Friday, June 6, 2014

Messy Motherhood

My kids are awesome.  I mean, I realllllly like them.

I like my kids when we jump on the trampoline together, all bounces and giggles, hair flying every which way with static, clothing rumpled and mussed-up with leaves and twigs.

I really like it when people are blown away by my oldest boy playing music on the piano.  In that moment, I'm utterly proud, and can't imagine anything better than being a mother to this kid.
I like it when I watch my older daughter snuggle my friend's one-year-old - comforting him and connecting with him in a uniquely heart-felt way.

I like when my 6 year old randomly looks up at me with big, innocent, blue eyes and says "Mommy, you're pretty!" in his hushed, raspy little voice.

I like watching my kids climb trees, do gymnastics, talk to our elderly neighbors, draw pictures, pray cute little prayers, sing songs, read to each other, and be imaginative, creative little people.

Those are the times when my heart bursts with gratitude, and I feel
"This is what parenting is supposed to be" and I am content with my role as Mommy.

But sometimes I don't like them.
Peanut butter, meet the Tablet

For example: when they fight, complain, make messes, fight, whine, argue, rub peanut butter all over the tablet, disobey, fight, run away when I'm calling them, break my favorite earrings, spill crumbs everywhere, push each other, spill juice all over the floor, act obnoixiously in front of our friends, and whine the whole time we try to put them to bed at night.

Then I begin to wonder and question:
"Why am I doing this!?" and I think
"I must be doing this all wrong since they act like this A LOT!" 


I know mistakes are normal.  I know that perfect children are abnormal.

So I'm guessing that feeling like a mess as a mom must be normal, too.  

The turning point for me was a few days ago, when my 4 year old yelled at me: "You're a bad mommy!"

Although I knew that this was the wailing, emotional, unrealistic assesment of an overtired child, it still made me a little bit sad.  Especially after having a day filled with frustrating moments with my kids.

Yet, this time, instead of feeling frustrated and angry - instead of thinking "I just don't enjoy this parenting thing!", I actually felt love in my heart.  It was strange, really.  It should have been one of those "throw in the towel" moments where I calmly shut his door, walked away and then screamed into my pillow.  But instead of feeling like I was dealt a bad hand of cards, and my kid was just unlikeable - in that moment, what welled up within my heart was LOVE.

I realized that no matter what mistakes happened or will happen in the future, I was made to love this child.  It's foolish to think that LOVING means always liking.   Certainly the goal of a loving relationship is compassion, kindness, and loads of patience.  But it doesn't mean that things are going to work perfectly.  It doesn't mean that you will always say or do the right thing as a parent.  It most certainly doesn't mean that you will always FEEL the "right" way.

More important than liking my kids all the time, is loving them - messes and all.  I can love them even when they say childish things to me.  I know, deep down, that I love them even though they make messes, cost me lots of money, and take up most of my waking hours.

Love covers a multitude of sins.

I realized that even if I'm not feeling it, even if I don't have warm fuzzies towards my kids due to their immature, age-appropriate behavior, it doesn't make me a bad mom or mean that I shouldn't have chosen this as my profession, or that I'm not qualified to raise them.

Once in a while, when my husband is dealing with one of our older children's outbursts, in the midst of their emotional diarrhea spewing out towards him, he'll just pause for a moment, smile, and say "I love you!"  I really admire this about him.  It's as though he can cut to what really matters - and that this moment, this lapse of restraint and unlikeable behavior will pass.

What remains even if the house is in shambles and we didn't have a perfect day is relationship,
and love.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

How To Hear

My dad, making a lot of noise with a jack hammer!
I have hearing loss.
It seems to have increased after the birth of each of my six lovely, boisterous children.

Okay, if I'm really being honest, I don't think I've actually lost any hearing ability.  Truth be told,  I've heightened my selective hearing ability after each child was born.

For example, one of my older kids could yell to me with intense panic: "Mom!!  Ezra's eating sugar!!!"  and I don't think I'd even flinch.  I'd keep folding laundry or picking pencil crayons up off the floor or whatever it was that I was doing... with little or no concern.  It's as if I didn't even hear their hysterical accusation.

It's hardly different from the way I tune out my children's incessant tattling - or their whining complaints against each other - or the proclamation that Ezra (yes, he's quite the four-year-old) is peeing in the yard or parking lot or off the church balcony... again!

