Truth Encouragement for Moms of Littles

*I share this, hoping that my struggle (and the source of my hope) might be an encouragement to any struggling mom of littles.* 

 

It took me almost 6 years to look at my children and really, consistently FEEL that they are blessings. Now that my youngest is 3 1/2 and we’ve lived in the same apartment for almost 2 years, I can finally look back and process what actually happened during those years and take regular delight in the current moments.

Those were crazy years. They were physically, spiritually, and emotionally draining years characterized by over 4 years of deputation (no consistency or reliable schedule and being constantly “on display”), little sleep (due to being pregnant, nursing, or caring for toddlers—sometimes all three at once, and usually all in 1 room of someone else’s house or a hotel), and seemingly-endless mundane tasks (including figuring out where I could get supplies and what I could feed my family upon our arrival at every single mission house, hotel, or even rest stop!). Then, throw in an international move complete with language learning and many other changes. I was whooped.

I walked through many dark (personally) times during those years. I generally saw my children as a burden that made every step of my fluctuating life more difficult and demanding—even though I knew God said they were His gifts. Escaping from them and the responsibilities God had given me sometimes seemed like the only answer to my overwhelmed spirit. In other words, I didn’t really believe God.

Thank you to the many friends who commiserated with me, exchanged Bible verses, devotional thoughts, prayer, and helpful articles, and who laughed with me through the craziness. Several verses gave me assurance and conviction to continue plodding along and carried me through the dark times—giving me rest and a renewed spirit.

 

First, I needed verses to speak truth to me about children.

I knew that God only gives good gifts (James 1:17 “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”), and I knew that He says that children are gifts that He gives (Psalm 127:3 “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.”). The fact was that even though my children didn’t seem to be good gifts to me (even though I didn’t believe them to be), God says they were.

 

My definition of “good” made the difference.

My view of “good” was that I would have a nice, easy life. But, God says that “good” means that I am being changed into Christ’s image (Romans 8:28-29 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.).

But being changed into His image hurts! I had to constantly remind myself of the truth that God is doing good (even in the matter of the timing and nature of my three children and crazy life)—no matter if it looks like it to me or not (Psalm 119:68 “You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.”).

 

I needed verses to remind me to choose to do right and obey God, no matter what I FELT like doing.

I was to love my children, no matter if it was easy or hard. I used to think everyone loved their children naturally, but I came to believe that there was a reason Titus 2:4 was written. It was just for me (“Train the young women to love their … children.”) The love I was to have for them didn’t have to be all warm and fuzzy. It had to be the conscious choice to serve them no matter what (1 Cor 13:4-7 “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”).

I was to speak kindly to them, even if they tempted me to be violently angry (Proverbs 31:26 “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”).

The interesting thing is that God seems to give those warm and fuzzy feelings *after* I’ve chosen to faithfully practice love and kindness (even though it sometimes takes time).

 

I needed verses to remind me that I already had the tools to obey. I had all that I needed in order to do what God asked me to do.

At one point, I asked a friend to pray because I desperately needed patience with my children. She pointed out that I already had access to it through the Spirit who is dwelling inside of me—since patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It was up to me to avail myself of it through His power.

I know it shouldn’t have been, but this was a startling discovery for me. I needed to stop making excuses for not being patient or loving or joyful or kind or under control and utilize the very nature of the Spirit within me. Crucifying the flesh was already done when I accepted Jesus as my Savior. Now, I needed to show it through my actions (Galatians 5:22-24 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”).

 

I needed the gentle, reassuring words of God to cling to when I felt so spent and empty.

I needed to remember that as I was trying to care for my children—and doing so fallibly, God was carrying me perfectly (Deuteronomy 1:31 “You have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.”).

When I felt so absolutely desperate and empty inside, I needed to remember and believe that He promises to satisfy my soul.

  • Jeremiah 31:25 “For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.
  • Psalm 107:9 “He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things.”
  • Psalm 145:16 “You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

He was the only One who could give me rest in those demanding, wearying days. Escaping from my circumstances or from my children would not do it. And more than that, He freely offered rest to me.

  • Proverbs 19:23 “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied.
  • Matthew 11:28 “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

I needed to be reminded of the righteous and kind character of my God.

