Whether it’s 70 years or just one…

This past week I’ve found myself pouring over the book of Jeremiah. I know it’s an odd book from the Bible to “pour over”. I’ll explain.

Have you ever written out this verse in a graduation card or given it to a friend going through a hard time:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Did you ever consider who God was talking to when Jeremiah wrote these words?

(I’m going to tell you no matter how you answered that questions…).

Way back in 605 B.C. God allowed Nebuchadnezzar (remember him from the book of Daniel?) to attack Jerusalem and take many Jews (including Daniel & his friends) to the foreign land of Babylon.

Even though I had a rough 2012, it greatly pales in comparison to what was going on back in 605 B.C. First of all, I stayed in my house. No one forced me to move to Mexico. Even though I felt captive by motherhood, there were glimpses of freedom. I have the hope of children growing and eventually become independent adults (bittersweet truth).

But the Jews lived in a strange place for eight years before they received these words from God via Jeremiah in chapter 29. What was God’s message?

  • “Build houses”
  • “Settle down”
  • “Plant gardens”
  • “Marry”
  • “Have sons & daughters”
  • “Find wives for your sons” (vs 5& 6).

Basically, make a new life in this place. He encouraged them to “seek the peace and prosperity fo the city to which I have carried you into exile.

Then the kicker…

“When the SEVENTY YEARS are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.” (vs 10).

(And THEN follows the famous “for I know the plans I have for you…” verse)

Did you catch how long they would be held captive?

70 years.

This may have come as quite a blow. In those eight years they may have held the hope that “Any day we may get to go back to Jerusalem”. Then they hear the news that captivity is going to last a wee bit longer.

Imagine you are one of the older Jews taken to Babylon. Your age + 70 years in captivity = never seeing the promised land again.

BUT God did promise restoration.

Even if they had to wait 70 years rescue was going to happen. God would make things right again. 

Many years later, Jeremiah while imprisoned in Jerusalem wrote more words of encouragement from God:

“Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it (Jerusalem); I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security.  I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before.” (Jer 33:6-7)

No matter how long they had to wait, God was going to bring healing. He would rebuild Jerusalem. They just needed to stay connected to Him in the time of waiting.

“‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you’, declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back from captivity.'” (Jer 29:13-14a)

I don’t know if you feel like you are in a season of captivity. Maybe life isn’t going the way you had hoped. Perhaps your husband is out of work. Or you are living in an unfamiliar town. Or maybe a loved one was just diagnosed with a sickness.

You are living in unfamiliar “land”. You long for the comforts of home. 

In my case, last year, I waited to feel like myself again. My mind was trapped in negative thoughts. Held captive.

But just like He promised the Jews, He has brought me out of that place. I am amazed out His provision to deliver me.

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The other day at lunch with the boys I turned on my favorite “Les Miserables” Pandora station. I just couldn’t sit and listen. So I began to show off my middle school ballet moves. Then, the boys fought over who would get to dance with me next (best kind of fight). As each song came on they listened with intense attention as I shared the amazing story of redemption of Jean Valjean. It was glorious.

“Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither men nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the LORD.” (Jeremiah 33:10b-11).

Hold on dear friend. He promised to restore the Jews. If you seek Him, you will find Him. Seek Him with all your heart. He will bring the sounds of joy back in your home. He will bring thankfulness back to your voice. You will one day dance in the streets of the promised land.

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How a Change in Tense Changes Choices

Y’all there are so many thoughts spinning in my head and I’m having the hardest time getting them to come out “perfectly”. So I’m throwing off perfection and gonna do the next right thing…which is tell you what God is telling me.

Last New Years when bloggers wrote about their “one word” for 2012 I scoffed and sarcastically claimed “survival” as my word. At a time when everyone made fun plans for the year and talked about their trips and projects and God-dreams, I knew my year held one major life-altering event…a baby.

Given my wuh-wuh, Debbie-downer state of being last New Year’s Eve, I decided to celebrate for reals this year. There would be laughter and smiles and excitement. Since my parents were in Dallas for the holidays (thank you Lord) Bruce & I headed out of the house for a fun night on the town…downtown, in fact.

