Thursday, February 26, 2015

What Is Next For Us?!?

We bundled up under layers of clothes and sat on our front porch. The snow whispered "hush" over the darkness of our tiny little town. Even in the darkness, everything was brighter with a layer of snow reflecting its purity. Everything was quieter with a layer of snow to dampen the miscellaneous noise. That's what captivated me, the quiet. Since moving back to French Camp 19 months ago, I have had to reintroduce myself to quiet. I've seen more glimpses of her in the last 19 months, than in all of my life previous. Quiet hasn't been a regular visitor in my life. Growing up in a bustling home constantly full of people, (WHICH I ADORED!) I didn't know I even needed quiet. I left my parents house and moved in with my delectable groom, Mark, and the silence unnerved me. I often thought, "Why is it so quiet? Are we doing something wrong? Where are all the people? Aren't we suppose to be hosting a party right now?"  We had a small chapter of quiet while living in the Love Shack at Twin Lakes. Although, I never allowed myself to enjoy the quiet. I fought against it and turned on the TV, radio, or talked on the phone. Quiet meant empty for me, for a long, long time. Then we started making babies, and all hope of quiet exited stage left for the last 11+ years. After moving to French Camp, all the girls started attending brick and mortar school, and we all know the immediate silence that fell over my house. It's not completely silent, my little man is a fine little chatty Cathy, and Kindergarten has kept us busy. Nonetheless, (nonethemore) there have been pockets of quiet that have called my name, and for the first time in my life, I sprint with passion toward it. I let it wash over me, I taste it and I crave more of it.

Two months ago, sitting in our cozy little living room, I peeled a vulnerable layer back in my heart and asked Mark to come in and see what was taking root there. It was December, and I felt it rushing toward me....CHANGE. Enormous CHANGE. Anderson goes to first grade in the fall, and so for the first time in TWELVE YEARS (or really my whole life) this woman right here is facing something I've never faced before in my life; utter silence.

I began to weep as I described how emotional I was feeling, "anyone who walks away from doing something they have LOVED for 12 straight years, will naturally grieve this major loss." When I was young and people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I always said, "I want to be a mom!" In my mind, I could only wrap my brain around the mom part that included this season of always having someone at home. That season, for now, is coming to a close. Since that day in December, I cannot talk about August without bursting into tears.

I am VERY aware that my role as Mama is NOT ending. Trust me, everyday from 3pm-9pm, I am reminded how much my children (and their homework) need me. I call it the 6 hours of triage. I KNOW in all reality, their need for my presence in their daily lives will be at an all time high. Every other day, when the sweet secretary calls me from school, asking me to bring the left behind item, or pick up a sick kiddo, or volunteer for an event or activity; I know my calendar will not be bare come August, but y'all it hurts. For a second, I feel lost. I feel without. I feel that silent emptiness creeping into my world.

People are already asking, "So, what ARE you going to do come August?!" My palms begin to sweat, I feel like I have to quickly justify my answer before them. Or create some grand plan of success of how I'm going to fill 8-3, M-F and shout "BOO-YA" when I conclude. Some deep lie in me feels like I have to prove my worth, validate my cause and track the hours my children are gone on some time sheet for all to evaluate and approve. LIES.

Mark is so brilliant in his love for me! He is so gentle and kind as we face this major force of change. I feel him eagerly watching and waiting WITH me, helping me paint a melody of hope. No pressure, no demands, no rules. He quietly stands next to me, holding my hand in his and whispering, "let's go sit on the quiet, front porch!" No pushing and prodding for me to start bringing home monetary proof that I'm valuable or have a voice. He has ALWAYS valued my zero dollar contributions to the bank account, and elevated my million minutes of investments into the hearts of our children, by being present in our home.    

One of my best friends Amy, whose life has eerily mimicked mine in motherhood, just walked through this season, and she gave me the BEST advice a friend could give.

"What you are doing to do next year is this; tell the whole world that you just swam across the ocean of raising four babies into semi-normal little people. You nearly drowned in gold fish, sleeplessness, baby vomit and diapers on a daily basis for 12 years. You have made it to the shore of survival, a shore you swore would never come. And now you are going to sit on the darn beach, drink a few margaritas, reclaim some missing brain cells..... and everyone can just deal!" (Paraphrased)

The silence tripped me up last night, it got so silent I was forced to think long and hard about what is coming next for me, for us, for our family. Whenever my innards begin to panic and my mind begins to spin out of control with thoughts like, "maybe we should have more kids, maybe we should be adopting to fill the silence (a very bad reason to do either!) maybe I should go back to work, maybe I should go back to college, maybe...maybe..maybe" I stop and exhale, and I envision myself sitting on the beach of survival, catching my breath, running after silence and embracing the major change headed our way.