  • Psalm 145:17 “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.
  • Isaiah 40:11—One of my absolute favorite verses during that time. “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” That verse gave me a visual picture of how God cares for needy, weak people like me. He is the Good Shepherd and is particularly watchful of those who are vulnerable—those who are with young. That was me. While my life was in a constant flux, I could trust that I had a Good Shepherd leading me—and giving me special, gentle care as I needed it with my “young.”

 

As I look back now, I am thankful for all He did during those years—in, around, and through me and my family. He surely worked everything for my good.

I will never deny the difficulty of that time. It was impossible—clearly more than I could handle alone. But it was just the perfect path with the guidance and care of my Good Shepherd.

 

*Just keep speaking God’s Truth to yourself and others and keep obeying Him—no matter what you feel like.*

(smb)

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Beautiful Buildings

Recently, I went to a funeral for the father of a friend. I have never been to a funeral in a more beautiful building–and I have been to funerals in many different beautiful churches. This one stood out to me.

 

It was peacefully beautiful in the dense fog.

 

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And it was even more beautiful after the service when some of the fog had cleared.

 

 

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(Clearly, out of respect, I did not take pictures of the even-more-striking inside.)

 

In this beautiful building, I heard the Scriptures read. I heard truth. But it was not explained.

 

I heard no conviction of Christ’s victory over death or confident statements that we can have assurance and hope in this life and in the life to come based solely in Him. (i.e., Romans 5:2 “Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” & Colossians 1:27 “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”)

 

In this beautiful building, I felt the emptiness of the mourners around me. I saw the futile, misguided “re-sacrificing” of Jesus Christ (in the sacrament of communion). And, I heard the priest hopelessly say that even Jesus wasn’t happy during his life on earth, so we should not expect to be happy here either.*

 

Sadness filled that beautiful building. Why was there was no “hope of glory” shared with my friends?

 

But then again…that is my job.

 

That is why I reach out, make friends, and show love by going to funerals. It is my job to share the hope there is in Christ alone.

 

 

 

 

 

*But if this is the case, what of the many statements of God’s being our joy (i.e., Psalm 4:7 “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”)? What about that fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”)? Is that particular evidence of the indwelling Spirit out of reach? Where is the hope in this confusion?

 

 

Interesting Things I Noticed During an Un-Interesting Meeting

So, I went to a meeting today at Nino’s school. The topic was “What should we do about the leaky roof and the missing tiles on the floor?”

 

I learned a lot about Italians. :)

 

First of all, I learned that they have not been able to fix the  leaky roof properly for 10 years because of the bureaucracy involved. They have finally reached the end of the 10-year period, so they are ready to start talking about it. This probably means another year or so before the roof is fixed (which means the gym area cannot be used until then and there are strategically placed buckets–when it rains). 😉 Actually, one Italian asked for an estimate on when it would be done. The answer was a very definitive: “Some months.” 😉

 

Regardless, the meeting was entertaining (and not only because there was a decent amount of heated Italian “discussion.”).

 

For one thing, I noticed that the man in charge of the meeting arrived 10 minutes late. Though, that was no big deal because there were people drifting in up to nearly 1 hour after the meeting was supposed to start (each one interrupting the meeting by calling out loudly, “Good evening” as they entered).

 

I also noticed that the leader (pictured below in the center) was sporting a lovely pair of dark-colored tennis shoes (with metallic/reflective tongues) with his suit (though maybe he has foot problems).

 

Nice Shoes

 

 

I was entertained by the man who (though he was part of the group of leaders) left his seat up in front (while the speaker was speaking) to plug his phone into the wall. Clearly, he thought he was hiding his actions (behind the speaker is definitely the most inconspicuous spot to choose).

Hiding!

 

 

 

In addition, the same man, retrieved his phone to make or answer a phone call during the meeting…though I shouldn’t be too hard on him because there were others who did the same. By the way, if you cover your mouth, no one will know what you are doing. :)

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And, yes…he wasn’t the only one. But, at least this leader got up and turned his back on the audience to take his call (you can see his empty chair and him–looking out the door).

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So, there you have it. Italian meetings that are filled with difficult vocabulary and have people in an uproar can be fun. :)

 

Good thing I didn’t have to take real notes.

