The Things I Said I’d Never Do: An Unraveled Parent

There was a moment the weekend right before Christmas where I found myself cheering in a dark deserted parking lot on a chilly December night. I was cheering because my three year old was peeing in the bushes, outside and in the cold.

Really. I was rejoicing. This is something I’d never thought I’d be doing. Six years ago in my early parenting days, when my first son was about nine months old, my husband shared a story with me about a little boy peeing in the church parking lot and I said,

“I WILL NEVER let my son pee in a parking lot.” And I really believed myself. I was even reluctant to let my first son pee in the yard while we were potty training at two.

And there in December, I found myself applauding my three year old in the dark. I was so proud of him. This was same kind of pride I feel when one of my children take their first steps. Peeing outdoors has actually become an important milestone for me and after three sons, this “will never” along with many others has given me the opportunity to see myself unravel my wound up strings, breathe and let go of all those things I thought I’d never do as a parent.

A dear friend told me once, “parenting is actually for the parents” and I could not agree more. I can see how these little humans that I’ve carried, nursed, fed and cleaned up after are actually changing me more than I ever thought they would back at the beginning of the all the “will nevers”.

Parenting is for us. The parents. It’s funny how such tiny people have helped me grow and change. How these tiny people have helped me conquer fears, push the boundaries of who I thought I was and help me learn to love in ways I never thought I could.

I also said I will never let my kids watch Spongebob but when your stuck in a hotel room at 4pm on a rainy day with no Disney Junior you learn to let go on the tiny things that you think will corrupt your children’s tiny hearts and minds and you trust that God is bigger than Spongebob.

I said I will never own a toy gun back in those early days of being a new mom. My intentions were to raise boys that were not violent miscreants shooting everything and everyone they see. But looking back now I can see those intentions were ruled by fear and not trust. We now have multiple storage containers for weapons and nerf darts lodged into every couch cushion in our home. And so far- no violent miscreants.

I believe I may have uttered the words…

I will never let my children jump on the beds or the couch. Clearly I did not understand boys or children when this sentence came out of my mouth. This was also tangled up with the fear of my children getting hurt. I now actually sometimes encourage jumping on the couch and the beds, rejoicing when I hear them jumping and laughing and playing together the same way I was rejoicing when that little three year old was brave enough to pee outside in the cold.

I will never let my kids have formula. I am pretty sure I cried like a madwoman when the pediatrician told me my first son had lost too much weight and we had to supplement formula. The doctor’s eyes even bulged out a little at my overreaction. He wasn’t suggesting poison. Just formula. For supplemental purposes. And I was hyperventilating in my hospital bed uttering words of defeat, fear and remorse. When my fourth child was born I actually asked the nurse to give her formula our last two nights in the hospital so I could rest after having my fourth c-section. For supplemental and sanity purposes.  All my kids have been nursed and given formula and despite my fears none of them has grown a third eye or eleventh toe… yet.

I will never teach my children the word MINE. I found myself correcting a friend a few years back when he was playing keep away with my infant son and using the four letter word, mine. “I don’t want him to know what that word is” is what I think I said. I felt like the word mine was the root of all selfishness. The word that in four letters can turn a sweet child into a monster. My desire was to teach my son that everything was given by a Great Giver and therefore help him learn to not use words which represented a heart of selfishness. But again, my good intentions were tangled up in fear and the unknown that a word does not produce a heart of selfishness. A heart of selfishness is naturally in all of us and selfishness will work it’s way into a home with or without the word mine.

I will never be able to survive parenting four young children, who happen to be within four years of one another. Look. It is true. Having little humans is tough. Tears on the floor, will I make it to nap time tough. I do not like to live in the unexpected. But having four kids so close together has taught me to learn to swim in unexpected waters. I am slowly learning to survive in the unexpected and learning to be comfortable when I can’t control every little thing happening around me. So far I am surviving. I haven’t lost anyone yet and everyone is still all in one piece. Things almost never go the way I planned them to go but I am learning to trust that God’s plans are greater than my plans. God is growing me and changing me, unraveling threads of fear and weaving new stronger threads of trusting in Him.

