One friend, who struggles with some health issues, came in with bags half assembled and clearly distraught. "Help!" she asked, and help we did. Right in my kitchen, we put them all together. What would've taken one person with chronic pain and one largely pregnant person an hour, instead took us twenty minutes to do together. I'm so incredibly proud of her for coming. I'm more indebted to her, not for her meals, but because she let me see her unassembled. She came anyway.

The truth is, I was eager to help. Because I was helped. My spaghetti sauce and noodles was entirely made with another house church sister who wasn't even participating in the swap! She just stopped by to bring me coffee one day, and when I started cooking, she pulled out the cutting board and began chopping.

 

Yesterday, my friend and I were supposed to meet at a coffee shop to get some famous "Luke's coffee" to celebrate the Gilmore Girls Netflix series. We were going to brave the morning with our toddlers for the momentous occasion. When we realized the line was two blocks long, we quickly changed plans. "I want to see you, so I'm coming over with Starbucks." Her reply, "I'm putting in some muffins." So I came into her work from home, toddler explosion home, and she had the grace to let me in after almost no warning that we were coming. And we had the best morning, just being together, in the middle of the mess that I knew all too well, because I had just left it at my own place. We sipped coffee and let our toddlers throw muffin crumbs. And we saw each other. 

 

We are all scared to death of being seen, but desperately want to be at the same time. We all want to hear "me too." So many authors have been teaching me the concepts, but this past week I've realized I've been testing them in my real life. And after the testing, I'm happy to announce, I'm better than alive. I'm seen. And I think I'm starting to see people too.

Sometimes we have to be brave and let down our guard first. Sometimes we have to test the waters first by sending that text that says, "I'm stressed" or saying "help!" And sometimes we have to say, "I'm coming over." Sometimes we have to be the ones to start chopping onions or throw a load of laundry into the washer when our friends can't bring themselves to ask. And sometimes, we have to sit, sip coffee, and chat, to recognize in complete peace that finding community in the chaos is more life giving than trying to calm the chaos itself. 

 

Come as you are. Christ sees you and loves you, yes, exactly as you are. Really, He does. And we can show each other this, prove it to one another by just. coming. over. My door (heart) is open to you. You can see me. I hope you allow me the privilege of seeing you too. 

 

*For some helpful reading on this, I recommend Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, Uninvited by Lysa Terkheurst, Wild and Free by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan, and Rising Strong or Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. 

 

 

 

 

Baby Gap Apologies

Shortly after Titus was born, I got an email invitation to a baby shower that I couldn't attend. It was for an old manager I had working my four month stint in retail. It was a short lived job, as I spent more money  on pretty clothes than to save it for real life big girl needs, like food and grad school and all that jazz. 

When I received the invitation, the guilt washed over me again. Shortly after I had begun working there, I cut my hair short. That manager asked me if I had donated my hair to Locks of Love. I had not. I said I did. I lied.

I justified that lie in all kinds of ways in my head. I had, on previous occasions donated. I wanted to be a good testimony of Christ to her, and that seemed like the right answer to do that. I was so ashamed because the thought hadn't even crossed my mind to donate this time. And then I was double ashamed because I lied and told her I had. After I quit, I avoided the store at all cost. I didn't want to be reminded of my guilt. 

Fast forward five years. To a new heart. An oatmeal heart, softened to God's molding. God had shown me that I could do hard things for his glory, that I could give up my body and give up my sleep and give up my pride to take care of another human being. And how serving my son in those hard ways introduced me to all the ways Jesus had sacrificed himself for me, even unto death.

Could I not sacrifice this one person's opinion of me, to tell her the truth after all these years, to tell her that I lied, to explain that God showed me my need of him? Could I not share with her what motherhood had taught me about God's love for me, despite my sin and ugliness? Who knows, maybe my story would introduce her to her own need of a Savior? Wasn't her salvation worth a few minutes of my own emotional discomfort?

