Top 10 Truths About Clutter

Top 10 Truths About Clutter

My house is filled with a lot of stuff.

I try to stay on top of it, but sometimes it really gets away from me. And then, before you know it, there are certain closets I’m afraid to open or certain rooms I’m afraid to go in. I just don’t want to think about what’s on the other side of that door.

It’s exhausting.

Clutter Free: Quick and Easy Steps to Simplifying Your SpaceSo when my good friend Kathi Lipp sent me her book Clutter Free, I was excited about reading it. It isn’t just a to-do manual on how to get rid of clutter; it’s more a way to change your mindset on how you think about your stuff, and I found it so useful. Kathi is sharing a post with us today, but before she does, I have to tell you about one funny thing in my life that came about because of reading her book.

At one point she was talking about “bathroom product clutter”. You know what she means–all the different hair products you’ve bought over the years that you’ve never used, or all the different creams, etc. And she challenges us to take 6 months and either use it or chuck it. Here’s the deal: you’re not allowed to buy a bathroom product until you have gone through your bathroom and found something like it, and either used it or admitted you never will and throw it out.

So for the last two months I’ve been on a rampage to use my bathroom stuff.

It now takes me 15 minutes after each shower, because I have to use the cellulite cream, the body spray, the varicose veins ointment, the eczema cream, the foot cream, and the foot spray. But I smell great! And I’ve finally taken all the essential oils I own and actually started to use them again.

I love it! It’s a great book.

And now, here’s Kathi:

Has clutter stopped being a cute problem in your life?

Clutter is something we laugh about over coffee (like watching too much TV or, come to think of it, ordering that venti double frap “coffee”,) but for many of us, clutter is much more serious than a couple of piles left on the kitchen counter.

If you feel like clutter is stressing you out, you’re right. There are real, psychological and emotional issues with clutter. It’s not all in your head.

But clutter lies to you. Clutter tells you “It’s not that big a deal,” and “You’ll get to it later.” Only to cause you more stress as the piles grow.

So here is the truth about clutter- or more accurately – the Top 10 Truths About Clutter:

1. Clutter Makes You Live Poor

When you are buried in clutter, you don’t know what you already have, so you tend to hang onto everything out of fear. (I don’t know how many pairs of shoes I have, so I can’t give any away.) I’ve had some times in my life when I haven’t balanced my checking account for longer than I’d like to admit. So when I saw a need, it was hard to respond because I didn’t know how close I was riding to the financial edge.

2. But Dealing with Clutter Can Make You Generous

Information is power. When you know that you have two pairs of flat black shoes you wear all the time, you’ll have no problem giving away that third pair to someone in need. When you know that you have enough groceries to get your through the week, you can open your pantry to your neighbor who is going through some tough times.

3. Clutter Steals Your Joy

UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) studied 32 California families and the stuff in their homes, cataloging thousands of items in each residence. The resulting book, Life at Home in The Twenty-First Century, shares about the link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels in female home owners and a high density of household objects. In other words, the more clutter, the more stress.

4. But Dealing with Clutter Can Bring Your Joy Back!

Simply by reducing the number of items in your home, you can reduce your stress levels and bring back peace. Stop right now and get clear off one surface around you – a desk, a counter, a table. Now enter the room and look at that blank space. There. Don’t you feel better already? Every time you clear out a drawer, clear off a surface, or gut a cabinet, you are reclaiming some happy in your life.

5. Clutter Costs You Money (Lots of it)

How many times have you re-purchased an item because you didn’t know where the first one was? How many late fees have you paid over your lifetime because your bills were all over the house? How many rebates have you found stacked in a pile that are past their mail-in date? How many fines have you had to pay because you couldn’t find all of the library books your kids checked out? Clutter is costing you money – and lots of it.

6. But Dealing with Clutter Can Actually Earn You Money

By selling those gently used clothes, donating those outgrown toys, mailing in those rebates on time, making an accurate grocery list (because you know what’s in your pantry,) not only will you save money, but you will add to the family coffers.

7. Clutter Can’t Be Organized

Stop buying more boxes, systems, totes and tools to organize your clutter. Clutter can’t be organized. But by digging through your clutter trash and recovering the treasures that lay in there (in every stack of twenty papers, there is one you actually need,) you can see what actually does need to be dealt with and organized.

8. But Dealing with Clutter Can Make You More Organized

Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done.” Says Sherrie Bourg Carter the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout. By dealing with our clutter, we can let our brain know that we are done with that project, and we can move on to another item, giving it the full attention that is deserves.

9. Clutter Hurts Your Marriage

As I’ve helped women deal with their clutter, I’ve heard time and time again how it hasn’t just affected the space in their homes, it’s also hurt their relationships. Fights over stuff. Laundry piled on beds and couches, making them unusable. Cluttered kitchens that are impossible to cook in – the list goes on and on. Clutter adds an extra layer of stress to a marriage that may already be stressed to begin with.

10. But Dealing with Clutter Can Improve Your Marriage – Quickly

Many of the ways to make your marriage better require both of you putting in an effort – not so with clutter. By eliminating clutter in areas where you and your husband connect (the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom,) you are immediately lowering your stress level, which can do nothing but make your marriage a better place to be.

Clutter is a liar. It makes you feel distracted, stupid and out of control. But once you know the truth about clutter you can fight back and regain your life.

Want to win the battle against clutter in every area of your life? Join Kathi’s 21 Day Clutter Challenge and regain your home – and your sanity. (just click through and sign up on her sidebar!)

Kathi LippKathi Lipp inspires thousands of women each year to take beneficial steps in their personal, marital and spiritual lives through purposeful living. With humor and wisdom, Kathi offers hope paired with practical steps to live each facet of our lives with meaning.  She is the author of 13 books including The Husband Project, The Get Yourself Organized Project, and I Need Some Help Here – Hope for When Your Kids Don’t Go According to Plan. She is the host of You’ve Got This! with Kathi Lipp and speaks at conferences across the US.  She and her husband Roger are the parents of four young adults in San Jose, CA. When she’s not doing laundry, Kathi is speaking at retreats, conferences and women’s events across the US.

Wifey Wednesday: Putting Your Husband First

Today, welcome guest author Kate from Making Space, a mom, wife and reader from the UK, who like many of us asks an important question, what comes first, children or marriage? Here’s what she says about putting your husband first.

Children or Marriage: Putting Your Husband First

This is what a normal day in our household looks like.

Jonas wakes up, if I’m organised enough I will have woken up before him to shower and get myself ready. I put him on the potty (and continue to do so regularly for the rest of the day), get him dressed, we go downstairs, I make him breakfast. I wash up all the dummies and beakers he used last night. I empty the dishwasher, and then load it, whilst talking to Jonas as he has breakfast. I get him down from the table, he plays whilst I have breakfast. I quickly load the washing machine and prepare his changing bag. A neighbour might knock on the door and come in for a quick chat. We quickly rush out the door trying to get to a toddler group on time, but often running 30 minutes late. We stay there until lunch and then walk home super quickly to get back in time for Jonas to have a quick lunch and then nap. He wakes about 2 or 3pm, leaving me a couple of hours to spend some 1-1 time with him, do cleaning, hang the washing, prepare dinner and do any other chores around the house for which there always seem to be many.