Maybe mothers gain this ability as a tool of preservation.  Because if we really did respond to every little gasp, whine, cry or grievance - we would literally go insane! 

Now here's the problem.  I worry that an ability to be selective in my hearing may actually hinder my ability to listen to the things that really matter.  Just like perspective matters in how you view the world - whether you can take the time to see beauty in everyday situations - I believe that there is just as much value in learning how to hear. (You can read more about How to See in a blog post I wrote a couple weeks ago.)

Sometime one of my little guys will peep up with a random "I love you, Mommy!" and I might be in the middle of something - even in the middle of a frustrating moment with another child, but something in me knows that I ought to respond.  So it's often a quick "I love you, too!" right back at him, and sometimes I spend a little more time or put a bit more effort into my response - but I know that I'm keeping the door of connection open to his little heart - and it REALLY matters.

Other times, I hear the typical: "Mom!!!  Look at this!!!"  And it could be that my 6 year old is balancing a rock on his head - or maybe my 4 year old drew a picture that looks like a cross between a cow, a house and a turtle - but I will gasp and say "Wow! That's great!"  Because I'm speaking to his heart, his treasure, and he's vulnerable about my opinion and whether the things that are important to him matter to me.

Here's what I've noticed.  When I'm too busy, too frazzled or even when I'm just being too complacent - I don't hear my kids the way that I should.  Even worse, when I'm consumed by the interactions of social media - the voices that talk constantly, but say little that really matters in life - when I'm plugged up by all of that noise pollution... I don't hear.

Hearing can only come by intentionality.  Hearing requires focus, and purposefulness.  Because I'm not talking about noise that registers decibles in your brain - I'm talking about understanding and connection.  I need to really HEAR my kids.  I need to HEAR my husband and care about what's happened in his workday - even though I feel like I've survived a dozen earthquakes and I've had to navigate the stormy waters of several pre-teens and my teenager clashing and being "emotional".

It's hard to hear.  It's hardest if you feel like no one really listens to you - and believe me, even when I yell and I'm frustrated, it seems like my kids still aren't listening!  But even in the best of circumstances, listening - really hearing those around you - is an art.  It is intentional and requires engagement with the people (even the little kids) around you.

Here's a thought for those who have trouble really hearing those around them.

Learn how to be STILL.

It feels like, in this day and age, we have so little opportunity for true quiet.  My iPhone follows me everywhere with bleeps, bloops and alerts.  I can even watch movies in the bathroom! (Not saying that I do that...)  While I don't want this to be just another blog about how you should flee from the evils of technology, I still feel that it is worth mentioning.  Turn off your freakin' phone!!!!  I guarantee, you will not learn to be quiet if your iPhone is beside you, alerting you to the newest angry-cat clip that your friend posted or if it's tempting you to play the next level of Zombie Candy Crush Super Saga (or whatever those annoying games may be).

So learning how to hear starts with practice in the right environment.  When you learn to be still, you have a chance to find true rest for your soul.  In stillness, we can recharge with prayer, meditation or simply quiet communion with God.

Next, hearing those around you, and listening for the things that matter requires insight and intentionality.  Sometimes you have to look for the unspoken signs in order to hear the whispers of a heart that is trying to be conveyed.

I'll end with this...  A few nights ago, when most of of kids were already in bed, my hubby and I were hanging out in our room with the door open, chatting on our bed.  One of my older kids (who shall remain nameless), came and stood in our doorway.  They didn't ask for anything and it wasn't their bedtime yet, so we didn't shoo them away.  That's when I got it - a sense that comes from learning to listen.  I realized that this child was seeking connection - that they needed affirmation and closeness with us. So I initiated a conversation that allowed us to talk about some of the deeper, more important things in life.  Afterwords, I marveled at the gift of intimate communication that I could have missed out on if I hadn't taken the time to hear.

“There's a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”  -G. K. Chesterton

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”  -Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Being Okay on Mother's Day

It's here! 

The radio, Twitter, Facebook and my email inbox are blasting me with messages about one of the most anticipated events of the year - Mother's Day.  It's a day of extremely high expectations - and if dads and kids and even the pastor preaching a sermon at church don't deliver - moms will be disappointed and feel under-appreciated. 