 

smb

 

Update on today’s earthquake…

Many have asked many questions about the earthquake that struck central Italy early this morning. I will attempt to explain the events during and after and how you may better pray for us, for those around us, and for those who are now dealing with tragedy that they have never known before.

This morning, at 3:36 local time (9:36 pm eastern US time), we were awoken by a magnitude 6.2 earthquake that struck about 50 miles southeast of where we live (it is about 1:30-2:00 drive). The earthquake, which was located fewer than 4 miles under the earth’s surface, lasted for nearly half a minute and shook everything. It was not hard to understand what was going on once we were awake, and we quickly moved to make sure that the kids were safe.

After the shaking stopped, Stephanie and I returned to bed, feeling quite nauseous from the earthquake, and attempted to go back to sleep. About an hour later we were once again awoken with an aftershock, this one measuring as a magnitude 5.2 (as of this time there have been more than 60 aftershocks that have all been at least 2.0 magnitude or higher throughout the day). Needless to say, sleep has not been a commodity that we have enjoyed much of today, but that is the worst of what we have “suffered”. Unfortunately many others were not so fortunate.

We praise the Lord that there does not seem to be any damage in our area, or in the areas immediately surrounding our small town. That said, the town where the earthquake was centered, Amatrice, has been devastated. The mayor has said that the city is destroyed (for pictures of the city as it now looks, click here to see them on an Italian newspaper’s website). Several other cities in the area have also sustained a good bit of damage.

How can you pray?

  1. For God to spare lives. As of right now more than 120 people have been reported dead and many more injured or missing. Because this happened in the middle of the night many were buried under piles of rubble. Rescue workers are diligently trying to search for people who may still be alive.
  2. For safety for all. The aftershocks continue, and there is possibility of more damage to buildings that have been weakened by the initial quake.
  3. For comfort for those who are mourning. Many have lost family members and friends. Many are very fearful of what may happen next. Many have lost all physical possessions they had…homes, cars, furnishings, work places.
  4. For peace…In the midst of all that is going on now, pray that God will show them His peace that is found only in Christ.
  5. For opportunities to show Christ’s love to the people here.

Thank you so much for your prayers on our behalf and on behalf of the Italian people.

For the sake of His name,

Tom, Stephanie, Daniela, Nino, & Angelo

Parking in Italy

For your amusement, I have taken random pictures (without working hard—there were certainly “better” pictures to be had if I had stopped our car in the middle of the road somewhere or done other illegal things, which regularly happen here also) of everyday, average local parking jobs.

 

tame, I know...but this is the usual method of parking.

tame, I know…but this is the usual method of parking.

 

 

All the cars in this picture are parked, and there are no drivers anywhere in sight.

All the cars in this picture are parked, and there are no drivers anywhere in sight.

 

 

All of these are parked cars. The car on the right obviously made its own space in the usual manner.

All of these are parked cars. The car on the right obviously made its own space in the usual manner. And there are more cars parked perpendicular to it on its right…who knows if they can get out.

 

 

I really don't know why lines are painted here.

I really don’t know why lines are painted here.

 

All the cars here are parked. The driver of the car on the right obviously could not walk. The drivers of the cars on the left also made their own spaces in this garage.

All the cars here are parked. The driver of the car on the right obviously could not walk. The drivers of the cars on the left also made their own spaces in this garage.

 

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I came out of a business to find myself boxed in. Thankfully it was by a delivery truck that moved shortly.

 

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This is how we roll.

 

 

The parking lot was basically empty, yet I watched the white car in the distance pull in and park in the road a few yards from the door...even though there were actual parking spaces a few feet to the left.

The parking lot was basically empty, yet I watched the white car in the distance (next to the people) pull in and park in the road a few yards from the door…even though there were actual parking spaces a few feet to the left.

 

Both cars are parked... Neither driver present. The car on the right is at least in the parking area, though clearly not parked the same direction as the lines (the one on the left is in the middle of the lane).

Both cars are parked… Neither driver present. The car on the right is at least in the parking area, though clearly not parked the same direction as the lines (the one on the left is in the middle of the lane).

 

 

Yes, once again...all parked cars.

Yes, once again…all parked cars.

 

Apparently, if you park on the curb, it doesn't matter that you're blocking some of the road (and part of the sidewalk).

