Living With No Regrets

Ecclesiastes 3:1:  “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”  (NIV).

For four years now, my family has had a yearly tradition.  We go away to the same place every year, usually relaxing the same way.  This year, we added to our routine and tried new things while keeping our favorite activities intact.  For some reason, I was nostalgic this time.

When we first started this tradition, I was pregnant with our last little one.  That year filled me with hope of what was to come.  The next two years were spent with a little baby/toddler – he and I being more spectators than actual participants in the fun activities.  This year, though, I noticed a shift.  Our two, almost three-year-old was doing his best to keep up with his siblings, and seeing the pure joy on his face was priceless when he accomplished something that his older brother and sister did easily.

Although I have to admit there is a little part of me that is sad to see the baby stage leave our family, I am filled with peace.  I think our littlest’s nickname, bonus baby, says it all.  From the time I stopped hyperventilating after seeing the pink lines on the stick, my husband and I made a decision.  If God was going to bless us with another child, then we were going to embrace not only his precious life, but all that it entailed.  I have to say, I think we have done that to the fullest.

With our first and second kids, I read all the books in order to stimulant their brains at the right time with the right toys.  I worried and obsessed if they didn’t take an interest in potty training, if they weren’t saying enough words by one year old, or if they weren’t walking on time.  I was so busy “getting it right,” I think I missed a lot.  I paid more attention to what I was supposed to do, feeling guilty if I didn’t do it right, than doing what I wanted to do.

Nine years between our first and our last made a big difference in my perspective.  I was nine years older and hopefully nine years wiser.  I still worried, probably more so with this one because there were lots more little pieces and parts of toys for him to eat, but I determined before he was born that I was going to raise him with no regrets.  By that, I mean that I was going to enjoy each and every stage, each and every milestone, knowing that this was probably the last time I would get to experience the miracle of watching a little one grow and mature under my care.

As a result, I have put the books away.  The older two are a reminder that kids will eventually achieve what they are supposed to, whether or not we worry, and our littlest is a reminder to savor each and every moment, because time goes by too quickly.

So that is how on this particular vacation, I was able to say goodbye to the baby days and look forward with peace knowing that I was fully present and fully involved, not missing a thing and living with no regrets.  Our family has started planning what new adventures we can do next year as a much more mobile and active family and we’re all excited about what awaits us.

It Is What It Is

Psalm 37: 7-9:  “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.  Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.  For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.”

This has been my catch-all phrase for 2012, and I am not the only one who seems to be using it lately.  If you hear me saying it, it’s not meant in a sarcastic or depressing way,  Instead, it expresses that because I live in a sinful world, bad things inevitably will happen and when they do, I need to find a way to overcome, defeat, change, or accept them – depending upon the specific circumstance.

Another way to describe this phrase was explained by the pastor of Youth Ministries at First Wes, Marc Ulrich.  He delivered the message a few weeks ago and stated during the sermon, “You are not in control of what happens to you, but you are in control of your response.”

That is so true.  I may not be able to predict the thunderstorm that surges our power, picking and choosing which electronics it will wipe out, but I am in control of whether or not I let it ruin my day.  I cannot control my kids getting sick and therefore postponing our plans of going away for a much needed vacation, but I can control how I respond:  Either with popcorn and a movie night or spewing my crabbiness on anyone within yelling distance.  I am not in charge of the traffic, how much work I will have, or how to juggle all the activities that seem to land in the same week.  I can control if I start my day with my Heavenly Father, eat healthy foods so I am at peak performance level, and remembering to check my attitude when it starts to get snarly.

So…if you happen to hear me say from time to time, “It is what it is,” I am just reminding myself that I cannot change my circumstances, but I need to check my response to whatever I am dealing with.  When I accept my surroundings where they are, it frees me up from time spent complaining or needlessly worrying and instead puts that energy toward a reasonable solution.  How about you?