On a positive note, I've seen many beautiful tributes filling up the Facebook newsfeed and pictures of moms of every kind - young moms with babies, mothers with grown sons and scanned old photographs of mothers from decades ago.

Some of us have fond memories of our mothers, and for some Mother's Day is etched with sorrow and grief.

Some mothers delightfully look forward to a day of pampering, adoration and  acknowledgement, and others feel guilt, anxiety, disappointment  and emptiness.

I've been a Mom for nearly 15 years now.  I have six kids.  I guess you could say that I'm kind of qualified to speak about being a mom.

Being a mom is nothing like I imagined.  Being a mom has a lot more mundane than I expected; scattered with high times and low times.

I thought when my first baby was placed in my arms, that I'd be magically equipped with all the patience, wisdom and virtue that I needed to deal with a willful, uncooperative yet beautiful little person.  I thought I'd be full to the brim with ooey gooey mushy infatuation that would power me through every long, sleepless night.  I was supposed to be such a good mother that even when my kids got older, we would be harmonious and happy - instead, I often feel challenged and I doubt myself.

I never thought I'd actually get to the end of myself and secretly lament: "I wish I wasn't doing this.  What was I thinking?"  But, sometimes those feelings come.   So after a good cry, some chocolate, time on my knees and maybe a hug from someone who is not utterly dependent upon me for EVERY. LITTLE. THING.,  I find some new inner strength, and I plunge back into my role with perseverance.

So as this Mother's Day approached, I have been mindful of the fears and trials and the lessons I've learned (and I am still learning) as I continue my life-long career as a mother.  I hope I'm not the only one who approaches Mother's Day with some hesitation.

Mother's Day might be all about gratitude and adoration - but I need so much more than a "Thank You" card and breakfast in bed.  (A day in the mountains, followed by a candle-light dinner with steak and wine might be sufficient, though!)

So here it is - the simple and perhaps obvious fact that reassures me as a mother:

Kids are resilient.  Even when you mess up, even when life is crazy and you can't provide the "perfect" environment, kids are remarkably capable of defying the odds and coming out on top.  I have a friend who told me a story about her childhood.  She said that at one point, her family went camping for around 3 months - imagine that!  They spent the entire summer cooking, eating, playing and living outdoors!  She said that as a child, she thought it was awesome.  However, as an adult, reflecting upon this memory, she realized that something was a little weird about her family camping for such a long time.  She asked her parents and they told her that it was because they were literally homeless - Dad had lost his job, and they had nowhere else to go - so they just camped for a while until they could get back on their feet.

I think we put an awful lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect moms, with perfect homes, and we try to juggle so many things, attempting to be the glue that holds it all together and keeps our children's world defect-free.  The truth is - our kids will be ok.  They don't need everything to be utopian all the time.

So those blurry months when I had morning sickness and felt like I barely had enough energy to change diapers - let alone cook a somewhat wholesome meal for my other kids and the TV pretty much babysat them?  It's ok... it all turned out.

And the months of transition that we've experienced with my husband changing jobs (twice) and moving from city to city and house to house - so that homeschooling became incredibly inconsistent and only happened if I could actually find our books...?   I think we're going to recover from that too.  Thank God kids are resilient.

Sometimes life throws us a curve ball, and sometimes we just screw up as a mom.  I don't need to stop making mistakes - I just can't get stuck. Our kids need us to forgive ourselves, and move on.   I think God has a special grace for me as a mom, because DESPITE my many failings, my kids keep on loving me.   

Unfortunately, Mother's Day can be a time that highlights inadequacy for some of us.  It's easy to think of all the accomplishments of a mother and praise her for them, but it's equally easy for those accomplishments to feel like weighty expectations, heavy with immense responsibility.

I'm not bashing the celebration of Mothers - I'm not bashing Mother's Day cards and Mother's Day sermons - BUT...  I think a lot of moms need reassurance more than anything.  Because you can celebrate us today - even give us the day off, but we have to go right back to reality tomorrow.  We need to know that we're doing ok.  We need you to know that we don't feel perfect and motherhood is really hard and sometimes we don't even feel like doing it anymore - but it's not exactly the kind of job where you can hand in a resignation (believe me, I could try, but the kids would wail and scream and eventually bang down my bedroom door.)

