Godliness Over Girl-Power: Setting Priorities of Identity

Last night I went to see Wonder Woman with a girl-friend.  To be honest, I’m not really into superhero movies, and especially not ones with a female lead because they are usually even more far-fetched than superhero films with male leads.  But I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by this film.  Yes, Wonder Woman was strong, and fast, and GORGEOUS–deflecting bullets with her wrist-guards, leaping hundreds of feet in the air and flattening villains with her supernatural power.  But there were things she was NOT, which are worth mentioning.  She was not selfish.  She was not vengeful.  She was not easily discouraged or offended.  She was not a man-hater.  She was not prideful.

It was intentional for the story of Diana Prince (a.k.a. Wonder Woman) to be set during the 1920s when the War was amping up and women’s suffrage was a controversial issue. To see Diana in her tiny uniform barely hidden by her cloak, taking advice from corseted secretaries in their prim-and-proper dresses with buttons to their throats was quite ironic and comical.  But as I watched the interaction between the two primary female characters: one a dowdy receptionist and one a beautiful, warrior goddess, I found myself becoming grateful.  I’m grateful to be able to celebrate the freedom as a Western woman who benefits from the battles won for women throughout the 20th century.  But I’m most grateful that my worth as a woman does not come from what I can earn.

I know that I can celebrate my femininity because God gave it to me.  In some way, I am able to image Him.  This gives me meaning as a woman, and the fact that His son rescued me from sin and gave me new life gives me freedom.  It’s an ultimate freedom that has already been won and need not be proven by marches, by protests, by wearing my female-ness as a prideful badge.

Everywhere I look, there’s a groundswell of women on a mission to prove themselves. There’s an idolatry of gender that offends more often than it helps, alienates more often than it unifies, and embarrasses more often than it encourages.  And for Christian women, this is especially dangerous because the risk is that we begin to hold our cause higher than the cause of Christ.  Do we want to be seen first as women or as children of God?  If our goal is to have equal treatment, then we would be best served by remembering these words:

Galations 3:28, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t fight for women who are marginalized or oppressed. There are women all over the world who are raped, enslaved, mutilated, ignored, abused, and mistreated in a number of ways.  These are real problems.  This is true inequality.  What I am saying is that as a Western, Christian woman, my goal is to be grateful for what I already have and to look for opportunities to glorify God in this body and in the feminine way that celebrates His goodness, not to complain that my life is different from a man’s.

The cause of Jesus Christ is my banner, my march.

Wonder Woman showed some Christlike characteristics: grace, generosity, a recognition of who she was, not what she didn’t have, perseverance, hope, LOVE.  In these ways, she is certainly a superhero that my daughters and I can admire.  But she is also fictional. There are real women who have made a mark on history, on the world, women who were heroic in their faith and strength–Hannah, Ruth, Mary, Priscilla, Elizabeth, Esther.

Theirs were voices of peace.  Theirs were hearts of love.  Theirs were hands of strength. Theirs were spiritual battles of heaven and earth, which they won without picking up a megaphone or a sword.

May we be women of faith, strength and gratitude.

 

8389be683cc907aa428e8a1f801244bc

 

Help Me Hear You: Listening for the Sound That Matters

My days are filled with sound.  The sound of birds chirping, as melodic as they are, starts far too early in the morning these days, rousing my three children under seven from their sleep.  The sound of their footfalls on the stairs as they try to sneak out of their rooms before their toddler clocks flash green disturbs my morning quiet date with my Bible and hot coffee.  The sound of my name, no not Adrienne, that other name, Mommy, plays on repeat all day.  The serious sound of my husband’s voice on conference calls makes me grateful for his dedication and provision, while the sound of his silliness with our children makes me proud that he’s my partner in this parenting adventure.  Then there’s the hum of the washing machine, the clicking of water through pipes, the chiming of my Apple Watch reminding me that it’s time to breathe, traffic, other people’s conversations at the supermarket—it goes on and on.

What I don’t realize about all these sounds, sometimes until it’s too late, is that they draw my attention to the immediate and pull it away from the eternal.  Before long I’m starting to focus on the tasks that are directly under my control, simple goals that I can meet on my own that don’t seem to be a big deal.  However, there are so many days when I step back and look at the hill of small things in front of me that I’ve built single-handedly by listening to my own voice saying, “you can do this.”  At times, I become overwhelmed and frustrated because I’ve piled too many things atop one another and it’s very difficult to see the priorities, to sort through pile without it toppling over at my feet.

It’s in these moments that I must fall on my knees before this mountain of minutiae and surrender it.  I must acknowledge that I allowed the noise of my life to drown out the One voice that wants to direct me, to guide me, to fill me with peace and joy and empathy.  I must confess that all the noise has trained my ears to listen to a selfish voice instead of one that would speak love into and through me.

The word resonate means to produce or be filled with a deep, reverberating sound.  This speaks to me of my deep desire be filled of the Holy Spirit—to know His voice so well that it shouts louder than any other sound in my environment, as precious as those sounds may be.  I want THAT voice to reverberate in my mind so that I can accept or release challenges and tasks with confidence.  I want that filling to consume me so that I don’t listen to lies that tend to produce guilt because I should be doing this or that.  I want no distractions from what God’s voice is calling me to.

Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit in John 14, calling Him Counselor and the Spirit of Truth.  Lies confuse us, they shackle us to expectations and standards that we were never designed to meet.  They create division.  Jesus said the truth would set us free.  So then as our Counselor, the voice of the Holy Spirit can fill us with truth and confidence in our mission as women called to love and represent Jesus in our communities and homes, not in a forced and tired way, but in a joyful and empowered way.

So, my prayer is, help me hear You, Lord.  Resonate amidst my busy noise.  Help me to recognize Your tones, Your words, Your truth.  From the eager sound of chirping birds to the rhythmic sound of my husband’s snoring at night, call me back to your side so that I can be restored and reminded of Your good plans for me.  Let my head be filled Your deep, reverberating sound.

All For One

Despite sharing surnames, family members can sometimes be so divergent in their lifestyles and opinions, that the only commonality they share is the blood in their veins.   And there are times when you meet someone who has led a very different life than yours, yet the two of you see eye-to-eye on just about everything and even share many interests.  The road to solidarity can be a seamless, easy mystery that just “works,” but it can also be a lengthy and cumbersome one that requires a unifying cause.

This last year has been one of great transition for my extended family.  It became necessary for my grandparents to move from their home of 60 years in the tiny town of Flomaton, Alabama, to an assisted living facility in a nearby city where they can receive better care for their needs.  My father and his three brothers (and my mom and aunts) initially had many discussions over the phone, Facetime and through email about the steps involving moving my grandparents into assisted living, and then again recently when putting their childhood home on the market after it was certain that my grandparents had settled into their new home comfortably.

For me personally, the sale of this house will mean saying farewell to the only home that has remained a fixture in my 38 years of life.  I was raised in an Air Force family that uprooted and moved every three years, and then married a man who possesses the same wanderlust as me.  Throughout my life, I’ve returned to Flomaton from places like England, the Netherlands, from Arizona or Seattle or Luxembourg.  No matter what, that little house on Wilkerson Street had the same scent, the same floor plan with minor changes, the same loud family voices and bodies sprawled on couches and floors, the same prayers and Bible stories and hymns, the same neighbors and even the same casseroles and pies.

Those shared experiences with my relatives and the background of faith and loyalty and love that my grandparents have poured into their sons, their daughters-in-law and every one of their grandchildren, are what have laid the groundwork for solidarity in our family.  As my cousins and my aunts and uncles walked through the house in these last weeks, claiming furniture and quilts and trinkets and dishes, the memories and the lessons they’ve learned in years past poured out of them and reminded us all, even over Facebook, of the legacy that our grandparents bestowed to us, which gives us something to uphold, together, regardless of our political, vocational and lifestyle differences.

house

Last week my parents, who have lived in Germany for the past 17 years, worked from sun up to sun down with a few of my aunts and uncles as they combed through each cabinet and drawer of the house on Wilkerson Street.  As they hauled away trash, donated used goods and sold items in a yard sale, people from town both familiar and estranged came around to recall memories of my grandparents and their “boys”.  Relationships were renewed and restored.  They told me about the unexpected help that came from unexpected people who felt that they shared in my family’s story—people who delivered doughnuts, helped carry heavy chairs and even provided encouragement to rest in the shade with laughs and glasses of sweet tea.

Two days ago my mother posted a photo of my father helping my grandfather shave.  I think my whole family was struck by how this photo represented life coming full circle—a son helping his elderly father shave, a father who most certainly showed that son how to hold a razor a very long time ago.  And it spoke to me of the unity in my family, that despite the differences of opinion that we have or the distances between us, just about any one of the men in my family would be at the sink in the bathroom doing the very same for my grandfather—because they love him.  Love helps us see needs around us.  Love compels us to join a hand and give, instead of using that hand to point fingers at who should be doing more.  A time or moment of need is often the very thing that reveals common ground and gives us the opportunity to tread it together—all of us, for one family, one goal, one love.

shaving

 

Worry: the “Mother” of Sins

It often begins as a small remark about someone’s health, a scary experience with a food allergy, a stressful day of travel with kids, an economic crisis or reports of crime in the news.  Something in us grabs ahold of a passing remark that elevates legitimate concerns to full-blown, action-quenching, logic-robbing WORRY.  And for some reason it seems to be an epidemic among moms.

I call worry the “mother” of sins because it is one of those qualities that runs rampant in mommy circles.  Not only is it common, it’s often somewhat reasonable.  It’s excused away.  We worry ourselves sick and call it “concern” or being “responsible.”  But here’s the thing—real worry goes beyond being aware and concerned for your family’s safety and well-being.  It can cripple you from engaging with people.  It can adversely affect your health when it robs your peace of mind, interferes with sleep and leaves you with no appetite.

worriedface

For the non-Christian, I would say that worry has gotten the best of you when:

-Most of your conversations are negative and focus on the hopelessness of your country, your political system, or factors that you cannot control.

-Your peace and contentment is based in how much of your life you can control.

-You obsess over “research.”

