I sent this picture out as our Christmas card last year. My husband thought I was crazy. He still thinks I am. We’ve certainly taken better family pictures, so why I chose this one he didn’t understand.
But this is my family. This is our house. And this is one of my all-time favorite pictures of us. Why? Because it’s real life. It’s crying and pouting kids and a big ‘ol messy house. Yes, if a picture is worth a thousand words, this one describes us.
I’m ever grateful our house doesn’t look like this anymore, but it still isn’t perfect and neither are we. And what this picture reminds me, and hopefully others, is that even when things look a little better on the outside, life still isn’t perfect and it never will be. And I’m beginning to think God’s more concerned with the process of redemption, than the result of perfection.
There are a lot of “Instagram stars” out there these days. People with lots of followers who post pretty pictures with perfecting filters, and whether they mean to or not, they make life appear better than it really is. To be fair, it’s hard to be real, it’s hard to see real on social media.
It’s easy to get caught up in the rat race of social media. It’s easy to want people to see us as pretty, happy, stylish, women. Women who discipline their kids perfectly, decorate like Joanna Gaines, and age like Jennifer Anniston. Women who have it all together.
I know people can look through my Instagram account and see a different story than the one I know, even if I didn’t intend them too. And that is why I love this picture. It’s my chance to be real and vulnerable with you. To open the door to my house, (or front yard) and show you the reality of my messy wonderful life.
Because in the end, I’d rather you walk away from time with me feeling relieved and encouraged, than impressed. I want you to know you aren’t the only one with piles of papers on your desk, or piles of rotten wood in your front dirt. You aren’t the only one whose children pee in the grass and run through the aisles at Target.
Instead of leaving you fascinated, I’d rather leave you encouraged. I’d rather be real.
So I’d rather not impress you with our house, our children, or my sense of style. Instead, I want you impressed with the fact that we are all in this together. Impressed with our collective desperate need for a God who gives us infinitely more grace than we give ourselves (and each other).
I’d rather a friend or a stranger leave my presence– in person or online–grateful for her own gloriously hard mom life than envious of mine. So I’ll post this picture all day long, if it encourages us all to live life a little less filtered, a little more vulnerable, a little more real.
The kids decorated our tree this year. The whole thing. They strung the lights (and missed an entire bottom section). Actually, they put three different strands of lights on our tree, one white, two colored. Once the lights were up, I pulled the lid off the grey Rubbermaid tub filled with ornaments, and five enthusiastic souls bum-rushed it. I quickly unwrapped tissue covered ornaments, pried tops off tiny boxes, and tried to hand out only the “non-breakable” ones—which somehow they can still manage to break.
In a flurry of movement, they began hanging ornaments in a cluster, front and center. I encouraged them to spread them out, and my oldest two took charge of that. But overall I held in my perfectionistic self–the self that thrives when there is beauty and order, because there was none of that–and I let them do it. Their way.
It’s the first year they’ve done the whole thing, from lights to decorations, and while I cringed a little on the inside, it was the easiest set up we’ve ever had.
After the grey tub was empty (save the ornaments I won’t put on our tree for another 10 years), I stepped back and sat on the farm bench next to my husband. There was nothing for me to do, the kids had officially taken over.
And in that moment, that rare moment when I actually sit down and am able to take in the view before me, I was able to see a different kind of beauty. A real kind of beauty. A beauty I may not have seen had I not stepped back. It wasn’t the beauty of a kid-decorated tree. But the beauty of kids decorating the tree. And I had to ask my husband to take a picture with his phone, because as usual, I couldn’t find mine. And although I know pictures don’t quite capture the moment as I saw it in my mind, I still want to remember.
Remember how they all had their hands in it. How happy they were hanging frosty snowmen and glittery shatterproof orbs. I want to remember how grown my oldest son looked as he stood on the ladder next to the tree. And how the little ones where huddled around the bottom holding onto their popsicle ornaments. Remember them before they cared about their out-of-control hair or wearing nice clothes. When they were oblivious to their appearance and decorated a Christmas tree with great zeal. This is how I will remember them the Christmas of 2018.
Because fifteen fast years from now, it’s all going to be so different. And more than a precisely decorated tree, I’m gonna want these memories in my rolodex, maybe even my photo album, if I can ever be so organized.
So I still haven’t rearranged them. The ornaments, that is. And I don’t think I will. It’s serving as a reminder for me this season. A reminder that real beauty isn’t found on the outside or in coordinated Christmas trees, but in the hearts and lives of the ones we love. It’s reminding me that Christmas isn’t about perfection. So far from it, actually. Christmas is about our need for light in dark places, for hope amid sorrow, and the all-encompassing undying sacrificial love of God embodied in Jesus Christ. And in light of that, it really doesn’t matter much what our trees look like.
Here I am. My name is my blog. And there is a picture of my face all smiling and sweet, looking like life is perfect and I have all the answers. Who am I?
