Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Loving the Un-Lovable (My Family)

What is love?  Where does it come from?  How do I get some more?

These are all the questions that have been running around in my head for the past few days.  I stumbled across another blogger's posting about an interaction she had with her child.  This mother, in a moment of intense frustration (when her child was acting quite "unlovable"),  simply knelt down and held her child close with an incredible outpouring of grace and acceptance.  I found tears coming to my eyes as I read this, picturing one of my own youngsters in the many moments of chaotic, anger-inducing behavior - and realized how often I lack a loving, gracious response toward them.

I also set myself up for some serious soul-searching this past weekend, after reading a biography about Mother Teresa.  I read it all in one sitting; just amazed at the incredible love of Jesus that poured through that woman.  She stretched her hand out to the dirty, broken, lost, forgotten and rejected, and embraced them with an acceptance and love as if she was ministering to the Lord Jesus, in living flesh.  Her whole life was poured out as a gift to the Lord, a true example of "pure and undefiled religion" from James 1:27 as she ministered to "widows and orphans in their trouble".

How incredible, I thought, it would be to have a chance to pour out the love of God to the most needy and broken.  In fact, I will soon be presented with that opportunity as I travel to India later this year on mission trip.  My heart breaks with the knowledge of the suffering that afflicts so many children worldwide - never to have the comforts of clean clothes, a warm bed and a full tummy - let alone someone who loves them and tells them: "You are valuable."

In the middle of my pondering, however, I was convicted to think of how I relate to my own family.  I have been struggling recently with feeling a lack of love for my kids and husband.  I mean, I know that I love them and I would do anything for them, but when it comes to the little, every day situations, I don't always act in a loving way.  This made me think of the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: 35-40
For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;  I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'  And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'
I had to be honest with myself, and acknowledge that my family; my husband and kids, also qualify as "the least of these".   If I am admonished to show love and care to strangers, how much more love should I show to my relatives?  Just because I am so familiar with them and see them every single day when they are grumpy, tired, dirty and annoying - doesn't mean that they are exempt from being treated graciously.

One of the problems I have, and I hope I'm not the only one - is that it seems so NOBLE and virtuous to minister to the poor, needy children on the other side of the world.  There is something exotic about the entire experience because it is so far removed from our normal, everyday lives.  Yet, loving our own - our family, and even our next-door neighbors - is a tremendous effort.

A face only a mother could love...
There's something extremely difficult about speaking kindly and graciously to someone who continually makes noise - loud, obnoxious, repetitive noise - all day long, in the comfort of your home.  It's hard to love the child who spilled sugar all over the floor - again - when they shouldn't even have gotten into the sugar in the first place.  It's hard to love the snot-crusted baby who just pooped for the 6th time that day, and has oatmeal paste sticking in the folds of his neck AND just dumped another roll of toilet paper into the toilet.  (Yes, that sort of stuff does happen to me!)  It's also hard to love your spouse when life is busy and you have endless tasks to take care of, and little energy left at the end of the day to speak sweet words and dedicate moments to encouraging them when it feels like you're about to fall apart yourself.

Now I will set out to answer the questions posed at the beginning of this blog posting.  First: What is love?  Certainly it is not a feeling.  Love can be supported by feelings and it can be characterized by how you feel about someone - but love has a lot more to do with action and choice than our up and down, fickle emotional state.   Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.   (1 Cor. 13)

My second question concerning love was:  Where does it come from?  I can answer that with another passage from the Bible. 1 John 4:7,8 says: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This all ties in with the final question I posed: How do I get some more?  We all long to be loved and accepted.  We all have yearning in our hearts for real love that lasts and does not hold us to our faults.  As I read about Mother Teresa and wondered what her secret was for being so amazing and loving, I was not at all surprised to find that she often emphasized the importance of early morning prayer.  She said that it would be impossible to go out and minister to, and help others, without first being filled.  

It is so "easy" to live by a set of rules and establish for ourselves a religious mindset that we adhere to.  It is quite another thing altogether, to practice engaging in relationship with God.  I love not, because I lack a knowledge of God and His love.  I keep myself too busy - albeit, busy with noble, 'godly' tasks, that leave me lacking in the one thing I need most: Love.  If I really want to be a more loving person, and be a blessing to the "unlovable" people who challenge me day after day with their imperfections,  I must fill up on true love myself.  

It's not always easy to show real, unconditional love to the people closest to you in life.  Additionally, I would argue that it is next to impossible to accomplish this without the love of God dwelling in your heart.  We aren't meant to exist on our own strength of will or on the idea of being noble and virtuous.  We exist to be loved, and then to love.  All it takes is opening the door of your heart to God's kind of love, and allowing Him to come in and fill you.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Failings of Fortitude

Weakness... the very word leaves a foul taste in my mouth.  I'm no sissy.  I'm not weak!

I was the tough kid.  I was always a little squirt - often the shortest in my class, but I made up for my size with effort and exhuberence.  In the typical recess soccer game, I'd be the first girl picked, even first out of many of the boys because I tried to approach the game fearlessly and I wasn't afraid to get my shins kicked (or do some shin-kicking myself).  My knees were often scabbed, my hair tousled with lopsided ponytails and I wore my brother's hand-me-downs with pride.  Pretty clothes were for church, but the real world required me to face dirt head-on, to stand up for the under-dog and to show off how strong and fast I could be.

When I was a teenager, it was no different.  I took up running because it was hard.  I wanted to be fit and athletic and I was rather influenced by the insurgence of martial-arts and secret-service type movies, where the main character had to train hard to be like the Energizer Bunny (built to last) and be able to conquer the enemy.  I liked to wear camouflage pants with a black tank top and tried to create an image that said:  I'm tough, I'm strong, and I won't let anything hurt me or get in my way!

As I said, I took up running and at one point got myself very sick because of my stubborn approach.  I felt like I was training harder and better if the elements were against me, so one week, after a few runs in the rain, despite a cough and cold, I developed pneumonia.  I was 16 years old and in the middle of the night, as I grew more seriously ill, I felt miserable and wanted to climb into my parent's bed like a little girl.  Due to my high fever, I began to hallucinate and hear strange dripping noises that wouldn't stop.  I was shaking and shivering, and managed to climb out of bed, checking the taps in the bathroom and kitchen and yet I couldn't make the dripping noise stop!  I stood outside of my parent's door hesitantly for at least 10 minutes, tears in my eyes, feeling a frantic desperation to have someone help me.  I didn't realize I was so sick - and just felt like I was going crazy!  In the end, I couldn't let myself become weak like a child and wake my parents.  I was "grown-up" now.  I was sixteen!  So I spent the next hours until morning shivering on my bed as the fever ravaged my body and my lungs ached with every breath.  In the morning, my mom was shocked at my condition and told me that I should have woke her up.  I shrugged, in typical, uninterested teenage fashion, but did not resist being mothered and cared for after an x-ray showed I had pneumonia!

Over the years, there has always been something in me that despises weakness.  Perhaps it was the fact that I grew up (as I've mentioned before) as my older brother's tag-a-long.  Perhaps it is simply a product of my life's experiences both good and bad - but regardless, I resent the points in time where I can no longer rely on my strength of will and determination to get me through a situation.  It's as though I've felt that if I just work hard enough, just endure long enough, then I can get through ANYTHING.  However, that's not always the case.

