Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What Reading History has Taught Me About Heros

There are affiliate links in this post. That means that if you click through and make a purchase, I receive a commission at no extra charge to you. You can read my full disclosure policy here. Thanks for your support of The Purposeful Wife! 

When it happens, it hits like a sickness in the stomach. That person you so strongly admired, who you looked up to and deemed invincible, who taught you so much about life, or faith, or integrity- they've failed you.

Maybe a big secret sin is revealed, or they spoke careless words that pierced you, or you suddenly see their achilles heel- a weak spot that tarnishes their entire message.

It could be anyone. A parent, a professor, or a famous writer or preacher you've never met. Their influence so changed your life, gave you hope or joy or something solid to count on in a shaky world... that the fall out couldn't be more painful.

Looking back over the last decade of my life, I can pinpoint several instances in which a role model disappointed me in a big way. Each disappointment was a big blow at the time. Though the pain of these occasions has lessened as the years go on, I still remember them with regret.

Which brings me to history.

I recently read David McCullough's John Adams. It was excellent- McCullough presents our second president as a solid believer, a man of integrity, remarkably devoted to his wife, hard-working, and self-sacrificial.

If the sign of a good writer is his ability to engage your affections for his leading character, then McCullough couldn't be better. I was heart-and-soul rooting for Adams, never mind that his story had ended 191 years ago. I loathed Hamilton {maybe not a popular position nowadays ;)}, felt incredibly frustrated by Jefferson, and wanted to shake Washington for making Adams feel like such a heel.

Was John Adams perfect?

Definitely not. He had an achilles heel, just like every other fallen sinner. He could be daft at times, overly outspoken, and some of the positions he took in his political career were indefensible.

Which brings me back to my fallen heroes.

Fallen Hero #1. I was in high school, and a friend from youth group started repeating what a youth leader {whom I really respected} had said negatively about a personal role model of mine. Yes, it was gossip, and yes, the conversation shouldn't have happened. It reflected poorly on the youth leader I respected, for sure. But there was an element of truth in what was being said about my "hero," and it devastated me that 1) my hero had a big flaw, and 2) it was apparent to others... and being discussed by others behind their back!

Fallen Hero #2. In the middle of college I had a miniature crisis of faith. I'd given everything I could give to a certain evangelical group, and in the end it wasn't enough. I came out of it feeling hurt, insecure, and convinced that there had to be something more to Christianity than what I'd been presented with.

Enter a new "hero" who drew me up into a new understanding of the Word of God, theology, and how the Gospel really makes a difference in our daily lives. Old hurts started to heal, questions came back with refreshingly satisfying answers, and I started to feel passionate about the things of God again. I was reading great books, all from the recommendations of this individual, and the books were changing my life.

Two years later as newlyweds, this person had been a great influence on us both as a couple. Which is why it hurt so bad when some ugly things happened in the church, and this "hero" sat back quietly, on occasion even defending, the unsavory acts of the leader responsible.

We all need heroes. In a messed up world with so much tragedy, lack of character, and life's many disappointments, we want people who show us a better way. We want men and women we can rely on as honest, trustworthy, and courageous. We want to see these people accomplish great things so that we know we can do great things too. These people give us hope.

That's what makes their stumbling so soul-crushing. When one of our heroes messes up big, suddenly there is no hope. If they could fall, then of course we will fall too. If they weren't honest, nobody is. If our hero can't do the big hard things, win the day, and maintain an upbeat attitude with an unbending heart of integrity and purpose... then there's a good chance nobody can.

The biggest lesson that reading history and observing the failings of my role models has taught me is this: every one is a sinner. We all stumble, we all have those giant logs in the eye that whack others, we are all a hot mess. While I know this in theory, seeing it play out in the lives of people I look up to has brought it home in a bigger way.

That's why we need Jesus. Only Jesus is the God Man. He's the only one who lived a perfect, sinless life. And glory of glories, He laid it down for us- covering all of our ugly sin and failings with His precious blood, so that we could be reconciled to a holy God.

The Gospel is the best news. But redeeming history and our fallen heroes is this also good {though not nearly so significant} news: God uses big sinners to accomplish big things.

