Finding Joy in the Mess

Upon exiting the library yesterday morning with 4 kids in tow, I almost did a leap of joy in celebration of an uneventful trip.  This was my second trip to the library where I felt it was a “normal” experience.  It involved browsing the aisles while the kids played in the children’s area.  I’m not always in sight, but the twins now know I’m not far away and they have settled into the routine of going to the library to pick out books, movies, CD’s, and toys.  Sigh.  Finally.

To inflate my sense of success even more, a lovely woman commented as we exited about the lovely crew I had.  It is nice to feel the admiration of strangers. All this basking in our success came to a screeching halt on our walk back to the van when Ethan says, “Mommy, there’s puke coming out of my bum.” Oh my.  There it was.  Diarrhea dripping down the left leg.

Okay. Back into stress mode.  First step was to find a baby wipe to clean off his leg and assess the situation.  He assured me he didn’t need to go to the toilet, so instead of going back inside to the washroom ( I didn’t really want to meet that nice lady again), I decided to clean him up with new underwear and pants in the van. These are the times where my van assumes its role as “place of refuge.” “Alright, kids, ” I hear myself say, “let’s just get back to the van and everything will be ok!” (For those of my friends sitting on the fence about a van, think about the diaper changes and clothing changes you can do when these situations arise!)

Meanwhile, Cor has eyed the crackers in the diaper bag he wasn’t allowed to finish in the library because it was time to go.  He decides to throw a hissy fit because I zipped up the diaper bag, keeping him out of reach of the desired snack.  So, Ethan has to wait in the dirty pants while I deal with Cor’s outburst of anger.  I did end up giving him the crackers.  We just needed to get to the van without causing anymore attention to ourselves.

So, crisis was resolved in the van with clean pants and cracker snacks.  Another job well done by this mama.  Stress was elevated, but not over-the-top this time. I did have to laugh at myself.

Who am I kidding?  Drama will follow me wherever I go for a long, long time.

Recently,  some of my new mom friends and I were swapping book recommendations on breastfeeding and sleeping and parenting.  I was able to give some suggestions on the books I read before the birth of all my kids, but I find myself reading less and less about babies and more about different kinds of issues.

Lately, I’ve taken books out on discipline, emotional health, and a play-based approach to stress and anxiety in children.  I feel like I should be awarded a psychology degree with all the reading and practicum I will have completed after the raising of these kids. I’m realizing that the issues get bigger as the kids get bigger.  It begins with feeding and pooping and sleeping.  When we’ve tackled those BIG issues, we move on to harder ones: bullying, anxiety, self-worth, faith and academic success.  My situations in public involving poop are relatively insignificant in terms of problems that can happen in the life of a child.

I do admit, I’m a book reader.  If I have questions about a topic that interests me, I find a book about it.  I try my best to put the advice of doctors and counselors I resonate with into action, but more often than not, I feel like I’m failing my kids because I can’t quite remember all the steps.  And, more often than not, I let my own emotions take over any logical and sensible advice I’ve received from the professionals.  All too often my frustrations and weaknesses and feelings of inadequacy take over and the principles from the book go out the window.

This week I found myself crying in the kitchen while the kids were having quiet time.  I was feeling overwhelmed because I wasn’t feeling well and the kids weren’t feeling well.  The house was a disaster.  Again.  I just tidied the day before, vacuumed floors, mopped the kitchen floor and as I looked around, the evidence of all that was gone.  Long gone.  I wondered how a person was to stay sane when their surroundings were in utter chaos all the time.  Often in these moments, I remember the advice I got from my aunt Wilma after my first baby shower.  She said, “and don’t worry about the house.”

I try very, very hard not to worry about it.  But I do worry about it.  All the time.  There’s never enough time or energy to keep it the way I think is decent, even for a family of 7.   I know I have 5 kids, but I don’t like living in a mess.  Yes, I do get everyone to pitch in and clean up the mess, but we are living with 2 toddlers who leave a path of destruction wherever they go.  They get into everything: toothbrushes, flossing picks, combs, hair elastics, CD’s, Tupperware, all toys of all kinds, puzzles, laundry, clean diapers, clean clothes from drawers, books, etc.P1120685 So, as I’m sitting in the kitchen feeling miserable, I stumbled across a blog that makes me break down and cry.  Her blog is called Finding Joy and her post is: 10 Things Happy Moms Don’t Do. The part that hit me like a ton bricks was this:

4. Base success on the state of the home. So tough, really, but true. When you have kids in your home your home will probably look like you have kids living in your home. You can have it spotless at 8am only to look like you never clean ever by 8:15am. Kids do that. Do what you can. Keep it clean. But, you know, kids like to dump stuff out, mix paints, color on things, and create things. And that? That means a mess often. Your success isn’t based on the throw pillows always on the couch, nor is your happiness.

