The Key to Happiness

As cute as it is to see two little toddlers prancing around the house on their wobbly little legs, it is not so cute to see the mess they leave behind.   At one point in my day, I take account of what I see around me.   Our kitchen floor is littered with random items: cheese grater lid, one superhero figurine, one sock, bits of paper, one smooshed banana, one small pool of apple juice, one toy train, one Letter Factory letter “p” ( which I just happened to step on), one block, one plastic container, one book, one magazine, one hairbrush…you get the picture.  It is a mess of random items pulled from all corners of the house, casually dropped onto the kitchen floor by a number of small children.

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My current locking system to keep babies out of the cupboard.

Sometimes it is hard to enjoy this stage of babyhood: the mess, the sticky goo on highchairs, the juice and milk splatters on the dining room walls, the endless poop on the hands from messy diaper changes, the snotty and slobbery kisses (ok, that one is a little endearing).  It is all so, well, gross.  I can’t wait to be done with it.

This post idea came from a comment I wrote to a friend this week.  In response to her question on how I was doing as a busy mom, I told her, “I’m always caught between holding on to these moments and this time to wishing this stage away.  An interesting balance.”

Some days it is really hard for me to be content with where I am at right now.  You can understand why, right?  I barely leave the house because it takes 20 minutes to get our outdoor gear on (not to mention the 45 minutes of time preparing to leave the house), my house is impossible to stay clean and tidy, the laundry is never ending, there are always dirty dishes somewhere, the kids fight more because they aren’t going outside as much in the cold weather, and I barely have a moment to think my own thoughts because my children are constantly bombarding me with questions about everything.  And this is my life right now.  It is a mostly self-sacrificing, giving-all-the-time occupation.  And this is it.  My daily life is about wiping bums, folding underwear and t-shirts, cooking uninspiring meals (hard for someone who loves to try new recipes) while trying to organize time to do groceries, run errands, and make doctor appointments.   Clearly, I don’t have emotional or mental space right now to take anything else on.  It is hard to maintain friendships and check in with family members.  I can’t commit to school or church clubs, groups or committees because what I do at home right now is all-consuming.  I feel stretched to the max already with managing a household of seven; five of those members being under the age of five.

Having said all that, I have so many moments in my day when I think to myself, “hold on to this, Julie. These moments are so precious.”  I know in the long run, these days at home will be fleeting.  My children will grow and leave home and I’ll think, “where did the time go?”  But there are also plenty of moments when I feel the difficulty of it all and I desire something more than what I’m doing.  It doesn’t always feel enough.

I also realize that being a mother or a parent is a tremendous responsibility.  Our children are learning how to talk, behave, love, interact, socialize from our own behaviour.  I know my job is more than just mundane tasks.  But I’ll save that for another blog post.

For now, I struggle with contentment.  How can I be content in an often thankless and overwhelming job like mothering?  Whether you are a mother or not, you also struggle with contentment.  We all do.  We all have a longing for something more.  There is a void in the depths of our beings that ache to be filled. Unfortunately, many of us foolishly try to fill those voids with a excess of or an unhealthy reliance on things that harm instead of fulfill: shopping, eating, working, drinking, sex, and unhealthy relationships.   Whatever it is, when we are feeling low, we go to those things first to help us feel better about whatever it is we feel so terrible about.   But these things will never satisfy the void.

Paul writes in Philippians 4:4-9, 11-13, (emphasis mine)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Thankfulness.  I believe Paul is unlocking the secret to contentment:  being thankful and  thinking praiseworthy thoughts.  In thankfulness, we push out negative thoughts and focus on what is good.  Now Paul also reminds us we can’t do it without God.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are able to find joy in our circumstances.  However, I do struggle with knowing how we can find contentment in situations of abuse or misuse of power.  I don’t believe those are situations in which one could find contentment.  Or when a loved one dies and the pain is more than we can bear.  Where does contentment fit in those circumstances?

