Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Loving Someone Enough to Say Something - Oh, How I Am Loved!!!

If you have read my Facebook posts and my past blog posts, you know that I am one to talk and write a lot on one topic at a time.  It is true.  I am a deep thinker.  I am a long and loud talker.  Someone like me is not a great listener.  I am not one to ask for advice.  I am not one to ask for help.

I give advice.  I give help.  I like to come up with solutions to others' problems.

But to listen to someone else tell me about my own problems... all of a sudden "Yo no hablo Ingl├ęs."

Actually, my evil twin comes out and screams in my mind "Who do you think you are?!"... but as a wise teacher once told me that the evil twin is who I really am.  That prideful, stubborn person who bucks up to correction is who I really am in my sinful heart.  The nice, humble person is the persona I easily carry around for others to see when life is easy.

And after my post last week about living in a glass house, perhaps people got the idea that I think everyone should keep their thoughts to themselves on most issues, if not all.  Well, that would be hypocritical of me, of course, since I enjoy talking about a lot of issues - hence my blog!

I have been really thinking back this week over some times in my life where people took me aside and told me truth on how I was living my life... TRUTH - not their preference... and they were right.  I knew they were right.  And no matter how soft their tone or loving their intention, the words slapped me to my core.

Soon after college, I found out that things I had worked so hard for weren't as satisfying as I had wanted them to be.  I had been hired to be a teacher, but nothing had prepared me for the dread of returning to work every day.  The job was too hard, and since it was all I had ever planned on doing, I felt suicidal.  I also had just bought a home, which at first was exciting, but then I realized how trapped I was to the commitment of owning a home.  I couldn't just pack up and change cities now like I had before; now I had a job and a home, both with a contract.  I also didn't feel very close to the Lord at this time.  I had grown so much during college, but felt so stagnant with the mundane of going to work and taking care of a home on a daily basis.  I was unhappy, but I wasn't taking my thoughts to the Lord.  I was still attending church, but my spiritual life was practically non-existent.  My roommate at that time, and best friend, left some reading material on the topics of depression and finding joy in the Lord by my bed.  I was furious with her!  I was so furious, that one day while she was at work, I moved everything she owned out onto the lawn.  I didn't want to live with a saint, and I was in complete denial about how bad I was doing.  But for some reason, after I had prepared to throw her out of my house, I read the articles anyway.  I was broken, crushed, but encouraged.  I prayed to the Lord to give me joy in my heart.  I asked for forgiveness for thinking that work and worldy possessions were going to complete me in the first place.  And I moved everything back into my roommate's bedroom right where she had it before.  I told her what had happened when she got home, and she prayed for me.  She forgave me.  She kept encouraging me and asking me the hard questions for months after that.  She helped me look to the only source of light we have in this dark world.  We ended up being rommates for 5 years, and she taught me so much just by asking me the hard questions with kindness covering every word.

About a year later, I found out that one of my good college guy friends had almost died.  I hadn't seen him in a while, because his best friend was an ex-boyfriend.  When I started to think back on all the fun times the 3 of us had had, I got sentimental and wanted that time back in life.  I had just gotten out of another serious relationship, and in a moment, of what I thought was perfect clarity, I called my previous ex-boyfriend so we could go visit our friend who had been injured.  Before we went, I just knew that this was going to be "it".  That this was the right decision.  We were going to get back together, and our friend was going to live, and we would all be happy forever.  But even though the visit went well, I felt confused when I was instantly reminded of the reasons we had broken up in the first place.  I later went to his apartment and started telling him how confused I was, bawling tears down my face the whole time.  I walked out of that apartment a different woman, because in his God-given wisdom and guts to tell me what I didn't want to hear, he said, "Have you ever thought of making decisions based on truth instead of your feelings?"  He wasn't being rude or sarcastic.  He was gentle and honest.  But I still felt like the biggest idiot!  It had NEVER occurred to me before to make decisions based on God's Word instead of my feelings.  He reminded me that day that my heart is deceitful.  And the proof was in that situation - I break up with someone and find out a friend almost died, obvious emotions to follow would be to feel sad, lonely, and scared about how short life is.  So I immediately run to an ex-boyfriend, thinking we should get married and have babies right away, because time is wasting.  Then I feel like that was the wrong move, and I realize I don't want to marry him.  How could I trust my heart after it had reared its ugly head like that?! And the irony - he was the one who diagnosed me right then and there... I allowed my emotions to rule my life, not the Lord.  We never spoke again, and we were both okay with that.  But I will always be thankful for that simple piece of guidance that must have been so hard for him to give me.