I do not know what is next. We have some ideas floating around the double wide, floating around our hearts, but nothing seems concrete, fathomable, or attainable. This restlessness will bloom into an idea and the idea will birth a story that will just HAVE to be told. Reminds me of a November night in 2002, when I told Mark I had this idea...."let's have a baby!"


(Thanks Em, for the pic!)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How To Talk To Your Spouse About Sex

It was just days before I was to get married. My mom and I had, had one awkward conversation about sex 9 years earlier when I was 11 and she handed me "Preparing For Adolescence" by Dr. James Dobson.

I am barely 12 years into this motherhood journey of mine, and while there are some things I am doing differently than my mother, I do not hold a grudge or the slightest ounce of disdain over my sweet Mama and the road she blazed for me. Each day, I am reminded that my mom was doing the BEST she knew how. She was a broken woman, raising broken women. Just like me; a broken woman, raising broken women. It is complex and far more difficult than my heart EVER could have imagined. So please DO NOT hear what I am not saying, when I recount stories of my adorable mom! All of us moms are making mistakes, and will continue to make mistakes. I apologize daily for the hurt I spew onto the hearts of my children. That's all we can do; day by day. Lots of "I'm sorry's" lots of "I forgive you's" and lots of "I love you's!   

Back to sex.

We were standing alone in the kitchen one morning making coffee together. We both knew these everyday moments of brushing along side of one another were coming to an end. Me, waking up in the Gillette house, stumbling down the stairs to find her faithfully there. My mom adored the mornings. I knew she had something to say, she had this tell-tale, ornery look on her face. I stared into my coffee until she started talking. 

"Sara, sex is like basketball" (She knew I adored basketball and had played from 5th grade LOTS of mom points here for the zeroing in on something I knew.) 
"When you first picked up a basketball you were really bad at it, but the more you practiced the better you got. That's like sex, don't give up and don't stop practicing!" 

And so concluded my pre-marital counseling on sex. Bless it.

There was SUCH a sweet reception to my blog post last week, on talking to our cherubs about sex. Thank you for liking it, sharing it and commenting on it. That so blesses my heart! But it dawned on me, that it is just (if not MORE) important that we are talking to our spouses about sex.

Last week, I was so thrilled to see all the conversations about Fifty Shades of Grey. Really, Christians have historically done a bad job about talking openly and honestly about sex. Well, outside of the "don't have sex before your married" talking points.  The painful silence regarding this topic has had cascading effects on marriages, churches, young people, old people, our culture, our families and our communities.  Silence is ABSOLUTELY the wrong answer when it comes to talking about sex. Silence deepens isolation, isolation numbs the heart and protects secrets, and secrets destroy relationships. 

If I could go back and write a letter to "pre-married" Mark and Sara, this would be my advice to us. As per my normal writing, I never encourage you as a reader to do something I haven't done myself. I do not give advice about parenting, marriage, grief, or spirituality, unless I, myself have walked a mile in those shoes. It is NEVER too late to discuss these things. It is NEVER too late to redeem the precious and sacred waters of our marriages. 

NO!  Mark and I do not have this all figured out, not even close... It can still be awkward and painful when discussing such a serious and intimate topic. We often make mistakes and give in to temptations that allure us. The struggle is REAL! But we keep showing up. We keep coming back to one another. We keep admitting our deep weaknesses and flaws, we keep saying 'I'm sorry', and we keep offering each other profound grace and forgiveness in this specific area. 

Dear 22 year old Mark and 20 year old Sara,

I've been brainstorming, thinking and digging through the last 13 years of marriage hoping to recall the most helpful advice I can offer you. I'm about to vomit all over you. The questions I am going throw out are questions I want you to walk THROUGH not AROUND.   I want you to spend MORE time talking with a professional or deeply trusted individuals, about the intricacies of sex. I don't just mean talking to someone who can prepare you for the act of sex, but someone who will cover EVERY.SINGLE.TOPIC. possible regarding sex. (Sara, I know you've read like 10 books, they aren't as helpful as they should be!)

