Monday, May 15, 2017

Being Mama

Almost 11 years ago I became "Mama" to our first son, Patrick! It was an exciting time for my husband and me. Little did we know how much that tiny human, and the three additional tiny humans, would change our lives forever!

Being a mom is something I have always wanted to be. I had very little aspirations when it came to schooling or a career. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was almost always "to be a wife and a mom". I went to college (because that was what I was told would be good to do), I found myself in a great job after college, but all I really wanted was to be married and have children. Two years after graduating college, I married Kevin, and a little over a year after that we welcomed Patrick into our lives. 

I had everything I had ever wanted. I was a wife and Mama. But nothing prepared me for the journey I was embarking on as Mama. No books could ever really prepare a person for the ups and downs of parenting... The emotions that run through you, the sleepless nights, the gross messes, the opinions of others. But mostly, the books never prepared me for the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and doubt that I have struggled with almost daily since Patrick was born.

There are times when I sit just wondering what God was thinking when He gave me these four beautiful boys. How could He believe that I could raise them the way He would want them to be raised? How, in all of my failures, teach these boys how to live a Godly life, one where respect, decency, and compassion ooze from them? I find myself in tears, pleading with God to give me the strength and wisdom to just make it through the day... Four growing boys who depend on me need a strong and wise Mama, and most days I don't quite feel that I provide them that.

I used to spend a lot of time on Pinterest and Facebook, but I learned over the last year that that is a very dangerous thing for me to do. I found myself spending more time comparing myself to what other moms were doing. I would see one mom who created an obstacle course throughout their house and think to myself "Why can't you do that? Are the boys missing out because I don't do cool things like that?"

Then there's the food thing... I would see moms who prepare wonderfully healthy, well rounded meals, while I am over here feeding my boys hot dogs and macaroni and cheese, with raw carrots thrown on the plate to make it look healthier! I wished I could do better... I wished I could make them healthier, prettier meals, but frankly, I just wanted them to eat without a battle.

The comparison game fed into my already fragile view of myself as a mom. So, I had to stop it. I don't really know what moms are doing now with their kids. I barely know what I am doing with my own kids! I no longer spend too much time on Facebook wishing I did things the way other people did them. I try hard to focus on what I am doing.

As the boys are now all in Elementary/Middle school, mothering seems to have gotten harder. Back in the day, the hardest things were functioning with no sleep and not losing anybody in the store. Now, we're faced with tough deep questions, bullying, school work, and four boys trying to find themselves in a society that doesn't always line up with our values. Before, I could solve many of their problems, fix the issues with peers, practically tell them what to think. But now they are becoming independent, and they need freedom to practice their independence. 

I have more doubt in my mothering now than I did before. The balance of firmness and nurturing is getting tougher. The boys are getting "smarter" than me. What do I really have to offer them, when I am certainly NOT a boy? Am I enough for them? Am I making the right decisions? Am I supporting them enough? Do I really SEE them and their needs and their heart? Not a day goes by that I don't question my abilities as their Mama. I want so much more for them than I can give them...

But, here's what I know: I KNOW that God chose me to be their Mama. God placed these four amazingly kind, respectful, intelligent boys in my arms because He felt I was the right person for the job. My opinions and disagreement with His feelings are irrelevant. I am unequipped for all that comes our way, but God covers the inadequacies with HIS love and grace and wisdom. I DO NOT need to have it all together, because God has it all. And, IF I cling to Him each day, He will shine through and those four boys will have everything they need. I am NOT enough for them on my own, but God already knew that before He gave me them. 

I would not trade my life as Mama for anything. It is the HARDEST thing I will ever do, but it is the most rewarding and amazing thing I will ever do. To watch my boys grow into young men, exploring who God made them to be is worth the doubt, the pain, and the frustrations that come with it. Nothing excites me more than to hear people share with me about how kind and loving the boys are to their peers and teachers. And at the end of the day, nothing feels better than to feel four sets of arms wrapped around me as not so little voices whisper "I love you, Mama"! Being Mama is THE BEST thing that could have happened to me, and I am so very blessed!


