Monday, October 31, 2016

Stop It

I'm going to preface this entire post by saying that I do not support either of the two major party candidates. I just don't. I think that they are both wonderfully suited for jobs other than the one that they are appealing to all of us to pick them for.

That's important, because I really and truly do not want any comments about why I should or shouldn't vote for one or the other - everyone reading this post has already made up their minds. There is very little that's going to sway people to go to the other side at this point - and 20% of registered voters either plan on or already have voted ahead of the scheduled election on November 8th. So... save that, put it in your pocket, and wait to persuade each other for the next election.

Now. I have something important to say.

Everyone needs to stop. Myself included - but we all need to stop.

Did you know that Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump are human beings? Real ones. With spouses. And jobs. And children.

And mistakes.

Because none of us have ever made mistakes, have we?

And here's where I need to tell all of you to stop again. I don't want to hear "But we're not running for the President of the United States" or "But we're not in the public eye" or any of that business. I've said those things too and recently I realized how incredible wrong and horrible and judgmental all of that is.

They are human. They are sinners. They are imperfect.

There's a story in the Bible about a woman who is surrounded by people with stones in their hands. She's on the ground and everyone is about to stone her because she's committed adultery - in those days a crime punishable by death, not just a messy divorce or breakup. Then Jesus shows up and the way the story plays out the woman gets to walk away without a single stone being cast.

" he stood up and said 'All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone... When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up and said 'Where are your accusers? Didn't even one of them condemn you?'" (John 8:7-10)

Everyone - put your stones down. Just stop it. You are not perfect either, and there are so many more ways to point out that a person is not qualified or preferred for a job rather than attacking their character. And yes, I understand that character is a huge part of what makes a president - but find a way to say it that allows a person to grow, change, and improve. You can condemn a behavior without condemning the person, and as incredibly hard as that can be sometimes - and believe me, people feel SO strongly about these two candidates that it's hard for either set of supporters to not tear the one they don't support to shreds - it's important. At the end of the day Donald Trump is a person. At the end of the day Hillary Clinton is a person.

And stop it. Stop it reader. I know right now you're saying "No, they're a monster". Stop it. Seriously stop it. Both candidates have had their behavior incredibly sensationalized in an effort to draw your attention to the strengths or weaknesses of one or the other. That's the way the media works, it's what they get paid to do. So stop it.

The world of social media has made it so much easier to depersonalize people, even people like presidential candidates who were already fairly distant from us. Prior to social media, most of us would have to wait for the news three times daily or a mailing or attend one of their rallies or town-hall events or hope they'd show up at our local diner and shake our hand. More than I can ever remember, it's gone beyond the candidates just attacking each other - we are attacking the candidates viciously and if anyone dares to disagree with us: we are attacking each other.

We are forgetting that we are all people, and we are forgetting that all of us - even those who seem the most vile - need to be loved.

"You have heard the law that says 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy'. But I say love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in Heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and unjust alike." (Matthew 5:43-45)

OK, OK. I'm almost done. So we're all human, we're called to love our enemies... that just leaves one more thing.

One of these two people is going to be the next President of the United States. That's the reality, whether we like it or not. One of them is going to win. One of them is going to swear on the Holy Bible to protect, honor, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

And we're all going to have to live with that. We're all going to have to spend the next 4-8 years with this person as the one who will be running our country. Then we'll have to start this process all over again. Because that's how it works.

In the meantime we need to not implode on ourselves as a country. It is in our best interest to unite together, to remember that we are ALL children of God, to pray together for each other, for our leaders, and for our country. We have to pray for peace, for understanding, and most importantly - we have to pray that we can all learn to first act in love rather than fear, in hate, in anger.

"So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." (John 13:34-35)

Listen - when November 9th hits and we know definitively who will be entering the Oval Office next January, we have a choice. We can either unite together and pray for our next President of the United States, or we can continue to focus on that which divides us and make those divisions even deeper. I for one will be choosing to pray for our next leader. To pray that person will be surrounded with men and women who will have the country's best interest in mind, that their hearts will be open to hearing the advice of those around them, that they will be measured and reasonable and compassionate in their responses and actions. That they will do their best to be good stewards of the finances God has blessed this country with. That they will do their best to come to the aid of those in need - the orphans and widows of the world. That they will see past the differences of the people who live in this country and focus instead on what unites us.

