Practicing Contentment

Look at this face of contentment!

It's the 30th and I've been mulling over this post for most of January. You might have heard of choosing a word for your year rather than making resolutions that you intend (or not?) to keep. Supposedly this woman started all of this in 2009. Forgive me for not hearing of her until I googled "Word of the Year" this morning. She's a little too floaty-outer-spacey for me. You can even download her tool for finding your official word if that's your sort of thing. I guess I'm the last one on the train for this movement, huh?

I've been thinking a lot this month about what God has been working out in me since Zoë was born. Many words come to mind: patience, surrender, joy, contentment.

I've always loved this verse:

I am not saying this because I am in need, 
for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 
Philippians 4:11, NIV

I loved it because it was a good reminder of what matters. This verse has always been a nudge in my side to remember what counts in this world. What counts isn't things. It isn't accomplishments or recognition. It isn't having a house that belongs in the Pottery Barn catalog. It isn't even people or community. When life seemed not be going the way I planned it to, I would think of this verse and remind myself to be content.

This season of my life has been different and I've struggled with feeling content. Some days I am. Some days I'm not, and those days I'm acutely aware of my need to be. I read this verse again one day recently and something stuck out to me.

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 

Not I am content, but I have learned to be content. There's a difference here. The addition of the word "learned" implies a process. The author isn't saying that contentment was something he always had. To the contrary, it's something he had to learn.

Right now I'm teaching myself how to sew. Nothing I create turns out perfect. I've had to rip out stitches and seams from every single project. And while I want my sewing skills to be better than they are, I know that they won't get better unless I practice and push through the hard parts of the projects (and use Google to figure out what overstitching means.) But of course each project is a little easier, because I've practiced.

Why can't I wrap my mind around the fact that living a life of faith also takes practice? Contentment takes practice. Humility takes practice. Putting others' needs before my own takes practice. Joy takes practice. Each day is a little easier, because I'm practicing all these things.

In 2012, I plan to practice contentment. What's your word this year?


What marriage should look like

When I was in college, there was a professor teaching in the Biblical Studies department named Jim Walters. I didn't actually take one of his classes, but we all knew him and looked up to him. His wife, Lynda, was diagnosed with MS in 1977. We all watched as he took care of her and loved her completely. She went to be with her Savior this past Thursday.

The article I'm linking to was written earlier this summer. Their story is an amazing one of what a marriage can look like and should look like, through sickness and health.

Absolutely worth the few minutes to read. Click here.


Nine months

Nine months old!

My first year as a teacher was marked by these qualifications: I’d taken classes on methodology and discipline, I’d learned how to organize a lesson using well-written objectives, I’d proved myself capable of keeping a group of students in line during student teaching, I’d interviewed and was offered a position. I had enthusiasm and naïveté in my corner.  I had no clue what was coming that first year. I had no idea how hard it would be to be a teacher.

Many nights I stayed late at school. Often I’d go to school on Sunday afternoons. Many times I would simply stare at my teacher’s edition, reading and rereading the lesson notes and ideas. I didn’t know where to start or how to start. Why wasn’t it easier? I’d graduated with a degree in this. I’d finally piece together a lesson, only to teach it the next day and end up with 30 extra minutes to fill at the end of the hour. Or, I’d plan a lesson and be surprised to discover it was going to take three class periods to finish. My first year of teaching was characterized by high levels of stress. I learned the hard lesson of admitting that what I was trying wasn’t working. I learned that asking for help didn’t mean that I wasn’t capable of my doing my job.

Now, as I reflect on the first nine months that I’ve been a mother, I realize that Zoë and I have made it for the length of a school year. My beginnings as a mother were marked by fewer qualifications: I’d made it to numerous doctor appointments, I’d read every chapter of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, I’d made it through labor and was sent home with a baby. Enthusiasm and  naïveté  were in my corner. I had no clue how hard it would be to be a mother.

