God with Us

Have patience with me.  I’m going through some stuff.  I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but I have no idea how to sugar coat how hard it’s been.

Like always, I’ll just write my way through it.  Many dear friends have been asking how I’ve been doing since David’s new diet that restricts several foods and put my world upside down.  I’m not sure how to respond.  The rhythm of my day looks kind of like this:

numb.

numb.

numb.

freak out on everyone.

guilt.  apologies.

numb…numb…numb…numb.

yell at everyone, over everything.

guilt.  apologies.  numb.

You get the idea.

Last friday, it was chicken butchering day.  A team of butchers came out to our farm and Knut and his cousin were busy helping them outside, and I was busy inside with the kids, and swatting the 186 flies that had come into my kitchen the day before as Knut was working on fixing the rotted front door frame, and let a bunch of flies in.  All day on Friday, as I went around, swatting flies, my chest just hurt.  It was a physical hurt, and one I’m familiar enough to know what it means.  It meant my anxiety was not in control, and a panic attack was looming.  That made me fear, which made the pain worse.  It’s how this whole anxiety cycle works.  Some of you know exactly what I mean.

My go-to in managing this chest pain is some medicinal tea which works the majority of the time.  I have tried several things, and this is what works.  I was drinking cup after cup after cup of this tea and I couldn’t shake it.  Swat!!  Slap!!  Flies were everywhere.

Sometimes the walls of your circumstances start closing in on you, even when you are pushing against them with all your strength.

All I felt was a combination of numbness and chest pain.  Knut stopped in to see how I was doing, and I told him I was avoiding the kids, and letting them watch movies all day, because I was afraid I was going to lose it, and I just wanted to stay in control.  After we talked a bit, and he walked back outside to manage the animals out there, I pulled Silje aside and asked if she would watch the little kids downstairs and basically make sure no one died while I went up to my bedroom and just prayed a bit.  She was very willing to help, bless her.

In my room away from the kids and the flies and the food, I just sat there, and waited on the Lord.  I just listened to the silence.  Glorious silence.  My friend Sally says that the Bible is the vocabulary of the Holy Spirit.  I like that. It’s so true.  When I feel like God is talking straight to me, it’s always Scripture.  After a few minutes of silence, an old praise song, based off of Lamentations 3:22-24 came to mind.  I sang that a few times, and my heart started to break from the numb shell.  Jesus wept. John 11:35.  I thought on that for awhile.  Even God cried.  God cries with us.  There are some times where it’s good to cry.  I was afraid to let it out.  I was afraid of a panic attack coming.  I was afraid to relax.  God with us, Emmanuel.  

I felt like God was telling me that his mercy is here, go ahead and cry.  He would be there with me.  He wasn’t going to leave me.  Stop fighting the tears.  Lean into the mourning.  Stop fighting.  Feel all the feelings that I’m fighting.  He won’t leave me when I let go.

Oh I cried.  These days have been hard.  Oh Lord, it’s hard.

The vice on my chest pain loosened.  There was no panic attack.  Just all the emotions falling out in tears.  Just relief.

I reflected upon the Bible story of 3 Jewish boys, thrown into a Babylonian fire from Daniel chapter 3.  The king of Babylon looked into the fire, and saw 4 men.  God was with them in the fire.  How did that happen?  They walked around in there, coming out of the fire not even smelling like smoke.

17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

I love that proclamation.  God will deliver us from this!  But even if he doesn’t…

Emmanuel.

The presence of God is-2

The reality of God was stronger than the reality of the fire.  One of God’s names is Emmanuel, which means God with us.  I  kept thinking that over and over.  The presence of God is stronger than the presence of the fire.  This concept, in this story isn’t some spiritual lofty thought.  It’s a grounded reality, and if it’s not then it’s meaningless.  I want that reality.  I have that reality, though my feelings do not always correspond with reality, on various issues.  Just ask my husband.

Yet God does not shame our feelings.  He weeps alongside us, even before he does a miracle to deliver.  He is one who understands our hurt, and I think even understands our brokenness on a much bigger level  than we do.  So I’m letting myself feel all the feelings.