Engagement

Before Children

Around 5 or 6pm I am so happy to see Alan’s car pull up in the driveway. Honestly, not because I am excited to chat to my husband or give him a kiss for all his hard work in the office enabling me to be a stay at home mum, but because seeing him walk through the door means he can assist me in looking after Jonas, or sorting bits in the kitchen, or putting Jonas on the potty for the 20th time that day, or just lending a helping hand. Just doing anything which enables me a couple of minutes to breathe and have some time off from being a ‘mummy on duty’. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mummy, but I think most mummies will understand, some days it is relentless and there is such freedom in being ‘off duty’ for even 5 minutes.

As I started writing this post, I was going to write about juggling things in motherhood, something I’m sure I will write about soon, but as I started typing I realised something. Sometimes, and probably often, my focus in my day is so much on my son, and my long list of chores or jobs to achieve, that I forget something equally as important. I forget something that was here before any of these ‘to do’s’ or ‘priorities’, I forget my marriage. I forget to give myself to my husband.

I spend so much of my day giving my best to my son, that when Alan walks in the door and we go through the strict paces of the dinner/bedtime routine for Jonas, there is very little of my best left to give.

By the time 7pm on a good day, or 8pm on a not so good day comes, and Jonas is asleep in his cot, this mummy is knackered. Desperate for some me time, just to do something other than give of myself, longing to chill or zone out. I don’t really want to hear about his day, because surely it can’t compare to the importance of him needing to hear about the events of our day, the laughs, the new developments, the tears or tantrums, the accidents or successes of potty training, surely my husband’s tale of the day can’t compare to this, right?

As I type this I am reminded of something one of my close friends once said:

Our husbands were there before we had kids and they will still be there after.

I guess the state of our marriage will be dependant upon the attention we give it during these years when it’s hard to give again when we have done so all day.

I think this will probably be a challenge for a lot of mums, especially in those early years when our little ones are so dependant on us. We can feel like we have literally given so much that we have emptied ourself of all energy, that there is none left to find.

If this resonates with you, I challenge you, like I challenge myself, to remember the one that was there first. To remember our husbands who have given us these precious children. And on those days when we literally feel like we have given above and beyond for our babies, to somehow muster up something else, to give to our husbands. To remember that when they walk in the door, although you may feel desperate for them to help, to take time to give them a kiss. Or when you feel like you have to tell them the events of the day because you haven’t had any other adult conversation within the last 4 hours, to remember, maybe they want to share their days events with you first. And when you hand them a list of ‘to do’s’, perhaps stop to think what this type of welcome might feel like to them as they step in the front door. Perhaps think that they may have had their own challenges or stress that day, and they may need a breather too.

And then remember this: we give to our children firstly because we love them, but also because we are investing in their lives. Don’t allow yourself to lose your love for your husband, but on the days that maybe you don’t feel it because you are so exhausted, remember you are investing in them too. Investing in your marriage, and when your babies have grown up, and flown the nest, your husband will still be there. And the success of our relationship will depend on what we put in now and how much we give to them now.

If this seems impossible, because you can’t possibly think of anyone else other than your little bundle of joy that is also a bundle of a lot of hard work, ask God for help. Ask Him for strength. Ask Him to show you little ways you can bless your husband, or help you to organise things so you have more time. Because the same is true of our children and our husbands; what we put in in the early years, most definitely affects what we get out in the later years.

Decide that what you get out of your marriage in years to come will be good!

Me-and-My-Boy-150x150My name’s Kate. Two and a half years ago I became a mummy. My life massively changed! I left my career, fell madly in love and started the biggest learning curve of my life. I have learnt many things since then but the biggest by far is that by the grace of God all things are possible. God has given me wisdom when I’ve needed answers, given me strength when I’ve been overwhelmed and given me capacity beyond my natural ability. I write a blog because honestly some days we all need something to read where we can find hope, encouragement or just a space to hear, it’s normal! You can find it here: Making Space.

Their Dreams, His Agenda: God’s Plans And Purposes For Your Children

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Today, please welcome guest author Sarah Francis Martin from Live it Out, as she shares about God’s plans and purposes for your children and how to help them walk in it.

God’s Plans And Purposes For Your ChildrenFrom the back seat I heard my son emphatically declare, “Mom, I have an idea…” The tone of his voice told me that he had been marinating on this idea for the better part of the day.

Gearing myself up for a good parenting moment at the steering wheel driving home from school, I inquired about this great idea.

My six year old: When I grow up I’m moving to New York City. Yeah. That’s what I’m going to do.

Me: Oh yeah? Well, you know that’s a big city and you have to work hard to be able to live there.

My six year old: Ok! I will do what Daddy does, you know, make money. I’m gonna work hard and make money and buy legos!

Me: Well, sounds like you have it all figured out.

My six year old: Yep, pretty much.

As I recount this conversation I remember that my initial inclination upon receiving this “big news” was to guide my son along in this “big” life decision with a real, honest look at it.

I was tempted to almost squelch this dream with questions of practicalities:

What job will you have?

Will you make enough money?

Will you thrive in a big city?

We live in a small town, and I know the allure of a big city with exciting tall skyscrapers drove this declared life path of my six year old.

Over the past year I’ve been marinating on the topics of dreaming, life paths, and purposes. The idea of seeking after God and His presence in my life parallels with the topic of purpose and dreaming. How do we marry the two in order to make a difference with our lives and find satisfaction in God and His agenda? How does taking our place in God’s kingdom allow us to find this ultimate satisfaction?

As I’ve taken more of an adult perspective on this weighty topic, the “big idea” conversation with my son caused me to look at it from a different angle.

Facilitate God’s Dreams And Purposes In The Lives Of Your Children

The following excerpt from my book Just RISE UP!: A Call To Make Jesus Famous speaks to our interactions with our kids about their dreams and purpose. It takes a perspective of the individual, adult nature. But, as I’m circling back to this material myself, I find that it applies to my interaction with my six year old dreamer as well.

There’s a verse that I’ve read in passing before and probably even doodled on a note to a friend as a means of encouragement to her. God reminds us of His Word at just the right times for encouragement. I’ve got this heaviness on my heart in my own journey to rise up, as I want to be used by God. He has planted dreams in my heart, but doors have yet to open to allow me to fully walk through and live these dreams out. I hide ideas and plans in my heart, often checking to make sure they came from the Lord and not from my own fancies. If you don’t quite identify with this, know that it is okay. But if the idea of joining God in His kingdom work and making Him famous gets your heart pumping, that means the Lord is working in you and through you.