The more I become aware of other people's hurts - whether it is my children, or friends, or people my husband and I care for in our church - the more I realize that I am just not strong enough to fix it!  The weight and cares become a burden that break my heart and bring me to helplessness.  The problems are too great - I don't have enough wisdom, I don't have enough money to bail out my friend who's in a tight spot financially and I don't have the magical ability to make everything better.  Then there is the fact that people often make mistakes - specifically my kids - and I can't always erase the problem and make it go away.  I can't always be there to hold my child's hand, and sometimes the decisions they make will break my heart.

I think that being a "tough" person is an asset, but it can also be a misfortune.  It means that my first instinct isn't to ask for help.  It means I am less likely to share my feelings and struggles.  Most of all, it often takes me tripping over an obstacle or working so hard that I become run-down, worn-out and depleted of strength before I realize: "Hey... maybe I should ask God for help?!"  Duh!

One of the most heartening scriptures to me is from 2 Corinthians 12:10 "For when I am weak, then I am strong.", speaking of Christ's ability to work through our inability.  You see, we don't often ask for help and rely on God when things are going great.  Those are the times where we feel that we are coasting on our enduring human effort, our formulaic prayers, and our indispensable wisdom and knowledge.  Then something knocks you off of your high horse (life happens...) and disappointments leave you feeling broken, shattered and desperately frail.  And you sit in the mess of your life, lamenting the hurts and challenges, weeping tears of defeat, until you finally think:  Maybe I should ask God for help? 

I don't think God ever intended to be our "9-1-1" emergency phone number.  At least, that is not the primary interaction He was hoping to have with us in this life.  Yes, He cares when you are in a state of crisis, but He also wants to hear about the good stuff, the mundane stuff, the kind of stuff you talk to your best friend about while drinking lattes and staring out the window.  God is not wearied by our prayer lists and repetition - we can see that scripture encourages "effectual, fervent prayer" (James 5:16).  However, Jesus came to this earth to show us how to have intimate communication with Him.  He came here to interact with, lead and befriend people who were tired, weary, and broken.  We can see by His relationship with the disciples that they interacted on a fairly intimate level.  They were a community that ate, traveled, worked and lived together; unlike the multitudes that only gathered around to hear a nice story, get a free meal or ask for help when they were sick and in crisis.  I want to interact with Jesus as one who truly follows Him in all areas of my life.  It's not enough for me to just run to Him when something goes wrong! 

It goes against my nature, but I'm looking to become more broken before the Lord.  Psalm 34:18 says: The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  Do I want to be closer to the Lord?  Absolutely.  Do I want to be broken?  Not a chance.  Yet... I've seen the end of myself before and it's not pretty.  I've been beaten down by life before and it really sucks.  In the same way that I refused to call on my mom and dad when I was a stubborn, sick sixteen-year-old, I often ignore the presence of God that could be in my life, in a more tangible way.  I don't want to let it go that far anymore... so, I'll admit it right now that I am not strong enough.  I need help.  I need God.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Memory Lane... the back alley

I clearly remember the day I learned to ride a two-wheeler.  There are not a lot of childhood memories that stick out in my mind, but this one seems to establish itself as a rite of passage from being a "little-kid" to being more grown up, just like my brother.

I grew up as a side-kick to my older bother, as a member of the "perfect" family (meaning there was 'one of each').  Not only was I the only girl, but I was the youngest, and if I remember correctly, I had the ability to get myself out of trouble a lot more easily than my brother did!  However, that didn't mean I was a sissy.  First of all, my mom was not into tea parties and beauty pageants and instead favored being strong and sensible.  Her hobbies were nature and fitness and she portrayed a model of  practical and capable woman for me as I grew up.  The other side of the coin, was the fact that if I wanted someone to play with, I would have to go along with my brother's plans and keep up with him.  He wasn't about to slow down and play with dolls (not that I owned very many). 

Additionally, we didn't have a ton of extra money as a family - it was the early 80's and my parents were Easterners (from Ontario), fleeing the recession, hoping to make a new start in oil-rich Alberta.  So, even though I was a girl, I ended up with many hand-me-downs from my older brother.  I remember in particular, a pair of green-jean overalls, and a red and white striped t-shirt that I used to wear.  I loved that outfit for some reason, and I can remember with clarity the way the seam of the overall bib strained across my stomach when I began to outgrow it!  (Part of the ill-fit was due to the fact that I wasn't the same string-bean type of physique as my brother so it didn't just get short in the legs, but most definitely grew tight in the tummy!) 

So maybe you can take a trip back in time with me... as you picture a little 5 year old girl with long brown pony-tails, scruffy overalls and bare feet. My brother and I spent our summers in bare feet - I don't think sandals were as cheap or readily available as today, and by summer-time, the former years' school shoes were often feeling tight.  We used to toughen up the soles of our feet, competing by racing down the gravel back alley bare-footed, to show how tough we were.  Sure enough, by the middle of summer, our feet were insulated with thick soles and we thought nothing of charging out onto the sizzling hot concrete or chasing each other out on the rocky back alley!

Back to that memorable day.  My brother and I were hanging out in the alley behind our house, and I was growing tired of watching him race back and forth on his two wheeler.   This was way back in the days where helmets were unheard of, and kids raced around their neighborhoods like wild animals - only to come indoors at mealtimes.  Along those lines of "safety-consciousness", my brother would give me the occasional ride on his handlebars - but even that thrill was wearing off!  So I convinced him to let me try to ride his bike.  At first he opposed me, coming up with a variety of excuses, including the fact that I wasn't anywhere near big enough.  It was true, of course, and I could barely touch the tip of my big toes to the ground when I was seated on the bicycle.  But somehow, in the manner of cute lil' sisters worldwide, I convinced him to help me. 

My heart was pounding, and I make him promise me that he would not let go of the back of the bike.  I perched on the seat, feeling quite wobbly, held the over-sized handlebars and began to peddle.  Weaving back and forth, my brother calmly walked behind, holding and steadying the bike.  The sun was beating down on the dark brown hair on the crown of my head and a trickle of sweat made a clean path through the dust on my forehead, down my eyebrow and into the corner of my eye.  The stinging sensation made me immediately remove my hand from the grip of the handlebar and I swiped at my eye with the back of my hand, causing the bike to careen wildly and nearly tip over.  Jeff glared at me and said something like:  "You can't expect to ride if you can't balance, dummy!"

I stuck out my chin with angry determination and said "I know I can do it!"  Then I pleaded with him:  "Just help me some more!" 

We travelled up and down the alley for the next little while, and I found my balance and became more steady and began to pick up speed.  Still, I would continually look back with a hurried glance, and a plea that my brother would not let go of the bike.   Gradually, I grew more confident and began to enjoy the feeling of flight, with the wind pushing tendrils of hair back away from my cheeks.  I grinned and pumped steadily with my strong little legs, and with a quick glance back noticed that Jeff was way at the other end of the alley!  My heart lurched and I felt the bike swerve and shudder slightly until I regained my balance and choked back my fear.