I feel I was basing my success on the state of my home. I think I was raised that way.  Clean home equals successful wife and mother.  I struggle with letting things go a bit so I can spend more moments enjoying the kids instead of cleaning up after them.  I wish I could sit in a messy house with the kids around and I am perfectly happy. I know I can’t let everything go, or it would be really bad around here.  But I do need to be more patient in the messy moments.  Because as my husband reminds me, I will get it cleaned up eventually.

There will be moments of mess. Whether it is puke, poop, toys or toothbrushes.  I’m pretty good at dealing with the immediate crisis of body fluids in public, but not so good at the mess of life behind closed doors.  I’m working on that.

Life is a work in progress.  I won’t get everything perfect. I can’t find all the answers in a book.   And I should stop counting on perfect trips to the library. Most importantly, I’m being reminded daily I can’t do this mom job on my own strength.  Sometimes a crack in my “I’ve got it all together” is a healthy reminder that I don’t have it all together.  Not without God’s hand in my life.

For God’s hand is what gives me strength when I need it most and God’s word comforts me when I struggle to feel at peace in the midst of my mess.

 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9


A Legacy of Love

During a morning in April,  during our Coffee Break discussion of The Best Yes, Lysa Terkeurst encouraged us to think about our legacy.  She guided us in thinking of our legacy as something “we build over a liftetime-an accumulation of generous, selfless, quiet choices that honor God in the midst of a day.”

The questions directed us to think of someone who has left (or is leaving) this kind of legacy to us personally.  Instantly, I thought of my mom.  She left an amazing legacy that I am proud to recall.  I didn’t mention it to the group that morning, because I didn’t trust my emotions and I wasn’t sure exactly what things about her I would call “her legacy,” but I now want to explore further here, on this blog, as to what kinds of things I think about daily/weekly about my mom.  I want to share some of her legacy and how it impacts me today.

As I go about my day, I think a lot about my mom.  Some days more than others, but many of the things I do remind me so much of her.  My mom was also a stay-at-home mother during the preschool years of her children.  Her and I share similar interests and skills.  Here are some of the memories I have of her when I was growing up.

My mom was hard-working.  I can appreciate now the hours of work she put into a day at home.  I remember her sitting at the sewing machine working on her latest project; I remember her baking up a storm as I tried to watch fuzzy TV with the mixer bellowing loudly in the kitchen (fuzzy TV was caused by the mixer); I remember her working in the garden during the summer after I had gone to bed (I watched her from my bedroom window), trying to get weeds pulled or watering plants before the daylight ran out for the day; I remember her canning many jars of fruit and freezing multiple bags of beans from the garden;  I remember her baking treats for the men who came for coffee after being out in the fields baling hay; I remember her cleaning windows, scrubbing the frames and using a shammy to wipe away streaks on the glass until they shone; I remember her washing, wiping, vacuuming, scrubbing, sweeping indoors and outdoors; I remember her cooking delicious meals and sometimes concocting dinners she called “invention night” from the ingredients she had in the fridge and pantry; I remember her hosting neighbours and friends for parties and gatherings.

Although my mom worked hard and put in long hours, I do remember her taking time to rest.  After breakfast, she would sit and have her tea.  She took a morning and afternoon coffee break (to eat something lekker, of course).  She had a 15 minute nap in her chair every afternoon.  Yup, she worked hard, but she needed her breaks too.  Sometimes when the guilt settles into me if I lay down after lunch while the kids have their quiet time, I remember my mom did it too and I never once thought she was lazy.  I know it leaves me feeling refreshed and ready to tackle my chores once again.

Jonathan asked me a few weeks ago if my mom played with me a lot.  I replied, “no, she was always working, so I either played nearby or I “helped” her with her chores.  I remember being very content as a kid.  I played a lot by myself even though I had 4 other siblings.  My next sibling, my sister is 5 years older than me, so she was already in school when I started to play around the house.  I have very fond memories of playing on my own, but my mom always close by.  Yes, I did get lonely at times for friends my age, but I got plenty of social interaction with church friends and friends at school once I enrolled.

Later, my mom told me she regretted she didn’t play with us kids more, so I often think of that when I want to push the kids aside to finish up dishes or laundry.  This is one way she passed down her experience.  She told me openly about her regrets.  I take this regret to heart when I hear myself telling the kids I can’t read a story or do an activity with them because I have chores to do.  Yes, chores are necessary, but more often than not, I can stop for a brief time and spend a moment doing an activity with the kids.

Yes, I do remember my mom working hard, but the legacy I am most proud of in my mom is her love for people.  She was a vibrant, sometimes loud, joyful, talkative woman who loved to share stories about herself, her day and her family.  My mom genuinely took an interest in the people she interacted with.  My friends often comment on how they loved coming to my house because of my mom.  She chatted with them like they were her own.  She made them feel important.  My mom often told me how cashiers ended up telling her their life story in the brief minutes she spent in their company.  But she made the first move by going beyond the “how are you today?” and said something unique to them that opened the doors for a meaningful conversation.