Here’s that verse: I am confident that the Creator, who has begun such a great work among you, will not stop in mid-design but will keep perfecting you until the day Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, returns to redeem the world. (Philippians 1:6 THE VOICE)

This great work God is doing in our lives starts with the work God does inside our hearts and minds. The word work is appropriate in my opinion as I imagine Jesus using His gardening tools while digging up roots of pride and jealousy in my heart, patting down fresh soil of trust and peace, watering my God-given talents. And if we believe Scripture, He will continue to toil, root out, plant afresh, and grow beautiful blooms in my life and yours—blooms that will RISE UP! and flourish. Even a novice gardener like me knows that before a plant comes to full bloom time, care, pruning, watering, and sunlight are in order.

Excerpt from Just Rise Up! by Sarah Francis Martin. Download a FREE Chapter from all three new Inscribed Studies Here. (No email required)

We have the privilege of working alongside the Lord to care, prune, and water our children’s life purpose. Just as we take care to nourish their bodies and minds, we can start today to nourish their souls and guide them to seek after God in all aspects of their lives.

As it is a process in our own lives, this endeavor won’t come to full bloom for some years in our child’s life. But there are a few key things to keep in mind along the journey.

Model An Attitude of Kingdom Perspective

We all know that our children are like sponges, soaking in even minute details from their environments.

My husband and I have started to become more intentional in sharing details of what we do as a family and as individuals to serve the Lord. We have learned the importance of taking time to explain on a six year old level why our family gives money to this ministry, or why mommy wrote that book about Jesus. Life gets busy and it is tempting to gloss over details like this during the rush to basketball practice!

Depending on your child’s maturity level, help them work through their own calling from God within their world. Explain how God uses them to be a sweet friend to the new girl at school. Or how they share the love of Jesus when they stand up to a bully on the playground on behalf of another kid. It’s neat to think and pray together about how God works in their lives at such a young age.

Nurture Your Child’s God-Given Talents

I love exploring my child’s gifts and talents and characteristics. It’s important that we spend time in prayer asking God for wisdom to best facilitate these gifts and talents.

How do we accentuate them and draw them out?

How do we express to our child that God blesses them with unique and individual gifts and talents that only they can fulfill?

Be The Soft Place To Land

This is one that I constantly have to remember: to allow space for dreaming and planning. I think this is best achieved when we help our child work through these dreams and plans in their own prayer lives.

If our child trusts us with their “big ideas” knowing that we won’t let practicalities squelch their passion, they will see that their Father God is the ultimate safe place as well. When we seek after the Lord, knowing we can trust Him, we become more in tune to where He is moving in our lives. Our hearts become open to following that path which will be fruitful and fulfilling. Walking with our children in this lifelong process can be exciting.

Several weeks after my six year old made his big city declaration, we sat together as a family watching the popular show American Ninja Warrior––a favorite in many households with boys. As we cheered on the men and women and heard their stories of hard work to get where they are in this physical competition, I could almost see the little cogs turning in my son’s mind. Another declaration burst out from his mouth, “I’ve changed my mind. I’m moving THERE.”

Before I could explain that he would have to train hard and sacrifice much physically to attain this goal, I let that practicality go for the moment. In the lives of our children, dreams and fancies transform and bloom. But it is God’s plan and His kingdom that never changes.

As long as our children take a stand on this firm foundation, they can not go wrong in their life purpose.

Sarah Francis MartinSarah Francis Martin is a wife, mother, friend, mentor, author and wanna be artist. She has a passion to ignite this generation to get up off the couch of complacency and do life differently for God’s kingdom. When she is not typing away at her laptop, you can often find Sarah on date nights with her husband, rough housing with her young son, or getting her hands messy with craft paint. She is the author of Just RISE UP!: A Call To Make Jesus Famous

Wifey Wednesday: Why to Work Out as a Couple

Workout as a CoupleIt’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! Today welcome Jenn Faulk, who is sharing the life-changing effects and benefits that working out as a couple has had on her marriage. At the end, Jenn has a special gift for all my readers!

Four years ago, my husband was told that he needed to get fit… or else.

It was a doomsday diagnosis for us, a young pastor and his homemaker wife struggling to make a difference at a very difficult church. Stress levels were high but not nearly as high as my sweet husband’s blood pressure. When his doctor discovered this problem during a routine checkup, he told Wes there were two options — get fit or go on medication.

Like most young pastors and their wives, we doubted we could afford the medication, so we decided to go with the other option and get in shape together. Neither one of us could run a quarter of a mile at that point, so it was with great faith, anticipation, and even a little bit of fear that we signed up for our first race (so that we had a looming deadline on the calendar to keep us accountable) and began training, one tiny step at a time.

What we learned in the process was that getting in shape together, as a team, would do a lot for our health and abundantly more for the health of our marriage.

Here are just a few of the benefits we’ve discovered in working out as a couple.

1.  It makes you better teammates, on and off the pavement.

Communication is crucial in marriage, but it’s so easy to fall into patterns where we don’t adequately express ourselves or completely listen either one. In putting together a plan to work out together and actually making it happen, you’ll find that you’re more deliberate and intentional about communicating. I know that I’m never more communicative than when we’re eighteen miles into a race and I feel like dying. The freedom I feel at that point to say all kinds of things to Wes (some good, some not) honestly carries over to real life, where mundane tasks sometimes lull us into a routine that strangles real communication. Because we’ve learned to express ourselves in cheering one another on and supporting each other through physical challenges, we’re better able to keep our communication open in our everyday lives.

2.  It gives you goals to work towards together.

Remember when you first married and you had crazy dreams of all you’d do together? Everyday life and the routines we find ourselves in can sometimes rob our marriages of this wonderful practice. By tackling a fitness goal together, you’ll find yourselves dreaming big again! That first race we put on our calendar years ago gave us a definite goal to work towards together. It was such a blessing to us to have this common ground to keep coming back to and looking towards, even when life was, at time, difficult and challenging. As you work together to meet your goal, you’ll go through tough situations, challenging times, and celebrations. This only makes you better prepared for the very same experiences you’ll have in life as well.

3.  It gives you more time with one another.

When we started running, we had two preschool-aged children who sounded more like thirty preschool-aged children when they got worked up. (More like thirty wild chimpanzees. True story.) Time together where we could have coherent thoughts much less conversation was a challenge, but we loaded our girls up in a double jogging stroller packed with sippy cups, snacks, and toys and fought for those precious few minutes where we could run together. Now that our girls are older and more self-sufficient, life is still crazy busy, and the time we get to work out is sometimes the only time we get to be alone together. We guard it jealously and can honestly attest to how those miles covered side by side have been foundational in our marriage. That time alone together, even now, away from the demands of a busy home and the responsibilities that come with it, is priceless. (And the weekend trips away to go and run a race out of town, while the grandparents watch the girls? Bliss!)