I was doing it!  I was riding a two-wheeler!  I felt so triumphant and accomplished!

Somehow I managed to steer myself in a rather large circle and head back towards a grassy patch behind the fence of our back yard.  With a lurch and thudding halt, I crash-landed myself, falling off the bike sideways; tangled up in the crossbar, yet unhurt.  My brother came running over and I exclaimed "I knew I could do it!"

"Ya, ya" he said, condescendingly.  "But now it's my turn to use MY bike!" he argued, as he grabbed it from the heap I had landed in, swiftly jumped on, and rode down the alley.

I settled back against the rough, sun-bleached wooden fence planks and smiled to myself.  I was on a new level now... on par with my big brother. 

With a sudden burst of excitement, I happily jumped up and chased after him, down the alley, then yelled: "Wanna play cops and robbers again?"

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Easier Said Than Done...

You should not expect or require anything of others, which you do not require of yourself. The same idea is purported by the saying:  practice what you preach.  I think this assertion can be applied to what we expect of our children - if we constantly harp on them to stop yelling, and yet have a "yelling problem" ourselves; or if we expect them to keep a tidy, uncluttered room and yet insist on piling mounds of bills and letters on our dresser and desk and any other flat space in our room, then who are we kidding?  It is extremely difficult to take advice to heart from someone who shows no success in the area of which they "preach".  Having said that, I am going to continue in the path of simplifying and work to reduce some of the stresses in my own life that are created by clutter, things left undone and time-wasting activities.

I'm reminded of a passage in the Gospels, where Jesus talks about how it is not uncommon to pick at the small problems at other people's lives, while ignoring the major issues in your own life.  Matthew 7:3 says: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"  As comical and ridiculous as that may seem, it is an honest cut to the heart of humanity.  We're so good at seeing faults in others, and comparing ourselves to others, that we minimalize our own issues!

All of this is easier said than done, and easier done to someone else than applied to myself!  My intent with today's blog, however, was not to become ultra-serious and look at deep spiritual issues.  To be honest, what I'm thinking about is on a far more physical, practical level.  Basically, I have been noticing the benefits of the recent purging in my children's rooms and have realized that it is fully worth the effort.  Already, the house seems cleaner, the children are playing more nicely and no one has said that they really miss their toys.  In fact, we had a large family over for the day yesterday (6 kids, 5 of whom were boys) and after they left, the house hardly seemed messed up at all.  We looked around, a little bit astonished at the outcome, only to realize that much of the mess we had come to expect would have been created by toys!

After making such a tremendous effort to cause a change in my children's lives and simplify things for them, I'm challenged to be more serious about de-cluttering my room (and my life!).  Since the New Year, I was feeling the call or summons to reduce the amount of self-inflicted craziness in my life and as the months have passed, I've made slight changes to our schedules to reduce commitments.  Things have slowed down regarding life outside of our home, and I feel like we're onto Stage 2, whereby we will calm things inside our home by cleaning up, organizing and reducing clutter.

My worst area right now is that I need to catch up on filing.  I used to be quite organized, always putting bills away in their appropriate files immediately after opening them and making note of the payment required.  It's has been nearly 1 1/2 years since we moved, and I have not done any substantial filing since we packed up the old house.  So I'm buried in a mountain of paperwork with important papers filling boxes, strewn across our computer desk,  and piled up somewhat systematically on our dressers... and it sucks!  Granted, I should be given an award for my miraculous ability to quickly find missing papers - like when we needed our codes for Netfile, to do our taxes.  However, admittedly, there are the dozens of other times where I wished I could find a receipt or previous bill and have lacked the information I've needed at a crucial time.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I've raised the standard for my kids, and to be fair, I must also rise to that standard.  I can't expect them to be neat-freaks when they can walk into my room and see mountains of blankets on my unmade bed; mountains of clean laundry on the floor, waiting to be put away; and mountains of papers scattered on nearly every flat surface!

Sigh... I don't feel quite as exuberant about the work that is to come, but I know I'll feel so much better once it is accomplished. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

The De-Cluttering Continues!!!

If you've missed part one, you might want to read it and get a sense of what's going on in my life!

Wow... de-cluttering can be an emotional event.

I have seen a few clips of the emotionally jarring reality-TV show, Hoarders (and I don't really recommend it), but it has the benefit of opening your eyes to the danger of holding onto stuff.  These people obviously have mental issues that have led to their horribly unhealthy state, but in all honesty, I see a glimpse of myself in their unwillingness to part with objects - particularity ones that are attached to sentiment and emotion-filled memories.

As I work my way through the kids' rooms, I have encountered a variety of emotions.

First, the obvious, there is a gleeful elation as I rid myself of what I feel is junk.  It's a good feeling to think that so much stuff will no longer be on my children's floors and under their beds and it will either be used by a child who will hopefully appreciate it, or, if applicable go to the landfill.  I had to stop myself from saying:  "But Grandma gave them that toy, so I can't get rid of it!" and instead, I would logically assess whether it was a toy we needed in our lives.
Joyfully filling the donation bag...
 Next there has been growling, furious frustration as I sort through the mess created not by myself, but by the ones whom I birthed into existence.  (Is this what God feels like when He looks down on humanity?)  Yet, I will not give up on my precious little people, and I am their mother so if I don't help them, who will?  The process goes something like this:  Barbie shoe, wooden block, hair thingy, apple core, pencil, dirty sock, ripped up paper, princess crown, and on and on I sort...

I found it extremely useful to have various boxes and bins surrounding me as I sorted through toys.  Although I have determined that nearly every toy is going to be confined to the garage for now, I still want to organize them for when/if I do decide to bring them back into the house.  I plan to keep a bin of dress up clothes, wooden blocks, and toy cars with a play mat for them.  Beyond that, I'm not completely sure what is worthy of being called a useful, creative toy.

It's amazing how much stuff we can easily acquire for ourselves these days.  We live in a generation where you can purchase pretty much anything you want for a low price.  With Dollar Stores and WalMart, you can buy all sorts of cheap toys and random household items.  Yet, although they are cheap in dollars, what they cost us in the way they clutter our lives is a hefty price.

I often refer back to the "Little House" series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  They were favorites for me as a child, and I have enjoyed reading them to my children as well.  Life in the late 19th century was difficult in many ways, and they didn't benefit from all the technological advancements that we enjoy today.  However, it was also beautifully simple.   They took care of their children and homes, grew most of their own food and didn't fill their homes with extras like we insist upon today.  Laura started out with a corn-cob doll named Susan (which was essentially a corn husk wrapped in a scrap of cloth)  before she was given her own special rag doll one Christmas.  That was the extent of her toys as a young child.  She and her sister, Mary, would play happily in the attic among the hanging herbs and squash and root vegetables, playing house and pretending to have tea parties.  So simple... and it seems that none of the essential things needed to grow up healthy and intelligent were lacking in any way!