So I encourage you today.  If you are an imperfect mom and you worry about being enough, doing enough or even surviving motherhood - you're gonna be ok.  Your kids are going to be okay.  The good news is that you don't have to be a super-mom to raise good kids.  Kids are resilient and forgiving.  I remind myself this daily.

Happy Encouraging Mother's Day!

How to encourage a mom on Mother's Day:
To put it simply - I think that on Mother's Day, Moms need mothering.  We need to be taken care of, believed in, reassured and... okay... maybe a little bit of chocolate or flowers or a massage would help, too.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

How To See

It was a gloriously warm, summer-like day.

I was happy.
I wasn't yelling (much) and our little exploration had turned into a winner in that we had spotted turtles in the wetland - something we'd never seen on previous nature walks at that particular location.  
The kids were excited, contented, playing, and most of all, they weren't bickering, complaining or fighting with one another.

It was bliss.

Even the antics of this boy -  my wild-child, as I call him, couldn't disrupt the beauty of our meditative outdoor enjoyment.  So when his drawing paper landed amidst Water Striders and Whirlygig Beetles in the glassy, aquamarine water, I calmly scooped them up with little more than a sigh, and laid the papers to dry on the dock in the unusually hot May sun.  It wasn't even breezy (which is unusual for our city), so in a matter of minutes the accidental near-drowning of drawing papers was forgotten.

I wonder: Why can't every day be like this?

I told my husband later that night, as we stood in the kitchen wiping up crumbs and putting away pots and pans, "See.... the sun makes me so happy!  I'm made to be in warm places!"

And it's true.  I gain an unusual contentment from long, summer days.  Winter is my hibernation - I eat too much, feel sluggish, want to sleep more and often find it difficult to face day after day of cold weather that coops us up indoors. I can relate to the dormancy of a deciduous tree - barren, no life apparent, waiting for the kiss of the sun and warm weather to "spring" forth with green buds; welcoming the chorus of songbirds and awakened with the promise of a fruitful summer.

Yet, as I looked at my pictures and strained to see the beautiful moments that I felt so strongly, I was surprised that I was scrolling through mediocre snapshots, not stunning works of art.  My heart remembers the warmth, happiness and joy - but the images captured with my iPhone don't come close to expressing the true beauty we indulged upon.  But my heart is still happy.

How much more so is my life a snapshot in time?

Can I look for the beauty - glorious moments where life and love pop up, unexpectedly - even when skies are gray?

If only I could remember and abhor my proclivity to be too busy, too sharp, too narrow-minded...

Often, it's when I'm finally quiet, breathing slowly, eyes closed and unsuccessfully attempting to sleep that I finally remember

Each day is filled with opportunities for wonder
if I could slow myself enough to notice.

My children are marvelous creatures who are always learning, growing and changing and I can hurry them along, or try to see life through their eyes by taking time to really listen.

In the pauses; the deceleration of our minds and hearts, we see more clearly and begin to hear the melody of life's symphony.

When we train our eyes to look for the beautiful, we find that as Dostoyevski said:

"Beauty will save the world."

Because it's the ugliness of my wrong intentions, my false expectations and misperceptions that are ruining me.  I don't see beauty because my eyes are drawn far too quickly to the soiled, the broken, the misleading.  And it wears me down.

I'm not naturally a "glass half-full" sort of person.  But there are moments in time, flashes of inspiration and divine unfolding when the dust and smog of the pains and cares of this world peel away and I truly see, and breathe, and absorb what I believe this world was meant to be.

There are moments in life when you can't deny the God-tinged, unearthly and unspoiled illumination.  Like when my last baby was born and I held him - still blueish with waxy, vernix-smeared skin and then his eyes opened on this side of earth for the first time, and his little lungs sucked in his fist breaths, and I beheld life: freshly kissed by heaven.

When we see beauty, we see the Divine.
 "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen" -Romans 1:20
Who doesn't gawk with awe at the mighty Rocky Mountains?  Who doesn't gasp at the awesome roar of thunder?  Something within us all is set to respond to the magnificence of earth.

My aim, then, is to peer at the world in anticipation.
To watch, to wait, and then to wonder

"Then sings my soul, my God, how great thou art."
Carl Gustav Boberg (1859–1940)


Thursday, December 19, 2013

When Basmati Won't Suffice

"I'm hungry"
"Mo-o-om! Can I have something to eat?"
"Can we have a snack?"