I Need You

“But now, this is what the Lord says…’Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”‘  Isaiah 43:1-3a

Our youngest got sick a few months ago:  High fever, aches and pains, sore throat, as well as other symptoms that you probably would wish I didn’t mention.  He was absolutely miserable, and as a result, started repeating the phrase, “Mommy, I neeeeeeed you.”  During that time, he really did need me – To hold him, comfort him, and hug him; simply to be there.  I couldn’t take away his pain, but I could be there with him while he suffered.  I was more than happy to fulfill that wish for him, knowing that he would still be suffering, but hoping that I could make it a little easier for him by loving him through it.

Fast forward two months, and our littlest’s favorite phrase is still, “I need you.”  However, it’s not said with the same intonation or the same sad puppy dog eyes that he had when he was sick.  Now we interpret the same words to mean, “I love you,” instead of “I’m miserable.”

A few weeks ago, at church, in the middle of worshipping through music, I was feeling very disconnected from God.  It had been a crazy morning, I was doubting my abilities as an effective mom (my youngest was crying because I made him go to his class, we were rushing around, and I had a conversation with another of my children where I was trying to be supportive but not enabling), and so I was feeling “miserable.”  I didn’t want to sing praises to God in that frame of mind, so I stopped, bowed my head, and decided I needed to make things right.  I needed His help to change my attitude so I could be fully present instead of reliving regrets.  I bowed my head and out popped, “I need You.”  That was all I said, but that was all that was needed.  It immediately took me back to our youngest and how those three little words speak volumes to me as a parent.  I was at peace, knowing that they spoke volumes to God that morning too.

I came to the conclusion that God understands our, “I need You’s” in life.  In fact, just like I was glad to be the one that our toddler cried for during sickness, our Heavenly Father loves being the One we cry out to when we are miserable.  Whatever struggles you face, whether feeling lonely, depressed, angry, overwhelmed, or just plain exhausted, He wants to be the One we run to with, “I need You.”  I’m glad that He doesn’t need a huge explanation from me in how I need Him; just saying I need Him is enough.

I want to encourage everyone today:  When life has gotten out of control and you are needing an extra dose of encouragement, a hug, or some comfort, remember those three little words, “I need You,” and a Heavenly Father who thinks they are music to His ears.

Summer Challenge

As the time for school ending and summer beginning approached last year, I wondered what I was going to do to help my children occupy their time for ten weeks while I still worked a demanding job that requires hours of sitting in front of the computer.  In order to keep some form of structure despite my work schedule, our family embarked on a challenge that resulted in some really great results.

My theory was this:  If my children could survive a whole school day without the use of electronic devices (TV, videogames, etc.), then there was no reason why they could not survive it when school was not in session as well.  I announced a full month before summer vacation began what rules were in order to give them time to adjust.  When dad left for work until dad returned home, all electronics were off limits.  As expected, there was a little bit of grumbling about the unfairness and questions of what would they do, but it ended quickly when they saw that this was nonnegotiable.

There were exceptions to the rule as well.  On specified days that friends were over or relatives were visiting, the rule was lifted.  Those times were considered vacation and who does not want to enjoy a good movie or the chance to play the latest videogame with your friend or cousin?

Our kids, overall, found the experience fun.  They discovered games and toys that were forgotten about, they rediscovered their imaginations which are really quite clever, wrote books, drew comics, and mastered some chores that they found to be almost fun.  On one particular rainy summer day, they put on bathing suits and played outside for hours, splashing in mud puddles and sliding on the slippery grass.  They also participated in their first ever Lemur Run at our local zoo.  In addition, they had fun being involved in a golf program, zoo camp, and we ended our summer with a 12-day family vacation that spanned Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Washington D.C.

Does that mean that they stopped loving all things electronic?  No.  Some days they counted down the seconds until their dad pulled in the driveway so they could sit and veg out in front of the TV, and we still enjoyed plenty of family-friendly movies all together.  However, it also means that we have learned a little bit about balance.  Our kids are quick to ask to go play outside and do not grumble quite so much when we spend time together as a family curled up in our favorite spots in the living reading instead of glued to the television.

I do not see us giving up TV or videogames or electronics as a source of entertainment completely, but at least it is regaining its rightful place for us instead of being the center focus.  What about you – is there a particular challenge that you want to embark on this summer?  Feel free to share it below and maybe our family will join you…we are up for the challenge to take it to the NEXT level this year!