King David committed adultery, murdered, and covered up these ugly acts. Yet God calls him a man after His own heart and uses him to bring Messiah into the world {among other things}.

Peter denies Christ three times, and weeps bitter tears of regret upon hearing the rooster crow. The Lord forgives him and uses him to spread the Gospel and preach boldly, despite fierce persecution. Then he messes up big again, playing the hypocrite, and Paul has to call him out in front of the entire church. But the Lord forgives, restores, and uses him again until he dies as a martyr for the cause of Christ.

Or from history:

Thomas Jefferson, third president, writer of the Declaration of Independence, thinker extraordinaire; could never get his personal spending in order and died in crazy debt.

Martin Luther, leader of the Reformation, to whom Protestants owe so much, writer of beautiful glorious truths...but we Protestants don't like to talk about his latter years, in which he said some truly inexcusable things.

This gives me hope. I know my weak points, the sins I can't seem to shake, the ugly truths about my heart. Even with the ugliness and sin, God can do something with my life. I'm not a hopeless case! I have a purpose.

This is true for you too. No matter what it is- a lust problem, a money problem, a gossip problem, a laziness problem... you fill in the blank. God can redeem you, and He will accomplish His purposes for your life. Are you surrendered to Him?

It also puts my fallen heroes into perspective. Role models are helpful- we need examples to follow, as they follow Christ. But no person we admire can hold the weight of our admiration. They will all stumble under it eventually, whether it's a big secret sin brought to light or a subtler flaw in character observed upon closer relationship with them.

Acknowledging their flaws and humanity has enabled me to forgive, and to consider them in a more realistic light- roses and warts, a tangly and complicated mess. Still good things to glean, but no one is perfect.

Look at history. Look at the Word. Remember that everyone is a sinner. You can appreciate and value the good in someone's life without being devastated by their particular achilles heel.

You can also remain hopeful for what God might do in and through your life, because He is a God who delights in redeeming sinners, who is making all things new, and who always accomplishes His perfect purposes.

Here's real hope- for history, and the future too.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What I Wish I Had Known About Having a C-Section

From pretty much 30 seconds after finding out I was pregnant with my firstborn, my prayers went something along the lines of this: "Dear Lord, PLEASE let me NEVER have a c-section!"

I was convinced of the glories of natural birth, convinced that America's high cesarean rate meant many were not medically necessary, and convinced that major surgery was about the worst thing that could happen to a person.

So I prayed. And I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. "Please, dear God, never let me have to have a c-section."

You can guess what happened, can't you?

As of 2013, 31.3% of American women delivering in the United States will have a csection {via American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists}. The World Health Organization recommends an ideal rate of cesareans to be between 10%-15% of all women delivering. Clearly, American rates are very high. Yes, that probably means many c-sections are unnecessary.

What it also means though, more importantly, is that a lot of women {you? someone you know?} are going to have them. These women need support, encouragement, and understanding. Especially when many of them are so fearful, as I was.

I went into preterm labor at only 24 weeks gestation. After two weeks on hospitalized bed rest, with lots of preventative drugs and hardly any movement allowed, my water broke and there was no keeping her in.

The doctor on call was happy to let me deliver naturally as planned. Unfortunately after my water broke, contractions slowed to a stop. I started bleeding and bleeding, with no progression.

We were unaware at the time, but there was an infection in my placenta that caused it to start tearing away from the uterine wall before our daughter's birth. This scenario untreated can end with a suffocated baby and a mom bleeding out. An absolutely necessary medical reason for cesarean, if ever there was one.

Now I say, "Thank you Jesus for c-sections!"

If I could go back in time to my overly-anxious pregnant self, here's what I'd want her to know about having a c-section.

It's not the end of the world. Really, really, really and truly. Sure, it isn't ideal- but many things in life are not {and natural birth isn't a picnic either, which I can now assure you of authoritatively after having had two v-bacs}. By God's abundant grace, we can endure difficult experiences with great faith, peace, and confidence. Your body is strong and resilient.

There are many many much much worse things in life than a c-section.