As I continued to de-clutter in my childrens' rooms, there were moments of bittersweet reminiscing about the past.  I relented and allowed myself to save little treasures - like one of Sabrina's first baby toys and a cute, colorful knit baby hat.  I have a box I keep of baby clothes that I can't bear to part with - whether they will be worn by my grandchildren or not, I'm okay with keeping a small "memory" box.  So I decided that a few mementos of times past could also be placed along with the precious newborn sleepers and hats and baby booties.

Thankfully, my children were enjoying an afternoon of activities at the YMCA today, so I hurriedly completed my sorting so I could donate items and box everything up before they returned home.  You wouldn't believe how much work it is, but I'm nearly done.  I can't wait to vacuum the rooms once naptime is over.

Special thanks goes to my sister-in-law who kept my mischievous baby out of the way while I worked.  She also lovingly brought me a latte to keep me going so I could complete the process!

Success is within my grasp... after this rejuvenating latte!

Hoarders: A.K.A. My Children...

I've been tiptoeing around the subject for a few months now, blogging about it, then thinking some more, and I think it's time to pull up my bootstraps and get down to business. 

I'm talking about the need to simplify - for the sake of my sanity, and the sake of my children's overall well-being pertaining to creativity and imagination.  We have gobs and gobs of toys, but they are rarely played with.  It seems that the baby items, specifically are the worst for this - toys that promise to stimulate their budding minds and to create little geniuses (without a tremendous amount of parental effort), and yet, they are poked at for a moment and the baby goes back to playing with a spoon or string or some other household object.
Don't mind me, I'm just going crazy!!!

I have created a plan for myself.  It involves a garbage bag, a donation bag and a storage box.  I'm not going to go "all the way" and throw out ALL of my children's precious possessions (not yet, anyway) so I will consent to storing them in the garage, in the meantime.  My plan is to take every toy and decide whether it is truly junk - and I'll chuck it out - or, if it could be worthwhile to some other child, we can donate it, and if it is one of the "special" toys...I'll throw it in our storage box.

At the end, I hope to only have a few boxes of toys that we are keeping, and from those boxes, I will allow the children to pick a few small items to keep in the house.  The rest will disappear for the next few months... or forever...

So now that I've blogged it, I am committed.  I will report back later with further details pertaining to my progress.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Red Alert: I Feel Out Of Control!

 Where's the panic button?

How do I turn off the world for a while so I don't have to deal with so many issues at once? 

Who is in charge here? 

Oh... it's me.  I'm the parent.  I'm the one who has to figure this out.

Sadly, I am an imperfect vessel.  I don't know what to do.  I don't like how life throws so much crap around, and how I'm responsible for doing the right thing; which often means disciplining the right way because if I don't, my kids might be totally screwed up and it's my fault!

It's not just my kids though.... there just seems to have been an overwhelming wave of bad new lately - so many people dealing with bad stuff, family issues, sickness, and hurts. 

I was out for coffee with a friend the other day, and when she asked how I was doing, I said it was as though I'm stuck in the washing machine, on spin cycle.  Hopefully someone will come and get me soon, and hang me up to dry in the sun.

I'm left with only one option (besides crying and screaming into my pillow for a few minutes).  I have to take my own advice (that I blab on and on about, here on my blog) to pray and trust.

The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:9,10)

Still hanging on.   I won't stop praying and believing and trusting.   And ya, it always feels better to blurt out all the junk.  Thanks for listening...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure

I'm going to be talking about a ground-breaking revelation today that will probably shock you to the core.  Here it is:  You can't control the people around you, and force them to behave in a way that will make you happy.  Oh... was that an obvious point I just made?   Well, sometimes it is worth it to spend time pondering these types of statements.

For example:

You can't control the *idiot* driver in front of you, who forgets to signal and swerves maniacally into your lane, nearly causing you to careen into oncoming traffic and almost pee your pants.

You can't control the snarly server that acts as though serving Hitler would be more enjoyable than serving you your meal that day, and she never fills your water glass and ignores your table, forgetting to bring your bill even though you've been done your meal for 38 minutes and 26 seconds. 

And you most certainly can't control the red-faced, screaming, spitting, spazzing toddler in the cereal aisle at WalMart, whose shrill, siren-like protest manages to give you a splitting headache and cause your eyes to bug out in horrified agitation.  The best thing you can do is get away, as quickly as possible.  Oh wait.  That's your screaming toddler.

I get frustrated by other people's actions dozens of times a day.  I know I shouldn't... I should be a sweet, patient, caring person, full of the joy of the Lord.  But I'm human!  Things get to me, even after I've "purposed in my heart" to make it a good day, and to be more humble, thankful, pleasant and gracious.  Actually, it seems like when I truly make a point of praying about these attributes in the morning, by lunchtime, I have frazzled hair, shaking hands, a palpitating heart and some kind of weird twitch on one side of my face.

There really must be an alternative, right?  Here's the thought I had.  Remember those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books that were in the library when you were a kid (or maybe your children read them)?  I think every situation gives us an opportunity to choose.  No one forces you to be angry or sad or overwhelmed.  True, life presents situations where these emotions pop up and are very real.  However, your choice in the matter is how you will act going forward.  There is a silver lining to every cloud, and I've found that even in the bad situations of life - like the alternator in our van dying and leaving us stranded on the side of the road - there is something to be thankful for.  Instead of being totally bummed that our van was dead, we looked around and realized with amazement that we were only a few blocks from home and weren't going to be stuck waiting for a ride.

I know that not everything has a quick, easy remedy, and sometimes you can't change a bad situation and have to live with the challenge (or maybe even challenging people) for longer than you would like.  What do you do in this circumstance?  Choose your own adventure... that's what I'm thinking!  Don't let other people dictate the state of your emotions in life.  There is always a processing that needs to occur - whether it takes a few seconds and a simple, conscious decision to move on - or whether you need to get away and seek strength from God.  The problem is when you let other people's words, actions and even their attitudes and emotional state steep in your teapot, so to speak.  If you've ever watched the way a tea bag diffuses color into hot water, it doesn't take long for the entire pot to become colored without pressure or external force. 

We would be wise to do what is recommended in scripture, in 1 Peter 5:7

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

I've heard this scripture described as telling us that we literally need to envision throwing our cares and concerns over, onto Jesus, because He will be the one to carry it for us.  Ultimately, if you have given your life to Jesus, then it's more His problem than yours, anyway.  I know that is easier said than done, but I'm sure you've heard it said before that "confession is good for the soul".  I've noticed that my kids have no trouble with confession.  In fact, they not only want to confess their problems and upsets in life, but they are more than willing to divulge the nature of their sibling's troubles as well.  What is really amazing though, is that if you take the time to acknowledge what they are saying, and indicate that you care and want to help them, they are instantly relieved.  When they're really young, they don't even care about the details of how you will fix things or work it out, their burden is instantly lifted simply because you listened.  

I would venture to say that we could have that same measure of relief if we would talk to God a lot more about what bugs us.  He truly cares about the everyday things - He knows the number of hairs on your head, and is aware when even a sparrow falls to the ground.  So, I'm thinking that He must care (even just a little bit) when I find my toothbrush has been dropped into the bathroom garbage again by one my kids, and it makes me angry.  He cares when we suddenly have to pay a large, unexpected bill and we feel overwhelmed and don't know where the money will come from.  He cares when you have a conflict with your best friend, and hasty words have hurt you.  
This journey called life leaves us many opportunities to choose what direction we will take and what attitude we will embrace.   We have the chance to let go and move forward in this adventure, not being held back by those around us.  The choice is all yours.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pushing Baby Birds Out Of My Nest...

