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I told friends that June was probably the roughest month in Australia since our move. There are no ways to prove such superlatives, but it felt like it. I went to sleep later and later, our children woke up earlier and earlier, and for anyone who has been reading this blog for a while, you know I’ve written those sentences before. You know me well enough to know that no one in our home does well in those circumstances.

The trap of difficult seasons is it casts our eyes backward, Life was so much better when…. or it drags us into the future, If only I had or was in or… We think we need a big change of relationship or a new home or if we spent more money on clothes or a course, we may have the opportunity we look for. Painful seasons leave me with little capacity to do big things, but as the fog lifts, I can see four small changes that helped ease the difficult weeks or would have helped when the challenges hit. Most of these I can only see in hindsight, but I am tucking it into a little file in my mind to pull out when the next rough season comes. Here’s hoping that if you are in a difficult season, these will help you out.

1 Remember the stressors. I got in a car accident, a minor one, but it required adjustments – my car was in the shop for a week, we had to rent a car for a few days, I lost my phone in the middle of all of this, which meant I was harder to contact, and I couldn’t do some of the administrative work I do for our family. Once the car was repaired, something else went wrong with it, and it had to be taken in again. The whole process lasted about three weeks. Husband had several hectic weeks at work. Our children woke up earlier than normal in the morning. We took the our littlest’s paci away. The boys got new bunkbeds, and the little one isn’t in a crib anymore but a bed. He doesn’t like to stay in his bed in the evening. Or in the morning.

When I read that to myself, I’m amazed the past month wasn’t harder. A pacifier is a huge source of comfort for my youngest. A car accident where no one is injured in the slightest and the car is drivable without repairs, doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it puts pressure on our schedules. I wish I had paid attention to these things while it was happening instead of adding guilt to myself for not coping. Hard times need to be named and called out, so that you know you will have to gather up your strength and bear up underneath the difficulty. There are seasons, sometimes days or weeks or months or years, where you just have to stand (or sit) as the hard times blow around you because there is nothing for you to do except outlast the storm and find a way to live inside of it in a way that is whole and healthy.

2 Embracing screen time. Almost everyone has opinions on screen time, I certainly did. Likely you could find some of those ideas in archive. I’m still a believer in limited screen time, but I’ve come to embrace what it can do for me when I need it. And to embrace it without guilt because I will not put my kids in front of a screen and then feel guilty about it. The boys were on two weeks of school holidays in June, and they watched a movie a day, there was one day when I think they watched something for most of the day. I did laundry, cleaned the kitchen, cooked, cleaned our bedroom and got some quiet time to myself. It felt wonderful to get things done, and to get a lot of things done in one go. I loved getting quiet time to myself while the boys were happily watching something in another room.

Screen time is no replacement for relationship time, and I’m not suggesting kids get a free pass to watch what they want, when they want. But I am saying that there are days when it is in everyone’s advantage to turn a movie on and to do so joyfully and willingly without feeling like a failure as a parent.

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3 Reach Out I emailed a few friends, women who know me well and whom I trust, and I spilled. I gave them the raw version of daily struggles, they heard my despairing, discouraging thoughts about myself, and I asked them to pray for me. Each of them emailed me back, encouraged me and prayed for me. I can tell you that I started to see a difference in my daily circumstances in almost 24 hours. One of them challenged me on some things in a face time call, and I needed to hear it. Difficult times – because of the mistakes of others or our own – have a way of pushing us further into a cave of our own making. No one else feels this way, I’m the worst person in the world. But the truth is that there are few things I need more in this time than the arms of those who are stronger, coming around me, picking me up and bearing the burden with me.

4 Pray Big God, please make them sleep longer. Most of my mornings of the past five years involve some version of this prayer. In seasons we’ve had dependable, peaceful mornings, but for the past two months it has been wake up calls from very tired children anywhere from 5 am to 6:30 in the morning, too early for them and too early for me. But this morning last week, as I lay in my bed begging God for more sleep for all of us, I sensed instead his kind, corrective words.

Don’t you have something more to ask me about? Don’t you think I can do more than this?

It stung because it’s true. I spend a lot of time daily praying for God to change something in what’s happening with my kids so that my life will be more manageable, and while I have nothing against that, there are other things happening in our lives and in the world that require bold, persistent, vision-filled prayer. My dad told us that we think we change God’s mind when we pray, but really he is changing us. I believe it. One of the ways it changes me is that it casts my eyes outside of myself, it reminds me that I have a place in a much bigger story where things are happening, and it is not all about me. I still pray for my kids to get 12 hours of sleep a night, and I won’t stop, but I have been praying about other things, too. For their souls, for their friends, for the people in my life who are in a difficult season, for the world that seems to unravel around me one gunshot at a time. For the enormous number of things I could not name here, but require faithful, faith-filled prayers, I have asked and asked and asked again. And it feels good.