I hear this about 500 times a day... or so it seems.

My kids are ALWAYS hungry... even if it's only 5 minutes after lunch.

Something I realized, is that their request for food is a sign of a home where food is available and abundant.  And I'm thankful that we live in a way that my kids do not have to go hungry - where we have enough to provide regular meals (and snacks) for them.  I imagine that kids who live in a place where there is not enough food would learn to stop asking, because they would continually be turned down and disappointed by lack.

However, we've had our ups and downs as a family.  And right now happens to be a "down".  I'm not saying that we're going hungry, but we are trying to be frugal and budget conscious and also making sure we aren't wasting food (which translates to wasting money). That also means trying to use food we already have in our cupboards, instead of automatically running to the store for our favorite items.

So this evening, when I was preparing the ingredients for dinner, I noticed that we were almost out of our favorite Thai rice that we use in a lot of the meals we cook on a regular basis.  "No problem," I thought, "I'll just use a different kind of rice."  Which really wasn't a big deal because there were 3 other kinds of rice in our cupboard: Basmati, sweet rice and brown rice.  I figured that the Basmati would be the most appealing to my kids, so I cooked up a pot to serve along with the small portion of Thai rice.

Then it happened.

"Mom! What is wrong with this rice?"  A child burst out, referring to the Basmati rice on their plate.

"It's Basmati rice." I replied. "We ran out of Thai rice, so I had to use something else. And actually, Basmati is a really nice type of rice AND I put butter in it, so I don't know why you are complaining!"  As you might gather, at this point I was feeling irritated!

"Butter!?!?" The child whined and then showed a face of extreme disgust.

"Okay" I responded not so calmly, "Then you may go to your room for supper if you are not grateful for the food we have to eat!"  Except, since we are currently staying in a two bedroom basement suite (it's complicated) and this child doesn't have their own room, they just went to sit on their bed and sulk.

I had to shake my head at the preposterous nature of this moment.   Like, really?  Did my child just turn their nose up and reject a perfectly nutritious and delicious dinner because they were served the WRONG KIND OF RICE?!?!

We ended up having a little talk when I finished my dinner, although (with the age and stage of this child) it felt more like a lecture - and I tried to enlighten this child on how blessed our family actually is.  Yes, we don't have a ton of money right now, and we didn't buy more Thai rice - but we have plenty of food in our fridge and cupboards and we are NOT going hungry!  I referred to my husband's growing up years, where he not so fondly remembers times of eating lots of eggs and zucchini because their family could get it for free to supplement their meager stock of groceries in a home with four growing kids.  

When I come to the heart of this situation, I realize that my desire is to see my kids exhibit grattitude - not just when things are good, but even in the midst of trials (like having the wrong kind of rice, or being served something you don't like at a friend's house).

My grumpy side would like to teach my kids a lesson: Maybe I could make them eat plain food for a while - like Kraft dinner and frozen pizzas and stuff that comes out a can -  and then, when we finally have something homemade and delicious, they will be so thankful and grateful that I won't even have to prompt them!  However, I don't think I could bear to punish my kids that way - especially when they have two culinarily creative parents.

So I'm looking for a solution.  I'm tired of reminding them to say "thank you" all the time and I don't want to have to prod them to be grateful for the food that others make for them (even when they don't like it very much).

I'm looking for gratefulness to be a heart attitude, not a sign of a good upbringing or good manners.  True gratitude comes from the heart; I don't want my kids to perform - or worse yet, roll their eyes and speak insincerely.

Maybe the place where it all starts is with me?  Perhaps I should sincerely investigate my heart attitude, not just my actions?  Sure, I act grateful when I'm invited out and someone makes me dinner (even if I don't like it).  I know my manners... I've been raised properly. (Thanks, Ma!)

But I think it goes so much further than the "thank you" at dinnertime or when someone holds open the door for you at a store.  Gratitude comes from a lifestyle of constant mindfulness that I am am getting far better than I deserve.  Gratitude comes from recognition that life is a gift.  Gratitude also acknowledges the value of those around you - their preciousness as a "fearfully and wonderfully made" human, to quote Psalm 139.