Monday, March 27, 2017

Surviving Until Tomorrow

March 27th... It used to be just any other day for me. Just the same as March 26th or March 28th. But, 10 years ago, March 27th took on a whole new meaning. 10 years ago today, as I laid waiting for the technician to find our baby's heartbeat, March 27th changed forever.

We weren't planning on having her so close to Patrick being born. But, God had a plan. And His plan included a new baby. As we moved from shock and fear to joy and excitement, we felt ready for a new addition. We had only a few months to enjoy the naming process and the room planning and all the other joyous stuff that happens when expecting a baby.

And then, just like that, March 27th came and she was gone. I can clearly remember driving back to my workplace from the doctors office not sure how I was going to get through the rest of the day. Kevin was meeting me at work so we could pick up Patrick. There was very little talking. Just planning. I was scheduled for surgery that evening. My parents were on their way from NJ. People needed to be notified.

As they prepped me for surgery, Kevin and sat joking with the nurses. I couldn't let myself feel the loss. I couldn't let myself believe what was happening. It wasn't until I got in the car after surgery that the reality hit... There was no more baby. I sobbed all the way home, saying, "they took my baby." And, as I crawled into bed, I was convinced there would be no more tomorrow. There was no hope, no joy. Just a very broken, shattered, hurting Mama.

But, March 28th came. A new day had begun, and as I stepped out of bed, I knew tomorrow was here. And, there have been years of tomorrows... Years of March 27ths. The hurting is less, but the longing for her is the same. Time certainly hasn't completely healed this wound. But in this time, I have moved from the hurt and the anger to a place of peace and sometimes sadness.

I miss Sammy everyday. I find myself wondering about what she would have looked like or who she would have been like. I see little girls at work and think about how I would dress my daughter. When I am holding a baby girl and people comment on the strangeness of ME, a mother of four boys, holding a girl, I find myself wishing that I had held my baby girl.

There were days throughout these 10 years that I didn't think tomorrow would come. My heart was too broken to make it to the next day. BUT, the God who loves me, the God who brings peace that passes understanding, brought me through those days. I had the song "It Is Well" on repeat in my head when I had no words of my own to speak. Some days, this was all I could pray because I had gone so deep inside that I couldn't feel anything.

God got me through these last 10 years. He brought me to a place where I can remember my Sammy and the joy she brought us. He brought me to a place where I can feel sad, where I can miss her so terribly and yet find peace in knowing I will someday hold her in my arms. Although I still find myself grieving her loss, He has led me to a place where I am no longer shattered like I was for so many nights. In the darkest, longest nights that I thought I would never survive, He brought tomorrow.

I am grateful for the last 10 years of tomorrows. I am grateful for every March 27th... Because it is now a day not to dread, but a day to remember. Not so much to remember Sammy, as I remember her everyday. But to remember that in my deepest, most ugliest time, God still brought tomorrow.

It Is Well with My Soul

"When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin - oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight.
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul."

Horatio G. Spafford



Monday, February 27, 2017

WORTH and VALUE

Happy almost March! With the weather we've been having, I feel like I should be saying Happy almost May! March is always a tough month for me, but this year I am choosing to approach it with some intentional joy and will be striving to find the blessings, not focus so much on the sorrows... BUT, before we get to March, there are still two days left of February, and there are definitely some things floating around in my head I want to share!

The topic of value and worth has been an almost constant thought and/or conversation for me over the last several weeks. Between conversations with friends and conversations with God, I am finding that as important as value and worth are, many of us struggle to see and feel what value we actually possess. Where we find our own worth is wrapped up in high and unattainable expectations of ourselves, causing us to fall short of truly seeing our worth. I think moms have the hardest time with this whole thing... I know I do!!!

What always gets me is the fact that I KNOW what God says about me, and yet I can't hold on to it very long. My thoughts, my doubts, my unattainable expectations mask all of the beautiful truths God has told me about who I am and how I was created. My struggles to please everybody gets in the way of the truth that I don't have to do anything to please my God. He's pleased with me just because I am me. My incessant need to help and serve and DO hinders my ability to see that I don't have to DO anything ever again and I still have value and worth in HIS eyes. Disappointing others, letting people down, not getting everything on my to-do list done constantly gets in the way of feeling like I have much value at all, even when I know it's not true...