-You don’t participate in things that interest you because of what “could” happen or go wrong.

For the Believer, worry reveals selfishness, a lack of trust in the Lord or willingness to relinquish control to Him.  Worry as a verb is defined as “(to) give way to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.”   In its most extreme form, worry evolves into fear.  Lou Priolo has written a helpful booklet about fear and how to recognize when it has gripped you in a paralyzing, sinful way.  I think many of his points can be applied to worry as well.  Below are what he claims are characteristics of sinful fear/worry.

-Fear (worry) is sinful when it proceeds out of unbelief, or distrust, in God.  When you worry because you do not believe that God can or will do what he has clearly promised in his Word, your fear is sinful.

-Fear (worry) is sinful when that which produced the fear is attributed more power than what the Bible allows.  When you believe that what you worry about has more power than God, your fear is sinful.

-Worry is a problem when it is so paralyzing that it keeps us from fulfilling our biblical responsibilities (loving God and neighbor as the Bible commands).

-Worry is a problem when it reveals selfishness rather than love and sacrifice.

fear-2019930__340

Healthy, loving concern seeks the best interest of others.  Worry doesn’t mean you can’t plan for emergencies.  But worry does turn our focus inward and so distorts reality that we are blind to the needs of others.  This must be one reason why Jesus himself forbade it when he preached the Sermon on the Mount found in the Gospel of Matthew, verses 25-34.

To you moms out there–you dear ones love your children so much that most of you would lay your own lives down for them.  I believe that is exactly how we parents are supposed to feel, and if the time ever comes for us to make such a sacrifice, it would be a noble and loving one indeed.  The fact is, we are not promised easy lives, and although most of us reading this are probably not going to face life or death decisions for ourselves or our children, there may come a day when something terrible happens that is beyond our control.  But if it does, I guarantee no amount of worrying would equip us for it.  Why waste the precious and glorious moments of this life in sinful worry that prohibits us from enjoying the Father’s blessings?

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life…Therefore do not worry about tomorrow. For tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  (Matthew 6: 27, 34)

 

Once In A Garden, Part 1: a Creation story

29994-adam-and-eve-in-the-garden-of-eden.800w.tn

Eve

 You and I were equal.

From your first parched cough, as you rose on your unsteady legs and brushed the dust from your belly, He already had me in mind.  God my Creator and Adam, you, my model formed my body.  The creation of me.

You marveled at me, staring, reaching out to touch me.  And I was not meant to be trampled, nor to war against you, but to lay against you at night.  To hold your hand by day and be your friend.

We stared up through branches into the sunlight as foxes wound their tails around our calves and lions lent their thick manes for pillows.  You never had to ask to hold me.  I never doubted your holy love.  We trusted each other.

We climbed mountains and spoke with God as our bodies bronzed, naked and unashamed. When He looked at us, His eyes shone.  His face was sunlight and warmth.  He often laughed as He walked with us.

“My children,” He would say.  “I love you.  How beautiful you are!”

As the sea turtles laid their eggs at night we made love on the beach.  We saw God smiling down on us from the moon.

I awoke before you one morning and kissed your sleeping eyes.  I went into the Garden to collect fruit for breakfast.  The trees swayed in greeting as a gentle breeze spun through the branches.  From one, a voice called to me–its tone familiar and close.  A sleek and sinuous creature wound its body amidst the shimmering branches, sunlight bouncing off its shiny skin.

It dropped some of its length from a limb and settled on my shoulder.  A serpent with dark, deep eyes wrapped its silky smooth body around my chest then slid along my spine and encircled my waist.  As its scales caressed me, I thought of how much it felt like your callused hands stroking my body.  How its slithering embrace felt like your touch on my skin.

It began to speak…and I listened.

 

Adam

I awoke and you were gone.  The grass beside me was still warm and springing up from your departure.  I knew that you would return soon, fruit cradled in your arms and your long hair falling in tangles over your tan shoulders, but I couldn’t wait to see you so I went searching for you instead.  Birds swooped and called to their mates as I called for you too.

I found you beneath the Tree.  In your hand was a gleaming red fruit and wrapped around your body was a beautiful, strong serpent.  As I approached I reached out to stroke its back, but it quickly released you and disappeared into the branches above.

“Here,” you said to me, and offered the fruit. “The serpent said it would make us like Father.”

I looked at my wife.  This fruit is not meant for me, I thought. But you smiled and gently placed it in my palm.  I loved you, but in my heart was a resistance I had never felt, a calling to let the fruit fall to the ground.  There was something else too–a new idea that I could be like my Father and that this would make you happy.

So even though the fruit’s skin was blackening where you had bitten and the air was growing cooler around us, I took and ate.  And then all sound stopped.

No breeze.  No singing birds.  No rustling leaves or waves lapping against the shore.  A stillness and grayness settled over the Garden.  I looked at you–you were standing very still.  Your eyes were wide in fear and tears began to trickle down your cheeks.  I tried to hold you but you pushed me away.  For the first time, I became furious with you.  I felt a desire to strike you for rejecting me, which frightened me in its urgency.  You saw my clenched fists and stepped away from me, a look of shock and sadness on your face that I could hurt you.  I watched as the sadness turned to a hardening in your features that changed your face before my eyes.  Never had I thought you anything but exquisitely beautiful, but suddenly, there was an ugliness in you that appalled me.  I felt so ashamed that I yelled at you.