4.  It makes the bedroom more exciting.

Speaking of those trips away (ahem), getting fit together makes for an all around boost in intimacy. If Wes had known this, he’d have gotten us into running much earlier, honestly. The confidence that comes with being in shape combined with the endurance that results from pushing your limits physically… well, need I say more?

5. It gives you another opportunity to glorify God together.

When we take the time to take care of our bodies as God calls us to do, we’re better equipped to serve Him. Getting in shape and adopting a healthier lifestyle alongside your husband benefits your health and his individually, making it far more likely that you’ll have more quality, healthful years ahead with which to serve Christ. We pray for daily health and strength to give back to Him as an offering, and staying in shape together has made it possible for us to do more than we could have imagined we’d be able to do this far into our ministry together.

This past year, Wes and I celebrated ten years of marriage by running our tenth marathon together.

One of the sweetest times of our marriage thus far has most definitely been the time we’ve spent running together, working towards better health alongside one another, putting our minds and hearts to a shared goal, and celebrating every finish line hand in hand.

In this season of fresh starts and new resolutions, let me encourage you to consider beginning to dream about, work towards, and meet fitness goals with your husband. It doesn’t have to be something huge to count. Start where you are and do what you can do, trusting that the effort you put into it will be of great gain down the road for your health, your life, and your marriage.

ResolutionsAs a special gift for all To Love, Honor and Vacuum readers.  She is offering her book Resolutions FREE on Kindle for January 14, 2015 only!

Check out her Amazon book page for other books Jenn has written, too.

Jenn FaulkJenn Faulk is a full time mom and pastor’s wife in Pasadena, Texas.  She has a BA in English-Creative Writing from the University of Houston and an MA in Missiology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  She loves talking about Jesus, running marathons, listening to her daughters’ stories, and serving alongside her husband in ministry.  You can contact her through her blog www.jennfaulk.com

WifeyWednesday175Now it’s your turn! Do you have some advice for us today? Link up the URL of your own marriage post in the linky below, and then remember to link back here so that other people can read these great marriage posts!

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Wifey Wednesday: Don’t Be the Christmas Doormat!

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! And today Sarah Ball, aka The Virtuous Woman Exposed, joins us talking about how you can be a non-stressed wife this Christmas–by not being a Christmas martyr!

be a non-stressed wife this christmas

Dad is sitting peacefully with his pipe by the fire, the kids are playing joyfully with their new toys, the in-laws have that 1,000 pieced puzzle mastered, and Aunt Sally and Uncle Joe dance arm in arm to “I’ll be home for Christmas.”

But wait, where’s mom?

Oh, right. She’s hyperventilating in the walk-in pantry.

“It’s just the onions,” she says with a forced smile. Come on, we all know it’s not just the onions. It’s a layer of exhaustion, trying to please everyone, a failed soufflé (do women still make these?) a critical comment from the Mother-in-law, an eye roll over paper plates from the Aunt, oh…and the one gift she received under the tree.

One hand-made candleholder made with love and painted macaroni.

She loves seeing her family happy, and nothing beats watching her children open gifts, and she knows the true meaning of Christmas. Yet she can’t help but feel a little empty; so she distracts herself with giving and serving, while telling herself she ‘is being stupid and needs to suck it up.’ She takes the freshly made bacon wrapped scallops out of the oven, waves her eyes clear of tears, inhales deeply, and joins the party. “Hungry?” She sings. They all run to the platter of savory and leave her none.

Does this sound like you? The Christmas Door Mat or The Maid of Merry Men?

How not to be a Christmas martyr in your family--and find peace once again!

If so, I am here to release you from the hard bondage in which you have been forced to serve. With a loving lecture!

STOP IT!

What if I were to tell you that the reason Jesus was born, (the reason we celebrate Christmas) was so that we could rest and receive abundant blessing? Not strain ourselves to the point of tears.

Jesus knew that women have a tendency to strive to earn favor with man and Christ. Which is why God strategically left this story of Mary and Martha, in the bible….

 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 38-41

His peace and presence is available to all, but it is up to us Martha’s to put down our apron and just be present enough to enjoy the gift of the moment.

It is perfectly acceptable to expect blessing for yourself on Christmas. It’s not selfish and it’s not sacrilegious. No one ever called you to be a Christmas Martyr. In fact when you take it upon yourself to please everyone, you are actually taking away their opportunities to be a blessing. It feels good to give. Why not let your family experience that too.

We as moms need to help our children and husband bless us. I know that this sounds selfish, and I know that the giver in you is cringing. I realize Christmas isn’t just about gifts, but gifts are a legitimate godly way of showing care for one another.

 

I drive my children, including my teenaged son, to shop for their dad and me. I drop them off at my favorite store and tell them what I don’t want.

Last year, my teenaged boy was absolutely mortified when I dropped him off at a girly accessories store. I walked him into the store and introduced him to the cashier. “My son is shopping for me, these are the things I like, and can you help him?” I asked. She looked as awkward as he did. It was a match made in retail!

“I’ll be in the car,” I said, as I walked out the door. My son, his poor face turned Rudolph red. But that face turned into a very proud grin when I opened a great pair of gloves and scarf on Christmas morning.

I just scored points with his future wife. ‘Not afraid to shop at girly stores to buy his wife great gifts.’ CHECK!

Some husbands may need the same encouragement.

My husband loves to make me happy, and to be honest he deserves more gifts around the tree this year than I do, and he spoils me. So dropping him off at the local frilly shop will be in vain. What I can give him, that in turn blesses me, is an unstressed, joyful version of me. He’s not looking for a perfected Christmas Décor, or an overstuffed brined turkey. He is looking for moments with me, moments when he has my full, happy and content, attention.

This year I have given up the family photo, the Christmas letter and even the Christmas cards. I’m going to express my needs and ask for help. I am going to serve child decorated cookies, that look like reindeer vomit and I’m going to stick to mashed potatoes, turkey and pie. Martha Stewart, you’re fired!

What can you do for yourself this Christmas?

 

Sarah BallSarah Ball is a blogger, speaker, and mother of 5 children. She is currently working on a series called Fearless in 21 days, helping men and women break free from crippling anxiety and panic. You can follow her blog at Virtuous Woman Exposed.

Sarah says, “Head on over to my Virtuous Woman Exposed Facebook Page so we can be friends! You can also find me on Pinterest and Twitter.

WifeyWednesday175Have any Christmas marriage thoughts for us? Link up the URL of one of your marriage posts in our Wifey Wednesday Linkup below! And be sure to link back here so other people can read these great posts.



Go to Your Room! Why Kids Should Hang Out in the Living Room Instead

For my column today I thought I’d rerun a Christmas column from a few years ago where I talked about computers in kids’ rooms. It goes along well with our discussion yesterday about protecting kids with all the new gadgets at Christmas!

Computers in Kids Rooms
Disciplining children is a minefield for parents today. You’re not supposed to spank. You’re not supposed to yell. So when a 13-year-old child is tormenting his 9-year-old brother, parents utter the greatest threat that’s still acceptable: “Go to your room!”

