Monday, March 28, 2011

A Mother's Love

Before I had children I often heard it said that a woman will never love another person as much as she loves her children - that a mother's love is different from any other love. Friends tried to describe it. Family members tried to describe it. Even my own mother tried to describe it. Based on their accounts, I thought I knew. I thought I was ready for it.
Nothing fully prepares you for the awakening of the love that lies dormant in the depths of your heart until the moment you hold your first-born child. Nothing fully prepares you for the realization that you created this life, that somehow your body has the ability to put fingers and toes and eyes in all the right places. Nothing fully prepares you for the fear that you are fully responsible for this tiny person; that she will rely on you for everything; that you will be the first person she trusts, the first person she loves. Nothing fully prepares you for how easily you would go to the ends of the earth or lay down your life to protect her from harm. Nothing fully prepares you for the sense of peace you feel knowing that someday you will die, but your essence will live on in her and her children and their children. And nothing fully prepares you for the happiness you feel every time you say "my daughter" or for the pride you feel in every one of her triumphs from tying shoes to college degrees.
I love my mother. I love my family. I love my friends. I love my husband. But the world needs to come up with a whole new word for what I feel for my daughter. It is something you can never fully understand until you know it first-hand. And once you know it you can never fully explain it. That's because the words don't exist to describe the place in your heart where "a mother's love" lies.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Embracing Frugality

When we decided that I would stay home with Reese full-time, one of the things I had to do immediately was learn what it means to be frugal. Matt is a high school teacher and my job provided 50% of our income. The day I turned in my resignation letter we took a huge leap of faith. We were determined to make our lifestyle fit within Matt's take home salary and not accumulate extra debt. We've been without my full-time since August, and we have not taken out any loans, carried any credit card balance, or touched our savings account. Now, I realize that it's only been 7 months and we haven't faced any major catastrophes, but we haven't been without any financial surprises either. One of the many things that made the difference for us was embracing a frugal lifestyle.

I have learned so much about living with less over the past 7 months. I still have a long way to go, but at the very least, frugality has gone from a word that brought me feelings of embarrassment to one that brings me feelings of accomplishment. I used to think that being frugal meant being cheap, but I was so wrong! Some of the people I know who live the most full and abundant lives are also those who are the most frugal with their spending. Here are some of the differences I've learned about being cheap vs. being frugal. Cheap people are stingy; frugal people are generous. Cheap people will sacrifice quality or safety to save money; frugal people find creative ways to get safe, high quality items for less. Cheap people stiff their friends on the tab and make frivolous complaints to avoid paying full price; frugal people make sure costs are split fairly and take advantage of sales and coupons to avoid paying full price. Cheap people only want to spend money on themselves; frugal people donate to charitable causes and prefer to spend money on others. The biggest difference is that frugal people spend less on tangible that fill their closets and more on intangible things that fill their lives.

How amazing is it to think that your life can be so full without a high price tag? Fortunately, anyone can embrace a frugal lifestyle - the difficult part is taking the steps to get there. Here are some of the things we have had to start doing to help us be more frugal in our spending: (1) fully understand the difference between needs and wants, (2) get in touch with our values, both individually and as a family, (3) re-define some common words and cultural concepts, (4) surround ourselves with people who support and encourage us, and (5) pray for strength and guidance throughout the process.

I hope that as our financial state evolves, we will continue with the frugal habits we're developing. I hope that we remember to think of others before ourselves and that we stay committed to being good stewards of God's blessings. Most of all, I hope that we never forget all that we gained by embracing frugality.

Monday, March 21, 2011

There is a Boss

I recently sat through a workshop on discipline where the speaker said that when you discipline a toddler you are mainly trying to teach one simple concept: "there is a boss and it's not you." Now, say what you will about that philosophy. I didn't bring it up to agree or disagree. I brought it up because I feel it's a worthwhile message for us adults too.

Oh, how difficult it is to give up control in our lives... especially for a Type A (or Type Triple A) person like me. I need to have everything under control at all times. My least favorite word is "uncertainty." Every day has a plan, and a plan for how to approach the plan, and a plan B in case plan A goes awry. As I get more and more caught up in making my plans, I start to slip into a mindset where I demand more and more control over the big picture of my life. I want everything to work out my way. I want the outcomes that best serve me and my circumstances. I want to be the boss of my life!

Our parents disciplined us as kids because they knew more about immediate dangers and long-term consequences than we did. Sticking a fork in the outlet seems like a lot of fun to a toddler. How disappointing must it be as the fork gets ripped from his little hand? Eating ice cream for every meal seems awesome to a kid. How much must it stink to have to eat broccoli instead? But as their parents, we know that we have to protect them from the short-term hazards and prepare them for long-term health and success. And so the same goes for us as adults and the "forks" that God rips away from us before we get hurt, or the "broccoli" He forces us to eat that ultimately makes us strong, better people. So when things work out in a way that doesn't quite jive with my plans, I'm trying to remember that "there is a boss and it's not me."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Re-thinking Prayer

Anyone who knows me today has probably heard me say that I hope Reese doesn't inherit my teeth. Anyone who knew me prior to 1997 knows why. From 3rd to 8th grade I had one of the worst cases of "snaggletooth" I have ever (to this day) seen on a child. I had mostly straight teeth except for my front right tooth, which jutted both forward and sideways in a way that made it impossible for anyone not to notice (or stare). Needless to say, I was teased a lot and junior high was the worst time of my life. Shortly after Reese was born, I started praying that she wouldn't inherit such an awful feature.

