The Most Important Thing

If there was one word I could use to describe my life right now, it would be CHAOS. Some days it is controlled and some days it feels as if I’m careening around the store we call life, knocking everything off the shelves and in general making a mess of everything. But one thing that never changes: things are crazy around here.

I was telling Jason the other day that my life has gotten progressively harder with the birth of each child. Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t change things. I’m happy with my life. But with the birth of each child has come more responsibility and more STUFF. Doctors appointments, sports, classes, school, church, therapies, medications, homework… the list goes on and on. It’s good stuff, most of it. It’s necessary stuff. But sometimes I feel as if I’m drowning.

The reality of life that is that I have two young children at home with me. Each and every single day, they are at home with me. I have a husband who commutes to work for 2 hours each day. He works 8-10 hour days on top of his commute. He isn’t home a lot during the week, and when he is home, he is tired. I have a child with special needs, and he requires more attention and care than perhaps other children of his age. My husband’s family lives in another state and we don’t see them often. My parents still work and they aren’t around much, either. It’s hard sometimes. It’s worth it, 100%, but I won’t lie and say it isn’t hard.

And yet I’m thankful for this opportunity to stay at home. I won’t lie and say that I don’t miss working sometimes, because I do. I miss the socialization and I miss my coworkers and clients. But I am grateful to my husband, who works so hard to provide for us. His hard work allows me to stay at home with my children.

I think most of us who stay at home would say that we are grateful for the opportunity to do so. We love our children and we are thankful that we get to have the joy and responsibility of this precious time with them. But I also think most of us would say that sometimes it is difficult. Sometimes we are overwhelmed. Sometimes we desperately need a break.

I had this great idea, as a working mom, that if I ever got to stay at home that I would have TIME. Time that would be spent with my children, sure, but also time for myself. I could craft, and cook, and decorate, and blog…. oh, the time I would have.

No. LOL. I feel like I had more time to myself when I was working than I do now.

Throughout each of my days, I can find myself stressing about time. It seems like each day I have a to do list that is overwhelming, and if I am honest, it seems like that list never gets completely done. Every day I make a checklist, and most days I don’t complete it. I get mad. I get frustrated. Why can’t I get ahead?

There are times, in the midst of my chaos, when I have to stop and remind myself of the most important thing. I’m not here to clean my house. I’m not here to schedule appointments. I’m not here to pay bills, or fold laundry, or even complete my bible study homework.

I’m here to raise my kids.

Yes, those other things are important. They must be done. They must be somehow fit into the holes of your day. But the most important thing – those kids. My kids.

I can’t get so bogged down in my to do list that I forget that they are the most important thing.

Maybe it means you push aside laundry to read a story. Maybe it means you forget the cleaning and instead go to the park. Maybe it means you say no to commitments because there are more pressing matters inside your own home.

I write this as a reminder to my own self: sometimes the most important work we will do is inside our own homes.

Let’s not forget that.

With a Happy Heart

Confession: I hate to clean.

I’m a natural slob. I do like to have a clean, orderly house but I hate that I’m the one that carries the burden of keeping it that way. I am a girl who enjoys piles: piles of dirty clothes, piles of clean clothes, piles of mail. Right now my dining room table is currently home to stacks of mail, gifts I need to deliver to friends, Halloween decorations, random toys, and Halloween candy. If there is something that needs to go somewhere but I don’t want to actually carry it to the room it belongs in it goes on the dining room table. I take my clothes off at night and leave them in a heap on the bathroom floor. I’m terrible at taking the trash outside to the bin, so I will overflow the can until Jason comes home and takes it outside.

I enjoy my home when it is clean and tidy. I like my home to be CLEAN. You know, when the smell of bleach and pumpkin spice candles permeate the air? I like it when bathrooms are clean, toys have a place and are in their intended place, laundry is caught up, and my dishwasher has been emptied.

I just don’t like being the one responsible for the above.

My friends keep telling me – “Andrea, get a housekeeper! It will change your life!” Well, I’m sure it would, but it isn’t in the budget at the present, so… I am the housekeeper.

