Mercy and Forgiveness

It’s been a while since I’ve written…not because God hasn’t been moving in my life, and not because I’ve been too busy (because let’s face it, I MAKE time for what I want to make time for…ahem, This is Us). I just really haven’t felt like I had any thoughts worth sharing! Last night a friend told me, “You know, I really loved your blog. You should keep writing.” I shared this with my husband and he, knowing how much I love writing and sharing God’s truth, asked me why I haven’t been. I explained my thoughts and he said, “Well, what are you wanting to accomplish?” I told him I wanted to encourage people. He prompted, “What have you overcome recently?” I sighed. “Evan’s adjustment to Hannah’s birth.”

I didn’t go into this situation naively thinking there wouldn’t be an adjustment period. I was fully prepared for Evan (now 2.5 years old) to jealously hurl tractors at his new baby sister. (He hasn’t. Not even once.) I thought he might demand to be held more. (He has.) But not once did it cross my mind that my son might be so angry at me for dividing my attention that he would physically attack me. (He was.) That he would adamantly refuse to nap, and get up over and over at bedtime in spite of spankings, reasoning, and bribery. (Yep, he did.) That meal times would suddenly feel like a hostage standoff, with demands and negotiations and pleas to just eat the stinkin’ food so I don’t have to prepare a snack in 20 minutes. Nothing could have prepared me for the half hour long meltdowns, initiated by the simplest requests, in which my beloved child was replaced by some tortured creature, howling inconsolably and raging against my restraining arms until he gagged on his own tears and saliva. I knew his little world was turned upside down, and this knowledge fueled my compassion for the first few weeks. But as time went on, the behavior just got worse, and I found myself out of compassion and snapping at my poor son. The space between irritation and rage was growing more and more narrow. I had zero patience with Evan when he would buck my authority. One day, we basically had a fist fight in Cracker Barrel while having lunch with friends after Bible Study Fellowship. I was the lady everyone was staring at as I hauled my screeching child away from the way-too-easily-accessed candy while thrashing him. He was kicking his legs so hard his shoes went rocketing across the country store. It was quite the scene, and that had become the norm for us. (Yes, this is the behavior of the same mom that feels so passionately about Respectful Parenting that I wrote a blog about it. Oh how the mighty have fallen.) It wasn’t long after that when one of my dear friends (who had attended the Cracker Barrel Fiasco) asked me with all the kindness in the world if I had considered discussing medication for PPD with my doctor. My response was something along the lines of, “But I’m not, like, weepy or suicidal. I just want my kid to quit acting like a psychopath.” My friend, God bless her, gently reminded me that for some people depression manifests differently…for example, as rage.

I was stunned to find myself here again, in this place of being completely out of control. I honestly thought that the increased maturity of my faith would shield me this time. I knew I had to get help. I owed it not only to myself, but to my husband and children. I went to the doctor for my postpartum checkup, and was astonished that my usually-perfect blood pressure reflected my stress levels- it was in the 170s over 90s. At the very end of my appointment, as my practitioner was about to leave the room, I finally worked up the courage to blurt out, “I wanted to talk about maybe starting some medication for PPD.” And to my complete humiliation, I burst into tears. I tried to explain that I really haven’t been all that weepy, although the evidence before us didn’t exactly support that. I told her how I just felt constantly irritated and annoyed by everyone and everything, and how my fuse was frighteningly short. I told her how hard it was to make myself get out of bed and face breakfast with the most defiant toddler of all time, after being up several times in the night with the baby. I told her about how I had to force myself to leave the house and be around people, because it took so much exertion to seem like I was holding it together, and who knew what kind of public altercations Evan and I would have. And we talked and talked and I cried and cried and I walked away from the office that day with fresh hope and a prescription for Zoloft.

The next week, we took Evan to our pediatrician. It may sound dumb, but I needed a medical professional to tell me that this behavior wasn’t caused by an ear infection or some other condition. I was terrified that the doctor was going to say that he had some sort of incurable behavioral disorder or mental illness. Instead, he looked me in the eye and said, “He’s not ruined. Your family is not ruined. Y’all are going to be okay.” He did agree that we needed more help than he could offer in regards to tools to managing the more difficult behaviors, since we were already using most of the suggestions he gave, with no success. We were referred to parental counseling. My husband thought it was a bit overkill, but when I asked him if he had any other ideas, he admitted that we were both at our wits’ end.