Yeah, that’ll teach him.

Here’s a kid who obviously does not want to be with the family, and, in punishment, you send him to a place where, according to the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, 50% have their own television, and another 25% have a computer. “Go to your room!” is no longer sentencing a child to hours of boredom; it’s sending a child to a place where they have access to the outside world, with no parental interference, and often no parental guidance.

Traditionally, the living room was for living; the bedroom was for sleeping. Being banished to the bedroom was harsh indeed. Today, many children prefer to cocoon in their rooms, which they’re trying to turn into entertainment central. It’s not unusual for most kids’ Christmas lists to have “electronics” highlighted right at the top. The Santa in you may be tempted to oblige. The Scrooge in me is asking you to reconsider.

After all, what happens when kids have a television in their bedroom? According to a University of Haifa study, middle schoolers with TVs in their room sleep thirty minutes less a night, on average, than children without a television. The Canadian Pediatric Society calls televisions in bedrooms one of the biggest factors in childhood obesity. These children also score lower on reading and math tests. And perhaps most importantly, they’re twice as likely to start smoking and get involved in other delinquent activities, even controlling for all other factors.

While the health and educational detriments of television are important, it’s that last one that concerns me most.

When kids have televisions and computers in their room, they are more likely to make lifestyle and moral choices that parents don’t approve of because their lives have now become more and more independent.

Kids with TVs in their rooms live in their rooms, not in the kitchen or the family room, where they can hang out with their parents. And perhaps just as importantly, they tend to live solitary lives, not lives with their siblings. If you’ve ever wondered why kids squabble so much, perhaps it’s because they aren’t forced to play together or cure boredom together. Instead, they just retreat to their rooms to be entertained on their own.

I really can’t think of anything much more destructive in a family than encouraging your child to cocoon. Kids need input from parents. They need conversation. They need meal times. They need to have fun! But we’re letting them grow up by themselves, in their wonderfully decorated rooms with every little gadget. It’s wrong.

If your lives consist mostly of gathering the children for the practical functions of life, like putting food on their plates or collecting homework or ascertaining everybody’s schedules, and then you separate during your leisure times, I doubt real conversation or sharing will happen.

If your children hang out in their own rooms, rather than in the family room with siblings, I doubt great friendships will develop.

Before you shop this Christmas, then, ask yourself: what values do you want your children to have? Do electronics in their bedrooms contribute to your vision? Probably not. So maybe the Santa in you should invest in board games for the whole family or comfortable furniture for the living room, rather than for bedrooms. Your kids may think you’ve turned into Scrooge, but they’ll be better people for it.

If your kids have gadgets, computers, or phones in their room, make sure you’ve taken steps to protect them online!

Top 10 Ways to Be a Merry Mom this Christmas

Top 10 Ways to Be a Merry Mom This Christmas
Please welcome our guest author, Lindsey Bell, who is posting with us as part of her December Blog Tour.  Today she is sharing great tips for how to be a merry mom this Christmas–words to live by every day, really .  And be sure and enter her mega- giveaway–details are at the end of this post!

Christmas is my favorite holiday, but it also has the potential to be VERY stressful. With parties to attend, goodies to bake, programs to prepare for, gifts to purchase, and cards to send, Christmas can sometimes be far from joyful.

We might say “Merry Christmas” to the checker at the grocery store, but many of us don’t always feel merry. Here are a few tips that might help!

How to Be a Merry Mom:

1. Simplify.

Most of us are on the go WAY too much. I read a book recently called Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford, and she said something in the book that stuck with me.

What she said was this: “My child cannot kiss a moving target” (23).

Our kids can’t kiss us or hug us or cuddle with us if they can’t catch us. If we’re always on the go, when will our kids have the opportunity to just BE with us?

Kids can't kiss a moving target--so slow down this Christmas season and make sure you have time to be a Merry Mom! Lindsey Bell shares how...

As much as we’d love to attend every Christmas event, there are times when it’s wiser to stay at home and be with our families.

Simplifying begins by prioritizing. Decide which events you most want to attend, and then allow the rest of fall off your calendar.

2. Begin your day well.

About six months ago, I attended The Better Together Conference put on by The MOM Initiative. At that conference, one of the speakers challenged each of us to begin our days with our faces on the ground in prayer.

I’ve been doing that since then, and my days have drastically changed.

I think the reason they have changed so much is because God is filling me up early.

Before, when my children challenged me, it was me that spilled over (me, plus a little bit of impatience, frustration, and irritability). Now, when my kids push my buttons, it’s God that spills out of me.

Because I take time each morning to have Him fill me with His presence, it’s His Spirit that seeps out of me throughout the day.

3. Work on your marriage.

When our marriages are strong, we are happier people.

As much as we’d like to believe living in an unhealthy marriage doesn’t affect our moods, that’s not reality. Happy marriages make happy people; unhappy marriages make unhappy people.

Take time this week to work on your marriage. Buy a marriage book to read together. Have a date night. Have sex with your spouse. Pray together.  

4. Count your blessings.

Many of us mistakenly assume we have to feel thankful to voice thanksgiving.

We don’t.

Instead, it’s often the voicing of thanks that creates the feelings of thanksgiving.

In other words, if you take time to count your blessings, you will grow more thankful. You’ll begin noticing more blessings in your life. Your focus will gradually shift off the hard things in your life to the blessings instead.

5. Take care of yourself.

A happy mom is a mom who takes care of herself. Sure, there are seasons in our lives when we can’t get a full night’s sleep. There are seasons we can exercise every day.

But do your best to take care of you. Eat well. Exercise regularly. Rest as much as your little ones will allow.

6. Get away from time to time.

Nothing makes you adore your little ones more than being away from them occasionally, so if you’re able, go on vacation with your spouse, go on regularly dates, take time to yourself, and don’t feel bad about doing it.

7. Stop comparing your life to the lives of others.

Steven Furtick once said, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

Stop comparing your life to the lives of those around you. Sure, their life might look great on Facebook or Pinterest. But you’re not in their home everyday.

The key to happiness is to stop looking outside your surroundings to find it.

8. Laugh and smile more.

Laughter is good for the body, mind, and soul, so choose to laugh more. Instead of getting angry when everything goes wrong of a morning, choose to laugh instead.

When your holiday plans don’t turn out as you expected, choose to smile and laugh instead of blow up in anger.

9. Do something you love.

Writing has always been something I loved. When my son was first born, though, I thought I needed to put my writing aside until my kids were grown.

I’m so thankful my husband told me to write then instead of waiting until later.

When moms use their gifts, talents, and abilities, they’re happier women…And when we’re happier women, we’re happier moms.

Granted, there are certainly seasons when I can’t write as much. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do it at all.

10. Be present.

It’s tempting—especially on the hard days—to escape with my phone…to log into Facebook or Pinterest and only be half-there with my children.

