Keep Summer Simple

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This is the last week of school for us, and we are gearing up for summer!  I think I am just as excited as the girls are.  We’ll continue reading and doing what Kara likes to call “fun math,” but we are slowing the pace quite a bit.  We plan to hit the pool on Friday to celebrate the end of a great year.  And it was a great year considering that we have been adjusting to a new town, new friends, new skills- new everything!

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I’ve been thinking about what I want us to do this summer, and really more about what I don’t want to do this summer.  Two things I do not want to do are spend a lot of money or expend a lot of energy.  Yes, kids require a lot of energy (mine especially), but I am able to tolerate the moderate, acceptable amount required- nothing beyond that, though.  Because, moms need a summer too.  Can I get an “Amen?!” IMG_6931 (1)

Here is how I plan to keep summer simple for us:

  1. Don’t overschedule the week with a lot of excursions.
  2. Plan lazy days.
  3. Grill out and spend time with friends.
  4. Play games- cards, board games, throw a ball.
  5. Read aloud- cool off with a popsicle and a good book.

Speaking of popsicles.  One of my favorite things about summer is the food of summer.  The farmer’s markets are open, produce is fresh, and the smell of chicken, brats, steak, or hamburgers on a hot grill, well it just makes my mouth water thinking about it all.  One of my favorite sides to make and eat is guacamole.  Travis is a chips and salsa/guac man, so this is always a win with him.  Here is my simple, yet scrumptions guac recipe:

Simple Guacamole

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5-6 ripe avocados (more to feed a crowd)
2-3 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic
1-2 TBSP cilantro chopped
1 lime
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Mash avocados to desired consistency.  I prefer my guac more on the chunky side, so I chop ripe avocados and mash slightly.
  2. Toss avocados in a bowl with the chopped tomatoes, onion, garlic, and cilantro.  Squeeze a lime into the bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Eat and enjoy!

Anyone else in summer mode, or is it just me?  What does a simple summer look like for you?  I think it depends on the personality of a family and what pastimes or traditions they may hold, like reunions, celebrations, interests like camping, boating, fishing, mission trips, church camps, vacations, etc.  For some, a simple summer is one that is scheduled to keep the kids busy, or full with lots of travel to stay completely out of the normal, while for others a simple summer is less structured with a lot of down time. Whatever it looks like for you and your family, make summer to be what fits your family best, and make time to build relationships with family, neighbors, and friends.  And eat a popsicle or two. 🙂

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Finding Freedom and Confidence at Home

Proverbs 14

There was a poor earthworm minding his own squirmy self, exposed on a cement sidewalk- an easy catch for curious little hands.  He slinked and slithered from one hand to another, dropped two or three times, and then picked up by another set of hands until he was finally released into a grassy, dark hole at the corner of our driveway.  A dandelion was then plucked from the earth, and an excited cry of, “Look, Mommy!” from my son reminded me that it is a discipline to celebrate simple wonders.  It takes no great effort for a two-year-old to be fully present, admiring God’s creation, breathless at passing clouds, nesting birds, and spiders.  But for a distracted mama with a calendar and a clock, such pleasures (minus the spiders) are left in the peripheral margins as “nice”, “but we must move on now.”

Will gravity fail if we pause to celebrate simple wonders?  We had another birthday this weekend, and the baby I brought home from the hospital on Mother’s Day of 2010 is now seven.  I used to dance with her in her nursery when she was only months old, before she could even crawl, and we would spin, giggle, and I would sing, kissing her forehead endlessly.  I don’t know what I got done on those days, and I am sure there were a couple loads of laundry to wash or fold- I forget.  But I will always remember dancing with my baby daughter.  I still dance with her and her sister and brother, but they make up the dance moves now.