Here’s where Jason and I can butt heads. He likes a tidy house. He does not care if bathrooms have been scrubbed or floors have been swept and mopped, but he does like it when the kitchen is clean, toys are picked up and put away, and there is no clutter in our house. He gets frustrated when he comes home and it looks as if I lost a game of Jumanji. He is a patient and understanding man, but there have been days when he has come home and said the dreaded words… “what did you DO all day?”

To be honest, this question usually incites rage within my heart. I get mad and defensive, assuming that he is criticizing me or thinking that the state of the house is more important to him than the time I’m spending with my children.

What I rarely stop to consider is that my husband has a right to come home to a peaceful home. Jason works a hard and stressful job, and it stresses him out more when he steps in the door and sees a mess. It makes him feel like he needs to immediately start picking up after working a 12 hour day. And I want to give him credit – there are many time he has done just that. Days where I’ve been sick, or our kids have been sick, or I’ve struggled with household chores because of my depression he has rolled up his sleeves and done more than his share. But doesn’t he deserve to come home to a place of refuge and rest?

Today I was cleaning the kitchen and I asked Sullivan to pick up the couch cushions, which I noticed had been knocked to the floor. 15 minutes later I went to check on the kids and I saw that the cushions had not been picked up. I asked him again to pick them up. I returned 10 minutes later and saw that he still had not done what I asked, and I disciplined him and put him in time out. He started to whine and I replied “Right away, the right way, with a happy heart” which is his notice that he needs to stop crying and get busy doing what he’s been asked to do. He complied, and I returned to the kitchen to finish my chores.

As I loaded the dishwasher, I began to think about how often I don’t follow my own commands to my children. Do I always have a happy heart as I’m cleaning my home? The answer is no. I do my housework with a lot of resentment and grumbling. I’m frequently angry and exasperated with the messes my children have made. I’m short of temper because I’m cleaning up a mess that I feel as if I just cleaned up yesterday. I’m upset because my children (like their mother) are not tidy and do not enjoy completing their daily chores.

How different would my home be if I viewed laundry as a blessing? I could spend the time folding praying for the people who wear the clothes.

What if while I unloaded my groceries, I prayed for my husband’s job, which allows us to buy food?

As I vacuum and mop, what if I reflected upon the tremendous blessing that I have been given of staying at home with my children during their formative years?

The truth is that I really want my husband and my children to view our home as a place of love, enjoyment, and refuge. I want them to come home and be able to relax, laugh, and have fun. I don’t want them to remember a mom who yells about crumbled goldfish on the floor. I want them to remember a mom who loved and served them well – even if that service is in clean bathrooms, folded laundry, and a hot meal on the table each night.

Right away, the right way, with a happy heart.

Maybe I need to take my own advice.

Love

This has been a tough week.

I know you all feel the weight of the wrong in the world today, just as I do. It seems like every time we turn around, there is yet another story of violence. Hate. Bigotry. Discrimination. Bullying. Rape. Murder. The list could go on and on. The media inundates us with story after story of what is wrong with the world. Sometimes it feels as if our lives are becoming darker and darker each day. “The end is near!’ is a popular opinion on any news story you see posted to Facebook.”Where is your God?!” is another comment I see posted quite often.

He’s there, friends. He is there.

On Monday I watched in horror with the rest of the world as we received the new of the Las Vegas shooting. As I write this post, the current casualty count is 59 killed and 500 injured. I had the news on all day, and I just couldn’t really put into words my feelings. In the aftermath of these types of situations there are so many conversations that need to be had, but all I could think of was those children.

(Because every person there was someone’s child.)

I think about the parents that are grieving today. That will never again see their kids. The parents who desperately waited for news of their child’s safety. The parents who were present with their children; those who were scared out of their minds that they wouldn’t be able to protect their child.

I think of them, and I pray for them. I pray for all of them. Each and every person who was present, those who were lost, those who were injured, those who responded to help, and those who will continue to search for answers in the weeks to come.

And then I think of my own child. I feel enormous fear that we live in a world where I have to worry about my child being shot as he enjoys a concert. How can I protect him? How in the world do I keep him safe?

I can’t. And as a parent, that is the most frightening thing.

