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Archive for April, 2012

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Genesis 2:18: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.’” (NIV)

In honor of my husband’s birthday, and us just celebrating our 13th anniversary earlier this month, I want to take you on a stroll down memory lane with me today.  Not so much so that you get a glimpse into our lives, but so that it will make you stop and think about your own journeys with your own loved ones.

When we were dating, it was very easy to make our relationship my number one human priority, second only to God in my life.  I would anxiously await the mail every Tuesday because I would get letters or cards from him letting me know that I was being thought of during the week.  The weekends were spent hanging out with my now-husband and his best friend, and we did everything together.  We would rollerblade (not for lack of practice, but I’m not very good), go to the park, and spend time at the beach…building memories to last a lifetime.

It was fun to sit and listen to all their stories, to put in my memory bank all of his “favorites,” and then I loved getting a chance to surprise him days or weeks later with one or two of those things I had learned about him.  I remember one time specifically I went to the mall and had fun buying him stuff “just because.”  I guess I went a little crazy in Bath and Body Works because he started to question whether or not I thought he smelled bad.  He didn’t – I just went wild with their great sale.  Being together was definitely my favorite thing, no matter what we were doing.

Then we got married…and first one, then two, then three kids came.  Work got busier, schedules filled up, and then we added the kids’ schedules to our calendar too…well, I don’t need to remind anyone about how crazy life can get.  And, even though my husband is still the most important person to me besides God, I don’t always do such a great job showing him that.  By the time the kids’ problems are resolved, laundry and other chores are completed, work is finished (or at least manageable until tomorrow), dinner cleaned up – where is there any time to make the one I pledged to love until death do us part feel special?

There are lots of articles out there talking about how there needs to be regular date nights in order to keep the spark alive, but in all honesty, I can’t seem to schedule regular haircuts, let alone find the time or money to schedule elaborate date nights once a week or even once a month.  Our idea of a date night is dropping the kids off at his parents’ house (next door) and running a few errands, alone, together, with the ability to have a conversation uninterrupted.

Even though I completely agree that date nights are important, I don’t think it has to be that elaborate all the time.  Sometimes, depending upon the kids’ ages, taking a walk down the street and leaving old-enough children at home with a walkie-talkie is spontaneous, cheap, and a fun way to reconnect with your spouse.  Or, if the kids are too little, strap them in a stroller and take the walk, pretending it’s just the two of you while your little one(s) eat a snack or read a book.  We love to go hiking, with our oldest kids creating elaborate adventures far enough ahead of us that we have some uninterrupted time to laugh and talk while they are safely within eye sight.  Sometimes, sending our kids to their rooms an hour or so before bedtime to watch a movie so that we can have some alone time laughing during our favorite sitcom is about all we can manage, but that also speaks volumes.  It shows my husband that I am putting him and our relationship before our children.  It doesn’t matter so much what you are doing as the fact that you are purposefully doing something.

I used to worry that I was sending a message to our kids that they weren’t important and only their dad mattered.  But, I’m finding that there is quite a bit of research out there to contradict that false mom guilt.  An excerpt below proves what I’m saying, “Marriage is the foundation upon which your entire family is structured…In addition, your children will greatly benefit from your stronger relationship. Children feel secure when they know that Mom and Dad love each other…Your children need daily proof that their family life is stable and predictable. When you make a commitment to your marriage, your children will feel the difference. No, they won’t suffer from neglect! They’ll blossom when your marriage — and their home life — is thriving.” (“How to Have a Happy Marriage When You’re Busy Parenting”, by Elizabeth Pantley).

It is just as important for my husband to feel like the king of his castle as it is for our children to see their father in that role.  Our kids need to see that I respect and honor their dad.  Part of that respect means carving out specific time just for him, or buying him little treats when we are at the store to let him know that he is being thought of during the day.  There are also times I will go out of my way before arriving home to pick up his favorite cooler flavor from Culvers or a McFlurry from McDonalds “just because.”  Each of these little instances doesn’t take too much money, but leaves a big impression on his heart – letting my man know that I love him just as much as I did when we were dating and hopefully letting him see that my love for him keeps growing the longer we are married.  It also shows in the way I drop everything to help him find his belt or the fact that I make his lunch every day before work, as I have been doing since the day we got married.

