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.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Mama Messed Up


That's about the best way I can describe myself right now, as I hide in a dark room with tear-stained cheeks.

What went wrong?

How did I turn into such a failure as a mom?

These are the questions that pour from my hurting heart as I ponder the deterioration of my day.

Probably worst of all, I feel like a hypocrite.  Just a couple hours ago, I had an intense one-on-one time with my daughter about her being so emotional.  I spoke to her about how to change your heart and deal with your nasty feelings when they make you want to do or say horrible things to your siblings... again and again.  I talked about making choices to let go of anger and let it be replaced by peace - and most importantly, how you can not blame others for your reactions - because let's face it... even if your little brother spills cereal on your craft, it does not give the right to push him and scream and explode with fury.

But when push comes to shove (and push my buttons, those 6 kids sure do) I am at fault.  I respond wrongly.  I sin against my kids with a tone of voice that cuts and I respond with a frustration that bruises their little hearts.

All I can say is that I have another fantastic opportunity to model repentance to my children.
I will ask them to forgive my harshness and anger towards them.
I will hug them and make sure we are "okay" with each other.
I'll show them that mistakes happen... but the real mistake would be in not repairing what was broken down.

Moms and dads, we don't have to be super-heroes to our children.  Because after a while, your kids can see through your disguise and the costume (or rather the role) that you wear in your child's presence won't glimmer like it used to.   So instead of pretending, and trying to maintain that "authority-perfection-super-parent" image in the eyes of your child, you have the opportunity to be genuine and to show your kids how relationships should work in the real world.  You have to chance to teach them how to handle mistakes, ask for forgiveness and experience the beauty of reconciliation.

I wish I didn't make mistakes as a mother, I really do.  And I'm not writing this post as a way to excuse myself for being angry or frustrated; that it's all okay just because it means I'm teaching my kids to say "sorry".  No, I don't like my mistakes and I will endeavor to improve.  I will seek encouragement when I need it and look to resources to improve my parenting... until the last kid has grown up and moves out!  However, the beauty... the silver lining to my cloudy, gloomy moments - is that I can equip my kids to do relationships well.  In my acts of repentance, I'm modeling the behavior that will one day impact their future friendships, marriages and even the raising of their own children.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

True Confessions of an Imperfect Parent

If you are a parent, or if you have ever been a child, then you know for certain that in a family of more than one kid, it's inherently wrong to pick favorites.  You are NEVER EVER allowed to say: "Billy, you're my favorite kid." - especially if your other child is standing next to Billy.

I know, I know, sometimes you have a child who is an absolute delight all the time, sickeningly sweet in demeanor, always being helpful and making you feel like you are the best parent in the world.  But you just don't pick favorites.  It's wrong.  It's cruel. 

However, I have an admission.  A confession.  I'm gonna say something that parents should never, ever say.

One of my children is my least favorite.  I even have moments (sometimes hours) where I feel like I don't even like this child.  (And I am rightfully embarrassed about this.)

It's awful, I know.  A mother's love should be unending and unquenchable.  We've all heard the phrase:  a face that only a mother could love...  So what does that mean?  Could it mean that I should be full of love, cuddles and syrupy-sweet goodwill towards my child even at the worst of times?

Sorry.  It just doesn't work that way.

Somehow, this child (whom I will not identify) has the ability to reduce me to tears with only a few words.  Their stubbornness and effluent attitude melts my patience like a snowflake melts when it lands on an open flame.  I have found myself at wit's end more often than not due to this child's amazing ability to push all of my buttons, excessively and repetitively until I feel literally broken and totally inadequate as a mother.  I am not exaggerating.

Yes, deep within my heart, and on the good days, I really love this child. 

But it is so stinkin' hard sometimes.

So what do we do with a close relationship that seems to be all bumps and jagged edges?

What do you do when someone you are supposed to love has an amazing ability to rub you the wrong way?

What do you do when you're supposed to be the grown-up, the example, the leader... and you keep on making mistakes, saying the wrong thing and over-reacting?

Pull them closer.

Yep... you heard me.  As much as you want to run away... instead, when you are in a difficult spot with a loved one and you feel like you just don't get it and you can't make it work... the best thing you can do is pull them into your embrace (figuratively and maybe even literally).

Now, I can't exactly take credit for this advice - I don't remember where I heard it though, and I've adapted it to my own situation.  So I'll paraphrase and try to explain what I mean and what I've experienced with this "special" child of mine.

When my child doesn't respond or react the way that I want, to the things I say, I feel threatened.  That's the bottom line.  I end up feeling a loss of control both of my emotions and of my child.  Unfortunately, when I'm losing control,  this child reacts to my emotions and has a way of escalating the situation. 