Where’s My Focus?

I Corinthians 9:24: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.”  (NIV)

I have a tendency to need to hear something repeatedly, in many different ways, before I “get it.”  I think that is what has been happening lately.  I think God has been trying to tell me something and finally I’m hearing Him.  Let me explain…

It started a few months ago when my family jokingly started referring to me as an internet junkie.  Every time we would come home from somewhere, they would silently count down in their head the amount of time it would take for me to jump on the computer and “check for work.”  That was always my excuse, but I would inevitably end up scrolling through email, check my Facebook, etc. at the same time.  “A few seconds” would turn into a half hour, and then I would be scrambling around trying to get things done or put our little one down for an over-needed nap…always playing catch up.  I think you get the idea.

Then back in September, my daughter pleaded with me to give her 20 minutes of “us time” in the mornings before she left for school.  Her dad and brother were already gone and it was just her, me, and her little brother.  So…I started making a point to carve out that time for her.  But…laziness settled in, routines got changed, and I would end up on the internet getting work downloaded, ready to start as soon as the bus left.  Again, as above, I would end up checking emails or emailing friends, looking at Facebook, and all the time I had originally carved out for her would be gone.

I have also read quite a few blogs from other people talking about how they are making a point to use technology less and instead focus on their family; to not just be in the same room as, but mentally present, with their loved ones.

The last and probably most important message that came through loud and clear for me was a devotional I read on the internet this morning – yes, that’s right, on the internet.  It was titled “Keep Your Eyes On The Prize.”  Let me quote a little passage from that devotional that hit home with me:  “What will really matter at the end of your life on earth?  Will what you are giving attention to now still be important then?  Or, will you be filled with regret for what you did — or didn’t do?  Distractions abound, TV, phone calls, web sites, books, movies.  It might be a good idea to stop and evaluate how you are investing your time.” (

Wow – Might I add that while I was reading that, my daughter was sitting on the floor nearby, sadly resigned to the fact that she was yet again not getting my attention during what was supposed to be “our special time.”  Ouch!

Let’s just say that God let me glimpse a snapshot of what my family might look like a few weeks, months, or years from now.  If I continue down the same path of putting technology (never intentionally, but doing so nevertheless) ahead of my family and their feelings, then I will be more “connected” to external things and less connected to the people who really matter in my life.

However, if I make a few small changes, I can have the best of both worlds.  By putting technology in its place, the same as any other chore or task in my daily routine, I can stay tuned in to the needs of my family while still staying “connected on a healthier level” with the outside world.  In addition, since checking my email and Facebook constantly was more habit than necessary (my job is not one that requires 24-hour surveillance), I think it will be fairly easy to make that change and keep technology within the healthy boundaries necessary.  I also think that God will honor that decision and make the time I do spend on the internet more focused and less random.  I find that when I choose to honor God by obeying his commands (loving and taking care of my family before outside enjoyment), He usually rewards me in ways that I never would have thought possible.

I can see a few rewards that could come out of this conscience decision.  First, I hope that my family notices the change in me versus having to be told.  That would be huge.  Not necessary, but definitely rewarding.  Another reward could be I will possibly be less stressed and more relaxed by checking only at certain times of the day and only in certain circumstances, but maybe, just maybe I can model to my kids the balance that is required of living a healthy lifestyle.  The best reward, though, that I can think of is that my husband will know he has first priority in my life, humanely speaking.  Lastly, when my kids think about memories with their mom, it will be of us connecting and not just me sitting at the computer.  That is probably the best reward of all.

Feel free to check back with me occasionally to see how I’m doing in this area.  Accountability is a great way to stay on track!

Potty Training – Not For the Faint at Heart

It’s that time again.  I knew it would come and I dreaded it since his birth, but potty training is upon us.  However, just like everything else about our youngest, it hasn’t been as bad as I feared.  He gave up his bottle without a fight, he gave up his pacifier with no tantrums or sleepless nights, and he gave up his thumb completely on his own.  So…it looks like potty training is following in that same direction.