So I wrote her a letter. I wrote her the truth. I bought her son an outfit from the BABY GAP. Yeah, I was still kinda trying to get her to like me, even in the projected vision of my confession. The name brand baby clothes would make her forgive me, right? Would win her to Christ? Would make her see His beauty instead of my mess? I put the gift and the letter together and planned to deliver each in person.

I walked into the store with my stroller, so I could grip something solid with my sweaty palms. She wasn't there. When I asked about her, they told me she quit. I don't even know her last name. I have no way of contacting her. I left that place so confused. God, why did you not allow this weight off my heart? Why did you not allow me to confess my guilt to her? What is the reason for this whole charade? And what do I do with this overpriced onesie?

I reviewed the story of David this past week. He was a man after God's own heart, yet he sinned so grievously. David wrote Psalm 51 right after he messed up really bad. He committed adultery, got Bathsheba pregnant and sent her hubby off to be killed on the front lines. He felt the weight of his sin, grieved, and repented. That is when he wrote this...

Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit...For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
— Psalm 51, Excerpts

You see, I don't think God cares so much about my sacrifices, about my pride, about my body, about laying down others opinion of me, even. I think God cares that my heart is willing.

There is but one sacrifice that really mattered. His name was Jesus. And he was willing, enough to die. And for my good, sometimes God calls me to do hard things, to make me more like Christ, to clean out my heart. 

Recently, two close friends in my house church went through a strange experience with foster care. In both cases, they accepted long term placements with multiple siblings. It uprooted their lives in every way. It was messy. It was hard. Getting out the door was a huge challenge. Already tired mamas hit points of exhaustion, mental and physical, that they never knew they could hit. They had to ask for help, lots of it. They had to cry out to God, "I can't do this. But I'm willing. Lord do this thing that I can't do."

And then, just like that, social workers appeared within a few days or weeks to pick up these kids they were prepared to take into their homes for 6 months to a year. For one reason or another, family members stepped up to take guardianship of those kids. 

One more story comes to mind. When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, who he waited so long to come onto the scene. He obeys the Lord, and just in time, God provides another way. 

All these stories have something in common. Sinful hearts, changed and cleaned by God, called to do hard things, called to have willing spirits. Like David's story, God is changing us, not because we are perfect, but because we are willing. Because we lay our hearts before the Lord and say, "God clean up this place, no matter the cost."

In light of all the other stories, the foster care, Abraham's only son, David's grave sins, Jesus himself, my "white lie" seems a pretty inconsequential comparison. Yet, my heart was really broken. It took me five years and childbirth to be willing enough to walk back into that store. The closer you walk with the Lord, the more you realize his holiness and perfection, the more you realize your unholiness, your imperfection. He shows us our sin, while simultaneously showing us the beauty that we don't have to live there anymore, and we don't even have to look there anymore. Instead, we get to look at Jesus. 

When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see Him there, who made an end to all my sin. Because a sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free. For God the just is satisfied, to look on Him and pardon me.
— Before the Throne of God Above, Charitie Bancroft

Instead of returning the onesie from Baby Gap, I kept it and let Titus wear it. It said something like, "I love Mommy." or "Mommy's little Dude." It was a reminder to me for the next three months that God had changed my heart.

Praise God, I'm not the same as I used to be. 

I can't wait to pull the onesie out again for Matthias. Who knows what God will be teaching me at that point? But whatever it is, I'm willing, Lord. 

The End of the Transaction (Living Loved)

I feel the change. 

It is slow, which is good, because if it happened all at once we might think we were failing all the things, right Mamas?

I gave up on cloth diapers first. We did them for a year and a half without it being a big deal. Then it was all too hard. So one week I gave myself a break. Then I just stopped.

Then I stopped doing so much laundry. I bought three more laundry baskets. We have five now, even though only three people live here. Now, I figure, I can fold out of one and into another and organize the chaos if I haven't done laundry in a week. It changed my life when I realized I could fold and put away at separate times. I know, shocking.

