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    I don’t have the right…

    worship

    It started out like most marital fights do… over something incredibly insignificant.

    This time it was an Instagram photo. It was “dress up” night at camp. Micah wasn’t in the mood for a family picture, I demanded one, our kids cried, and I went to the nightly worship session irritated.

    But, really, it was more than that. The first few nights of camp I didn’t sleep at all. I was running on about six hours of sleep spread over two nights. I was exhausted. Easily irritated. It was my last week of summer vacation before I started my new job, and I wanted it to be perfect. I was hoping camp would be incredibly restful or in some way spiritually transformative or deeply restorative before I began this new, exciting school year.

    Instead, I was incredibly tired, hardly able to focus on the Bible teaching, and annoyed with my husband for not smiling with the correct amount of enthusiasm.

    The worship music started and I felt my heart harden. I wasn’t in the mood to sing. Clearly, God could understand why. Why would I lift my arms or raise my voice when I was going on three hours of sleep?

    But the music continued to swell. I didn’t slowly melt into a soft, joyful, heap. Instead, the Spirit convicted me with this thought…

    “I don’t have the right to withhold my worship.”

    I don’t have the right to withhold my worship. Lack of sleep. Whiny kids. An imperfect family photo. Although these issues were amplified in my mind, my heart knew they were no excuse. My mood should not dictate my actions before the Lord. He is still good, even when my attitude or my circumstances are not. I have no right to cross my arms or close my lips when I should be singing out to the Living God.

    And with that my lips parted and I began to sing. I was still tired. I didn’t sing loud. But my heart was humbled before the Lord, and I acknowledged that I have no right to hold anything back from him. He deserves my worship always.

    And then I thought about how this applies to all areas of my life. Rough day with the kids? I don’t have a right to withhold my worship. Conflict with a friend. Job loss. Devastating diagnosis. Plans gone awry. Vacation ruined. Disappointing news. A dream delayed. I don’t have a right to withhold my worship from the Lord.

    And that worship might not always be literal singing. We know from the Bible we are to worship God with our whole lives – with our words, our thoughts, and our actions in day to day life. Didn’t get the promotion you were hoping for? We worship God with our first fruits no matter how much (or how little) our paycheck (Deut 26:10). Want to lash out out your disobedient kids or your irksome neighbor? We worship God by showing the same kindness and mercy to others that He has shown to us (Zech 7:9).

    The car may break down. The kids will fight. Taxes will increase. My friends will let me down. My job may be uncertain. I will often be hungry or tired. I don’t have a right to withhold my worship.

    Though my circumstances will change, God remains the same. He loves me. His Son lived and died for me. His grace covers me. I may want to shake my fists, but God deserves my hands raised in reverence and awe. I may purse my lips, but God deserves hymns of devotion and praise. I may be tired, but He is my strength. I may be irritated, but He is my joy.

    No matter the day, no matter the trial, He is worthy of my praise.

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    Stories

    stories about motherhood

    With one swoop, I got dinner started. I walked into the kitchen, flipped the knob on the oven to 400, made a brisk 180 turn to grab a pan from the highest shelf across the kitchen, remembering to hit the faucet on the sink mid-turn to start running hot water for the corn. If the water was hot already, the water would boil faster and dinner would be ready sooner. I finished my spin on tippy toes, bringing the pan down to sink where the running water was already turning warm. “I’ve got this,” I thought. It was one of the first times since having two kids I thought maybe motherhood – the endless cleaning, the cooking, the discipline – wasn’t so hard after all. I just started multiple components of dinner prep with one graceful ballerina spin across my kitchen. Maybe we are ready to have another baby?

    The third child scenario… I analyze it constantly. Ever since Talitha turned about six months old, “baby number three” has become a permanent category in my brain. It’s a topic worthy of inspection, one shrouded in a bit of fear. We want another child… we think? But when? Our first two are fairly close in age, just 20ish months apart. Do we have another one soon and “get the baby stage over with?” We’ve heard that’s a good method. Or do we wait? Would a three year gap be healthier for our family? Other moms tell me a gap is best. They tell me I will feel more sane if we wait a longer next time.

