STOP and read this disclaimer: This is written from what some would consider an old fashioned perspective. One where moms have a vital role in raising kids. And while I was brought up that way, I'm not here to argue it's the only way. Whether in your house that person is mom, or dad, or grandma, or anyone else, I think we can agree that the job of raising children and nurturing a family is our most valuable role ever. And so it begins...me already worrying that I'm about to rock the boat.
It's been pretty quiet on the blog front lately, but behind the scenes, this post has been in the making for awhile now. Been crafting just the right words in my head (only to forget as I begin to scribble them down on some scrap of paper) - praying about what God would want me to say - losing those scraps that actually contained a few notes - hoping over and over (and over) that this would encourage and not offend - and continuing to watch and listen to the world around me. And now I guess it's time. Here goes my little bit of noise...
In the several months since last writing, and even the few before that, I've done something that's been lacking for years. Something called sleeping. Something that was lost on me in the course of life between Cole being born almost 13 years ago and my inadvertent decision to fill 24 hour days with 20+ hours of activity. I don't have to wonder if any moms are reading this and nodding their heads in agreement right now - because I know it's happening. I've been watching you. And I can tell you this, not through my previous veil of rationalizing the contrary, that sleep is good. It's good for everyone. Even and especially me.
This story begins for the most part almost two years ago. It was a sunshiny, warm, fall morning - dry leaves crunching under my feet on the sidewalk in a little neighborhood in Ohio. I admired the beautiful Victorian homes, decorated with pumpkins and cornstalks, and wondered as I had many times before, what it would be like not to live in the country. My mind wandered between sitting on one of those porches in my rocking chair - having finished weeding my city-sized flower beds in a fraction of the time it takes me back home, and details of the workshop I'd be leading at the convention center later that day. My phone rang and it was Keith, calling at the crack of dawn Pacific time. He was tired, but had to start his day early. There were 3 kids to get up and going, farm chores to be done, and a company to run. Oh, and soccer. And packing to go hunting the following day. And a house to clean up. Dishes to wash. Laundry to fold. Meals to make. Permission slips to sign and library books to return. He half-heartedly attempted to share my excitement over the Midwest neighborhood, and before we hung up, in as polite a way as he could, told me his load was too heavy. He had said it before. In fact, that statement became common about the time I falsely determined that I didn't need to sleep. But this time, the words sunk a little deeper into my heart. I walked back to the hotel - the sunshine, blue sky, and October leaves not as vibrant anymore.
Wouldn't you know it, that very night at a general session, in an auditorium together with thousands of children's ministry leaders, I listened to a husband and wife speaking on stage. The husband's focus on church ministry and not his own family had nearly destroyed their marriage. I could still sense the upset tone in his wife's voice as she spoke, even years later. There was a more broad message intended through their stage time, and as they wrapped up, people felt encouraged to dive in, to persevere, to keep serving, to make Jesus famous in all they did, and I walked away quietly with 2 quotes I had typed into my phone. Both are still there today:
"Sometimes we have to say no to opportunities that are good to make room for things that are even better."
"A great ministry begins in your own home."
Four days later I arrived home, just hours before Keith and the boys returned from their hunting trip. Over the remaining time I had spent at the conference, it seemed that countless things led me to see more clearly that not only was Keith's load indeed too heavy, but that my focus away from our family and on other things was a primary cause.
And now here we are, 21 months later down a slightly different path. I'm thankful for the realization that began to happen on the morning of that phone call; thankful God gave me a new set of listening ears that day. And not only the ability to hear and listen this time, but the understanding of heart to know that yes, a change had to be made. And please know that this is my personal experience; not intended to say that what's right for me is right for anyone or everyone else.