A couple of weeks later, I had lunch with a woman from church.  I filled her in on all my recent boy troubles.  I told her about how I always thought I would be married with kids by then, and how my life just wasn't going the way I thought it should.  All I wanted to be was a wife and a mom, and instead I had earned a teaching degree and the "eternal bridesmaid" award.  I felt lonely and disappointed.  And she lovingly asked me a question that stopped me dead in my tracks:  "Keisha, why would you want to get married, unless you had met someone that made you want to get married?"  It had never dawned on me that I shouldn't want to get married unless I had met someone that caused me to consider marriage.  What a brilliant concept, but I had had it backwards my entire life!  I wanted a dream, a fairy tale.  I wanted something God hadn't given me, and I chased after it like so many before me have chased idols in their hearts.  And I asked myself, 'Do I know anyone that I want to marry because they are worth marrying?'  At that time, the answer was a resounding NO, so I put the dream down, realizing that I shouldn't pick it back up again until God handed it to me in the form of a real life person, not an idea, but a person.  She probably never knew how much of an impact that one question had on me, but it changed me.  I realized that yearning for something God hasn't given me, and may never give me, was a slap to God in the face.  Hadn't He done so much already?!  Yes, He had, and the next few years of being single were some of the most content, fulfilling years I had ever had before then!  There were still times I would feel lonely and like God was holding out on me, but I would remember what my wise friend had said.  I am grateful to say that I didn't chase that dream anymore.  And then one day, God handed me a reality in the form of a man.  This man proved himself over and over, without knowing it, that he was worth marrying.  So, because he caused me to want to get married, I married him :)  It wasn't a dream I kept trying to fit men into... it was a man that my dream fit into.  But not a fairytale dream.  A dream worth having because it was real, and it was God's man in God's timing.

Kyle and I started dating when I was 24, almost 25.  And when you start dating someone, it is amazing how your legs always get shaved, eyebrows get plucked more often, your hair and makeup look great all the time... but over time the real you comes through.  I have a very dominating personality at times.  I am sarcastic, and sometimes I go for a joke when I shouldn't.  My mouth gets me in trouble often, thankfully less often as I mature and grow spiritually... but it is still a daily struggle.  Very early in our relationship, I realized how manly Kyle was because he called me out on my sin of the tongue.  I had spoken sarcastically  to a friend, not meaning to come across as rudely as I did, and it was in front of a lot of people.  Kyle waited until we were alone later and said that what I had said about my friend was mean-spirited.  He said I had embarrassed her for the sake of getting a laugh.  He admitted he was familiar with this fault because he struggles with it too, but he was telling me that I needed to apologize and strive to be kind with my words.  He wasn't bossy or judgmental - he was honest, but gentle with the words he chose.  I was immediately embarrassed myself, because it was so early for him to already be seeing and calling out my flaws.  But he did it so lovingly, and I knew it was true, there was no fight in me against it.  I knew he was right, and I loved him for it.  I had always wondered what it would be like to be led spiritually by a man... and I learned that night that it felt like it should.  It brought Kyle and I closer to each other, but more importantly it brought me closer to the Lord.

And I wonder where I would be... who would I be if these people hadn't told me the sin they saw in my life?  God is in control, and He loves me too much to leave me the way I am in my natural, sinful state, so perhaps I would be who I am right now even if these people had silently turned a blind eye or ear to what my heart was indulging in.  He could have chosen different ways for me to learn these hard lessons.  He could have chosen other people.  He could have written it on a cloud or sent an angel to me on a sidewalk. But how much longer would the change have taken?  God gets His way, but He wanted the obedience of these people to lovingly confront me in my sin.  And they did.  I don't know how hard it was for them to confront me, but I knew how much they loved me and the Lord after they obeyed.

So while I did argue we should not judge others based upon our own opinions and preferences, I am also saying that God does say to make right judgments.  He does tell us to bear each other's burdens, to love each other enough to speak to each other's sin in love.  Because we love Him.  Because He loves us.  Because we love each other... enough to say something.  I am only 30 years old, and there will always be some sin I am struggling against during this life, and I dread how many more times someone I admire or look up to is going to sit me down to confront me.  I don't look forward to it, but I know it is bound to happen.  I pray I will be open to the Lord's correction.  I pray my heart will be made to look more like Christ's each time.  And I pray the same for those who will confront me, because it is an act of obedience from an overflow of love from the heart.

He is worth it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What Kind of Minister's Wife Am I Going to be?... 1 Week in...

Kyle, my husband, has officially been a minister on staff at our church for one week.  I am now a minister's wife.  Nobody told me or warned me about this, but as soon as he was hired for this job over a month ago, I started feeling fearful of the eyes watching us now.  I know just from being close to so many of my pastors' wives in the past that Kyle and I have signed our family up to live in a glass house...

So why not blog about it, right?!  I mean, if people are going to be critiquing every decision our family makes anyway, I might as well be honest about who we are and why we make those decisions.  While I welcome accountability, I admit that the fear of that outside pressure can be overwhelming if I think about it too long.  The job of ministering is already a heavy responsibility without others pressuring us to be perfect.

