Monday, March 12, 2018

Jesus Loves the Church, Do You?

Let me preface this post by saying it will probably step on some toes. I stepped on my own toes in a few places. I didn't write this post to make people feel bad about themselves but to challenge all believers in their attitudes towards the church. Know that, as always, I pray my words are taken with the love and grace I hope to have towards others. Don't feel judged, but feel encouraged that we have a big God who wants us to continually seek hard after him. This post sat in my drafts for months out of fear for hurting someone's feelings. Out of fear for not having the right words. At this point I can only pray that my tone of compassion is appropriately conveyed and if anyone struggles with what I've written that they'll search for the will of the Father.

You hear it a lot. I don't go to church, but I worship God better on the lake anyway. Or, my faith is such a personal thing, I don't really need others. How about, I just don't like what the modern church has become, we should go back to the New Testament church. I'm probably going to be stepping on a lot of toes here, but these are all just excuses to well, not go to church. I fully understand that some people have been hurt by the church. And let me say, I'm deeply sorry. It is a sad thing indeed when the church is a hindrance to a person's relationship with God. But let me be clear, not being a part of the local church is a hindrance to your relationship with God. So I wanted to talk about why it's important to be a part of the local church.

What is the church?
I'll just give you a brief rundown of John Piper’s explanation of the church1. The Bible uses the word "church" in three different ways. The first is the global church as found in Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4, etc. The second is a group of believers in a particular city or area like Jerusalem (Acts 1:22), Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2), Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:1), etc. The last group is the small groups of people that would meet in individual houses. There could be one per city or area or multiple in larger cities (like Jerusalem). When giving his definition of the local church, Piper says, "a local church is a group of baptized believers who meet regularly to worship God through Jesus Christ, to be exhorted from the Word of God, and to celebrate the Lord's Supper under the guidance of duly appointed leaders."

This means, strictly speaking, Bible studies, non-profits, para-church organizations, watching a televangelist, etc are not the local church. It doesn't say don't do those things. They’re just not a church. Mark Dever says2, “The relationship between our membership in the universal church and our membership in the local church is a lot like the relationship between the righteousness God gives us through faith and the actual practice of righteousness in our daily lives.” We practice our love for the body of Christ by serving the local church.

Why the Local Church?
Jesus loved and died for the church. Now you could be saying, “that's the global church
.” That's true. Ephesians 5:25 commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, even to death. This verse is talking about the global body of believers. But do you know who Paul was writing this letter to? The CHURCH at Ephesus. Now, we all benefit from it, but he was addressing a local body of believers. It was natural for them to gather together to read/hear God's Word and spend time worshiping him. Jesus loved the church so much, the global church AND the local church, that he died a horrific death on the cross.

The church is called the bride of Christ. If you really want to worship God, how about you love what he loves. Thom Rainer goes so far as to say3, “I am to fall deeply in love with my church. Christ is the bridegroom, and the church is the bride. My commitment is to love that bride with an unwavering and unconditional love.” How can you love something/someone you have no connection with?

A community of believers provides us with the fellowship needed to grow in Christ. God created us to have fellowship. Our desire to be with others (even us introverted types) points us to our need for a relationship with God as well as the perfect relationship among the members of the Holy Trinity. We weren't made to be alone. We weren't made to worship alone. Proverbs 27:17 and Hebrews 10:24 both talk about how being a part of a community helps us to be better Christians. We are not only called to live in fellowship with Jesus but also with his family. 

I love listening to podcasts. I've listened to several lately that have said some really insightful things which have caused me to think and desire to change. But if I don't have real people that I really come into contact with who are encouraging me, challenging me, helping me then I'm not as likely to actually change. While this community can be found outside of the church, there is no better place to find it than within the local church.