There is hope, my friend, whatever season you may be in today. You are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone.

Now it’s your turn: What small thing helps you get through hard times? 

Maybe you’re frustrated by the list of big goals but wanting to seize your life and change? Small changes are for the rest of us, the ones whose dreams mock us from the sidelines, the ones who yearn for change but know they can’t just shove everything to one side. We do it bit by bit, piece by piece, and we believe that each piece is making a difference. If you want to read more about small changes, you can start here:

This post is day 28. New to the series? Start here. Thanks to all of you who have shared these posts and commented, I so appreciate it. Do say hello if you’ve been reading or are new. It would be lovely to meet you. If you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.

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play time

I was lamenting to my mother about some of the painful and difficult behavior we witnessed daily with our boys. Both Husband and I regularly felt drained and at a loss about what to do. My mother, who is a therapist, suggested play therapy for both of them, and just to clarify, she did not mean that we should take them to a therapist. She meant that we could apply basic play therapy techniques at home.

Once again, it is necessary for me to say here that I am not a qualified counselor or anything close to that, so these are the thoughts of a mom sharing with you what is and what is not working with my kids.

Husband and I structured our mornings so that after breakfast, teeth brushing and clothes-changing, we took one child each and spent an hour of focused play time with him. We set aside 8:30-9:30am for this. Most of the time, it is one-on-one, focused play time, but three times a week, I try to have more of a play therapy type approach to our time.

We stay in a confined space like the living room or a bedroom or outside, and there are a few toys that I have set up. Then I let my sons play with whatever they wanted, not intervening at all, just letting them direct their own play time. I only observed and made comments like, You put the axe in the fireman’s hand, the hook is pulling the police car, etc.

There are no quick fixes for any parenting issue, and certainly there is absolutely no quick fix for the slow, deep work of character development in our children, but the hour I spent with my sons individually produced incredible fruit in our relationship. Play time reveals something much deeper to me about my children, and it gives them a safe place to work out their own emotions.

It slows down the morning chaos. We found that the time between wake up and post-breakfast was often the most drama-and-tension-filled for the four of us, and it helped to separate our kids, it helped slow Husband and myself down. Play time with a child is slow, pure work. There isn’t an agenda, it is simply time spent with my child to give him my full, undivided attention as he does the work of a child: play, play, play.

They were immediately aware that they were getting quality one-on-one time with us, and they relished this. They felt seen, known and loved. In a time when we are focused on many, many other things (that we have to focus on), they are easily overlooked, but this hour was about them, their interests, their needs, their wants, they thrived in this place. 

There was no reason to tell them no in this hour. They were only playing, and so far I haven’t seen a way for them to defy or disobey us in this time. They loved being able to do whatever they want, I loved being able to say yes as much as I could. It helped me let go of control and let my boys just be.

They opened up and talked while they played about things they didn’t normally talk about. One morning while he was playing with the fire truck, Big Boy started talking about how he missed Stockholm, the yellow house and the rocks in our driveway. He climbed in my lap, I miss my toys, Mommy, the ones that are on the ship to Australia, he seemed genuinely sad about this but also happy to be able to share his feelings. It gave me valuable insight into his heart in this time, it deeply bothers him not to have his toys.  It explains frustrating moments of defiance related to sharing toys with other kids and his brother, and while it never justifies it, I need this insight into his heart. It helps me parent him better, it helps me pray, it helps me empathize.

It helped me to pay closer attention to the non-play times because let’s face it, what is going on in my kids’ heart isn’t necessarily number one on my priority list when I am trying to get things done. A few weeks after we left Sweden, Big Boy was playing and told me he was packing and to tell him when it’s Saturday because he would have to load the container then. Oh, I said, playing along, and where is the container going?

To Stockholm, he said, without missing a beat.

A tiny role play, but it said something about his heart. I want to go back to Stockholm, that’s what he was trying to tell me. Another evening, after a day of pretending to be a bird making a nest, he and I were going to his bedroom to make a nest for him to sleep in for the night. He was changing his clothes when he said, I miss my nest in Stockholm, so I pulled him into my arms, and we talked about his Thomas the Tank Engine duvet cover, his white bed, and all the things about his nest in Stockholm that he missed. We talked about Jesus, how he left his nest in heaven to live on earth, and how he must have felt sad, too. We talked about sadness, why it is good to feel sad. And we talked about how thankful we are that we have a nest in Germany.