I wonder if I am showing true, heartfelt gratitude both around my children as well as towards my children?  Maybe I think that I shouldn't have to thank them for doing their chores, cleaning up after themselves - or even for showing me affection.  But if I begin to create an atmosphere that values and encourages these actions, I believe that not only will these actions become more commonplace, but they will also begin to adopt my posture of gratitude. 

If I am quick to point out the positive of my children's behavior, then that behavior will be what is honored and upheld as desirable.  But I'm not thinking about how this will merely make life easier for me - I'm not trying to use a formula to induce better behavior in my children.  I have a feeling that this will actually result in my heart being more content and joyous.  And that sounds like a really good thing.

I don't expect things to change overnight.  I know that my kids are adaptable and as I pursue gratefulness, it sure to rub off on them.  But for me, it's a journey...

I know that I'm still going to have days where someone doesn't like dinner and then refuses to eat.  And in that situation, I'll do my best to remind them of our blessings and then send them to their room to find their "happy, grateful attitude".

And my kids will most certainly continue to whine incessantly at me "Mo-o-o-mmmm, I'm hungry!"

Thankfully, I still have one last trick up my sleeve - it's the kind of answer that annoying parents like me give to their kids in this situation:

"You're not hungry, you're bored!" 

(Feel free to use that one, it's a freebie!)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Redeeming Christmas (and recognizing the grinch inside me)


I've been a bit of Grinch.

In my effort to avoid this culture's tendency towards commercialism in a season that is supposed to be about hope, joy, anticipation and giving, I've become a miser and festivity-extinguisher.

Because, if I'm being entirely honest, the Christmas season has the ability to highlight my insufficiencies as a mother - lack of time, lack of patience, lack of joy and one of the big ones - lack of CASH!

I found myself annoyed a little more each year when the Christmas carols would begin to play on the radio.  To further amplify this attitude, we had the opportunity to get to know our family better and shared our home with my husband's younger brother, wife and kids for a little over a year.  The thing about my little brother-in-law is that he is the KING of Christmas music.  Apparently, the Christmas season begins the day after Halloween... when everyone is hung-over from a sugar over-dose.  So when I had an opportunity to smile and enjoy his child-like delight in one of the most important events on the Christian calendar of events, instead I was grouchy and informed him sternly "In MY house, Christmas doesn't start until December!"  So the Christmas DJ was dethroned for the rest of the month... at least when I was at home.

Probably my biggest argument for putting a damper on Christmas is that I hate the commercialism of it!  I hate how worked up kids get in their desire to GET more and more stuff!  Even if I had tons of money, I still don't want to engage in the chaotic, hectic shopping marathon required to appease the greediness of the green-eyed monsters (...I mean munchkins) who just want more and more!  My thought was that if Christmas has become about anticipating what amazing present you'll get this year, then I'll work in the opposite spirit and minimize the emphasis of gift-giving altogether!

At church on Sunday, one of the pastors and his wife shared about the season of Advent and how we can bring into our homes the true meaning of Christmas.  I found myself totally nodding my head in agreement with him as he mentioned how he was the "Christmas Grinch" of the family, and had to undergo a change of heart over the past couple years in order to really experience the hope and joy that the Advent season can bring.  So I really owe this post to the honesty and openness with which they shared.  (Listen here, it's the Advent message dated 12/10/13)

This Christmas, my family is in a unique situation.  We're in-between moving.  Our house is in-between being sold and having the new owners taking possession.  We have a temporary tiny little basement suite in the city we're moving back to. (I think we have about 100 square feet per person in our family!)  It's complicated....

At any rate, despite our confining, challenging environment I have hope and expectancy that this will possibly be our best family Christmas ever!

What makes things so different for me this year?

Instead of focusing on all that is wrong with Christmas, I'm determined to focus on what is RIGHT about it. The season of Advent, is about hope, expectation and promise.  I long to bring a sense of worship and wonder to my home as we anticipate a time of feasting and celebrating Jesus, incarnate, born to redeem all mankind.

However, just because I'm trying to focus on the spiritual and more meaningful message of Christmas, it doesn't mean that I should be a religious miser and put a damper on the festiveness of the season.  That's where I've been floundering - caught in the wrestle of emphasis - and wondering how we can maintain the true value of this holiday without being wrapped up in selfishness.