But we don’t just gain from being a member of a local church. We also give by being a member of a local church. And in reality, we should always seek to give more than we take. We are given the opportunity to work out our spiritual gifts in service to our local church. Jesus Christ came to earth to serve others through his life, death, and resurrection. If we want to be like Christ, we also need to seek to love, serve, encourage, and hold accountable those who are a part of a local body of believers. And as an added blessing on this, when we love our church well, we spread the gospel to those outside the church. Mark Dever again says “The church gives a visual presentation of the gospel when we forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us, when we commit to one another as Christ has committed to us, and when we lay down our lives for one another as Christ laid down his life for us.” Do you want to truly help others? Do it in the context of the local church. Do it outside of the church as well, but don’t forsake the local body for something that Christ didn’t die for.

God calls church leaders to shepherd and minister to believers. There are several passages in scripture that talk about the roles of leaders in the church. Why is this a reason to be active in a local church? Because those people have the heavy responsibility of teaching, encouraging, correcting, and guiding the members of their congregations. If you are outside of a local church then who is your spiritual authority? God ultimately, of course, but God has ordained certain people to take leadership within the church.

Where are you getting your Biblical teaching and guidance? From someone you don't know on a tv or computer screen? From someone you don't know in a book? As believers we have the Bible to give us God's Word and the Holy Spirit to help us interpret and apply it, but if you are outside of a local church then you are dismissing a God-given method of maturation and sanctification. Ideally you are part of a church where you have direct access to those leaders so that you can form a relationship with them which will allow them to speak directly into your life. I'm not talking about just sitting in a pew once a week. Form a real relationship with someone who has authority over you.

Why aren't you at church?
There are many legitimate reasons that a person may not be actively involved in and attending a local church. Perhaps poor health doesn't allow them to physically attend church. In this case, they should be involved in a healthy church that will come visit them frequently. A church service on tv or online can be beneficial here, but it's not a substitute for the community found within a congregation.

Perhaps you've recently moved and are still looking for a church. My suggestion would be to not take too long. There are most likely many good churches near you, and there's no such thing as the perfect church. Actively seek God's direction on where he wants you to be a member, but don't get into the habit of "church hopping." If you are one of the rare people that doesn't have nearby healthy Bible-teaching churches (like if you're abroad), then ask God to see if you should start your own. Look for a solution instead of just giving up.

I mentioned those who have been hurt by the church previously. I encourage you to pray through your past hurts and seek wise counsel in healing. As I mentioned at the beginning, it’s a terrible thing when church is the reason a person’s relationship with God suffers. But please know that there are good churches out there, and I pray you find one.

Aside from these situations (and possibly a few others I can't think of), the reason you aren't in church is because you don't want to be. You don’t love the church. It's not important to you. You could be doing something else which may be good, but is not the best. Stop right now and pray for wisdom as to the real motivation behind your lack of church membership.

Working with college students, we see pretty much every reason under the sun as to why people don't go to church. One of the most disturbing that has popped up within the last decade or so is the excuse that the modern church just "isn't meeting my needs." Now, it may be disguised as something else. The church isn't doing enough about social injustice. They fail to adapt to current culture. People don't fit in because the church is too cliquey or it has the "Holy Huddle" problem. The church has strayed so far from the New Testament church that it's barely recognizable. The list goes on.

You want to know the funny thing? I agree with all of these. And yet I still try to be a faithful member of a local church. Why? Because church isn't about me! We tell students that when looking for a church there are 3 criteria. 1. Does it teach the Bible faithfully? 2. Is there a place for you to serve within the church? 3. Is there a place for the church to serve you? The last one is last for a reason. To me, this is implicit with a healthy church and means the church leadership and members are loving each other as they should. It doesn’t mean it has the exact program you want, or the type of music you prefer. As believers we are often called to give up our rights and preferences in order to better serve someone else.

Finally, when it comes to the issue of sin in the church, my question is this: Where else should sinners be? Unfortunately, because the church is a people and not a place, there will be individuals who aren’t perfect. In fact, all of the members of a church aren’t perfect, from the pastor to the parishioner. This is where God calls us to forgive others because he forgave us. To love others because he first loved us. There are times when an unhealthy church wounds us, and in that case, if you can’t do anything to change the church culture, then maybe it’s time to find a new church. But before you do that remember this, “A healthy church is not a church that’s perfect and without sin. It has not figured everything out. Rather it’s a church that continually strives to take God’s side in the battle against ungodly desires and deceits of the world, our flesh, and the devil. It’s a church that continually seeks to conform itself to God’s Word.”2

Resources mentioned:

Some of the links in the post above are Amazon referral links. I may receive money or products from them, but it's at no cost to you.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February Recap

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. That means I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. Please read my full disclosure here.