Husband and I had the luxury of time because neither of us were working, but if you find that you don’t have the ability to divide up your kids because of time or because you have more kids, find creative ways to get alone time with your children. Swap kids with another parent in your community, take one of our kids out in the evening when your spouse is home, use one child’s naptime to have focused play time with another child, put a movie on for a few of your kids and take one outside to play, and if you have other creative ideas about how to spend one-on-one time with your kids, please do share it in the comments section.

I’m linking up with The Grove, part of the Velvet Ashes community today. 

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 Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas

This post is day 27. New to the series? Start here. Thanks to all of you who have shared these posts and commented, I so appreciate it. Do say hello if you’ve been reading or are new. It would be lovely to meet you. If you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.

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This is the thing about our transition, I lose my perspective so easily.

Just this past weekend I felt discouraged. Why are we in Melbourne? When is our life going to get started? How much longer can I survive with two pairs of jeans? What’s the deal with all my first-world problems? These are the questions of  the In Between, the space when there are no real answers, only lots and lots of questions. This is the bridge between the past and the future, it is shaky, rickety and narrow, and I am crossing over a ravine with rocks and raging rapids.

It feels like any decision made too quickly or incorrectly is going to send me hurtling off the edge.

A bit dramatic, no? I suppose these are the delusional feelings of a mother who traveled half-way around the world on Wednesday and Thursday only to have her kids wake up to party from midnight to 4am on Friday night, only to then have gastro hit an entire household on Saturday evening. I suppose no one is thinking rationally after they’ve cared for a puking child only to then be sick herself half a day later. But it’s true. This is what I felt on Sunday. Why are we here? Nothing is getting done. We have so much to do. 

But then it was Monday, and I photocopied official documents, went to the Police Department for certification and then to Medicare, and in a few hours my kids and I have healthcare again. Just like that. And then I heard my sister say that we had been in the country for four days.

Four days. Really? I wondered because it felt like an eternity or nothingness and discouragement and illness.

But it wasn’t.

When you see life through the wrong perspective, everything, absolutely everything, will seem like it is against you. 

Because here is the truth. In four days we opened a bank account, struggled with jet lag, nursed a sick child and our own sick selves and sorted out health care for our entire family. Nevermind the cooking, cleaning, clothing, laundry and the everyday care for adults and children. We didn’t do any of this alone, we have help because we have family here, amazing family and friends. And underneath all of this are the everlasting arms that carry us home, the hands of God who doesn’t always take away the problem (even when I begged every hour from midnight to 4am), but somehow gives grace to get through and promises and delivers his presence. This grace looks like my sister who cooks and cares for my boys, and this grace also looks like a virus running its course and leaving. Sometimes grace is just surviving a night and knowing that now it is day. Only 12 more hours before bedtime.

Life is moving forward, and life is good even when it is hard. This is the truth. And it is encouragement, it is joy, it is hope.

Now it’s your turn: Whatever stage of transition you are in right now, if you are discouraged, please take a moment and write down what it is that is true. What have you missed in your own story? How is grace holding you up even when it seems like there is pain or when things are not going the way you want it to?

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This post is day 24. New to the series? Start here. Today’s guest post is by my dear friend Ursula. I met her in the first two weeks of life in Sweden, and over time she became one of my most-treasured friends in Stockholm. I’ve learned to pay attention when I meet people who are full of wisdom and grace, and Ursula is all of those things and a whole lot more. I am so thankful for her friendship and for these wise, beautiful words she shares here about a different kind of transition. Ursula doesn’t have a blog, so comment and share your thanks with her and encourage her to start a blog of her own, we would all benefit from it.

Ursula Morell is a grateful child of God, living in Stockholm, Sweden with my amazing husband of 25 years. She’s a transitioning mother working through the kids in college stage, a coffee-addict, introvert and project-person. She is learning to trust God with her kids all over again.

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All photographs by Kylie Jacques

All text by Ursula Morell
I sit silent and still, attentively focused on the events unfolding. I could be watching the evening news or taking in a therapy session. But no, this is a joyous event: a wedding. And I, the mother of the groom, am nearly emotionless. Behind dry eyes and unsmiling face, I am perplexed.

I watch as my firstborn takes his long-­time girlfriend’s hand in his, and slips a white­-gold ring onto her finger. I look at their smiles, their 20-something fearlessness mixed with the excitement of fully leaving their families, and melding into a new family, one they have chosen. They ask God’s blessing. A song begins.