“What have you done?!”  I cried.  Your head drooped. “Woman! God told us NEVER to eat from this tree.  How could you do this to me?”

“To you?!  Is that all you care about Adam?”

“How could you be so stupid?” I whispered, shaking my head in disappointment.

“I am sorry!  He said it would make us like Father, that we could live forever like Him.  I thought that…”

“He LIED to you, Eve!”

Your eyes narrowed. “Yet you ate of the fruit, Adam.”

An uneasiness grew in my belly and I fell to my knees.  My head swam and I dug my hands into the ground to steady myself.

You started silently crying, and slowly, lock by chestnut lock, pulling your long hair in front to conceal your breasts.  You wrapped your arms around yourself and walked backward into a bush.  You began yanking vines from the bush and tying them around your waist.

“What are you doing?” I asked looking up at you.  You wiped your nose.

“I do not want you to see me.” You sniffed, your voice coming in broken sobs. “It was not my fault, it wasn’t, it wasn’t….oh! What have I done?!” You cried, burying your face in your hands.  I stood and went to you and tried to brush aside your hair, the hair that tickled my nose every night as I held you, the soft hair that I combed through with my fingers every morning.  You recoiled from me and slapped my hand aside.

“Do not touch me!  Don’t pretend that you care.  After all, this is my doing right?  I did this to you!” Your face contorted in rage and I felt exposed, wounded standing there naked before you.  I started pulling vines too, wrapping them about my waist silently.  You glanced up at me and then something caught your attention behind me.  You screamed.  I turned around.

On a plain in the distance a pack of jackals was attacking a zebra.  It was slowly falling to the ground, blood pouring from at least a dozen bite wounds.  Its whinnies grew fainter each second, and finally it collapsed on its side and the jackals descended. They tore pieces of flesh and crouched to eat the fresh meat.  Several of them fought over the morsels or pushed through the pack to get to the carcass.

“Oh no,” You moaned behind me. “Nonononono.”

A doe and her fawn ran between the trees just feet from you.  The fawn stopped to nibble on grass and you rose to go to it.  The second it saw you, it darted away in fright and followed its mother who was still bounding through the trees.

“This cannot be,” I whispered.  Then there was a boom, and another and another.  The wind blew cold and strong and the clouds rolled violently above us.  Although the sky was darkening, His light shone brightly from the far end of the Garden.  It grew brighter as He approached us.  I grasped your arm.

“Hide quickly.  He’s coming.”

Boudoir: Being a Centerfold For Your Husband (And Yourself)

A few months ago I started to think about what to do for Bryan for Valentine’s Day.  Bryan and I both like to be creative when it comes to gift giving, and we don’t believe in NOT making a big deal about our anniversary, our birthdays or Valentine’s Day.  These are all occasions that we love to celebrate.  There have been a few times that circumstances, family needs or finances have prohibited us from being as generous as we would’ve liked to be, but usually we try to find a fun and slightly unusual way to make each other feel special.  As I considered Valentine’s Day this year, I went back and forth on a couple of options, but I finally settled on something that has been on my “bucket list” for several years now: a boudoir photo shoot.

 Now, before I go any farther, I recognize that there may be people reading who find this shocking or who may even disapprove.  After all, isn’t our culture already over-saturated by sex and immodesty?  Yes, but I believe it is quite different when people pridefully parade their naked bodies in public than when they privately, confidently and lovingly share their bodies with their spouse. (Which is why you won’t see any photos of me in lingerie on this blog post, although I would be happy to share them with my curious female friends privately).

The book of Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) is comprised of poetry which praises the beauty and intimacy of King Solomon and his wife.  Here is just a small excerpt from that book:

Your hair is like royal tapestry; the king is held captive by its tresses.  How beautiful you are and how pleasing, o love, with your delights!  Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit.  I said, ‘ I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.’  May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.” (Song of Solomon 7:7-9)

That’s pretty sexy and romantic stuff, yes?  The reason that I feel it’s important to frame sexuality and nudity in this context is because we are being taught conflicting principles from culture about sexuality.  If women are not encouraged to love their husbands boldly, fiercely, confidently, joyfully and that it’s okay to do this and still be a holy, godly wife, then where will we start learning how to minister to our husbands in a God-honoring way?  From Cosmo?  From Ariana Grande?  Kim Kardashian?  And how confusing are those messages when compared to God’s plan for sexuality?

lingerie-2

The reason that I was drawn to boudoir photography was primarily to bless my husband with sexy images that are perfectly fine for him to lust over and enjoy time and time again. I wanted to look tantalizing, but not sleazy.  I searched the web for a boudoir photographer in Raleigh who took tasteful photos while making her clients look like centerfolds.  I found one named Cari who had beautiful shots on her website and described herself as a “minivan mom of three children, and happily married for 30 years” with a ladies-only operation, who photographs women of all ages, shapes, sizes and walks of life.  (Her website showcased boudoir photography of women aged 20-60!)  She was precisely what I was looking for.

lingerie-4

I took the next few weeks selecting lingerie that I felt was most flattering to my figure and putting it together with the right hosiery, jewelry and shoes.  The package I purchased included photos in two different outfits, and some with a white sheet.  In the end I chose a navy blue bodysuit and a panty/bustier set–the very bustier that I wore under my wedding dress.