When the kids are a little bit older, we will have more time to travel “just the two of us” and probably more time for those regularly planned date nights too.  For now, I pray that my husband feels loved by the specific things I choose to do on a daily and weekly basis to keep our love alive just like we did when we were dating.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t look forward to the yearly or twice yearly getaways that we have even with kids at home, (or at least we will again when we can get our littlest to sleep better), to refuel and reconnect.

Lastly, I pray that I am modeling for the “future wife” in my daughter how important it is to nurture the relationship she has with her husband over every other relationship, second only to God, in her life.  I also pray that my sons are learning how to nurture their “future marriages” someday by watching their dad and I keep each other first priority, second only to God, and with any future children coming in a close third.  That is, after all, what family should be about – making sure each member feels like a valued member – secure and loved and each in his or her own place.

Having said that, were any of you able to walk down memory lane about your own dating and marriage experiences?  Are you remembering any special times from the past that you want to relive with the most important person in your life?  There is no time like the present to start.

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I Corinthians 10:31: “…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

I love doing laundry.  Most people hate this chore, but for some reason I find it very relaxing.  It is even better spring through fall when I can hang it on the line during the day and saving money on electricity.  It also gives me a little extra time to myself since my children seem to scatter when the subject of laundry comes up.  One thing about laundry, though, is it is never done.  There is never a time when the hamper is completely empty and that feeling of satisfaction sinks in.

I also enjoy mowing the lawn.  Not only is it good exercise and gets me outside in the fresh air, but it is a job I can do that stays that way for at least a few days, if not a week, depending on how much rain we get.  I can look outside and feel good about completing a task that stays finished for longer than a few hours.

Isn’t marriage a lot like laundry and mowing the lawn?  Both jobs are time consuming, but only one gives a return immediately while the other never seems to give a lasting return at all.

In order to have a good marriage, a lot of time needs to be invested.  During the dating stage, it is a lot like mowing the lawn.  Both people are appreciative of the little things done for the other, each is putting their best foot forward to impress one another, quirks are thought of as cute, and misunderstandings are forgiven immediately.  The time and effort put in is looked forward too.

Then comes happily ever after.  The wedding is over, the honeymoon is slowly fading from memory, and reality sets in.  Kids come, repairs need to be made which require money that might not be saved yet, and energy weakens.  Now life is more like laundry.  The same amount of effort is still required, but the rewards are not as long lasting.  Maybe each spouse is exhausted from lack of sleep and hectic schedules, maybe grudges are being held over big and small issues, the cute quirks of the past are becoming annoyances, and neither person wants to get up from the couch during their favorite television show to clean up the flood in the bathroom from their child’s version of Titanic.

However, as I said above, I love mowing the lawn and doing laundry.  I loved the dating years where everything was new and exciting, but I also love the sometimes ordinary and mundane aspects of married life as well.  The rewards might not be as apparent as fresh cut grass, but they are still there and sometimes they are more appreciated just for that reason.  There is the shoulder rub followed by a lingering kiss from the man of my dreams as he walks by when I’ve been working for hours or his decision to take time off work so I don’t have to go to the doctor alone.  He will get up during his favorite TV show to stop the remake of the Titanic in our bathroom before its final scene.  There is also the shared laughter at private jokes during dinner while our kids look at us as if we are crazy and sometimes me choosing to let go of my pride to work out a disagreement before it escalates into a full-blown argument.

So which do you like better – mowing the grass or doing laundry?  If you look hard enough, pleasure can be found in both.

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Respect – To hold in esteem or honor; to show regard or consideration for; to refrain from intruding upon or interfering with; to relate or have reference to (Dictionary.com).