What happens when I do this is that I stop enjoying my kids.

It’s only when I’m fully present that I fully enjoy my life. My guess is, I’m not the only one.

So if you want to be a merry mom this Christmas, choose to be with the ones you’re with.

What other tips would you add to this list?

 

This post is part of Lindsey Bell’s December blog tour. To enter to win Lindsey’s MEGA-GIVEAWAY (the winner will receive 6 books!), leave a comment on any of Lindsey’s guest posts this month (including this one).

Enter to win

For a full list of participating blogs (and ways to enter!) visit this post on Lindsey’s blog.

About Lindsey Bell:

Lindsey BellLindsey Bell is the author of Searching for Sanity: 52 Insights from the Parents of the Bible. She’s also a stay-at-home mother of two, minister’s wife, avid reader, and chocolate lover. You can find Lindsey online at any of the following locations:

Her blog: www.lindsey-bell.com

Her website: www.lindseymbell.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/LindseyMBell

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorLindseyBell

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/LindseyMBell01

 


Searching for SanityAbout Searching for Sanity:

Have you ever looked at your beloved children and wondered, what in the world am I doing? Why did God trust me—of all people—to raise them?

Motherhood is the most difficult job many of us will ever take. Searching for Sanity offers moms an opportunity to take a breath, dig into the Word, and learn from parents of the past. In short devotions designed for busy moms, this book uses the parents of the Bible—both the good and the bad—to inspire today’s mothers.

You can pick up a copy today at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Reader Question: Should You Wait Until You Finish College for a Relationship?

Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today’s comes from a college-aged friend of my oldest daughter Rebecca. Should you wait until you finish college to have a relationship–or to marry?

This is a question that’s rather emotional to me, because both Rebecca and myself dated men who felt this way–and eventually ended it. Both of us were just starting relationships early in university, and those men, who genuinely liked if not loved us, decided that they didn’t want to pursue a relationship because school was more important.

In retrospect, we’re both glad, even though it hurt horribly at the time, because I got my amazing husband and Rebecca is now in a serious relationship. But that man that I would have married in a heartbeat has now been divorced at least once, and the man Rebecca would likely have married is now alone.

I am not saying that we are the ones who caused these men’s heartache–as if, had they chosen us instead, they’d be happy now. I actually think that this idea they both had that school came first was the main cause of their current predicament–not that they lost us in particular. So let me share my reader’s question, and then I’ll look at it from several angles: the young woman; the young man; and the parents of that young man.

I’ve been best friends with a guy from my church for years, and lately I’ve been interested in him for an actual relationship. We went on a few dates, but then out of the blue he told me that he didn’t want to keep seeing me because he doesn’t want a relationship until he’s finished medical school–and he hasn’t even started yet! Do I let him go? And if so, how?

I’m going to answer that by talking mostly to the guy in this scenario, so here goes:

Should you wait until college is over to pursue a relationship? Some thoughts on why that can backfire.

Priorities Follow You–if you prioritize work above all early, you will prioritize it later too

Rebecca and I were chatting about this question yesterday, and she said an insightful thing: “in marriage you have to deal with personality differences and family of origin differences and differences in expectations, but these can all be overcome if you share two important things: you both love God, and you both feel the relationship comes first.” And she’s right. If you both love God and you both value the relationship, you can work through anything else.

But here’s what happens to many people when they approach school: They think, I have made certain goals for my life academically and career-wise. And I can’t afford to have anything distracting me from my goals.

There’s a problem with that line of thinking, and it goes like this: If you decide that the main focus for your life will be your career, then the main focus of your life WILL BE YOUR CAREER. It will not automatically change once you graduate. Essentially you’re saying: I need to concentrate on my real life now, and when I am ready I will add a wife and children (or a husband and children, if the roles are reversed). And that’s the problem: you’re ADDING the wife to your life; she is not the central focus of it. You have compartmentalized your life, and you likely will continue to do so. It will be very difficult to all of a sudden do a 180 and then start thinking of your wife, and here’s why:

Life Does Not Get Any Easier After College is Over

This essentially is the biggest misconception people make about relationships and college. They’re so focused on reaching their goal–whether it’s becoming a doctor or getting that Ph.D. or whatever–that they think that once this is over I can start to live my real life.

But let me tell you: I have been married to a physician all during his training (including medical school and residency), and I have done postgraduate work myself. And while there is a unique kind of stress to school, there is stress at every stage of life. Every single stage. And it doesn’t get easier.

If you train yourself that your way of handling stress is to be alone and buckle down and get it done, then that is also the way you will handle stress when you are married. If you think you have no time for a relationship now, you will have no time for a relationship later, either–even if you do marry. Everything in life is about priorities. And deciding that a relationship is a lower priority now is also toxic to a marriage later. Those who prioritize school now are far more likely to become workaholics and have distant marriages later. Which leads me to this thought:

Don’t Underestimate the Asset that a Relationship Can Be During College

I grew up without my dad. I endured my mother and my step-father splitting up at a very vulnerable age for me (14). My son died.

But with all that, I can tell you that the thing that took the worst toll on me is the fact that my now-husband initially broke off our engagement. For three months I was alone, thinking that relationship wouldn’t work, until he came back and we started again.

Why do I share that? Because as terrible as the death of my son was, I could deal with it because I was in a good marriage. Being married strengthened me; being alone shattered me. I learned a lot from that period of my life; it was a spiritual turning point, and God used it for good. But looking back, I also know that one reason God gave us a marriage partner is so that we don’t have to take the storms of life alone. Having someone to walk through the hard times with you is a tremendous boon.

I was married during some of Keith’s hard struggles with school. Medical school was awful for him; he’s an outgoing, energetic, kind person, and having to do extreme bookwork for two years with professors constantly talking down to you was debilitating. He almost quit, and he often says that he would have had it not been for me encouraging him and telling him that being a doctor would be completely different from being a medical student. If he could just get through this, he could get through anything.

And the sex didn’t hurt, either.

Seriously. Sex is a great stress reliever!

So here’s the thing as a student: you’re going to go through stress anyway. It’s going to be a lot of work. So you can choose to go through it alone, or you can say, “if God brings me someone, I’ll really consider it.”

There is a degree of pride in saying “I can do it on my own better.” God made us for relationship.

God’s Agenda is Not Always Our Agenda

I’m a goal-oriented person, and so I can understand being so focused on an academic goal that you decide that relationships have to wait. But I don’t think this is a wise spiritual decision.

You may have the best plan in the world–but that’s all it is. It is a plan of your own making. Do not EVER become so wedded to your own plans that you miss out on what God has for you. Keep open to the Spirit. Keep open to new things. Keep open to changing your plans. If your plans become your life, then you are cutting God out and you are standing in His place, and that’s pride. It may seem like it’s selfless–I don’t want to get into a relationship with someone when I know how much I will have to work to get through this degree, and so I’m sacrificing my own happiness for the sake of the person I may end up hurting–but it’s really pursuing your own goals no matter what.