God is with me as I walk through it.  His presence is stronger than anything I could fear.  I’m learning to lean into all of this, diving into the wave, not swimming against it.

I’m blessed.

The Cleaning Stages of Motherhood

seasons of motherhood

Does it feel like your house will never be clean again?  I have found that during different stages of my mothering journey, my house is different levels of clean.  It’s all about realistic goal-setting.  For those wondering what those stages are, or about to enter those stages, here they are.

Stage 1: Newborn stage

Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy.

Cleaning at this stage is about preventing infection, providing clean clothes so the baby doesn’t get a rash from being wet for too long.  (Babies wet in so many areas for so many reasons.)  Things like puke, poop, and yes, blood, are the main concerns for both you and baby.  Having clean dishes is also nice so that mold and rot aren’t present takes priority.  Also, getting everyone fed is a major household duty.  Recruit as much help as you are comfortable with having around, and say yes to everyone bringing food.

Cleaning concerns that are ignored during this phase: windows, bathrooms, ironing, sweeping, moping, dusting, bed making and general pickup.  Changing sheets/laundry/cooking/and other chores are only on an desperately needed basis.

Stage 2: Mobile baby stage

Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy…with new challenges.

So your baby is eating a little less often and you may be getting 3-5 hours of sleep at a time now if you are lucky.  Well, once you start to think you are moving out of survival mode, cleaning needs of your house pick up.

Cleaning at this stage is all the above, plus the added sweeping, moping and general pick up things from the floor to the cleaning necessities.  Also, depending on when solids are introduced, cleaning baby food off floor, high chair, walls and ceiling (and something else wet to clean off baby) are added to cleaning regimen.  This is my favorite stage to own a dog, provided it doesn’t shed or bark during nap time.

Stage 3: Massive toy immigration and learning phase

Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy, and provide an environment for the work of play.

Toys and books are starting to overrun your house.  Things are coming into your house from grandparents, aunts and uncles, and your own personal shopping raids as your child is starting to delight in everything around him or her.  You have been through a Christmas and a birthday with this child and it is very evident they have stuff now.  You start reading your toddler books, and start forming all these ideas of stimulating their learning so they will be the smartest child ever, or maybe even keep them occupied for a precious 5 minutes so you can sip some tea.

Cleaning at this phase will be all of the above plus organization for this massive amount of junk for all this incoming delights.  Helpful tips for this stage: keep this stage under control as much as possible.  Might I recommend you read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up or Simplicity Parenting during this phase now that you are getting a bit more sleep. (I confess I haven’t actually read Simplicity Parenting but I’ve read about it and perhaps will someday.  The main thesis that I gather seems to fit this post: less is more.)

The more intentional you are during this stage will manage your stress level, and the stress level of your baby.  This is the stage where you have the brain power to come up with a plan.  Just remember: less is more.  Less toys means more time playing with your baby.  More toys means you will be spending more time cleaning than any human wants to do.

We have a simple rule in our house: the person who cleans gets to decide what stays and what goes.  When your child gets old enough to clean their own stuff, they can decide what to keep and what to throw.  Until then, that’s the cleaner’s job.  Also, unless relatives come over to your house to clean up, they don’t get to decide how many/which toys you keep either.  (Although please always be gracious and remember to be thankful!) Bloggers on the internet, and minimalist authors you read don’t get to decide or judge how much you keep either.  The person who cleans gets that responsibility, and now is the time to be proactive and take the bull by the horns.

Stage 4: “I help!” stage

Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy, provide an environment for the work of play/learning by allowing chores to be done terribly by your child.

Your child is able to pick up bits of toys, help dry silverware and put them away, and wants to stir cookie dough.  This is a very messy stage.  If stage 3 hasn’t been dealt with, this will be an increasingly stressful time.  Consider paring down even more the toys in the house to a level that is not so overwhelming for you and your child to tackle together.  Also, it is entirely possible that during stage 3 or stage 4 you are also going back to stage 1 with a new child in the house.  This may happen several times.  If possible, get through stage 3 with a gold star before going back to stage 1 again.

