Egg Hunts, Losers, and Other Thoughts on Easter

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The first time Aubrey went on an Easter egg hunt, she found five eggs.  Well really I found them, which was quite an accomplishment given all the four-year-old boys with Spiderman-like vision.  Not only could they spot an egg ten yards away, they could thrust their entire torso into a prickly bush to get it.  Me, not so much.

At the end of the hunt, everybody sat down to eat their candy.  I couldn’t help but glance at the overflowing buckets around me.  With a sigh, I began to pop open Aubrey’s eggs.  Two of them were empty.  She ate her candy in roughly three seconds and looked around. I wondered if she realized what a losing team we made.  I can still see her wearing her little pink chick shirt, watching everybody else eat their candy, clutching an empty yellow basket in her fist.

I’ve never loved her more.

Any parent will tell you that we love our children unconditionally.  Like the rope that tethers a boat to shore, our love braves calm and stormy weather.  But there’s something about seeing a child in a moment of vulnerability that elicits special affection.  Ask any parent how they felt the first time they watched their child be rejected by peers, and you’ll glimpse the emotion.  It’s loyalty and love, compassion and tenderness all mixed together.  And now as Easter approaches a single thought keeps running through my mind.

I wonder if God sees me in my vulnerable moments, and feels the same way toward me as I felt toward Aubrey.  I wonder if His heart is touched in a special way when I’m the child with the empty basket.  The child who’s hurting.  The child who’s failed, or lost, or been rejected.

Because God is omniscient, I sometimes picture Him unaffected by the sorrows of my life.  I assume He’s always calm, cool, and collected—reminding me that He has a plan, so why don’t I quit my sniffling and get on with it?  But the Bible reveals a very different God, One who meets His children intimately and passionately in their lowest moments.  The God of the Bible is One who longed to gather His wayward children into His arms as a hen gathers her chicks (Luke 13:34).  He is the God whose compassion overflowed at the very thought of giving up on faithless Israel (Hosea 11:8).  The God who saw Hagar.  The God who communed with Job.   The God who wrestled with Jacob.  Even when it was their own sin that put them in the pit, God met them where they were.

I love that about Him.

I love that the God of the Universe doesn’t watch us from afar, but gets His hands dirty in the messy reality of our lives.  I love that He wrestles us until we no longer resist Him, but cling to Him and desperately beg for His blessing.  Is there any other god in the history of world religions who would condescend to such a level?  Who would allow Himself to be so intimately involved, so emotionally affected, by the lives and hearts of humans?  And yet the God of the Bible goes even further–not only meeting us where we are, but becoming one of us.  Can you just imagine God Almighty as a baby?  The God of the Universe sitting in His own poop, waiting for someone to come clean Him up?  It’s baffling!  Could He have taken any form more vulnerable?  More utterly defenseless?  More humble?

And to think I imagine Him unaffected by the sorrows of my life.  Unable to relate.

He literally came down from Heaven and walked in the same human flesh I now walk in.  Only He did it perfectly, and then died a gruesome death–enduring the wrath I deserved–in order to rescue me.  You know what I think?  I think the maternal love I feel for my children in their empty-Easter-egg-basket moments doesn’t hold a candle to the depth of emotion He feels for us.

And I love that about Him.

I worship that about Him.

When Baby #2 Comes Along

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I still remember this moment.  Heidi and I had just come home from the hospital.  No sooner had I hobbled upstairs then Aubrey begged to hold her.  Clint whipped out the camera.  I gently laid Heidi in her lap.  The three of us beamed.  Heidi snored.  It was sheer bliss.

So many of the struggles I had as a new mom simply weren’t present the second time around, thanks to a little more experience and a lot more perspective.  Nevertheless, transitioning from one child to two presented its own unique challenges.  Because I know several moms who are about to embark on the journey, I figured it was as good a topic as any to write about.