My mom was involved in helping people.  She led Coffee Break, Sunday School and Calvinettes at our church for many years, but eventually she moved into the  broader community.  She started out as a Palliative Care volunteer where she visited with individuals dealing with a loss of a loved one.    She led a cooking class at a local Youth Detention Centre and guided these young men by teaching them an important life skill.  She drove a school bus for the local public school for many years, but she really took an interest in the kids on her bus. They were important to her and she cared about them very much.  My mom eventually got a job as a Parent Resource Visitor for the Huron County Health Unit.  She was amazing at her job.  She had first hand knowledge as to what it felt like to be a young teenage mom.  She cared for the young woman she visited who had little support or were in difficult circumstances.  Sometimes she even put her own safety at risk to help these young mothers.  She was able to set up a fund through the deacons in the local Christian Reformed Churches to get food vouchers for these struggling families.

My mom demonstrated what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.  She went out of her comfort zone to help her community.  She used her out-going, personable and loving personality to show others the love of Christ.

This is the legacy that is important to me.  To demonstrate to this broken world that someone cares enough to spend their time helping them is what matters.  I want others to feel the love of Christ because I showed up that day to lend them a hand, to drop off a meal or to have a meaningful conversation.

Right now, I’m limited in the service I can provide to my wider community.  But this love begins at home.  My children are watching me everyday.   As I noticed what my mom did, they notice what I do and what I say.  I want to honour God in my behaviour not only toward others, but also toward my children (and my husband).  I want to push away my impatience and selfish need to do my own thing and spend the time with them they crave.  The attention I give my children and the attention I give to becoming more Christ-like in my actions is one way I can build my legacy.

For now, although my children are still small, I can enjoy the meaningful conversations I have with them while we explore the outdoors, while we chat for a minute before the kiss goodnight, while we prepare a meal together or while we simply sit together on the couch.  I can take time to be present in the moment and not distracted by the many things trying to pull me away from what’s most important.  Someday, my kids will remember I did this and will want to pass on this kind of love to their own families and communities.

This is a legacy worth leaving.


Willem meeting his Oma for the first time. December 2008


Willem and Mommy May 2015.



The Beauty of Aging

This week I turned another year older.  I’m now dangerously approaching my mid-thirties.  I’m beginning to see, with some disbelief, signs that my youthful body is slowly fading.

One morning, as I was getting ready to leave the house, I quickly put on some makeup to cover up the tired mom look.  I tried to cover up the tired mom look.  Effort always counts for something.  Just as I was about turn to off the bathroom light, I noticed the three wrinkles on my forehead when my brow furrows hadn’t unfurrowed.    Wait a minute.  This has never happened to me before.  Are those wrinkles there to stay?  Forever?  I’m not ready for this!

Fortunately, I was able to remedy the wrinkle situation by smoothing more foundation into the creases.  I’m pretty sure I applied the makeup in the furrowing position, hence the perma-furrow.  Everything was back to normal again.  But still, a little unsettling.

I always thought I’d be okay with aging.  I still think I’m okay with aging.  I don’t plan to dye my hair when it begins to turn gray.  I’ve long been aware of the proverb that speaks of the “crown of splendor” that comes with graying hair.

31 Gray hair is a crown of splendor;
    it is attained in the way of righteousness.

 Proverbs 16:31

 A crown of splendor.  That is pretty lovely.

But on Monday, under the unforgiving bright lights in the Old Navy change room, there it was.  I could see it.  On top of my head, a white hair.  There were probably more in sight, but I chose not to search for them. I already understood what was happening to me.

I am getting older.

It isn’t just happening to me either.  I see it on Facebook.  The friends I knew 10-15 years ago.  The women I went to high school and university with?  They are aging too.  I’m starting to see the wrinkles around their eyes I didn’t see when I knew them so many years ago.

But what I’ve noticed most, when paging through the pictures of women my age with their kids on their laps or the places they’ve traveled in the background, is their loveliness.  They are more beautiful than I remembered them to be.  I see angular faces with eyes that sparkle, smiles that cause creases in their skin, reflecting the joy in the people around them.

And to my surprise, when I walk by a mirror or pause to see my reflection for a minute, I am stunned to see that I’m looking beautiful too.  My face has slimmed down, my cheekbones are a bit more defined, my eyes are clear, my long hair has developed a wave.  Hmm.

Yes, it is true, these women and I look a bit more weathered.  The mothers in the group don’t quite have the bodies we once had in the pre-kid era.  But we’ve been places and have had some life experiences not known to the teenage girl. We’ve experienced hardship and loss.  We’ve known joy and love we never could have imagined.