Then I gave up grocery shopping because hello? Meijer Curbside. 

Then I gave up Meijer Curbside because hello? Blue Apron.

Then I started asking for help, like last week. One gal pal came and helped me cook for house church. Someone else came over and cleaned my bathrooms. Seriously. She cleaned my bathrooms and they didn't even need cleaned all that bad but she did it because she knew it would make my day. I asked my MIL to go shopping to find Tim some new work pants because I just can't stomach a trip to Kohl's right now.

These requests would have humiliated me two years ago, but now I realize, we so desperately need one another. And sometimes I have to be the one to ask first so that someone else feels free to ask me later. 

In our house church, we discussed this aspect of community on Friday night. Giving and receiving. One brother said, "I would rather not ask for help because I don't want to feel like I owe someone. And so I would rather not enter into that transaction in the first place." I admitted, "I try to spread out my requests so that I'm not a burden on someone. I think, Who hasn't watched Titus in a while? when I schedule my doctor appointments, because I don't want to take advantage of anyone's kindness to us."

Then my best friend, who has loved me so well, looked at me and said, "If you asked, maybe Titus would be able to sit on someone else's lap for awhile. Maybe he would let someone else love him." Ouch. The truth really convicted me. Titus doesn't spend time with anyone else enough to have that kind of relationship with them. 

I don't let other people really love me, or maybe I'm incapable of accepting that kind of love, which doesn't have a score card. I'm inadvertently teaching my son that if anyone really got to know us, they wouldn't like us anymore. That we are too much. That other people helping is a transaction to be repaid, rather than a grace that can never be. I'm teaching him that no one could truly love him that way.

Because maybe I don't believe anybody could ever really love me that way. 

The truth? Jesus loves me that way. I can never pay him back for what he did for me. And he doesn't expect me to. 

BOOM. And the second I accept that is the second I can let other people love me that way too, without a score card and without balance. And I can help and love others with that freedom and joy too. 

So what, pray tell, have I been doing in light of all this giving up? A whole lot more that matters.

Like.  Building blocks and squeezing play doh with Titus. 

Crawling up in my chair and reading God's Word, just to be with Him!

Volunteering to watch my friends kiddos. 

Working on a new project for Dayton Women in the Word- it's a secret for now but will be revealed next week at our gathering!

Putting pink lipstick on my lips.

Writing. 

Reading. (Latest- Ursula Under and None Like HIm). 

Taking TIm lunch at work.

Watching Chef's Table on Netflix. (Have you seen it? Seriously you foodies. Do it.) 

Big Finish: Resting fully that God's opinion of me does not depend on how hard I hustle. Not one bit. In as much as Titus' life gave me an oatmeal heart, Matthias' life is already giving me a hushed heart, a heart capable of receiving love and giving it in return. The kind that sits in the presence of our Lord and receives all He is offering when He says, "It is finished." He said the score is over. "I've evened it up. We're good. Sit down and let me love you. Come, crawl on my lap and get to know me." 

I've been living like I'm loved. 

That same friend? Who told me to let her love us? She has four kids, and she used paper plates while her husband was out of town last week. I cheered and clapped for her when she told me. I will have to stow away that trick, too. I get the feeling that moms who understand that Jesus evened up the score aren't trying to catch up by doing dishes for hours every day. 

When we really receive grace, and love, we can give it to ourselves, and we can give it to others. And our kids can have the benefit of that grace, or they can watch us try to catch up with all the ways we think we have to.

For my boys, today, I choose to accept it and give it away.

 

 

40 Weeks

On Saturday evening, my friend and I stood frozen at my front door, staring out, considering. The rain outside was torrential, enough to soak us on the run from the door to the car. We decided that we would try to make it to Cincinnatiand at any point we needed to pull over or turn around we could. Mom, if you are reading this, you can skip the next paragraph.