I do not usually consider myself to be someone who takes offense easily, but one theme that has been popular in our culture for many years now is the stereotype that men are not worthy of respect.  It is shown in commercials (Who can forget the Fiber One commercial where the man states, “Fiber just makes me sad,” and his wife pulls one over on him by feeding him a “candy bar” that is really a Fiber One bar?).  Sitcoms are not much better, even as far back as Home Improvement, where the husband, Tim, was portrayed as someone who repeatedly made stupid decisions while his wife, Jill, always ended up going to their neighbor, Wilson, for sound advice instead of her husband.  Lastly, don’t forget movies.  What about Forest Gump where he was made fun of his whole life?  At least with that storyline, (but it was released in 1994), at the end of the movie, even though he never demanded it, he earned the respect that he deserved?  I wonder if it had been released in 2010, if it would have a different ending and he would never get the respect he should have?

Having the privilege of being in a personal relationship with God, I choose to obey the Bible to the best of my ability, all of the Bible, as I know that obeying the One who loves me will bring peace even when life can be rough.  Having said that, I want to share a somewhat longer passage today and then explain why I feel led to talk about this particular subject.  I am showing separation of the two parts by using italics when God is speaking directly to us wives, and regular text when he is speaking to husbands.  I was going to talk just about the women’s role in marriage, but realized I cannot really talk about the one without mentioning the other.  That’s the great part about God.  He wants us to see the big picture and that is that each part (husbands and wives) have a distinct role to play if marriage is to be a great relationship between two imperfect people.

Ephesians 5:22-33:  “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body.  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.  However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

When I got married, pledging my life to my husband, I took the promise to respect (and honor) my husband very seriously.  Those were not just words that I said in order to “get the party started,” – I meant every word.  I am a very blessed woman, because my husband makes keeping that promise very easy as he is definitely a man worthy of respect.

However, regardless of our husband’s actions, as wives we are given a very clear blueprint of what God expects of us.  If you look at the above passage, despite the instructions that God gives us, He gives even more instructions of how our husbands are to respond to us.  It’s not an “either-or.”  It’s an “and.”  I am instructed to respect my husband, and he is instructed to love me.  Does that mean, though, that if he doesn’t love me, I am off the hook to respect him?  No…I think God wants us to fulfill our role as wives and then by showing that respect to our husbands, it makes it easier for them to fulfill their roles of us and vice versa.  That is a blanket statement and not all marriages are like that, I understand, but if both partners are truly in their own personal relationship with God, then both partners are going to be striving to obey all of God’s word, not just the fun parts.

Let me give a few examples of what I think God means by respecting our husbands.  It can be shown in the little things like consistently scheduling your fun time with friends, as much as your schedule allows, when your husband is also busy with activities or work so that when he is at home, there are plenty of opportunities for couple time or family time.  It could look like making the choice to make the more complicated favorite meal of your husband, including dessert,  (when your schedule allows) instead of popping a frozen pizza in the oven for the third time this week because it is more convenient.

It also, though, encompasses the bigger, sometimes harder choices.  For instance, it means going to your husband and asking his opinion of a personal choice for you; whether that is quitting your job to stay home full time with the kids, starting your own business or going from part-time to full-time employment.  It could also mean asking your husband’s opinion about an area in your life that you want to improve: whether that is diet and exercise, taking a college course one night a week, or inviting friends over for dinner.  In addition, then, once your husband expresses his opinion and tells you what he would prefer happen, you follow through with a cheerful attitude, accepting that he has your family’s best interest at heart.

Now, I have heard the argument many times that women think implementing this type of exchange in their marriage makes them doormats.  I completely disagree with this statement and the reason I do is because of the non-italicized words in the passage above.  Just because we are respecting our husbands’ decisions, opinions, and trusting that they have the best intentions for our family does not make us doormats.  It makes us a team.

I hope that a lot of consideration was given to the man chosen to marry in the first place.  If he was not considered worthy of respect while in the dating stage, then I pray you did not walk down the aisle with him, contemplating building a life together, and adding children to the mix.  Lastly, I pray that if you are someone who is striving to obey God’s principles, then your husband also is reading and obeying God’s Word too.