This article was particularly fun to put together because I didn’t rely solely on my own experiences.  Instead I polled twelve mothers of two and asked them to candidly share the greatest challenges they faced when baby #2 came along, as well as their best advice.  Their responses were surprisingly similar.  Here’s the top three challenges they shared:

1. Balancing Your Time
Picture all the responsibilities you currently have with child #1 (laundry, cooking, cleaning, play time, discipline…etc.)  Baby #2 comes soft, sweet, and fully loaded with a dump truck worth of new responsibilities to drop on top of your old ones.  So how do you meet everybody’s needs and not end up with a home fit for Hoarders: Buried Alive?  Here’s some of the advice moms shared:

  • Maintain perspective: the transition will soon be over and life will settle back into a routine.  To quote one mom, “Focus on the love you have for your children and your family as a whole [instead of all that needs to be done].”
  • ASK FOR HELP.  This is not a sign of weakness, just humility.  The last person who needs to be putting pressure on  you is you.
  • Try to stay home as long as possible after your baby is born.  This will give you more time to adjust.
  • Take the time to get back into shape.  With all that needs to be done, it’s easy to put yourself on the back burner.  But scheduling a little time to exercise can go a long way toward restoring your energy and boosting your spirits.
  • Pray in front of your kids when you need patience and strength.  (There will be instances when the baby is screaming to be fed just as your toddler spills a quart of craft glue on the floor and bursts into tears.  In that moment, this advice is a great alternative to bursting into tears yourself.)
  • Get them both napping at the same time.  Having a few hours to yourself each day can make all the difference in the world.

2. Helping Your Firstborn Adjust
Imagine if your husband came home one day and said, “Sweetheart, this is Suzie.  She’s going to be my second wife.  She’ll live with us forever, share all your stuff, and occupy a lot of my attention.  Try and make her feel welcome.”  When a new baby comes along, your firstborn’s world shifts.  How he or she adjusts can depend on a lot of things—age, gender, temperament, personality, and even the temperament of the new baby.  The moms I polled expressed their stories so beautifully that I’m going to let them share the myriad of emotions and challenges they faced:

  • “The greatest challenge in having a second child was love.  I had intense fear and guilt that I would be introducing someone else into our already full lives with a two year old who had stolen my heart.”
  • “[When my toddler fell out of her highchair] I chose to keep feeding [my baby] while watching [my husband] comfort her.  And I watched as she didn’t turn to me.  She has become used to sharing me enough that she didn’t request me this time.  It hurt because…she has become use to the fact that I won’t always be there for her.  I now have two children to love and tend to.”
  • “There were times when [my son] would say, “[The baby] eat again?” every hour and I felt so bad that I had to time out whatever it was we were doing in order to nurse.  There were times where I saw his jealousy and he would hold a screwdriver or packing tape over [the baby’s] head.  I would talk to other moms of more than one kid and I got some looks.  No one admitted to struggling.”
  • “I was completely unprepared for baby #2 because baby #1 was so easy.  I just assumed that baby #2 would be laid back and follow his brother’s lead.  I envisioned being able to set him down while I cooked dinner or attended to potty training my oldest.   The first night when I tried to put him down in his crib, he wouldn’t have it and wailed his little heart out.  He ended up sleeping in my bed for a couple of weeks before I could wean him into his crib.  I spent most of my afternoons holding him because he’d cry the second I set him down.  He would cry for hours and hours and I soon felt like I was going to lose my mind.”  My advice is to love your baby EXACTLY the way God made him/her.  I know that sounds basic and obvious but it’s far too easy to play the comparison game.  Whether it’s comparing him to your firstborn or to your friends’ children; when your expectations aren’t met it’s easy to allow the root of discontentment to take place.  I have learned to accept my son for who he is instead of comparing him to his brother or to other babies.  I love him fiercely and wouldn’t trade him for a hundred ‘easy’ babies.”

Here’s some more advice they shared:

  • As much as possible, include your older child in baby’s activities—helping to get a diaper, hold a bottle…etc.  Making your child a “helper” is a great way to get things done and still spend quality time with him/her.  Toddlers can snap green beans, wipe down the bathroom floor, and tidy right alongside you.
  • Be HONEST about the challenges.  Seek out other moms for authentic vulnerability and encouragement.
  • Teach your firstborn some basic skills: how to wait until mom can come (patience), how to be relatively quiet when baby is sleeping (self-control and loving others), and how to dress himself or get his own snack with permission (independence.)
  • Do something quiet with your older child while nursing the baby, such as reading a book or helping make a puzzle.

3. Going to the Grocery Store…or Anywhere at All!
“A [big] challenge was getting out of the house, especially to grocery shop.  Making sure you have everything you might possibly need in the diaper bag and both kids with clean diapers before you walk out the door because the last thing you want is a buggy full of groceries and then having to find a convenient place in a grocery store to change a diaper while begging the older child to stay put and not touch anything. Or wearing the baby in a sling when the infant poo comes out of the diaper and you can feel it soaking through your clothes and onto your skin…”  Ah, motherhood at its finest 🙂  Here’s some advice:

  • Plan ahead.  Make a grocery list, preferably in order according to where things are placed in the store so you can get in and GET OUT. 
  • If possible, leave the kids with your husband.  Get a latte on the way to the grocery store and it’ll feel like a vacation.
  • Store an emergency kit of extra clothes, diapers, and snacks in the car.
  • When people inevitably remark that, “Gee golly, you’ve got your hands full!!” smile and say, “Yes, I’m very blessed!” 