I am thankful when I find myself doing things I thought I said I would never do. It is there where I see growth. It is there where I see God making me into a better version of myself. 

I never thought about parenting being for the parents. But it is. It changes you.You may even find yourself cheering for your children when they are peeing outside in the dark.

 

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Hi, I’m Rachel. I became a follower of Christ one year before I found myself married to a man pursuing a seminary degree and on the road to become a pastor. That was nine years ago. We now have four kids, he is the head pastor of a PCA church in Mason, Ohio and I am figuring out how to be a mom, how to love my husband and how to trust God in the every day, one day at a time. I write stuff here and I try to keep it honest and encouraging as I have accomplishments and set backs. Follow this page on Facebook or add your email to the follow box on the right so we can stay in touch. 

What Having Kids Really Does To Your Marriage

Six years and four months ago my husband and I became parents for the very first time. We had no idea what we were doing when we brought our son home to our two bedroom townhouse with nothing but a bili-bed, some blankets and formula supplements from the hospital. There was no manual and very little instructions. We were both in disbelief that someone would send two twenty-five year old kids with no experience home with a human life to care for and keep alive. We felt like goldfish being tossed into a cold water tank just praying that the quick transition from the cozy comfortable waters of not being a parent to the cold, unnavigated and unchartered waters of being a parent wouldn’t lead us to become lifeless floaters.

Or at least leave our marriage lifeless and floating at the top of the surface.

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I’ve heard it said that “having children can ruin a marriage” and I know this may be true for some but having kids has actually done many positive things in our marriage. Having kids has given us, those two young goldfish kids, the perspective that even though there were times we felt like goldfish years ago we were never destined to be floaters in that small pond. Together, my husband and I have been able to lead one another to deeper waters, experience deep challenges and actually find ourselves growing and thriving, especially in our marriage.

We brought four babies home from the hospital. Between the twenty-fifth year of my life and my thirtieth we brought home four babies from the hospital. Three sons and a daughter. Each time feeling the shock of the cold water as we were thrown into managing two children, then three and then four.

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There were days and seasons where we felt like our marriage was on the edge of this ruin we had heard about before. There were seasons where I sometimes could see the life in our marriage beginning to slowly die and watch it begin to float to the surface.

We were so tired.

So overwhelmed.

My husband expressed jealousy over how much attention I paid to the children and I sometimes resented being at home all day.

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We were barely able to manage the little lives that were graciously given to us and sometimes we found ourselves sacrificing us for them. Those were the times when I slowly started to see our marriage begin to float (lifeless) to the surface of our little pond. This has been part of the journey and it has not come without hard lessons and tough waters.

It was a hard lesson for us to learn to choose each other and bring life back into us and our marriage. There were many fights and many tears until we faced the truth that before we were graciously given these little lives to care for we were graciously given one another. We were graciously given the gift of marriage first and it was our job to learn how to put us and our marriage before them.

I can see how having kids could ruin marriage if you forget to choose one another first. I could see it in those moments when we failed to choose one another first and I began to see those lifeless seasons of our marriage. When we were so busy tending to them we forgot about caring for us.

So, two years ago we decided that we would fight to choose one another. That was always our intention going into this whole parenting thing but somehow we lost that good intention in the exhaustion, the diapers and the cheerios and we found ourselves desperately digging and turning over every crumb to get it back.

Now our kids are six, four, three and almost a year and a half and it is a relief to say we are through those challenging years of having new babies and all that exhaustion. And our marriage made it though. Four times. It is a miracle and a gift.

It is a miracle and a gift to come out on the other side of that hard stage in our marriage and see my husband with a new lens. It’s like the Michael I once knew was just a boy back then before the kids and now I find myself looking at a man.

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A man who kneels beside the beside and prays with my children every night.

A man who gets lost in children’s literature with my kindergartener and keeps him up past bedtime reading just one more chapter.

A man who takes the kids to the doctor for their vaccinations when I am too afraid to do it myself because I can’t stand the sight of my sweet baby crying or being stuck by a needle.

A man who has taught my sons to love God, love fishing and who digs for bugs with them.