The day of the shoot I took my oldest child to school and then dropped my younger two off at one of those FANTASTIC drop-in childcare places, because my kids don’t go to preschool and are always with me, and mama wanted two hours to be a supermodel!  The studio space that my photographer owns is an old house in the center of downtown Durham, NC. Save for a couple of tufted couches and beds with pin-tucked duvet covers, the rooms are sparsely furnished but have windows on all sides to allow plenty of natural light.  Cari double-checked the lingerie that I brought and confirmed whether she thought it would photograph well and then she handed me a glass of champagne, and I sat down in front of a brightly lit mirror where a professional make-up artist spent an hour on my hair and make-up, transforming me from mom to vixen.

Now, I must pause here because I realize the above paragraph sounds very spoiled and self-indulgent.  The only other time in my life that I’ve put as much focus on hair, make-up and time in front of a camera was for my wedding.  But another reason I chose to do this now is because: a) I am finally finished having babies and my body is back to a size and shape that I like, and I want Bryan and myself to remember it this way, and b) in the last year I feel like my hormones have finally recovered from having children to the point that I feel sexy again and think about sex for reasons other than preserving my marriage or making babies, so I was in the right frame of mind to do this.

lingerie

My photographer Cari and my make-up artist Joanne were fantastic–we listened to Bruno Mars on Pandora and just chatted while Joanne did her magic, so by the time Cari pulled out her camera I felt like I was amongst girlfriends.  We shot all over the house and Cari coached me on poses, facial expressions, what to do with my hair–she made me feel very comfortable and we laughed throughout the next hour.  The following week I returned to see the 94 shots she had to show me, and to decide how many to purchase for the album.  Watching the slide show she prepared was very powerful–I couldn’t believe that some of the photos were actually photos of me!  Like most women, I work with what God has given me, and most of the time I’m pretty happy with my appearance.  But, every once in a while I don’t feel so pretty, and I wonder if Bryan still likes the way that I look.  He gets frustrated sometimes when he has to regularly assure me that he is still attracted to me and yes, of course, still thinks I’m beautiful.  But, again like many women, I don’t always believe him, and I’m overly critical of myself.

But what this boudoir experience really did for me was show me the way that Bryan already sees me, and it gave me more confidence and boldness in sharing myself with him, even if my body does look different after 10 years of marriage and three children.  It was not inexpensive, but it was an investment in my marriage and self-confidence that I think was worth every penny, and one that both Bryan and I will enjoy for the rest of our lives.  (And he knows all about the album now, but I will present it to him on Valentine’s Day–I can’t wait to see his face!)

lingerie-3

If you are considering investing in boudoir photography as a wedding gift, for Valentine’s Day, an anniversary, or other special occasion, I’ve included some helpful tips below:

-Find a photographer that suits your style, has multiple package options to fit your budget, and who makes you feel comfortable.

-Schedule a phone consultation with your photographer about two weeks in advance to ask questions, get lingerie and shoe recommendations, and to arrange the shoot.

-Decide what kind of product you’re looking for:  how many photos you would like; whether you’d like to turn these into a calendar, a quality photo album, or receive digital images to print as you prefer.

-Schedule an appointment for a pedicure, manicure, and possibly waxing.  Do this 2-5 days prior to your photo shoot.  (If you get bikini-waxing, leave at least two days between your appointment and the photo shoot to allow time for redness to subside.)

-Raid the lingerie that you received for your lingerie shower–if none of it works, it’ll still be fun to try it all on again and will give you a reason to clear out stuff that is too old or doesn’t fit.  Some websites that my photographer recommended for lingerie were:

 

red-love-heart-valentines

 

 

 

 

My 2017 Mommy-Festo

 

new-years-eve-1664737_960_720

I’m a big believer in GRACE.  In the spirit of that, and acknowledging that I could always improve upon some things, I’ve created this 2017 Mommy-Festo.  Perhaps you ladies out there could tweak it to create your own!

This Year I Will:

-Practice patience with my children, but allow myself to step away when I feel overwhelmed.

-Not try to hide my feelings from my children, but recognize that my feelings are not always an accurate indicator of my circumstances.

-Put on make-up, high-heels, and a pretty dress just for me, just because.  But I will not feel guilty on the occasional days when I don’t get out of my PJs.

-Spend more time kissing and complimenting my husband in the presence of our children instead of fighting with him.

-Not dwell on my thoughts when tempted to sin, but take them captive and be transformed by the renewing of my mind.

-Do a better job of meal-planning, while also realizing that my kids will be okay if they eat macaroni and cheese or hot dogs when I’m just not up to it.

-Forgive myself when I have a melt-down, but not wallow in self-pity to the point of missing out on the awesomeness around me.