This is where the beauty comes from.  It isn’t from the perfect, flawless skin or from the slim, fit bodies the media tries to convince us we need to be beautiful.  The loveliness we possess is a natural beauty that only comes from living life, coming through the hard times and finding joy in the everyday experiences.

The beauty of our spirit will never fade.   As our bodies continue to age and lose it’s youthful appearance, we can be assured God will continue to work on our inner beauty, refining us into who he made us to be.  It is this beauty we can hold on to.

It only gets better from here, ladies.

Getting ready to bake on my 34th birthday.

Getting ready to bake on my 34th birthday.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

1 Peter 3:3-4

When the Future Gets Cancelled

P1120425Looking back at my high school year book, I notice my “FP” (future prediction) hasn’t come true (yet).  Beside my graduation picture, my FP says, “singing missionary in Africa.”  Believe it or not, I still have that dream.  Maybe not a “singing missionary”, but I’ve always had the dream to live and work in Africa, bringing love and encouragement to those who may not know about Jesus.

I also noticed my “KF”(known for) includes “her domestic abilities.”  Well, those abilities sure are coming in handy now.  Being domestic at home is what I’m known for today. Yet, I still have big dreams of doing big things away from home.

This has been a hard week.  A very hard week.  Illness hit our house with a vengeance.  Having a large family means it takes a long time for illness to filter its way through every member of the family.  I’ve had to religiously document when medications are dispensed and for whom or I won’t even remember who is sick that day.

I don’t quite know how to describe what happened here this week.  All I know is that it was a struggle for me to stay positive.  My attitude of “I’ve got this” started to take a nose dive.  I told a friend over Facebook on Wednesday that I had baby snot in my hair.  I don’t know how it got there, but once I glanced in the mirror at the glistening nasal mucus on my already greasy hair, I knew I had reached an all time low.

If I go on and on and describe some of the things that happened, I fear I’d be entering into “complaining” territory and I don’t want to do that.  What I can say is I went to bed at 9:00pm several nights in a row, falling into bed with complete exhaustion.  Waking up in the morning, I still felt tired and I had to do another taxing day all over again.

I was waiting for the end of the round of sickness so I could write a nice blog post about the tough time I had and how it resolved.  Well, I realize now that that resolution may never come.  The illness is still here and I’m still tired and house bound.  I continue to cancel visits with friends and social events.  I continue to feel disappointment every time I send an email saying, “I can’t do it, the kids are sick.”

I guess this really is a true picture of what life is like.  We can’t always find the silver lining in every situation.  We might never know why a loved one had to die or why we never got to take that career path we thought we were supposed to go down.

I wonder if these detours on the road, the change in direction, is God gently guiding us on the path he wants us to take.

I’ve often been a bit confused by Proverbs 3:6, “in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”   I have to tell you, I don’t feel like my path is very straight.  But I do know in these hard times, the times when my appointments on the calendar are crossed off because I have to deal with ceaseless crying and runny noses, I have to rely on him for understanding and I can begin to see a new course ahead with God in the lead.

Now that I’m in my thirties and I have had some life experiences under my belt, I’m realizing that life is very unpredictable.  While making life plans in high school seemed very important at the time, I realize now life isn’t something you can plan and package with nice paper and a pretty bow.  We often desperately try to organize our lives so things all make sense.  We like to keep lists, pin boards on Pinterest, place appointments on calendars, plan vacations in advance, and hold dreams that we hope to one day fulfill.  When life takes a slight turn or even a drastic bend, we struggle with understanding what went wrong in our plan.

I’ll never forget the time I look at my mom’s calendar the week after she died.  She had written appointments and special P1070049edgecelebrations and trips she had always wanted to make onto the next year’s dates.   It felt so disconcerting knowing she would never fulfill those plans.

As for my FP?  I don’t know what my future holds.  Being at home gives me an opportunity to dream about the possibilities of things I could do in the outside world.  Sometimes I think of an idea and spend an hour researching how I could make it happen.  But every time I think of a brilliant idea of what I’d like to do in my future, I feel God reeling me back to my family here at home.

Having sick kids orders me to stay home.  I guess I’m getting the message I need to be here right now.  As much as I’d like to be out saving the world by singing in Africa, I’m here, serving my family and most importantly, my God.

In Memory of Anna

This morning I heard a beautiful arrangement of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” sung by City Harbor.  I have heard this CD I was listening to many times, but in this particular moment, the song immediately caught my attention.  As I listened, my thoughts turned to my good friend who tragically lost her mom last week to a car accident.  Her dad is currently in hospital recovering from serious injuries.

This hymn brings comfort in many ways.  Rich phrases like, “streams of mercy, never ceasing” and “how his kindness yet pursues me” and “mount of God’s unchanging love” proclaim God’s pouring of his love on us.  We feel this love especially when we are vulnerable and hurting.  It is God’s people who come together to rally and support a hurting family.  It is through his people, God can act and demonstrate his care and provision.