First, I think it's incredibly important that y'all talk about how each of you were introduced to sex. Leading counselors believe that when a child is introduced to sex in any other format than with a trusted adult, it is a sexual abuse on a child's heart and mind. Did someone sit down and explain it to you, or did you over hear friends discussing it one day at recess? How you found out about this topic will determine SO much about your sexual intimacy. Example, if you found out about sex because you found an inappropriate magazine, how is that shaping your belief about how men/women should look and behave in the marriage bed? Has coming upon this magazine created an environment of secrecy and shame in your heart? This WILL translate into your marriage!!

Second, both of your sexual stories (physically, mentally, emotionally) has to be fully flushed out in its entirety. Who have you liked, who have you loved, who have you had physical contact with, whether it's hand holding or sexual intimacy? I think any type of secrecy in this realm is poisonous. Knowing each other's complete history will only make moving forward together open, breatheable and sure. This conversation will inevitably be painful and awkward, probably one of the most painful conversations you'll ever have. But it's so important! No secrets. No darkness. No "off limits" conversations.

Third, moving forward together, after your history is revealed, you have to determine your sexual game plan.Contrary to popular belief, after you say 'I do' your struggles with sexuality, pornography, and masturbation do not dissipate into the thin air of monogamy. What is your game plan? Do you have a army of people going to battle WITH YOU over these uncomfortable and messy issues?
How will you address each of the above issues outside the protection of your marriage bed? Are y'all giving each other complete access to each other's devices and social media accounts? (I know you don't know what the heck I'm talking about, but in 13 years there will be a bombardment of availability in this area!) Are you going to be “friends” with ex boyfriends/girlfriends? Do you need more filters on your TVs, personal devices and computers? What if a new hot intern starts working with you six months from now and out of the blue you feel an attraction to him/her? What are you going to do with that attraction? It is important to constantly be talking about who yall work with, interact with, go to church with, hang out with, etc. Tell each other if  you are attracted to them. Tell each other if they give you the butterflies. Tell each other if there someone your thoughts linger on longer than they should. Tell each other your expectations about sex. What are your insecurities about sex? What lie is Satan already telling you about your marriage bed? Determine now, how you will talk to others about the activity in your marriage bed. Where's the line drawn about what you can say to others about your intimacy?

Be prepared for Satan to zero in on this area of your marriage from the very start. If he can destroy, corrupt, pollute and distort this ONE area then he has a straight shot to every other issue in your marriage. Sex has to be the most normal, over-talked about issue in your marriage. Every detail, every feeling, every thought has to be laid before your spouse. It's incredibly vulnerable and intimidating, but I promise you, you will NOT regret it 13 years from now. 

Now go on now, start talking!! And hold on to your knickers, the next 13 years will BLOW your mind! And for the record, it's WAAAYYY better than basketball!!

~The Future Mrs. Littlejohn

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The 'But' Gospel

Our bellies were full with all things delightfully southern; catfish, okra, greens, and hush puppies. My Mississippi passport had been stamped yet again with a new adventure, "Carmack Fish House!" For real, don't mess with the deliciousness of food coming out of a gas station.

The six of us, plus Larry and Jere', were all together in the van winding through the dark, back-roads of Choctaw County, when from the back seat we heard Anderson say, "What does extraordinary mean?!" Trying to offer a definition suitable to a 5 year old's brain, Grandy said, "It means, really, really good!" To which Anderson replied, "I don't feel extraordinary!" Tears brimmed the bottom of my eye lids and my heart sank, Mark whispered only loud enough for my ears to hear, " that's every man's struggle, son!" 

I wanted Mark to pull the van over right then. I wanted to sprint to the back of the van, fling the tail gate open, flail my grown body over the back seat while the bench pierced my gut, and cup that baby boy's face in my hands and tell him all the ways he was he was extraordinary. None-of-which, had anything to do with WHAT he did, simply WHO he is. He is our son, our only son. He is a brother, a grandson, a nephew, a cousin, a friend and he was made from a 'holy huddle of love' that defines his very existence. 
(Ann Voscamp)

How wretched it felt that my five year old was already feeling the inadequacies that plague (or as Lucy says it, "PLAH-ZYEW") so many hearts and lives. I have sipped many cups of coffee around warm and intimate tables and living rooms, as people have shared their sweet stories with me. And the longer I sit and listen, I mean REALLY listen with  more vulnerability and less categorizing, I hear a desperate cry of the heart, "MORE GRACE! Less of the 'but' gospel."