Someone who has taught me a lot lately about being thankful is my friend Jacinda who is currently writing a blog about her daughter’s battle with cancer.  Jacinda uncovers what is truly important for their family and what brings them great joy: their family and friends who support them,  the moments they have being together as a family, and their God who gives them the strength to bear each day.  Being home together is one of the things her family is most thankful for.  With the many days Claire is in the hospital receiving treatment, being home together is a rare occurrence for their family, but something that brings them the most joy and happiness in the midst of their difficult circumstances.

Being home.  With her family.  Huh.  I guess I should be thankful for that too.  I should feel blessed.  I am blessed.  Having children is a gift.  I am filled with gratitude that we are healthy.  When I pause to really think about it,  I do feel so happy and so much love for my family, my heart could burst.    There are so many moments in a day that are simply amazing: watching Cor learn to eat with a spoon for the first time, seeing Mia explore the world around her with great passion and determination, observing Janelle dance for the love of expressing herself through music, discovering Willem’s passion for learning and understanding just about everything, and enjoying Ethan’s love of laughter and his excitement in accomplishing tasks on his own.

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As we begin this season of Advent; a time of waiting,  let us remember the reason Jesus came.  He came to save us.  To restore us and to fill that empty void of longing.  He is the Saviour.  He is Christ the Lord.  Come, Lord Jesus.

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

A Spill at No Frills

I like to watch people.  If I’m in a room full of strangers, I can’t keep my eyes off them.  I like to try to figure people out.  I enjoy quietly watching others, listening to what people are saying and forming my own opinions in my mind about what is being discussed.  I especially enjoy watching parents interact with their kids since that is my own life right now.

The problem I have with observing people is that I also am quick to make judgments.  Recently, I was at a community playroom with a few of our kids and I had several judgments to make about the parents in that room.  The mom who entered the room with two young kids was awfully skinny for having two kids.  How did she do that?  Her daughter looked a bit too old to be sucking on a soother.  Oh, and that other mom really needed to give her kid a timeout for speaking to her like that.  If only she set some limits, he wouldn’t be a terror like that.  Hmm. That blonde mom seemed really worn out and annoyed with her daughter.  She should….

On and on go the thoughts and the judgments.  What surprises me most is how I can be so quick to judge when I am often in these very same circumstances on a regular basis.  My kids don’t always listen and obey.  Sometimes I am so worn out I don’t speak nicely to my kids or I ignore their requests.  Often, I just don’t have it “together” and I’m left frazzled and impatient.

The other day at the grocery store I made quite a spectacle of myself in the worst way possible.  I’m sure many judgments were passed on me.  I was alone shopping at the grocery store, but was on a time constraint, so I was rushing to shop and didn’t pack my cart probably.  With items spilling out of the cart, a box of cereal in my hand because it didn’t fit in the cart, I made it to the check out and bagged my groceries.  At one point the conveyor belt got stuck and squished all my bread, but anyhow, after several attempts, I got all the groceries in the cart.  As I was leaving the store, I anticipated the slight incline out the door that might send my green bin flying, so I started going around the front to catch it.  Well, I was too late.  Several people were approaching the store as the bin tipped out the groceries.  I had a few sympathetic people come rushing to my aid to help me put it back in.  A man asked if he could help and I accepted.  Another woman reached down to grab my carrots.  I found this kind of humorous, but I was also a bit embarrassed.   I refused to make eye contact with any of them.

But after the initial spill, it got worse.   The bin wouldn’t go back on the cart because I was still on this little incline.  One of the men stayed behind to make sure I had everything alright.  (He happened to be the same man whom on my way out of the store, I happened to pass judgement on what he was purchasing.)   I tried to manage on my own by holding the bin in place with my foot as a hobbled down the little hill.  Unfortunately, it was snowing and the temperature had recently dropped, causing the asphalt to be rather slippery.  Yup, you guessed it.  As I hobbled awkwardly, I fell right in front of my cart.  Ouch. This man, still watching me, graciously asked if I was okay.  I was.  Just a bit mortified.  So again, I adjusted my stupid green bin and it still wouldn’t stay on the stupid cart.  The man once again asked if I had it alright.  I said, “I think so.”  And he replied, “Hey, where’s your vehicle?  Let me just take that for you.”