And yes, I know your candidate will and theirs won't. All of you stop it.

Neither Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are a Savior, and it's time we stop treating them as such. They are people. They are flawed. They need our prayers, they need our encouragement, oh - and they need our prayer.

No matter what the outcome of the election is.

"I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity." (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Lies, Guilt, Freedom, and Love

When we found out that we were pregnant with our second child, I immediately started to pray for another son. I just felt like my heart was wired to have 2 boys, that God did not wire me to be the mom of a daughter, and that having that extra person to wrestle with  - especially during the hours of the day that Daddy is at work - for my firstborn would be absolutely perfect.

At 16 weeks, we had an ultrasound done due to some complications I was experiencing with the pregnancy. I told the technician that I knew that sometimes at 16 weeks you could tell the gender, and that if anything was obvious she didn't have to hide it from us because in 2 weeks we were going to find out anyways. There was a point in which she stopped the wand and pointed out on the monitor something she thought she saw: "Look at this," she said pointing at the screen. "Now, it's early to tell, but that certainly does look like something doesn't it? But don't start decorating yet, wait until your next ultrasound because I could be wrong."

I didn't start decorating - but I did start picking out and discussing names with my husband. Names like "Matthew" and "Xander" and "Dexter" and other names that you call a boy. I was over the moon with excitement because we were going to have another little boy! ANOTHER BOY! I was going to be one of those Moms of Boys who were always lamenting the troubles of having boys - but I was never going to lament, because BOYS!!!

Evie - 12/2013 ultrasound
Two weeks later, the full workup ultrasound happened. While my incredibly active baby flipped and flopped and the tech somehow managed to get all of the measurements she needed, she looked also for the gender indicator.

"Right there!" she declared. I looked and saw nothing. Nothing at all. Two chunky little spread eagle thighs that she had frozen on the screen.

"Right there what?"

"You're having a little girl! Look at that, see - one, two, three - those three little lines show me that you're having a girl."

...and my heart sank. There would be no "Matthew Dexter" puttering around my house (it was the name I had decided on even though there had been no agreement yet with my other half). There would be no addition of testosterone to the fold.

I feigned excitement. "Cool! A girl!" I said (or something like that). I buried my disappointment and just prayed that the remainder of the pregnancy go well, that the hematoma I had would resolve itself and cause no harm on my little girl. We prayed over a name for her and scoured baby name books (because we didn't like any of the family names we had as first names for a daughter) and waited. At 28 weeks or so - the day before we found out the hematoma had indeed resolved itself - we landed on the name Evangeline, which means "bearer of good news".

Yet here I was, disappointed that I had a daughter growing in my belly. And the first few months of her life she just cried - the child that refused to believe she was a baby, was stubborn and independent and determined from the day she was born. Not only had God given me a daughter - He had given me a daughter that was every mother's wish to their own children: she was just like me.

Somewhere around Evie's first birthday as her personality was really starting to form and that independence was forming into an active, bouncing, exploring toddler who was the best companion her big brother could have ever asked for... the guilt set in.

How could I have EVER questioned God's judgment in giving us a daughter? What kind of mother am I to have been disappointed with any sort of healthy child growing inside me - especially when I didn't think I could have one successful pregnancy, never mind two? What would my daughter say if she ever found out that I was disappointed that SHE is my child and that I didn't get a "yes" answer to my prayers of another boy? Why would I think that anyone other than who God gifted to our family would be a better friend and sibling to Will than our Evie-girl? 

I spent the next year wrestling with this guilt, this doubt of my worth as a mother in ever questioning the gift of my bright, bold, loving, loquacious, adorable, wonderful daughter. Anyone who has ever dealt with "Mom-Guilt" or "Parent-Guilt" knows that it can be some of the heaviest, most self-doubt creating, horrible brands of guilt that exists. It's like the glitter of emotions; once it covers something or enters your heart, it's near impossible to get rid of it - and when you think it might be gone you find more that's even more impossible to remove than the glitter you thought you already got rid of.