This is one of the most emotionally exhausting phase because your child will be so eager to help and so much child training can be accomplished but it will cause you to bite your lip to the point of bleeding sometimes, and your blood pressure will be sky high as they destroy your things with great intentions.  But if you make it and do it well, all further stages will be more successful.  It might be the messiest stage yet, but the most important.  Keep telling yourself, why do this chore in 5 minutes when you could in 20 with a child?

The worst thing you can do at this stage is put your child in front of the television so you can clean, and sending the message loud and clear that cleaning is your job, and your job only, and you don’t think they can do it, in fact you won’t let them do it unless they can be perfect, which they can’t without practice, which you won’t let them do.  Each chore you do with your child returns back to you with dividends.

Stage 5: Actual help with cleaning, sort of.

Objective: Keep everyone alive and healthy, provide an environment for the work of play/learning by allowing your child to do chores, sometimes unassisted, with a billion reminders.

This is the stage of chore charts, consequences, rewards, hands and knees, begging and pleading, for-goodness-sake-pick-up-your-socks, with your child.  This is a large transition time for the whole family as children start to take on some responsibility, and you get a small glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and you start to dream that your house will have things like clean toilets and washed windows.  This glimmer gives you a passion for clean you haven’t felt in years.  But it’s just a glimmer, mind you, because every time you plan to do one of these larger cleaning items you really are just spending the majority of your time motivating your child to carry some of their weight to some capacity.  This makes it an emotionally frustrating time because you think you are almost in the place to have a clean house but your kids literally don’t care.  They have no idea what their house looks like clean.  This is a time to pour vision into your child.  Cut some garden flowers, and put them in a vase.  Light candles.  Focus on making things beautiful, and encourage your child to catch this vision of bringing beauty to everything they encounter.

Start letting them use nicer dishes sometimes, and bring out the table linens.  Passing on vision and inspiration during this time of why we clean, and what our house could look like are important.

Stage 6: Always running, rarely home

Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy, provide an environment for the work of play/learning by allowing your child to do chores unassisted, with some reminders, as their schedule is constantly interrupted and their play time dwindles as they are always going places.

Piano lessons, Tae Kwon Do, ballet, or soccer.  Your child has stuff to do, thousands of papers that need signing and organization, like a weekly mortgage contract kind of paperwork level.  They will forget chores still because they are cut off to do this or that.  Just like the stage 3, your house will be reflected by how well you manage and limit the outside the home activity level.  This is a good time to teach your child what it is like to live within your means, both in the area of money AND time.  This is a good time to go over visual schedules with your child, and have them see that there are so many hours in the day, and chores still do need to be in there.  Do they want to give up some activity so they can have an afternoon to just play with Legos?  As your child matures, they will begin to wrestle with the fact that many adults still wrestle with: the limitation of time and the need for white space on our calendar.  If there is no white space, your house will show it.  Both parents and children’s attitudes will show it.   This will take family meetings, parent meetings, limitations set, and lots of time devoted to teaching your child and yourselves how to balance.

Stage 7: Always hungry

Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy, provide an environment for the work of play/learning by allowing your child to do chores unassisted, with some reminders, as their schedule is constantly interrupted and their play time dwindles as they are always going places.  Also, they will always be hungry.

During this stage, you will find dishes everywhere, the fridge unexpectedly empty, and in addition to the activities of stage 6, you will have lots of cooking time, clean up time, and meal planning/grocery shopping time too.  Also, you may need a part time job to pay for all this food.  This is a great stage to assign certain meals of the week for your child to cook.  Hopefully your child has been doing some cooking and baking up to this point, starting in stage 4, but training them to plan a whole meal every week and grocery shopping trips will be educational and eye opening.  And it will take time to teach them.  And it will be messy.  Clean up from these meals will be nightmare-invoking.

Stage 8: Silence, tears, and starch

Objective: Your children have moved out.  I have not actually experienced this phase yet, but from what I hear, the house is spotless all the time and it makes you cry.  A lot.  Like, even more than the hormonal tears of stage 1, and the weeping and frustration of stage 5.  I am also told that during this stage, it is possible for “ironing clothes” to be added back to the routine, if desired.