One could say it is because I’m more relaxed this time around.  Or, it could be said that because he has two older siblings, the road has been paved and I realize that he will not drink from a bottle, suck on a pacifier, or wear diapers his entire life – history has confirmed that.  Or, it could just possibly be his personality and how he approaches life.

With our first two children, I started with Pull-Ups, bribing, all kinds of techniques before getting out the “big boy/girl pants” for them to wear.  I waited until they had progressed far enough in the process that accidents probably would not happen.  With our youngest, I started out the same way and it failed…miserably.

So, I finally decided some preparation and the final reward might be all that is needed.  Taking advice from a friend (thanks, Lori), I informed our littlest that this was the last box of diapers we would be buying.  I was afraid I might have to renege on that threat if he chose not to comply, but thankfully, it worked.  I must have said it with some form of authority or wisdom or confidence because he started singing the same mantra:  “Diapers almost gone.  No more diapers for me.”  We then went to the store and picked his favorite “big boy pants,” but came home and did nothing with them except look at them, talk about them, and get excited that someday he would get to wear them.  During this time, I would also offer chances to sit on the potty without enforcing obedience.  If he did, great…if he didn’t, also great.  Completely his choice.

Finally, one day, with all the excitement I could muster, I offered him a chance to pick out and wear his own “big boy pants.”  He carefully debated which one would be perfect for the first time and then wore them with pride.  No pants overtop – nope, everyone had to see that he had graduated from diapers to “big boy pants.”  That day we made multiple trips to the toilet, each with no results.  After a few hours and back into diapers since we were leaving the house, I realized that despite all the preparation I had made, I had forgotten one important element.  He hadn’t really had anything to drink.  How can you expect success when you are dehydrated?  Next time he would be offered lots to drink along with wearing his new wardrobe.

We tried again a few days later, when I knew we would be home all day.  More drinks and a few accidents later, after plenty of reassurance that accidents happen and it’s not a big deal, we gave it a rest.  However, each day he wore them longer and longer and started asking to go to the bathroom when he felt the need.  Huge accomplishments in a short amount of time with very few meltdowns.  Now…I’m not expecting perfection any time soon.  We are at the beginning of the journey, but so far it’s been fun, relatively painless, and he is getting a chance to learn from his opportunities of being wet instead of feeling like a failure for “mistakes.”  As a result, it is a much more pleasant experience for the whole family.

Now, I didn’t tell you about his potty training just to talk about developmental milestones in children.  When I reflect on his “journey” into big boy pants, it reminds me a little bit about us as adults working on a new area in our life that we want to master.  It could be achieving a healthy weight, getting into shape, or learning how to be more patient or less angry.

At first it seems like an abstract idea in the future that we cannot even grasp or define.  If gone about haphazardly to try to learn this new characteristic trait, the results would probably be disastrous.  However, if careful planning and prayer go into it instead, the results might be smooth, relatively tantrum free, and “opportunities for growth” instead of mistakes to feel bad about.

If I feel led to make a change in a certain area of my life and first pray about it, asking God for direction, the journey is usually easier than if I plow ahead, unsure of my direction, my path, or the final destination I’m shooting for.  If I observe others who have the characteristic that I want to obtain (whether it be a healthy weight, getting into shape, or learning a trait like patience), I can usually avoid some pitfalls that I would otherwise have to learn the hard way.  If I prepare ahead of time, not just observing others but also researching by reading books about the topic, praying some more, talking to friends, etc., then when I finally step up and start practicing the new concept, I will probably have a better outcome and feel more confident in my abilities.  There will inevitably be “opportunities for growth” as nothing worth obtaining comes without a cost, but the growth opportunities should be more manageable and less destructive overall.  And, even though it will take a while for whatever area of growth I’m striving for to become a permanent habit, by preparing ahead of time, the journey should be enjoyable and possibly even fun.

That is my prayer for you all, my friends.  That as you continue to grow and change and try new things, that your journey will be one not for the faint at heart, but for the prepared heart, ready to face the challenge with a good attitude, a positive spirit, lots of prayer, and the confidence that you will eventually reach your goal.