Just as student teaching didn’t truly prepare me for teaching, reading books and being pregnant didn’t prepare me for mothering.  I’ve learned that my intelligence and enthusiasm don’t always equal a happy baby, nor does an unhappy baby mean that I’m a bad mother. I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for help, and more importantly it’s okay to need help. Just like in teaching, with mothering I've realized that you can plan all you want, you can be as prepared as you can be, you can have as much knowledge as your head will hold, and you'll still have to change your plans and learn and adapt and admit that you don't have a clue. 

Zoë, we've made it nine months! Good for us! Let's give our next "school year" our best, okay? Okay.


Why must the week start with Monday?

Have you read this book?

Yesterday was one of those days. Zoë is teething, so she is cranky and out-of- sorts. It was Monday, so I was cranky and out-of sorts. And did I mention that Zoë is teething?

I started my day with energy and a bucketful of intentions. By 9:30, the dishes from the night before had multiplied and were now the dishes from the night before plus the morning dishes plus the clean dishes from the dishwasher plus the 4 tupperware lids and three spoons I'd given Zoë to keep her occupied. My counter was full. Those that know my family know that one of our family norms is a clean kitchen. We always did the dishes after each meal. All of them. You were allowed to be finished with dish duty when the sink was empty and everything was dried and put away. This is the norm at my house perhaps half the time. Mostly because I sometimes make the choice to spend time with Nathaniel rather than do all the dishes at night. I feel I've found a balance that usually works. Yesterday, though, all I could think about was that nothing in my kitchen was clean.  It was driving me crazy, and all Zoe wanted was for me to hold her.

At least it wasn't as bad as this:

Plus, I was feeling sorry for myself. And lonely. And unappreciated. And discontent.

I was angry at myself for feeling depressed and in a funk. I kept giving myself pep talks. I prayed for a better attitude. The day didn't really get much better, it just finally ended. 

That's ok. Some days truly are like that. I didn't really want to post this, because I want my posts to be about finding the joy in our lives. Nathaniel reminded me that I'm not simply writing about joy. I'm writing about life and truth. 

Here we are. We made it to Tuesday. I hope that if you had a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad Monday, that your Tuesday is looking up!


Celebrating 4 years

My good man brought home flowers!

Nathaniel's mom came over on our anniversary night (thank you!!!) and watched our darling cranky teething daughter so we could go out to eat. We had a giftcard that Nathaniel had gotten for Christmas that we planned to use. However, my husband was being his usual trickster self and only wanted me to think that we were going to use it. "Why are we going this way?" "Oh, I forgot...I guess we can take this cross street across town, right?" "Don't you need to be in the right lane?" Oh.

We went instead to Sweet Basil, an Italian restaurant we went to one time for Valentine's Day while we were dating. It was lovely. I think we even got the same booth we had before. Maybe not, but for romantic reasons I'd like to think we did. That Valentine's Day (I think it was the February before we got engaged that summer) I bought Nathaniel cologne and he bought me a John Piper book. Now, I love John Piper books. We actually got to hear him speak when we went to the Passion conference in 2007. However, this book was titled Future Grace (you can look at it on his website here) and it's a really, really great book about...sin. Nathaniel didn't realize that's what the book was about when he gave it to me. It's worth reading, just maybe not the most romantic Valentine's gift. We had a great time laughing and reminiscing. Oh, and the food was good.

After dinner we went to the fabulous Cocoa Dolce for chocolates and coffee. It was a simple night: my favorite kind.

We didn't remember to take any photos, so here's a couple of my favorites (showing Nathaniel's mad Daddy skills) from a family session we had with JWild photography recently.


4 and counting

Happy Anniversary to my hubby!

I’m so thankful for you.

God blessed me wth an amazing man who is thoughtful, intelligent and funny. You’re a wonderful Daddy to Zoë. You consistently get up in the middle of the night to check on her if she wakes up. You take over babysitting duties when you know I need a break. You know what to say when I’m having an off day. You work so hard for us & never complain. You make amazing eggs for breakfast. 

2011 was a huge year. We've become true partners as we've stumbled our way through parenthood. I love that we're learning how together.

Thank you, God, for giving me the man of my dreams.

I can’t believe it’s been four years. Here’s to 4 times 4 times 4 more. Love you forever, babe.