A man who sings to my daughter when he pulls the blinds up in her room in the morning.

A man who will come home if he has an hour between his daytime hours and nighttime meetings just so he can push kids on the swings and give me forty five minutes of quiet.

Having kids has given me a lens of tenderness, love and care to see my husband through and that lens has made my love grow more deeply for him.

Choosing to see him as the man he has grown into because of being a father has given me a stronger and deeper connection to him and a heart that is more tender for him.

"My heart is full every morning to see my family wall snuggled up like this."

Having kids has also given us the firm foundation of finding ourselves on a team. It has to be us against them. There are only two of us and four of them so we have to stick together. We find ourselves laughing on our team when our kids do crazy things like walk into the same bathroom stall as another kid and pee in the toilet with them, at the same time, all while casually sharing our plans for our family vacation to Florida. Even if this other child was a complete stranger. (That is only a glimpse into the crazy).

We find ourselves supporting one another when a parenting situation is hard. We need each other. I sometimes need to tag him in for awhile when I feel the wind in my sails fading over discipline or even homework.

Having kids has given us deeper unity together. Something that I hope and pray grows as we approach having four teenagers all at the same time.

Having kids has given us a common interest to invest our heart and souls into and it has also given us something to grow in and get better at together. We exchange helpful phrases and prayers as we fight to grow.

Having kids has given me a better friend in my husband than I ever could have dreamed of having when we were those two young goldfish in that two bedroom apartment with that newborn baby.

I never expected having kids to bring trials into our marriage and I never expected those trials to deepen my love for my husband. I know we have many more years of choosing one another and fighting to be us against them.  But these early trials have brought us together and made us stronger which make me think if we can survive the little years maybe there is hope for the rest of our parenting days.

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Having kids really can (and has for us) deepen the relationship between a husband and a wife. It has given us an unbreakable bond. Look at that husband, he is such a gift to me. 

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Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

(James 1:2-3 NLT)

You Are My Sunshine

There was a time when I couldn’t sing the song, “You Are My Sunshine” without crying. Somewhere near the part about taking my sunshine away, the tears would begin to blanket my eyes, the tears wouldn’t fall but the blanketing tears were present, enough to blur my vision and remind me of grief.

With my oldest it as been difficult to sing the song so, for years, we have been exchanging phrases while I hoover over his bed…

you are my sunshine…

you are my daisy.

you are my warm summer day…

you are my giant ice cream cone.

For a long time, I haven’t been able to sing the words “you are my sunshine” to my oldest child. Too many blanketing tears would come to blur my vision.

Tonight was different, tonight, I made it through a whole diddy of you are my sunshine with my youngest son without the blanketing of tears. At the end I whispered to him, “you are my sunshine.” and I looked right at him with pure eyes and a happy heart. (In return my son half sleepily said, “you are my poopy butt diaper.” I giggle because in a strange way he is being affectionate and silly.)

But tonight, I made it though a whole diddy of “you are my sunshine.” That is progress for me and this is the moment where I can see the hope of moving on shining brighter than the dark nights of hovering phrases and blanketing tears. The time isn’t healing my wounds but Jesus is. He is binding them up ever so carefully and making me able to sing sweet songs to my kids over their beds in the darkness.

He is gentle with His love and He is patient with my grief.

“Love is patient, love is kind.”

I remember my mother singing that song to me. I can still hear her voice, her voice sounds just like the voice I have grown into as a woman and as a mother. It hurts my heart that she is not here and my kids can’t know her, but God is finally moving me to a different place in my grief. With Jesus binding the hurts and God renewing me, I can see that my kids knowing my mom simply comes from my kids knowing me.

My mom lives on in my songs.

My kids can know her through knowing me. 

I am her sunshine, so my sun is beginning to shine bright in the darkness of grief.

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Scandal At The Seesaw

When Michael and I first met we were on a seesaw in a park. I can’t completely place the park now but I vaguely remember sitting across from him and hearing the creaky, rusty lever move us back and forth as we both shifted our weight. He went up and I went down in predictable rhythmic fashion, just the way I would expect a seesaw to work.

