Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

Date archives June 2013

Life & Faith / Motherhood / Thoughts

What You Lose When You Compare

I’ve been having this conversation in my head for a while. It seems like we all compare ourselves to others–or others to ourselves–more often than we might say out loud. At least, I’ll say that’s true for me. The things I compare are not always the normal things…I’m not much for fancy cars or houses. Simple is fine with me. But I do compare. Even when I don’t mean to. Even when I don’t want to.

I see friends post snapshots of their lives on Facebook. Trips to exotic places or delicious food from high-class restaurants, and suddenly have a pang of discontent with my little life. I see moms post pictures of their summer activities and think they must be doing something engaging, exciting, and fun with their kids every single day of the summer, while I wonder if my kids will someday tell stories of long days of never-ending summer boredom at our house. I might run into an acquaintance at Costco who has a toddler with a cute outfit on, and a darling first haircut,  while my children hang off of all sides of the cart with mis-matched clothes and unbrushed hair and wish I had found the gumption to get us a little more together before venturing out. I see the happy, successful, picture-perfect moments and think that perfection must surely extend into every area of their lives, while over here, I’m a mess, tired to the bone, going nowhere except the grocery store, and feeling like there is rarely a time I measure up.

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There is a well known quote by Theodore Roosevelt…”Comparison is the thief of joy.” It pops up in my life in different places. It’s a great quote, and I do think it’s true. But thinking a little deeper, I think comparison steals more from us than only joy (which is a travesty all by itself).

What are the other things you lose when you compare?

Confidence. You can be doing the best that you can with what you’ve got for that day (here, here all ye moms on 2 hours of sleep), and valiantly so, but when you come up against that comparison thing, you lose all steam and crumble in defeat and self-pity, starting to believe that you cannot do what you were clearly already doing. Awesomely serving your family.

Courage. It takes a lot of guts to tackle parenthood. Or workplaces. Or dreams. And if you waste a minute comparing your journey to someone else’s to your own detriment, your courage slinks away and it can be hard to get it back.

Opportunities. Seriously. When you’re looking through the ‘noculars’ (as my kids call them), at your neighbors yard, all these opportunities can be whizzing by your face and you can’t see them. Opportunities to grow, to serve someone else, to do important, meaningful, or fulfilling things. And the problem is, you won’t even know what you’ve missed most of the time.

Friendships. Be honest, how many times have you seen someone who looks happy and amazing, and you think to yourself, “She’s way too cool. She would never want to be my friend.” Yeah, I’ve thought that. And I still feel that way sometimes. But I’ve learned that sometimes (or most times) there’s so much more to a person than what you see on the outside, whether they are happy and outgoing or more melancholy and shy. And some of my dearest and most meaningful friendships are with women who I may have missed if I was trying to match us up side-by-side, looking for commonalities and comparing what little I actually knew about them.

I’m sure there are more things we lose out on when we compare. But maybe these few will get you thinking about how to approach those comparing thoughts a little differently. Instead of comparing, try connecting. Reach out and make an unexpected friend. Instead of feeling ashamed about your not-togetherness, laugh about it, and know that every mom out there has not-together moments. Lots of them. Instead of wishing you had things that you don’t, take steps toward doing things that bring you joy and bring joy to others. And when you look in the mirror, hear God say to you, “You are beautiful just the way you are.”

 

Family / Motherhood

Blessings

It would be hard for me to put into words how my life has changed with each child added to our family. Each one brings their own quirks and challenges, and each one has brought me a new and different perspective about the heart of God and how much He cares for us. Despite the heaps of responsibility that come with every child, we have experienced even bigger heaps of blessing in our marriage relationship, in our individual faith journeys, and in our overall family dynamic than I can even begin to explain.

Parenting is not easy. It’s not always fun. But I have never done anything more rewarding in my life than invest in the lives of our four beautiful children. And it would only be fair to say that I have received far more out of the equation than I’ve put into it. Healing, direction, purpose, perspective. Hope, joy, wonder, and awe of God. I wouldn’t have planned my life this way, and just 10 years ago, I would have told you that I didn’t really want to be married, and didn’t really want to have kids (spoken out of heartache and fears that functional/healthy relationships were not possible and pain could be the only result of trusting another person with my heart). Well isn’t it funny that God’s plans were SO very different than mine.  I did get married. To the most hard-working, servant-hearted man I’ve ever met. And then had a surprise pregnancy with a little girl that shows me every day that love, freedom, and compassion are what we are made for. And then I had a planned pregnancy with a little boy who has become my shout of praise to God for bringing me through dark days and hopelessness into wholeness and goodness. That was followed by another (very surprise) pregnancy with a boy I didn’t know I needed, but certainly have. One who reminds me that my surrender to God and His plans brings about the best stuff in life. And then another little girl who has blown my mind and my world right open – showing me that God’s love is bigger than I can fathom, and His grace reaches into the most vulnerable places of my soul, making His strength perfect in my weakness and growing my faith in immeasurable ways.