There were a few times that I would be watching my daughter in some sort of moment, something that was showing how she was growing and developing into this absolutely wonderful little person, and I would feel that gut-punch of guilt again at the doubt I had when she was still in-utero. So many times I would hold back tears because the guilt would come out of nowhere, in a wave, and I wouldn't know how to contain it.

Then one night as I was making dinner somewhere around my sweet Evangeline's seccond birthday, my guilt seeped through enough that my husband saw that something was wrong. I confessed to him these waves of guilt I would feel, that I hated that part myself for ever doubting God's plan in our daughter, that I wished I had never felt that way.

"D," he said, "I think it's time to let that go. Do you love your daughter?"

"Well... yeah, of course, I mean... look at her - she's Evie."

"Then? Let it go, D. You know God has. And I don't ever doubt that you love her. So? Let it go."

We prayed together that night about it. I prayed about it for a while after that and I know that Steve did too. I know this because at some point the guilt just... disappeared. I hadn't noticed it at all, but it had just withered away and disappeared like dust on a windy day. There was no second thought about it until the other day when I was laughing and giggling with my Evie on the couch and I got this overwhelming wave of emotion - but it wasn't guilt. It was joy, it was wonder, it was love. Then again a few days later as I listened to her telling me a story in a language structure that no 2.5-year-old should have yet. Joy, wonder, and love.

These moments kept happening again and again and again. Joy. Wonder. Love. Joy. Wonder. Love. It was during one of these moments that it hit me: the guilt was gone.

God had taken the guilt off of my shoulders and opened my eyes to the wondrous gift of our little girl. He removed that weight of self-doubt and instead opened my heart to experience that which He wants all parents to experience with children. Joy. Wonder. Love.

In that realization I felt so much freedom. Freedom to enjoy my daughter, to focus on building my relationship with her, freedom to experience the joy of having a daughter and the freedom that comes with having confidence that God's plan is indeed better than any plan we could imagine. 

Moms... Dads... Parents... we all experience guilt in our parenting, am I right? Sometimes we snap at our kids when we lose our patience or we forget about something that we said we would do or we don't pay as much attention as we feel like we should or whatever other list of things we beat ourselves up over in any given moment or day or week. We forget to have grace with ourselves, to remember that we are human and imperfect, that we will never be able to be one of those fictional parents that have been created by society as the flag-bearer of perfection in parenting.

We also forget that when parent-guilt sets in, when we start to experience self-doubt, when we hear those whisperings that we have somehow failed and that because of that failure we cannot be the parent God has called us to be - we forget that those words, those feelings do not come from God. We forget that those are lies, that those feelings are not the truth, that those are things that come from the Enemy. John 8:44 tells us of Satan that "...He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding on to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he speaks, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." 

Lies of self-doubt are not of God. There are plenty of kinds of healthy guilt that DO indeed come from God - but that weighty, paralyzing, self-doubting, inescapably burdensome guilt is not. That is not the kind of guilt meant to make us grow, to repent from our sin and become closer to Him. Rather, that is is the kind of guilt that further divides us from God and brings us off of the path He has set for our lives. We need to be able to recognize when our guilt - especially that horrible parent-guilt - is not of God so that we can pray, combat it, and be released from it. Only then will we be able to hear the Holy Spirit work in our hearts and do the work in our parenting that God has called us to do.

Evangeline - "bearer of good news".

And here I thought that good news she brought with her was just that we chose her name the same time that the hematoma was one... turns out it was so, so much more than that.

Joy. Wonder. Love.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Book Review: Every Day with God (A VeggieTales Book)

**Contest is closed and we have a winner!! Stephy has been notified - please stay tuned for future contests and read the review below for information on how to get a copy of this wonderful devotional!**

About a year ago, I started a search for a bedtime devotional that I could read with my son. I looked through bookstores, I searched online, I asked other moms... what I found were some really cute, really engaging devotionals for children but nothing that really fit my son's personality.