    And which baby will be my breaking point? Sometimes I feel like I’ve transitioned to life with two kids fairly well. But on other days I’m certain I’m on the verge of a breakdown and question if I should have any more kids at all? Every mom has her breaking point right? That’s what I hear. For some moms, it’s number one… a rough entry to motherhood with an unexpected c-section, postpartum depression, or a colicky child. For others, it’s number two. Two young children in need of just one mom. It’s completely overwhelming. But then I’ve heard three is the real test of one’s will. The breaking point. It’s when things become a “circus” because you are officially outnumbered. These are the stories I’ve heard, but I don’t know which one is my story. I want a third child, but I don’t ever want to reach my breaking point.

    Then I hear good stories too. The kind of stories that give you hope. That convince you that you can handle motherhood – no matter how many kids you have or how many bumps there are along the road. My friend had her fourth baby and told me this, “I get it now. I don’t necessarily want any more children, but I see why people are okay having five, six, seven kids. When you hit four children, you’ve reached “official big family status.” You have a huge car and your house is chaotic and you think “would one more kid really alter things that much?”

    Recently, I was talking to a friend who is a mother of five, all spaced approximately 18 months apart. I haven’t done the exact math, but that’s a lot of kids in not very many years. She told me it’s not actually as hard as you would think, because by the time you have four or five kids you have so many systems in place that make life easier. Tasks that overwhelmed you when had only one or two children are now a breeze. I thought back to my single-handed dinner prep 180 around my kitchen and nodded my head in agreement. Maybe my systems were falling into place?

    I hear stories from moms all day long. You hear them too. At your MOPS group. On play dates. The never-ending stories from the Internet. One is overwhelming. Two is a tough transition. Three is a circus. Four in big family status. Five is easy. Breastfeeding is hard. Nursing is the best. Discipline is difficult. Just spank. Never spank. Sleep train. Co-sleep. My time spent reading in graduate school pales in comparison to all the narratives I have read about motherhood.

    But I think I am starting to figure it out. As a mother, you write your own story. Sometimes the words flow out of you smoothly and gracefully, and you flip page after page with ease. The kids behave, the chores get done, you squeeze in a date night and learn to carve out alone time in your schedule. Other times the words are clunky and slow-going and you scribble on the page and call in an editor – in the form of a nanny, a housekeeper, a best friend, or a therapist. The kids don’t behave, the house is a mess, date night (when it happens) ends in a fight, and you can’t remember the last time you were alone.

    Every mom’s story is different, but I’m sure they have some things in common. There are always unexpected plot twists, passages that feel stale and boring, vital supporting characters, and climactic moments where the overwhelming joy of motherhood redeems the rough patches in the text. There are monologues filled with both self-loathing, and self-discovery. There are dialogues filled with both conflict and reconciliation. There are words such as “pain” or “laughter” that can’t fully describe what it’s like to experience the heart-crushing grief that accompanies parenthood or the unparalleled feeling of shaking with happy, tear-filled eyes at a child’s innocent and hilarious antics.

    Your story is completely different from mine with complex characters and distinct rising action. However, as mothers, we understand common themes that unite us to one another. Love, loss, grief, sacrifice, overcoming struggle, hope. These are the themes that yoke us together. Each story unfolds on its own, page by page, but they are bound together in a great and glorious volume called motherhood.