The last 15 months, I slowly trudged through this book that has had lasting impacts all over my life and in every venue. My conclusions are long and deep, and could never be covered in a single blog post. Mark, poor Mark, has listened to me regurgitate these thoughts for a LONG time now. He has seen me wrestle with them as they have flushed themselves out in my very own life. This book has profoundly changed me more than any other book (besides the Bible---Awana hangover---) on earth. For those of you new to these parts, THAT'S A MAJOR STATEMENT. I read A LOT. I love a lot of different books, but this one holds the cheese, or the cake, depending on where you are from!

I want you to give just a small excerpt from the book. Not for you to pick apart and criticize, (you have to read the whole book before you get an opinion around here) but to encourage people who are longing to be freed from the captivity of a life without grace, and want to taste it extravagantly. You will NOT be disappointed.

Unknowingly, I was terrified of grace before I read this book. I had a lot of deeply ingrained 'buts'. BUT what if I taste grace and go on sinning, will grace end?
BUT what if my behavior never changes, will grace end?
BUT what if, at the end of my earthly life I am still struggling with the EXACT same sin I was struggling with at the beginning of my walk with the Lord, will grace end?

By God's extravagant grace, I am a different person.... TOTALLY! I see my sin and other's sin so differently now. And it's freeing, and it's joy filled, and it's calm, and it's life giving, it's not critical, it's not impatient, it's not self righteous, and it's NOT 'but' filled ANY MORE! It's exactly where I know the Lord wants me to be RIGHT NOW!! And I am HUMBLED!

"Let's be honest; if the chief work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification is to make Christians more sin-free, then he isn't doing a very good job. The church throughout the ages and throughout the world has not usually been known for its purity and goodness. Instead, it is wracked by a constant history of strife, violence, and hypocrisy. People often cannot differentiate a believer from an unbeliever by their apparent goodness. In fact, there are many unbelievers who are morally superior to Christians and live lives of far greater nobility, generosity, and purpose than we who profess faith in Christ.

God could have saved us and made us instantly perfect. Instead, he chose to save us and leave indwelling sin in our hearts and bodies to wage war against the new and blossoming desires to please God that accompany salvation. This is a raging battle that we often lose, and that often leaves us feeling defeated and joyless in our walk with God. We know that God does all things for his own glory and the good of his people, his decision to leave Christians with many struggles with sin must also somehow serve to glorify him and benefit his people. This is shocking news, isn't it?

Think of what this means. God thinks that you will actually come to know and love him better as a desperate and weak sinner in continual need of grace than you would as a triumphant Christian warrior who wins each and every battle against sin. This makes sense out of our experience as Christians. If the job of the Holy Spirit is to make you more humble and dependent of Christ, more grateful for his sacrifice and more adoring of him as a wonderful Savior, then he might be doing a very, very good job even though you still sin every day.

What difference does it make whether you believe that Christians should go from strength to strength and live victorious lives of obedience, or whether you believe Christians will remain on earth in a state of great weakness and utter dependence on God for every single good thought? It makes all the difference in the world. It matters immensely what you believe about yourself and about God. It matters that you have a true and accurate assessment of who you are as a believer before God, what God expects from you, and what you should expect from yourself. It matters a great deal that you understand what the Holy Spirit is up to in your life and how he does his work.

If you are a discouraged Christian who is surprised by your sin and sure that God is disappointed with you, then you need truth from God's word to free you from the emotional roller coaster ride of your successes and failures. If you are a proud Christian who feels better than others because of your many strengths and triumphs, you need God's Spirit to show you the truth about your heart and humble you.

Sinless perfection and complete peace and joy must wait for heaven, but abundant joy here and now in Christ is your birthright and your inheritance, even when you sin and fail miserably to be a good Christian."

Barbara Duguid, Extravagant Grace


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

How To Talk To Your Kids About Sex

She was barely three, her white cotton hair and bright blue eyes caught the attention of every one we encountered. She was our first born, and it felt like her innocence was at stake. Or maybe it was the continued realization that the world we lived in was desperately depraved.