My feelings tend to get in the way of a lot of things... I am a very deep feeler, and my feelings tend to guide my days. In some ways it's a really great thing. It makes me good at empathizing and certainly helps me love deeper. But it also has a very dark side. The deep feelings that I feel aren't easily persuaded to change. So what I know in my head to be true does not easily change what my heart feels. 

And, to be honest, what I have been feeling is FAR from valuable. In fact, for much of the last few months, worthless would be how I would describe how I've been feeling. Complete and utter worthlessness... Doubt crept in a while ago about my abilities as a mom and wife and ministry director and business owner. Because of the number of plates I had spinning, I began to start messing up. It was always little things, like forgetting to call someone or not getting to the dishes, getting behind in the laundry and thick layers of dust settling on the furniture. At work I started forgetting children's names or who their parents were. To most people, it was just small little things that tend to happen when you have a lot going on.

But, to me, these little things had turned into a VERY BIG ball of doubts, which turned into feeling worthless. Things like, "Maybe they would be better off with a different person in this position" and "I'm not a good enough mom to the boys" began flooding my heart. And, the hardest question that I asked myself multiple times a day was, "What do I really have to offer?" I somehow had convinced myself that because I couldn't do EVERYTHING, that I had nothing to offer anymore. 

While I was busy focusing on the things I wasn't doing well or wasn't doing at all, I lost sight of WHO I am. I am a daughter of God. I was created just as I am. He sees me not for what I do or don't do, but for BEING me. Just existing on this earth gives me worth, because God created me to be here. Everything else is just a bonus! Working in a challenging ministry to serve families who desperately need to experience God does NOT define my value, but it certainly adds to who I am. Being a mom to four beautiful boys and wife to a wonderful husband does not define my worth, but it certainly adds to the person God created in me. 

My failures, my mistakes, my inability to accomplish everything on my to-do list does NOT change my value and worth. They are things to learn from, to shape, and to move on from. They are not things to hold on to and use to define who I am. God has already defined who I am. And the same is true for you. No matter what you feel you have failed at, no matter how many times you have lost your temper with your children or spouse, no matter how many spinning plates you have let drop, YOU ARE LOVED. YOU ARE SPECIAL. YOU WERE CREATED TO BE A CHILD OF GOD. An no amount of messing up will ever change that.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Missing His Love...

As I have always promised, I will be keeping this post very open and very honest. I want those who read my posts to know the joys AND the struggles... Because we ALL have both. Sometimes, the joys outweigh the struggles. Then again, sometimes the struggles surely outweigh the joy. My feeling is that we should share both, as HOPE can be found in both. The struggles are real, and the more we share, the more honest we are about them, the less we feel alone. Because I KNOW that I am not the only person in this entire world who feels the many ways I feel.

This morning I was sitting in our church service with a somewhat stinky attitude... I'm not really sure where the stinky attitude came from, but it was definitely there. I was on edge, unhappy, and definitely not in the mood to celebrate. (Today was the celebration of our founding pastor's legacy, who has been our pastor for 39 years.) I just wanted to be home, in my bed, drifting in and out of sleep while watching Criminal Minds.

But, I was at church. We had done our weekly trip to the coffee bar to get the boys donuts. We had said hello to practically half the church. We had cordially said "Good Morning" to those sitting around us. And the music started. It used to be that the music would almost instantly fix my mood. Who can resist lively worship music lead by an amazing worship team, right? But even by the second song, my spirits had not lifted.

Sure, my foot was tapping to the beat, and I was singing along, but there was nothing behind it. And since I'm being honest here, there hasn't been much behind it for weeks. Something has felt lost or disconnected... I have felt like a loose power cord that if you wiggle it just right you get power, but the second the cord gets jarred a little, the power flickers.

