10 Ways to be Content Instead of Stir-Crazy

The original title for this post was “How to Survive as a Stay at Home Mom of a One Car Family in a Tiny Apartment with no Dishwasher”.

That’s catchy, right?

If any of that made you cringe or nod your head in understanding, let me tell you about my life right now.  I am a stay at home mom with a one year old daughter, I run a daycare and watch 3 other kids part time.  We went down to one car when our 2nd car died on the side of the highway 6 months ago.  We live in the 2nd story of a big farmhouse in a 2 bedroom apartment that has no laundry facilities and no dishwasher.  And there are days when any one of those things (let alone all of them at once) make me want to scream.

By the grace of God I am learning to love my crazy and cramped life.  Let me share with you some practical tips for if you ever find yourself in my shoes.

  1. Keep it clean.
    There is nothing as depressing as living in a tiny space that is dirty and cluttered.  It makes you feel like a failure.  Like the clutter will eventually cover your floor and the children and you’ll be cast in that Hoarders show on TV.  RESIST THE DEPRESSION.  Pick one thing or spot and clean it.  If that means the countertop or the toys or the kitchen table, just do one place.  It makes you immediately feel better.  Then keep going!  Living in 5 clean rooms sure beats 5 messy ones.
  2. Prioritize kitchen gadgets & counter space
    I have two tiny counter spaces.  One has a dish drainer and one used to house my bread machine and toaster.  I just bought myself a coffeemaker and rearranged everything to give it the top priority spot of honor.  This serves two purposes: first, to look inviting and give me wonderful hot coffee every day, and second, to discourage me from allowing dirty dishes to pile in front of it.  It helps me keep my promise to wash dishes every time the dish pan is full, which in turn keeps me sane without a dishwasher.
  3. Get outside & rearrange occasionally
    If you stay at home and your family only has one car, you go a little stir crazy.  Especially in an apartment out in the country with no stores or friends in walking distance.  The best remedies for that are to get yourself outside as much as possible just to breath some different air, and let yourself rearrange some furniture.  My kitchen rehaul made me love the space all over again, and I just did some moving around in our living room too.  Rearranging gives you a new perspective.  And when you are home as often as you are, you need to love it.  Take some time to think about how your space works and how your family uses it.  We ended up switching around our living and bedrooms last year because we realized it just works better that way.  The biggest priorities are to get rid of unused items and find a home for everything else.
  4. Keep play spaces out of high traffic areas
    Duh, right?  It took me months to realize that if I moved the toys to the far side of our living room they wouldn’t obstruct the doorway.  Sometimes you miss the most obvious things!  Try looking at your space as if you were an interior designer.  Leave your preconceived dislike of the space at the door and think about what would make it flow better.  Think about what pieces of furniture you aren’t using or what weird spots aren’t being utilized.
  5. When you have the car, GET OUT.
    Sometimes I don’t think my husband realizes how much I need to get out of this house.  Don’t be afraid to leave him on his own for dinner and go visit a friend or even just drive to a park or the store.  I am guilty of getting angry about times I can’t use the car when there were 6 other nights that week it sat unused from 4pm-6am.  If you need to get out, GO.
  6. Like your husband
    No matter how big or small your house is, liking the person you live there with makes it 100x better.  Marriage has stages and seasons, and all relationships have ups and downs, but if you can strive for a place where you enjoy each other’s company it will make any other circumstance much more bearable.
  7. Use your kitchen
    One of the most welcoming things that I have found is to be baking fresh bread or have soup simmering in the crock pot.  I LOVE being in my kitchen when there is yumminess on the stove or in the oven.  If you don’t want to make anything right now, try lighting a candle.  A great smelling home is welcoming and friendly, no matter what size it is or how bored you are of it.
  8. Invite people over!
    When your house is pretty and clean, invite some friends over for coffee.  Plan a Bible study or a crafting day, depending on their interests.  I bet every one of your friends has projects they need to finish and this may give them an excuse to do it.  If you have artsy friends you can ask their opinion on rearranging, or you can forget about your house for awhile and just live your life.
  9. Become a DIYer
    Do you like Pinterest?  Go search for apartment living, small kitchens or DIY decor.  You can deck out your tiny space on the cheap and maybe find solutions for the areas that were stumping you.  There is something soothing about breaking out the power tools and attacking a project that has been sitting for a long time.  Install that coat rack!  Hang those pictures!  Flip that Craigslist freebie!
  10. Be intentionally content
    It is so easy to dream away your days by wishing you had a bigger house, another car, more money or a different set of circumstances.  By utilizing these tips you can learn to be content in the home you have right now, even with the flaws.  Contentment is all about trusting God in your current circumstances, and trust is all about how much control you are willing to give him in your life.

Maybe someday we will have a house with a laundry room and a yard.  Maybe someday we will get another car again.  Maybe someday a magic box will clean my dishes for me.  Until then, I choose to believe that washing dishes is therapeutic & I do it with a smile.

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Having a Bad Day

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When my kids were younger, one of the books I loved to read to them was “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst. This classic book chronicles one of those days where everything seems to go wrong, and gives hope that there are days like that, no matter who you are or where you live.