I get it, though.  I understand why people judge their pastors/ministers with a higher standard than they judge their own lives... the Bible even says that we are to be above reproach.  Anyone who wants to teach scripture needs to be aware that the Bible says you are responsible not only for you, your family, but also those you lead.  We are to be sensitive to the needs around us and the things we are teaching, not only with our words but with our lives.

What I don't understand is how so many people have such strong opinions on the kinds of wives and mothers we are as pastors' wives... and yep, I'm going there!  Not because I am bitter, in fact I have yet to be at this end of judgment in my one week of wifing a paid minister (like my new verb, ha!).  I hate to say that on occasion, I have had thoughts of judgment of ministers' wives, children, etc. too.

There is a stereotypical framework that so many Christians want to squeeze every pastor's wife into - typically what I have heard is that these women should be stay-at-home moms who gave vaginal birth to all their children without drugs or screaming, except for the adopted children, of course.  She should homeschool them all, lead the Children's ministry at church, host people in their home often, cook from scratch, attend every church function with extremely well-behaved children, be dressed nice but not too nice, give to the poor, lead Bible studies, and disciple younger women while also visiting the elderly women.

I don't know if you have to be a pastor's wife for longer than a week to get your super powers... because mine haven't shown up yet.  I still have the same 24 hours a day that I had the week before my husband started this job.  Perhaps we are expecting too much of ministers' wives, because they aren't super Christians, super human, time travelers, or anything more than just humans saved by grace and called to a task - just like everyone else.  And don't we all have the same 24 hours in a day?  Perhaps after a long day, just like the rest of us do, these people want to have an evening of family time.  Without someone saying "I need", "please pray", and "what do I do?"  Although, I have been blown away at them dropping everything to come to my or someone else's need during dinner, in the middle of the night, or in the early hours of the morning.  The pastors and wives that I have had in every church I have been in served me, and shouldn't my response always be to serve them as well?

I grew up in church from middle-elementary school on... and I have had many different kinds of pastors' wives in my life.  Each of them was different, and it wasn't until I was older that I realized how scrutinized they were.  And it is a shame, for they are all extraordinary women.  Some have been nurses, teachers (even in public schools), stay-at-home moms, and part-time workers.  Some worked in the nursery, most didn't.  Some sang in the praise team, most didn't.  Some had many friends and taught Bible studies.  Some were more shy and took behind-the-scene roles.  But they were all honoring their husbands and the Lord.  They all taught their children and took care of their homes.  They were kind and loved the Lord!

Some people want these women to "stay home" but not pay their husbands enough to support the family alone - "Keep them humble", I've heard people say.  Really? Don't you think daily studying the Lord's Word, weeping with those who weep, trying to live out what they have been called to teach doesn't keep one humble?  Perhaps we should keep each other humble in the faith by loving and serving each other, instead of withholding or judging each other.  I am in no way asking for more money for us, because this ministry job is actually an answer to so many of our prayers (see previous posts).  Kyle has been preparing to be a minister since before he and I were dating.  My point is that I have seen so many pastors' wives judged for not staying home, but the same people judging them for that won't pay their husband more in order for her to do that... how does that make sense?  How is that encouraging?  It sends these women the message that somehow they are supposed to be SuperWoman.  And unfortunately, every one of them is merely human.  They don't come any other way.

I have been guilty of the money thing too... if we were all honest, we probably all have thought or said something about seeing a missionary or minister spending money - unless you were in the pastor's or missionary's family.  For some reason people that think that if they live on money given to them by a congregation, that somehow those people should never go out to dinner, see a movie, or buy new clothes.  Almost as if they do anything with time or money but pray, serve, and help others, then they are sinners...

But do we judge ourselves by the same standards?  How much money or time do we spend doing things that do not help build God's kingdom?!  Are we not given the Great Commission as well?  Of course we are!

All I'm saying is that I have been guilty of judging leadership in churches, requiring things of them that I do not require of myself.  We are all called to love and serve and preach the Gospel.  Sure, they are paid to do these things full-time, and it is good to be concerned if your pastor and his wife are not fulfilling their roles in the church.  But on matters of preference only, really if it isn't in the Bible or modeled in the early church, then it really is just yours or my opinion on these matters.  Now that I realize I may someday be the focal point of these kinds of criticisms (as far as I know I haven't been already), I realize how hypocritical it all is.

Ya know that lady in the checkout line that tells you how to parent your child?  We all hate that!!! I don't want to be that kind of person for someone else, and I especially wouldn't want someone to be that for me.