Some of your recovery, however, will be tough, so this is what you need to know about that:

Laughing, sneezing, and coughing are going to hurt for awhile. Any noise or movement you make using your abdomen is going to be painful. My best advice is to take the drugs they give you and stay on top of the pain. I pumped breast milk while on these drugs, and was never advised to dump it. My daughter was an extremely ill, extremely premature infant who stayed in the NICU for two months. She came home earlier than the doctors had predicted, and had the best possible outcome. It is safe to take your medicine, and I think it's best to be kind to yourself in this way.

Walk when the nurses advise you to. I really didn't want to get up, but I found that staying in a hospital bed for too long made me much more stiff and uncomfortable. Follow doctors orders! Just be aware that hospital beds might not be the most friendly part of your recovery.

Getting into and out of cars will also hurt. Maybe this depends on the kind of car you own, but getting in and out of our little sedan for the first two weeks or so was pretty painful. Brace yourself, take deep breaths, and don't let it catch you off guard. When you breathe deeply through it it isn't as bad.

You might not be able to sleep in your own bed. Ditto for my bed. It was painfully impossible to climb in and out of my bed... so I slept on our couch quite comfortably for the first week. It worked well for me! Have a back-up sleeping plan just in case.

You might not bleed as much postpartum as you would after a vaginal delivery. After my first v-bac I was shocked, disgusted, and terrified by the big clots and chunks I passed postpartum. Apparently this is pretty normal! But many doctors {at least the one I had for my c-section} will clear your uterus of the clots and much of the other gunk while they are already in there. My bleeding after a c-section was similar to a slightly longer lasting period. One perk!

The scar probably won't go away. Some very lucky, very rare people completely lose their scars. I still have mine {and I know many people who do!}. This really bummed me out at first. What self-conscious new mom doesn't have a few body insecurities?!

Funny enough, during my next pregnancy I though the scar was fading. Spoiler: it wasn't! It was hiding out under the shadow of my bump, thank you very much! I felt sad and nostalgic, because it marked the place where my sweet miracle baby had come into the world. Turns out a scar can grow on you over time.

The scar might stay sensitive forever. This is so bizarre- but five years later, the skin around my scar is kind of sensitive and tingly if you poke it. I don't feel comfortable having things rub against it. I had one friend say hers just plain hurts still {also 5 years after surgery}, and another say she has lost all feeling in that section of her abdomen. She once burnt herself there because she didn't feel the heat on her skin! So be aware that you might experience some weird phenomenons.

It's not the end of the world. I feel the need to reiterate this. If you find yourself in the position that a c-section is necessary, thank God that we have the medical technology to keep you and your baby healthy.

As previously stated, it's not ideal. It's ok to grieve the loss of your ideals- acknowledge how it makes you feel, cry if you need to {I did}, pray over it. Of course! Just take heart and trust that the Lord is good, and that His perfect sovereign plan included this for you. He's got this, and you will be ok.

Having a c-section is one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. Not because it was so much fun, or so easy. Not even because it was the means that God used to save my baby and me {though that is obviously HUGE}.

I needed to have that c-section in order to be humbled, to conquer fears by faith, and to learn to trust and rely more sweetly on my good God. Having a c-section has made me more compassionate and less judgmental towards the birth experiences and choices of other moms.

God knew that a c-section was exactly what this mom needed.

Me and my baby girl then:

And now:

Totally worth it. I'd do it one hundred times over again if I had to!

Also, if it's any consolation, it took me 3 or 4 hours after my son's traumatic natural birth to reluctantly admit I preferred pushing to surgery. Delivering a baby can be a physical shocker no matter which way it' sho'.

Calling all c-section moms- what have I missed?!? Please speak up in the comments for the woman who might need to know someday!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

4 Habits for a Relatively Tidy Home

There are affiliate links in this post. That means that if you click through and make a purchase, I receive a commission at no extra charge to you. You can read my full disclosure policy here. Thanks for your support of The Purposeful Wife! 

I'm not the cleanest or tidiest of housekeepers, by any means. Regularly you can drop unannounced into my home {please don't! haha} and find piles like this:

Or this:

Or, you know, this:

But I'm not the messiest of homemakers easier. I don't quite fit into the "Sidetracked Home Executives" category, and plenty of people come over and compliment me on my relatively tidy home. So there you go. I like to consider myself in the middle- plenty of room to improve, but not terrible.