And that was supposed to be the end. At least that is what we had decided last fall. And then something started shaking me up.

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I started reflecting on what God has done in my life through this season of bearing children…How each one has been a gift, and how with the arrival of each one has come a wave of unexpected blessing…not usually material blessing (although we have had some of that too), but intangible, deep blessings that have brought me more peace, joy, and purpose than I can even begin to say.

And then somewhere in my heart, I began to know that I totally have the freedom to choose to put an end to my child-bearing…there is something reasonable and sensible about doing so. But I also just couldn’t bring myself to err on the side of practical, sensible. Normal. Nope. God blew my heart wide open and said to me, “Are these not MY children? Do I not provide for ALL your needs? Isn’t it I that have called you to this work of mothering? Would you really choose no more of this goodness?” To which my heart has completely turned in surrender.  Of course they are His children…just in my care for a few short years. And He has provided for every need we’ve ever had, including in some radical, seemingly-impossible ways. And I just have to say yes.

And so I have. Leading me to the announcement that we are expecting another child in February 2014. What joy!

Family / Life & Faith

The Best Dad Around

More thankful for this guy than I could ever say in a whole lifetime. He’s a behind-the-scenes kind of fella, with the biggest servant heart I’ve ever seen. He has a silly sense of humor and fills our home with goodness – both by way of providing for our needs and making us laugh all the time. I think four little kids will agree with me when I say he’s the best dad in the world. Happy Father’s Day to my sweetheart. We love you.

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^ Firstborn, minutes old

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^ Second born, days old

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^ Second born, days old

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^ Third born, hours old

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^ Third Born, months old

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^ Third born, months old, don’t miss daddy’s face in the mirror…

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^ Second born, loving every minute of being sprayed with the hose

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^ Fourth born, going to the park with daddy

Life & Faith

Prayer Towels

I am aware that what I’m about to share is 100% dweeby. No matter. Sometimes the little things really help, and I’m going to tell you the story of how these towels came to be.

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The green one belongs to a friend who has become an unexpected and very meaningful part of my life while we journey through very different seasons. She left this towel at my house after one of our long, extravagant bulk cooking days (making 40+ meals for the freezer in one day)…probably a year and a half ago. I meant to give it back to her and have had several opportunities to do so, but it stays in my kitchen, and goes through my laundry cycle weekly. This friend has been going through a heartbreaking journey of infertility for the past several years, and while she trusts God with her desires and future, she also aches deep to be a mother. Every time I see this towel, I think about her and say a prayer for God to intervene and bring life to her womb and fruitfulness to her life beyond all that she can ask or imagine. Now that this has become routine for me, (with her blessing) I have decided not to give it back…not until the hopes of her heart are fulfilled. It helps me persevere in prayer and brings perspective to my harder days as a mother. I use it to wipe up spills and messes from my little bunch, and I hope that one day the same towel can do the same for hers.

The white one belongs to another friend who stayed with me for a few days and accidentally left it behind. At first I laughed to myself about the fact that I unintentionally keep collecting the linens of dear friends, but after I thought about it a minute, I thought, maybe God is providing simple ways for me to be reminded of His goodness to me…reminders to give thanks for what He gives and to celebrate the special people He puts in my life to hold me up, help me grow, and make the hard things in life a little bit easier through friendship. I pray for her and her family often as well…whenever this washcloth appears, at minimum.

It is silly, I know. But sometimes silly is just the right thing. And if you need an ongoing stream of prayer for the issues and heartaches in your life, apparently all you need to do is drop of a dish towel or wash cloth at my house.

 

Family / Motherhood

Simple Joys

Visited some family a few weeks back and had a really lovely time hanging out with them. Our last night there, our beloved Grandpa Mac made a little bubble magic happen in the back yard for a little girl. I love these pictures so much. Seeing how delighted she is melts me!