I had just finished reading an article written by a woman who was a prosecutor and children's advocate in the court of law. Her article was about the importance of teaching our children from a very young age, the correct terminology for their body parts.  She was adamantly opposed to using terms like, "wee-wee, tee-tee, down there, private area, etc" and all the other variations we come up with out of embarrassment and shame. Her point was this, if your child was ever abused they needed to be able to articulate clearly, "someone touched my vagina, someone touched my penis,." This woman had seen lawyers pick apart a child's testimony due to vague wording. I had never, even thought about it that way. She concluded, by proving the irrevocable power, not just in a court of law but in all of life, the use of the CORRECT biological terminology.

Now, if you have been around here for long, you know that I think fear is a TERRIBLE boss and counselor! I do not believe we should do things based on fear.. EVER! I have lived that lie and it sucked! Literally, sucked every ounce of life and logic from my bones and brain. However, I am a FIRM believer in the intuition and discernment that has been planted in each of us as parents. Over and over again, that "unsettled" feeling that sometimes is just a whisper in our gut,  has helped guide us in moments of cloudiness.

In addition to reading this article, I had also been reading sweet Dr. James Dobson's book on raising children. He too, also believes in a very natural, consistent, and truthful conversation with our children from a very young age about their bodies. He confirmed that right around the age of three was a great time to start speaking with your kiddos specifically about their body parts. He suggested a great opportunity to have such a weighty conversation is bath time. Bath time is a regular occurrence for children that is familiar and safe.

And so, in what felt like we were stripping our baby of innocence, actually became a very important foundation for YEARS of conversation to come. While I do not remember all the specifics, I remember that I wanted to cry and run away as Mark, in such a gentle and delicate way, began washing our precious baby girl and speaking truth over her.

As he soaped up a rag and began washing her,
"Baby girl, you know that your body is INCREDIBLY special, right?"
Big eyes, gazing up at this man she deeply trusted, "Yes, sir!"
"Your body is so special that NO ONE at any time is allowed to touch your vagina, except Mama and Daddy when we are cleaning you. Does that make sense?"
"Yes" she nodded, not missing a beat really.
I held my breath waiting for her big brain to process.
"Daddy, let's sing the alphabet."

And so concluded our first talk, with our first kiddo, about MONSTER sized things.

From that moment on, we determined that our bodies and all things related to sex, love, life and the lottery were fair game in our home. These conversations have been so folded into our home that shame and embarrassment have zero room to breathe here.

We do not promote crude and unnecessary joking about these precious topics, rather we hold these treasures in such high regard because we want our children to hear OUR voices over the loud and clamoring voices of this world.

A new study by Focus on the Family,  reveals that the average age of a child viewing porn is EIGHT! EIGHT!

We have an 11 year old, 9 year old, 7 1/2 year old and almost 6 year old. You better believe we are talking about porn in our home! It's not IF your children will see porn, it is all about teaching them what to do WHEN they see it.

Mark and I have determined to be the FIRST to talk to our kids about sex and all its accompany parts! We aren't waiting around for them to ask us about it. We are blazing the trail and laying the foundation that says, "Mama and Daddy are safe. We are going to tell you the real truth about real life. We aren't embarrassed and ashamed to talk to you about YOU, because YOU ARE WORTH IT!"

Our basic rule of thumb around here regarding age is, "the sooner the better!"

The BEST example I have heard so far regarding this topic is, " at the beginning, our children and their understanding about sex is like a dry sponge. If we as parents are intentional to fill that sponge to overflowing with the TRUTH about sex, then when other people seek to pour information into our children's sponges about sex, all that information will just roll off the sponge and not an ounce of it will be ABLE to be absorbed."

The single sweetest way to help our children regarding the hot topic of sex, is to equip them fully with truth and knowledge. Not just an awkward, one time conversation, but a LIFE TIME of conversations.

Mark and I realize that even our "best plan" does not mean our children will be fully protected or avoid the pit falls of distortion. However, it is our expression of love to them. It is our weak and inadequate attempt to prepare them and confirm in their hearts that we are safe and we are for them in EVERY WAY!

Oh, I know it's uncomfortable. But like I always tell my kids, "just because it's uncomfortable doesn't mean it's not important and worthy!"

Allow these thoughts to marinate.
If you have kids, MAKE A PLAN! Do not allow silence to rule this conversation.
Be intentional and proactive, IT IS SO WORTH IT!