In times of death, we understand more clearly that God is the only constant in our lives.  People we love, those we know “will always be there for us,” really can’t be.  Praying to be shackled to God, “like a fetter,” is the only way for us to feel grounded in this ever changing world.

We sing with hope.  Tomorrow as friends, family and supporters, we will gather around this hurting family and express our deep love for them and for Anna, their wife, mother and grandmother.  Anna, a woman who dedicated her life in service to her Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Anna, a woman of godly character with a vibrant and joyful personality who loved people and cared deeply for her family and for God’s family.

We will sing boldly.  We will praise God in an urgent way.  Knowing we will someday be “released from flesh and sin” to claim our inheritance.  We take comfort in knowing we will one day know the true extent of God’s love.

Until we meet again.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of God’s unchanging love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Make the Ordinary Come Alive

One day while I was sitting on the couch, folding laundry, drowning in piles of clean clothes, I caught myself thinking about how much I was enjoying the folding of laundry.  Almost immediately, I wondered how I could possibly enjoy the work I was doing.  Laundry around here is endless.  There are either piles of dirty clothes in the laundry baskets or piles of clean clothes ready to be folded or piles of newly folded clothes ready to be put away.  And once I get it all put away, I turn around in satisfaction, only to find another dirty sock lying on the floor.

We all know the work of a mom is anything but glamorous.  A large part of the job description involves taking care of dirty things that need cleaning: floors, walls, toys, clothes, dishes, noses, and the worst of all, bums.   The hardest part of the job is often not in doing the work, but the realization that the job is never done.  I don’t get to leave the work place, I don’t get to set a pile of papers on the “done” pile and walk away.  There is always more and it is usually always the same tasks that need to be done, several times a day.

But to my surprise on this particular day, I found myself enjoying my work.  I realized this contentment came from God and him alone.  When joy is found in the most unusual places, we know God grants this as his gift to us.

One morning I came across a passage in Ecclesiastes 3 that reassured me of God’s gift of satisfaction in my everyday, mundane tasks.

12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.

Now, I wouldn’t be speaking the truth if I told you I find satisfaction in doing laundry all the time.  Most of the time, I try to put it off.  The idea of doing the work I have to do is often worse than actually doing the job.  I do, however, find much satisfaction when the job is completed.  Sometimes I like to walk in and out of the room a few times where the laundry was once piled, just so I can admire the empty space.

A friend posted a quote on Facebook this week that illuminated an idea of the ordinary and mundane becoming something extraordinary.

ordinary come alive What a beautiful perspective.

Now, finding “wonder” in doing laundry might seem like a bit of a stretch.   But what if I allowed my kids to play in the laundry baskets while I folded the load of clothes?  What if they ran under the sheets, giggling, while I lifted them to get out the wrinkles?  Is this not making the “ordinary come alive”?

My kids love to point out things they marvel at: funny shapes in pieces of fruit, objects made from taking a bite out of their sandwich, a tall tower they built with blocks, new piles of snow on a wintery morning, the moon set in a dark sky or twinkling Christmas lights on a December evening.  These ordinary things are always brought to my attention with a, “look, Mommy!” as they express their wonder.  To me, it is simply ordinary.  Sometimes I’m even annoyed that I have to take my eyes off what I’m doing to take a look.  But once we’ve lost the wonder of the ordinary, I think unhappiness begins to settle in, and we lose sight of the beauty of the things right in front of us.

Although the quote urges parents to make the ordinary come alive, really, it is often the kids teaching us to pay attention and see.  I love that my kids can teach me to wonder again.  They force me to look twice at the ordinary things and marvel at how beautiful God has made this world for us to live in.

“Look, Mommy!” Look.

Fresh snow flakes in our backyard.

Fresh snow flakes in our backyard.


A fresh blanket of fluffy snow.

The Vacuum Monster


When I wake up on a Saturday morning, I’m optimistic as to what I’d like to do to get my day started: a nice cup of strong coffee, a relaxing breakfast, and lounging on the couch in my pajamas as I read the latest Maclean’s magazine.  Unfortunately, my vision of how I’d like to spend my Saturday morning is very different from reality.  This is how I USED to spend my Saturday mornings, but not anymore (at least not without many interruptions).  Mind you, I do try to tiptoe to the kitchen quietly before anyone sees me, but I’m usually unsuccessful.  Once a child spots me, I hear a “Mommy!” and they all come running toward me like they haven’t seen me for years.

After hugs, I encourage them to find something to do while I eat my breakfast.  But of course, once I sit down with some cereal or toast, Cor and Mia come right up to my lap for a bite of whatever it is I’m eating.  They do make the cutest sounds indicating they’d like to try what I’m having.  But hey, it’s my food and I’d like to eat it all myself.