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Life & Faith / Motherhood

Get in the Water

Happy Monday morning, my friends. I hope you’re starting the week well. I’m on a bit of a personal high, as some very important things happened over the weekend. My two oldest children have decided to follow Jesus with their whole hearts, and also hopped in the water to be baptized alongside some other great kids from our church. Truthfully, it kind of snuck up on me. Even though I have prayed for them over and over and done everything I know how to do to introduce them to the grace, mercy, and love of God, I didn’t plan to baptize them so young (ages five and almost seven). But a few weeks back, the older one started asking me questions about baptism and what it means and why the Bible talks about it. I shared the simple gospel with her…who Jesus was, what He did, and why He did it.

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(this picture gives just a hint of how excited the girl was to be getting baptized…nevermind that she looks like she’s trying to not pee her pants)

“Can I be baptized?” She asked me after I had answered a number of her questions about it.

“Do you believe all those things I told you about Jesus are true and do you want to follow and obey Him, living how He showed us to live?” I responded.

“Yep, I do,” she said without hesitation and with her usual exuberance.

“Then I guess you can.”

We talked about it several more times in the past few weeks. Brother jumped on board and asked to be baptized too. I quizzed him on several occasions to figure out what he understood and what part of his enthusiasm was to be in competition with his sister. I asked him, “What does it mean when you are baptized?”

“It means you are raised to a new life in God and can live with His power in you,” he said. Twang. Strummed on the heart-strings..or maybe the soul-strings.

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So we forged ahead and signed them up to participate in the baptism service at church. I don’t have photos of the dunking (yet – someone else may have taken some) because I had the great honor of getting in the water myself to baptize the kids alongside the pastor. I know we have a lot of years ahead–lots of opportunities to grow in character and understanding–but I’m as thankful as I can be to have the closest look into the spiritual journey of my children.

Matthew 19:14 “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'”

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Creativity / Life & Faith / Thoughts

The Stories We Do

I’ve been away from the blog for a few days. My mind is active with new ideas and new vision for the coming months as it relates to my creative work, most specifically photography, but also sewing, writing, and kid projects. I go through cycles of creativity…spending weeks or months doing a little here and there and then a burst of energy and inspiration hits and I’m lost in a sea of thoughts and daydreams and lists and a totally insatiable desire to roll out a new creative piece in whatever form I’m working on at the moment. Unfortunately that means my whole home routine falls to the wayside and I find myself at three in the afternoon wondering where the day went, up to my ears in dishes and the messes that spring up around the house when the kids more-or-less entertain themselves while I’m deep in thought for hours on end. I’m not totally proud of the fact that they don’t have my full attention on these daydreaming days, but the truth is, I think it’s actually as good for them as it is for me. There is less bickering (because they know I’m just going to tell them to work it out) and they really are content to imagine and play together without needing me to pull out one activity after another to entertain them.

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I’ve been thinking about the stories we tell with our lives and creative work. I don’t just mean in the art we create (although that is a big part of what I’m thinking about for myself), not just the words that we use to tell stories, but all the things that are created through our action or inaction. How we create meals to nourish and fill, curate home spaces for growing and learning, how we build relationships by taking risks to step out of our comfort zones and into someone else’s world…to see from new perspectives. How we make a life with a spouse and how the decisions we make together mold and shape our river’s path to the ocean. How we speak loud without words what we really value by what we do and don’t do with our time, talents, and resources.

The story I’ve been telling for so many years is changing. I feel like the words of amazing grace are hitting in a deeper place than ever before. I once was blind but now I see. So many things. I was rejected. Low. Lost. Hurt. Broken. I cried out for anyone to notice me and tell me I was important. Loved. Spent all my energy trying to meet expectations (my own or others’) that never led to satisfying fulfillment or gold stars, but mostly led to disappointment after disappointment and the need to dig deeper and do more to fill the hole. Doing more isn’t the answer. Doing better isn’t the answer either. I see, possibly for the first time in the clearest way, that God’s story expressed inside my story is one of freedom, peace, and complete surrender to what He has for me…which is admittedly easy to say and much harder to do.

Instead my story is becoming one of low, found, restored, healed, and eyes fixed of Jesus. Notice the low part stays the same. I think low is something we really need to pay attention to. Emptying ourselves out, laying ourselves low at His feet so we can hear what He speaks and receive what He gives…both of which are often missed if we are not in the right position before Him, both of which can be easily misunderstood if we don’t understand His upside-down ways. I’m learning God’s expectations and desires for me are more simple (not easy) and clear than I make them.

I’ve learned that it’s not enough to speak a story out loud for it the story to change you. You have to live the story, to do the story, for the whole point of the story to be made real. What this means for me is that I have to live the faith I talk about having. As I daily surrender and listen for His voice and do what He says, I am made more like Him. Pouring out myself like He poured out Himself, all because of love.