Who needs another organized activity when there is a garden hose?  Now it is warm enough to run barefoot and get wet.  And anytime is the perfect time to take up the ukulele.  My artist child finds unique ways at self-expression.  Alongside her musical pursuits she has decided to be a “book writer,” and she has begun a short collection of stories titled, “The Cat and the Mouse.”  These two furry characters get in all sorts of mischief like eating “candy pancakes” and chasing wild bats out of their house.  I type the words my daughter tells me, and she draws the pictures.  She has even bound one of her stories using cardboard and masking tape.

 

The temptation is to control every moment- steering the people in our lives to fit our plans.  We have good intentions, wanting what is best, or what we think is best.  Our knowledge is finite, limited in understanding, whereas God’s judgments are unsearchable.  Stepping back, relaxing our demands and expectations allows us to live freely, and moldable to God’s perfect intentions- to the one who works all things together for good for his children.  Because even we ourselves are in process, incomplete, and like little children are growing into maturity.  I love how God is not formulaic, but is consistently creative, shaping families to expand His kingdom in unique ways.  I think the best way for us to come into our own as individuals and as families in the Kingdom of God is to turn down the noise of social media and lift up God’s Word, prayerfully seeking how we are to shepherd our homes and live out the gospel in our particular context.  Are we easily influenced?  Do we doubt and question our methods and practices?  What voices are we listening too?  How much time do we devote to social media feeds, blogs, and podcasts?  How much time do we devote to meditating on God’s Word and to prayer.  What is informing our decisions in how we lead our lives?

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has the demon Screwtape teaching his nephew Wormwood how to keep a Christian wandering away from his faith:

You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room.

Or keep him up late at night staring at a phone.

If we are going to lead countercultural homes, we are to lead countercultural lives, and be sure that we will be unpopular with few “likes” or “retweets,” anonymous and in the shadows.  But God is in the shadows, away from the clattering noise of the self-important people who are everywhere, especially in the Christian subculture.  We can lead quiet lives, simple lives, following God’s will for ourselves, listening to His voice, ignoring all the noise and opinions.  What really matters after all?

“In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.” Proverbs 14:26

 

A Mother’s Heart and Sowing Peace

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There is something about this time of the year that no matter where I find myself in life the days resemble a freight train, all fast, big, and loud.  While in school there were deadlines, papers, end of the year presentations, recitals, and programs.  In my career there was much of the same except I was on the other side of the desk as a classroom teacher.  Now as a mom of littles, there is homeschooling, church activities, performances, with birthdays, appointments, diaper changes, dirty laundry, and basic house maintenance to manage.  The train keeps moving, and will move move faster, bigger, and louder as my kids get older and life gets even fuller.

I find it easy to allow my days to dictate my demeanor.  If everything feels easy breezy, then my tone, attitude, and words are gentle and soft.  I act less hurried when I feel at ease in my soul.  But when I begin to feel overwhelmed, outnumbered (as I am), and depleted, especially at the end of a school year, I tend to be short-tempered, impatient, and unmotivated.  And then I wonder where the peace went from my home.

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It is often said that the mother sets the tone for her home.  I think this is so, because I am living it.  The days go by and even if the kids are moody, irritable, or misbehaving in some way, how I respond to the situation I am dealt on any given day sets the temperature for how the day will end.  I’ve heard somewhere recently that the mother is in a way like a thermostat, gauging and changing the temperature in her home.  I was reminded of this even this morning when I read in James that “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18).  If we want peace in our homes, even in the midst of busyness, disciplinary issues, sickness, and personal life issues- when things don’t always feel peaceful, we must sow peace.  We set the thermostat.

But how do we do this?  I think it comes down to the heart of the mother.  Sometimes managing the home seems like both a blessing and a burden.  There are days when I say, “Wow, God, you did this!  Thank you for my wonderful husband and children!”  Then there are days when I say, “Can someone else be wife and mom today?”  I have to step back and evaluate what is going on in my heart.  Because in order to sow peace, I must be at peace.