For some people that may be what God has for them. But in my own life, every time I have thought I had a really great plan God has changed it. The people that I see who are miserable today or not living up to their potential tend to be people who have pursued their own plans. Be careful.

A Quality, God-Fearing Spouse is Not Easy to Find

Many people who delay relationships for school figure that they will meet someone wonderful later. They may even see this as an act of faith–believing that God would bring someone else when they had made themselves ready. (And if God has honestly told you to wait, it likely is an act of faith. But save a word from God, I’d just be very careful.)

God does not work on our timetable. And if you find someone that you respect and admire and get along with easily and laugh together who also loves God–do not give that up lightly.

Break Up Because the Relationship Won’t Work, Not Because the Timing Won’t Work

If you end something, it should be because God has shown you the person won’t work. Timing isn’t a deal-breaker; it’s an obstacle, that’s all. Jacob had to work fourteen years for Rachel in the Old Testament story, but he didn’t abandon her just because of timing. “A wife of noble character is hard to find”–as is a husband of noble character. Don’t shut a door that you don’t know will open again. That may feel like an act of faith, but from what I’ve seen, it’s more likely that you’re substituting your own plans for God’s plans.

But What About Money to Support a Spouse?

After all, if you marry, shouldn’t you be able to support someone? Isn’t that a legitimate reason to wait?

It may be a legitimate reason to wait to marry; but I don’t think it’s a legitimate reason to wait to have a relationship.

First, if you’re living off of student loans and part-time jobs to put yourself through school, chances are it’s cheaper to be married and live in one household anyway, so money shouldn’t really be a factor in that case. When Keith and I married we saved money, and because we were married we also qualified for more government assistance because they stopped taking our parents’ income into account.

But what if you’re going through school on your parents’ dime? Here’s where parents need to enter the conversation. With our daughters, we are paying a certain percentage of their undergraduate costs (once you’re in grad school you can earn your own way). We have always decided to do that, and it doesn’t change if they marry. So they don’t get cut off from support for school just because they marry.

Last Words to the Young Woman:

To the woman who asked this question, you need to move on and run far away from this guy. If he can’t prioritize you now, he would not be able to prioritize you if you ever married, either. Run close to God, and God will fill the gaping hole you’re feeling right now. And God will bring someone into your life who WILL prioritize you–don’t ever settle for less.

Last Words to the Young Man:

I do understand how important school is. I understand the urge not to pursue a relationship because everything is so up in the air, and you don’t feel you have the time to dedicate to a relationship right now. If no young woman presents herself, then this may honestly be okay. But be careful of ending a potential relationship with a great young woman over timing, because the timing will never get better. And ask yourself this: in twenty years, what do I want most? A great career, or a great marriage and family? If the answer is “a great career”, then you likely should remain single always. That isn’t fair to a spouse. And if the answer is “a great marriage and family”, then that doesn’t happen automatically.

You can’t wall yourself off from people now and expect to be able to prioritize them later. Tread carefully; listen to God’s voice; and keep your eyes open.

Last Words to the Parents:

We live in an age where we value status and career almost over everything else. This is a mistake. The most important aspect of your child’s life will be the legacy he or she leaves behind. For some of us, that will be about career, but for most of us, it’s about family. And family often speaks more to character than anything else. Don’t push your child away from relationships in college, because that’s giving the wrong message about what’s really important in life.

You may also like: Top 10 Reasons to Marry Young

And now, let me know: what do you think? Can and should college and relationships be combined? Leave me a comment and tell me your experiences!

 

 

 

My 3 Gifts of Christmas

Yesterday, I mentioned my 3 Gifts of Christmas, so I thought I would re-run it, in case you missed it previously. This column is a special one to me. For the last few years I’ve mentioned our method of gift giving, and inevitably people come up to me on the street, months later, telling me how much they appreciated it. Perhaps it will be something that will bless you, as well!

My Three Gifts of ChristmasApparently I buy really lousy Christmas presents. I had always mildly suspected my shortcomings, but recently economist Joel Waldfogel confirmed them. In his book Scroogenomics, he showed rather indisputably that if you ask Christmas gift recipients to assign a value to the gifts they receive, they inevitably quote a number less than the actual cost, leading to a waste of $963 million a year in Canada. And the gifts that are valued the least? Those from aunts, uncles, and grandparents, who apparently only get 75 cents of perceived value for every dollar spent.

I do have trouble buying for the nieces and nephews and various other younger people in my life. I don’t always share the same interests, and being the incorrigible aunt that I am, I refuse to pander to hobbies that don’t suit me. Instead, like many millions of aunts and grandparents and in-laws all over this nation, I buy something lousy instead. My preference is always books. Unfortunately, most younger Canadians don’t share my passion, and thus they consider these types of gifts with about the same amount of affection that I consider most X-box games. And thus we reach the gift-giving impasse.

One of my nephews announced rather brazenly that this year he’d rather just have cash. Doling out money, though, seems so crass. If gift giving is going to degenerate into passing along cash and gift cards, then Christmas becomes a season of greed, rather than a time to express our love.

Nevertheless, Waldfogel’s news isn’t all bad. We actually do quite well on certain gifts. The closer we are to people, the better the gift giving becomes. Siblings value gifts at about 99% of their value, and spouses do even better, at about $1.02. I’m pretty sure my children tend to like their gifts from me, as well.

Even if I buy my girls good gifts, though, is that really the point of the season? According to most of the seasonal flyers that pass through our mail slots it certainly is. Shoppers’ Drug Mart, for instance, in their 36 page “Gifts Made Easy” flyer managed to talk about the “Top 10 Gifts They’ll Love” (though I’m sure my nieces and nephews wouldn’t like those either), and lots of things to “Rock your Holiday”, or go “Twinkle Twinkle”, while only mentioning the Christmas word three times.

If Christmas is only about gifts, then we are in trouble.

It has become a big waste, whether we’re successful gift givers or not, because all we’re doing is breeding greed. I know it’s difficult when children are young and they desperately want the latest toy, but parenting is about identifying teaching opportunities, and I think this is one of them. Life is not about accumulating stuff with as little work as possible; life needs to be about giving, about making a difference, about family, and values, and faith, and love, or life becomes very empty indeed.

That’s why several years ago we started a new gift giving tradition with my children.

We call it the “Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh” ritual, where they each get three gifts, and nothing more. The gold gift is something they want. The frankincense gift is something they need, like socks. And the myrrh gift is something to nurture their souls. It could be a journal, or a book, or a CD, or a movie. It’s something that reminds them of their purpose here on earth, or encourages them to think, to write, and to pray about what’s important. It’s always the biggest challenge to find such a thing, but it’s a challenge I’m up for, since it reminds us of the reason for the season. And I’m pretty sure, despite what the flyers might say, that reason should not be greed. Pass it on.

