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I don’t know what to do.

I thought that being real about the struggle we moms face on a daily basis to be patient with our children would give me accountability and also encourage others and be a way to document what I was learning.

Not raising my voice at my kids wasn’t easy, but it was completely do-able. Taking the extra time to not multi-task and go the extra steps needed didn’t result in perfection, but it resulted in immediate growth personally and deeper connection with my children.

However –

My husband returned from a four month overseas deployment to Europe in November. I knew enough to know there would be a brief “honeymoon” period and then a rocky transition. However for some reason I was swept off my feet and believed that we were back together better than ever. Then one of the most difficult months of our marriage transpired. We have been through some very painful things together, but that first month reunited after living on our own for several months brought everything to a head between us. We began going to a new marriage counselor and he was really helpful. In the new year we began to see hope. I had been putting off writing the post to share that I had raised my voice and needed to start over because it was happening frequently over a several week period in response to the arguments my husband and I were having. He is an incredible man in so many ways and does so much for us, however no one hears the things that he says to me that cut me to the quick. And what do I do in response? My voice raises and words pour out accusing and pleading because I didn’t marry a man that didn’t even like me. I married my best friend and many days I don’t understand where he or I have gone.

But in January there was hope, and I began my year over, praying to complete it gently and quietly in one calendar year. The end of the deployment and birthdays and holidays and back to school all came in a blur and I have not had time to even sit a few minutes behind the keyboard, but I was planning to share about this fresh start as soon as possible.

Until I stumbled all over again.

I have not shared until now about my husband and I, because I know how risky it can be to share that your marriage is rocky. Also the more I soaked in the first year of my daughter’s life, the less real this digital space felt. There are some of you that know and love me, and some that have joined the journey, but sometimes it feels so strange and meaningless to float words on a screen out there to meet the millions more and post them on the surreal little stage that is social media.

But this Sunday as we were leaving for a road trip our wounded hearts broke right open again. He had said one thing and another thing was happening. I tried to raise a concern, and communicate, but angry, hurtful words were exchanged on both sides. I raised my voice, and right there I felt the weight of all the failure and hopelessness I have ever felt.

We went on the trip together and it was beautiful. We came home and I tried to raise another similar concern – it did not go well. Strength, dignity, gentleness, quietness left by the wayside, traded for tears and harsh words.

So I have realized something. I don’t know if I can speak gently and quietly for a year because I don’t know how to respond to the things my husband says that tear at my heart – without letting it all spill out. I don’t know how to fix my marriage. Yes I have read and heard all the Christian advice about how a woman is to serve God, and only effect change through quiet, submissive, behavior. Believe me, I have heard it all. Here is the problem though – I can say “sure honey” to someone I have pledge to live with under a certain contract, but when I let my heart dream and fall madly in love with my husband for the thousandth or more time in our fifteen years together… When I do that I don’t know how to feel rejected or unconnected without all that passion spilling right out.

So I can say that I have not yelled at my children in quiet some time, but I don’t know when I’m going to be able to go an entire year without my emotions and voice raising towards my husband. This is me, laying it out.

And I’m beginning to wonder if I even made the right call in setting a commitment to not raise my voice for a year. Because really what would I have done at the end of that time? Said, “Look at me, I am the woman who did not yell for a year.” Also I don’t want to speak quietly and become one of the many people who think that because their words are not loud, they are not hurtful. This was always ever meant to be a step of accountability using these awkward digital tools to grow and show more love to the ones closest to me.

So I’m looking to the Word for my next steps in what feels like a cloud.

The Word says love is not boastful or proud. Is that what I would have become if the Spirit would have given me sure and quick success? The Word says God hates a lying tongue. If my goal is just a year without raising my voice, then will I be tempted to trade loud words for passive aggressive ones?

The Word does say “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

So I’m going to confess here. Whether I think my husband was wrong, or my kids were just too much, I’m going to confess my own sin in this silly digital way.

Each time I raise my voice, I’m going to post on this blog – right away, no waiting for the perfect time to start over. There may not be pictures, it may not sound like much, but I’m going to race to my keyboard and let all the shame and confusion lift as Christ uses these simple confessions to cleanse and encourage.

And you know what… I will complete the challenge one day… You can judge for yourself though, for me I’m just going to celebrate each day of grace the God gives. When it has been a year since the last post that announced a raised voice, you will know that the Spirit has worked in me what I had hoped for, and I believe that will be just the beginning.

I am a failure, but Christ is more.