-Work-out regularly so that I feel well and strong enough to engage in the activities I enjoy, not just because I want to look good, and not because I want to compete with other women.

-Accept the fact that I am getting older, while embracing the season I’m currently enjoying.  Period.  To borrow a line from Kids, one of my favorite new songs by One Republic, “I refuse to look back thinking days were better just because they’re younger days.” Amen.

-Do things that will help me grow even if they make me uncomfortable, but also recognize when it’s time to say no.

-Be gracious, kind, and tolerant to those who are different from me, yet hold firm to my personal convictions.

-Travel to some place I have never been, yet be able to enjoy the bliss of a lazy day at home.

-Give grace to the difficult people in my life, understanding that God and others have extended unmerited grace to me.

-Give sacrificially, and accept gifts gratefully without the feeling that I need to do something to deserve them.

-Not freak out if my house gets dirty, but not allow it to get to the point that I’m embarrassed if people stop by unexpectedly.

-Enjoy having some drinks with my husband, family and friends, but not rely on alcohol as an escape or coping mechanism.

-Learn something new, but appreciate the things that I already know.

-Give myself grace because I don’t have it all together, but be grateful for what God has already done in my life.

-Put my phone down and be more present in the moments while finding a way to realistically and healthfully manage an increasingly automated lifestyle.

-Not retaliate and enable bitterness to take root in my heart when encountering toxic people.  Instead, I will ask God to help me know when to try or walk away.

-Take risks in business, yet recognize when those risks are poorly timed or unwise.

-Leave some margin for the unexpected moments that take my breath away, whether those moments are good or bad.

-Not gossip about my husband, friends or family, and be honest about my own short-comings.

-Forgive others quickly and apologize even more quickly.

-Set aside more time for focused prayer and Bible reading while accepting that my Father is present and loves me even when I’m distracted.

-Accept help graciously and offer assistance when I have the available resources, without talking myself out of it.

-Honor my commitments but not over-book my calendar.

Which of these resonated with you?  I’d love to hear about it.  Happy New Year everyone–may this year be one of blessing, renewal, forgiveness and joy! Cheers!

fullsizerender1

Learning from Little Ones: lessons from children about fear, hope and love.

kidsinchairs

Before I had kids I had many great ideas about how I would rear them, what I would teach them and how they were going to obey me ALL of the time.  (Cue the smirks and snorts from my parent readers.) Then my oldest daughter was born, and the first time that my newborn cried for longer than ten minutes for no reason that was obvious to me, I realized that I would never be able to control her or any other children that would come along.  I realized that I had become officially enrolled in the Motherhood School of Sanctification.  (And it turned out that my oldest was the easy child.  The next one…well let’s just say that we call her Hurricane Georgia and let that give you an idea about her tendencies.  And the third is turning two this week, so the jury is still out on him!)

As a Christian mother, the most important idea that I want to communicate to my children is this: that God loves them with an everlasting love that cannot be shaken.  It’s a love so strong that He sent His only perfect Son to Earth to live a humble life, to be ignored, persecuted and then killed so that they, my children, could know freedom from sin, peace in the face of persecution, joy in God’s presence, hope for their promised reward in Heaven, and the love of Christ for the world.  It’s a love that casts out all fear and hopes for what God has promised.  It’s something that, for me, supersedes any other pursuit in their lives: education, financial success, romantic relationships, etc.  Sure those things are important, but I don’t believe that they amount to much or provide sustaining happiness apart from Christ.

So early on, I began to try to teach these things to them.  Most modern Christian moms will visit Pinterest or simply Google to find inspiration for ways to share the Gospel in creative ways with their children.  And I certainly did that a couple of times, but anyone who knows me well knows that I am not likely to laminate or craft a thing, so Pinterest quickly frustrated me and I started thinking about one of the first instructions in the Bible regarding teaching your children about God.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up,” Deuteronomy 6:5-9 (emphasis mine).

This really encourages me because it recommends using the most powerful tool we have in order to teach: our own testimonies of God’s work in our lives.  And I have lots of stories about that!  (And I like to talk).  I decided that I would: a) commit to doing regular devotionals/scripture reading with my children, b) commit to regularly praying with them and for them, c) be very honest about my testimony (age appropriately), my walk with the Lord, and welcome any questions they may have about Jesus.  That’s it–no fancy plan or methodology, just a diligent commitment to sharing my love for my Savior with my kids.

The first few years of doing this with Vivienne were a little disappointing, mostly because of my own unrealistic expectations.  (Many of you moms know that we think that our first children are incredibly mature, and it isn’t until the last child is born that we see them for the babies they truly are).  Sometimes the principles that I was teaching her were repetitive and simple, and I kept wondering when she was going to grasp these faith foundations.  I persevered though, even when I was frustrated and tired of reading about Jonah and the whale or Jesus in the boat with His disciples for the 13th time, because I trusted that God would take these seeds and produce ripe fruit.

fishing

Vivienne recognized Jesus as her Savior and acknowledged His leadership in her life at four years old, but still I was skeptical.  Why?  Because of my own testimony in which I prayed to “accept Jesus as my Savior” at six years of age without any heart commitment or full awareness of my decision, and then proceeded to live a self-centered, lustful, idolatrous life until I was 25.  My husband and I prayed with Vivi, but told her that we were going to be watching and listening to see if her heart had truly yielded to God.  And in the last year I have been stunned, moved, humbled by the deep truths that God has spoken through my six-year-old daughter to me.  I have worshiped the Lord in tears, and with a grateful heart, for the love she now has for Jesus and her desire to share Him with other people.  Here are some of the things that I have heard her say:

-“Today my friend didn’t feel well at school, so I went to a quiet place in my classroom (because I know that it’s best to talk to God in a quiet place) and prayed for her three times, and then God healed her!”