My point:  As a minister's wife, I am going to be just that - the minister's wife.  My prayer is that my husband and my children will be my priority.  I love to and will continue to serve in our church, because that is what the Lord has called me to do.  I may stay home, work part-time, or keep teaching in the public school I am currently in - either way, I am helping my family and others.  I am trying to be "Jesus with skin on" no matter where I am.  I may homeschool, send our children to private school, or send them to public school... I may do something different for every child depending upon our circumstances and the child's needs.  Isn't that what a wife and mother does?  How respected should I be as a wife and mother if I made all my decisions based on pleasing people outside of what I am responsible for?  I definitely wouldn't be worthy of being called "blessed" by the children I am raising if I did.  I should never care what others think more than I do what God or my husband think.  Basically, I am going to try to honor the Lord by honoring and helping my husband, family, and church.  It might not look like every other minister's wife, and I shouldn't have to.  I know that now.  The only pressure I need to cave into are the everyday convictions I see in scripture from my loving, merciful Savior and Lord.

The Lord gives each of us certain commands that we are to all follow, and He also gives each of us gifts, passions for certain areas of service in His Kingdom.  Some of mine are:  teaching, discipling, throwing parties, and cooking for others.  I hope to use these gifts and passions whether my husband is on a church staff or not.  But I can't teach every study, disciple each young lady, throw every party, and cook for every person in need while still being responsible for my first priority - my family.  But I also want to be willing to pitch in on projects or service areas that may not be my talent or passion.  No one should have to sacrifice obedience to be approved of in the eyes of those around them, though.

I believe everyone should live in a glass house, willingly, but not by force and pressure from anyone else.  We are called to be transparent, to live life with each other, building each other up, and carrying each other's burdens.  We should pray for our leadership.  We should serve them as well.  That is something I want to get better at - serving others, especially those who take such great care of me spiritually.

We should all be willing to open the blinds of our glass houses, help each other through the difficult things with grace and mercy.  We should only look into others' glass houses with a heart to give, encourage, and support.  And may we all never be guilty of judging someone else's dirty glass house without first taking inventory of our own.  And I say "all" because I have been, but hope to not continue to be, guilty of these same sinful patterns of judging and criticizing others.  May we love and forgive as often as the Lord has loved and forgiven us!

So, that is me in my glass house.  We are sinners too.  We argue too.  We have to weigh pros and cons, add and subtract, and pray through all our decisions too.  We have to say we are sorry.  We have to forgive others.  We get hurt.  We make mistakes and learn from them.  We have dirty laundry and dishes to wash and put away too.  But we love the Lord, and He has called us to serve.  We are very excited, and my prayer is that we stay excited about doing the Lord's work in college students' and others' lives.

Welcome to our glass house!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Talkin' about money... and mostly making fun of myself!

Growing up, I was taught how to save money, spend wisely, and live simply.  Growing up, we only went clothes shopping when school was about to start - everything else came from garage sales, birthdays, and Christmas.  I rarely had spending money in high school, and I always had fun.  I don't remember feeling poor or unable to have a social life without cash to spend.  In fact, somehow I lived on $400 a month in college for an entire year... now I think back on that and think 'How did I eat and have fun?!  Why do I look back on those times as fun?!  That should have been miserable!'

But it wasn't.  I took out a college loan my senior year in order to actually enjoy school for one year, and so that I could do my full-internship without having to work another job as well.  And $400 a month was all I allotted myself.  And I did it easily!  I don't remember how.  I hung out with friends, ate what I wanted, and felt free.  I didn't feel bound by the $400 limit at all!

Now $400 doesn't even cover my grocery and gas costs each month (well, for my family of 3).  And honestly, if I had more money, I could easily spend over $500-$600 at the grocery store!

I was hired for my first teaching job in April of 2005, but my job didn't start until August.  To get familiar with the school, I substituted every once in a while before I graduated.  One day I was walking through the cafeteria and I saw a man in a tie bend down to tie the shoe of Pre-K student.  He seemed nice, so I asked him where I could find the playground, because I had recess duty.  He politely said he would walk me there.  In a few seconds, I learned that he was the superintendent (which made me feel stupid and in more awe of his kindness all in the same moment).  As we walked down the hall, he learned that I was the new 5th grade teacher for the next school year.  He welcomed me to the "family", and then he said something to me that has always stuck with me.  He said, "Keisha, right now you live on nothing and have dreams of changing the world.  But soon you will be making money, and you'll feel rich for about 5 minutes.  Soon you'll realize that you aren't getting paid anything compared to your amount of effort, and then you'll learn that you aren't changing much of the world at all.  And you'll be tempted to leave.  And if you do, I'll hunt ya down!"  We both laughed.  I knew he meant what he was saying, even though he was joking.  He was letting me know that even though I was going to work my butt off, what I was going to get back in return was going to be MINIMAL!  And in a funny way, he also let me know that he wanted me to stay and keep working my butt off anyway.  I liked him instantly, and he was a great boss!

But he was wrong about feeling rich for only 5 minutes!  Are you kidding?!  I was making more than 4 times the amount I had been living on during college, and I had a roommate to help with expenses... I was rolling in the money!!!  I was shopping, buying gifts, painting my house, bought a new car... and I was loving it!