As a point of accountability I want to update you on my progress on my February goals. (Side note: Does anyone use say "Feb - ru - ary" in their head every time they write it? Just me? Ok, moving on.)
Starting a podcast
My motivation for my February goals here was to do some brainstorming and research to set up my podcast as well as continue posting more regularly on this blog.
  • Write 4 blog entries ✅
    • This is my 4th post. I didn't quite keep the schedule I wanted because of some personal stuff that happened, but I did get the posts in.
  • Create a "focus group" and survey ✅
    • If anyone is interested, I have a survey I can send with some questions to help me make some decisions on my podcast. 
  • Go through podcast guide ✅
    • I have a guide that works me through setting up a podcast with quite a bit of detail. I'll still have to use it as I continue the process, but it was helpful in thinking through some of the early details.

Personal Growth
I focused on my non-fiction reading goal. I finished three which I'm pretty happy with. That means I've read 5/15 towards my goal! I also got a fiction book in as well. Below are links to some of the books and also to some of my Goodreads reviews.

Heath & Fitness
I've been working on getting back into the routine of working out as well as continuing to incorporate healthy meals into our weekly rotation. I even got to work out outside one day which was amazing! And the addition of Graze snacks have helped me during the afternoon slump at work. I still need some work in these areas, but I'm definitely seeing improvement.

Each of the girls got some one-on-one time this month. Letty went with me to Starbucks and then to Target to go shoe shopping. Callie went with my mom and I to Savoy to eat lunch and have tea. Sophia stayed with me one morning while Lee took the older girls out. She got to play with all the toys and dance to all the songs. I've also been working on connecting more with Lee. Here is my post on our first time to do Datebox and other things we try to do at home. Finally we've been blessed to be able to start a community group in our home. I'm really enjoying getting to spend time with other people at church while diving into the Word.

God has blessed us in being able to save some financially towards a few of our goals. And it's getting closer to time to plant our garden. I know it's silly, but I'm a bit nervous about it for some reason. Thankfully my mom has volunteered to help after tax season is over!

How about you? How are you progressing towards your 2018 goals?

Some of the links in the post above are Amazon referral links. I may receive money or products from them, but it's at no cost to you.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Datebox Review (And Other Ways to Date Your Spouse at Home)

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. That means I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. Please read my full disclosure here.

So, I write this post not because I have it all figured out, but because I need help. (It took us an entire week to finally have our Valentine's Day date). We all know that it's important to "date your spouse." I think we also all know that there are some seasons where this is harder than others. Like when you have three small kids at home. Nevertheless, my word for this year is "intentional," and one of the ways I want to be more intentional is by building up my relationship with Lee. One of my goals is to take a short trip with just Lee and I, and I think we'll be able to pull that off. But in the meantime, what are ways we can strengthen our relationship now? Below are some of the things we do to go on "dates" at home and some of the things we'd like to do.

I've been wanting to try the Datebox subscription service for a few months now because I like the idea of doing creative stuff together at home. Normally when we're at home we end up watching a movie or tv show. While this is okay on occasion, I don't think it does much to really bring us closer together. I was hoping this would be a way to change things up a bit.
What was in the box - In our box we got items to make puppy chow, a You+Me book and writing utensils to fill it out (pens, colored pencils and invisible ink pen), as well as a link to a Spotify playlist.