By the time our counseling appointment arrived, things were improving, for whatever reason. My theory is that Evan had been absorbing my attitude; I was constantly tense and short with him. It had to have affected him. By this time, my medication had started to take the edge off my irritability. We didn’t experience any world-shaking revelations in counseling, but we did gain reassurance that we were on the right track. And it felt good to take action of some sort, instead of just sitting on our heels and hoping our circumstances would magically transform themselves.

We’re still healing today. Things are better, but still hard. Last week in particular was a beast of a week. I didn’t handle situations with grace. When my dear son spat in my face because I asked him to please not draw on the coffee table in permanent ink, I lost it on him, yelling and spanking and bullying and berating him. Not my finest moment. The thing is, after cooling off, I apologized and had a discussion with him about it. I shared how he and I could have handled the situation differently and told him I would do better next time. He agreed to try to do better next time, too, and freely offered me mercy and forgiveness.

And that’s when I realized that as much as I mess up, and as much of a disaster as I am…I’m doing something right. Or rather, God is making things right not only in spite of, but because of, my inadequacy. My son is learning that people aren’t perfect, but that it’s okay. He’s learning how to give others what God gives us: mercy and forgiveness. And that’s pretty cool.

An Attitude Adjustment

The last few weeks with Evan have been freakishly good. He’s seriously a different kid these days. He’s still a spirited male toddler, with the challenges that typically go with such creatures, but he’s truly enjoyable lately.

The last time I shared about my Respectful Parenting journey, I was discouraged. Evan was ruling the roost, and I was fighting with feelings of resentment because of it. The pot boiled over one day, and I found myself venting to my mother-in-law on the phone after I finally got Evan in bed. I don’t know what exactly I was wanting out of the conversation, but what I got was an attitude adjustment. (I know some of you are gasping, thinking, “Oh no she DIDN’T!” But stand down, guys; it’s cool. My mom-in-law is one of the kindest and wisest people I’ve ever known, and we have a spoken agreement to keep it real like this.) Once she reminded me that my son is not actually a mean person with an agenda for ruining my life, we came up with a game plan to get back on track. In my attempt to give Evan the respect he deserves, I had been finding myself backed into a non-punitive corner, with no resources at my disposal to keep my son from walking all over me. I know Respectful Parenting advocates believe the no-punishment approach works for all children, but my M.I.L and I decided that for my son, I’m just going to have to take the parts that work and come up with my own approach. (The words of my eight year old nephew come to mind: “But do they know kids like Evan exist?” And the words of my four year old niece: “Eban doos what Eban doos.” Yep, that pretty much sums it up.) My mom-in-law had lots of practical suggestions, like give calm spankings before I’m frustrated, spend as much quality time with him as possible, and keep my voice even and low when disciplining. Then she added, “When you have those thoughts that Evan is mean or a bad kid, that’s not of God. That’s Satan, and you need to rebuke him.” Her words hit me hard and made me realize I was letting Satan steal my motherhood. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) 

I took her advice, and within a day and a half, I realized something had changed. I no longer felt resentful toward my toddler. We were happy again. The laundry had piled up on the couch, waiting to be folded, but Evan and I had read books, played tractors, wrestled, played horsey, sang songs, colored, and banged on drums to our hearts’ content. The all-out raging tantrums have all but disappeared, replaced with occasional age-appropriate squirmy, whiny episodes when he wasn’t allowed to have candy (“nay-nay”) for breakfast or something like that. He’s even experienced a language explosion since then, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s related to a happier home environment. The issues we deal with now are developmental and not unusual when dealing with toddler boys: things like throwing and hitting, usually when he’s excited. It’s been amazing to experience such restoration in our home. 