  • Karla - Thank you for being real. I relate to you on so many levels… especially not wanting to raise my voice in anger at my kids. And also this new thing which you confess, struggling with your marriage. Of course marriage goes through seasons, but oftentimes I’m surprised at how quickly things can turn upside down. I tend to be quiet, so when I do finally speak up, my emotions come through… then I’m often made to feel badly for simply wanting to communicate or compromise. So, I shut my mouth and feel like I should stick to cooking, cleaning, and raising the kids. I often read your blog but don’t always comment. I have my own blog, but with the busy-ness of life and the fact that YES “it feels so strange and meaningless to float words on a screen” I haven’t updated in a while. Sending up a prayer for you, your family, and your marriage.ReplyCancel

    • sharon - Thank you Karla, you were such an encouragement to me this morning! xoxoReplyCancel

 

Merry Christmas friends! Here is our digital Christmas card of sorts, sharing with you a few moments in our holiday. As you scroll down, this mama even got in the pictures thanks to Jesse… and the last one is gold if I do say so myself.

Love you all and praying that you feel God’s love and goodness this season.

 

“In John 3:16, Jesus teaches us that the God who exists loves. Let that sink in. The God who absolutely is. Loves. He loves. Of all the things you might say about God, be sure to say this: he loves.”

-John Piper in the Advent devotional The Dawn of Indestructible Joy

. . .

I have been making a very great mistake.

I have been pleased with myself and thought that was being loved.

I have been displeased with  myself and thought that was being unloved.

The Christmas pajamas match and the cocoa is warm. Ornaments are hung with only one being broken. I a mother victorious.

I hold her, little gift in my arms and there is joy, but also there is another feeling. It must be love. Look I have not failed, and so I must be loved, correct? The wrapping on the presents matches the wine of our pj’s – a color like blood deepening or berries against the snow. I didn’t make it all from scratch, but the tin of cookies is delicious. Most of all it is as close to an effortless morning as you can have with four children. Yes I must be loved.

And then that night it all falls apart, again.

Our family only reunited a few weeks, husband just home from a deployment, him and I rub up against each other with all our raw edges. Dinner is strained and then after the children are in bed, we tear a hole so deep the dark shows through. We rumble until the ground is shaking, and then I sit tear-stained in front of the twinkling Christmas lights. This is not Instagram worthy. I have never seen a puffy eyed woman and her brilliant tree on Pinterest. But I think maybe there are many of us?

This is it I think, this is what it feels like to be unloved. No, I am only displeased with myself. Love is still surrounding me at every corner. Love on both sides, love beneath and above. Love in, out, my very breath.

For God so loved. Piper says this is not an amount of loving, but a way of loving. God so loved that He sent, and the one He sent, came to die. For us.

With the tears streaming down, broken and unlovely, it is clear – I am loved. It is clear, because in that moment I cannot be pleased with myself, so there is no mistaking emotion or vanity for the deep reality that is Love.

Between my husband and I there are apologies on both sides, repentance, forgiveness, counseling, and another day’s mercies. There will be another rumble, more glimpses of the cliff, more choosing to turn and walk towards each other. Gently.

A few days later, the children are playing, the house is peaceful and the decorations lovely. I feel something. I am quick to think it love. No, I am only pleased with myself. No wonder we post all those pictures. I think we have confused feeling loved with being pleased, satisfied that we have pulled it off for the moment… the party, the picture, the look, the supposed feeling. But when the inside and the aftermath don’t line up with all those pleasing lines, then we fall into the cavern of unlovedness.

Thinking we are not pleasing, we feel unloved, but always we are beloved.

We think love is all the right notes, and all the right colors, and most of all the right words and pictures. But Piper tells us of “a costly love. A very powerful love. A very rugged, painful love.”

Rugged, painful love doesn’t expect us to be pleasing or wait for us to be pleasing. And the more we are pleased with ourselves the less we can know of this love.

But a costly love doesn’t leave us where we are. Love is why I didn’t stay tear stained and frozen before the tree. Love is why I touch my husband again and he touches me. Love is why I get up from my seat and apologize to my thirteen year old, my eleven year old, my seven year old. Love is why I quiet my voice and my heart, and I forget the things that please myself. It’s why I forget when I am pleased with myself, and when I am displeased with myself, and remember only that I am loved.

This is advent. He came, to us, unlovely as we are.

We were standing in the middle of a clothing store, our first time alone together after a four month deployment when we got the call…

We needed to pick up our kids from school because a wildfire had broken out and was blowing fast towards them. While our friends across the country were catching snowflakes on their tongues, ash was falling on our children’s faces.

It’s been seven years living in this supposed paradise called California, but I don’t know how to do this… How to have fire days in December instead of snow days – where we huddle inside with the windows closed, but still the smoke seeps in. I don’t know how to keep my heart merry and bright when a cloud of grey looms over my roof, and friends are scrambling to pack their trunks, abandoning Christmas presents under the tree, deciding on just a few square feet of what is really important. There is no cheery and cozy when instead of chilled fingers and toes a step outside leaves you gagging and choking, and all you can do is offer your extra bed to a friend and watch videos of horses running for their lives. All you can do is watch it all burn.