Our thoughts - Lee thought he didn't like puppy chow. It turns out he was thinking of white trash. He still didn't eat a lot of it, but he did help me make it. I honestly think I would have liked something a bit more complex to make. Something we could have worked together more on. As for the book, we enjoyed it a lot more than we thought we would. Some of the pages were funny and fun to talk about like inside jokes we share, what our team name and mascot would be, etc. Some were more serious such as what our ideal life would look like, and when we felt closest to each other. And there were some we couldn't come up with good answers to and decided we'd "come back to them later." I will admit to you that I had to let go of some of my perfectionism because Lee's handwriting is, well, like most guys' and his drawing skills are slightly better than Callie's. But we both got to be involved and most importantly, it got us really talking. 
The verdict - I enjoyed this box, but the problem I have is deciding whether or not it was worth the price. The puppy chow doesn't require crazy ingredients so I could have bought them in normal sizes and saved money. I already have pens and colored pencils. The book was unique, and it's not something I probably would have spent money on otherwise so that (and the invisible ink pen of course) were the most worthwhile investments. I plan on getting another box next month to see if this is something we'd like to continue. If nothing else, it at least got us to be intentional about how we spent our time...and we didn't have to pay for a babysitter. There are other date kit boxes out there as well so that's something we may try out in the future. (P.S. If you want to try out Datebox for yourself, click here and you can get $10 off your first box!)

Dating Divas:
The Dating Divas site has a ton of great resources that they've compiled from around the interwebs. A lot of them are totally free! Some are good for dating, engaged or married couples, and others I would definitely recommend for married couples only. I made Lee play the Newlywed Game with me the other night, and even though he claims he won, I think we're both winners when we get to spend quality time together and learn new things about each other even after eight years!

"Couch Time":
I heard this idea from a God Centered Mom podcast. She and her husband are intentional to sit on the couch together after the kids are in bed for at least 10 minutes every night with no distractions and just talk. Lee and I tried to do this, but we're not as consistent as we should be. The neat part about it is that often times, 10 minutes turns into 30 or 60 which is way better than watching tv or just looking at our phones at opposite ends of the couch.

All of these tips are centered around spending time together. Dates. But we know dating involves more than that. Holding hands, writing love notes (or texts), serving each other, etc. All of these are important too. If you're struggling to find time, even at home, to date your spouse, then here are some tips. I'm making notes of these myself.
  • Put date night on the calendar, even if it's at home. 
  • Turn off your phones!
  • Take turns planning.
  • On occasion, take the time to get ready. Since some women, ahem, take more time to get ready this may mean husbands need to make sure they have that time by cleaning up the house, taking care of the kids, etc.
  • If you want to go out and finding a babysitter can get expensive, offer taking turns babysitting with another family.
So, what do you do to continue dating your spouse? Have you tried Datebox or another subscription service? Use another resource? Let me know, seriously, because we can use all the help we can get!

More resources on the importance of dating your spouse:

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Keturah by Lisa Tawn Bergren - fiction review

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. That means I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. Please read my full disclosure here.

Keturah's father has passed away and in order to provide for herself and her sisters they have decided to travel to the island of Nevis to try and save their father's struggling sugar plantation. The man Keturah loved as a child is also going to make his mark as a plantation owner but because of Keturah's previous abusive relationship with her deceased husband she declares she'll never rely on a man again. The sisters experience many trials as female plantation owners, and they have to really find their own strength in order to succeed against all odds.

The good: The description of life at the time seemed pretty accurate and I liked the evolution of the characters from stuck up society people to real-life humans trying to survive and figure out who they are. The writing was well done and I often felt like I was really there at times.

The bad: I felt like I was there at times. While slavery is not something that can be avoided in this story (the author discusses this in the historical notes at the end), I would almost rather not read the story than read about characters that participate in the moral atrocity that is slavery. The Banning sisters were kind to their slaves, but that doesn't detract from the fact that they in fact thought it was okay to own people. Keturah survived a horribly abusive marriage but in the end, her own comfort and the success of her plantation was more important to her than the lives of people she saw as beneath her. I don't need or want my characters to be perfect. And maybe the future books will see the hearts of these characters changed, but I couldn't get past this detail in order to connect with the main characters. The other issue I had was that the representation of Christianity was weak. It was so unimportant and uninspiring that I would have rather it had been left out completely. I don't need preaching in my fiction but I want there to be genuineness to their faith.