Sometimes we get so bogged down in the muck of parenting or life that we can’t appreciate the beauty of the journey. I get it. When this happens, we need reminders to quit looking at the potholes in the road, and check out the beautiful landscapes surrounding us. I am blessed to have godly people in my life who I can trust to help correct my course when I start to stray. I pray that each of us would have at least one person like this in our lives who is willing and able to help hold us accountable. (I want to note here that we must know God’s truth to avoid inadvertently following false teaching. Even seemingly good advice from nice people is malignant if it doesn’t line up with God’s Word.) If you don’t have trustworthy people of God in your life at this point, don’t fret. God gave us His Word to guide us. Maybe, like me not that long ago, you feel like the Bible is really mysterious, dull, and out of touch with modern life. If this is the case, I recommend looking into some resources such as Proverbs 31 Ministries or She Reads Truth (check out their handy app) to help direct you and get you on your way to falling in love with the Word. Or, if you’re really ready to dive into the scriptures, go check out your local Bible Study Fellowship (they provide childcare during group discussion and lectures; I am enrolled in BSF and it has seriously changed my life) or Community Bible Study programs. Whatever you do, get in the Word. You won’t regret it. “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Comparison Isn’t Little

The question remained unanswered on the page. I discussed it with my husband, and received, instead of an easy answer, some variation of, “No one can answer that but you.” I took a photo of it on my iPhone and texted it to a friend, telling her I was stumped. It wasn’t a complex question, really. It was almost insignificant in its simplicity, and I considered skipping it altogether. Something told me not to blow it off, though, so I brushed aside the impatience that was creeping in, and asked the Holy Spirit to guide me and show me what He wanted me to learn here. Before my friend could respond to my text, I had hastily scrawled on the page:

Comparison –> Jealousy –> Bitterness and Anger –> Feelings of Inadequacy.

My phone buzzed. “Explain what you’re stumped on,” my friend implored. I answered, “The part that asks what areas of your life that are hard to surrender. I went with seemingly little sins- comparison that leads to jealousy that leads to bitterness and anger and feeling inadequate. But it’s such a convenient little foothold for Satan.” She replied, “Comparison isn’t little.”

She wasn’t condemning me. She’s just spiritually mature enough to know that those “convenient little footholds” can be serious. The next morning we visited over coffee while our children entertained one another and consumed inhuman amounts of microwave popcorn. I explained to my friend that I know God has a unique and beautiful path prepared for me, and that I am grateful for what He has willed for me. I shared with her that while I had prayed about my sin, it was still a constant struggle for me. “I know this is a problem with MY heart, but what I don’t get is what exactly God WANTS from me in this. I’ve given this to Him over and over. Why is this still a THING for me? Does He just want me to surrender constantly?” I stopped in my tracks. “That’s it, isn’t it? He wants me to rely on Him every day…every hour…doesn’t He?”

2 Corinthians 12:9 comes to mind yet again (there’s a reason it’s my favorite). If you’ll back up a few verses, you’ll get a little more of the story:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Paul speculated that his thorn had the purpose of ensuring a humble heart. My friend suggested that this also could be part of my refinement process (as in Isaiah 48:10 “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”) How incredible is it that God loves me enough to refine me, purify me, and personally shape me into the person He created me to be? Instead of seeking deliverance, I should rejoice in the opportunity created to share in Jesus’ suffering, and be grateful for a chance to rely on God’s strength.

We are instructed in Acts 26:18 “…to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” By leaving my problem with comparison unchecked, I have made myself vulnerable to Satan’s manipulation. By recognizing my own sin, confessing to God, earnestly repenting, receiving forgiveness, and accepting God’s help in avoiding future temptation to succumb to this sin, I eliminate one of the footholds Satan uses to invade my life. Comparison may seem like no big deal, but for me, it’s a gateway sin; it leads to much graver sin. It’s not nit-picking; it’s warfare, y’all.

I am learning that I have to make a constant conscious effort to completely surrender and submit to God. I’m realizing that making the initial decision to give my life to Jesus was only the first step; it’s actually a continuous choice, every minute of every day. Do I choose light or darkness? Are my actions, thoughts, and words reflecting my choices? The truth is that they are, whether I want them to or not. And I pray I will reflect the Son.

Rejoice Always

One day last week, I scrubbed the toilet with a toddler on my back. He whined/cried/fussed unless he was making direct physical contact with me. All. Day. Long. (“So just clean the toilet another time, when your child is more content,” the logical among you may suggest. I would, except this is the card I’m dealt nearly every hour of every day. I had put off this dreaded chore in hopes of a “good” time presenting itself, and it had come to a point where I had to just get it done.) It was a hard day, in a long string of hard days. That night, I resolved to journal the entire next day to depict what a typical day in my life was like, thinking this could be comical someday (like when I’m ninety)…but something strange happened.