Apparently, if you park on the curb, it doesn’t matter that you’re blocking some of the road (and part of the sidewalk).

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I have no idea how they got these cars in this garage–or how they will get them out easily…and one is an ambulance.

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:)

Driving School

Tonight I had my first driving time with an instructor…my first ever (I didn’t do driver’s ed in the USA). I drove us about 25 minutes away. During the drive, someone called my instructor and asked if they could meet up. So, we drove to this other man’s driving school. Both instructors left me sitting (alone) in the drivers’ school and headed out to have a coffee. The one instructor told me that if anyone comes in with money, I should take it. I laughed, but I’m still not sure if he was joking or serious.

When they were done with their coffee, they returned, chatted a bit more, and then I drove the drivers’ school car (with my instructor) around the city for a bit and then back to my drivers’ school.

I was initially quite nervous about understanding everything that was going on while driving (in a car that only has 5 gears instead of 6, like ours…Fortunately, I didn’t follow through with my instinctive “put-the-car-in-6th-gear” feeling…that would have meant trying to put it in reverse…on the freeway).

God helped me understand all of the instructor’s instructions pretty well. On top of that, God blessed me with the opportunity to share the Gospel too. The instructor was quite open and asking all sorts of questions about what we believe.

I’m thankful for the simplicity of the Gospel. I’m thankful that all the answers for every question are in the Bible (whether I know where to find them—or how to translate them—or not). God has revealed Himself.

In spite of the inconvenience (and cost) of drivers’ training, it really was a joy to have the opportunity handed to me to tell about Jesus—and to actually have the words to give simple answers in Italian. God is good.

 

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The empty drivers’ school where I waited while the instructors had coffee. Yes, that is an antique monitor in the back…and Ferrari paraphernalia all over the desk.

 

 

 

Random Cultural Observations

I’ve been asked, “How is Italy different than America?” Explaining that would take more time (and experience) than I have.

Instead, I thought I’d share a few pictures of “different”…

 

Shopping in Italy

At our local grocery store, we find things there like these:

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1K of flour (yes, this is a normal-sized bag) costs about 65 cents.

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6 hamburger buns cost about $1.65.

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This nice little chicken comes with his head and his feet (and claws). He costs about $3.10 per pound.

 

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Some “American” things are here. This is roughly 8 oz of cream cheese for $2.50.

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And, this little bottle of syrup (seems not as thick, but I didn’t buy it/taste it, so I don’t know really how it compares to American) costs $8.71.

 

We also go to outdoor markets to buy fresh produce, and we’ve enjoyed seeing the animals that can be bought there too.

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In the bigger shopping centers/malls (it’s just different…), there are these cool shopping carts that lock onto the ascending and descending moving sidewalks (so that your cart doesn’t roll when you’re going up and down the moving sidewalks—at an angle—to the parking lot, which is under the “mall”). However, those same shopping carts (and all the shopping carts I’ve found in Italy) are ridiculously difficult to steer. All 4 wheels turn in all directions, and the thing has a mind of its own. I haven’t run anyone over yet, but I usually have to manoeuvre my body in such a way as to get the greatest leverage and plant my feet hard in order to turn the cart (when it has weight in it…mine always has at least 1 child).

 

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Random stuff:

I’ve seen many of these tiny trucks around. They are tiny, and they sound like mopeds (and don’t go any faster)…and the driver usually appears to be squashed into the cab. :)

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Plenty of people tie (or just place) water bottles around their property—mostly in the corners. This supposedly keeps the dogs and cats from urinating there. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any method of cleaning up the “other” animal “business” that decorates the sidewalks (and many unsuspecting shoes).

 

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We discovered very early on (when document after document “didn’t print right”) that paper is different dimensions here. No more “8.5”x11”…everything is A4.

 

People paint buildings this color (or other bright colors) regularly.

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Some parks, parking lots, or other public locations have statues and “altars” of some type.

 

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All the cemeteries look like this:

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In other words, yes, things are different here…very different.

But things are the same too. People are here, worshipping something or someone, just like they are in every part of this world. And, people are dying here, just like they are in every part of this world. We trust God will open their eyes and bring many more people to true worship of Himself in this life.

 

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking . . . and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

Romans 1:21-23

 

 

smb