Sigh.  So he accompanied me to my van, graciously making small talk about how slippery those bins get in the cold, etc.   We arrived safely to my car and I, my overloaded grocery cart,  and my green bin made it unscathed.   After he left, I felt so grateful and humbled by these strangers who rushed to my aid and for the man who went out of his way to make sure I was handling things.  (If only he had known I usually shopped with 4 kids and this was supposed to be a piece of cake!).  I was frazzled and rushed and busy and time-pressured, but here there were strangers to help.  In my hastiness and in my moment of distress, I was rescued, and this humbled me greatly.

A while back, Lisa Terkeurst posted this saying on the Proverbs 31 Ministry website and it has stuck with me ever since.

Proverbs 31 Ministries

Proverbs 31 Ministries

It is funny.  I ended up having a conversation with the skinny mom.  I helped her out by giving her a tip on how to loosen the grasp of her toddler’s fist as he yanked another kid’s hair.  We ended up chatting about how many kids I had and what I did to “survive.”  I told her about my church’s Mom to Mom program and she was interested in what church I went to.  We talked about how being a mom can be lonely sometimes.  She was so lovely.  I could imagine us as friends.  My first thoughts of her were not really kind.   Yet, we connected and encouraged one another.

What Lisa said is true.  We are all out there trying to do our best.  But our busy, over-scheduled lives leave us frazzled, stressed, depleted and defeated.  But instead of judging each other, we should be the ones reaching out to help.  Offer a kind word or carry a bin of groceries.  Who knows what kind of lasting effect it could have on someone?  Maybe, like me, they will feel God’s hand stretched out, waiting for us to grab hold and stand tall once again.

Pressure Test: Warning (Content May Disturb Some Readers)

I’ve been meaning to sit down several times this week to write a new post, but the way things were going around here, I didn’t have the time or the energy to get anything down.  This has been a tough week.  It has been a week filled with what I like to call “character forming exercises.”

The reason for the busy week is not because I have a lot going on necessarily, but because Mia is transitioning from two naps per day to one per day.  Normally, this wouldn’t be much of a problem, but she’s a twin, and her twin is still on two naps.  That means for most of the week, I had one baby up and one baby asleep and then they’d switch.  That’s about 12 hour stretch of time trying to keep a baby happy.  This is exhausting and draining.  No rest for me which means my means my stamina for any slightly difficult situation is low.

Often when my defenses are low, I will experience a  pressure test and this pushes me to the limits of what I feel I can take.   The dictionary defines pressure, “P1110860 an urgent claim or demand or series of urgent claims or demands” and “the exertion of force by one body on the surface of another.”  I can relate to both of these definitions.  The first refers to the ongoing needs my children have and I need to fill.  The second refers to the physical nature of being a mom to young kids.  There’s a lot of physical contact.  My chiropractor told me during an adjustment that it was like he was working on a football player.  I’m pretty beat up from all the carrying, bending, wrestling,  jumping (them on me), squeezing, etc.

Every day, I have at least two or more pressure tests.  This is when things seem out of control and I’m being pushed to the max by demands of my little people.  Here is a glimpse of the some of the pressure tests I experience regularly or have experienced  recently:

One pressure test I experience everyday is called “leaving the house.”   Five children need to be encouraged and helped getting their clothes on for outdoors.  Ten socks, ten shoes, 5 coats, and then reapplying of several socks and shoes by babies who pull them off before I’ve gotten them out the door.  When the big kids are ready, they go out the door one by one and babies follow close behind but can’t go out unsupervised, so I have to pull them back in.  Then the tears begin and the leg grabbing and clinging to my pants while I’m struggling to find two matching boots in the mass of shoes in the closet.  Then I have to pee, so I tear the babies off my legs, resulting in louder and more urgent crying, as I run for the toilet.  By this time, Janelle has come back in to tell me Ethan hit her and Ethan is on the porch crying because Janelle slammed the door in his face.  After settling the dispute and pulling the babies off the front porch again, I smell something funky.  A diaper needs changing.  By this time, I’ve stripped off my sweater because I am working up a sweat just trying to get everyone out the door.  A pressure test.

