Marriage & Family
The census is way down at our house this week with 4 of our 7 children visiting family out of state.
That leaves “only” three at home.
(Practically a vacation for me!)
I figured I’d have a record amount of uninterrupted time and I planned my to-do list accordingly.
With overcast skies as an excuse to not leave the house today, my best laid plans included staying in my yoga pants, working on my business from home, and filling the blow-up-pool to entertain the two youngest.
After we finished a pancake breakfast on the patio, I employed by teenage son to blow up the kiddie pool (no small endeavor). After which, we realized that the backyard hose wasn’t working. (Do you have any idea how many rubbermaid containers filled and carried outside it takes to fill a kiddie pool? )
While Tristan worked on re-plumbing the backyard hose system, I heaved 10,000 buckets and basins of water outside.
That was a lot simpler in my mind that it ended up being!
Well into the late morning now, I settled myself on the patio in my adirondak chair in blissful 79 degree weather with my bible, computer, pen and paper, journal, juice and sighed deeply!
No sooner had I cracked my computer, Eden wanted his sunglasses.
90 seconds later later, Gigi needed a towel (you know….so she could dry off and then get back in the pool again!)
It’s now been at least an hour since breakfast, so they are “staaaaaaarving” and requesting a snack.
Eden stubbed his toe on the concrete….tears.
Gigi needed her hair pulled up in a ponytail….again.
When I told Eden to stop drinking the pool water, he then of course needed his sippy cup.
Gigi was grossed out by grass that got tracked in the pool and Eden was mad she wouldn’t swim with him anymore.
What a neurotic notion on my part that they’d play contentedly for hours!
I think we stayed outside for a total of 27 minutes before Eden’s teeth were chattering and it started to rain.
The pool toys are now strewn all across the patio, towels are soggy, my journal is wet from splashing, and my creative juices are the only thing that are not flowing!
Im pretty sure this is where the term “throwing in the towel” comes from.
As I dried everybody and everything off, I silenced my headstrong tendencies to pound out some overdue correspondence and polish off projects, and instead, I climbed in bed with my cranky toddler.
And Gigi too, snuggled in saying she was tired and cold and just wanted to “rest, not sleep“.
Lying in bed with an unproductive morning behind me, and my arms full of cold, cuddly babes taking naps, I couldn’t help but smile.
How many moments like this do I miss by striving to “do” instead of being content to just “be”?
Grateful for these end-of-the-rope mommy moments that readjust our life and realign our priorities and remind us….
Remind us that our children are not just little comrades of chaos to disrupt our day and shake our sanity. Their requests, demands, dirty diapers, needs and interruptions are all a means by which God is sanctifying us. Our pouring out for our kids weeds the self-centered gardens of our hearts and gives us a gift we dont know we need…..that of laying down our lives for our children. A sowing that will bear fruit and that makes a difference.
In the daily grind.
With dish-water nails and messy bun.
In the moments of feeling unproductive and measuring our worth by measuring our accomplishments. It’s then that one more sippy cup needing filled can drive us to our knees, slow our distracted pace, and focus our weariness on the wonderful gifts that are ours.
Give yourself a break.
Just go with it, momma!
Go snuggle those little loves and pull the covers over your head for a while!
The words of our pre-marital counselors have rung in my ears for nearly 2 decades now….
“But for the grace of God, your marriage doesn’t stand a chance“.
John and Leeba, our mentors, were straight shooters and Im so grateful they were!
Let me offer a qualifying statement here. They were not saying that we shouldn’t get married or advising us to break up.
They were communicating the immense level of commitment we would need and analyzing that each of us were entering marriage with some baggage, which would require a lot of grit and grace for our marriage to thrive!!
And they were absolutely, positively right!
We’ve laughed before contemplating the fact that we’d never have met on a dating website because, we’d never have passed an algorithm that would deem us “compatible”!!
Truly, opposites attract and while we are still madly in love, we drive each other mad too!
But for the grace of God, 17 years later, we would not have thrived.
We would not have survived.
And I dont say that lightly.
All cliche’s aside….there have been moments of wanting to quit and seasons of intense hurt. This has not been an easy path, but one we choose…daily….taking each other by the hand, committing to not look back at past mistakes but to continue pressing on together knowing the view from the top will be worth the climb!
We still make some of the same, juvenile mistakes. We communicate poorly. We react. We inflict hurt with unmeasured words.