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How to Find Peace

  1.  Daily Spiritual Filling.  God’s Word and prayer are essential in the life of the believer, and are as much in the life of the Christian mother.  Ephesians 2:14 reminds us that Christ, ” He himself is our peace.”  The hymn, “The Solid Rock” comes to mind as well that “when all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.”
  2. Rest.  We never seem to get enough sleep, but we need as much as we can muster.  A nap, or a break in the afternoon with a good book, a cup of tea, a favorite podcast or a phone call with a friend may help to provide rest in the middle of a hectic day.  Even 15 minutes is better than none.  As a teacher I cherished that “planning period” when it was quiet and I could actually think, send an email, or finish grading papers.  A natural break in the day is beneficial for all of us- moms are no exception!
  3. Fun.  I think sometimes us moms play the martyr where we try to plan experiences for our kids, but forget ourselves.  Just like the play dates, excursions, movie nights, and such that we calendar and organize for our kids, moms can plan fun for themselves too!  Travis and I enjoy our date nights, and I try and meet up with a girlfriend once or twice a month as well.  It doesn’t have to be a big deal or a terrible expense.  A personal hobby like crafting, writing, running, or hiking can also be renewing in the daily grind of managing a home.

How to Sow Peace

  1.  Rely on the God of Peace.  Paul wrote, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”  Peace comes in the practicing.  And the practicing is charged by the wisdom and work of the Spirit.  When we rely on the God of peace in our stress, He comes in and fills our souls with His goodness and is a refuge for us.
  2. Change the temperature.  Begin reading a fun picture book to a fussy toddler, play some favorite music, go outside, play a game, or get everyone busy with something that will occupy their time and energy so mom can get dinner made, make a phone call, or have a few moments of quiet.  I used to resort to yelling (I still struggle with this), but I found that all I did was contribute to the noise instead of change the thermostat.  I think I yell most when I feel out of control, but that always backfires on me because I lose control of my temper and the situation.  So, moms have more say in the atmosphere of our homes than we may realize, we just have to acknowledge our place and find creative solutions to sow peace in those volatile moments.
  3. Make heart connections.  One of my favorite times of the day is when I tuck the kids into bed and spend about 5 minutes reading and talking together.  When the lights are off, I pray over them and get to hear their little hearts.  Judson (2 yrs.) and I have little games we play like “Mr. Wormy” or we sing silly songs I make up as well as songs he requests like “My God is so Great” or “Down in my Heart.”  He usually says “Night Mommy” as I walk out of the room- he’s the only one who does that.  It’s sweet.  One of my girls shares her fears about getting shots, or why she doesn’t want to do gymnastics anymore because she is afraid of pullovers.  And I listen and tell her she is brave and being scared is normal.  We giggle about silly stuff too and then pray and I tuck her in leaving with the door cracked halfway open- not closed, because that is her way.  My other daughter and I have talks about events coming up, the details, what to wear, who will be there, and what is on the agenda for tomorrow.  She is a planner and wants to be prepared.  I pray with her and then tuck her in leaving the door almost shut because she likes it dark and quiet.  I am not sure just yet because we are early in this gig, but I trust that if anything peace is being sown in their hearts in knowing that they have a mommy who loves them uniquely and equally who wants to hear their hearts without interruption or judgment.  I pray to continually cultivate these connections in the years to come as they approach adolescence when the talks will become more complex in nature.

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Regardless of how fast this season seems or what circumstances we may find ourselves in, peace is possible.  It may not feel this way with the deadlines, meetings, programs, exams, and projects, but busyness does not have to steal our joy.  We can be filled with God’s peace and sow His peace as we rely on Him in the midst of the battle.  He is able to deliver and sustain us if we only surrender ourselves to His Spirit.  We won’t do this perfectly, and He knows this about us- His grace is sufficient for us- but it’s in turning to Him time and again, day after day, that we will one day look back at a harvest of righteousness that was sown in peace as only God can give.