Final Thoughts
Yesterday my two little girls squealed and giggled and played outside together for two hours while I raked leaves.  At 3 and 1 ½ they’ve invented a host of games—spinning the baby in the baby swing, chasing through the yard, hiding behind the trees, and of course kicking all Mommy’s leaves out of their piles.  When Aubrey runs inside, Heidi cries after her.  When Heidi falls down, Aubrey runs to kiss her.

At the beginning of this article, I told you to imagine all the responsibilities you have, and then to picture a dump truck worth of new ones plopping on top.  Now picture all the love that you have.  Imagine that dump truck filled to the brink with more love, more gratitude, and more delight than you ever thought possible, just waiting to overflow on your family.  That’s what it’s like to have a second child.  Heidi has taken the love we had in our family and made it all the more complete.  In the words of one mom, “Having our second knocked the wind out of me just like getting married or having our first child.  It brought me closer to the character of God. It opened my eyes to the possibility and reality that love is an overwhelming force. That when it is shared and open wide it intensifies in hue and grows bolder with the circumstances.  When [my baby] was born I loved my first child even more and taught him how to love even more.”

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Running a Home While Running on Empty

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Several months ago Clint came home from work with a surprise.  He pulled a tiny princess coloring book out of his pocket and handed it to Aubrey.  Sheer ecstasy erupted.  She danced in circles, hugged him at least ten times, and profusely thanked him.  Then she sat down and colored every single page.

While she was occupied, I turned to him and asked, “Where did you get it?”

“The trashcan,” he replied.

It still makes me laugh.  I can picture her intently bent over each picture, carefully coloring, while Clint and I crack up in the kitchen.

Sometimes when I feel truly depleted, I think about Aubrey and her coloring book, and I wonder how much of what I treasure in my life is actually garbage.  I’ve never been physically anorexic, but there are spells when I feel spiritually anorexic.  I feast on all sorts of garbage—entertainment, distractions, rigid scheduling, my own ability to perform—everything but Jesus.  As a result, I’m crammed to the gills and starving just the same.  And somehow in this state, I manage to keep going for a really long time.  After all, the dishes always need washing, the kids always need feeding, and the floors always need sweeping.  So I truck along like the Energizer Bunny, ignoring all the signs of spiritual starvation, until one day the battery of my own effort finally runs dry.  Something touches this raw, cavernous hunger in my soul for Jesus, and before I know it, I’m crying and I’m not even sure why.

It’s ironic isn’t it?  God is ever present—the feast of His presence lies before me, and I pass the days munching on cocktail peanuts.  And I wonder why I’m so hungry.  The first blessed assurance God has given me in this journey, is that the food is there.  It is possible for all the longings of my heart to be satisfied in Jesus.  But how?  How do I find fulfillment in Christ amid the daily drudgery?  These two principles are helping me more than any other:

Practicing the Presence of Christ
Running a home is incredibly monotonous.  Not only are the tasks menial, few ever remain “finished,” which can make you feel a little like Sisyphus endlessly rolling the rock (or laundry basket) uphill.  But what if we changed our perspective to recognize the vast reward in the “doing” rather than the “accomplishing”?  Unlike the world, Christ does not ask us to achieve.  He asks us to be faithful.  Thus, as Oswald Chambers writes, “drudgery is the touchstone of character.”  Look at Jesus Himself, who washed the disciples’ feet.  Can’t you picture Him changing diapers with great joy and love?  I can, because no calling from the Father was ever too menial for Jesus.  He came to serve, to love the least of these, and to do it with or without the praise of men.  How then, can I refuse to do the same for Him?  Brother Lawrence, who lived out his days as a kitchen aide in a monastery, wrote, “I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”  Like Brother Lawrence, you and I can practice the presence of Christ every time we wipe Desitin on a rash-y bottom, and rise happier than a king!  And therein lies the secret to running a home with joy and purpose.  We are doing all things as an act of love and worship for Him (I Corinthians 10:31).