But we can glance back and see growth too.
My silent treatment game isn’t as strong as it once was, and God has chiseled out some sharp edges of Chad’s personality.
Some seasons are smooth sailing.
This has not been that season.
We’ve been in another cycle of hard work recently in this thing called marriage. Before my mother or mother-in-law reads this, yes, we are fine!!
(…and when I say FINE, I don’t mean Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional!) 🙂
We are in a good place, but this season of transition, a major move from overseas, reverse culture shock, role re-definement, job adjustment, lifestyle change, financial strain and children’s needs through the uprooting have been taxing factors on our time and relationship.
Someday, we’re gonna be a cute, doting, old, wrinkly couple who have “made it” and it will be easier then to talk about the hard days that are in the past. But for anyone else in the trenches, we hear ya and we’re there too!! Falling on grace every day as we thank God for this mirror of marriage that exposes our need of Him!
Chad and I are both quality time people.
We require a lot of communication, conversation, and uninterrupted engagement to be in a healthy place. Add seven children to the mix and you have a lot of competition for that time.
We were somehow under the false assumption that time time together would be easier when our kids got a little bit bigger. We’re there now with teens and realizing the opposite is true.
Our quality time used to be a matter of putting all the babies to bed at 7:30 and having a couple hours every evening that was “our” time.
Now the teenagers are putting us to bed and we have to be creative to connect over the chaos. We steal away to the back porch for a drink after dinner. Or run together early in the morning when our sleepy summer-schedule crew are still snoozing. It takes flexibility, but finding time for ‘just us’ is paramount!
I got to accompany Chad on a trip to CA last month for some meetings. This was the first time we’ve been away from the kids for more than a night in years! And it was so good for us!!
A reminder that someday, it will just be us.
Much of the conflict that we wrestle through is not directed at each other. It’s the circumstances of life. Someday the needs of children and voices and expectations of friends, family and in-laws won’t be as prominent and there will just be us.
And as we biked the golden gate bridge with no tagalongs, we remembered that we really do love us!
There are a few practical exercises we’ve found benefit us and remind us to extend grace when we’re consistent in implementing them.
There is something about bringing your brokenness to the Lord together that begins a healing process that cant be expedited through any other effort of restoration. Its a posture of humility. Before God, we are both sinners. We’re both at fault. Pretense and self-righteousness just dont hold up in front of a Holy and Just God.
Our walls of indifference, resentment and grudges are deconstructed by God as we lay down our right to be right and invite Him to heal. There are times I’m so angry that we cant talk, but Chad will take my hand and start praying. There is a short wrestling with God (with whom I am no match)…. and then tears.
Prayer together moves us from fighting with each other to fighting for our marriage. Confessing our sin and taking ownership. Opening the door again to communication with one another through a Mediator who forgives us and filters our failings and gives us grace for one another.
Im saddened by the number of friends who tell me they cant pray with their husbands either because their husband won’t, or because they’re not comfortable being that vulnerable around their husband. If you’re in that place, start by praying alone, that God would give you two the ability to come together in prayer and that He will build spiritual intimacy.
The kids come second.
We women tend to respond to whatever cries the loudest, (and typically, that’s not our husbands.) There are a dozen things vying for our attention, affection and time on a daily basis and we juggle the duties of chauffeur, nurse, tutor, cook, cleaner, counselor, mom, friend. And sometimes, the role of “wife” gets pushed to the back burner. Or even if we are aware of it, we forget that “friend” and “playmate” are part of the job.
Chad has n0 tolerance for interruption when he and I are having time together. That means when the little ones come wanting a snack or interjecting in our conversation, we dont engage them. They are reminded that this is mommy and daddy time and that they can wait until we are done.
Confession: Im not good at this.
But Ive cut too many conversations short by defaulting to the other needs that aren’t necessarily “needs” and allowing interruptions to derail our conversation. Children who grow up with the stability of knowing their parents commitment and love for one another will be able to rebound from any damage done by a delayed snack!
And your bright young rambunctious toddlers will not be permanently stunted by you letting the TV babysit them for 20 minutes to give you and your honey a few minutes to debrief their day!
Date your spouse.
We all hear it, but the excuses range from financial to logistical! This doesn’t have to be a hire-a-babysitter and make reservations on a Friday night expensive date. We’ve had to get creative over the years. When the littles were young (and we never had a babysitter). it was a regular thing for us to get wine and cheese and have a candlelit “dinner” after the kids went to bed. During the school year. sometimes it made sense for me to meet Chad for lunch or coffee. And thank God for a back porch and adorondak chairs in this season of life right now! We retreat there regularly.