Certainly we are clashing due to personality differences, due to circumstances and personal stress (mine and theirs) but life will always provide reasons (excuses) for blame in a difficult relationship.  It doesn't mean that the end result should be frustration, hurt and separation.  Believe me, I WANT to run away.  I'd rather give myself a 'Mommy-time-out' and disengage myself from the conflict.  Yet, my child deserves more.  And I hope for so much more in our relationship.  Instead of leaving, instead of shutting the door to my heart emotionally, I'm learning to draw this child close - to seek out points of connection and closeness even though the conflict seems to trump a lot of our days.

So how do I cope?  Well, I'd like to say that I have learned to instantly recognize when I'm becoming too emotional and acting like a child and losing control.  However, I'm not there yet.

My strategy is three-fold. 

First, I stabilize the situation.  If that means that I have to stop the conversation... (even to the point of putting down the school book that only has half a question answered so far, despite all of my encouraging and prodding...) I will let it go - even if just for the moment, and sometimes for the rest of the day.

This is similar to the idea of "picking your battles".  Sometimes I know that I will not be able to handle the situation well, so we just end that situation while our emotions are heated.  We can always come back to it later.   The schoolwork can wait.  My child's heart is not worth being trampled upon because I don't know how to respond without being emotionally stirred.

The second part is the "pulling closer" part.  That could mean that once you've shut down the situation, you immediately connect physically with your child (or significant other, if that is the person with whom you're having conflict).  Or... if this doesn't seem feasable, then plan a way to connect later that day.  Do something special together.  Read a book, have a cup of tea, share a cookie.  Just find a place of loving connectedness.  Re-engage in a way that doesn't feel stressful.  (Now is not the time to bring up the issue of conflict!)

Lastly: try, try again.  Could you have approached the situation from a different angle?  Or, if it was clearly one-sided (and it rarely is....) then could you just get yourself to a place of peace where you don't react wrongly?  Obviously when it comes to dealing with kids, I can't just expect them to act like mature human beings all the time.  They are going to respond childishly.  I do have to be the "better man" and choose to be more patient, loving and kind than I feel that their actions deserve.  That is my responsibility as a parent.  And if I'm dealing with an adult - whether friend, spouse or stranger - that is being difficult, I want to learn to be gracious.  I desire to be a peacemaker - even when it is challenging.  It's not easy, though.

On easy days & hard days: Pull Them Close!
Okay, so I've admitted my weakness here.  I'm not the perfect parent who deals graciously with my kids at all times.  I screw up.  I get emotional.  At times I feel broken and sorely lacking in my relational skills.  But there is hope.  There is even forgiveness.  And I really believe that the key is connectedness.  Don't let the angry moments overshadow and quench the moments of kindness and closeness.  Fight for the connection.  Though I may feel wounded, I will push past my bruised ego that wrongly says "I'm the mom, so I always need to be seen as right". 

Life is a journey.  I'm set on learning, growth and change.  Even though there are the "bad days", and on those days, I may not feel as though I "like" my child(ren),  I will always love my children and I'll keep on trying.

Oh, and for the record, it isn't ALWAYS terrible with this child.  We have some great moments, too.  (But, I am looking forward to the season when we can relate better... probably when they and I have grown up a little more!)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why I Love Nature Walks...

For once, mud has made my heart happy.

The muddy boots sitting by my front door are a welcome reminder of tromping through the hills with my family.  We relished the November sun as it made slush of the snow-covered trails in the valley that echoed with the delighted exclaims of my inquisitive children.  I taught my little ones to recognize the call of the Chickadee, and smiled to myself as they called back "Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!" to the tiny bird perched high in the naked branches.

I highly recommend a regular diet which partakes of the great outdoors!

Are you stressed?  Get outside, under the vast expanse of blue sky on a clear day and soak it in.  

Are your kids driving you crazy with excessive noise and disaster-prone behavior?  Get them outside!  Trust me, the dirt is worth it when you account for the fact that their voices are lost in the wide open spaces and the entertainment is found - not in the eerie glow of a screen, but in the trees, hills, rocks and sky.

Are you sad or lonely?  All of creation cries of a God who meticulously designed a world intended to glorify Him, and give us delight.  Every snowflake, every cloud, every snow-capped mountain on the horizon... all of nature's bounty is a reminder of a good God, who makes beautiful things and cares about even the smallest details.  For that I am thankful, and in my grateful enjoyment, I am truly refreshed.

God's glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.  Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening.  Their words aren't heard, their voices aren't recorded,  But their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.
-Psalm 19:1-4 (MSG)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Change, Uncomfortable Change....

I'm in transition again.