The drive was unnerving. We couldn't see in front of us most of the trip with the windshield wipers on the highest setting. We watched lighting flash and the hazard lights blink warning from every car in sight. We chatted in tranquil tones, as if our demeanor would soothe the mood outside. But the calm pretense gave way to praying out loud halfway down the highway. The radar was red behind us and before us. No means of escape backwards or forwards.

An hour and fifteen minutes later, our car pulled into Fountain Square parking garage. We ate fish tacos and drank coffee with the gal pal we were visiting, making relieved jokes about the Flood of 2016. We genuinely thanked God we were alive and well. 

I've been going through the book Seamless, which provides an overview of the Bible. I learned that 40 is a number signifying testing often throughout the Bible. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness 40 years, Jesus was tested 40 days, etc. I'm seeing a slight connection to my own life. Here is where my newly poisoned Sesame Street brain takes over. This pregnancy is brought to you by the number 40! 40 weeks of testing, 40 weeks of learning and leaning, 40 weeks of growth and sacrifice, 40 weeks of wonder and awe.

At last week's doctor's appointment, I was showing some signs of pre-term labor, which is confusing as Titus was 10 days overdue. At 33 weeks, I thought I had at least 7 more weeks to go, maybe even 8! They upped my appointments to weekly, told me to drink a lot of water, 10 cups a day to be exact, and to try and take it easy. I laughed a little. Yeah right. And then I panicked. Texted my friends. I was overwhelmed. The weekend ahead was so jam packed with plans of physical service. Hosting house church. Cleaning up our neighborhood. Watching a friend's kids. Chasing toddlers at church. Not to mention the piles of laundry, empty fridge, and weeds upon weeds in my front yard. 

In the book of Joshua, the Israelites set up all kinds of stone monuments to remember who God is and what He has done so that they wouldn't forget Him. In that moment, in the doctor's office, I forgot who God is. I forgot what He has done. As I was forcing myself to lay down at home, I read a chapter in None Like Him about God being eternal, outside of time. Some of the verses to meditate upon were Psalm 90:12 "So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" and Matthew 6:34, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

I know so many women who are in scary places, waiting for positive pregnancy tests, grieving losses through miscarriage, stepping bravely through difficult pregnancies, thanking God for each day of life within them. Each day is so precious with Matthias within me. Each day is a gift, each week a sigh of relief that he is one week bigger, one week stronger. And hopefully, we will make it to the gift of 40 weeks.

Conviction. Prayer. And change. When I plopped jelly fish style out of bed that day, I *mostly* stopped worrying about what all I had to do. I remembered how God had brought me through every single day of the past 33 weeks. I tried to be present, listen to my body, and trust that God would somehow make it happen, through me or through someone else. And as I look back on this weekend, I can say, God has done it. He allowed me to serve in ways that were gentle on my body, provided the help I needed to do so, and gave me the wisdom to say "enough" when I needed to rest. A sister of mine who struggles with chronic pain once told me, "Even if I'm in bed all day, and all I can do is worship God, that is the best use of this body and my time in that exact moment." She melted me. What a beautiful testimony. What powerful work God is doing through her to minister to me. 

Like the storm, I felt like God was saying try and trust. At each mile marker this weekend, I prayed and gave thanks. Because God doesn't need me, and yet He graciously uses me anyway. I wasn't moving this weekend, but God through me. This vehicle carrying me and my son is weary, and there always seem to be storms beating against us, but God never tires and He doesn't blink at the lightning or thunder.

As I carry Matthias, as I carry Titus, as I carry my church's toddlers, as I carry branches, as I carry laundry, I know He carries me. This blog post is my rock alter to remember and to worship.

Are you in a testing period of your life? Are you physically or mentally in bed? Worship Him. Whatever He calls you to, don't worry about the hairy details. Try and trust. Allow him to carry you. Then build an alter. Share your story.