We had the best day ever. I woke up at 7am after a full night of uninterrupted sleep, got ready for the day, and had breakfast alone while my child slept. (Aaron had already left for work.) I think I would have found eating alone depressing at an earlier stage in my life. Now it feels indulgent and luxurious, like a day at the spa. I eventually had to wake Evan up to go to Bible Study Fellowship. I was anxious about waking the bear, because he tends to be very grumpy when his sleep is interrupted. Also, I put it off for so long that I would have to feed him breakfast on the go, and my boy isn’t into convenience foods. (Somehow he’s managed to turn me into one of those women who cooks ON THE STOVE multiple times per day. Never would have dreamed it.) Miraculously, he ate a granola bar on the way to class. I realized while driving that I had forgotten Evan’s Bunny (his security object that eases the transition of me leaving him for our 2 hour class). Another wave of anxiety washed over me, and I sent a snapchat to close friends and family soliciting prayers for a smooth drop off and separation. This was the type of oversight that had the potential to unhinge our entire day. But drop-off came and went with no more than the standard amount of protest and tears. I made it in time for the worship portion of class for maybe the second or third time in 6 months, and was able to set my heart on God and His Word. The day was nothing short of an answered prayer, a gift from God. The next days were just as incredible.

Later in the week I had a flashback to a conversation with my mother in law, who once upon a time raised a little boy who was very similar to Evan Jake, especially regarding level of activity- his daddy. She told me, “You’d better put on your running shoes, because you’re going to be chasing after him all day long. I would just fall into bed every night exhausted when Aaron was little. But the day he turned 18 months, it was like a switch flipped, and he got so much easier. He could communicate, reason, and understand directions. It does get easier.” I had mixed feelings about this advice: relief that there would probably be easier days ahead…but also the heaviness that comes with doubting whether you can physically and emotionally survive the next year-plus. My doubts were not unfounded. Things got pretty sketchy there for a while (as detailed in The Story I Don’t Want to Tell). I learned through that experience that in the valleys of life, the Lord is near to me, and even when happiness can sometimes be difficult to come by, I was able to practice finding my true joy in God. Almost 17 months into our parenting journey, I can sense something shifting in our family dynamic. It IS getting easier. It’s like I can finally breathe deeply. Sure, my boy is still extremely energetic, intense, curious, and opinionated. That will probably never change, based on the temperaments and personalities of his parents. But I feel like we’ve made it, for now, to safe waters. I know from my mama-friends with older children that more storms will come, and different, new challenges will arise. Such is parenting, and life. Right now, though, I’m going to bask in it.

Rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I nearly deleted this article today. The plush rug of smooth parent sailing was yanked out from under me, and I found myself sprawled out on the floor, rubbing my bruised ego and wondering what on earth has just happened. This morning was nasty. Like, my toddler reduced me to tears by 7am nasty. By 8:30am, on the way to Bible Study Fellowship, I was completely discouraged. But at 11am, the very same toddler who had stomped on my foot in defiance earlier, ran into my arms while shouting “Mama!” and planted the biggest kiss on my mouth. My ability to “Rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances,” was put to the test today, and sadly, I wilted in the heat of the moment. The good news is, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice and get it right.

Out of Control

More often than not in the last week or so, I’ve felt out of control. Of my son, as he sprints around the house leaving utter destruction in his wake. And of myself, as I’ve found myself responding angrily to this behavior. It’s so frustrating to see myself continuing to be a bully when I want to be firm yet loving in my discipline. Jesus knows what I’m talking about. He said in Matthew 26:41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” You may be thinking, “Alicia, your situation is a little different. You’re just being a grouch. You’re not faced with temptation here.” Is that true, though? Am I not giving into the temptation of my flesh to respond in the way that comes easiest? I certainly think I am.

So what’s a girl to do? Am I just doomed to fall into temptation at every turn? Absolutely not! Look again at the first sentence of Matthew 26:41. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” God’s Word tells me to commit myself to praying to resist temptation. Until I read this scripture in the light of my current frustration, it had never occurred to me to pray specifically for God to help me fight the temptation to respond inappropriately to my son.

The other thing God has revealed to me is that the feeling of being out of control is an indicator of my desire to be in control. If God is truly at the center of my life, I am to be in complete submission to Him. Jesus demonstrated this as he hung on the cross for my sins, telling God, “…yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) Proverbs 3:5-6 says that we are to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Emphasis is mine.)