It’s easy to forget that everyone has days like that, even kids.

When I was starting seventh grade, my dad left the family. We moved to a different house, I began attending a new school, and pretty much every day was a bad day. I don’t recall many things, but I do remember how my Math teacher was named Mrs. Sunshine (really!) and that was my last class of the day and I didn’t like math to begin with. I would end up in the counselor’s office regularly instead of being in class, but I had no words for why I was having a bad day.

Children often do not have words to describe what is happening but the right book often speaks to their heart. That difficult year I discovered “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo; a massive tome of tragedy bearing little resemblance to the Disney movie. I don’t remember much about the book, but I devoured it — the desperation of the mother who lost her child to the gypsies, the degenerate church leaders, the deformed bell ringer who loved the gypsy girl who was tortured and eventually hung. It took me out of myself and gave me a bigger perspective on life.

Bad days are not measured by the type of things going wrong, they are measured by the size of your world.

This is why a child can have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day when they are in a loving environment where they are safe and sheltered and fed. Their world is small because they have no experience outside their own. This is why Job finally realized his string of bad days paled in the presence of the Creator who loved him.

Job had his perspective on life expanded to the max.

Tears and frustrations are useless if we fail to see what Job saw and realize that dark days and nights are part of life, but they do not define the limits of our experience. I think one of the most important things to learn from our dark times is compassion for those who cannot yet see outside the circle of their perspective.

God Weeps With Us – Tears of Joy

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Read the first part of Amanda’s story God Weeps With Us – Tears of Pain

Grief is different for everyone, and everyone goes through the stages in their own time and at their own pace.

I cried myself to sleep for months and it was well over a year before I stopped having nightmares. The doctors had run some tests but couldn’t find any reason why I went into early labor. They also said that whatever had happened was a fluke and shouldn’t happen again. We were pretty anxious to get pregnant again, not to replace William, because no one ever could, but it left a hole in us that we were hoping to ease with another baby.

I also strongly believe that going through something like this will either make or break your marriage. It made ours stronger, no one felt my pain the way that Seth did. He was such a comfort to me. But as the months started to pass us by we both began to get pretty discouraged. We realized that it may not be easy for us to get pregnant again, and seeing other people get pregnant without even trying kind of hurt. It was no one’s fault that they got pregnant easily, they just did.

Seth and I didn’t know what we wanted to do anymore. We needed to be alone together, to grieve, and to seek God’s direction for our lives. We had saved up a good bit of money, and so we both quit our jobs and moved 5 hours away to my mom’s hunting cabin in the woods. The cabin had electricity but no running water, but that didn’t bother us.

We spent four months there over the winter. We slept, prayed, chopped wood, fetched water and watched movies. We prayed for direction and a baby but most of all we prayed that we would do what God wanted us to do.

One day while Seth was cleaning his guns I asked him if he had ever consider being a gunsmith. He was very passionate about them so why not? We looked up gunsmithing schools and there was one located in Pittsburgh that was one of the top three schools in US. We applied and Seth got accepted. We could both feel God leading us and we knew without a doubt that Seth was meant to go there. Seth’s school was full time for 16 months long and boy, was it hard. With his school and both of us working, we were under a lot of stress, and we both still battled with the loss of our son.

I distanced myself emotionally from a lot of my friends with children. I hated myself for the feelings I had. I wanted to be happy for them but there was a part of me that wasn’t. I would listen to them complain about how hard it was, how they couldn’t take another sick or screaming kid, that they never got to go anywhere or that they never got any sleep. Sometimes they would say how lucky I was because I could do what I wanted and wasn’t tied down.

Inside, I was screaming. I would give anything to be tired because William kept me up or deal with the millionth poopy diaper and runny nose. In my mind, they were the lucky ones.

One day after another friend of mine told me she was pregnant, I went out to our truck and I screamed at God. Why would he give me this desire to be a mom if he was never going to fill it? Was it a cruel joke? A punishment? After I finished yelling and crying I felt God give me peace, just like he always has, and again I prayed for him to give us a baby in his time.

Seth still had a couple more months of school left when I heard that a Jane, a friend of my family, was pregnant and possibly looking into putting the baby up for adoption. I talked to Seth about it and we decided it couldn’t hurt anything to send her a message, so I wrote to her that if she was seriously considering adoption Seth and I were interested. She quickly responded, thanked us for the offer but said that she had decided to keep the baby. I wasn’t too upset because we hadn’t really gotten our hopes up.

Months later, I received another message from Jane. As I started reading my heart began racing. She told me that she had decided she wasn’t ready to be a mother and asked if Seth and I would reconsider adopting her baby.

I sat there in my chair and cried, completely overwhelmed by the rush of hope. I called Seth at work and told him the news, then asked if we could adopt her. Without any hesitation Seth said yes!

October 8th, 2012 was when we found out that we were going to adopt this little girl, but she was due Dec 12th which meant that we had only two months to get ready for her. I didn’t know how in the world it would happen, but I knew that this was God’s hand moving and he would work out all of the wrinkles.