NewyearseveDuring uninterrupted dinner conversation I shared my excitement about saying “adios” to 2012 and welcoming a new year. My optimistic husband’s glass is not only half-full, it’s overflowing. So he responded with, “What was wrong with 2012? I thought we had a wonderful year. We had Knox & made so many great memories.”

There wasn’t much of a pause before I made sure to burst his happy bubble. “Are you kidding me? This year landed me in therapy? Our house was broken into. I spent 2 weeks on crutches with a newborn. My grandmother died. It was NOT my favorite year…”

Crickets.

Remembering this was my night of laughter and smiles and excitement, I attempted to recover from my rant with, “But I’m really excited for 2013. Some people even pick a word for their year, instead of making lots of resolutions they won’t keep. In fact, a book just released called, “My One Word”. I went to their website, read the info, and decided on a word. What word would you pick?

I don’t know why I ask these questions of my husband. He needs time to process the answers to questions like, “What kind of adults do you want our sons to become?” and “If you could live in any country where would you live?” Yet I still ask him and get the same answer, “I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.”

It may seem silly to think a word can change the coarse of a year. But in the two weeks since I’ve picked my word, the word has come to my mind at least 10x a day. My focus on it actually affected making time to write this post.

So, what’s my word? (drumroll please…)

“Present”.

Not the noun, but the verb. As in ,”to be present”.

But also like the tense, not living in the past or over-planning for the future…but focusing on the present time.

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Here are some of the scenarios which prompted me to pick this word:

  • When Watts wants my attention and says “Mommy” four times before I look up from my phone. Then when I do respond, it’s with an annoyed, “What?”.
  • When I’ve been given the opportunity to write for 3 hours and I’ve spent about 30 minutes writing and 2 1/2 hours on social media.
  • When my brain is thinking about all the things I want to write about and I don’t hear Price telling me about his newest invention idea.
  • When I take the effort to wake up early to spend time with God but end up spending more time thinking about what Scripture I could tweet.

I desire for this to be a year in which I attempt to be fully present.  With my family. With my friends. With God…

“Breaks in the day used to be small windows of replenishment for body & soul-like driving in a car, going for a walk, having lunch with a friend-are now filled with noise, interruption and multitasking…No wonder we feel disconnected from God; we are rarely able to give him our full attention in solitude and silence.

-Ruth Haley Barton

Monks left the “world” to pursue His presence. My goal is to be in the world but not of it. To make space in this place to see Him. To choose His ways over mine. To stop checking what everyone else is doing and pay attention to what He is doing in my moments.

I love to check Twitter and Facebook and to escape the crazy waves of my life. But I was made for my life. I want to live it. So I’m going to make the hard choices to be present in my life.

My prayer,

O God, give me moments when I am fully present to you and to others in love.  Moments when I am connected with what is purest and most authentic within me and able to respond to your presence in that place.” (Ruth Haley Barton)

Did you pick a word for the year? I’d love to hear what you chose (if you are reading from your email, click here to share).

The Book I Needed a Year Ago {“Desperate” by Sarah Mae & Sally Clarkson}

When enough people tell you to read a book, you start to listen. Several bloggers received advance copies of Sally Clarkson & Sarah Mae’s latest collaboration, “Desperate”. These blogger friends kept saying, “Have you read Sarah & Sally’s new book?”, “I think you really should read their book.”, “Make sure to get a free copy of “Desperate” when you are at Allume.”

The positive peer pressure won me over.  A free copy of “Desperate” if I wrote a book review blog post? Sounded like a win-win situation.

During a rare quiet moment in my hotel room in Pennsylvania I read these words from Sarah Mae:

“Dear Sally, I’ve taken personality tests that say I’m an off-the-chart extrovert, but I don’t feel extroverted anymore.  I just want to be alone more and more these days.”

And later in the chapter she wrote,

“What happened to my resolve, my strong ideals and convictions? I still loved my children completely and wanted the best for them, but something was dying inside me.  I didn’t feel like the vibrant woman I used to be; I felt dull.”

Weren’t these my feelings this past year?

Back in Pennsylvania, a fortuitous elevator ride allowed me to look Sarah Mae in the eyes and say, “Thank you for writing this book. Thank you more than you will ever really understand. This is the season I am coming out of and moms need your words. Thank you.”