The box of Kleenex placed thoughtfully by my chair sits unused. I realize this is a repeat of all his other firsts in life. He, eager and excited, and me, paralyzed, fearful and anxious. It doesn’t matter if I’m sitting in a mini­van at a soccer game or on a flower-ensconced chair at a wedding. Instead of these being moments of joy for me, I am fearful, ruminating over my performance and worrying if he will be able to “do this thing.”

Like his other firsts, I have hovered over the details, and numbed my fears with planning and prepping. I’ve read books and sought advice. The wedding day is progressing smoothly—so smoothly that, as I sit and listen to the song, I find myself forced to deal with my emotions.

I have held my breath through his firsts: first steps, first days of school, first camps, and
first performances. I’ve spent his lifetime worrying if he will succeed, preemptively teaching and preparing him for anything he could face. I’ve laughed at the notion of helicopter moms, all the while playing the lead role in my own homegrown show.

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Numb, I watch God’s greatest gift unfold before my eyes: my son leaving and cleaving, two vowing to become one. They light their unity candle, then hold hands throughout the song. I watch and suddenly a dark curtain in my mind is torn in two. The light shines in. My paralyzed feeling has a name: fearful insufficiency. I know I have not taught my 23-year-old everything he needs to know to love his wife well. I know he leaves his clothes on the floor and dishes in the sink. I know he is going to fail, and hurt, and disappoint. I imagine a future of slammed doors and piercing silence and confusion and difficulty in finding words to explain.

I am afraid.

In the mess in my heart, I know: Yes, yes, yes. My son is not enough. Just like me. I think, then, of the Israelites when they first saw the promised land. They faced those same paralyzing fears. In their “first look,” 12 men spied out the land, saw what lay ahead, and returned to camp to inform the people. It was a good land: bountiful harvests and plenty to go around. But 10 of the 12 spies focused on the bad news: giants inhabited the land. The Israelites considered this and thought, “Who are we? Insufficient. Small. Incapable.” Only two men believed God would go before them and give them grace and strength in the trials.

The song is done, the service almost over. I fidget with my dark blue dress, smoothing out the wrinkles. I realize that I have spent so much of my life hanging out with the 10 who focus on the fear and choose the safety of what they know, who see only their limitations, and not God’s character. Who tremble in fear and let it overshadow God’s plan.

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Yet, all the years of my own marriage, hasn’t God been strong on my behalf? Didn’t he
take a couple of 20-­somethings some 25 years ago down that same aisle and say those same vows? Didn’t He give words to feelings I couldn’t explain, in dark nights as I cried out in insufficiency? Didn’t grace pour out in our feeble attempts at forgiveness? Yes, God has been faithful, even when I was full of doubt.

Tears well up in my eyes. I find myself not looking to my son for reassurance that he has
got this, but rather, to God. The God of my life is the God of my son’s life. The grace that
has led me through the past 25 years of marriage, will lead my son and new daughter-in-law through their days. God has this, has them. Always will. He is able.

My son and his wife take their first steps down the aisle together, into their promised land, and I whisper, “Go, it’s yours!” There will be walled cities and conflicts sleepless nights and cries for wisdom. There will be victories and joy. Lots of joy.

Numbness flees as joy fills my heart. Tears flood my eyes.

I see the new couple rejoicing, far ahead of me, already in the entry of the church. I stand up from my front-­row seat, and the usher motions me that it is time to move on.

This post is day 21. New to the series? Start here. The last few weeks I’ve written about the emotions involved with moving and transition, there have been tips about what to do to prepare to leave and ideas about how to end your time in a place. This week we are looking at the actual move, how to get where we need to go and the tools we need along the way. Thanks to all of you who have shared these posts and commented, I so appreciate it. Do say hello if you’ve been reading or are new. It would be lovely to meet you. We are flying today to Australia, so do keep us in your prayers if that is your thing. I’ve got posts scheduled for the next few days, but if there are some computer glitches it may interfere with posting. Please keep checking in to see. And if you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.
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There are approximately a 2,334,432 blog posts out there on car travel with kids, so why write another one? I’ve learned since having kids that all parents have tricks, and the tricks are different. It helps me immensely to hear what others are doing because it gives me ideas.

So today’s post are some of the things that have worked for us on longer road trips with kids. The boys were four and two on these trips and in rear facing car seats, meaning we couldn’t see their faces. I would love it if you could join in the conversation in the comments section with your tips on how to manage car travel with kids.