All in all I was disappointed with this book. Which makes me sad because I LOVE some of Bergren's other books (like her River of Time Series). I might read the next book just to see what she does with the slavery issue, but we'll see.

I received this book for free from Bethany House for my honest review.

Some of the links in the post above are Amazon referral links. I may receive money or products from them, but it's at no cost to you.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

How do I find time (and money) to read?

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. That means I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. Please read my full disclosure here.

Reading has always been a large part of my life. There were times (like in college) when I couldn't always read as much, but usually it's a big priority for me. I think this is for two reasons. The first is that reading fiction is one of the main ways I unwind. Self-care is kind of a hip thing now, and for me, reading is one way I take care of myself. The other reason I make reading a priority is because I love learning. One of the most obvious ways to learn is by reading. I know not everyone likes to read, and as strange as those people may be, hopefully they've found other ways to take care of themselves and to learn. For those who do enjoy reading, I thought I'd give you a little insight into how I make time to read, and how I afford my reading habit.

Finding Time to Read
Some would maybe say I'm not a true book lover because, for the most part, I'm not particularly attached to physical books. I LOVE reading ebooks. There are some books that I like to have the actual copy of, but it's not like I'm over there sniffing them or anything. I usually read using apps on my phone (like the FREE Kindle Reading App), but eReaders (Kindle, Nook, etc) and tablets are great as well. How this helps me read more is that it's so much more portable. I can read in the doctor's waiting room, during my lunch break, and it was great for when I was up nursing a baby in the middle of the night. It's a great way to find tiny pockets of time to get some reading done instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media (which let's be honest, I also do).

Audio books:
Along with ebooks, audio books are a great way to get more "reading" in. I mostly listen to podcasts in my car but sometimes I'll listen to an audio book instead. It's also nice when I'm doing things around the house like laundry or the dishes. Bluetooth headphones make that a lot easier, and it makes the chore go by faster. This isn't necessarily my favorite way of reading because if I'm not paying attention I'll sometimes miss important parts of the book, but it's nice to mix things up every now and then.

Multiple books at once:
I usually have one fiction book and one non-fiction book going at the same time. This is because sometimes I'm in the mood for fiction and it's easy for me to read through that quickly. And other times I want to read something a little deeper and I can pick up my non-fiction to fill that need. I try not to have too much more than that going on other than maybe an audio book otherwise I'm not as likely to actually finish the book.

Set goals and find accountability:
If you have something or someone pushing you to read because you've made it a priority then hopefully you'll find yourself more motivated to accomplish what you're striving for. To add on to this, give yourself some kind of reward when you've reached a milestone. Maybe you spend a bit more money than you normally would on that book you've been wanting because you read half your yearly goal. Or you allow yourself to watch the movie after you've read the book. As important as intrinsic motivation is to being a mature human, an external reward is helpful sometimes too. I've set a goal of reading 15 non-fiction books this year and I'm posting about each one on Instagram as accountability with a bit of a pat on the back built in.

Finding Money to Read
As much as I love books, I don't really love spending money on books. If it's something I really want, I will sometimes allow myself to buy a book. But that's actually pretty rare. Here are some of the ways I get books for cheap or free.

The library:
This one is fairly obvious. I don't actually make it to the local library much anymore, but I do take advantage of their ebook and audio book collections. I've even started letting Callie pick out some ebooks to read on the tablet after the younger girls are in bed. 

Kindle Unlimited:
Kindle Unlimited isn't free, but I pay a monthly fee and can read a lot of books for that one price. The selection is limited, but I can usually find some decent books on here, and if I'm lucky, an entire series will be on there so I don't have to hope my library has all of them or pay a ton of money to read them. Also, some books will have free narration so I can go from reading it on my phone to listening to it in my car!

My Reader Rewards:
I'm sure there are rewards clubs for other publishers, but My Reader Rewards is for Tyndale House Publishers. I just occasionally go on and fill out surveys and review some of their books, and I can get points to use towards free books. There's not a huge collection, but I've found several books on there for me and the kids. (And if you click here to sign up you can start off with 25 points.)