If you are a mom of little ones this book is for you. The subtitle, “Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe”, perfectly describes the book’s purpose.

Life with young children can feel like a game of Survivor. Drowning in a sea of constant needs and responsibilities and dirty diapers. Like the comedian Jim Gaffigan said, “Do you know what it’s like to have a 4th child? You’re drowning and someone hands you a baby.”

What makes this book different from anyone I’ve ever read is the combination of a younger and older mom. A living out of the Titus 2 command, for older moms to teach younger moms how love their husbands and children.

Sarah’s memory is still fresh with the exhaustion and frustration of motherhood. She wrote my thoughts, the honest and struggling ones. Then Sally answered Sarah’s questions with understanding and wisdom. 

“Dear Sally, My house is a mess and I’m so overwhelmed I just wish I had someone to help me clean it. I clean one room, and ten minutes later it’s wrecked again…”

the reply:

“Dear Sarah, …Housework has never been my strength, and dirty dishes in the sink will always make my heart drop.  Yet I focused more on the atmosphere of my home, the rhythms of keeping it going, and in time my capacity to work became stronger and I didn’t feel quite so overwhelmed…”

Sarah’s words make you feel understood. Sally’s words give you hope & direction. 

This book did not give more “to-do’s”, but permission to be proactive. Instead of surrendering to a desperate, miserable mothering existence, Sarah & Sally give you practical ideas on how to enter into a relationship of love & beauty with your children. 

These women echoed the message I hope to communicate on my site. Both directed the reader to seek God’s voice over the voices of others. To live a God-centered life. To serve selflessly, yet not miserably. To enjoy the life you’ve been given.

“God calls each of us to seek Him, to look for His wisdom and to follow where He calls us by faith, and it will be a different story for each family, marriage, and individual mom and dad.” –Sally Clarkson

Words that encouraged me as I’m coming out of my season of lamenting were in the chapter entitled,“When the Dark Invades.” Sally gives a plan that helped her lessen the impact and duration of depression. It’s a little checklist which perfectly targets the areas of my life which were out of “whack” this past year:

  1. Do I need sleep?
  2. Have I been reading my Bible?
  3. Do I feel alone?
  4. Am I watching my health?
  5. How can I get help?
  6. What do I need to invest in the joy factor of my life?

If you are in a parenting “rut” or if you feel desperate, I highly recommend this book.

“God lives in my home, but sometimes I ignore Him and don’t hear the music He is playing just for me.” –Sally Clarkson

If you are looking for a place for community and support while reading “Desperate” you can find various Facebook groups. Also there will be a book discussion group on www.theBetterMom.com starting January 29th. Or gather 5 or 6 of your mom friends and start your own discussion group (check out the giveaways if you order 8 books). Maybe even go on a limb and ask an older mom to read it with y’all and share her wisdom.

 “A happy mom who is secure in herself and at ease in her life is a rare gift that children love and appreciate” –Sally Clarkson

Desperate Book Tour - desperatemoms.com

The Words that Carried Me in 2012

Today ends a year I previously dreaded.

Last New Year’s Eve I worried about my future sleepless nights, caring for 4 young boys, and losing more of my freedom. Little did I know my year would also include a home robbery, colicky newborn, ER visits (crutches for me, concussion for Price), a contract with a literary agent, and some therapy sessions.

And despite the challenging events, I end the year feeling lighter and more joy-filled than I begun. 

The last two weeks I’ve had real help in my home. My parents cared for my children while Bruce and I spent 36 hours away. My mom cooked meals and washed dishes and folded laundry and changed diapers. My dad drove boys to practices and held Knox and bought groceries. With help came freedom to laugh with the boys, crochet a “too small” hat for Knox, watch the amazing “Les Miserables”, fight with snow balls, read books, and …

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, what value do I give a word? For each word I wrote I found an outlet. For each word I read I found comfort. God gave me encouragement from His Word, from time spent with Him & from the writings of others.