If you've had a baby, you know what I mean - it's that brief period of time before delivery where you shake, maybe vomit, and cry and scream at your companions: "I CAN'T DO IT!" 

That is the precise moment when one of the nurses knowingly nods her head and says: "She's in transition.  It won't be long, now."

Since I've had 5 natural births, I have to admit that when my last child was born (at home, unassisted) I recognized transition when it came.  No one had to tell me: "It's okay, sweety, you're almost there, you're just in transition." Likewise, I recognize that the transition I am experiencing now, though not about to result in natural birth, is just part of the process in the season of life that I'm currently experiencing.

The good thing is: the very nature of transition is change.
The bad thing is: the very nature of transition is change.
(Transition is hard, but can produce good results!)

If you are in a place of transition, you know that you can't stay there forever, but it involves a lot of shifting and stretching and pain as you adjust and grow into your next phase.  Change is good, but it means you have to deal with being in the uncomfortable and unfamiliar for a while before you come to the place of fulfillment. 

When it comes down to it, we usually fear and resist change because of the stress that it brings.

So let me be brutally honest.

I cried when I was painting the walls of my bedroom, feeling overwhelmed with the thought of needing to clean up our "new house" and sell it, and move again, for the second time in a year.
I got angry as I packed boxes and sifted through junk in my garage - thinking... didn't I just do this?
And I continually feel exhausted with the fiasco of house-selling: clean it, leave it, show it, repeat.

There are some days when I feel like I'm drowning in the stress of not being able to live a normal life.
However, even though I have my momentary lapses of insanity, and like a woman in labor I want to scream and swear and exclaim "I CAN'T DO IT!", I also have a sense that my perspective could be different.

I don't want to survive this season... I want to thrive.
I want to find joy in the journey.

The solution, as far as I know, is found in acceptance, hope, and the most sustaining of all: peace.

When you're in labor, a good trick is to tell yourself: "I just have to get through this contraction..." and you do your best to breathe deep and survive the tension of that moment, knowing that there will be a short rest period when the contraction is over.  But you MUST NOT think about the next 10 or 20 or 30 contractions - that is where panic sets in and you have no idea how you'll survive!  This outlines the "acceptance" part of my solution.  I just have to get through today, and I want to do today well.  I don't have to think about how long this process will be - in fact that would probably be detrimental to my state of mind!  So I do my best with today, and look forward to those moments of calm that come like a cool breeze on a blistering hot summer day.

Then there's the factor of hope.  What is coming, and what you will accomplish when you reach "the other side" of transition is more important than the "when" - especially when there are circumstances beyond your control.  There are a lot of aspects of my life which I am unable to control right now, and no matter how much I stress about it - it just won't change!  So I focus on the future.  I allow myself to visualize the future, knowing that "this too shall pass" and I have hope.  Just like an expectant, laboring mother knows that the baby can't "stay in there forever", I know that I won't be in this season forever.

Lastly, but most importantly, I have to give credit to the intangible, and often unexplainable sense of peace.  Philippians 4:6 & 7 describes peace as "a sense of God's wholeness... (that) will come and settle you down".  I don't know where I'd be without my random, on-the-spot 10 second bursts of prayer; those moments where I know I've come to the end of all reason and I need something-Someone bigger than myself to sweep in and assure me that I'm gonna make it.  God's peace can bring calm in the worst of situations.  His kind of peace brings resolve that "everything is going to be okay", even if you have no idea HOW it will work out.
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (MSG)
I know that life will look radically different 6 months from now, and there's sure to be a new set of adventures for me to chronicle and blog about.  If anything, a life full of transitions signifies growth and an adventurous life.  I can't deny the fact that I'm an adventure seeker - and history speaks for itself.  Given the fact that my life will probably never be "normal", I'm on a quest to travel well - to grow in each challenge, and let this journey shape me, not break me.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A no-good-very-bad-horrible morning... and how I survived.

Splashing boiling oatmeal on myself at 11 AM this morning was a pivotal moment in my day.  As I frantically wiped the sticky goo off of my chest, I knew that something had to happen or I would be the one erupting and sending boiling blobs of angry words at my kids if they got too close.

If you rewind my day by a few hours, you can understand why I got up on the wrong side of the bed.  The reason, in fact, had much to do with the fact that my two little boys snuck into my room, well before our usual "wake-up" time, and began to climb on me - all knees and elbows - when I felt like I'd much rather hit the "snooze" button.  At first, I tried to cherish the moment - and enjoy their snuggles and stories, but the horror of my day became very obvious when the 3 year old began pushing the 5 year old away from his comfy spot next to Mommy, and the fighting and whining began. Clearly, they were both up too early and had not clocked enough hours of sleep to function without continual, incessant whining.