I learned quickly that if I felt sad, buying a new outfit made me feel much better!  Buying anything new, really, made a bad day instantly great!

I found out that I am a shopper.  I didn't know that before, because I had never had money.  And even though I was taught to, I never saved money.  I always spent all my money, until I had $100 left.  For some reason, I always broke out into an instant sweat as soon as my checking account hit $99.  Some months, I got down to $99 a lot faster than others!

So one day on my way to work, I hit a curb and blew my two passenger tires.  So that credit card that I had ONLY for emergencies got used.  That was an unexpected expense, so it didn't break my rules for using it.  The entire time the tire guy was ringing up my total, and I was signing the receipt... I was sweating about using a credit card for the first time.

But the next time I pulled it out, I was surprised how the sweat never came.  The third time I used it, and the fourth, and anytime after that, it was a cinch - and I even found myself smiling about each purchase.  No more buyer's guilt for me!

Until I maxed that card out.  I panicked.  And felt bad about myself.  And opened another credit card with a lower interest rate.  My plan was to pay off the first one with the second one and start trying to pay it off.  

But somehow I never got around to it, and before I knew it, I had several hundred dollars charged on the second card as well.  How did that happen?  I didn't really have a whole lot to show for it.  New tires, new clothes, lots of eating out, birthday parties and gifts for friends... it didn't feel elaborate!  It wasn't like I took extravagant trips or bought huge luxurious items... I just spent money like water.  I would pay $100 on each card at the beginning of the month, and then charge another $100 two weeks later.  A viscous, endless cycle.

My anti-debt father was very kind to me.  He knew that now I was only able to make minimum payments and wasn't able to get ahead on the cards at all.  He paid off the first credit card and allowed me to make payments to him instead without the interest rate, which helped me greatly!

About this time in my life, I also started dating the man who is now my husband.  He usually paid for dates and going out, so I was spending less.  I was getting better about paying off more debt.

But then we planned a wedding.  And, of course, I went over budget.  I also married a seminary student.  Who had 2 previous student loans.  And in order to go to school, he could only work part-time.  And that usual theory of "2 people's salaries make it easier when you are married than when you were single" was a complete, total lie in my experience.  Don't get me wrong, I love my husband, and I wanted him to be able to go to seminary.  We are happily married, and I wouldn't have traded him for money ever!  But I had been single and spending for so long, that I had established so many bad habits!  I did stop buying clothes, but I didn't know how to live on a budget for groceries, gas, etc.

Kyle, my husband, and I learned very quickly that we were both okay with spending money on convenience.  Now, having the same spending habits means we rarely fight about money - honestly, can't think of a time we have had an actual fight about money.  But there aren't enough fingers in the world to count how many times we have found ourselves staring at a balance that was a lot lower than we thought or  a fee for overspending our checking account or pulling out the credit card when an unexpected bill came our way, having no savings to cover it.  And we have both talked it out, written up a new budget, and we tell ourselves we will do better.  But like resolutions usually go... old habits don't die!

And to be fair, we really have become so much better!  I learned that I could go to the Lord when I have a bad day and keep the money in our checking account.  I learned that I could feel confident in clothes I had worn a million times, instead of having to have something new!  I learned that if you plan out meals ahead of time and make recipes that use similar ingredients, food isn't wasted!  We had all our medical expenses for our daughter's birth paid off within 3 months - and that was with having a C-section!  Then this past year the Lord provided a way for us to pay off over $13,000 of debt, including student loans and the only credit card we have!  And this was the first Christmas that we had 90% of the Christmas budget in cash before we ever purchased anything!  And we have started doing an envelope/cash system for a few months, which seems to be going okay! I have been super proud of us!!!

But there is so much more learning and growing to do... and our first goal is to do a financial fast.  Have you ever heard of this?  I hadn't, and honestly it had never crossed my mind before.  I have been following some money-saving blogs for several months now, and one of them suggested that families take a financial fast once a year.  I was immediately intrigued by the idea.

Basically, you just take a whole month where you try not to spend any money except what you absolutely have to pay for.  You try to live off of the food you have in your deep freezer, cabinets, etc.  You pay bills and then put the rest in your savings account.  You only pull it out if you absolutely cannot live without whatever the expense is.

Since we are hoping to downsize our income and maximize my time with our kids by this summer/fall, I thought a financial fast would be a good first test.  I am curious if we can be self-disciplined in our spending like we are in other areas.  I hope we can do it, and do it well!  We try so hard to glorify the Lord with our lives, but in the area of money, we just like to be comfortable and for things to be convenient.  I know with more planning and a little more effort, we can live on less and still enjoy our lives.  I want to see how little we actually NEED and how much of our lives, spending, and budget all this time have been based on our wants.

And I am excited how when our hearts are discontented with circumstances, we realize that true fulfillment comes from the Lord alone!  I have tried filling up on new clothes and fun outings with friends so many times, and the next morning I need filling up all over again.