What My Kids Taught Me About My Anxiety

sunset skies copy

The truth of the matter is I don’t know exactly what started my anxiety.  Whether it was predisposed, the situation, exhaustion, my physical pain or spiritual.  All I know was that it was real.  It was suffocating.  I swatted at it from every direction (physical/mental/spiritual), just to be safe, and it left me feeling defeated.

Living with pain for over a year taught me a lot.  I went from a mom who yelled too much to a mom who yelled all the time.  I went from a laid back mom with normal issues to a mom whose life was falling apart and felt I couldn’t control anything.  It was 1 car accident on 1 morning.  I couldn’t control my house, my kids, or myself.

For a long time I just tried harder.  That, and I was angry, sad, all the feelings.  I would double down and attempt to push through.  I consulted doctors, nutritionists, and my counselor.  I yelled all the time because I was dealing with pain all the time.  I was failing, and I was mad that I was failing.

My kids showed astonishing resiliency through all of this, at least the first few months.  They maintained their childlike laughter which also made me mad.  It was too loud, or too rowdy.  They could never leave me alone for just 2 seconds.

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Housekeeping Hindsight

Many of you followed my KonMari journey these last few months.  I wrote about it here (where I talked about throwing the book across the room several times), and here as well within the context of my clothes.  I’ve also written here about the app I use for keeping track of house cleaning, based off of the FlyLady system.  Phew.  You reach a desperate point, people.  You get so sick of surviving your days and become determined to find a way to thrive.

I do not believe the two systems (KonMari and FlyLady) are in conflict, and as a homemaker I still use both.  KonMari does not focus on getting dirt out of stuff.  She deals with clutter.  She deals with just piles of stuff everywhere.  She deals with stuff never being put away.  FlyLady does work with clutter, but not nearly with the philosophical thought of the other.  Actually, not even close.  However, she does have a good rotation system for cleaning the dirty stuff in your house.  So I used KonMari to declutter and completely transform the way I think about my stuff and how to organize it, and I use the Wonderbear app based off of FlyLady to keep track of what needs to be cleaned next on rotation, and just do the thinking for me there.

It has been a beautiful pairing.

The KonMari system suggests you don’t go through her system gradually.  She does not believe in gradual change, because you never see success, or experience what it will look like as things gather faster than you get rid of them.  She suggests you go through her steps in no more than 6 months.

(Please keep in mind, this system is not merely decluttering.  It’s a philosophy of managing stuff.  Really, reading the whole book is necessary and I won’t lay it all out here.)  

I ended up going through it faster than that because I had an opportunity to contribute my stuff to a friend’s garage sale, and because I just don’t have 6 months to apply to this project.  I just wanted it done.  The last thing I need is a huge project going on during gardening season, or worse, harvest season.

So now that every closet, every dresser, every toy has been brought to a place of order, and I have pushed literally dozens of large garbage bags to various locations from the dump to goodwill, to the garage sale…

this is how my life has changed:

I’m running out of laundry to do.

I used to try to get a minimum of 2 loads of laundry a day for our family of 7 people.  When I washed diapers it was 3 loads a day to stay afloat.  I have it programed in my cleaning app to put a load in after breakfast and after supper.  I’m having trouble some days coming up with a load big enough to wash in the evening.  It’s skipped often.  I hang clothes on the line to dry more because I have time.  Why not?  We just don’t do as much laundry.

I treat my clothes differently.

Now that I have less clothes, and love them all, I treat them differently.  I wear my apron more in the kitchen, because I don’t want them washed too much.  I fight to get stains out more.  I pick them off the floor more, because I shudder to think that they’d wrinkle.  I’m more likely to mend them carefully and quickly.  Instead of being this disposable nuisance, they are something that I care for with more thought.  They hold more value in my mind than they used to.

I look put together more often.