Therefore, when you look at it like that, even though you are respecting and honoring your husband, he should in turn be loving and protecting you.  You may take time out of your schedule to make him his favorite dinner, but he may encourage the kids (and sometimes roll up his sleeves too) to clean up the dishes so you can do something else.  He may encourage you to go out and have a fun Friday night with your friends while he stays home and keeps the house intact.  Lastly, he may see circumstances or situations with your prospective career change that, in your excitement, you didn’t consider…or better yet, he may become your biggest fan and encourage you to go for it.  The whole idea is that you are both a team and you are valuing and respecting your husband when you verbally and nonverbally express to him your trust in his choices, his decisions, and his leading your family.

The bottom line of this blog is this:  When you got married, it hopefully was to your best friend, someone that you knew very well but were excited to learn even more about.  Therefore, if you are on the lookout for big and little ways every day to respect and esteem the person you fell in love with, marriage will only get better.  Even if you are the only one doing it in the beginning, it is amazing what can happen when we obey God with a loving attitude.  If this has not been part of your marriage so far, change might not happen overnight, but don’t discount the miracles that can occur when we put God first, then our husbands, and then everything else.  Trust me on this one!

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Philippians 4:6: “Do not worry about anything.  But pray and ask God for everything you need.  And when you pray, always give thanks.”  (ICB)

It is very easy to be swept up with worry in our world today.  There are many issues that we can focus our attention on in this area including the state of our economy, upcoming elections, decisions being made in Washington, stability of jobs, and how technology impacts our world to name but a few.

I tend to be a worrier.  I am slowly seeing my life change positively in this area as I apply the above verse to my situations and concerns.  It is very easy to focus on the negative things in life, the areas where doom and gloom prevail, but I am learning to give God the big stuff, willing to sit back and watch how He is going to work.

However, I am realizing that God wants so much more for us.  He wants us to give Him not just the big worries mentioned above, but also the little ones.  I am learning through giving Him my big concerns that it is just as important to go to Him with the little things.  If it is important enough for God to mention in the Bible approximately 172 times, in one form or another, not to worry but to trust Him, then I need to listen.  In addition, nowhere have I found in the Bible that God differentiates between big fears and small worries.

It is easy to pray and ask God to help our government, but what about the rift in the relationship between friends?  Asking God to keep my family safe during the day is something I pray daily, but what about asking Him to show me which exercise program or diet will best fit my lifestyle and fitness level?

Before I started practicing this, I realized that even though I was giving God the “hurricane type problems” in my life, I was spending just as much time and energy worrying about the “thunderstorms” that seem to come up daily, if not hourly.

In order to fully rest in God’s safety net, I need to learn how to give Him both the big and small issues in my life.  It is only then that I can truly be relaxed, praising God ahead of time or in the midst of issues, and then trusting Him for the answers to everything in my life.

As I learn how to do that, then I am free to look around and see how I in turn can help others because my focus is not on myself.  Instead, I can be on the lookout of how I can bless others around me – with a smile, a kind word, or a helping hand.  Lastly, I am being a much better example for my children and a better spouse, friend, or coworker when I spend less time worrying and more time being a positive example to those around me.

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Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (NIV).

Authenticity is not for cowards.  According to the Webster’s New World Dictionary, to be authentic is to be reliable, credible; genuine, real.  Those are some powerful words.  The question is whether or not we want to step up and accept the challenge of living an authentic life or ignore the word and continue our relationships as they are.

What exactly would an authentic life look like?  It would be free of manipulation, but full of in-depth, sometimes painful conversations.  It does not mean always expressing every single emotion you are feeling all the time, but it does make sure that ignoring the truth is not an option due to the risk of causing hurt feelings.  Authenticity is kind but honest, exposes layers slowly, but gently, and always has the other person’s best interest in mind.  It is unselfish, unconditional, and loving, but always maintaining honesty.

It can take on various forms in different situations.  At times, it would mean not settling for a pat answer from a spouse or friend when you know he or she is not being completely truthful.  It could be putting down the remote or walking away from Facebook and engaging your children in a real dialogue about their day, their friends, and their interests instead of dismissing their sighs and complaints for the hundredth time.  It could also resemble making the conscious choice to complete the one chore that both you and your spouse hate, just because you want to put a smile on his or her face, expecting nothing else in return.