Let me just get this off my chest, friends, because I have struggled, struggled, struggled through this. Why am I writing? Why do I think anyone would listen to me?
I don’t have to tell you dear reader, that I am nobody special. You already know that, because you have no idea who I am. 🙂 (Or you’re my mom.) But, I am just a woman like you. A mother like you. A sinner like you. One who struggles to put an outfit together and brush my teeth in the morning. One who gets frustrated when my kids can’t find their shoes. I yell at my kids more than I would like, harbor jealousy in the dark places of my heart, and cry over the exponential amount of cellulite I have accumulated over the past five years. I am just your average American stay at home mom.
So what do I have to say? What can I tell you that you do not already know? The reality is, probably nothing. And yet, here I sit, typing away on a computer like it’s my job: a job that no one is asking me to do.
And then it hit me one day as I read the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. Oddly enough, the word “talents” here is another term for money, but immediately we see the word and read the Webster’s definition: “a special natural ability or aptitude.” And when you read it like that, it gets a little more real. While we have been given money to be good stewards of, we have also been given talents, abilities, gifts.
Honestly, reading through the parable is a little scary. Three servants, two choose to invest wisely, and one gets kicked out. There’s a lot going on in this parable that I don’t have time to unpack here, but it shows more of the “judgement” side of God, one that we aren’t very comfortable with. He gives us things, and expects us to do something with it. It’s not just for safe keeping but investing. Investing in others for the glory of God and the expansion of His Kingdom.
Reading through this passage again I was struck by the fact that I have been given talents from God. We all have. Not one of us can say we haven’t been given anything. Maybe some of us have been given a lot, some of us a little. Either way, we’ve all been given to. And as I read and processed this, I saw myself a lot like the one servant nobody wants to be, the one who was scared to invest the gifts God had given him and buried a hole instead.
God wants me use my “talents” for Him, not cover them up because I am scared. And although no human being was asking me to write, He was. He has a job for me to do. Do I have the guts to take a risk and invest? Or would I bury a hole out of fear instead?
You see, I had been looking at it upside down or outside in. It isn’t about who I am or what I have to say or not say. It isn’t about me at all. It is about Jesus. It was always and only ever about Him. This is His world, His story, and I am His child using His money, His talents, His gifts.
God isn’t calling me to write because I am the world’s best writer or His gift to moms everywhere. He called me to write–so I am. And I figure He knows what He is doing, even if I don’t. I trust that He will be glorified in some way, big or small, by my obedience to Him.
Because I am 100% convinced that when we do what we love, we glorify Him. Even if it’s the beauty of one life lived to Him. One life lived for the glory of God may seem slightly insignificant to us, but to the God who performed individual miracles and radically changed lives one person at a time, there is no greater thing.
So I am not writing because I have all the answers, but because He does. And when He says, “jump!” I’m gonna jump.
Over the past two years I have been slowly learning that “calling” is really pretty simple. It looks a lot like obedience to God. It’s that’s simple and it’s that hard. It’s simple because it isn’t complicated. You just follow God’s lead. You say “yes, Lord” when He tells you the thing it is He wants you to do.
But it’s hard because sometimes He can ask us to do crazy things. Things that don’t make a lot of sense. Things have uncertainty written all over them. Things that are risky. When I say yes to God, I’m not really sure what I’m getting myself into. I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I have to trust that it is there.
Most times, obedience to God requires straight up blind faith. But I’m pretty certain there is no better place to be than standing in obedience to God.
It doesn’t mean that things will come easy, or even that what I thought would come to pass will. But I will no doubt get front row seats to something wonderful–something special: watching God work and seeing Him reap a harvest, whatever that looks like. That’s worth all the obedience in the world to me.
So the question I now ask is…what is God calling you to do? I bet you already know. Now here comes the hard part. Obey. Just do it. Just show up. Invest. Begin. Just say “yes, Lord, here I am, send me.” If we are daring enough to take him at His word, I think it will be the best thing we’ve ever done.
Last summer, we packed up our three-bedroom suburban life and trucked it out 40 minutes to a sprawling five-bedroom ranch. The latest risk in a string of many we have taken over our thirteen married years.
I’m not sure when the dream began, but my husband and I have often talked of our country-living vision. The simplicity and beauty of country life beckoned to us from the suburbs, although neither of had ever lived it.
Every time I read books like Charlotte’s Webor Mr. Brown’s Farmto my kids, I would imagine ponds and ducks and children running in fields of green and yellow.
Living in the country this past year has definitely held its excitement; barns to explore, woods to walk, and views to see. But I’m not gonna lie here and say it has been all Fern and Wilbur. It’s been an adjustment. Because you can take the girl out of the suburbs, but you can’t take the suburbs out of the girl.
Target and Starbucks are my people. I just can’t help that. Most may not be proud to be from the cookie-cutter community that exists 30 miles outside the city limits, but I am not one of them. The country is wild and quiet. So unlike the noisy pre-planned community I am used to.