Then, on Sunday morning, I heard a quiet whisper in my heart regarding our family's holiday season.  Though Christmas has often seemed to be a busy, expensive season that overflows with obligation, this year it could be different.  In my heart, I felt the assurance and soul-quenching message: "God gives good gifts!"  While I've been focused on all that I've had to do and to give, God wants me to focus on His goodness and provision for me and my family.

In my effort to squelch the materialism of Christmas, I've been imparting an unhealthy attitude that causes joy and generosity to deteriorate in my children's hearts the way osteoporosis weakens bones and causes collapse.  Conversely, my kids will learn about and experience the goodness of God through my generosity and intentionality as a parent. 

As this realization blossomed in my heart, I pictured a Christmas where I delight in blessing my children.  I envisioned family-time that was filled with laughter and celebration - and realized that even the smallest of gifts could be a gesture that sparks anticipation and joy in their hearts.  And it most certainly isn't the price tag that matters, instead it's the thoughtfulness and meaning that is behind the gift.  Also, "good gifts" don't have to be defined by being items bought in a store, but can be experiences - moments of joy and words of affirmation that warm the heart.  Most of all, the gift can be found in slowing down, and enjoying a season that celebrates what really matters - relationships, both with our Savior and with our families.

Part of what this looks like for my family this year is what I'm calling the "5 Days of Christmas".  We've been incredibly blessed with an opportunity to have a mini-vacation in Montana for 5 nights and so, with some planning and intentionality, we're celebrating the idea that God gives us good gifts.  Each day, the kids get a tiny gift to open at breakfast time - and then we've planned fun activities and games we can do as a family.  All along the way, we're pointing out how God has blessed us and given us so many good gifts - like friends to go sledding with, beautiful scenery to enjoy and a family to cherish.

So far, the redemption of this season has been a success.  
Our hearts are tuned into the goodness that God has for us and the gifts He's given us as a family. 
We have so many reasons to celebrate, and we've only just begun.  With hope and expectation, as we journey together towards Christmas Day, we will enjoy and experience gratefulness... not grinchy-ness!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Afraid of the Pagans

I am afraid of the pagans... or the heathens... depending on your definition.

Did I really say that out loud?

All my life, I've grown up fairly sheltered, in a Christian home. A good home.  A religious, Jesus-loving, Bible-thumping home.

And I sincerely loved Jesus and started talking to Him on my own from the time I was about 3 years old.  Feel free to think that I was brainwashed, but I know that I haven't been talking to myself all of these years.
But when I read an article this week, How To Raise A Pagan Kid In A Christian Home, it shook me.  And it also resonated with my deep belief that I don't want to shove Christianity down anyone's throats - including my kids' throats.  I want it to be real - so real that my kids don't need to be prodded and pushed and forced and coerced - but that they actually WANT to know the same Jesus that I profess to know because they actually SEE IT displayed in my life in an appealing context.

However, I've sheltered my kids.  I don't necessarily feel bad about all of it - I mean, it's not like I should turn on a porn channel and say "Hey kids, this is the kind of crap there is in the world, so get used to it!".  But I've been careful - really careful.

My "sheltered" kids climbing on the fence to talk to a neighbor.
Today we ran into an old neighbor (a child, around 11 or 12) and her eyes lit up with recognition when she saw us.  I wouldn't say she came from the best of homes, but I also wouldn't say her home was bad.  They rented the house across the street, and the mom had a boyfriend living with her and then another suspiciously dead-beat sort of guy sleeping on their couch, and they had their parties... TV blaring all the time... that kind of stuff. 

I would let her hang out at our place, but in limited measure.  Truth be told, I was nervous... what if she influenced my kids for evil?  What if she taught them bad words or told them about "bad" movies that she was allowed to watch?  What if she sang non-Christian songs to them... songs written by people like.... Justin Beiber!?!  (ha ha... you know I had to throw that in there!)

So when I saw her today, my heart melted a little.  I've personally been going through a lot of changes, and have been doing a lot of assesment of my beliefs and behaviors - asking myself questions like "Why do I act this way?.. respond this way?... etc."  Basically, I'm trying to figure out if my actions really line up with what I think I believe in my heart and if I'm being honest, it doesn't always translate properly.  I'm not exactly who I think I should be according to my beliefs and desires.  I've definitely got a ways to go...