Resting in the Presence of Christ
I find that practicing the presence of Christ in the hectic chores of the day is always easier when I spend quiet moments resting in Him.  Sometimes these moments come first thing in the morning, sometimes during nap time, and sometimes last in the day.  Either way, they are crucial because these are the moments when I feast.  I lay all my longings before Him, and I am overcome by His intense love for me in spite of my unworthiness.  To quote the Jesus Storybook Bible, His love makes me lovely.  His love makes my life lovely.

At times I’m tempted to skip these moments with God for love of a lesser idol, and at times I’m tempted to fulfill them dutifully and rigidly like a slave.  I know both attitudes must break His heart.  Yet graciously, every time I come to Him—whether for love of Him or love of myself—He meets me.  At the height of my joy, He meets me.  In the pit of my sorrow, He meets me.  In the thick of my drudgery, He meets me.

Surely, you and I don’t have to run on empty!  Not with a God like this.  We can run on His power and by His grace.  We can run through the happiness, through the failure, and through the ten million dirty diapers ahead.  We can run in the very presence of Jesus.

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Kid-Friendly Veggie Night

Cracker-Barrel[1]I mentioned in a previous post, (which one friend has affectionately termed my “psychotic food manifesto”) that we have a weekly veggie night at our house.  I was inspired by Cracker Barrel since my kids love their “veggie plate,” which is really just four sides of your choice.  I figured I could do the same thing at home for a little less money and a lot less butter.  So I made a list of all our favorite Southern-style sides, and each week I pick four or five from the list below.  It’s kid-friendly, cheap, and relatively simple to prepare.  I explained how to prepare some of the less common vegetables in a previous post, and have linked them accordingly.  Just to be thorough (and not to insult your intelligence!) I’ve briefly explained how I prepare the other sides.

  1. Baked Sweet Potato–bake at 400° for about an hour and sprinkle with cinnamon.  (A tip I learned from my MIL: If you want to eat the nutrient-packed skin, rub it in olive oil.  It’ll keep it extra moist and tasty.)
  2. Biscuits/Cornbread–a “reward” for eating all the veggies 🙂
  3. Cinnamon Apples—you can mix fresh apples with some cinnamon and brown sugar and microwave them until soft, or toss them in olive oil and bake them at 400 until soft
  4. Collard Greens—I’ve linked this to my original post, but must share that a reader introduced me to Goya Ham Stock as a tasty alternative to chicken broth for collard greens.  Great tip!
  5. Corn on the Cob/Cream Corn—chop the kernels off the cob, then run the dull side of the knife blade over the cob to scrape out any milk.  Sauté kernels in butter 3-5 minutes.  Add some milk (or half and half), salt and pepper to taste.  Mix cornstarch with cold water and spoon some into the corn to thicken.
  6. Fried Okra—it’s a lot of work to make fresh, so I buy this frozen and sauté in olive oil
  7. Green Beans—simmer in chicken broth until tender (it’s also tasty to add chopped red potatoes and carrots and simmer it all together)
  8. Honey Carrots—steam carrots, then toss lightly in butter and honey
  9. Kale
  10. Lima Beans/Butter Beans—simmer frozen beans in chicken broth until tender (in traditional Southern fashion, you can add “fat back” using bacon or ham if you want extra flavor.  For a lighter version, omit the fat back)
  11. Macaroni and Cheese (recipe following)
  12. Rutabagas
  13. Squash Casserole (recipe following)
  14. Turnip/Mustard Greens

Macaroni and Cheese
(My friend, Amy Pearson shared this family recipe, and it’s my favorite!  Thanks Amy!) 

6a00d8341c660253ef00e54f5ec6a68834-800wiIngredients:
1 ½ cups elbow macaroni
2 cups small curd cottage cheese
1 cup sour cream 1 egg, lightly beaten
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese
salt/pepper to taste

Steps:
1. Boil and drain macaroni according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, combine all other ingredients in a large bowl.
3. Mix together with cooked macaroni and bake uncovered at 350° for 45 min.  Let stand 5 min. before serving.

(Photo credit)

Squash Casseriole
(This delicious recipe comes from the Macon Jr League Cookbook: “Gracious Goodness.”)

squash-casserole-in-dish-mIngredients:
3 cups yellow squash, cubed and steamed until soft
4 Tbsps chopped onion
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground pepper
3 Tbsps butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup saltine crackers, crumbled
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup scalded milk

Steps:
1. Grease a 2-quart baking dish and preheat oven to 350°
2. Combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl, except milk.
3. Microwave milk for 1-2 minutes (to scald) and pour into bowl.  Mix well.
4. Pour into prepared baking dish and bake for 1 hour.