I am astonished at how quickly time passes.  My eldest daughter is counting down until she can get her learner's permit (just 2 1/2 years to go) and my youngest will be walking any day now, and no longer be considered a baby, but a toddler.

With my children's growth and maturing, I've discovered a few things about the way I parent.  I've seen parents who seem to push their little ones out of the nest, into life's adventures, and those who coddle and baby their children and refuse to let them grow up, take chances, and make mistakes.

I'm recognizing something within myself that seeks to hold onto every moment; but as an extension of that emotion, fears my children's independence.  Holding on is not a bad thing in and of itself, but any mother can take that to the extreme and keep her child from advancing and maturing. 

Last year, I took a deep breath and let my kids (then 6, 8 and 10) walk home from the YMCA, which is 3 1/2 blocks from our house, after their afternoon classes.  This was a huge stretch for me, even though I recognized that many parents allow their elementary aged children walk to school daily, with no real concern or anxious thoughts.  I was very, very clear in my instructions.  First, they were to call me as soon as they were assembled and ready to walk home.  Next, they must ALWAYS stick together and come straight home with no dawdling.  Sure enough, nothing extreme happened on those first independent treks, and after a year of this, I am far more comfortable and relaxed about their ability to walk back and forth between home and the Y. 

Now, I am beginning to encounter the world of autonomous play at the houses of friends from church, homeschooling groups, etc.  There is the dreaded request for sleepovers... and I must admit, I face that idea with much trepidation.  As I was contemplating one child's request for a weekend slumber party at a friend's house, I realized just how much fear was inside of my heart concerning this matter.  I found it important to assess my feelings, and determine whether they were valid or not.

First, there is the concern that the parents or family members of this friend are totally messed up, and something bad will happen.  While the likeliness of this is minimal, especially if I take the time to meet the parent/parents and keep in close contact with my child, asking how things are at their friend's house, it still remains a fear of mine.  In this situation, I must do my best to hand these fears over to the Lord, do my "due diligence" in getting to know the parents of my children's friends, and also keep an open ear and heart towards my child; talking to them about their experiences and interactions while away from home.

Next, and this thought surprised me, but I realized that I fear my kids will get into trouble if they are away from my watchful eye.  I can clearly recall some of my sleepovers as a young teen, which involved sneaking out, smoking, and making up nauseating drinks by mixing various alcohols we could siphon out of my friend's parent's liquor cabinets.  (My parents were outspoken teetotalers so my home was not the best choice for this sort of foolhardy activity.)  All of these memories of my foolish adolescent behavior leave me wondering: What if my kids decide to follow my disastrous footsteps and get into things that they shouldn't be doing?

I think this all brings me back to the idea of "letting go".  If I spend the next decade of child-rearing living in fear of what could happen, and what mistakes my children could make in the "big bad world", then I will inevitably miss out on the good things that could happen as well.  My perspective will be set on the negative and be blinded to all the positive steps that my children make as they learn and grow.  The real question is, have I done my best?   Do my children feel dutifully (and resentfully) bound to adhere to my strict standards and rules? Or have I captured my children's hearts with a desire to do the right thing, empowered by a sense of honor, respect, and above all,  a commitment to holding fast to Jesus' commandment:  

"...'you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment.   And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30,31)

If I have indeed raised my children in the aforementioned manner, with sensitive hearts to the feelings of others and a desire to please the Lord, then I should be able to release them into life with an attitude of boldness that is tempered by peace.  It does no good to major on the minor thing, and to magnify the small negative issues when there are so many positives to rejoice over.  I constantly hear good reports of my children's behavior towards others, specifically towards adults.  They are kind, considerate and exemplary in their love for the Lord and other people.  And yet, I must constantly remind myself of these truths... and stop worrying so much!

My babies are made to grow up and become something amazing all on their own.  For a time, I get to hold them close, then take them by the hand as they take each tentative step.  For a while, I must hold them back and restrain them before they run out into danger, unknowingly.  But there definitely comes a time to push them out of the nest and say "I believe in you!"  I must trust that I have given them the tools they need and that the Heavenly Father has created within them the ability to explore, learn and tackle life's challenges without undue hesitation and timidity.  There comes a time when I have to let go of the child who is straining against my grasp and say "I trust you." and "I'll be right here waiting for you!"  Also, for the child who is apprehensive, I have to be willing to give them a little push here and there, despite my own concerns.

Letting go doesn't mean you quit your job as mom and the various roles it entails: comforter, protector, advocate and counselor.  However, I think when a parent can not let go and trust, a child is more likely to race off and have no desire to look back.  In light of that,  I think it is important to show you care.  We can't be so afraid of offending our kids or that we'll be spoiling their fun opportunities (as innocent as they may seem), that we won't say "no" when something irks us.  We can't lose touch, and ultimately lose connection with our children's hearts and lives for the sake of giving them their freedom.

I know that I have a lot to learn about raising children into adulthood, and I can only draw upon my limited experience and the memories of my own bumpy road from adolescence to the adult I am today.  However, I've continually been prompted by the Holy Spirit in little everyday situations to listen to Him and explore the issues that are pent up in my heart.  I've learned that in order to raise emotionally and spiritually healthy children, I must pay attention to my own emotional and spiritual health.  As surprising as it was to me to realize that the root of my fears about sleepovers came from my own teenage rebellion, I can respond by taking these concerns to the Lord, and ask God to move in my heart and change my unhealthy motivations towards my kids.

It's a beautiful, miraculous event when you can stand back and see your child succeed.  I'm determined that my own fears, past failures and lack of faith will not be a hindrance to each of my little birdies as they take flight.  I'll just be sure to remind them that mama's nest is always open...

Final Update Re: Cops And My Conscience

May 25, 2011:  My new licence came in the mail today!!

I went in and got my driver's licence fixed up....
I am free to drive with no sense of guilt, and no fears of punishment!

If you have no clue what I'm talking about, you'll have to read my previous blog.

The Old:

The Temporary:
 And The New:

Looks like the new driver's licence has some funky updated security features, including a holographic image on the back of my card that changes from my driver's licence number to an image of my face!  Pretty high-tech.

So I'm all fixed up now, and good for the next 5 years unless we move again!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I Can Never Do Enough...

It's a quiet afternoon in my house and kids are either napping, or enjoying some quiet time reading.  It's a chance for me to sit down and put my feet up; maybe read a few chapters or even spend some time in prayer.

As I sit down, I can see the dining room table and notice the milk is left out - again!  I jump up to put it away, and while I'm up I clear leftover lunch dishes from the table.  Once cleared, I notice smears of ketchup and various crumbs and food bits and decide to give the table a good wipe so I don't have to deal with dried on goop later.  Of course, after the table is wiped, the floor underneath is screaming for attention as it is littlered with macaroni, a few globs of oatmeal, snips of paper from someone's craft and random colorful plastic dishes.