The gesture of time carved out that is just yours gives something to look forward to and reminds us that all pressure, routines and stresses of life aside, this is us and grace has gifted us each other!
I think if we were all honest, we could identify with the same truth our marriage counselors not-so-subtly told us.
“But for the grace of God, your marriage doesn’t stand a chance.”
But for grace.
But for God!
We all have a mental image of that beautifully framed, stunning family portrait we’ll one day have hanging over the mantle in our home. Everyone facing the camera positioned “just so” with heads tilted “just right” and lovely, genuine, relaxed smiles (and no “cheesy” expression from the 5-year-old or baby with a finger in his nose).
Take a step back and realize that your imagined ideal is a bit “Pleasant-ville” when you think of it.
The truth is, that while the gallery wrap canvas mounted on your wall is beautiful, it may not be reflective of real life….and it’s not the life you’re going to remember 20 years from now when your kids are grown and gone. Real life is messy and imperfect and beautiful in a unique and unspoiled way. As a professional photographer, I feel some of my greatest achievements behind the lens have been the times Ive captured the raw, unfiltered, unedited sheer chaos of kids. The family in hysterics because the son has just slipped and fallen in bird poo. The giggly tickle wars or daddy playing “airplane” flying their toddler in the air. The sultry expression of the little imp who is glaring at the camera. The little angel unaware that Im clicking away while she examines the intricacies of a beautiful flower she’s just picked. These are the fleeting moments which comprise the minutes, hours, days, season, stages and years of our lives. Each one beautiful and irreclaimable. Time stands still for no one. This stage today, the styles and attitudes and whacky wardrobe choices of your toddler will never be again.
I have clients all the time who tell me they are wanting photos but just want to wait for the “right time” to schedule a session. Mom’s want their pre-pregnancy body back. Or they choose to wait until their 2 year old is at a more cooperative stage. They postpone until they have their summer tan on or until their 8 year old “grows into their new front teeth”. And then there are the photoshop post-processing requests “can you take 10 lbs off of me?…and airbrush the crows feet by my eyes?”
Meanwhile, life is blazing by with a thousand undocumented stages that we are missing because things aren’t “perfect”. But truly “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and beauty is to be found everywhere, every day. Perfect portraiture is not my forte – but photojournalism finds the beauty in the eyes of the contemplative child. The grasping hand of a newborn baby. The admiration in a glance between lovers. And the belly laughs and snot bubbles and baby-bed-heads.
After a particularly emotional photoshoot a few years ago, I have a new perspective on the immeasurable value of photos. I’ve occasionally had the sacred opportunity of photographing a number of precious wee babies whose lives lasted only a few hours or were born sleeping, but left an indelible imprint on the hearts of all who knew them. The images we captured this day are the only visuals that this grieving couple has of their precious baby boy. Photos give us something tangible to hold onto. To remember. To celebrate a life even when that loved one is gone.
Another friend of mine, a mom of four little ones, is in the final stages of cancer. Still, she takes photos. Every day, she photo documents the gifts around her. The sweet snuggles with her children in bed with her. The matching hats she and her son have that cover her bald head. The hands intertwined of her and her devoted husband who has loved her well through “sickness and in health”. These precious photos, the lasts smiles and cuddles and memories with her little ones will be treasures her kids will have for a lifetime!
My own passion for photography began about 9 years ago with my baby girl who had just undergone invasive surgery to repair her broken heart. As I leafed through the pictures my mom had taken of my husband and I holding our fragile baby girl, I was keenly aware that these may be the only photos Id ever have.
No one is harder on themselves than we are ladies! We suffer from photophobia at times. There are always gonna be wrinkles and muffin-tops, bad hair days and, well…..bad hair seasons. But there will come a day you’ll look back, and definitely days your kids will look back and wish they had more moments captured on film between the two of you. Step into those selfies. Don’t shy away from the shutter but to frame yourself into your children’s memories by being present. You don’t need expensive lenses and great gear. You may from time to time opt for a professional family photoshoot, but don’t wait for that perfect time to capture on camera the memories of today! iPhones leave you excuse-less for not snapping some silly selfies with your toddlers or photobombing your teens!