By the third song, I had figured that my stinky attitude was not going to change. But something happened when the fourth song began. The lyrics began with:

 "I've heard a thousand stories of what they think you're like.
But I've heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night.
And you tell me that you're pleased
And that I'm never alone."

Chris Tomlin's "Good Good Father" has been played many times in our church, many more times on the radio. But today, tears began to stream down my face with the second line. My heart hurt. It felt empty. When was the last time I heard his whispers of love? When did I last feel His all consuming love? And when did I last feel that He was truly pleased with me?

Tears continued to pour as we moved onto another song about God's love for us. "Oh, how He loves us" was sung over and over and my heart began to feel something it hadn't felt in a while. It felt loved. It felt connected. It felt almost full.

For the first time in a while, I felt connected to a part of God that I apparently had been missing. I have been so focused on so many other things that I lost sight of something so vital to God... His love. I focused on serving and loving others, the "right" way to manage our finances, the best way of parenting our boys. And, in the busyness and hurriedness of my life, I lost my connection to the most life sustaining piece of God.

It wasn't His fault. He never left. He certainly didn't love me any less during my busyness. I didn't make time and space for me to connect with Him that way. I prayed often, whether it be for people, for myself, and for events happening around us. But there was very little time spent just soaking in His love. As the music played today, I was reminded of what I have been missing. And it was no one's fault but my own.

Have I known He loves me all this time? Absolutely! I don't believe there was a point where I doubted His love... I just wasn't taking the time to sit in it. To FEEL it. To be comforted and soothed by it. When I feel His love, it feels similar to when I was little and my dad would wrap me in his arms and hug me. It always felt so safe in his arms, like nothing could hurt me and that no matter what I did he would still love me. When I am quiet and connected to God, I can feel His arms wrap around me, providing the same safe feeling.

I am so grateful for a God who always loves me, even when I don't make the time to feel it. I am grateful that He was waiting for me, and took lyrics of a song this morning to remind me how much He loves me. He is a "good good Father. It's who He is. And we are loved by Him. It's who we are."

Somehow, I need to re-prioritize my life, and make time to feel His love. I don't currently know what that will look like, but it's going to happen. It has to happen. Because the emptiness I have been feeling can only be filled one way. No more excuses... No more "I'm too busy" or "life is crazy"... His love (and feeling His love) are far more important. I hope and pray that I can truly make a sustaining change, because man have I missed feeling loved by Him!

Friday, January 13, 2017

A New Season

I knew this day was coming... I had seen many little indicators that things were going to change. Each week, another sign would pop up, reminding me that my baby isn't a baby anymore. But, this evening, as I dropped my firstborn off at his first weekend retreat, it seemed to hit me like a ton of bricks. My ten year old, and in turn our family, has entered a new season... A season that will be filled with independence and discovery, trials and successes. And, with this new season, I find myself feeling slightly sad, but also filled with joy and excitement.

Patrick and I had a date before heading to the church for the retreat. We went to Panera's for the first time together, and Patrick was almost giddy over the idea of going somewhere more grown up (we typically have gone to Friendly's or McDonald's, so this was DEFINITELY more grown up)! As we we went to find a booth, he told me how much he loves going on dates with me. I teasingly said something like, "of course you do, it's free food!" He looked at me slightly shocked, and told me that it had nothing to do with the free food and everything to do with getting time with just me. He told me he loves to talk to me and to be silly with me. He gave me a huge grin and said, "You are the best mama I could have. I love going on dates with just you."

Now, I am not the most sappy or sentimental person, but the tears were starting to fill my eyes and my heart was about to burst. But, before I could say or do anything, Patrick made a farting noise with his mouth and broke out into the giggles. And just like that, I was reminded of my life with BOYS!!!

As we were driving to the church, I asked Patrick if I was allowed to hug him goodbye in the church. He had said sure! Hugs don't embarrass him... YET! We got to the church and went to check him in. He was so excited to be there that he almost passed the check in table. They checked his name off and before I even had a chance to blink, he was off running. With a huge smile on his face, he had found his friends playing a game, and that was that.