Set Expectations

This is basically the only piece of advice necessary to navigate all marriage and children-related dilemmas. Expectations determine your experiences, and for something that involves small children locked into a seat for indefinite amounts of time, I’ve found that keeping my expectations next to nothing goes along way. My goals are lofty, like, Get there. With no car accidents. Amen.

Know Your Kids

I have one son who is extremely sensory, as in his favourite thing ever is to jump into a ball pit or something textured and just roll his body all over it. My other son is off the charts auditory, wants to talk all the time and loves listening to music and stories. My sensory child needs something to hold and touch when he is traveling. He has shorts with zippered cargo pockets, I put some rocks or other things in those pockets, he opened the zippers, took the rocks out, put them back in, it was a sensory dream that cost nothing. My other son needs good music and audio books (more on that further down), he needs reassuring words from me, my tone of voice is so important when I communicate with him.

Nap Time

Both our kids will still sleep in the car, and because their sleep was so off with the moving around, often they slept even more in the car than they normally would. We tried to plan our driving to maximize nap time. It was also the only time we could listen to something other than Psalty the Singing Songbook. Praise ye the Lord, Hallelujah. More on that later.

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Remove Time Pressure

I’m not against wanting to arrive at a certain place by a certain time, but if I want to have a relaxed drive where I am not going to resent my kids or drive for hours with unrelenting screaming in my ears, I will have to relax my attitude on time. If something is supposed to take four hours, with our kids, it will probably take six or seven hours. This way we know that when we arrive at our destination, our kids feel loved, they’ve had a good trip, and we have had a tour of the truck stops of Germany. For our drive from Sweden to Germany (via Denmark), we had two ferry crossings on two separate days, we booked the crossings in advance with flexible timing, but we still had a vague idea of needing to be at a certain place at a certain time. We over-budgeted by about two hours, and that way when we did arrive at the ferries, we were not stressed, and the boys were overjoyed to see a boat.

No Sensory Overload

Travel is a sensory overload on its own, there is no need for me to stress my kids out further by expensive toys for the road, lights and unnecessary loud noises. They are entertained and interested in the most mundane of things, often the travel itself. The ferries were a huge hit and came at the end of long drives, so it was the entertainment for the duration of the boat trip. We like to keep the trip as calm and normal as possible.

No Screens (sort of)

I am not into parent shaming, and I have nothing against the use of screens at all. I happily hand our one iPad mini to the boys to give me time to get dinner together or to stave off temper tantrum hour or to let me catch my breath for 30 minutes. Or an hour. Or. Nevermind. My kids watch untold hours of movies on airplanes, but we have found that on car trips keeping the screens off is better for them. They are more easily worn out by car travel, their patience is thinner, and their attitudes are more grumpy than gracious. Screen time makes fatigue and attitudes that much worse. I prefer to use screen time when my kids are well rested and in a good mood. It has worked much better for us to have a big supply of books on hand and to keep passing books to them. We also had an etch-a-sketch that worked for Little Bear.

Music and Audio Books

We hit the jackpot with a friend’s gift to us of a Finding Nemo audio CD, it was our first foray into the world of audio books, and it was such a hit with both our sons. We will definitely invest in more radio plays and audio books for future car trips. I also pulled out a kids CD we hadn’t listened to in a long time, and it became their favourite CD, so much so that it is all they wanted to listen to for about five hours on end. Husband says Psalty’s Little Praisers CD is now his favourite CD, and while I think that is definitely stretching it, I have never been more thankful for the blue Singing Songbook or for the chance to hear my kids singing, Jesus loves me this I know, softly from the backseat.

Healthy Snacks

Again, I am not into parent shaming, so please feed your kids whatever you think is best. Apple chips, dried mango and other fruits, nuts, lots of water, rice crackers, and other crackers have all gone down very, very well with the boys. And I do think that the food they eat helps to keep their mood a bit more even. This may seem obvious to you – I am not always the most prepared parent out there – but packing many snacks was a necessity. We can always use the snacks we didn’t use, so nothing went to waste. We tried to stop for meals, which ended up being French fries, French friends, and also some French fries, so as I mentioned before, I am really not into parent shaming. Do what you have to do.

Rest Stops and Running Breaks

Every time we stopped, we made sure to get the kids to run around a bit. Even if it was just in a simple patch of grass or concrete. I even ran up and down with them once to get them into it. If your rest stops have playgrounds, even better. Most of ours did, but one or two did not, but kids can still get movement in without a playground.

Now it’s your turn: What are your parenting tricks for car survival with little ones? And car survival for yourself?

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