I wonder – should I have this conversation with him? Do I tell him what happened? I want to protect him. He’s only 7! In his world, everyone is good and no one is evil. He’s so innocent still. I begin to wonder: should I discuss with him what to do in an active shooter situation? He is prone to anxiety and nightmares. Will I scare him? Will he worry? It’s my job to keep him safe and I feel as if I’m failing.

There are no right answers here, friends.

I realized Monday that I have precious few options. I can’t keep him safe. His safety isn’t up to me. The fact of the matter is that I could be standing right beside him, and if it was his time to go, he would go. God alone knows the number of his days on this Earth, and I’ve only been entrusted to his care while he’s here on Earth.

So what do I do?

I have the uncomfortable conversations. We talk about what to do in an active shooter situation. We discuss the drills he has already had at school. I ask him if he has any questions, and he says — “but Mom, why? Why did this man shoot people?

I wish I could tell you that I had a perfect answer to that question, but I did not.

“I don’t know, baby. I don’t know why bad people do the things they do. Sometimes people are just full of darkness, and the only way to fight darkness is with light.”

We had a conversation about how he needs to be the light of the world, and about how by letting his light shine before others, he may lead people to Jesus.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let you light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5: 14-16

As Cooper gets older, we will have many different conversations about what it means to be both salt and light in the world. His “good deeds” will change and evolve as he does. But for now, I’m just teaching him to love.

“What do I do?” he asks me.

“Love. All you can do is love.

Love the people that are different. Love the ones that don’t look like you. Love the ones that are richer, or poorer, than you. Love the ones that are bullies, that mock you, that call you names. Love the ones that sit alone at lunch. Love the ones that play by themselves on the playground. Notice people. Notice the people who are sad. The people who are anxious. The people who are lonely.

Love them all.

Every day when Cooper gets out of the car I say “make sure to show someone Jesus’s love!” and every day when I pick him up I say “who did you help today?”

This is what I can do. I can teach my child love.

It starts with us, friends. Any change starts at home, with our own families. Don’t just say “I love you” but show your kids what that really means. Show them the depths of God’s love for us, and try every day to show that same sacrificial love to others we come in contact with.

Love.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

 

Cast Your Net

I can clearly remember a conversation that I had with my husband in 2014. It was one of our “checking in” conversations – we have these periodically just to discuss how we’re feeling, any goals we want to accomplish, or things that we weighing heavy on our hearts and/or minds.

“I feel like I should be doing something more.”

At the time of this conversation, I had a 4 year old and a 5 month old. I dearly loved my children, but I felt like I had lost a sense of who I was beyond being a mother. My days were wrapped up with caring for their needs, and somewhere along the way I felt like I had lost who I was.

“Well, what do you want to do?” my husband asked. That was the problem – I didn’t know!

“OK. Well, what are you good at? What makes you happy?” he asked.

Blogging has always made me happy. I started blogging in 2008 with My Chihuahua Bites. I love to write, and I’m really passionate about sharing my life and my story with other women as a means of encouragement and community. Over the years, blogging has changed. We’ve moved from Blogger, to Google Reader, to Twitter, to Instagram, and onto whatever social media platform happens to come along next. What has remained constant throughout the years is that I’ve maintained that passion for sharing my life. I’ve always tried to live my life in an authentic way, and I’ve hoped that my transparency will help some other woman through her own struggles.

It was through that conversation that Tickled Peach was born. I wanted more than anything to create a community. I am right here, in the trenches, raising my children and I wanted to reach out to other women who are doing the same. We are meant to live life in community and my goal has always been to create a safe, judgment free zone for women of all ages.

Well, life happened. I could offer you a thousand excuses as to why Tickled Peach didn’t take off the way I had hoped that it would. In the end, it comes down to me. I allowed myself to buy into lies – that blogging was dead, that there was no way I could ever write professionally, and that I would never make money off of a blog. I allowed myself to get caught up in stats, blog traffic, and engagement, and I told myself that I was putting in a lot of effort for something that wasn’t giving me the results I wanted.

But what if the problem was that I had a skewed sense of what my results really should be?

Over the years God hasn’t let me let Tickled Peach go. Even though I had “quit”, I continued to pay my monthly hosting fee and my yearly domain renewal. Why? Because something inside me said that I wasn’t done just yet.