Review Programs:
Sometimes you can sign up and receive free books in exchange for honest reviews on a blog and/or a retailer website. I've been a part of the Bethany House Review Program for a while now and have received some really good books to review.

Free eBooks:
There are a ton of free eBooks on Amazon, B&N, etc. The problem with this is that most of these books aren't great quality, but every now and then you can find a good one. Usually this book is the first in a series and they're trying to hook you into reading the rest or they'll have a special promotion before a new book comes out. If you don't want to comb through a million books to find what you want you can get daily emails from sites like BookGorillaBookBub and others which will show you a list of free/cheap books based on your preferences.

There are a lot of ways to earn Amazon giftcards these days, but one I've been using for a while is Swagbucks. Sometimes I'm all in and I fill out surveys and do searches and stuff to get me closer to that giftcard. Sometimes I'm feeling lazy and the only way I earn is by printing off and using grocery coupons from their site. How quickly you work towards earning a reward is up to you.

Google Opinion Rewards and Play Books:
I just recently had the idea that I could use the money I earn filling out short surveys in the Google Opinion Rewards app to buy books in the Play Store. I use the Play Books app to read the books on my phone or tablet. Technically you can use your rewards from the Rewards app to buy all kinds of things like apps, movies, etc, but since reading is a goal of mine I'm planning on buying ebooks and audio books. I believe you can use the Rewards app on iOS devices as well and the money gets sent to your paypal account. There are probably other options similar to this out there.

There's a whole host of ways to get free or discounted books to read. If audio books is your thing, you could always sign up for an Audible subscription. I did this for a while and really liked it, but I don't listen to as many audio books now. There's also a whole host of apps which will reward you with Amazon gift cards. Grocery apps like Ibotta and Fetch Rewards (use referral code YU9MU to get 1500 points when you sign up and scan your first receipt) will get you Amazon giftcards. I always send my money to my Paypal account and back into my bank account to use on groceries, but to each his own.

Do you want to read more books? Do you already read a lot of books? How do you motivate yourself to read more and how do you get your books?

Some of the links in the post above are referral links. I may receive money or products from them, but it's at no cost to you.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January Recap

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. That means I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. Please read my full disclosure here.

As a point of accountability I want to update you on my progress on my January goals.

Starting a podcast
My motivation for my January goals here was to get back into the habit of posting online. I planned to:
  • Write a 2 month blogging plan ✅
    • I stuck with my plan for January and I have a few tweaks I want to make for next month
  • Write at least 2 blog posts ✅
    • I actually wrote 4 (if you count my two-parter separately)
  • Do research on current favorite podcasting blogs ✅
    • Some of my favorite podcasts are God Centered Mom and Journeywomen. I enjoyed looking through their blogs to get ideas on how to connect written content to a podcast.
Personal Growth
I focused on my non-fiction reading goal. I finished two which I'm pretty happy with. I also got a few fiction books in as well. Below are links to some of the books and also to some of my Goodreads reviews.

Heath & Fitness
  • I've been trying to find some more healthy meals our family will eat. Easier said than done when you've got a picky eater in the family (and no I'm not talking about any of our kids). I did manage to intentionally plan in at least a few healthy family meals each week.
  • I'm trying to figure out an exercise program that I like. I'm thinking I'll go back to 21 Day Fix this month since I had success with that.

Home Improvement
  • I pinned a pitiful number of garden pins which you can see here. Honestly, I'm pretty overwhelmed so any flower garden gurus who want to help a sister out are welcome over!
My main goal here was to get in one-on-one dates with each of the girls on (or near) the date they were born. It could be either Lee or I taking them, but I wanted them to have some special time with one of us.
  • I took Callie to Panera. I told her she could have whatever she wanted for breakfast and the girl chose a sesame seed bagel. She then proceeded to eat half of my cinnamon swirl bagel. Next time I'll narrow her choices so she doesn't seem so overwhelmed.
  • Lee took Sophia to the BCM and they played together. I hate to say it, but she's got some puppy-like tendencies in that she really loves to play fetch.
  • Letty's is coming up tomorrow and we'll probably do breakfast and shoe shopping.
My other goals involved saving money towards certain things and I was able to do that successfully this month.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

I Give Up!