Fully disclosed enough for everyone?

There are a handful of habits I keep that have made it possible to get company ready in 20 minutes or less. While I still have a handful of habits I'd like to adopt so that I'm company ready on the spot at most times {read about the two I'm working on this year}, these have gotten me a long way from the wimpy housekeeper I was when I first got married almost 9 years ago.

1. I do the dishes everyday. On really busy days, I might only give them 5 minutes- but something is better than nothing, and just a little bit every day keeps them from getting totally out of control! Finally having a dishwasher has made this much easier for me. I try to run it every night, unload it first thing in the morning, and keep loading dirties as we go through our day.

2. I try to end each day with a relatively picked up home. Most nights the kids are responsible for picking up their toys before bed {though I admit sometimes I want them to get to bed so badly I just skip it}. Usually once they are tucked in I pick up the items on each room's floor quickly, then finish cleaning up the kitchen.

This habit also makes me a nicer mom when the kids get out of bed for just one more thing 800 times. If I'm just cleaning anyway, I'm far more likely to respond with patience then if I'm crashed on the couch watching Netflix, checking my phone, or reading a book. Once they are asleep I can relax.

3. I keep my kitchen counters fairly clear. The toaster, slow-cooker, and even my spice rack go in cupboards below my counters. The only items you will find there consistently are my electric kettle {we use this puppy 2-3 times a day easy}, a container of cooking utensils by the stove, and the fruit bowl. Lot's of white space to rest your eyes on makes for a more put together and peaceful place.

4. I make my bed {almost} everyday. Like I said, almost. I've read in bunches of places that your bed takes up about 80% of your bedroom... so if it's made, your room is instantly 80% clean. How's that for great motivation?! I'm also training my kids to pull their top blankets over their toddler beds each day and smooth them out. It's a simple chore and a good habit to develop early.

These are my 4 biggest housekeeping helps. I still want to get better about sweeping my kitchen every day, and doing a quick bathroom clean daily, and getting rid of more stuff so that everything has a neat place and it is easier to pick up. Baby steps- it's taken me the better part of 8 years to get here, so maybe I'll have these other things down another 8 years from now ;).

What are your top tricks for keeping your home put together? If you could change one habit when it comes to housecleaning, what would it be? 

Monday, February 6, 2017

How to Transition from Picture Books to Chapter Books

There are affiliate links in this post. That means that if you click through and make a purchase, I receive a commission at no extra charge to you. You can read my full disclosure policy here. Thanks for your support of The Purposeful Wife! 

The other day I shared how we keep track of the chapter books I read to the kids. Sarah asked how I got started reading chapter books to my little ones, what I did, how I managed "ants in pants," etc. So here's my best answer to that question :)!

As a book lover, one of the hardest things ever was waiting for my oldest daughter to get to the age when she could start appreciating chapter books. Some of my own favorite childhood memories include listening to my mom read The Chronicles of Narnia and The Little House books to me.

The thing about starting chapter books is that we can easily make the mistake of pushing them on our little ones too early. If we really want to create a positive, bonding, read-aloud experience {of course we do!}, then we need to make sure they are ready for it.

From my own experience, this is the advice I'd give to a mom wanting to start chapter books with her preschoolers.

1. Start with longer picture books first. Before you ever get to chapter books, there are tons of great shorter "chapter books," which are really just collections of stories. Try these lengthier texts and see how your little one does.

Some of our favorite series are Oliver and Amanda Pig, Frog and Toad, Frances, George and Martha, Amelia Bedelia, the original Thomas and Friends, Little Bear and Penny. Of course not every kid is going to connect with every book, so try a handful of titles before making any judgment calls. A kid might be able to sit through and enjoy these, but still not be ready for chapter books... but if they definitely can't sit through longer picture books, its a good indicator they aren't ready for chapters.

2. Evaluate their attention span. How long does your child happily listen to you read? At 3 years old my daughter could easily sit for an hour {she was ready for chapter books}, but that is more of an exception I think. Her brother is 3 now, and he can sit for maybe 20 minutes, depending on his mood and energy level. He listens to us read chapter books {he would feel very left out if we did it without him}, but there are periodic interruptions, talking over me reading, etc. He mostly wants to do it because his sister does.