I can’t complain because my house hasn’t been reduced to a pile of charcoal, and everyone I love is safe and sound. But I grew up twenty some years amidst seasons and the nagging need for home has come to a boil just now. I bought the mythology when we moved here. Me torn apart from losing a child during birth, I blamed that small Southern town and laid golden expectations for the West Coast of constant sunshine. But year after year the sun kept shining – as I lost babies, fought for my marriage, birthed babies and cradled sacred traditions. The sun shone on Christmas day and the Fourth of July just the same, and now this sun soaked land is going up in flames. I was naive and we humans forget. This is nothing new, “Disaster amnesia” they call it. I have seen the ugly scars where hurricanes lifted houses and bridges in Florida, the angry swaths cut by tornadoes in Kansas and Indiana, and this is not the first time smoke has billowed around our home here in sunny California. It is the first Christmas though.

All I can think is, “I don’t know how to do this.”

“No place on earth offers greater security to life and greater freedom from natural disasters than Southern California,” The Times wrote in 1934.

Clearly that reporter was mistaken.

I don’t know how to celebrate a Merry Christmas when the sky is raining ash, because I am a Midwestern girl watching the rest of the country making snow angels.

Maybe we are meant to remember that first Christmas was far from merry.

I don’t know how to keep a cheerful heart and raise my children well when there is nowhere to find security in life.

Maybe we are meant to run to the only One who is secure.

I don’t know how to make sense of this senseless devastation.

Maybe we are meant to look at what really matters, reducing what our heart clings to as if we could only walk away from a fire with what we held in our arms.

I don’t know how to relinquish my affinity for place. I don’t know how to quench my homesick spirit.

Maybe we are meant to know that amidst all this whirlwind of disaster our Creator cares about place too, He is the one who made it.

Maybe we are meant to remember that there is a greater home that we are longing for.

I don’t know how to help when there is little I can do, and my heart is feeling weak and cheerless.

Maybe we are meant to simply text friends that we are praying, and open our doors so that we can keep each other company on this windswept planet.

I don’t know how to not feel overwhelmed and shaken by the darkness.

Maybe we are meant to just look for the light piercing, shining through.

. . .

*photos below are from decorating our tree last Christmas

Daughter,

I felt so awkward.

I had never before had a daughter, and I didn’t know how to do this new mothering.

Me with three boys at home, you my fourth child to carry from the hospital, my seventh pregnancy. I should have known how to do this or at least have been able to still the butterflies and questioning thoughts.

I was so happy, and raw right through.

The bows I picked out weren’t the latest fad and they left a ring around your silky head, but I remember how my heart had trembled when I tucked them in a dresser drawer, praying you would arrive safely to wear them.

My nails had garden soil underneath them and were rimmed with flecks of watercolor. My robe had the faintest hint of pink in it, because I wanted the nurses to know we were women, you and I.

My dress was long and black because I felt strong in it, and yours was covered in little flowers because I wanted everyone to know I had a daughter.

I sat next to you in the backseat while your Daddy drove us home. It was apparent that this would be a very different journey. On that car ride, you so tiny in the carseat, me tender and wondering… Even then you were carrying the seeds of life. How would I teach you, what would I show you?

This would be a year of hearing your little lion squall turn to goo’s and babble. It would be a year of acknowledging that I am not who I would like to be. A year of telling God that He would need to speak more clearly if I am going to do this job of raising a daughter right. And Creator Papa saying, “Grow still daughter so that you can hear, for I am always speaking.”

It would be a year of soul-filling writing while also tucking a manuscript back on the shelf in favor of holding you.

A year of finding shades of rose, and hues of gold and fern, delighting to wrap you in them, delighting in beauty for Beauty’s sake.

A year of realizing there will always be someone more put together, stronger, seemingly more perfect, and that is not a mirage I wish for you or I to ever chase.

A year of remembering the magic of new life, and letting your honest appraisal of this world reignite my heart to dream.

I cannot say what this year has been my love. Words are just an echo of who you are, and what we have been together.

I do not know how I will live these next twenty years. I pray that God will give me strength, health, clear eyes and a tender heart. And I pray you will be gentle with me when you are grown and looking back, because above all the mistakes I know I will make, I have always loved you.

  • film photos by my love, Jesse McKeeman . Hasselblad 500c/m . Tri-X 400
  • Tere Jensen - Sharon
    I finally read some of your latest post; the yelling, Joy’s birthday, October. There are still tears in my eyes and a smile on my face. Your writing is so comfortable and gently encouraging I feel submerged when reading it all. I so miss bumping into you and your family at the Pannikin.
    Sincerely
    TereReplyCancel