When the floor is finally swept clean, I can only sigh with frustration as I realized just how much junk is left out on the counter, and of course the dishwasher was not unloaded even though it's clean so I'm stuck un-loading then filling up another load and washing pots and pans by hand.  I decide to stop at mopping the floor - I feel like I've already done so much already, and it can wait.

Finally I'm back on the couch and relish the moments of silence which only end up being a minute or two, as a child awakens from their nap and my precious "mess-makers" are revived from their slumber.

I have such a hard time leaving things in an undone state.  It is as though there is a check-list in my mind that tells me that I must not stop unless everything is in order, in it's place, and under control.  I even get in trouble from my husband when he asks me to just come and sit on the couch with him and hang out and talk, but I just feel like I can't... there's too much to do, too much to take care of!

This morning at church, we learned about the two "wrong ways" to approach God, and the only right way.  One of the wrong ways is when we throw our hands up into the air and say "I give up" and then proceed to live lawlessly, doing whatever we want without limitation, with a hardened heart and numbed conscience.  The other way is trying to approach God, but doing so with all of our checklists and rules and measurements - hoping that we can make Him happy with us, so that we can be accepted.

I've often wondered what it is that makes me work so hard sometimes.  Sure, I want things to be good for my family, and I want a clean house and all of that, but if it is getting in the way of true relationship with my kids and husband - then there must be something wrong.  Why can't I just sit down in the middle of the floor and read a story to my 5 year old with the clutter of dishes on the table and dirty laundry piled up by the basement door?  I hear myself often say "Just wait... I have to do this right now!"  but that is more of an excuse, and there will always be more that I "have" to do.

When I get down to the heart of the matter, I have to look at the way I relate to God, and it is indisputably comparable to the way I relate to my family.  I've noticed that I tend to avoid talking to Him and spending time with Him when I haven't fulfilled the duties that I perceive to be necessary for Him to care about me. 

I remember a poster that we had on our kitchen door when I was a kid - it had a kitten sitting in a bowl of spaghetti with noodles all over it's head, and a caption that said:

When I do right, no one remembers.  When I do wrong, no one ever forgets.

It's phrases like this that torment us and condition us to believe that no matter how hard we work, in the end, we still will not achieve the acceptance and contentment that we crave.  I grew up in a home where there was a hearty work ethic.  If you did not work, you did not eat.  If you wanted something, it wasn't handed to you - you had to go out and work for it yourself.  It taught me to be rather self-sufficient, and I'm thankful for that, but I also felt in some ways that I was only worth the weight I pulled, and that duty was of utmost importance.

It never ceases to amaze me how the relationships we hold with family members parallel our relationship with God on so many levels.  As I seek to understand what is going on in my head, and what motivates me and causes me to constantly cycle and struggle the way I do, I'm finding that my focus is drawn back to the most important relationship in my life.  The depths of my being long and crave for fullfillment that first comes from my relationship with God.  It is the primary source of contentment, and success in my other relationships will most certainly follow success in my relationship with Jesus.

I mentioned this morning's sermon - how we can approach our relationship with God by either our works or by turning our back and saying that it's hopeless to try and please Him.  Many people swing back and forth on a pendulum between these two ways of relating to God, but the right way, and the only hope for lasting peace is the path of Grace in the middle.  Regardless of actions, regardless of how far or for how long we run from our Savior, He's only one step away when you turn around and call on His name.  Even when I feel I don't measure up and haven't read my Bible enough, ministered to enough people, prayed enough, etc, etc, He doesn't want me to "get it right" and fix myself up before I approach Him.  Repentance is about accepting His work, and coming "just as you are".  By this honest assessment of yourself, and not on your own merit, you encounter a grace beyond measure, acceptance that is unending, and a love that is indescribable. 

I want to become the kind of person who puts people first, and relationships first in life.  I feel like a lot of this will change in me as I get to know Jesus and understand His grace.  He came so that we didn't have to work our butts off!  He came to bridge the gap and take away the separation between us and His loving presence!  I just keep thinking: "When will I get it though my thick skull that He really does love me?... He loves me!!!"  The more I understand this, the more grace I will have to love others and put them first.  I will be able to set aside the temporary things like dishes and laundry and dirty floors; for the sake of knowing Him and the sake of loving and enjoying relationship with others.

We love Him because He first loved us.  (1 John 4:19)  He does not love us because we're awesome at what we do.  He does not love us because we sacrifice so much to follow Him.  He loved us before all of that.  It is by experiencing His love that I can love Him and joyfully serve Him with a right attitude. 

Perhaps next time you visit my house, you'll see more cheerios on the floor and dust bunnies hiding under the couch.  If so, that will likely be a sign of growing and deepening relationships in my home...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cops and My Conscience

Today as I drove my kids to a birthday party, I changed lanes and then got a sudden jolt of fear as I noticed a police van directly behind me.  I checked my speed, calmed my breathing and sighed with relief when it signaled and turned into a parking lot behind me.  Sadly, this isn't the first time I've encountered a burst of tension when I intercept a police vehicle on the road.  Truth be told, I've got a secret.  I'm not the perfect mom, pastor's wife, friend, super-star (... or whatever you've labeled me with) that you think I am.  I have been driving illegally for the past year and a half.

Gasp!  It's true!  Way back when we moved into our new house in Lethbridge, I put off changing the address on my license due to the inconvenience and for monetary reasons.  At first, it wasn't a big deal - we still used the address on my licence, since it was a post office box, so I could legitimately say it was my address (just not my residence). But the months spanned into a year and a half, and we no longer have that P.O. Box, so really I have no excuse holding me back from going in and getting this procedure done and over with.  Well, I do have a couple of excuses... kids...busy life... and, ummmm... my vanity.  I keep telling myself that I'll go on a day when I've done my hair nicely and I'm wearing make-up, because I dread having one of those secret-service, escaped-convict, deranged assassin sort of photo on my driver's license.

So for all this time, it is as though there is a burning ember in my wallet, a lie, a secret, a misdemeanor that could land me a hefty ticket should the authorities catch me driving this way.  I drive under a cloud of guilt every time I remember that this should be on the top of my "to do" list.

This is not unlike a guilty conscience.  Sometimes, we have things hiding in our back pocket or under the bed or in the closet of our lives that niggle away and pop their heads up every now and then, eroding our confidence and most importantly, our sense of peace.  It could be a memory from the past; a fault or a failure - or it could be something in the present; recurring sin or emotion-driven flaws that you wish you could change.  Whatever the issue - hidden or obvious, the Christian life is made to be one of freedom from guilt and condemnation.  "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" Romans 8:1.  Also, as far as your past, scripture tells us:  "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."  We are not meant to live under the guilt and pain of our past, nor are we to be focused on the negative in the here and now. 