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    Forest Home Family Camp

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    IMG_8566   IMG_8628 IMG_8647I have been a parent for just shy of three years, so I haven’t put a lot of thought into what our family vacations will look like as our kids are growing up. Disneyland? Seaworld? A year ago, I would have said those were vacation destinations, but then we moved to California and have already visited both in the past few months…

    As a child, I remember sleeping in the back our minivan as my dad drove through the night to get us to family reunions in Oregon, California, Nevada, or Arizona. I remember visiting Disneyland exactly twice – once as a young girl and once during middle school. I remember taking a cruise with my whole family in college, which seemed luxurious since we didn’t travel a lot growing up. My family never left the country, and I didn’t get a passport until I needed one for a mission trip in college. Truthfully, traveling is expensive (and a lot of work with kids) and now that I have children of my own, I understand why it wasn’t at the top of parents’ priority list.

    But cost and inconvenience aside, I love to travel. I think it’s so important to try new things and meet new people and see God’s work throughout the whole world. It’s also nice to take a break from regular life – from the chores and cooking and work duties that fill our days at home.

    When we were unexpectedly blessed with a trip to Family Camp at Forest Home, I didn’t expect for it to feel like a vacation. I didn’t expect to leave thinking, “This is a place I’d spend money to take my family every year…” but that’s exactly what happened.

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    When we left for Forest Home, I expected it be great. I thought I would encounter God’s presence. I thought my kids would have fun. I thought it would be a great time of rest and reflection for Micah and me as we wrap up summer and head into a new school year. It was all those things…

    The speakers were amazing. There was a morning and night teaching and worship session for adults, and Biblical truth was preached with love, compassion, and humor. The girls loved the activities. Every morning there was a youth program for three hours between breakfast and lunch. Talitha was in the toddler class, and Zianne was in the preschool class where she got to go on fun adventures every day including: a creek walk, a field sports day, and a trip to the splash pad. At night, a babysitter (CCA) came to our cabin to play with the girls and put them to bed while Micah and I enjoyed the evening worship session, night zip-lining, mini golf, and time with adult friends. During the afternoon, we had family time. The girls loved to go swimming, and we ate a few too many milkshakes. We ate every meal together as a family, but the amazing service staff cleaned up our kids’ messes with a smile. Everything about camp was amazing.

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    I saw the cost for camp before we left, and I assumed it would never be something we could or would spend our money on, but by the end of camp, Micah and I had decided that Forest Home is exactly what we’d like to spend our money on in the future.

    As we looked around camp, we saw families who would probably not be able to enjoy a summer vacation if not for Forest Home’s reasonable costs and amazing amenities. For example, we became friends with a couple who went from having two to five kids in a number of months (through surprise biological children and adoption… aka by the hand of God!). They have gone to Forest Home for the past two years, where there they receive amazing childcare and programming for their kids while they enjoy cherished alone time.

    Or take this as another example: Micah and I budgeted about $15oo for our trip to Florida earlier this summer. That paid for our airfare, a hotel/AirBnB for four nights, and a rental car for five days. That doesn’t include the cost of our food, gas, or activities. And we didn’t take our kids! If we had, all our expenses would have increased, and we would have been juggling sandy, jet-lagged children and apologizing for making messes in restaurants for the whole trip.

    For roughly the same cost as our kids-free Florida trip, we could take our WHOLE family to Forest Home for six days, where every meal is prepared and paid for and parents receive the perfect mix of time alone and quality family time. And this all happens in an environment where God is being glorified. It’s so worth it! What I thought would be a one-time free trip to Forest Home will likely become a place where we spend our time and money to invest in our family year after year.

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    I was not supposed to write this post this way. I’m pretty sure I was supposed to wax poetic about lake day and milkshakes and laughing with new friends on our cabin porch and singing worship songs around the campfire to get you to click on the Forest Home website and check it out. Then I was supposed to subtly say at the very bottom: We were blessed with free week of family camp, but all opinions are my own.

    Well, all opinions are my own… and this is what I have to say: We were blessed with free week at camp. It was amazing and now we are willing to spend our own hard-earned money every year for the same experience. There is just no better and budget-savvy way for families to vacation with young children. I’m seriously begging all our friends in CA and AZ… come with us next year! You will love it!

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