Anyway, plenty of my time has been spent in thought over this whole ordeal; by that I mean what caused me to start saying yes to too many things over the years... to stop sleeping...to heap a pile of undue pressure on Keith. Here's where I've identified my thinking began to go a little wacky: in my mind, the Hickles are in good shape. Our basic needs are met, and beyond that, we're considered rich by world standards. There isn't abuse in our home. We all love Jesus. We're surrounded by family and friends. Even in our most difficult time as Keith was sick in 2011, we were (and are) just plain blessed. Then there's the rest of the world. People suffering on countless levels. No love, no joy, no hope in their lives. And so as a result, along the way, I figured the world needed me more desperately than Keith and the boys. Gah...that's a big, gnarly-sounding thing to admit. And don't get me wrong...I couldn't love my family even the slightest bit more...but is anyone following me here??
Let me break it down into a few practical examples...
First, about a year ago, I was talking with a friend. We were comparing notes (so just in case no one else understands what I'm saying here, I know she will...) about our struggle to always put family first, given our "blessed" circumstances. She said that recently, a sign-up sheet was going around to provide meals for a local family in need. She rushed to get her name on the list, but something stopped her just as her pen touched the paper. She had been busy with work, busy with kids in sports, and considered during her pause that she hadn't made a meal for her own family in 3 weeks. She put the pen down and allowed other ladies in the room to fulfill the need.
And another: Last fall, I went hiking with a missionary who served in the African Congo. We had just met the night before, but I was anxious to hear some of her colorful life stories. As moms do, we were talking about our kids within minutes, and I learned that she and her husband raised their 3 daughters there. We shared thoughts about ministry...the great things and the difficult things...but one statement broadsided me. She said, "I could look out my door and see 150 people who didn't know Jesus, and had to ask myself, 'What's more important...putting this village full of people first, or putting my own girls first?' The answer was my girls." She trusted God's timing enough to work in the lives of those village people, as she faithfully served them while putting the needs of her husband and kids first.
So as for this new path... Yeah, it's been a little slow, a little steep, and a little overgrown at times. I expected by making different decisions that I'd feel less busy along the way, but that hasn't been the case. I've felt just as busy, sometimes more, but have heard from Keith many times that he's thankful for the difference. And that keeps me doing what I know is the right thing. Reality is I still have far to go. My tendency is to say yes to every opportunity that comes my way. To help everyone I can. To be involved where needed. It's tough to pass those things up. And if the inner drive to help others isn't convicting enough, society is pushing us to do more. Our friends on Facebook are on mission trips in faraway lands; they're organizing elaborate fundraisers; they're feeding the homeless. And when we learn about those post-worthy acts of kindness as we're folding our 33rd pair of socks for the day, well...it's hard to feel like we're doing much good at all.
But God is good. And He has blessed my decision over and over. Blessings are often in disguise; we don't see them as they unfold, but when we look back, wow, they are easy to spot!
I think it's necessary, and often overlooked, to give a shout out to those wives and mamas who consistently put their families first. The ladies we don't hear from who are in the trenches, noses down, doing their jobs. Not long ago a popular blog site from a mom well known in Christian circles offered free copies of her latest book to 6 lucky winners - they had to be fellow bloggers, telling about their "mom" stories. One of the requirements was that they must post blog entries at least twice per week, and have a history of doing so for at least six months. And that ruined it for me. Did she not realize that it isn't about how much we do? It's not about the quantity of what happens outside of our parenting? And that she was probably missing out on some of the most deserving candidates of all, the ones who weren't skipping out on sleep, or putting their kids in front of the TV for hours on end? Because the reality is, something will suffer when we try to do it all. Contrary to what the world might say, putting your family first is making this world a better place. That missionary to the Congo...her daughters are now grown and serving in the mission field as well.
So, what's the point of all this? Well...I think sharing our struggles is good. "Hi, I'm Brook. I tend to neglect my own family, but how can I help you?" Maybe you can relate, and simply feel better by knowing you're not the only one out there. Maybe this is the nudge you need to say no to a few things. Or start removing from your current list. Or maybe, just maybe, you'll be inspired to get some sleep tonight.
The truth is, you can't do enough good in your community or in this world to fill the void in a household that is calling out to you. Don't leave your family behind. Put them before all those other things, and suddenly, it will all fall into place.
"Spread love everywhere you go; first of all in your own home." -Mother Teresa