Christ's death on the cross (if you believe in it, and receive His forgiveness) has brought us into a new era.  We live by a new contract that is established on grace - getting what we don't deserve - and not based on our own efforts or our perceived goodness.  How we appear in the eyes of God also has nothing to do with our present faults, sins or insecurities.  Philipians 3:10 sums it all up quite clearly:

    and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
It's as though grace is the vehicle we drive in, and our license will never expire - it is an eternal contract, authorized by Christ's amazing sacrifice on the cross.  We needn't live under a shadow of guilt, and if you do look in the rear view mirror and see the "accuser of the brethren" (Rev. 12:10) know that he has no authority over your life.  It is up to you to receive the grace and live in it daily.  The more we understand this immeasurable gift, the easier it is to follow the Lord and live the way He wants us to.

There are areas of my life that I wish would improve, and the answer is not that I should carry around guilt and worry and fear over these things.  The answer is to focus on Jesus.  The answer is to steep myself in His grace and let Him change me from the inside.  Now that I've straightened that out, I should probably go in and fix my driver's license...

How to Focus: Close Your Eyes

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to be singlemindedly focused on what is important when we live in a world full of distractions?  Take for example my typical date night - even after 12 1/2 years, I try to "dress to impress" my husband, along with fixing my hair and make-up.  When we arrive at the restaurant, be it a Sushi place or Earls or McDonalds (not that we like the food, but it happens to be open 24 hours now, and you don't have to leave a tip!) and when we find a spot to sit, there are some uncompromisable requirements.   In fact, if we don't follow these "rules", our date and time together is in jeopardy. 

Somehow over the years, sitting and have a conversation around the dinner table has become uncomfortable for many people and obligingly, restaurants have televisions strategically placed around the room so you won't miss the score, no matter what table you're seated in.   There's a huge problem with this though.  Remember how I said that I do my best to put an effort into my appearance on date nights?  Well, unfortunately, to the male brain, a pretty wife can not compete with the bright, flashing, moving images on a tv screen.  There have been countless times in our married life when I am spilling the contents of my day over a bowl of rice vermecelli and spring rolls, and my husband has drifted from meaningful connection to a distant place... about 3 feet above my head, mounted on the wall.  So our solution (and mandatory dating protocol) has been to seat ourselves in such a way that he can't easily see the tv.  It's not that he's a jerk and that the hockey score or the news is more important to him than I am; it's just that he suffers from the common male disorder of "watch-the-moving-picture-itis".  It could be the most boring, slow-moving show, but somehow the colors and lights draw his eyes to become mesmerised despite his determination and effort. So, after all these years, we make a habit of "casing the joint" as we arrive, and asking for the less desirable seating, out of the line of sight from any televisions.

Carrying on in the same idea of distractions, I experienced a rather revolting experience a couple days ago at the gym.  I hopped onto the treadmill and began my workout, only to find that the individual next to me had chosen to watch MuchMusic on the tv that was directly in front of her, and slightly to the right of my line of vision.  I almost never even pause on this channel during the rare times that I have an opportunity to watch cable television, and it would pretty much be one of my last choices if I was forced to watch tv.  It may be called "artistic", but the music videos of our day and age (I feel) are pornographic in nature, and crammed full of lascivious, self-worshiping behavior that leaves the viewer with a twisted sense of  "party life" and immoral living.  If I were to describe a couple of the videos I saw, I feel I might be venturing into explaining something far too liscentious for this blog; that would make both myself and many of my readers uncomfortable.  Let's just say that the women dressed in their fancy "underwear" costumes, gyrating with anyone and everybody, and the not-so-subtle self-expression, is not something that I would call artistic; but sinful, lustful, wanton idolatry.  Because if you are honest with yourself, everything about "that" music is derived from a sense that "I deserve to feel good and make myself happy, no matter what it looks like".  Yuck.  If' I've stepped on some toes, I'm sorry... this is my perspective (and my Blog, I might add!), and I feel that my perspective also accurately lines up with what the Bible professes and upholds.

However, let's get back to the subject on hand - I wasn't planning on bashing modern music, but rather discuss the idea of distractions.  Given the nature of the music videos, almost directly in my line of sight, I had great difficulty keeping myself from watching!  I seriously contemplated closing my eyes, because like moths drawn to the light, my eyes would keep wandering back to the screen in disgusted fascination.  Unfortunately closed eyes and intense cardio training do not mix, as the disorientation and dizziness set in almost immediately.  So instead, I tried to memorize the license plates of cars in the parking lot that was in view of the window directly in front of me:  "CYR 117" on the early 90's model Oldsmoblie and "PMB 778" on a blue minivan.

Of course, all the issues and idea of distraction got me thinking deep thoughts... as the odd situations in life generally do.  I began to compare the effect of television trying to distract me, to the "off the beaten path" everyday circumstances in my personal life that distract me from my goals and purposes.  For instance, when I'm trying to teach the kids, and a major catastrophe breaks out and "so-and-so" has poked "what's-his-face" in the arm again, and we aren't focused on the Bible passage we were reading, and I nearly blow my top for the 32nd time that day, forgetting that we're supposed to be learning about grace and peace and the goodness of God.... yah, I become quite distracted.  What a fantastic example I am to my kids!  (NOT!)

In light of an existence that  promotes busyness and ongoing stimulus, I've come to terms with the fact that I need to develop a coping mechanism for the frequent occasions where I'm thrown off track.  I can't make the distractions go away - and hiding out from the world only works for a short time.  I love the scripture: "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" from Psalm 46:10.  Given our frenetic tendencies in society today, and knowing the fact that I have committed myself to a very busy, active household with 6 kids, I MUST fall back onto my relationship with God and the fact that He wants to be the center of my life and my purposes.  However, life is distracting.  Whether it is a moment of frustration at the people around me, or whether it is the mundane day-to-day necessities like dishes and laundry and bad traffic - we aren't encouraged to be centred and focussed on God.  Instead, we focus on whatever is poking and prodding us, or whatever voice is the loudest in our heads, or whatever lights flash most brightly in our line of sight. 

In all of this rambling, I've come up with a solution for myself.  When the cyclone of human existence and all of it's mess is raging around me, I have the option to stare wide-eyed in panic and clamor in an effort to control myself; or I can close my eyes and seek the God who knows all, sees all and who will be exalted in this earth.  I think that by the simple act of submission in closing my eyes and saying a prayer - even just "HELP!", I will be purposefully setting aside the distractions and giving God an opportunity to be glorified in my life.

I'm so thankful for a God who is present.  We don't have to go to a sanctuary or temple to get His attention; He is always available and desiring to be involved in your situation.  So next time I feel like life is jolting me off track, and my temper flares or I'm just genuinely frustrated with stuff, I'm going to head into His presence.  In the midst of life, we can take a moment to shut our eyes (please don't do this if you are operating heavy machinery at the time!) and we can be still for a moment, knowing that He truly is God.  Inasmuch as we allow Him an opportunity to help us at times of distraction, I believe life will become more on track and purposeful than we ever thought possible.  As I seek to live a more focused, purposeful life, I'm learning that all I really need is to be centered and focused on God.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Good Grief

On Saturday, I was away at the beautiful Chateau Lake Louise, surrounded by the beautiful Rocky Mountains and hundreds of beautiful ladies.  Yet, in the evening as we sang songs that lifted up praise to the Lord and rejoiced in His goodness, a wave of grief struck the core of my being.  It wasn't unexpected, really.  In fact, Saturday was exactly 4 years to the day that I was told I had lost a baby, and that my pregnancy had ceased.