Last spring I had a major AHA moment. I was participating in BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) and had been studying the book of John. We had reached the end of the year, and we were focusing on John chapter 21. Jesus has been resurrected, and has risen from the dead. From John 21:

Simon Peter said to the others, “I am going fishing.”

“We will come with you,” they told him. So they went out in a boat, but all that night they did not catch a thing. As the sun was rising, Jesus stood at the water’s edge, but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

Then he asked them, “Young men, haven’t you caught anything?”

“Not a thing,” they answered.

He said to them, “Throw your net out on the right side of the boat, and you will catch some.” So they threw the net out and could not pull it back in, because they had caught so many fish. – John 21: 3-6

I couldn’t stop thinking about that passage. Let’s think of the disciples for a minute – in those days, fishing was both a profession and a means of feeding your family. I’m not sure why the disciples went out that particular day. I don’t know if their ultimate goal was to fill their own belly or to sell their bounty. Whatever the reason, they had spent an entire night fishing with no result. They were likely tired, discouraged, and at the same time, they were likely struggling with their own feelings regarding the resurrection. I image they were grubby, exhausted, grieving, and discouraged…. and here comes Jesus.

Who they believe is a stranger speaks to them, and tells them to cast their net over the side of the boat.

If that were me, I can imagine I would be skeptical. If I’m honest, I would probably be a little annoyed. I’d likely be thinking “yeah, sure, don’t you think I’ve tried that already?

But they listened. They cast their net. And they were rewarded beyond measure.

The story continues. When the disciples dragged the net ashore, scripture tells us the net was full of 153 fish, much more fish than the net should have ever been able to hold. Yet the net did hold, and it did not break.

They listened. They did what they were asked to do. And they were rewarded.

I just kept turning this passage over and over in my mind. God has never let me forget about Tickled Peach. It’s always been there, in the back of my mind, as something I needed to do. But I’ve refused to listen. I’ve made a million excuses. I’ve pushed the thought away, time and again. But still I heard: Cast your net.

What needed to happen, for me, was a shifting of my priorities. Maybe I needed to let go of this idea of being a “success” and just go. Maybe I just needed to write, and let God do the rest.

I find myself at somewhat of a crossroads right now. I identify myself as a Stay at Home Mom, but my children are getting older. My oldest is in school, and I have one more year before my middle child starts kindergarten. In three years all of my children will be in school full time, and I need to start thinking about what I want to do at that point. Do I want to return to my career as a social worker? Should I complete my Masters degree? Maybe I should go into another field entirely.

When I start to ask myself these questions, my anxiety skyrockets. The truth is, I don’t want to do any of these things. After 10 years as a social worker, I feel burned out, and while the work is rewarding, it had become exhausting and emotionally taxing. I’m almost 40, and the thought of returning to school at my age is scary. So what do I want to do?

I want to write. I want to be home with my children, even when or if they go to public school. I want to be the person handling drop off and pick up. I want to have the freedom to volunteer at their schools and at my church. I want a lot of things that a full time job will never be able to provide for me. And….

Dare I say it? I’d love to write a book. I have a passion for speaking as well, and nothing would make me happier than to book speaking engagements.

Here’s where the doubts creep in. If I can’t even successfully launch a blog, how could I ever launch a book? Who would ever want to read what I have to say? This is all crazy talk. These are just dreams. Dreams are just something that sound really nice, but they aren’t achievable.

Except what if they are?

The problem is that you will never know if you never even try. I’m stepping out in faith, doing what I believe God has called me to do, with the desire to do great things in His name. I’m letting go to my definitions of success and instead and choosing to let God define me.

I don’t know your circumstances today. Maybe God has placed something on your heart, something that seems impossible and that you are telling yourself that you can’t do. He might be telling you to move. To apply for a new job. To have another baby. To adopt. Whatever He is asking, I’m here to tell you that he will equip you to do. The money you need will come. The house will sell. The baby you are praying desperately for is waiting for you as well. Whatever the circumstance, God’s ability is far greater than our own. Don’t worry about the how’s – walk in faith. Take that first step. See where God can take you.

Cast your net, friends. If He calls you to it, He will equip you to do it.