I used to blindly grab a shirt and a pair of jeans, or yoga pants, and just get through my days.  Now I put together an outfit, even wear jewelry from time to time (gasp!) and think about what shoes match.  As a stay at home mom, this has been huge for my frame of mind.  I know studies have been done on how what we wear effects our performance, and it’s true.  It’s not that I don’t wear comfortable stuff anymore.  It’s that I feel beautiful more.  I’m caring for myself more.  It changes how I think.

I’m open to time with friends more.

Our house is never 30 minutes from being “company ready” now.  Having people over is less stressful.  Also, Knut would often want us getting together with friends, but I have spent some years being overwhelmed at home and worried if I went out with friends, I’d lose the slim edge of progress at home that I had made when someone is watching them, or I’d get behind not doing what I should be doing to keep up.  I didn’t want to go places because there was just so much to manage that if I left it alone for even a few hours, it would be unmanageable for days.  I couldn’t handle that possibility.  So I’d always push to just stay home.

I see my friends more.

My kids don’t whine about chores as much.

The lifting of the stress is trickling down to the little people.  Since we homeschool, and there are so many of us, we have to clean often to manage the mess that naturally happens.  Mess often means they are playing.  It means they are learning.  I don’t want them always being afraid of making a mess.  But we do need to manage it.  We each have a chore to do after each meal, and those chores rotate.  The most common chores that are in kids’ rotation are: dishes, clean up and vacuum the dirtiest room in the house, or fold and put away a load of laundry.

“The dirtiest room” is no longer that dirty.  The kids are excited when they get that on their rotation.  There’s just not as much fight to it.  Also, sometimes in the evening there just isn’t enough mess to justify all those categories (note the less laundry above).  So I made a deal with the kids.  If they do their breakfast and lunch chores without 1 complaint, and with a cheerful attitude, I’ll do their supper chores for them.

Really, there’s very little to do in the evening.  Dishes basically.  So it’s been a win-win.  They still whine out of habit from time to time out of sheer habit, but with an extra chore in the evening as a consequence, that is quickly stopping.

My bedroom has been clean.

OK, I know my whole house has been cleaner, but this room in particular has been the test of sanity for me.  My bedroom is the room I shove all the clutter from the rest of the house when company comes over.  It’s the room that has stacks of boxes that I need to “go through” or have no idea where to put.  My bedroom has really never been continuously clean at any point in my life.  It’s my “dump” room.

Now I make my bed every morning and have for maybe over 2 months.  Not because it’s on my app, or some list.  I do it because it makes me happy.  My room is spotless all the time.  The worst it has gotten in the last few months is I once left a pile of 4 pieces of clothing on a chair for 48 hours, and that was when we got back from a vacation and I was dealing with unpacking and stuff.  I know…what a slob, right?  I love walking into my bedroom.  Everyday.  I can’t even…

Packing is transformed.

Speaking of unpacking for a trip, guess how long it took me to pack my 5 kids and myself for the trip?  (Knut’s a big boy and packs his own bag.)  It took me 1 hour.  That’s from getting out the suitcases, going to each dresser, picking out some cute things, zipping them up, and picking toys for the road in the backpacks.  We don’t go places often, mostly because of our animals and just life and the farm needing us home.  But packing used to be a days-long ordeal.  It took me an hour this last time.  I didn’t have to track anything down.  I knew where everything was and it was clean, folded, and ready.

All in all, this whole process of getting my stuff in order has made it so my life doesn’t revolve around my stuff.  As a homemaker, it has been burden lifting.  My stuff isn’t so oppressive.  My mind can wander to things like reading or playing games with my kids without the guilt that I should be putting out some messy fire somewhere.

I’ve learned to live within my means.

I’ve learned that living within my means doesn’t just mean not spending money you don’t have.  It’s not buying stuff you don’t have a place for in your home, and not bringing more things into your life than you can manage. When you don’t have time to spend with the Lord, you don’t have time to dream, you don’t have time for people…then something has to go, and I think a lot of the time that something is stuff.  In this “1st world” we live in, we are blessed with abundance.  Mismanaged, these blessings become a curse.  This system has allowed me to focus on what I really want to prioritize.

Anyone else trying to simplify your life out there?  What have you found helpful?