I am curious to see how much my husband and I can learn on relying on the Lord and each other more for fulfillment.  I am excited to see how much we are going to learn about ourselves and about the goodness of our God.  He truly is the Great Provider, and we want to be better stewards of what He has put us in charge of!  I am also aware the process of learning might be painful.  But in my experience, and so many others I have talked to, difficult times bring us closer to our Creator and to our loved ones so much more than the easy times.

And I am glad that we chose February for our financial fast, because it has the fewest days :) heeheehee!

Yes, I can feel it coming up.  All the excitement and fears.  I am planning and anticipating as much as I can... soon it will be Financial Fast February!  Yikes!  Yay!

If you would, please keep us in your prayers, as I know this has potential to be the most stretching time of our marriage and individual growth... as well as a huge opportunity to give in and quit whenever it gets tough.
Your prayers would be greatly appreciated.

Living on less... Ready... set... (GO - on February 1st)!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What Dream Would You Pursue if You KNEW You Couldn't Fail?!?!

Our Sunday School teacher asked each of us to answer the question out loud.  My husband and I had been attending this Young Marrieds' Class for a semester (sorry, since I am school teacher and he is a college recruiter, we measure each year in 3 parts - Fall Semester, Spring Semester, and Summer).  The class is full of 20-30 somethings with marriages ranging from a few months to about 5 years long.

"If you could pursue any dream, knowing that you couldn't fail and money wasn't an issue, what would it be?" our leader asked.

Everyone had an answer!  Of course we did!  We are young, and we are Americans.  We are trained to live for the next big thing!

I said that I would want to be a back up singer.  Now, I know that may sound silly, but I have thought about this kind of thing before.  Back up singers get to sing, record albums, travel, sing in front of thousands of people, do live concerts on TV, etc... they don't have to do autographs, be chased by paparazzi, watch their weight, pose for magazines, go through publicity stunts, or deal with insane psycho fans!  See, it is the perfect dream for someone who loves to sing, and often does, at the top of her lungs while harmonizing with Josh Groban in the car... it was the first dream I thought of when asked that question in class, so that is the answer I gave! 

The question was just a fun ice breaker that led us to discussion on allowing our spouse to fail... to love them even when they have failed.  To trust each other even if we have disappointed the other one before.

 And if I were going to be truly honest, a dream I have had for a long time that I have not tried is being a stay-at-home mom. Sure, I've talked about it.  Prayed about it, even.  But in the pursuit of it, I considered myself and my husband a failure, and I carried a bitterness toward my spouse and my life because I never obtained this dream...

When my husband and I got married a little over 4 years ago, we both said that when we had kids, we wanted me to stay home with them.  He worked part-time and attended seminary when we were first married, so my teaching salary was our main income.  But we had a plan to pay off debt and transition into a reverse situation by the time our first child came along.  It didn't happen.  We tried selling our house and moved into a mobile home (that was the same size as our house), so we could get rid of our mortgage.  He started looking for a full-time job.   It never bothered me to work full-time while he went to school.  We knew why he was going to school, and we both believed in sacrificing to make it happen.  And I have always loved teaching.  Even when I am angry or frustrated, it is a fulfilling job to say the least.  I was happy with our present circumstances, and I was pleased with our plans...

Then we had our daughter, Emersyn.  I only had 5 weeks of maternity leave, and leaving her with a babysitter to drive 45 minutes away to teach other people's children seemed like I was being robbed!  I felt anxious.  I started to resent my job.  I started to resent my husband's part-time job and seminary classes, because I felt I deserved the right to spend more time with my little girl!  I complained A LOT - even on Facebook!  I mean, the oversharing kind of complaining and pining for a life that couldn't be mine.  I blamed my administration, my husband, and God.  I spent several months acting this way, even if I wasn't complaining out loud or on-screen, I was harboring bitterness in my heart.  Deep down I appreciated the fact my husband spent a whole day once a week at home with Em, and that he got off work earlier than I did so he spent about an hour with her each day before I walked through the door... but I was also jealous and heartbroken by it all.  When I was home with her, I didn't go anywhere or do anything but hold her and play with her.  I felt justified ignoring friends, family, and a lot of household obligations.  I had earned the right to spend time with my baby!

The new plans were for my husband to get a full-time job, take a break from seminary, and I would stay home at the end of that school year.  God did provide a full-time job for him, but as life always goes, we had major financial difficulties pop up.  Our house never sold, a vehicle died and would cost more to fix than to replace, our heater died... and many other things I am thankful that I don't remember exact details.  So as a consolation prize, I found a job closer to home!  So then we were both working full-time, paying a babysitter, and redefining our household tasks.  For the most part it worked, but probably only because I have a husband who understands that at times I was so selfish out of pain, not just because I wanted to be selfish.  He knew I was having a hard time being away from Em during the day, so he did a lot in the evenings so I would have free time with her.  I will never forget all his generosity that was greatly undeserved.  In fact, sometimes I wish he had yelled at me and put me in my place.  He showed to me what it means to trust the Lord with your spouse; He let God correct me, and he was faithful in the waiting.