-“I know that sometimes bad things happen because there is sin in the world, and that’s why people need to know Jesus.”

-“At my birthday party today, how will I know when it’s a good time to tell my friends about Jesus?”

-(After a family hike in the woods, she stopped to sit on a bench and pray and thank God for the hike.  I asked her about her prayer time.) “I had a GREAT prayer time!  I told God thank you and He said ‘You’re welcome, and I love you and I’m glad that I made you.'”

What touches me deeply about these statements from my precious daughter is that they  demonstrate the Lord’s faithfulness to me and to her.  I have prayed many times that He would speak to her heart, despite my failings and missteps.  I am not a perfect person or mother–far from it.  Often I lose patience with my children, sometimes I yell at them, sometimes I’m too tired or wrapped up in housework to do a devotional with them.  There are even times that I am sick of being mommy and don’t want my kids around–GASP!  I regularly sin in front of them, whether they realize it or not.  But my Father has been faithful–something, some small thing or things that my husband and I said, or did, or read, resonated with Vivienne and impacted her deeply, even at her young age.  And God took that small thing and spoke to her little heart about the grace and love He has for her through Jesus Christ.  And now, she KNOWS Jesus.  She LOVES him, not perfectly, but genuinely.  It is beautiful to witness the relationship that she has with the God of the universe, growing everyday into something authentic and unique to her and Him.  And I have to believe that He will bless it.  Their relationship is something bigger than me, and although God may have used me as an instrument in her learning about Him, He deserves most of the credit for cultivating what was planted.  I know that she will have tough times.  I know that the temptation to sin will one day become a constant struggle for her.  I know that she will make large and small mistakes–that she will hurt people and that people will hurt her. But I have peace because His Spirit rests on her.  I have hope because of what Paul says in Philippians 1:6:

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

purple

And knowing this also gives me hope for my other two children.  Georgia is very different from her older sister–she doesn’t care about perfection, she acts on her whims, she has a dominant spirit that is self-confident and doesn’t readily admit failure or mistakes. For her, fear is a recurring stronghold.  She is fearful of losing my love and my approval and does not like to come clean when she has messed up.  The other day she did something that she knew was wrong, and when I first asked her about it she tried to change the subject.  I held her gently but firmly and looked into her eyes, asking her again to tell me what happened. Her facade crumbled and she started crying in my lap telling me that she was afraid.  She didn’t want me to be angry with her, and immediately I thought of the scripture about perfect love casting out ALL fear, and how so many of us look just like little Georgia when approaching a righteous God.

We are inherently fearful of being vulnerable before Him, of exposing our weaknesses and failures, so we avoid issues, we blame-shift, we change the subject.  But God perfectly loves us and His reactions are always right, justified and tempered with grace.  We can trust Him, so I tried to communicate that to Georgia, to show her a smidgen of His patience and grace, and after a few minutes she confessed and she seemed to feel relieved to know that my love hadn’t wavered, that I was still there and willing to love her.  Sometimes it is discouraging when she does things like this–when she wants to brush her sin aside, when it seems that she doesn’t really see the need for a Savior, but knowing that God made her too, that He crafted her little persona, and that He will fulfill His plan for her, gives me hope and peace.  I can rest in that and have patience, and continue to tell her about Him until the right seed is planted.  And I see a picture of me in her as well, who I used to be before I met Jesus, and the person I can become when I am tempted and struggle with one problem after another.  I am grateful for Georgia, for her beginner’s walk with the Lord, and how she reminds me to be hopeful.

A recurring thought I’m having this Christmas season is how genius God is, that He would send a baby to kick-start His great rescue plan, to deliver people from fear, to give them hope and to demonstrate His love for mankind and then, in my own life, bring these things full circle in the lessons that I learn daily from Him through my own babies.  Praise the Lord, for He is good.

bathingsuits

 

 

 

 

Learning to Appreciate Your Elders

fullsizerender

There are some things that you take for granted to the point that they almost stop meaning something to you, until you suddenly realize that they are nearly gone.  And there are people we take for granted as well, constantly.  Usually these are the people who have a permanent place in our lives.  They won’t come and go like fair-weather friends.  They won’t stop caring about you because you ignore them one time too many, or don’t call them enough.  No, these are the people that WE ignore because they’ll always be there, so we think that the relationship does not require as much effort to cultivate or maintain.  But they continue to love us, because it’s impossible for them not to.  Sometimes they’re our brothers, sisters, parents, or grandparents.