Need to come up with ideas for “myrrh” gifts–Christmas gifts to nurture the soul? I’ve got a whole bunch, divided by age and gender, right here!

The Lulu Tree, Christmas Giving, and How One Blogger Made a Difference

Today lean in close, as author Emily T. Wierenga shares a story about The Lulu Tree, which will mark and change your life.  Engage her story and respond. It may change countless lives.

I never planned to start a non-profit.

But then again, I didn’t plan to fall in love, either.

It happened on a bloggers’ trip to Uganda this past winter. I fell in love with a third world country. I fell in love with an ebony people, with the red dirt roads and the lush green of banana trees, with barefoot mamas bearing babies on their backs and yellow water jugs on their heads, with daughters balancing more water behind them. I fell in love with the cows lying in the middle of intersections, with the chickens and the dogs and the smell of plantain and a world that lived outside—because there was nothing inside except dirt floors covered in thin mattresses or burlap sacks for sleeping. They cooked, swept, washed dishes and did the laundry together, as a community.

They had nothing to hide.

How Your Christmas Shopping Can Save a Ugandan Mother-- The Lulu Tree

We took a charter plane to Gulu to meet former child soldiers who were picking up the pieces of their ravaged past and becoming seamstresses and mechanics, and I couldn’t stop hugging them, trying somehow to relieve the horrors of the past.

We flew back to Kampala and visited the slum of Katwe. Alleys full of garbage and children with bare, distended bellies and I walked down those alleys, shook the hands of mothers bent over dirty buckets of water, mothers whose eyes held a thousand sleepless nights.

I bent low and picked up as many tiny children as possible, kissed their thin cheeks and felt the emptiness of their future.

The Lulu Tree

We traveled by van to a nearby village, then, to a children’s home, where I met my sponsor child.

And I met his mother.

She’d walked for four hours just to meet me.

Her soles were red from Uganda’s earth and she didn’t break a sweat in the high heat. Her eyes shone but she lowered them, looked at her sandals, even as I reached out a hand to touch her shoulder, and I could feel the strength in this peasant farmer’s arm.

She’d lost her husband just weeks earlier to HIV/Aids, an illness people still talk about in hushed tones because of the shame associated with it.

She’d lost her children long before that to this home I was visiting—because she had a sick husband to care for and a farm that wasn’t bringing in money and no way to feed her sons or daughters.

Uganda - The Lulu Tree

And here I was, able to pay for her kids’ clothes and education while she wasn’t. And not because I worked harder. No, she worked sun-up to sundown and had callouses across her hands and feet. No, it was because I came from a first class country overflowing with food and privilege while the rest of the world is forced to feed from our trash cans.

I smiled at her, but I felt sick.

I am a mother. Every night I walk into my boys’ room and ache for them lying there in their beds, because I cannot eliminate the pain they will encounter in life. I cannot imagine how humbling, or humiliating, it would be, to have to ask someone else to take care of my children. To not be able to give them food or water, to not be able to keep them under your own roof-and THEN, to walk four hours to meet the woman who can?

This woman (me) who flies over in her airplane with her suitcase full of clothes and her bag full of lipstick and her wallet full of money, and says it’s all in the name of Jesus—a God this farmer worships more reverently each day than I ever have in my life?

Our Father weeps. He anguishes over every single mother—because there are hundreds of thousands of them across Africa in the same situation—who has to lose her child, who cannot take care of her children.

And friends? He’s asking us to do something about it.

Do Something About the Lulu Tree

Sponsoring a child is good, don’t get me wrong. I sponsor as many children as I am able.

But standing there with this beautiful woman in her brown hat and her downcast gaze, her son’s eyes shining as he looked at me, I thought, No. Enough. There has to be more.

I want this son to look at his MOTHER with adoration, not me—a stranger.

I want him to look at HER to provide his needs, not me—an outsider who didn’t birth him without an epidural, who didn’t weep and pray over him every night of his childhood, who didn’t spend every minute of every day trying to earn enough money to buy him a bowl of Matoke (cooked banana) so he wouldn’t starve to death.

Upon returning home to Canada, I spent months falling on my knees after my family went to bed. I would bow low on the carpet in front of the wood stove and cry.

I kept seeing those HIV-positive babies lying in the dirt crying for mothers who won’t come because they’re dead. Those teenage boys sniffing glue to numb their hunger pains. Those grandmothers working 20-hour days to find enough food for their dead daughter’s children who lay on the ground while chickens defecate around them.

I didn’t start a non-profit to help mothers in the slum of Katwe because I felt guilty. I just knew that my life could not be the same, because once God opens your eyes to people’s suffering, you become responsible. I could no longer pretend I hadn’t seen. I could no longer pretend everyone in the world lived as I did. I knew better. And it had wrecked me.

Our vision at The Lulu Tree is to work with widowed, HIV mothers in the slum of Katwe, Uganda (the worst of Kampala’s eight slums), equipping them to be care for their kids. Our slogan is Preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers.

Lofty, I know. But you have to dream big, right? Shoot for the moon and you’ll land somewhere among the stars?

So we’re shooting for the moon.

Uganda Mother The Lulu TreeYet it’s taken reading countless books like When Helping Hurts, The Blue Sweater, and The Hole in Our Gospel; it’s taken talking to numerous other non-profit organizations and thinking I had a plan and then realizing my plan was wrong; it’s taken trying to do things on my own and then realizing I needed to hire nationals who had a heart for their people, who lived there, who understood things like not giving the mamas too much sponsorship money or it would steal their instinct to survive—it’s taken all of this to realize, again, that it’s not about me doing something for them. It’s about us working with each other, for God. It’s about us doing laundry, and life, together—outside, under the sun, in view of everyone else, because we’ve got nothing to hide.

I’m no one special, friends. I just have a heart, as do you. If we allow God to use our hearts—if we allow His love to define us, to shape us, and to overflow through us—He can change the world.

preventing tomorrows orphans The LuluTree

(Will you consider partnering with us today friends? The Lulu Tree is a fledgling organization which survives off the generosity of people like you. We carry some beautiful products, made by local mamas, in our Lulu Tree Boutique. One hundred percent of the profits from these products go towards the women we’re helping in Katwe, Uganda. Quilts, baby boots, knitted toques, accessories, dolls, and more—they make for trendy Christmas gifts that carry a purpose. Visit HERE to peruse our shop—and note, FREE shipping with every purchase! You can also sponsor a mama, HERE. If you’d like to partner with us in another way, we’d love to hear from you. Just contact us using our website, and we’ll be sure to connect with you as soon as possible. Bless you, sisters, as you wrap your arms around a hurting world.)

 

*Photos by Allyn Lyttle of the World Help Organization

Emily T. WierengaAtlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to LookEmily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, and the author of five books including the memoir Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). All proceeds from Atlas Girl benefit Emily’s non-profit, The Lulu Tree. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit www.emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.