Here I’ve gathered my favorite words (if you click on the blue ones the link will take you to more words). The ones I’ve repeated. The ones which transformed my perspective. May they continue to carry me as I boldly step into 2013:

“He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” 2 Corinthians 1:10

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29

“Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.” Deuteronomy 33:12 

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Real mountains make my molehills look absurd

One afternoon last week I sat at the table spoon-feeding Knox. I couldn’t help but keep my eyes locked on him as he flashed a smile between bites. Our home is always full of noise from the brothers…fighting, pretending, running. On this particular day I vaguely remember hearing Watts singing.  Suddenly something smashed against my back, alerting me to pay more attention to my surroundings.

I turned around to witness the following scene:  a naked bottomed boy spinning in circles, his Pull-up held high above his head, belting out the Muppets Movie hit song, “Me Party” (for those unfamiliar…the lyrics are, “I’m having a me party, a party just for one. A me party.” Over and over).

Technically there is no problem with a preschooler singing naked in the comfort of his living room.  Unfortunately, in this case my son’s Pull-up had been full of pee. By “had been”, I mean while swinging the diaper (cuz really that’s what it is) above his head the pee-soaked granules were flung out. Which would explain the substance I felt hitting my back.

I quickly surveyed the damage trying not to freak out. I found granules on my laptop bag, on an Avenger Croc, piles splattered around the floor and even a tiny piece sitting on Knox’s high chair tray. Awesome.

pullupmush

After telling Watts to “never, ever do that again”. I considered how to clean up a mess I had never, ever encountered. An exploding Pull-up? Seriously.

mushcleanup

As I carefully swept each little piece into the dustpan (like cleaning up rice or pasta, this material smeared when pushed), I heard Quade say, “Mom what’s up there?” I looked up to see a huge chunk of Pull-up mush stuck to our wall right next to the lovely Christmas wreath I had hung on the window.

mushonwall

I laughed. Out loud. In the middle of the mess. Because I knew I had the choice to laugh or cry (or yell). Any other day I probably would have yelled. Maybe even thrown down the broom in frustration and run to my bedroom to cry. Not that day. That day I laughed. And I liked it.

Last Thursday night, I stayed up too late listening to an author share stories from his life. I felt an odd sense of freedom when he said, “If you take yourself too seriously, you will be miserable.” He was right.

With the weight & responsibility of rearing four young boys and keeping up with life in Dallas, I’ve taken myself too seriously. It’s not a joyful version of me.

The next morning each time I wanted to respond to a little thing in a big way I repeated in my head, “Don’t take yourself too seriously”.  10 minutes later the same phrase. Then again 20 minutes after that…”Don’t take yourself too seriously”.

That same morning evil walked into a school on the east coast and did the unimaginable. The truly serious happened making my overreactions seem even more ridiculous.

Because when you come up against a legitimate mountain the one you created from a molehill looks ridiculous.  My prayer for you and for me is to take ourselves less seriously because life is serious enough on it’s own. We don’t need to add to the weight with our unrealistic expectations.

In these days leading up to Christmas even though we grieve with those who grieve, may you find joy in your children. I know I’ve hugged mine even tighter. Enjoy the humor of “A Christmas Story”-leg lamps & tongues stuck to flag poles. After kids are safely tucked in bed watch the “mostly clean” humor of Jim Gaffigan’s “Mr. Universe” on Netflix. Or laugh out loud to Buddy the Elf’s childish antics in big, serious New York City. Whatever brings you joy this season…do it.

“Joy is the serious business of heaven” C.S. Lewis

 

Pep Talk for Perfectionists

She called to talk about my son, but I was the one who benefitted. As she spoke of his desire to perform perfectly, I nodded my head knowing how he feels.

Two missed phonograms lead to a meltdown in class.

Haven’t I melted down over feeling like I failed. 

She wanted to make sure he knew God loved him no matter what he does or how well he performs. 

Yes, I know: “God loves me no matter what I do right or wrong”. But knowing and living are two different things. I know His love is unconditional but I feel I have something to prove. 

She goes on with the words which stuck in places needing to be comforted:

“I want him to understand God only expects him to do the best he can do.” (uh huh, yes). “His best may change. Some day he’ll have a demanding job, kids, church responsibilities and he needs to know his best may look different.” (silence on my end of the phone).

Some day his best may look different.