I went about the whole becoming a mom business in a somewhat unusual way. We "acquired" three kids in 362 days. If you're behind, you can read about my struggles with pregnancy loss here, our decision to jump feet first into fostering here, and our youngest's birth story here. You could say it's all or nothing in our household. So at this point I've had a little more than two years experience in momming little people. I'm pretty much an expert now...except I'm not. The saying that you're a perfect parent until you have kids is 100% true. While Lee and I have stayed true to our core parenting value of trying to raise kids to love the Lord, almost nothing else looks the same as it did before we actually had kids!

One of the things God has really been teaching me in the last several months is to let go of perfectionism. Now, I would never have said that I was the perfect parent (far from it). But in my head I was always striving to be what I thought the perfect mom should be. And every time I didn't live up to that imaginary expectation I would beat myself up over it. Can that resonate with anyone else? So for those perfectionist moms (and dads) out there, let's talk about why I gave up trying to be supermom.

Social Media As Our Standard
It's a wildly different society we live in than when I first started dreaming of being a mom. It's not just the moms in your immediate circle that you have to compare yourself with, or the moms of TV and movies. It's millions of moms around the world who post pictures and stories of their seemingly perfect momming online. From Pinterest, to Facebook and Instagram. With the development of smart phones and filters for pictures it's so tempting to look at the lives of "real" people and compare ourselves. I really like social media. It lets me keep up with people and learn from those I may have never been able to connect with before. But the problem with relying on social media to give me my standard of parenting is that it's not reality and it's not realistic.

While people may often post pictures or videos of some of the messier parts of parenting, there is no way to actually see every frustrating, gross, mundane, loving or exciting detail of a person's life. Nor should their be. While you may feel like you're part of someone's family because of all the details they post online, no one can replace your real life family. And you shouldn't want them to! For example, my brand of creativity lies in my ability to solve problems and think through situations in detail. I'm an engineer, not an artist. That didn't stop me from trying to throw a Pinterest worthy party for one of my kiddos. I pinned all the pins, but when it came down to it, my heart wasn't really in it and the execution of said party fell a little lot short. I was frustrated with myself and felt bad for my kiddo. But do you know what? She didn't care. She never asked for the perfect Bubble Guppies party. I put that pressure on myself. She just really liked her Bubble Guppies shirt (thanks to Gigi) and playing with balloons! I need to be able to admire and encourage those moms who are able to throw awesome parties for their kids without trying to be one of those moms myself.

I let myself fall into the trap of seeing something in social media, and mistakenly drawing the conclusion that doing that was necessary for me to be a good mom and have happy kids. Trying to do all the things is just not realist, but mom-guilt is a real thing. Throwing the perfect birthday party may be a superficial example, but pretty much anything a mom holds herself responsible for is subject to mom-guilt. When in reality, most of those things are only important to ourselves. I knew that having all the bells and whistles for a birthday party wasn't important to me or my kids. So why waste time and energy on something no one cared about? Mom-guilt.

Others Opinions As Our Standard
This is related to using social media as our standard for being a good mom, but while I focused on the internal pressure in the previous section, here I want to focus on the pressure from others. Similar to mom-guilt, mom-shaming can also cause us to second guess our ability to parent. By mom-shaming I mean when others (usually women) decide that you're not doing things the right way and they want to "help" you by letting you know how it should be done (aka their way). I feel a lot of times people have the best intentions when they correct your decisions, but it's not usually any more beneficial. Sometimes, though, people can be downright hateful. This is usually exacerbated by social media.