No goodbye, no hug, no nothing. And for a very brief moment, I was sad, maybe even a tad-bit hurt. But as I watched my ten year old son interact with his friends, joy crept in and took over any sadness I might have felt. There was my Patrick, confident in himself, independent... He didn't NOT say goodbye because he was ignoring me. It was because he was in his element and felt comfortable enough to leave me. Isn't that what we strive for as parents? For our children to be confident and independent?

I left the church feeling a surge of joy and excitement for this new season we have entered. It's a season that will certainly be challenging, but also rewarding. This is a time we get to watch our baby take flight and soar. The intense training that came during his younger years is shifting into a time of shaping, guiding, and reminding. He gets to explore his world with confidence, with the comfort of knowing we are his safety net should he fall along the way. He knows and loves God, and he loves the person he is becoming. And, although some of his exploration will end in tears and frustration, I am confident that Patrick will learn from them and keep moving forward.

When I first held Patrick in my arms, I had no idea what kind of person he would become. I had hopes of someone who was loving and kind and sweet natured. I prayed for someone who would have an impact on the world around him. I pictured my beautiful blonde haired, blue eyed baby growing into a mature young man who loved his family and God. And tonight, I saw just that... a maturing soon to be young man who is more loving and caring than I could have ever imagined. And watching the way his friends lit up when they saw Patrick assured me that he has definitely been a positive impact on those around him.

I cannot truly express how proud I am of Patrick and how thankful I am to God for choosing me to be his mama. I am so unbelievably blessed to be a part of Patrick's life and to have a front row seat to the things God has in store for him. I am buckled up and ready for this new season and for the wild ride it will be!!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Reflections and Hope

Well, here we are... 2017! It's hard to believe that we are in a new month, let alone a whole new year. I still feel like it should be October... Certainly NOT January! But, whatever I feel, the reality is that 2016 is over and 2017 here, and there is SO MUCH to be thankful for!!

It's been a good year, overall. Some hard things came our way, and definitely some sad times came. Change happened (like every year). Relationships started, some went their separate ways. We started our own business (today is our one year anniversary of The Things We Make)! The boys finished one grade and started another. Ben started his first year of school. We've been on adventures and tried new things. It truly was a good year.

Actually, no, it wasn't just a "good" year... It was an amazing year! But not for the reasons I listed above. It's because of SO MUCH MORE.

This year, my husband and I trusted God and took a very big leap of faith and made some significant choices that impacted our family greatly. We didn't just start our own business, although that is a pretty cool thing for us. We decided to work as a team to make changes in our financial life. We chose to push out what society has taught us about money, stuff, and "keeping up with the Jones's". We chose to be serious about the goals we have in place for our family, with the number one goal being to teach our boys how to be true stewards of what God has given them. We worked through the horrible awkwardness of talking about money with each other and learned to set goals AS A TEAM that we could accomplish together. This year we have seen the product of our efforts, and we are so thankful for God's blessings and guidance through it all.

This year, I grew as a mom, as a wife, and most importantly as a woman. I learned more about myself and how to express what I need to those around me. I have learned that I am stronger, wiser and more capable than I give myself credit for. Even through doubts and struggles, I held tightly on to the truths I know, and that is a HUGE improvement from years past. I have found ways to find my quiet time, even amongst the craziness. I can say with great certainty that this has been a big year of growth for me.

But I think the most amazing part of this entire year is how the boys have grown and matured. We have watched each one of them find confidence in who they are, show love for others, and serve those around them. We watched Benjamin (or "Floppy" as he currently likes to be called) start Kindergarten with a confidence and gusto I did not expect. He is working so hard to overcome his sensory issues in class and has learned so much about self-control. The joy he exudes in everything he does is contagious, and I love to watch as his giggles spread like wildfire to others around him.

Our Zachary, with his super intelligence, has struggled to get a hold of his emotions throughout the years... He has struggled to express himself, especially when he is upset. But this year, I have seen him work extra hard to tame his soaring emotions. We have seen so much maturing in Zach this year, and I can only attribute his maturity to all the hard work he has put in. It makes this Mama's heart proud to see him not only work hard on the things he loves but also on the things he doesn't.