Once I make my way to the couch,  I settle in with my legs curled under me, coffee next to me in my travel mug (a necessity if I want any warm coffee at all) and Maclean’s in hand. Within seconds, Janelle comes over and crawls on my lap for a snuggle.  Ok.  This is nice.  Then Willem settles in next to me with his Star Wars book and begins showing me things and asking me questions about the size of certain starships.  At the same time, Cor decides this is a good opportunity for him to give me gifts of small puzzle boxes.  He proudly hands me one and returns to the closet for more.  I smell a hint of poop as he turns toward the closet and I realize I’m going to have to take care of that in the very near future.  By this time, I’m pretty annoyed.  I mean, I just want a quiet moment to “wake up” and enjoy a “relaxing” morning.  The kids, of course, don’t allow Mom to rest on the couch uninterrupted.

Last Saturday morning began a week of me taking note of how little time I have to myself.  I mean, sitting down with a snack and finishing it is laughable.  Wishing to go to the bathroom without someone calling for me or running away from a sibling who is angry with them is futile.  Sitting down on the couch for a moment to “rest” is impossible because the kids see this as an opportunity for me to read to them (which it usually is).

Taking time for me to do what I want to do is pretty much non-existent in my day.  There is always dishes to do, laundry to fold, toys to clean up, meals to prepare, noses to wipe, bums to clean, windows/mirrors to wash, floors to vacuum, paper to clear, grocery lists to create, emails to write, appointments to make, babies to keep track of, kids to console, fights to break up, stories to read, juice to pour, bottles to warm up, blankies to find, clothes to order, crafts to prepare, kids to play with and relationships to maintain.  There isn’t much room there for me.  For me to do what I want.

What do I want to do?  I want to nap.  I always want to nap.  I want to read my book on the couch.  I want to watch TV.  I want to go shopping.  I want to visit my friends.  I want to go out for dinner with my husband.  I want.  I want…

This is where parenthood becomes beautiful.  Parenthood shapes and refines me.  Some days I go through fire and it hurts.  I feel selfishness burning away, but not without a fight.

There is not a lot of room for me to be selfish as wife and mom of five.  Today I tried to be and I was miserable.  I was having a pity party in my mind all day about how tired I was and how I just wanted to be by myself for once.  But once those thoughts enter my mind, I become a pretty terrible parent.  I steal opportunities away from my kids to be with me, so I can sit by myself and look at Facebook.  I give up an opportunity to read with them so I can read my own book.  I get angry at them if I can’t leave the room without someone calling to find out where I am.  I become ungrateful for the gifts God has given me and think only of what I’ve lost.

Since becoming a mom, a lot of things in my life have changed.  I’ve had to give up a lot of things.  But this is not a loss.  I have been given a loving husband and five beautiful children all of whom I love so much my heart could burst.  I’d never in a million years give up what I have so I could do what I want.  It makes me cringe just thinking about it.

Some days are harder than others, but it is mostly what is going on in my head that makes it hard.  Focusing on the gifts and the giver keeps things in perspective.  I realize there’s plenty of room for me to grow in my character, in my love for God and in my love for others.

Once I prayed for forgiveness and for strength this afternoon, I snapped out of my slump and got to work.  I felt God recharging me to accomplish what he set out for me to do.  Yes, I was still tired and still a bit short-tempered, but I got my jobs done.

I even had some fun with the kids while vacuuming.  Did you know chasing kids with a noisy vacuum cleaner and then having them jump over the moving cord could be a source of laughter and joy?

I didn’t either until I put my magazine away and got off the couch.

A Fish Out of Water

Today I am feeling a little sorry for myself.  Sorry that normal things that regular people do everyday are so hard for me.  Of course, grocery shopping is one.  I did that this morning and came home exhausted.  But more than that, it is the “little” things that may seem routine to some folks are extremely difficult for me.

Getting out of the house in the cold weather is one.  It takes about 20 minutes from the first call to the kids to get dressed for outside to having everyone buckled in their seat belts in the van.  Now, this isn’t a pleasant 20 minutes.  Twenty minutes of trying to put boots, hats and mitts on two squirmy babies who take them off the second you finally got it on.  If you don’t have small children and can’t quite picture what it might be like, imagine trying to dress a slippery fish, fresh out of water: jerky,squirming, rapid movements, slippery skin, and tiny fins you somehow have to put tight clothing onto.

Mia is especially intent for peeling things off.  As soon as I get her socks on and I turn around to put on Cor’s boots, she’s running down the hallway away from me with two socks in hand.  As soon as I get her boots on, she gets up, walks a few paces, sits down and starts undoing her straps.