Thankfully by this time, I had also met enough moms that did get to stay home with their babies full-time, and I heard their stories.  I realized how I had built staying at home up in my mind as some kind of dream-life, one I couldn't have, which had only made it more desirable.  Once I learned a lot of their reality, I realized that motherhood is just hard no matter how much time you get to spend with your kids.  I also realized that I had made my daughter and spending time with her a huge idol in my life.  I chased after it in my mind constantly, which was unhealthy and had started to show in how I took care of myself, my home, and my other relationships.

I learned in that first year of motherhood that even though my children are a gift from the Lord, so are many other things in my life.  My health, my marriage, my friendships, my service in our church, my job, my home, and my other family members... but they were all being neglected because of my bitterness from not getting my way.  I had turned into a mother that was obsessed with motherhood in an unhealthy way.  Getting to stay home with Emersyn wouldn't have cured me, either, because it was a heart issue.  It was me telling my God and my husband and the world that I deserved what I wanted.  And when I started to ask myself why I wanted it in the first place, I honestly couldn't answer in a way that honored the Lord at all.  It was all based on guilt, feeling like a bad mom, trying to fill myself up in my heart with motherhood instead of God... I knew that I needed to let go of the dream because it was no longer a dream... it was a poison to me and those around me.

I am thrilled to say that these past 2 years of teaching 5 minutes away from home has given me back some of the time I was missing out on with Emersyn, but has restored to me A LOT of the joy of motherhood that I always hoped for!  So much of that has been learning a lot too, not about other's opinions of what a mom should be, but being a mom that God wants me to be.  He knows my situation.  He obviously approved for me to face this time of stretching and learning and growing - all while not getting my way!  Not getting my way has been an enriching lesson learned, and I wouldn't have had it any other way!  These past 2 years of working and being a mom have been fun and guilt-free.  I have learned how to make quality time with my daughter without demanding quantity.

So now my husband and I once again face a major transition headed our way - we are expecting a son in late April!!!  We couldn't be happier, but things will have to change in some way to accommodate another baby.  Childcare is expensive, no matter how you work it out.  Staying home is a sacrifice.  Either way, we are not only going to go through emotional change of parenting 2 kids, but we will face financial changes as well.  So we are revisiting the idea of me staying home.  I praise the Lord knowing I am in such a different place spiritually, emotionally, and financially than I was when I first became a mother.  We have paid off a lot of our debt, but we are still not the best-disciplined spenders/savers.  There are so many questions that come up in our minds that truly can't be answered 4 months ahead of time.

Do I quit teaching completely?  How do I pay for insurance then?  Do I work part-time?  What kinds of part-time jobs are there where I wouldn't just be paying for the childcare I needed to go to work?  If i do stay home or work part-time, how would I feel about myself knowing I am no longer a teacher?  It has been so much of who I am for a decade!

The moment we opened ourselves up to the possibilities, it seemed the Lord started to calm us.  This may be the first time in my life that I have no idea what my life will look like in 6 months, and I am completely okay with that.  I know that the Lord takes care of us, even when things don't add up on paper.

The fact of life is that there is NEVER a time when you KNOW you won't fail.  But we have something better than assurance of success, we have assurance of salvation, provision, and grace to get through anything!  And this is probably the topic I will be blogging about the most - transitioning into being a working mother of one into a mother of 2... doing who knows what on the financial front.  I know I am going to learn a lot, and I am hoping to share a lot of what I learn.

No matter what happens: staying home, working part-time, continuing to work full-time... the Lord is good.  He will help me.  He made me, saved me, brought my husband and I together, created 2 children for us to raise, and has done so many other incredible things - dreams that came true because of His goodness and grace.  Who am I that He would be so good to me?  How could I ever repay Him for what He has already done?!

Trust Him.  Obey Him.  Enjoy Him forever.  For there is no other way to be truly happy, no matter what.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year - The Year to Quit Writing Our Own Stories!

Most women I know are writers... we just don't realize it.  We call it "planning", but what we are really trying to do all the time is write... write our own stories.  Sometimes I refer to this tendency as being a "control freak".  Which is funny, but how many tears have I cried when a story didn't go my way?  We write how our first date will go, what moving out and being on our own for the first time will be like, what our future husband will be like, how our weddings will go, who our children will be, how my career will go... and we write all these things out in our minds long before they ever become reality!  I would only speak of myself doing this - but I know too many women to lie.  We have so many preconceived notions, ideas, demands.  We dream so deeply of what our soon-to-be realities will be like.