My best friends set up a Facebook page so people could donate, our church threw us a money tree baby shower, another friend held a fundraiser for us and my sister gave us a crib, a swing, a car seat and clothes galore! Money poured in from all across the country, much of it from family and friends that we hadn’t seen in years. My father-in-law was able to get us an amazing lawyer who took our case for a really good price. It wasn’t long before everything had fallen into place.

We had met with Jane and everything seemed all set. She had already named the baby Samantha Rayne. She said we could changed it if we wanted to but she would love if we kept it. Samantha means “God has heard” and Rayne means “a blessing from above”. I don’t think there is a more perfect name to describe what she is to us! God truly had heard us!

Jane went into labor in the wee hours of the morning on December 11th. We arrived at the hospital and waited in the waiting room. I couldn’t believe the time had come, we were only moments away from holding a baby that was going to be ours! Jane was amazing and so brave. I will always be thankful for what she did for us.

When they brought us Samantha, Seth held her first, so perfect and pink. She weighed 6 lbs 5 oz and was 19 inches long. She had dark hair and dark blues eyes. I got to hold her next and I couldn’t believe that I was holding my daughter. There had been years that I thought this moment would never happen. I was holding a miracle in my arms, proof that God heard my prayers.

Two days later we got to take the precious baby home with us. On the drive home I was looking out the window and kept seeing lights shoot across the sky, but I brushed them off as just reflections from other cars. When the lights didn’t stop I asked Seth if I was just seeing things, but he said no, they were shooting stars. There were dozens of them. I felt as though God was putting on a display just for us!

We had always joked that if God wanted us to adopt he would literally have to drop a baby into our laps, and that was what he did. We couldn’t have planned a better scenario ourselves. I sat in the car and cried softly, not tears of sadness but tears of joy as I rejoiced in God’s goodness. His love never fails and I am so thankful he never let me go, even when my faith was gone and my heart felt broken.

We may never know why we lost William, but we would not have been in a place to adopt Sammi if we hadn’t. God’s plan is perfect and he truly makes broken things beautiful.

From Winning the Bread to Baking it

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I came into marriage with a well established job in a cushy office and a decent paycheck.  During the first year Jason’s job fluctuated, but my steady income kept us afloat during the rough patches.  Then, when our daughter was 7 months old, I tried to make a career change and ended up unemployed.

The situation had done a number on my confidence and I felt completely inadequate to jump back into the workplace, but I knew that we couldn’t function on one income.  I finally decided to try starting a home daycare, and have slowly been establishing that.  But it has been crazy, going abruptly from dressing for success and rushing the baby to daycare every morning to wrangling rambunctious children and finding the best recipes for homemade bread.

In one sense, I am happier.  I feel like I actually live in my house, the dishes get washed, I make supper most nights, I actually spend significant time with my daughter that I felt cheated of before.

In another sense, it is really hard to go from consistent paychecks to sporadic families paying for childcare.  It is stressful to know that I’m not yet making enough to fill the gap that my old income left.  I am the type of person who will ruminate and agonize over money until I am wallowing in a miserable pit of despair.

There are days when I snap at the kids because I am so busy wondering how we will pay the next bill, there are days when the parents don’t pay me and won’t answer my calls.  How can I find contentment here?

There are days when I have no idea how to be competent at being a homemaker, when my brain is completely blank and I get nothing productive done all day.  How can I accept the grace of God to be sufficient for my inadequacy?

There are days when I feel that staying home was a selfish decision and I wonder why I ever thought I could make enough money without a traditional job.  How can I recognize that my worth is not in what I can bring to the table?

I stumbled upon Psalm 127 and read this:

“Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

I felt God speaking into my heart and reminding me of who he is.  He is the one who establishes my steps, he is the one who sustains me.  He does not need my anxiety to accomplish his work in my life, he needs my daily discipline, my cheerful obedience.

He promises to give me rest.

And so, when I am living in this day and I feel like I am failing at adulthood, I set aside my anxious toil and I bake bread.  I gather the kids and we make cookies.  I pull out the crayons and the play-doh.  I wash the dishes, do the laundry, clean my house and cook dinner for my husband.  I make sure that my daughter’s life is full of love and laughter.  I sit quietly and read my Bible, turning every aspect that I am not able to control over to the Father.

And in this daily obedience, I find that he gives me the rest and contentment that elude me everywhere else.

A Bitter Gift

Miriam Grace Jacoby is my grandbaby. As difficult as the holidays were this year, her stillbirth highlighted exactly why Jesus became incarnate — to conquer death at the root of the problem.

Ad Astra

FootprintsOn December 22, 2014, I gave birth to a little girl. She died before she made it into my arms.

She was due today.

One of the things I hate about having a personal blog (or any social media) is having to share moments like these. Part of me wants to skip over it, but that seems crass. I don’t want to give readers the impression that my baby’s birth didn’t affect me profoundly, or that I’m exactly the same person I was before. I’d like to go on from the present as though everyone already knows the context.

But pretending won’t work here. I also can’t bring myself retell my story by writing a separate post. That might have worked a couple of weeks ago, but now I’ve healed enough that I don’t really want to open that wound again. So I’m just transcribing a few excerpts from my handwritten journal. It’s personal, unpolished…

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