(Photo credit)

Do you have any family dinner traditions?  Or any tasty Southern veggies we can add to the list?  Feel free to share–I’m always on the hunt for menu inspiration!

The Things in My Life I Don’t Like

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A godly mentor once told me that joy and sorrow are like two sides to a railroad track.  Both run through our lives in surprisingly close proximity.  At the time, I didn’t really get it.  I believed the angst of college life would subside around the time I put on a pair of strappy black heels and received a diploma.  And it did.  Good-bye final exams, good riddance college drama.  But surely as the dawn, new sorrows came.  Indeed every season seems to have its share.  Some are gigantic, others minor.  But always, there is something.  Something I want.  Something I fear.  Something that exhausts me.  Something that confuses me.  Something that disappoints me.  In my life, I can always find something to complain about.  I can always find a reason to be discontent.  A reason to question God.

The ironic thing is, at the very same time there’s a track of joy running through my life.  For every handful of cheerios shoved into the waffle iron (ugh!) there’s one little cheerio poked into a bellybutton that sets off a symphony of laughter.  And for every private struggle with God, there is the promise of deeper intimacy, truer understanding, and richer communion.  I think the secret to contentment lies in learning how to embrace both sides of the railroad track—the things in our lives we love, and the things in our lives we don’t.  How do we do that?  I’m glad you asked 🙂  I think it begins by…

Being Honest
Contrary to Facebook myth, nobody enjoys everything about his or her life, because no life is untouched by the fall.  The question is, are we being honest about the painful side of the track?  Few things are more freeing than authenticity.  And no people are freer to embrace authenticity than Christians because we have guaranteed acceptance!  We are not judged according to how well we “have it all together,” how we perform, or how many people we can deceive into envying us.  We live in the shadow of another Man’s perfection which forever declares us righteous, accepted, and loved!  So we’re free to risk, to fail, to be rejected by the world, to be struggling, growing, and honest about it.

Conversely, nothing is more enslaving than deceit.  When we can’t be real with anybody, including ourself, we live in a narrow prison of appearances.  What’s more, honesty with God is paramount to a relationship with Him.  Lying to yourself is denial.  Lying to others is pretense.  But lying to God is the very depths of loneliness.

Being Humble
Once we’re honest about the trials in our life—and we quit pretending we’re not as disappointed as we really are—we can begin to view them through a lens of humility.  Like the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down, humility can make the toughest trial easier to swallow, simply by putting it into perspective.

What this means is, it’s time to take your eyes off your belly button, and look up into the face of Christ.  There is no quicker, truer way to cultivate humility.  Believe me, nobody is more navel-focused than me.  Just the other night I had a conversation with friends about how annoyingly introspective I am.  Because of this, the “honesty” part is not really my struggle.  The humility part is.  Yet time and again humility proves to be my ticket to peace with suffering.  For in light of Christ, my sorrows are pale, my indignation arrogant, and my “rights” ridiculous.

Being Hopeful
So picture you and me—shamefully honest, pitifully humble, a bundle of unworthiness in His presence.  Pretty pathetic, huh?  Wouldn’t you know, our gracious God looks at us, and unlike the world, He does not despise us.  As He said to Israel in the depth of her disgrace, “How can I give you up?  My heart is turned over within Me; All my compassions are kindled” (Hosea 11:8).

In our honest, naked humility, Jesus Christ imparts hope.  He has not left us.  He has not ceased to love us.  He is greater.  Stronger.  And in Him lies the victory.  Often my disappointment with the painful track in my life is intertwined with discouragement over my own sinfulness.  I shouldn’t have these feelings of anxiety, disappointment, or anger.  I should be past this.  Better than this.  More mature in Christ than this.  But there is a truth that continually sustains me.  It is the mystery of Colossians 1:27—Christ in me, the hope of glory!   Because Christ dwells in me, I always have hope.  In Him I will overcome—both my circumstances and my sinfulness—and one day, by His grace, I will arrive.

If you are in Christ, so will you.  There will come a day when the mighty engine of Hope that’s powered us along the tracks of joy and pain will deposit us in a place that knows no sorrow.  On that day, there will be but one track stretching into eternity–that of joy fulfilled, faith seen, and hope realized.  So do not lose heart!  There is a final destination to the journey.  The destination is home.

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