For some reason it's often times other women who feel the need to judge a mom's parenting decisions. I too sometimes fall into this trap. God's nurturing characteristics are often very strongly present in women, but unfortunately sin has twisted this to cause us to be judgmental of another's ability to nurture. Part of us may want what's best for that person's child, but our pride causes us to think that only our way is best. Someone posts a question on Facebook. "What kind of bottles do you recommend for my beautiful baby?" Some comments are helpful, but then some possibly well-meaning person writes, "Breast is Best!" Umm, okay, that didn't answer the question. And now the original poster is possibly feeling guilty bottle-feeding. Or some conflicted mother posts a smiling picture of themselves with their adorable toddler with the caption, "First day of preschool! Forgive me while I go cry in my car!" And then someone comments with "I just don't know how you can handle having someone else raise your kids. It must be so hard. I'm so glad I can stay home with my babies." Then the poor working mom feels bad about abandoning her child and just knows they'll be ruined for life. While neither of these examples are someone trying to be blatantly hurtful, they do show how our internal judgments can subtly work their way into our external conversations.

This isn't relegated to social media, though. I have often heard the phase, "You sure do have your hands full." It's true! My hands are full. Parenting three small kids is hard! And I know the person who says it is usually trying to offer moral support in acknowledging how challenging it can be, but it also implies that maybe we don't know what we're doing. Maybe I'm in over my head and my kids won't get the attention and focus they need. Now we can't always ensure what we say will be taken then way we mean it. And we can't always read too much into what others say. But a little caution on both sides can go a long way in helping moms have confidence in their ability to parent well.

The Solution and Our True Standard
So what do you do when you are doubting your ability to be a good mom either because of what you've seen or because of something someone has said. Try these things:

  • What is your motivation? Why are you doing that particular thing you think you're supposed to do? Whether it's throwing the perfect party, doing all the things for Advent, putting your kids in every sport/lesson available, only giving them organic, non-GMO, vegan water (I kid), why do you think that's the way it should be done? Is it because you think it will make you look good? Is it because that's what all the experts tell you to do? Or is it because you think that's what's best for your family. If no one is enjoying it, or no one really cares, why do it? If it truly is important to you and/or your kids, do it! Don't make things harder than they need to be.
  • Set boundaries on social media consumption. If this is really a struggle for you then maybe you need to limit how often you're on social media or use someone to keep you accountable. If you can't look at a specific person's Instagram account without feeling like a terrible person then why are you looking in the first place? Give yourself a real assessment on how social media affects your thinking and then take appropriate steps to guard your heart and mind.
  • Show grace. Show grace to yourself when you use the iPad to keep your toddler occupied for 5 minutes so you can get a quiet moment to yourself. Show grace to yourself when you have to feed your kids chicken nuggets for dinner three meals in a row because life is really hard in the moment. Show grace to others when they say things that make you second-guess yourself. And show grace to others, especially when you don't really know everything that is going on in their lives. Take a second to evaluate whether or not what you want to say to someone is going to encourage them or just make yourself feel better.
  • In whom/what do you find your identity? If you find your identity in being the perfect mom, then you can pretty much bet that mom-guilt is going to accompany any supposed "failures." It's impossible to please the idol of perfectionism, and you will find yourself striving harder and harder to reach a self-imposed standard. We look to God and Scripture for our standard in living. I don't remember the Bible mentioning store-bought purees vs baby-led weaning or birthday blowouts vs family gatherings. You know what Scripture does say about parenting? "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4) "Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) "'But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.'" (Matthew 6:33-34) You see, it's when we truly find our identity in Christ that we can be who we were meant to be as parents.

Final Note: To the Dads
I talked a lot about being the perfect mom, but I can't assume that dads don't also feel pressure as well. Well, sometimes I do assume that because that's how it seems, but I wanted to get Lee's take on it to get a guy's perspective. He said he didn't necessarily feel the need to be perfect, but he did feel like he needed to seem competent. He doesn't want to see overwhelmed (even if he was). It wasn't about the details of what it took to be a perfect parent, but more the overall goal of looking like he had it together. This corresponds to how he and I think about parenting. I'm concerned about individual details of parties, specifics of their health, etc. His is a bigger picture sort of view. Now, just because Lee (and maybe most guys) don't always seem as concerned with being the perfect dad doesn't mean they will never fall into the trap of feeling guilt or shame when everything doesn't go as planned. We all have to be aware of where we struggle and looking to God for guidance instead of the people around us. We all have to remember what's really important.