My “some day” is now. Pre-kids my floors rarely held a stray toy; a place for everything and everything in its place. Now I feel like I’m suffocating with stuff. There are more “undoers” in our home than those who can help put things back in order. How many stickers or Legos have I fished out of Knox’s mouth now that he can crawl? 

But I’m doing the best that I can do. My best in this time looks vastly different from my best six years ago with one tiny toddler in our home. When the 4th baby came I had to let go of my ideals of how my home would look or how my children would be entertained because I’m only one person…doing the best she can do. 

So sweet perfectionist friend, as you head into the last two weeks before Christmas breathe deeply and know confidently you are doing the best you can do. That’s all God asks from you.

In doing my best these are the memories I’m making and some verses I’m meditating on…

“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.” Isaiah 41:13

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“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

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“The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” Psalm 29:11

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“Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

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When the zipper is stuck on your grumpy pants

My plan was to get 7 hours of sleep. Uninterrupted. Well, that’s usually my plan. But I don’t remember the last time I closed my eyes at night and slept until my phone alarm went off in the morning (you are thinking, “why even set an alarm?”).

Typically another alarm…a sweet baby cry…breaks my REM sleep. Leaving a blurry brain, dark rings under my eyes, and the zipper stuck on my “grumpy pants”  (no matter how hard I’ve tried to shake ’em off they won’t budge).

Sleep deprivation is a form of torture in some countries. I read once that sleep is necessary to break down proteins that build up in your brain. When you don’t get enough sleep those proteins interrupt the ability of your brain to function normally. For me the proteins make me grumpy. Really. really. grumpy.

On this night I stumbled out of bed once at midnight for a date with baby Knox. Then around 4 a.m. I heard Watts’ cries because of a nightmare. He only needed a kiss & a pat, but those required me getting out of bed…again.

I had just pulled the cold sheets over my weary body and settled into the body-shaped indention of my sleep number bed, when my 5:30 a.m. alarm went off. How can an hour & a half seem like only a few minutes?

Multiple thoughts enter my mind in one quick second: “Do I really need to get up? Maybe I can just sleep for 15 more minutes? What good is 15 more minutes if I’m  already awake? This next hour is the only time I have today without kids needing me, I don’t want to waste it sleeping. If I don’t spend time with God, then I’m going to be even more of a grouch.”

My fingers fumbled to turn off the alarm as my legs carried me out of the bedroom and towards the stairs. Using my phone as a flashlight, I glanced down to see this on the lit screen:

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I’m not even kidding.

As I walked down stairs toward the light of my office, I was looking at this picture of Jesus walking upstairs towards a light. 

The two words at the bottom of the screen confirmed I made the right decision to wake up that morning: “Follow Me.”

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

My morning ritual varies slightly. Often I open the email on my phone and read the portion of scripture our church sends out (called “Read, Listen, Respond”).

On this particular day the passage was John 21. In these verses, Jesus has resurrected. The disciples are fishing when Jesus appears to them on the shore. Near the end of the passage Jesus is having a chat with Peter. Here are His words I read on my phone that morning: 

  • Do you love Me?
  • Feed my sheep.
  • Shepherd my sheep.
  • Feed my sheep (yes a second time)

THEN Jesus says, “Follow Me” (seriously).

I almost fell out of my seat. Two times that morning this same message appeared on my iPhone screen. Two words: follow & Me.

I’m also reading the “She Reads Truth” YouVersion reading plans on my phone. The Scripture for that day was Psalm 118.

“When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;
he brought me into a spacious place.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
I look in triumph on my enemies.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in humans.
 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes…

I was pushed back and about to fall,
but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, his love endures forever.”

The God who calls me to “follow” stays with me, by. my. side. Most human leaders don’t walk by your side as you follow them.

But God is not a “normal” leader. When He asks me to follow He also gives me strength to do so. He protects me. He delivers me (out of my grumpy pants).

Thank goodness He is good & His love endures forever. No matter how long my grumpy pants stay on, His love for me never ends. He is worthy to follow because ultimately He is good.

Finally after two weeks of being “stuck” I’m squeezing out of grumpy pants and claiming:

“THIS is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice & be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

Have you ever been “stuck” in a bad mood? Then you get madder because you can’t stop being in a bad mood? What have you done to break free?

linking up with Emily Freeman’s Tuesdays Unwrapped

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