Then last weekend, I went to the Hearts at Home conference (an annual must for any Christian mom) where I watched a woman speak about losing her sight as a young adult. A 47-year-old married mother of two, she spoke with so much passion for life and so much faith in God. I was sitting there in tears thinking, "This woman has not been able to see for over 2 decades. She has not seen her husband or her children and she will never see her grandchildren. Yet, she has not allowed that to break her or to keep her from having a happy life." And here I am worried that Reese will have bad teeth? Shame. On. Me. I was worried about a minor, temporary, fixable problem. I never thought about praying that she will be able to see, or that she will be able to walk, or that she will have her health. I totally took it for granted that she will have every ability and no major health concerns.

Now I am trying to re-think the way I pray for Reese. I'm not asking for her to look a certain way or be exceptionally smart or athletic. I'm also not asking that she avoid major illnesses or physical afflictions. I'm just going to pray that whatever struggles and challenges come her way, God will give her grace, strength, and courage so she can rise to meet them rather than crumble under them. And if her biggest struggle in life is bad teeth, then praise God!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Our Little House

Our house is too small! It's so small that I can vaccuum the living room, master bedroom, and baby's room without relocating the vaccuum's plug. We have one bathroom, no garage, no basement, no dishwasher, and no linen closet. Matt's feet actually hang off the edge of our bed because he is much too tall for a queen size bed but our bedroom isn't big enough for a king. This year we had to section off a portion of our living room to create a nursery for our baby girl. We do have a small upstairs room, but it is not well insulated so we use it as an attic to store the clothes that don't fit in our closet, the food that doesn't fit in the kitchen, and a hodge-podge of other things that don't fit anywhere. When we visit our friends' homes, I often find myself feeling envious of their guest bedrooms, office spaces, and walk-in closets. It just doesn't seem fair.

When I catch myself getting carried away with these thoughts, I feel ashamed. There are so many people in the world without a place to call home - people who would give anything for even a fraction of what I have. What I need to do in those moments is remember to take a step back, count my many blessings, and remember to be thankful for all that I have, not demanding of all that I want. So here are just a few of the things for which I am so grateful: I'm thankful that I can clean my whole house in a very short time, which leaves me more time to do other things I enjoy. I'm thankful that we have such a small living space and that we so often have to be in the same room, which allows us to spend more time together as a family. I'm thankful that we have too much food to fit in the kitchen and too many clothes to fit in one closet. I'm thankful that we didn't let our lack of extra space stop us from expanding our family. Most of all, I'm thankful that we never gave in to the temptations that surrounded us to buy a bigger house (which would have satisfied our desire for nicer things, but would have shattered our dream of being able to raise our children with a parent at home). I'm thankful for our tiny house and all that it has provided for us.

We are young and our marriage is still new, and I hope that as we continue to build a life together we will remember how much we learned and shared and grew closer in our little house. I hope that we raise children who can embrace a simple lifestyle. And I hope that our house is always too small.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Biggest Challenge

When I was first preparing to become a mom, I thought a lot about the person I hope my little girl becomes. I want to teach her to be responsible and hard-working and generous. I want her to be driven by faith and love, not money and status. I want her to choose her friends wisely and make good, healthy decisions. I also thought a lot about the challenges I would face as a first-time parent... things like my method of discipline, fostering healthy eating habits, not being too strict or too lenient, encouraging independence, offering help at the right times, etc. I thought of every possible challenge and how I thought I might face it, but the biggest challenge hadn't even crossed my mind.

Through a lot of time spent praying and reflecting on myself as a person, I began to realize that the biggest challenge in parenting has less to do with the decisions I make as a parent and a lot more to do with the ones I make as a person. Which means that I can have this great image of the woman I hope Reese becomes, but unless I am striving every day to be that woman myself, how can I ever expect to be able to create that in her? How can I expect her to be thankful if I am always taking things for granted? How can I expect her to develop a strong faith if I don't read the Bible regularly and talk to her about its teachings? How can I expect her to embody virtues that I don't exercise daily? Those questions prompted me to focus less on making sure Reese becomes a faith-driven woman and more on setting an example for her of how a faith-driven woman should act.

It's been amazing to me how much my actions, attitude, and decisions have changed now that I know there is a child hanging on every word I say and watching every move I make. I'm trying to be more thoughtful, prayerful, and grateful in my everyday life so I can be the best possible role model for my daughter. That is biggest (and most important) parenting challenge, but I do believe that if I can handle this one, the rest will fall into place.