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Survival of the Not so Fittest

The blog has collected a little dust in recent days, well, mostly because of this:

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Jud and the beans was an intentional act on my part to produce something as earth shattering as dinner.  He wants to help.  And by help I mean stick a fork in the toaster, empty out the utensil drawer, and unroll a box of parchment paper.  So I made him a little set up- the good ole bean transfer trick- out of one bowl and into another with gun in hand.  Notice the random slice of bacon on the counter.  That is a snack he must be saving for later.  On the menu for this particular evening was breakfast for dinner, because it is easy and everyone is pleased.  And my #2 goal at dinnertime is to minimize the whining to a whisper.  My #1 goal is to get everyone fed and the kids to bed by 8:00.  5:00-8:00 is a sprint around the Fleming household, but we eventually get there.

 
Look at these wackadoos.  The Gallatin Public Library just doesn’t know what to do with us…

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Some days it does feel like we are just surviving- getting through one obstacle, challenge, or stressor only to meet another.  And this is not restricted to motherhood- this is a fact of life!  It is easy to feel burdened down and weary.  I am thankful that God does not call the perfect to Himself, but that He calls the broken.  Psalm 46:1 declares, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” 

GOD– We start here with the one who made the earth, moon, stars, and galaxies beyond comprehension.

GOD IS– He is not GOD “was” or GOD “maybe” but GOD IS.  Holy Week reminds us of this powerful truth…the grave is still empty.

GOD IS OUR REFUGE AND STRENGTH– The maker of the universe reaches down to us as our holy shelter and source for power, which was made possible through Christ.

GOD IS OUR REFUGE AND STRENGTH, A VERY PRESENT HELP IN TROUBLE– Not only is God here, but He cares for our every need.  He is intimately acquainted with all our ways.

The Psalm continues in riveting poetic imagery of earthquakes and tsunamis with a confident assurance that we will not fear.  Why?  Because “the Lord of Hosts is with us.”

“God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns” (Verse 5).

Moms, do you sense God in your midst?  Are there days when it feels like the earth is about to give way?  Do you wake up some mornings with a sigh uneager to face the day?  God will help you.  Not only that He wants to, but only he CAN.  We think that method, system, plan, or gadget will do it for us, but the true help we need is only found in Him.  Because when God is in you, you are immovable.  You are powerful, because the God of Jacob is your fortress.  The enemy’s lies will come, just know they will and discern them from the truth.  Want to know what is true?  Seek God in His Word and believe His Word.  And face the stress, challenges, and obstacles knowing God is in your midst.  You can do this.  You were called to this- cultivating life in your homes.  God is not a formula, and He doesn’t make one particular type of mom or parenting style.  Just trust Him as He leads you to do what is best- His best- for your families and ultimately, for His glory.  We are not merely surviving (though it often feels like it).  We are just planting seeds.  God, in His timing, will make them grow.

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The Garden of Home

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Spring brings renewal- a renaissance of nature, life, and dreams.  Death was frozen in winter, but some things must die in order to be reborn.  So often I rush into spring, recklessly charging through January and February letting my vision lay dormant like a fallow garden.

Then I wake up.

And I remember the vision- this task to be faithful now.  Not tomorrow, anxiously clamoring for a fresh vision, but now.  Today.  Not looking over my shoulder to yesterday’s regret, but digging my hands deep right here in the earth beneath me.  Some days I want different soil- quiet spaces, well-behaved kids, a housekeeper, the ocean, productivity…but I have the soil I am given, the soil for which I prayed for.  Everyone wants a garden, but few can tend it well.  

Tending the Garden of Motherhood

I honestly have said on more than one occasion to myself, and to the Lord, “I just don’t want to be a mom today.”

When I was a student I could skip class if I didn’t feel up to it.  As a classroom teacher I had the summers off.  And there were always sick days.  But as a mom there are no days off.  We know this, and we chuckle.  Motherhood is a garden.  It requires constant attention, pruning, watering with the Word, and time to flourish.