Moving on to Tyler, there are no words to describe where this boy is and where he has come from. I watch him everyday tackle things that I never thought were even possible. What makes THIS year so great is that he really buckled down and put all of his focus into school. He's rocking his classes, doing well grade wise, and has even made it into our school's gifted program. All of those things are things that are hard for him, because he has to stay focused for long periods of time. But, he does it every single day. And most importantly, he has cared for his friends and has brightened everyone's day with his ever positive attitude.

And then there's Patrick... Out of the four boys, this year has been the most eventful, growth-filled year for him. From being in the Academic Bowl at the beginning of the year, to being on the tech team at church, to serving as a leader in our Children's Ministry and being in the Chorus at school, he has definitely been busy! I have watched a very shy little boy develop into a confident young man this year. I sat watching him perform in his Chorus concert, and couldn't help but tear up as he sang from his heart. He was animated and confident, joy-filled and happy. He's had his downs this year, too. He didn't make a few things he tried out for, BUT with his loving spirit came home excited for his friends who did make it. He handled several moments of disappointment with grace and maturity, making me wish I was more like him. He loves God with everything in him, and is learning more ways to serve and share that love with others. He has definitely moved on from our little boy to a young man (in training)!

2016 has been an amazing year for our family. God has walked us through hard times, awesome times and everything in between. We have seen Him shine in our boys, and we pray that others have seen Him through us. I am excited to see what God has in store for us in 2017. I know more change is coming, more hard times, more awesome adventures, more love, more growth... But that's life, right?! It's what we do with everything that matters. It's how we embrace the change. How we rely on God's strength during the hard times. How we trust God during the adventures. How we love our family, our friends, strangers. The Schussler family will embrace 2017 with hope, as we know God has His plan for us. And His plan has always been, and will always be better than anything we can even imagine!

Happy New Year to all of you from the crazy Schussler crew!!! May you feel God's presence and peace this year and every year!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

When All Hope Seems Lost

In less than a month, we as voting Americans will be walking into schools, administrative building, municipal buildings to vote on our next President of the United States. The next four years will be shaped by the person who wins this election... And that thought has left me feeling fearful, stressed, and lacking in hope for our country.

I have found myself on many occasions being overwhelmed by the negative political ads that run constantly. I feel scared by the thoughts of what could be. Our choices are not exactly prime choices this time around. I get lost in thought over what type of leaders my boys will have to "look up to", and not in good ways. I know I am not alone in this... I know that many people are scared of what the future holds. And that fear is showing in our interactions, in our conversations, in our day to day life.

Facebook is exploding with posts tearing down the candidates. Even worse, it's exploding with posts and comments tearing down people who side with either of the candidates. It's filled with name-calling and threats and arguments. Civil disagreements are becoming a thing of the past. And this leaves me feeling saddened and scared for the future.

This sadness and fear I have been feeling has been consuming me. And, I realized that I had managed to lose my grip on something extremely important... HOPE. I completely lost sight of my hope in tomorrow. I lost sight of my hope in the future that God has laid out for me and for my family. I had certainly lost sight of my hope in what God has in store for our country.

God has promised us that He is sovereign and just and loving and merciful. He has promised us futures filled with hope. It truly doesn't matter who becomes president this year, in four years, or in fifty years... Because God has promised to be with us ALWAYS. Yes, our president significantly impacts policies that have great impact on our lives. Yes, our president (and their beliefs) will shape our futures. But, no president has the power to impact our lives, our hearts, our families like God does.

The outcome of this year's election will greatly impact us all not just as Americans, but as human beings in general. The next four years will be different than any other time, no matter who wins the election. Changes will happen, for both the positive and the negative. That comes with new leadership... But no matter the leader, no matter the changes, no matter the outcome of this election, our God will still be God on November 9th. He will still be walking with us daily. He will still be loving us in a way only He can love us.

And so, during this unsettling time, I am choosing to put my HOPE in Him. To put aside my fears and anxieties, and to focus on HIS promises. He is my hope, today, tomorrow, over the next four years, and for decades to come.