So when the opportunity came up to review the Every Day with God: 365 Devos for Boys (or Girls) VeggieTales daily devotional book - I took the opportunity. Will has recently gotten a bit more interested in VeggieTales thanks to some music CD's and Spotify streaming music we've been listening to, so I thought that this might be a good way to engage him a bit more in the process.

Turned out it did.

The devotionals are short (only about a paragraph long), use simple language that kids can understand, and ask easy questions which is perfect for the 4-year-old who is trying to calm down at bedtime. Each one has a scripture presented in a translation that makes it easy for my kiddo to relate to it and a prayer starter that is a great segue into the nightly prayers that we were already doing together. There are illustrations on each page that repeat throughout the book of one of the VeggieTales characters, but they're cute and it gives my son something to look at besides words.

Another added bonus to the way the book is presented: the first letter of each devotional is larger than the rest, bold, and a different color from the rest of the text. Whenever I've read with my son, the first thing he does on the page is point out the letter and either identify it or ask what it is, repeat it, and then we make the sound together. As if the simple language and easy questions weren't enough, the simple format of the page makes it another great tool for engaging your preschooler in conversation.

Kids feel that they need to identify with things, and my kids have decided that one of the things that will define them is their gender. The first thing that Will ever said he wanted to be when he grew up was "a man", and so I was not surprised that he became very possessive of the devotional when I told him it was a "for boys" devotional. Having said that - do not be fooled by the title; if you decide to purchase or receive one of these as a gift or, oh, I don't know, win one in a blog giveaway and you have kids of multiple genders in your home - worry not. The devotionals themselves are as gender neutral as they can get; they have a key scripture, a discussion of how the scripture applies to and can be lived out in their lives, and a prayer starter. This could make it a great devotional for a family devotional time as well if your kids are all younger and not quite into the "well that's my thing and this is their thing" possessiveness phase yet. I cannot speak for the "for Girls" version of the devotional as I haven't seen it personally, but I would imagine it's quite similar in its format and delivery.

The best thing about this - or any devotional book really - is that it allows the parent to sit and pray and talk about God with your child. Very quickly my son wanted to have his devotional and prayer time by himself with whatever parent was putting him to bed and we had to separate out each kid's prayer and devotional time. It's brief, but even that 5-10 minutes with your child talking about God, praying, and spending 1-on-1 time together can have such an impact longer term.

Or... so I've been told. I mean, my kids are only 4 and 2, but I've heard that longer-term impact is achieved by early beginnings.

All of that to say - I definitely recommend this devotional if you've got little ones at home. The recommended ages from the publisher say ages 4-7, and I would agree. My son doesn't answer the questions very in-depth now when we read, but I can imagine that over the next couple of years as we go through and restart every year his answers will change, mature, and have different insights that are age appropriate. Definitely click on the links at the end of this post to check it out if you're looking for a simple, approachable, and engaging devotional for your family (that's also reasonably priced! $10 or less!).


You could enter to win your own copy!! Entry is VERY simple. All you have to do is...

1. Share this post on Twitter or Facebook and comment below that you did.
2. "Like" this post on Facebook or Twitter and comment below that you did.
3. Comment below with your favorite daily devotional or scripture or ritual that gets you through the daily grind. 

That's up to 3 entries per person to win your very own copy of this adorable devotional for your kiddo or a family with little ones as a gift. Go on and enter! Winner will receive a copy from FlyBy Promotions of EITHER devotional - "for Boys" or "for Girls" - you just have to let me know when I announce the winner.

UPDATE - DEADLINE EXTENDED!! Contest will be open until 12:00 AM on Wednesday, October 12 and winner will be announced no later than 12:00 AM on Friday, October 14 on my blog's Facebook page. I'll contact the winner as well. 

Links for your reference: 

Every Day with God: 365 Daily Devotionals for Boys

Every Day with God: 365 Daily Devotionals for Girls

"Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the
Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post. Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

At the Playground

Sometimes in New England you get beautifully warm days. Days that are not hot, but certainly not the chill that makes you want to wrap a sweater snugly around your shoulders. These are the perfect days to enjoy the fall in New England; the perfect days to take in the changing leaves, to breathe in the smell of the season, and to enjoy what the fall has to offer.