Moms and the Three Stages of Fatigue

Moms with littles are physically exhausted.  As the kids grow older and discipline becomes more complex, moms are mentally exhausted.  When the kids enter adolescence and adulthood, moms are emotionally exhausted.  And in some cases, moms are exhausted in all three ways.  I am entering the mentally exhausted stage with one of my kids while remaining physically exhausted with the other two, particularly with my two-year old boy.   I wish I had all the answers and quick fixes.  All the books will tell you to just do A-B and C, and for some kids A-B- or C work, but more often than not each child will require his or her own patient love, care, attentiveness, and correction where needed.  I pray different prayers for each of my children, already seeing their uniqueness with certain strengths and challenges.

A Vision for Our Homes

In Colossians 4:2, Paul writes, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”  He does not say that we need a fresh vision, a new idea, or a different direction, but that we need to continue in what we know- to be steadfast and watchful in prayer with thanksgiving.  It is so easy to look to some other thing when we as moms are in the trenches laboring through difficult seasons at home.  We just want to get through.  I’ve talked with grandmothers who remind me that they are still moms- not moms of littles anymore, but moms of grown children who may not wake them up at all hours of the night and yet their moms pray for them at all hours of the night.  I saw my own grandmother up late at night in her study, under lamplight, bent over her Bible with her hands to her face.  Moms are always moms no matter their age.

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If we are to have a vision for our homes it begins and continues in prayer, watching and waiting day by day for our homes to flourish.  We give thanks to God in every season- through the celebrations and through the storms.  We don’t need a new idea, method, gadget, app, or plan.  We need the foundation of God’s Word, the power of His Spirit, and the commitment to the gardens of our homes.  I wish we could see what is sown at planting, but gardeners can only trust that what is sown will produce a harvest.  Moms, let’s sow in every season waiting on God to make our gardens grow in due time.

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“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” Galatians 6:9

Giving Up or Giving In: Motherhood and Daily Surrender


There are so many moms that I admire, my mother in particular, that I can’t help but cheer them on and praise God for these precious women.  They are all so varied in personalities, gifts, backgrounds, cultures, and parenting styles.  I learn from them and desire to be a better mom by watching them love and lead their children.  There is a common thread running through these varied moms and myself as well.  It is what makes us most similar besides our relationship with Jesus.  Our common thread is that we try REALLY hard at many things, but mostly at being mommy to our kids.  We want to do this parenting thing right and be the best mothers we can be for our little ones.  There are many days when we feel discouraged or weary, though, and we wonder if we are trying enough- all of this effort and concern we pour into motherhood.

 

Chore charts, lists, time out chairs, reward stickers, allowances, tips, tricks, bells and whistles (literally and metaphorically)- we will do what it takes to get our kids on track and stay on track.  If we are overachievers, then we want our kids to be 20 yards ahead on the track.

Sure we pray for our kids, for ourselves, and for our homes.  We know prayer is where the power is, but sometimes I think we forget to go there continually for that power.

How do we pray without ceasing as moms?

I just shared with Kara last night regarding obedience when it is hard that you don’t need to tell God in what ways you need Him to help you- He already knows.  Simply pray, “Lord, help me!”  After I said this, God gently but clearly spoke through His Spirit “This needs to be your prayer to Me.”  So often in my prayer life, I in my “wisdom” diagnose problems, give ways God could fix them, and then ask Him to show me how he will fix them when all along God is calling me to surrender not just my problems or concerns, but myself to Him completely.  Daily.  Praying, “Lord, help me!”

If I can be flat out honest here, this year has been hard for me.  Without going through a laundry list of trials, it has been one thing after another much like how as a child I would wade out into the ocean on the beaches of South Florida with my body board in hand, nose down, but still getting pushed under by each passing wave.  Now when the waves come I am not holding a body board but three precious children, and I have to stay up because if I sink under the sea so will they.  That is a lot of pressure and it leaves me utterly exhausted.  I pray for them.  For us.  I pray that God will intervene constantly with his grace upon grace.  That He will be my strength when I am weak, which is so often these days.  I have scripture verses that I pray over my children with specific prayers for each child.  I’ve come to conclusion that I have one of two choices to make.  I can either give up, or I can give in.