When chosen, authenticity can reap great rewards.  This is best accomplished when both people fully embrace being authentic with each other.  However, even if one person actively engages in this characteristic and the other does not, positive changes can still occur.  Whatever the relationship, when put into practice, it creates possibilities to take risks and let your guard down.  This, in turn, can transform mediocre relationships into ones where real depth can occur, creating an environment for each person to discover a little more about the true heart of their spouse, child, or friend and possibly even more about him or herself.

When looked at that way, I would rather take the extra time needed to dig deeper into the heart of someone I care about then drift through life casually.  Authenticity is not for every situation all the time, but I challenge you to look for opportunities where you can start reaching for some level of authenticity in the most important relationships in your life.  I am sure that you and your loved one will be
happy you did just that.

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“‘Omwana ni wa bhone,’ meaning regardless of a child’s biological parent(s), (his) upbringing belongs to the community.” Kijita (Wajita) Proverb.

The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” (unknown source) is a commonly tossed around phrase.  There have been numerous books written about this important topic as well.  I feel that I was granted the privilege of being raised in this type of atmosphere and feel blessed that my children also get to experience it to some degree.  My family moved around a lot when I was younger, but from my earliest memories until age ten, we lived in Pennsylvania.  My dad was the pastor of a small community church that consisted of probably around 35 to 40 families’ total.  However, we were all transplanted so none of us really had extended family around – grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.  We became our own extended family.  We shared all major holidays together, had Super Bowl parties (we lived there during the time the Steelers won four Super Bowls), New Year’s Eve was always a whole church affair, and Easter started with a sunrise service following which the men would cook an all-church pancake breakfast for the women and children before we would have the traditional service that followed.

Spending all that time together, it was a great experience to learn about different parenting styles, kids creating bonds with each other with the older ones looking out for the younger ones, and different parents stepping up and helping whichever child had a need, regardless to whom that child belonged.  Families would babysit for each other without expecting monetary compensation, meals were shared with families that were in need, and it was just a time of real community.

Now, fast forward thirty years.  A lot has changed in our world from the 70s and 80s to now.  Technology has advanced at lightning speed, the way the economy is now does not give job security like it did so there is more migrating to where the jobs are, and family life is just busier than it seemed to be with more things vying for our attention.

However, the sense of community can still prevail.  Friends can still make time to get together to share their struggles, joys, and just offer a different perspective on a problem that you may be experiencing with your child.  Grandparents are great resources in that they offer a completely different glimpse at life.  They can share about their own childhood and how they were raised in addition to how they raised you (yes, usually embarrassing stories to come), showing your children what life was like before all this technology was around.  Also, even though your parenting style will probably look different than your parents or your in-laws since you are blending both your husband and your preferences together, as parents we can gain wisdom by listening to advice from our parents or other older women in the church and community since they have already traveled the road we are on.

It seems to be a touchy subject now days if a parent other than the child’s biological one tries to correct behavior of a youth in public, but really, if done without ridicule or embarrassment; isn’t that best for everyone?  If we would just step up and help each other, offering assistance when it is needed and giving each other that extra hand that we all need from time to time, maybe we could regain some of that sense of community that seems to be losing its grip.  I, for one, enjoy the Biblical family values of my past, and am working at keeping them alive for my children to pass onto their children.  Who wants to join me?

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Mom Guilt

Proverbs 14:1   The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. (NIV)

I am a work-from-home mom.  I have resisted that title for years but finally am ready to admit it.  I always thought of myself as a stay-at-home mom (which is a full time job itself) who worked two part-time jobs from home on the side.  I am realizing that no, I’m a work-from-home mom which means I have two part-time jobs with all the responsibilities that come with that, and have the privilege of completing that work in my home so that I am able to raise my children, for the majority of time, by myself.  (Thank you to my mom who comes in and helps me for a few hours two days a week and my mother-in-law who steps in when I ask for help at other times as well.  It definitely takes a community to raise a child and we will talk about the importance of that in the next blog.)