Incidentally, this year my mom has arranged a lengthy visit that also coincides with the best season in New England - which allows us to bring her along to show her some of the cute places that we've discovered over the course of the summer. Yesterday I decided that after dropping Will off at preschool, my 2-year-old daughter and I would bring her Nana to Twin Bridge Park in Merrimack, NH. It's a small park with some smaller trails that are perfect for little ones and with this year's drought, the rocks that are normally covered in water from the brook that flows through there are exposed and lend to some simple rock climbing too. When I saw the weather for yesterday - sunny, high 60's, no rain - I knew it would be a good morning for a walk.

As it turns out, this park also includes a large, castle-like playground.

When we pulled into the parking lot, my 2-year-old daughter launched into her requests. "Mom, can we go to the playground?"

Not wanting to just stand around a playground wondering which turret my daughter had disappeared to in a given moment, I said "No, Sweetie not today. Mommy and Nana want to go for a walk and so we are going to go for a walk."

This back-and-forth continued into the first several minutes of the walk. Finally I realized I needed to make the woods a playground - and fast - or this wasn't going to let up and the walk was going to drive me crazy.

"Hey - did you know that God made these trees? And that water over there? And the rocks?"


"Well, He did. He made all of the things in the woods. This is God's playground. We're in GOD'S PLAYGROUND. So see, we're already at the playground!"

Within 5 minutes my daughter was jumping off of railroad ties with Nana and chucking acorns and rocks into the brook. Not another word was spoken of the playground until we were leaving and it was back in sight again - and when I told her that we didn't have time because we needed to go get her big brother at school, she let it go.

Look, playgrounds are beautiful, wonderful things. I have many a memory of swinging high and jumping off, of trying to climb up hot metal slides and figuring out the best way to slide down without burning my legs, of pretending structures are forts and hiding out with my friends. I watch as my kids declare their favorite small play structure at a local playground their "Bucky" (it's a pirate ship from one of their cartoons), climb up slides, hang from bars, and laugh with joy as they swing on the swings. The advent of indoor playgrounds means my kids get to experience the joy of inflatable slides more regularly than my generation ever did. I love a good playground and my kids do too.

Sometimes, though, we need to take the time and look at what was created well before an engineer ever took pencil to paper and designed a set of monkey bars.

God created the heavens and the earth and everything that fills it - including us. For me, the place I have felt closest to God is when I am sitting at the side of the sea; the quiet whisper of the waves, the cool of the water, the gentle touch of the breeze, and the vastness of width and depth of the ocean. For those who love hiking, standing at the top of a mountain taking in all that God created below them is where they feel closest to Him. There are so many places in the world that show the beauty and wonder of the nature that God created, so many things to discover and explore. One of my kids' favorite shows is "Dinosaur Train", and at the end of every episode the paleontologist says "Get outside, get into nature, and make your own discoveries". I LOVE this - God has placed so many things in nature that even if you go to the same place every day there is always something new to see, explore, observe, and wonder at.

So this little girl who so desperately wanted to go to a playground stood at the edge of a little pool of water yesterday, tossing different sized rocks in with different forces. Some of the rocks created such a splash that droplets of water came up and tickled her face. Then Nana threw a REALLY BIG rock, and the splash was so big that a bit of mud got on Evie's face, Mommy's pants got a little wet, and everyone laughed. When the tossing of rocks got boring (briefly, it's actually amazing to me how long kids can just stand there throwing rocks into water), we paused and looked at the pool and saw some tiny fish swimming around. She climbed on rocks and picked up sticks bigger than she was and jumped off of boulders and looked down from bridges into the brook below.

We had so much fun together and experiences in nature are things that no manufactured playground can offer. We are wired to discover, to delight in the world, and to share in all that God created. There is joy to be had when we open our eyes, our hearts, and are willing to stretch ourselves to let God give us the gifts of His handiwork.

Get out into God's playground today, find where He pulls your heart, and enjoy all that He has created.