Handpicked Blessings

Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew (chose) you, before you were born I set you apart…” (NIV).

Children don’t choose what family to belong too or even ask to be born.  Instead, God handpicks each child as a blessing for each individual family.

Parenting is hard work.  Children, at times, by their very nature, can be selfish and sometimes, if we were all honest, they try to get away with doing the least amount of work, fighting us as the parents the entire way.  If you think back to your childhood, I think you might just agree with that statement, as I remember plenty of opportunities when I did exactly that.  Sometimes parenting can feel a lot like:  Chores, discipline, repeat; chores, discipline, repeat.

However, I want to remind you (and myself) that parenting wasn’t designed for that.  When I stop and think about the fact that I chose to be a parent, and that God blessed me with the children I am privileged in sharing the huge responsibility of nurturing, loving, and raising – parenting takes on a whole new meaning for me.  It becomes less about mundane chores or discipline repeated over and over and more about stopping to really enjoy each child individually.

It is then that I notice (again) what a great sense of humor our oldest possesses.  Or I remember the time we were stopped at Sam’s Club by a woman who wanted to compliment the kind nature our oldest was demonstrating with his much younger brother, patiently keeping a protective eye on him while we shopped close by.  Or the time I was greeted with breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day or the way he willingly cleaned the house and set the table while I was out picking up his sister, without being asked.

I then stop to consider the kind and gentle spirit that our middle child exhibits, never wanting any of her friends to feel left out.  Her tenderness toward little babies and her willingness to give her baby brother a bath (supervised still) so that I can have a break.  I can’t forget her bubbly personality or the way she shines when she is singing and dancing on the Worship Team at church, using her talents for God.

Lastly, even our youngest is starting to exhibit signs of gentleness, kindness, and remembering to use his manners to show how appreciative he is when people help him.  When he wraps his arms around me to cuddle at night or before naptime or the enthusiasm he shows when going for a walk or pulling into the church parking lot are more favorites.

Remembering to see and appreciate my children as the individual blessings they are does not always automatically take away the assembly line mentality I tend to get when I’m stressed or the deadlines are piling up.  Once again, it does bring me back to appreciating why I chose to become a parent in the first place.  And it’s great to think that God specifically chose these individuals, with their unique and wonderful personalities, just for our family.

Apple Trees and Children

A few weeks ago my husband and I were taking a walk around our property and looking at our apple trees.  This is the first year we have seen blossoms on them, and I can’t wait to taste the fruit of his labor.  We bought them approximately five years ago and since then, my husband has been nurturing, feeding, protecting, and lovingly taking care of them in order to produce some great tasting apples.  Feeding our family healthy food is important to us, and how better than to grow it ourselves, knowing exactly what was put into it in order to reap the results?

It got me thinking about how similar children are to apple trees.  It took my husband five years of hard work before he started to see any fruits for his labor (literally and figuratively speaking).  And, isn’t that how it is with children?  When they are first born, they are helpless, completely dependent on their parents for food, shelter, protection, love, and security.  They are weak, needing to grow bigger and stronger in order to be able to survive in the world on their own.  And we as parents lovingly take on the challenge to provide all of our children’s needs without asking for anything in return, knowing that one day they will fulfill their purpose in life in part because of our hard work and dedication to helping them develop the traits necessary for a successful life.

Once the fruit starts developing on the trees, my husband isn’t finished.  He has to continue to prune, water, feed, and protect the trees until they reach full maturity, and that is going to take many more years.

The same with our children.  Even though they start to produce fruit and productivity in their lives at a young age (seen through kind words, responsibility of completing chores, and compassion towards others), they still have a lot of growing to do before they are fully mature, ready to handle life as an adult.  More sacrifice, hard work, love, and protection is needed by us, as parents, before our children are ready to step out in the world on their own.  Again, we do this willingly, knowing the reward that is ahead if done right.