I'm not one to be sentimental about many things - I try not to hang onto trinkets and Christmas cards and I even tossed out my wedding bouquet a few years back because it looked like a heap of dead yellow flowers and really held little resemblance to the emblem of love and life that it used to be!  Yet there is something sacred about revisiting the memories of that fateful day of my loss, as I seek to uphold the image and value of a child I never knew. I find a sense of comfort in the painful ritual of brooding over the details and vivid images etched in my mind.  It's not that I want to contemplate the negative, but I know of no other way to commemorate the life of my baby, having little information to cling to, other than grief.

I have a special song I like to listen to, that deals with the pain of losing a baby.  (Glory Baby by Watermark) It lifts my eyes heavenward, knowing that the Father loves and protects my baby now; knowing that my little one is in a place that experiences no pain, regret or sadness.  I've made a habit of spending some time in prayer, and asking Jesus to hug my little girl, and let her know that I can't wait to meet her.  I have learned to grieve, and I know that grief is a tool that leads to healing.  Without these moments where I give myself the freedom to cry, I know bitterness would take root and my heart would be hardened.  It hurts to love, and it's harder still to have lost one whom you loved; but as the old adage claims:

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

(Alfred Lord Tennyson,  In Memoriam:27, 1850)

Life holds many seasons for us as frail and imperfect humans.   We are all exposed to numerous peaks and valleys of varying degree as we walk through life.  Yesterday, as I was walking to the gym, I was revived by the sense and signs of spring that were abundantly present.  The grass is becoming green, tulips and daffodils are poking up out of the dirt, and the ever-present chirp of robins seems to be ushering in the warmth and growth of new life.

Grief can be a winter in our lives, that seems to seep it's deathly chill deep down into our hopes and dreams.  It can be hard to recover from loss, and often times you feel so numb that you can not imagine how life will ever seem normal and healthy again.  When I was once stuck in that murky fog, I had very few anchors.  The obvious anchor was my family and friends who upheld me and surrounded me in their love.  The other was a root of indescribable hope in God's love.  It's not that I was feeling very loved by Him at the time, and many questions rose up in accusation against Him.  Yet, deep deep down, in the depths of my heart, I knew He was real and that He loved me.  I can't claim to understand the reasons for pain and suffering, but I have learned that I can always trust Him.

I'm glad it's May.  I'm excited about gardening and little buds that burst into vivid green leaves, filling the vast mosaic that was previously overridden by dismal greys and browns.  There is hope anew.  There are new joys to behold.  I was broken and shattered, and felt like a barren tree blasted by winter's cruelty.  Yet my tears have watered the soil of my heart and I've received "beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;" (Isaiah 61:3)  From the midst of my sorrows, the ones whom I love have become all the more precious to me, and I cherish each day with them as a immeasurable gift.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

An Inconvenient Life

Last night, the sound of a crying baby was seeping into my dreams, until I woke up and realized that it was a real baby - my crying, teething baby.  I spent the weekend away from home, getting precious little sleep (and making up for it with fun and festivities that ensued well into the night) so I had hoped to get some decent rest once I was back in my comfy bed.  Yet that was not to be, and I've been woken up numerous times, both nights since I've returned.

Is is just me, or is life ridiculously inconvenient?  I am constantly bombarded by situations which I did not sign up for, attitudes from people (mostly my children) which are not called for, and a vast array of circumstances that challenge my sense of calm and sanity.

Whenever you mop the floor, there's often a child nearby with muddy boots, ready to trample through the house.

When you neatly fold a pile of laundry, a baby crawls along and takes pleasure in decimating the pile, tossing clothes all over the room.

When there are no socks in your drawer, you can never find two matching ones in the clean laundry basket.

When you want to be left alone in peace and quiet, there's often someone needing your attention and time.

Much of our lives warrant a public outcry of "It's not fair!" and I'm not just talking about the trivial - laundry and mud, snowy days in spring and running out of milk when you wanted to make a latte.  I don't like when I see my friends suffer, and go through hardship and I prefer not to have to deal with sucky-ness myself.

So after a negative rant such as this, I know I must turn my thoughts heavenward.  For a long time, it never occurred to me that Jesus understood the nastiness of our annoying, and frustrating world.  I figured that since he was God on earth, He must have some magical happy attitude that enabled Him to respond perfectly in every situation without any difficulty.  While I believe that He did respond perfectly, He still had to wrestle the emotions and frustrations that come from being human.  We always picture Jesus as being stoic and exuberantly gracious and calm, yet scripture seems to indicate that He went through some measure of highs and lows, and he routinely had to get out of the limelight and have some "me" time.  Yet, I can interpret his "me" time to be a lot more about communion and fellowship with the Father (as seen in scripture that He often went off to pray by himself) than it was about lamenting and agonizing over what is not "fair".

In Matthew 5:1, Jesus sees the multitudes, goes up on a mountain and sits down and is surrounded by his disciples.  He speaks to the crowd, teaching them over the course of the next few chapters.  Then in Matthew 8:1,  He comes down from the mountain and the multitudes follow him and begin to make a plethora of requests.  After a whirlwind of activity that involved healing a leper, a paralytic, and Peter's feverish mother; along with casting out demons and healing many other sick people in the crowd, Jesus takes a look at the multitudes and realizes that it's time for a break! (Mt 8:18 "When Jesus saw that a curious crowd was growing by the minute, he told his disciples to get him out of there to the other side of the lake." The Message)  Immediately following this scripture is the story of Jesus napping in the boat, when a storm comes and freaks out his disciples and He has another "issue" to take care of.  Once again He is shown to be putting other people's needs above His own desire for solitude and rest!  And I thought I had troubles!

When I spent some time digging into scripture, I realized that Jesus well understood the plight of the weary, overworked, over-extended individual.  That spoke specifically to me about His ability to empathize and understand the life of a busy, young mother.  While He didn't have crying babies and sticky hands pulling on His jeans, asking to be "up", He did have crying, desperate people needing healing and deliverance, along with various people (including those considered "outcasts" and unclean) reaching out to touch the hem of His garment.  Everyone wanted His attention, He could rarely get away - and I know He understands my life.

I know what I must do.  I know that there are going to be times where I have to keep going, and keep plugging away despite the weariness and frustration.  I even know that I should be seeking God for an infilling of His peace and contentment and strength.  This is all fine and dandy (I'm not trying to be sarcastic... but it does get frazzling once in a while).   However, there is the knowing of what I must do and then there is the accepting and acting on it.  Ultimately, what enables me to accept God's grace in every situation is knowing that He sympathizes with my life.  He gets it.  He lived it and walked it, and even though the specific details were different from my own, He experienced similar emotions to what I continually face.

I might not get very many opportunities to wander off into the wilderness and pray like Jesus did when He needed a break, but at least I have a lock on my bedroom door.   Once inside, I can attempt to ignore the little fists hammering incessantly, and the continual high-pitched exclamations of: "Mommy, Mommy, Mommmeeeeee!!!!"