Perhaps my present day actions and responses are merely the response to being afflicted with the homeschooled-religiously sheltered mentality that I was given in my growing-up years.  But I'm not throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  I homeschool my kids, yes... but my primary reason is not to "shelter" them and keep them from the big, bad world.  I love the freedom it brings us as a family, when we can learn and grow - creatively, unhindered, together.  (But that is a subject for another blog.) However, when I was in high-school, I definitely felt that one of the reasons I was homeschooled was to shelter me.  (And my parents had their reasons, and I do respect them for all their efforts!)

Yet, when I look at the Jesus we see in scripture, the Jesus of the Gospels, I see someone who unreservedly enjoyed ALL manner of people.  Especially heathens.  Maybe even pagans (insert winking smiley face here!).  He was accused by the religious people of being a winebibber and a glutton (see Matthew 11:19).  In today's standards, that might be translated as Jesus being accused of being a party animal and a pot-head! (Or maybe a foodie!)

So I'm left with this thought about my perspective:  something is messed up.  What is it that I fear?  Why couldn't I freely open my home to a (then) 8 year old child who just enjoyed the rowdiness of my full household?!  What is it that makes me freeze up when I'm talking to... gasp!... non-believers?!

I know one thing... I don't want to come across as arrogant.  I don't want to be self-righteous like the Pharisees whom Jesus called out time and time again for their hard hearts and their blatantly unloving (godless) behavior. 

So the answer to that is humility, and love.  I'm not on this earth to call out people's wrong-doings.  It's just not my job.  Christians, the Bible is pretty clear that the only ones who we should be ragging on for bad behavior is the people who actually profess to be believers... the ones who should know better!  (See 1 Corinthians 9:5-13)  

What else?  I'm also afraid of not knowing what to say.  I'm afraid of being stumped when someone asks me to defend my faith.

Should that keep me from being engaged in relationship with people who believe differently?  No.  I hope not.  On one hand, I would hope that if I'm speaking with grace and humility, as well as speaking from my personal experience - that I don't have to have every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed.  On the other hand, I'm not saying that personal study isn't important... but it would be pretty ridiculous to avoid all conversations of potential contraversy and challenge until you feel that you are fully educated in every area of doctrine, theology, eschatology, ecclesiology, and every other "ology" that there is pertaining to scripture.

Let's bring this full-circle.  I stated my fear of heathens.  This realization and admittance is embarrassing.  I really love some "so-called" heathens and I know the world is full of wonderful, kind, compassionate "heathens".  Do I personally believe that they need Jesus?  Yes.  Do I need to treat them like they have the plague and I should avoid them at all cost?  No.

My challenge, (and really I am challenging myself,) is to be REAL everywhere I go, with everyone I meet.  I don't need to hide my Christianity, but I also don't need to use my "religious words and sayings" as a battering ram against those who don't believe.  If my Christianity is real... it will speak for itself in my actions, deeds, family, lifestyle... and in my love.

To take it another step... and I do so with much trepidation... if my Christianity is real, then my kids don't need to be lectured continually on how "moral" and "Christian" they should act, but they will absorb and ascertain for themselves the truth of a relationship with God, if I am indeed living a life that cries for relationship with a heavenly Father and is not just about following a rulebook.  That means I shouldn't be afraid to be kind and loving, and to open my home to all kinds of people.

Now hang on, it doesn't mean I have to allow my neighbor's kid to bring over "The Exorcist" and have a movie night with my children... 3 year old included!  For sure there is an element of common sense.  But what I recognize in myself (and I could be the only messed-up Christian who feels this way) is an unnatural fear of "badness" seeping into my household. As if my beliefs are that innocuous and tepid that they could be plowed over by a couple swear words and mildly lascivious behavior that might be displayed in my home by a... heathen.

I recognize that this has become a rather long post.. though it still seems incomplete to me.  So if you've followed me thus far, my concluding thought would be... liberty.  A Christian life is meant to be a free life.  Romans 8 talks plenty about being freed from the "law of sin and death".  If we are truly free, then what have we to fear?  Certainly not our neighbor who just wants to chat about kids and the crazy weather and how their in-laws are coming for Christmas. 

In the words of Jesus "Love your neighbor as yourself."  Since I don't live in a commune (yet!) my neighbors include a lot of different people...  even some heathens.  So I'm committing myself to be more open, friendlier and less fearful as I continue this life-long journey.