On top of that, I have two or three older children who can’t find their other boot, who need help with zippers, pulling on mitts and opening doors.  Of course they repeatedly complain about their inability to get dressed over and over again while I’m trying to pin down and dress the floppy fish.  By this time, I’ve broken into a sweat and am ready to throw hats and mitts all over the hallway.  And maybe kick a boot or two.  Ok. Who’s the toddler here?  In my defensive, it is a high-stress moment and my examples of how to handle stress are all under the age of 5.

To save some sanity, I did make an outdoor dressing chart which does cut down on some of the instructions coming from my not-so-patient mouth.  The only problem is, I have to remind them there is a chart to follow so they don’t have to stand there looking like they’ve never done this before.

My trip to the doctor earlier this week is one of those times when I came home completely spent.  It was exhausting taking all 4 kids in the freezing cold to our medical building on the complete opposite side of our city.  The building has a large and always full parking lot.  I don’t put Cor and Mia in the double stroller anymore, so I’m often carrying one and dragging the other one who does not walk fast or steady while keeping an eye on the other two who have no fear or understanding of traffic.  I’ve abandoned the double stroller for a few reasons.  One is because the wheels are not heavy duty enough to make it through much snow.  Another is I want to save “time” and avoid setting up and putting it away again.  The other reason is because I may or may not have forgotten to put it back in the van one day before I backed up.  One of the wheels may be a bit twisted and crunched.

So, without the use of the stroller, the dragging in the cold and the guiding to the doors while one child slips down my waist and the fighting over who pushes the elevator buttons and the steering two small toddlers away from the lobby Christmas tree and the waiting in the elevator requires a fair amount of energy on my part.  When the elevator doors open, I see office signthe sign, “please remove outdoor footwear before entering office. ”  This is a simple instruction for a regular person.  But for me, I have to put down my purse, diaper bag and child, get everyone to take their boots off (only one kid can do it independently), discourage them from undressing completely, run after Mia who has taken off down the hallway, pick up my stuff and herd the kids through the doorway.  For me, it is not so simple.

This week I avoided going grocery shopping with the kids.  I mean, it is -25 degrees Celsius with windchill.  But by this morning, my fridge was starkly empty, so I had to bite the bullet and go with four kids in tow.  I experienced all the usual attention: stares, comments, glares, etc., but when a woman rounded the corner of the cereal aisle with 4 kids hanging off her cart, I gave her a huge smile and said, “hi!” like I’d known her all my life.  I followed my familiar sounding “hi” with, “you look like me!”  She returned the smile and said, ‘I’ll ask you what they always ask me, “are they all yours?”‘  I laughed and proudly said, “yup” and we went on our way.  No time to stop to chat, we had 8 children milling about the grocery aisle with impatient people behind us.

It felt so good to meet someone in the same situation as me.  Besides the fact that it is just plain exhausting doing normal things with 4-5 kids along, part of the “hardness” of doing things with all my kids is the fact that I feel quite alone in it.  It isn’t something you see everyday.  Our family in our city is a bit of an anomaly.  It is hard to get used to the attention I get for doing normal things.  Standing out and being set apart puts me on edge.  It makes me feel uncomfortable.

Flashbacks to early childhood when fitting in with the crowd is what really mattered come to mind during these times.  For some reason, we have this inner desire to fit in and to not stand out or draw attention to ourselves.  The interesting thing is, God calls us to be a light to this dark world.  A light is a pretty obvious thing in a dark place.  I don’t feel qualified to be something people are drawn to look at as an example.  I don’t feel I have enough spiritual maturity to have people see Christ’s light in me.

I realize the reason people look at me is usually not because they are seeing “Christ’s light” at that moment.  If anything, I am not feeling much like a “light on the hill” during those moments at all.  But as I feel people’s eyes on me as I interact with my kids, I do think I can demonstrate a parent who loves her kids. Who respects them and speaks kindly to them.  Who exercises patience and who disciplines when necessary.  I can be the best parent I know how to be, even in the stressful moments. Not only because the world is watching, but because God calls me to be like his Son.  A light in the darkness.  A loving shepherd.  A human full of compassion and love.  He was anything but “normal.”  He was like no one the world had ever seen.

How to keep 4 kids occupied in the waiting room at the doctor's office.

How to keep 4 kids occupied in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. (Snacks.)


What Kind of a Mother Was Mary Anyway?

When Willem, our first baby, was only a few weeks old, I remember being struck for the first time with the realization of his complete dependency on me.  As I saw his tiny little body sleeping in his big crib, I thought about the possibility of him being left there alone and he couldn’t do a thing about it.  My thoughts went further to imagining him waking up crying and no one coming to answer his cries.  My thoughts continued even further, horrified at the idea of him being left alone, with a dirty and wet diaper, hungry, and crying for someone to come and meet his needs.  The weight of my responsibility to take care of him overwhelmed me at that moment.  I realized for the first time, how helpless and how reliant a baby is on the adults in his life to take care of his physical needs in order to stay alive.