The first few months on our dream property were like a honeymoon. We woke up to golden hills topped with a bright orange sun, and were in awe that this was all “ours.” Eyes wide open we would go exploring and adventuring, learning the land and feeling free.
Then we began the first of many renovations. And like my husband is always apt to do, we went big instead of going home. We (I mean he, with a rope and a truck and a couple of saws) tore down our old unstable front porch. We filled three full size dumpsters with demo from the porch and treasures from the barn like old T.V.s, canned food, and carpet.
We replaced 16 windows, created a man cave in the barn, rebuilt our front porch, replaced siding, installed a new front door and built a beautiful brick staircase leading up to it.
Our first family picture on the ranch! Pj’s, bare feet, bellies showing, biker shorts (on me) and all. I actually love it. 🙂
We were so anxious to start hosting events, we signed up perhaps a little too early. Getting ready for a staff Christmas party in early December, there was a day we felt like we were on Extreme Makeover, Home Edition. We had plastic hanging in our hallway for guys patching drywall, someone painting the trim around our front door, guys taking down doors and painting in the man cave, laying brick, drilling on siding, and an interior designer trying to hang pictures in the hallway so our house wouldn’t look so bare. I felt like a bride getting ready for her wedding. I was pulled in a million different directions and asked a thousand questions which needed answers on the spot. And then there were kids. Five of them. I’m so thankful my parents were there through this season making sure nobody stepped on a nail or super-glued their head to the carpet.
We made it through those few crazy weeks and January left us tired and happy for the quiet and peace we finally felt in our new home. But then it got a little too quiet. And then with baseball in the spring, too busy. And it seemed as if we had in fact moved, which of course we did. We knew we were moving to the hills, far from our friends, but we hadn’t felt it until now. We are people people and we never want to lose the connection to our beloved suburban community. But the 40-minute drive was feeling farther than it had before.
Nine months later, spring left us wondering if country living was all it was cracked up to be.
It was a hard place to sit. When you risk it all, you have to be willing for the potential reality that things won’t turn out like you were hoping. That you will in fact, have chanced it all and lost. When we moved, we knew it was a big risk. We knew we didn’t know what it would be like to live in the country having been suburb kids our whole lives.
But we felt (and still do) that sometimes it’s better to try than to wonder, and so we took the chance and bought the farm.
And as I sort through feelings of missing crowds but enjoying space, I’m reminded that any change we face in life is like this: full of pros and full of cons, of risk and reward.
Now we were wrestling with that decision. Was it all we imagined it would be? Did we want to move back to the land filled with bagels and flowing with lattes? (I love bagels and lattes).
Although we aren’t shutting out the chance that we may someday risk again and move back to the burbs, for now we are staying. Even in the worst of summer’s offerings (heat and dust aplenty) we’ve renewed our determination to stay. We’ve remembered the reasons we moved out here. Fallen in love with a mucky pond, four-wheeler rides and some barn dancing–just us.
There are a lot of hard things about suburban kids going country. But there are also a lot of perks. There’s painted sunrises and sunsets that we can actually see, horses to pet, trails to run and bikes to ride over gravel hills. There’s porch swinging and sipping and some pretty sweet campfires (in the rainy season of course). There’s dreams yet to be dreamed and room to explore.
And as I sort through feelings of missing crowds but enjoying space, I’m reminded that any change we face in life is like this: full of pros and full of cons, of risk and reward. Risking, venturing, change–all these are unsettling things bringing unsettled feelings.
To any decision in life we make, there are perks and there are drawbacks. Advantages and disadvantages, pros and cons. We can never be free from both.
And something I’m learning more recently is that there is risk in taking risk, but there is also risk in not taking it. It’s risky to get married, to have children, to move to a new city or take a new job. But there is also risk in NOT doing these things. In order to save ourselves heartache or loss by staying close and keeping safe, there’s a world out there of things we miss. Things we never knew we would love or people we never meet.
High risk, high reward, my husband likes to say. The risk is that there may not be a reward. But how will we know unless we try? And if we try and fail? Well then, we have learned to be brave. We have learned to live unencumbered by fear of failure, and that in itself is success.
Because like hockey great Wayne Gretzky said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
So we took a shot and we’re giving it one. We are committed to continuing this country thing, and letting the rewards of peace and quiet seep into our souls. We are taking the good, the bad, and the ugly (a.k.a the tarantula we saw on our front porch) and being extremely grateful for the opportunity we have before us. The opportunity to raise our kids in the great outdoors. The opportunity to live big and love big. To host parties and people and use it for His glory. The opportunity to live beyond our limits of comfort and find new strengths in new seasons.
Brooke lives with her husband, five kids, two horses, cat, dog, and ever fluctuating number of chickens (dang bobcat) on a ranch outside of Sacramento, Ca. She writes from her fixer-upper farmhouse (and sometimes Starbucks) about her failures, her motherhood, her adventures in ranching, and the God who sees her through it all. Her dreams are big, her hands are full, and her laundry room is a mess.