So, today, on Mother’s Day, I just want to encourage all us parents.  When our children are little, we are in the season of hard work – sleepless nights, demands on our time and energy, and lots of hands-on instruction.  However, if we continue to provide the structure, boundaries, protection, and love required, there will come a day when we can sit back to enjoy the fruits of our labor.  Just like my husband is looking forward to years from now when he can go and just pick an apple off the tree without having to nurture it as a seedling anymore, we will also hopefully reap the benefits of our hard work through a friendship with our kids and maybe even eventually grandchildren.  Until then, let’s all encourage each other together through the sleepless nights (both in the infant and teenager stages), puberty, endless homework, and high grocery bills.  While we are at it, let’s take the time to enjoy these stages since they are fleeting and will disappear long before any of us honestly want them too.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom who helped me become the “apple tree” that I am today.  And, thanks to my “other mother” who developed and protected and loved my husband as well!

Catch Me If You Can

Psalm 103:13: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him…” (NIV).

How many of us like to be told how we can do things better, more efficiently, and more resourcefully?  How many of us like to be told our opinions are always wrong, our choices could be better, or we need to think differently and then our lives would automatically improve?

I was thinking the other day about my interactions with my family.  What do my words really say to my husband and my children?  Do they hear that I am proud of them, respect their opinions, and love to hear their solution to a family problem? Does my husband hear my gratefulness that he took care of organizing a room or does he hear me whine about an insignificant detail?  Do my children hear me praising their attempts or criticizing their few mistakes?

I decided that it is up to me what comes out of my mouth and what message I am sending to the ones I love the most.  Yes, it is my job to instruct and teach and train my children to be fully, functioning adults, but it is my choice as to how I am going to go about accomplishing that.  I decided I am going to work harder at catching my children doing something good than finding fault at their attempts to navigate life.  I am going to focus on the 75% that was done well and ignore the 25% that was not done perfectly.  I think that when my children are approached with a different attitude on my part, it will free them up to hear loving instruction, when needed, rather than feeling like nothing they do is good enough.

I am going to be on the lookout to find at least one thing daily to genuinely thank my husband for doing or saying that is helpful and appreciated.  I am going to start looking at the motives of what is being done rather than the job itself.  I am going to start caring for the feelings of the giver more than the results of the giving.  And the best part – when I start catching and thanking the people in my life for the good things they do rather than trying to find fault at the little that is not done, we will all be happier as a result.  That might be the best outcome of all.

Do You Feel Your Hug?

Psalm 52:8b “I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” (NIV)

Have you ever felt discouraged – like nothing is going right and no matter what you do it is never right or never enough?  Do those feelings make you feel like you need a hug from someone who really loves you?  We all have periods like that, but there is hope.

A topic I like to keep talking about is how God loves to bless us as His children.  That can occur in so many different ways in our life – we just have to be watching for the blessings or we might miss them.  I like to call them hugs from God.

God uses many different ways to give out his hugs.  Sometimes it is through specific people, sometimes situations will change, and sometimes real, honest-to-goodness miracles occur that can only be explained as direct intervention by God himself.  Whatever form they take, each and every situation is a hug from God directed right to you, personalized by the Creator of the Universe Himself.  It does not get much more personal than that.

A few hugs we have received in our lives have included the following:  Unexpected money to help with medical expenses that were piling up as tall as our ceiling, a new job eight hours after suddenly becoming unemployed, the generosity of family throwing over-the-top birthday parties for our kids, taking our dog to the vet, helping with yard work, a billboard flashing our family verse when we needed extra encouragement, a meal from a friend, and help with a garage sale to name but a few.  Each and every one of those examples are hugs directly from God at just the right time at just the right level to keep encouraging or just providing unexpected but totally appreciated filling of our resources – emotional, financial, physical, or spiritual.

My challenge to you today is two-fold:  I want you to look specifically this week for ways that God is giving you a hug and then please share those wonderful experiences with us in the comment section.  And secondly, how can you help God hug someone else in your life, providing encouragement that someone else may desperately need?  It might be a friend, a family member, the waiter at your favorite restaurant, or an employee at Meijer.  I would love to hear you share about your chance to help hug someone else as well.