Because I was brought up in an Air Force home which up-rooted and moved like clock-work every three years, I rarely lived near relatives.  I didn’t get together with them with any sort of regularity, so for me, the mood at family gatherings was polite but uncomfortable.  Before the days of FaceTime and Skype, my grandparents received updates on me and my siblings via VHS tapes that my parents recorded and mailed to them every once in a while, so by the time they watched one, we kids had likely moved onto some other activity, school event, or favorite toy or past time.  I grew up believing that it was normal to not live near any other family, to not have old traditions or a regular gathering place for Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve, and indeed, those things weren’t commonplace for me.  But I even scoffed at the idea that I was missing out on anything by not living near my relatives.  I rolled my eyes in annoyance when my grandparents would ask me too many questions about school, give me advice on friends and relentlessly push Heavenly Hash ice cream.  How dare they assume that they knew me when they hardly ever saw me?

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I didn’t love my grandparents or want to be around them.  I liked being in their house–the smell of it always resurrected scattered memories from years before.  I liked the sound of the train whistle as I fell asleep.  I always looked forward to my grandmother’s blueberry pie with whipped cream–she made it especially for me.  My grandfather filled Dixie cups with pennies, pinched the tops and passed them out to us and our cousins, and I always felt so rich prying the cup open and seeing those shiny copper coins.  He introduced me to my favorite cereal, Crunchy Corn Bran, and my not-so-favorite mint, Certs, which he passed down the aisle during church services on Sunday.  My Nana gave soft, squishy hugs that enveloped you completely.  Having them in my life provided a sense of security, a grounding, but I wasn’t comfortable with the assumptions they made about me, about what kind of person I was or wanted to be, and I certainly didn’t take a serious interest in their lives and what they enjoyed because it just didn’t seem important.  Since they weren’t a consistent part of my daily life, my adolescent bravado assumed that there was nothing I could learn from them and nothing personal about myself worth revealing to them.

It wasn’t until I started dating my husband that I began to see the value in spending time with my grandparents, that I could make an actual effort where they were concerned instead of only showing up at sanctioned family events and grudgingly answering the same questions.  And the change began over ice-cream of all things!  I remember complaining to Bryan once back then about how my Paw-Paw ALWAYS tried to get me to eat Heavenly Hash ice-cream and I ALWAYS told him no, but he just wouldn’t take the hint.  Bryan said something like, “It’s one bowl of ice-cream, Adrienne.  Just eat it!  He’s your grandpa and it would make him so happy if you ate ice-cream with him, and then he’d stop bothering you about it!”  It seemed obvious to him, but it was actually a ground-breaking moment for me.  I realized that all these years that I had been telling my Paw-Paw “no, No, NO!” about the ice-cream, I had been building up resentment toward him that carried over into other ways that I perceived him, other areas of our relationship, and the issue was no longer Heavenly Hash.  It was my pride getting bigger and bigger and blocking me from seeing that my Paw-Paw just wanted to share something that he enjoyed with a grand-daughter he didn’t know very well, and ice-cream was his simplest method of forging a bond with me.

After that I began looking at my grandparents, and my extended family in general, with fresh eyes.  I realized that the responsibility of forming a relationship didn’t rest squarely on their shoulders just because they were my grandparents; I had to care enough about them to get to know them too.  I had to open up to them, to share myself with them, to ask them questions and be willing to learn and listen.  I had to discard the snobbery of youth that says that elderly people are outdated and irrelevant, and instead choose to recognize the wisdom and stability they offer.

Almost six years ago I became a mommy, and in subsequent years I’ve had the great blessing of living near both my mother-in-law (before she died) and then my own parents.  I now know what a gift it is to live near your parents when you have your own family, to see your children laugh and discover and learn from their grandparents, and although I loved my military upbringing, I am aware of some things that I missed in not being near my Nana, and my Mamadene and Paw-Paw.  I look back and regret many of those spiteful childhood moments when I rolled my eyes at my grandparents and shrank away from their embraces.  I wish I had spent more time sitting at their kitchen tables talking with them, even if some of their ideas were a little antiquated.  I lost my Nana the year before my oldest daughter was born, and although I have still lived a transient lifestyle as an adult (to this point), I truly try to take advantage of the moments I have with my surviving grandparents.  No matter how many times the conversation laps itself in circles, I listen for the deeper messages that are pouring from their hearts.

My grandparents are very old.  My grandfather will celebrate his 90th birthday this weekend, and I am traveling to Alabama to celebrate his life.  I will walk into the home that he and my grandmother have kept for over 50 years–the only home that has remained a constant one throughout my entire life, and breathe in its scent for what could always be the last time.   So much has changed in that house and in my grandparents.  My grandmother’s proud posture is a little stooped.  My grandfather doesn’t remember my name most of the time, but when I look through photos of him over the years, I see the same smile that lights up his face every time he sees me.  And I thank God that they have always been there, even when I took them for granted. I thank Him that their love was impossibly strong for someone who was often impossible.

I love you Mamadene and Paw-Paw.  Thank you for your legacy, thank you for your generosity and love.

grandparents