Having said that, I am finally admitting that I am a mother with a job who is privileged to work from home so that I can raise our children.  However, with this title, there is a whole new set of guilt that sets in with this type of situation.  My job requires me to sit at a computer for long periods.  Therefore, I always felt guilty if my children were left to play on their own, entertain themselves, or (gasp), have to do things for themselves that are age appropriate things to do like fix their own lunch, clean up after themselves, or help out with chores around the house like fold and put away laundry, vacuum, or dust.

Growing up, I always envisioned that I would be the type of stay-at-home mom who waited for the school bus with her kids, sending them off with a hug and kiss every morning, before tackling all the chores while the kids were at school.  There would always be fresh fruit on the counter ready to grab when someone wanted a healthy snack.  When they returned, I would have fresh, hot chocolate chip cookies and milk waiting so we could sit at the kitchen table and talk about their day before they went away (willingly) to do their homework and I started supper.  I am not sure why I envisioned that scenario, as my own mother was not a stay-at-home mom.  She was a teacher.  My dad is the one who put me on the school bus every morning and waited for me when I got home every afternoon.  It was expected that our entire family would pitch in with the chores during the weeknights so that we would have free weekends to play as a family.

I grew up learning responsibility, how to find ways to entertain myself, and receiving the satisfaction of a job well done when I finished what I started, even if it was hard.  I did not have videogames, Facebook, the internet, or cable TV to entertain me either.  In addition, I did not always have the luxury of having friends close by to come hang out each and every day.

I wondered why having had the childhood experience that I did, and it was a great childhood, I felt so guilty as a mom for not being able to live up to the standard I had envisioned for myself as a stay-at-home mom?  I realized that it was not so much that I wanted to give my children that scenario everyday as it was that I did not want to miss out on any part of their growing up by sitting at a computer instead of sitting with them.

I have since realized that God definitely knows what He is doing.  Some women are truly gifted to be stay-at-home moms, others are happier working full- or part-time outside of the home, and others still are gifted at working full- or part-time from the home.  I have the type of personality that I think would smother my children if I did not have something else to occupy my time.  I would raise incredibly selfish, self-centered children if I had the opportunity to focus completely on them.  Instead of creating opportunities to teach my children new domestic skills or working on chores together, I would reenact the above scenario and have everything done, making my children believe that they are the center of the universe and they do not have to contribute to our family to help keep it running.

By being a contributor to our household finances, God has blessed me by providing a wonderful opportunity to teach my children the lessons that I was taught growing up.  They are able to get satisfaction out of starting and then completing a difficult project, they learn responsibility by helping out with chores that keep our family life running smoothly, and are navigating how to occupy themselves alone or master the important skills of getting along with others, even those that irritate you sometimes as siblings tend to do.

And, I still have plenty of time every morning to wait outside with them for the bus as well as take a break from work long enough for them to tell me about their day when they get home before they go find themselves a snack, sometimes frozen chocolate chip cookies that were baked on the weekends, sometimes fruit from the bowl on the counter.  Weekends and weeknights are spent working on chores together, running last-minute errands, or finding some fun activity that we can do together as a family.

As I sit here writing this, I am overhearing my middle child assist the two-year-old in finding a healthy snack.  She is teaching him words like broccoli and apple and I am feeling really good that not only is she able to meet her own age-appropriate needs, but she is helping him to learn how to satisfy his in a healthy way as well.

There are still days that I feel overwhelmed with balancing my paying job and raising our children, but overall, I feel very blessed with how my life is structured.  As a great friend of mine, Melissa, reminds herself and me regularly, this is only one season in our children’s lives.  We may be busier or less busy in each season, but each is only a season.  We must remember to be kind to ourselves as well.  One season may have more time for holding and cuddling, another season has more time for teaching, and yet another season may be just for enjoying, but each season should be treasured for the season that it is.

Yes, God definitely knows all the time what He is doing, and for me to work part-time from home is better for my children, and myself, than my misguided image of what a stay-at-home mom would have looked like.  The added bonus:  The mom guilt is slowly fading, being replaced with pride in the lessons my children are learning to help them achieve the independence they will need as they grow into adults and possibly become parents themselves someday.

 

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