3. Sharpen Auditory Skills. How much practice does your child have in listening? We've made a point in our home of playing audiobooks in the car, during meals, at daily quiet times, and when the kids are playing. One of the reasons they have such an appetite for words is because I'm intentionally putting it in front of them every single day. The more they listen, the more they will grow in their ability to listen to and concentrate on longer texts.

You can find many free ones to listen to online {seriously, type a children's story book title into YouTube- you can find everything! just keep the screen away so they listen but don't watch}, or check them out from the library.

4. Book selection is everything. Many excellent chapter books just aren't the best starting place for early listeners {The Little House books come to mind}. Other times a book may be a great fit for someone else, but falls flat for you and your kiddo.

S and I loved Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle when we read it a year and a half ago, but my friend Jenni and her daughter {same age, many of the same interests} couldn't get into it. Sometimes a book blogger gives a glowing review of a read aloud, and S and I end up quitting it because it doesn't suit us. If a book isn't working, put it down and try a different one. It might not be that your child isn't ready- it might just be the wrong book!

5. Keep hands busy. Read chapter books at snack time, or while your child colors, digs in a sandbox, or plays with Lego. It's hard for younger kids to sit and focus for long periods of time, and I firmly believe that keeping their hands busy actually helps them to focus on what you are saying.

6. Keep your reading time short. Charlotte Mason was big on stopping lessons or stories after only 15 minutes, sometimes cutting off at the most exciting part. If you keep them engaged and don't give them time to get bored, kids will just eat up learning and reading times.

If I notice that I've lost attention, I'll just stop reading mid-chapter. Try two or three pages at a time, and slowly work your kids up to more. It's like building muscle memory- slow and steady, day in and day out. You can make real progress this way!

7. Don't be afraid to stop and try again later. If you've tried a couple of different books, and the interest just isn't there in your listener, put away the chapter books and wait a month or two. Keep reading picture books together every day. You'll get there eventually!

Also, at 3, somedays S sat still and patient and listened beautifully. And somedays she really wasn't feeling it. We read our chapter book on the good days and stuck with picture books on the squirmier days.

8. Never quit reading picture books. What's not to love about them?! My oldest still could {and does} sit for hours looking at and listening to picture books each day. Chapter books and picture books can serve different purposes, and I feel like we still need a varied diet of both.

The beautiful illustrations, sophisticated language {thanks to Sarah of Read Aloud Revival for this phrase}, and lessons that can be learned most easily through story all contribute to the inestimable worth of a picture book. Plus this guarantees that I'm reading something right at the level of all of my kids {5, 3, and 1} each day.

Basically, you can boil all of this down to: test the waters slowly. If it doesn't stick, try something else. And if that doesn't stick, wait a little bit before trying again. Once it starts sticking, go slow and be patient. Just like everything else in motherhood!

Before you know it, you will be several years into reading chapter books together, and wondering where those younger years went. I already feel this way and my oldest is only 5!

Here are some more helpful articles as you embark into chapter books- basically none of my information is new ;):

My Favorite First Novels to Read-Aloud with Kids @ Read Aloud Revival
First Read-Aloud Chapter Books @ This Pilgrim Life
Tips for Reading Aloud Chapter Books @ Everyday Reading

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Yes, We Do Classical Conversations

I've mentioned once or twice around here that I'm part of a weekly homeschool co-op. But I might not have told you specifically that the co-op is a Classical Conversations group. I decided to join in order to make homeschooling friends {for me and the kids!} after our big cross-country move this summer.

I wasn't sure that I would love it, as I had a pretty specific idea in my mind of how I wanted to operate my homeschool. Ha ha ha!

As it turns out, I've LOVED Classical Conversations, and hope to stick with it indefinitely.

Today I'm sharing all of the things I love about CC, hopefully giving more information to families who A) aren't sure what Classical Conversations is, and B) are trying to figure out if it's a good fit for their family.

Head on over and give it a read?

Why Our Family Loves Classical Conversations... and is it right for you?
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