Then REALITY comes... my first date was awkward.  Moving out on my own was sad and scary... and then incredibly lonely.  My wedding got rained out and moved last minute.  I feared having a son with my first child, because my inexperience with boys told me that they are all very rowdy and rambunctious... well, my daughter is exactly like that!  I have taught for 9 years in the public school, and I am pretty sure I have not changed the world like I thought I would.

Yep, I think I'm a story writer - every day, every month, every year... and I often forget that I am actually just a character.  Unique and wonderfully made, yes, but still in absolutely no control of most factors that drive the plot line of my story.  It doesn't matter how many magazine clippings I kept over the years of outdoor beautiful weddings, because I could not keep flooding rains from pouring down for 3 days before my wedding. 

Now, I know you are probably thinking, "Well, this should be titled 'Depressing New Year' the way you are talking, Keisha."

I disagree.  I think the only happiness that can be found in this world, and makes all other happinesses richer, is knowing that you are only a character.  I am a character in a beautifully woven story that intertwines with all the others' stories around me, day after day after day.  When you know you are just a character, you look back and see how the author has come up with more vivid and meaningful experiences and lessons learned than you ever could have written.

People who still think they are their own story's author do not understand what it means to be small AND safe.  To be helpless AND HAPPY.  I so often fall back into my old writing habits, making and clinging to plans that MUST happen OR ELSE... and every time I find myself put back into my place, watching what is lovingly higher than I could think or ever be.

My first date was awkward, because he wasn't God's best for me.  Later, 9 years later to be exact, I went on another first date that wasn't in the least awkward... and now 5 years later, I am carrying that man's second child.  What a great story!

Moving out from my parents' house to be on my own was scary and lonely... but those were the first times I ever cried out to the Lord and learned what it was to grow spiritually as an adult, instead of a child that just followed what Mom and Dad believed.  I was granted Biblical wisdom and strength from my own time spent studying, because I had a fresh and desperate need to find out who God truly was.  And still is.  What a beautiful time!

I didn't marry the cute ag guy, the thug that dared me to think outside the box, the nerd that was a good friend, or the grown up that was responsible... and I experienced heart ache and embarrassment and hopelessness. Until I married a handsome man that thinks deeply, talks loudly, jokes wildly, protects fiercely, and befriends me daily (who also does dishes, laundry, packing, and diapers).  What a love story!

My wedding wasn't in front of the plantation style home on the lawn like I had dreamed and paid a deposit for.  I was married in my church, the same church where I met my husband, where my daughter was dedicated, and where my husband and I minister together now.  It was a dimly lit, romantic evening where no one that came could ever deny that we loved each other and would strive to for as long as we lived.  What a glorious day!

My daughter is every bit rowdy as many little boys I have met, but I can already see in her the kind of passion and zeal that so many young women, including myself, lack in this tough world.  True, teaching her to be gentle and humble will be a great task on my part, with God's guidance of course, but she is so other than I was and often am.  She will never fear being who she is, believing what she believes, and going after what she knows she wants to do with her life.  When she jumps off high places and yells "I did it!" while I have a heart attack, I am also comforted in knowing that she will not be afraid to make friends, to have an adventure, to speak up for what she thinks is right.  What a beautiful child!

And, no, I haven't written any books or caused my students to score such high points on their tests that my peers and administration's jaws dropped and hands applauded.  But I can think of that first kid that told me after many times that he was never going to college and reading was stupid finally say, "I love to read!  And I think I might try college out when I'm older."  Or that student who lost a parent and said, "Thank you for helping me this year, it has been hard."  Or one of my absolute favorites, "Thank you for making me believe in myself.  I am a lot smarter than I thought I was."  And these small, but throat choking cards and words given to me throughout the years were all from students that I had no idea I was making any influence on in any way.  What a surprising, fulfilling story!

So perhaps I won an essay contest and was featured in a national magazine at 15, won a writing award at a journalism competition at 17, and tested into Advance Comp in college.  But the truth is, I am a terrible writer compared to this great and wonderful God who gave me this first day of 2014, and so many days before this one!  How great and greatly to be praised!!!

Will I quit trying to write my own story?  I try to quit all the time!  I try to make plans with open hands, knowing that when He changes them or ruins them completely, that I have my hands open to receive with gladness whatever revision He has for me, the character, to experience.  I can't quit making plans - He has given me a husband, 2 children, a home, 37 5th graders, and a ministry to be responsible for.  I am a daughter, a friend, and a taxpayer.  I have to plan, or I am not being an obedient character in this story He is writing.  I have plans to help my husband in ministry, give birth to my son, finagle my life around so that I can be home with my children, and a lot of menu planning in the meantime!

But the most important plan I have is to just be available to experience His penmanship in my every day, say Yes to whatever He writes, and praise Him for His good and perfect will!

Happy New Year to all the recovering writers out there!  May we all learn how to be characters and do it well!