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Then in typical man fashion, without warning, I found my part of the seesaw up in the air and I saw Michael at the bottom, my fate in his hands. He then nonchalantly rolled off of his end which sent me crashing down to the ground. Michael believed this would be a cute way to flirt with me but I strongly disagreed. I don’t even think I had words in that moment. Just my disappointed teacher face. I was so shocked.

I knew he was into me at this time but I was so confused at why he would purposely send me crashing down to the ground on the seesaw. For fun.

(If you know me you are laughing because you know to me, anything unpredictable is the antithesis of fun.)

Ten years later, I still do not think either one of us can explain this moment, except for the one truth that he feels terrible about what he did.

Other than a stunned backside for a few minutes I fully recovered and we went on to date, become engaged and married all in that same year. Even after the whole scandal at the seesaw.

I had completely forgotten about the seesaw until some of Michael’s closest buddies were at our house recently. They lived with Michael at this time and were all groomsmen in our wedding.

Not a single one of them had forgotten that Michael had dropped me off the seesaw. They had some great laughs about the seesaw and stirred my memory a little to remember that place in that time.

You think a girl would remember something like that. But I didn’t. Somewhere along the way I stopped thinking about my stunned backside and getting dropped off the seesaw and years later that moment had become very difficult for me to even recall.

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I am happy to report that Michael has not rolled off the bottom of the seesaw ever again.

I am recalling and rethinking this story because I believe it is important to remember, especially almost nine years into marriage and four children in five years, somethings are worth forgetting.

At my core I am a perfectionist. Sadly so, and I seem to have an incredible ability to recall every detail of every scandal if I wish to do so.

When it came to the scandal at the seesaw, I was so overcome with love for Michael, I couldn’t help but forget the disruption to the predictable up and down of the trustworthy playground equipment, or my sore backside and confusion.

Love gave me the ability to forget the flaws.

I write about us in February because we were engaged in February. Last year I wrote about cherishing the moments of everyday love.

The year before I wrote about Redeeming Date Night.

This year, I want to be so overcome with love for my spouse that it is easy to forget the “scandals at the seesaw”.

I hope I can be so overcome with love that I choose to just simply forget the mishaps. We all have our moments when we roll off the bottom of the seesaw without thinking and unintentionally hurt someone else.

For us this year, forgetfulness is the goal. Michael is still that same man he was so long ago. His intentions were never to hurt me that day on the seesaw and still today I know his intentions are never to hurt me when the tiny everyday debacles surface for us in our normal marriage.

Lord, help me be that forgetful girl at the seesaw.

Help love be larger.

Give me the power to forget and the ability to love.

And They Lived Happily Ever After (A Sequel)

(an old post made new)

Oh Cinderella, how I love to watch you and you Prince Charming drive off in that royal carriage. And then ah! to see the words on the last page of your storybook, “and they lived happily ever after.” As a young child and even as a young woman the last pages of your story helped me write the beginning pages of my future love story.

I know there are sequels to Cinderella but I always stopped at the ending of Cinderella’s first story, which left this girl wondering, What is happily ever after?

For as long as I can remember I built the beginning of my real life love story on those happy ending words. Where Me, Mrs., and Him, Mr., mostly made googley eyes, packed our bags for romantic getaways and the two of us together had mind reading powers and effortless communication. 

In my happily ever after, I built up the image of the smiling and the kissing and the frolicking off into the sunset.

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Now I’ve been married for almost nine years, which is not that long, but it is long enough to know my perceived happily ever after was as real as the story where I initially found the phrase

My assumptions about what marriage could be like came from the pages of storybooks and off of the silver screens where the authors and screen writers seem to leave out the mundane everydayness of what happens in real marriage.

In When Sinners Say I Do, my favorite book on marriage, Dave Harvey writes about how every Jane Austen movie is the same.

The stories all end at the altar, just when reality is about to come knocking. Romance movies are about the dizzying tornado of romantic love picking you up in its whirling funnel and setting you down at the chapel doors all giddy and beautifully dressed.