Today, when I pause to think about it, I am still overwhelmed by the responsibility I have to meet the needs of my kids.  Physical needs are still a part of it, but as they get older, they are capable of feeding and dressing themselves.  Even little Mia is quite capable of helping herself to food left under the table or in the cupboard or in the fridge if it is left open.  But right now, I feel the weight of responsibility for meeting the emotional needs of my kids.  I am a mom who takes very seriously my role in making sure my kids feel safe, loved and secure.  I want them to leave the house knowing that someone at home has their back no matter what.  Whatever may be thrown their way in this cruel world, they have a deep knowledge they are loved and cherished for who they are.

This responsibility weighs heavy on me because it is quite impossible for me to fulfill these needs all the time.  Having 5 kids means they need to take turns having special time with me.  Because Cor and Mia are still so young, they often get priority on mom’s lap because they need comfort more often: when bang their heads on something or when someone steals their toy or when a rushing older sibling side swipes them on the way past, causing them to fall to the ground. At these moments of distress, they come crying to me for comfort.  But once one child sees another on my lap, they all want a turn.  You can imagine what this looks like: 2-5 children draped on my lap while the youngest one’s clamor to get as close to me as possible.  It is like a competition and the winner is the one who gets to stay sitting with me.  This leaves the others wanting.  Wanting special time with me where they can recharge and have their emotional tanks filled once again.  Knowing this, leaves me feeling guilty for not being able to fill all the tanks as often as they’d like me to.

Yesterday in church, we had the privilege of witnessing the baptism of a tiny baby girl.  The promises declared on this little child moved me to tears.  I don’t remember the minister’s exact words, but I do remember the phrases, “set apart as God’s covenant child” and “marked as God’s own.”

Because my children were sitting in church with us, I didn’t catch most of the sermon, but I do remember hearing about Jesus being born as a dependent child, relying on his father and his mother to provide for him.  The Son of God was born in a human body, just as vulnerable and helpless as the rest of us are born into this world.

This got me thinking about the kind of people God chose to being Jesus’ parents.

I wonder what made Mary God’s choice to be Jesus’ mother?  Was it because she would be a stern parent who knew how to keep Jesus in line? I mean he was free from sin, but being a little human boy, I’m sure he needed reminders as to how he was to behave every once in a while.  Or was it because she was a warm and gentle and a loving woman, always looking to the needs of others instead of herself?  I can imagine being a good mother to Jesus weighed heavily on Mary.  I mean, she was the mother of the Son of God, she must have have thought she’d better get it right or God would be disappointed in her!

And what was it about Joseph that he was chosen to be Jesus’ father?  Was it because he offered the strength and security that was needed in order to keep Jesus alive and out of harm’s way?  We often talk about Mary, but Joseph’s role as father was just as important as he provided for Jesus and was responsible for his safety.  Because of the many threats, this must have weighed heavily on Joseph as provider.

But in reading the story of Jesus’ life in the Gospels, the story is a lot more about God and what he’s doing than what Mary and Joseph did.  The stories tell of God keeping his promises and even though human errors were made, God’s plan came true.  Jesus lived to adulthood and became the sacrificial lamb, dying on a cross, so we would have salvation.  This didn’t happen because Mary and Joseph were exceptionally good parents.  It happened because God made it happen.  It was his plan and his promise to his people, us.

When I contemplate these things, I feel some relief to the pressure I feel to meet all the needs of my kids all the time.  Of course, like Mary and Joseph, I have been given children to take care of.  I can’t neglect that responsibility.  But there is much more going on than just what I and my husband are doing as parents.  God has his hand on our covenant children, he has marked them as his own, and he has a plan for them.  His Holy Spirit is at work in their lives as they learn more about God, his Son, Jesus, and the amazing story of their redemption.

I am always amazed at how our kids simply believe.  We tell them about God and Jesus and they believe it. Even though at times it seems impossible to believe such a story, they accept it with a child-like faith.  I know this as Janelle sings praise songs she makes up such as, “God, I love you.  You love me.  You are wonderful.  You made everything.  I love you.”  What beautiful words from a small, 4-year-old girl who doesn’t know much about the world yet, but she knows about God’s love for her.

I also see it in the comfort Willem receives when we pray together before he goes to sleep. Often he lays awake in his bed and comes asking for me to pray with him.  After we pray together, he never comes out again.  Talking to God and being assured of his presence,  allows him to rest and relax and doze off to sleep.

I am thankful for the sacrament of baptism.  Although the sacrament is carried out with ordinary things and by ordinary people, when it is sprinkled on a child’s head, with words of God’s promise and blessing spoken, it becomes an experience that reaches deep within the soul, assuring us all of God’s amazing grace and love.

“To be washed by Christ’s Spirit means
that the Holy Spirit has renewed me
and set me apart to be a member of Christ
so that more and more I become dead to sin
and increasingly live a holy and blameless life.”