So again, I pray. I ask God to show me how to fully submit to Him in all my ways. I listen. And, the hardest step for me…I obey.

How do you respond to temptation? What red flags tell you that you’re not completely submitted to the Lord? Leave me a comment!

Finding Balance

In matters of fitness and health, I find it difficult to walk on the path that Jesus wants for me. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking a tightrope between two bodies of water; if I fall to the left, I land in the lake of gluttony and sloth, with my focus on food/momentary pleasure rather than on Christ. If I fall to the right, I’m in the lake of obsessing over calories and stressing out if I miss a workout, and I end up idolizing my body/self instead of keeping my heart centered on Christ. The problem with both of these scenarios is that they are dangerously self-centered. A while back a friend told me, “I finally feel like I’m at a good place where I don’t think about food, and exercise is just a part of my routine. I’m happy with my weight and my body, and I feel good.” I felt a momentary pang of something, perhaps jealousy, not because she hasn’t worked hard to get to that point physically and spiritually. I felt it because I so badly want to find that balance, but just can’t seem to grasp it. So I turned to scripture for encouragement, and of course the Word of God had a couple of things to tell me.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God- this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

Scripture tells us that every thing we do is to be is an offering of worship to God. For me, this means diaper changes, toddler discipline, meal prep and clean up, diet and exercise…all of this is intended to be done in a manner pleasing to God, as a form of worship. My food choices and physical activity should honor Him. Instead of viewing meal time as a test of my will, or exercise as a dreaded task to check off my to-do list, I can approach it as an opportunity to worship. This is interesting to me, the idea that worship is not confined to singing during Sunday morning church. And with this new perspective, I head into the week with these scriptures as my focus, and take one step closer to finding the balance I seek.

How do you maintain balance when it comes to taking care of your body? Leave a comment!

Guest Blogger: Motivation from Fit is Chic

You may have noticed the tagline on my homepage:

The chronicles of an imperfect journey of motherhood, fitness, and following Jesus.

I haven’t been paying much homage to the fitness aspect of that, besides mentioning that one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to get in shape, and although I realize I’m a few weeks late, I’m coming into the game hot off the bench! I’m 4 days into my Advocare 24 Day Challenge, and I’m not going to lie…I’m dreaming of carbs in my sleep and feeling pretty blah due to the detox process. Exercise has been tough this week because Evan has been under the weather and has wanted me to hold him constantly, but I’m determined to meet my fitness goals, so I’m calling in an expert: Mattie Claire, Founder and Creative Director of Fit is Chic. Beautiful, intelligent, well dressed, and real- this is Mattie. Read on for some tips to reach your fitness goals. (I’m already imagining doing The Towels Workout with Evan Jake on my back. Haha!)

 


Hi, Truth and Teething readers. Mattie from Fit is Chic here!

I would be telling a huge lie if I said I knew anything about being a mom, because I know absolutely nothing about being a mom. But what I do know is…being a mom is hard. And staying fit while being a mom is REALLY hard.

Really hard…but not impossible. Remember that, mommies. It is not impossible!

Between raising a tiny human, feeding and dressing yourself, making sure your husband (or boyfriend) is fed and happy, and staying sane, working out may seem out of reach. But with these at-home workouts, you can fit a quick workout in anytime!

The Towels Workout – All you need is a slick floor and two paper towels.

Fit is Chic’s 10-Minute Ab Routine – All you need is a mat or a soft-ish surface.  (Try doing this three times per week to tighten those core muscles!)

A Rainy-Day Workout – If you need a little cardio in your life, try this!

Four Minutes To Fit – This is a 4-minute workout. It’s not easy, but it’s effective. And just 4 minutes! C’mon, sister!

Build-a-Booty Workout – Your booty is the biggest muscle in your body. Working it out burns more calories than running a mile, so get after it!

If you’re wondering about the secret fit-mom formula…THERE ISN’T ONE! There is no secret code or pill or diet. There’s willpower. And there’s determination.  Reaching your fitness goals has everything to do with how much you want it. Because if you REALLY want it, you will make it happen.

I hope this post gives you just the teensiest bit of inspiration you might need. And if you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m more than happy to help you!

You can find me on Instagram (@fitischic), Twitter (@fitischic), Facebook (Fit is Chic), and Pinterest (Mattie Claire) for further inspo!

Have a wonderful week; & stay fit, friends! Xo

Mattie Claire