(page 136)

Almost nine years of marriage and FOUR children later I have come to realize that my expectations for happily ever after were crazy and unreachable. Happily ever after was just a phrase, and I am no Cinderella and as much as I love my sweet husband, he is not a cliche character in a fairy tale.

My husband is a man, and I am a woman. We are both made in the image of God but at the same time our hearts are fallen, our desires are naturally bent to serve ourselves before we serve one another.

The true story about love that I should have been looking to all along was the story of Jesus and the rescued people who trust in Him for redemption.

Yes, fairytales and other media leave out the everydayness of marriage. But real marriage, two people choosing to come together in the not-so-theatrical moments is more romantic than those first giddy butterfly feelings. To choose love when you are a sleep deprived testy new parent is an everyday heroic gift you can give to your spouse. To choose dating which sometimes means dragging yourself away from crying toddlers is the mundane everydayness where you can find happily ever after.

It just doesn’t look as polished as I though it would. Marriage can have rough patches. And marriage just won’t work without looking to Jesus.

The Bible is a love story of God continually rescuing people and wooing them to Himself. In the Bible you find people who do not deserve love being loved and people being rescued even when they didn’t deserve the rescuing.

For a long time I let the world shape what I though marriage should be and I tried to cram myself and Michael into that hole. In the past and still sometimes today I drink from the “happily married” cistern. 

I’ve written about cisterns before, they are a huge part of the story of how God is redeeming me personally. A cistern in the time of the Bible is a large jug that people used to hold water and give life and an end to thirst. Today some people call cisterns, idols. Normally cisterns or idols are good things. But they become all consuming when we worship the good gift more than the Giver of the gift.

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“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

(Jeremiah 2:13)

I drank from the “happily ever after marriage” cistern. Sometimes I still find myself doing it and then I am still left feeling empty and unsatisfied.

Marriage can be a good thing. Marriage is a gift. But no one should ever find themselves worshipping the gift more than the Giver. That is when the thirst comes. 

There are times when I value the gift of marriage more than the Giver of marriage. In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes,

If we look to our spouses to fill up our tanks in a way that only God can do, we are demanding an impossibility. (page 52)

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At times, I have depended on my marriage to fill up my tank. I believed that if Michael and I could just be more happily ever after, if we could just try harder, we would be better. 

All that working and spinning of the try harder wheels left me exhausted.

When we were first married and even still now, I lacked the eyes of the gospel. The eyes that see the Giver and the gift in the proper order. And the eyes of the gospel that see me, a woman and my husband, a man, two normal people needing, craving, seeking the grace of Jesus. Every moment of every day.

I see now that I was depending on a “happily ever after” marriage to fill up my tank and make me happy. And I know now that in my fallen sinful heart I still have the tendency to do this. With the eyes of the gospel I have found that happily ever after marriage is not meant to be perfect. Nothing on this side of heaven will ever be perfect except Jesus and how he is weaving our marriage story, unraveling the bad expectations and threading the new. In this life of a normal woman and a normal man living life together I have found that “happily ever after” marriage is perfecting when I stop looking to the gift alone to fill me up and see the Giver and his grace He has given to me in Jesus.

Only God is perfect, and as we pursue Him together He is perfecting us, even when neither of us deserved His love in the first place.

As Mr. and Mrs., Michael and I are both on a journey together of simply learning how to love one another better and most importantly reflect glory and dependance upon God to our watching children and the world.

We mess this up a lot. But we are thankful for the forgiveness and grace that is found in a marriage where two people depend on Jesus. Extending and receiving grace.

So I can now breathe. I can stop trying to cram myself and my husband into this thought up expectation of “happily ever after”.

I can stop trying and start depending.

I am thankful that I am married to a man that believes in extending grace. Oh Lord, the grace my husband extends me is like that extra long swifter duster extender that finds all the tough to reach places. I have so many tough to reach places.

Happily ever after is not frolicking in meadows, it is frolicking in grace.

As you think about love this month, think about how things from stories and movies may bring unrealistic expectations into marriage and consider getting rid of the unachievable expectations and finding deep breaths in Jesus.

Please pass this on too.

Always dancing in this gospel dance with you.