This next pressure test happened this past summer.  It is one of the worst situations I have ever had with my child.  No, no one was seriously hurt or anything, I was just horrified and embarrassed.

Because it was summertime, Jonathan was home and I had the pleasure of taking the three oldest kids to the local library.  It was a treat not having to take the babies because the car seat buckling, diaper bag dragging and the stroller set up take a lot of extra time.  I love taking three kids out and it feels easy.  Well, this trip got pretty hard real fast.  Funny how I get humbled so quickly when I think I’ve got things under control.

I was leisurely browsing through books and movies, when I noticed my 2 year old was standing a little funny.  I went to him and to my horror, noticed a large mound of poop under his legs.  On the library floor.  It was carpet.  Realizing I didn’t have a diaper bag with a change of clothes, I sucked in a huge breath and said, “Ethan,  stay right there.”  I walked to the bathroom as quickly as possible and grabbed a wad of paper towel.  A brisk walk back and I discovered Ethan hadn’t moved an inch.  He was probably in shock as well.  I scooped the poop (poop and scoop, remember, Jess?) with the paper towel and grabbed Ethan’s hand.  I kept my head down, avoiding eye contact with others, and dragged a plodding Ethan to the bathroom.  The worst part of all, was the fact he was wearing a boxer short underwear.  It doesn’t contain anything.  As we trudged to the bathroom, a trail of poop was being left behind.  When we reached the safety of the bathroom, I realized I had to go back out there and tackle the mess on the floor knowing some people were watching the scene unfold.  A pressure test.

During these pressure tests, I know I have to face the task alone.  It is my responsibility to look after these things.  But sometimes at home when housework starts to build and the kids are sick and cranky and I’m tired and irritable, I often think, isn’t there anyone out there who can help me right now?  Should I call someone?  Who could come?  Lately, no one is coming to my rescue.  Not because I don’t have wonderful supportive people in my life, but I have a feeling God wants me to handle this on my own too.

As I was thinking about these things tonight while loading the dishwasher, I had a light bulb moment.  I realized my mom used to rescue me like that.  As soon as I ran into a bit of trouble, she’d be at my side, taking over and fixing things for me.  Oh.  I get it now.  I know why I’m looking to be rescued in these moments of struggle.  When I was first married, I wondered why Jonathan didn’t come rushing to the kitchen when a disaster had happened.  He didn’t even yell from the living room to find out what happened.  Clearly he heard my yelling and the crashing and banging.  I’d think, “Why isn’t he coming over here?”  Since then I’ve learned that’s not his style and if I need help, I need to ask for it.  He will gladly step in, but all I have to do is ask.

So, today I wonder what I’m in training for.  Don’t astronauts have to under go pressure tests in order to be allowed to fly to space?  Space travel is not for the weak.  An astronaut needs to have a sound mind and body.  So, what I am in training for?  These pressure tests push me to my limits.  Most times I feel like shouting or running out of the house, but instead, I have to remain calm under the circumstances.  And this builds character.  Not buckling under the pressure.  Continuing to demonstrate good character under stressful circumstances.

I don’t know what God has in store for me in the future, but I do know he wants me to be more and more like him.  The more strain I feel, the more I feel him shaping me into who he wants me to be.  The training is hard, but the result will be beautiful because he made me.  Who I am and what I become will be used for his purpose.

Isaiah 64: 8

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.