Giving up says…

I failed
It’s too hard
She is a better mom than me
My kids don’t really need me

The other option, and the right one I believe is to give in to God’s power and will.  Surrender, not in the theoretical, cerebral sense, but in a real way with guts and a practicing faith.  Truth is, I think us moms try TOO hard and fail to pray hard enough- not with many words, but with few, holy reverent words of praise for a mighty God, infinite in wisdom leading us to cry out, “Lord, help me!”

Because praying like this, trusting like this is giving in to God “who alone works wonders” (Psalm 72:18).

Giving in says…

God is good (Psalm 136:1)
God does good (Psalm 119:68)
God lives in me (1 Corinthians 3:16)
God is for me (Romans 8:31)
God will fulfill His purpose for me (Psalm 138:8)

When we give in to God’s power and will He enables us to have wisdom and strength to lead our children every day.  The progress we cannot see now, and the journey may be hard, but God is transforming us more and more into the image of Christ not by our doing, but by His grace and through His Spirit.

So moms, when the going gets tough (and discipling our kids is tough), God is there to get us going, not by our might or power, but by His Spirit.  The waves will come, and we may fear we will sink underneath the current, but they will not destroy us (2 Corinthians 4:8).  Christ is alive in us, so He is in our homes.  That is enough.  He is enough.  Try we may, but pray we must!

 

Meet Samson

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As if things were not crazy enough for us we decided to adopt a horse, I mean a large puppy.  Meet Samson.  He is a 60+ lb., 6 month-old black lab with the largest paws and the sweetest face.  The kids love him and so do I. Travis?  Well, Samson is growing on him.  I think getting use to an outdoor/indoor dog will take some time as well as a lot of training.  Samson follows me wherever I go and I think he knows I am his new mommy.  I walk with him outside, play with him, give him treats, and tell him “NO!” a lot.  That pretty much qualifies me as such.

We did not rush into getting a dog.  In fact, we have been looking around for some time now.  Even in Memphis we considered adopting a dog, but we never settled on it.  The kids have been good sports through all of this, because they looked around for several weeks with us checking out dogs in various agencies walking out without a dog of their own.  Then one weekend while I was at a conference, Travis and the kids went back to one of the places we visited and found Samson.  They told me about him, I decided to see him for myself before we made our decision, and I felt an instant connection.  It was love at first puppy sight!

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As adorable as he is, Samson has been quite a trouble maker.  Already, he has chewed through five pairs of shoes, several sandbox toys, three stuffed animals, and a toddler fork and spoon.  He enjoys his dog bed, but he prefers our leather couch.  I have to bribe, beg, and wrangle him upstairs every night.  He ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich whole today, like in one giant gulp.  We are training him, but he is training us as well.  We don’t abandon our food, leave shoes on the floor in the mudroom, drop mail, coats, or keys on our countertops, or leave him free to wander in our house when we are gone.

On the positive side, Samson loves the kids and they love him.  He plays with them, chases them in the backyard, and is real gentle with them for being such a hoss!  He is pretty much house trained, can sit, heel, lay, and shake his paw.  In many ways he is like a giant furry toddler- cute, hyper, mischievous, and can learn to behave if trained.  Judson likes it when Samson misbehaves- he laughs and I think he secretly cheers Samson on.

Doing life with a pet is not without excitement.  I think there will be plenty of stories to share in the months and years to come.  Even with all the mess and mayhem, the laughter and fun is what makes it all worth it.  This is true with raising kids as well-it is often crazy, loud, messy, and imperfect, but we can’t focus on all that.  The relationships we nurture, memories we make, and tender hearts that we shape are what we are really about.  And having a dog in the middle of this just adds a little extra something special to our family culture, even if it involves a little mess or inconvenience along the way.  I am reminded of a proverb, which says, “A righteous man has regard for his animal.” (Proverbs 12:10).  Teaching our kids how to care for our dog gives them opportunities to show responsibility but also a space for special bonds to form between man and man’s best friend.  There is just something about a dog after all.

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