Onward to my day, I thought, as I opened a new package of coffee beans to grind them. "Drat!" I whispered out-loud to myself.  Going against my better instincts, I had bought that "new" brand of beans because of the attractive price tag on the grocery-store shelf.  They lacked the sheen and glimmer that I had grown used to with my gourmet coffee beans, and even the aroma told me that they were going to be a far cry from my usual brew.

Meanwhile, other children stirred, awoke and started to feed like hogs at a trough as they gobbled apples and homemade buns and begged for more and more food. 

I attempted to start my day right.  With the less-than-lovely coffee in my favorite mug, I sank onto the couch and wrapped myself in a blanket and opened up my Bible.  Even my designated passage for the day seemed to lack encouragement and the zest and inspiration that a mother needs to face half-a-dozen children, a sink full of dishes and multitudes of "to do's" on the homeschooling agenda.  I was still stuck in the Old Testament, reading about kings and their nation who had turned from God and were sunk deep in the clutches of sin - worshiping idols, living lives of harlotry and murdering people until you couldn't walk down the street without tripping across a rotting corpse.  May the Lord bless the reading of His Word...  (Disclaimer: I LOVE the Word of God.  I just found it ironic that my passage for today was almost entirely about the wicked deeds of those who had turned away from serving the Lord.)

Once breakfast was over, I instructed the children to take care of their daily scheduled chores, namely to clean up the disaster state that the kitchen was in, including that mess of their first feeding of the day.  I went into my room, intending to tackle some of the more neglected areas - my enormous bathroom mirror, counter top... the toilet!  I also stripped the cookie and banana soiled sheets off my bed (thanks to my youngest child) and I even vacuumed my floor!  Hooray! Progress!

Not so fast... of course the children needed step-by-step instruction and prodding to complete their own cleaning jobs!  I came into the kitchen to find it still looking like a complete disaster!  I barked out some orders and began to wipe down the kitchen counter and toss dirty dishes in the sink.  Then I remembered that I had been so busy, I hadn't yet eaten any breakfast.  I measured oatmeal and water into a small pot, turned on the stove and returned to my room to quickly finish my tidying.  Only... what did I find?  There was Ezra, a trail of crumbs leading to him all the way from the doorway to the place where he sat, crumbs spilling all over the mattress and even sprinkled in the basket of laundry that was sitting on the bed next to him!

"Ezzzrrraa!" I shrieked.  "No food in Mommy's room!"  I sent him to the kitchen to eat, and I turned the vacuum back on and proceeded to clean up the mess on my bed and previously clean carpet.

Then I went back to the kitchen, where I immediately smelled burning oatmeal!  "Ahhhh!! My oatmeal!" I grabbed the pot, splashing the molten goo upon myself (Remember?) while I poured what wasn't burnt into another pot, and dropped the scummy, burnt-on-oatmeal pot into the sink to soak.

It was just 11 am, but I felt like I had experienced entire week's worth of whining, fighting, mess-making and misbehaving. 

Somehow I slogged my way through a minimal amount of schoolwork for the day and made the kids some lunch.  I fired off a prayer to God, asking for patience, but I continued to feel horribly overwhelmed and ill-equipped to handle my kids.

With nap time on the horizon, I relinquished control and told the kids to either play downstairs or in their rooms, and I plopped my 3 year old on my bed in front of his favorite cartoon so I could hopefully procure just a few moments of peace.  I locked my door and shut myself into the bathroom.

I wish I could tell you that I had some sort of epiphany that suddenly changed my perspective and made sense of my day.

I felt like laying on the floor, covering my head with a towel and crying or swearing or maybe I would just close my eyes and try not to think anymore as everything within me wanted to give up.

Instead, I took a look in the mirror and realized that I should take a shower.  A long, steamy, potentially relaxing shower - ALONE.  So I did.  And miraculously, no-one was whining at me, and there were no messes being made inside that lovely-lonely shower stall.

Finally, I was feeling a little bit less stressed, and definitely a lot cleaner.  I shut off the water, and took my time - didn't rush out of the room to take care of the kids because, from what I could hear, they were just playing and no one was in a state of emergency.  I took the time to put on some yummy smelling lotion.  I trimmed my nails and brushed my hair. 

I spent time taking care of ME, and I began to feel a little bit better about life.

I'm not sharing this to belittle my children and my life as a VERY BUSY stay-at-home mom.  I'm also not trying to minimize the importance of my faith, and seeking the kind of peace that only God can give.  However, once in a while, you have to ask if you are treating yourself with care and kindness. 

Once in a while, a mom (or dad) needs a time-out.  Doing something as simple as showering, using lotion and ignoring my kids for all of 23 minutes didn't change my life or magically turn my children into little angels.  But, for a few moments I could breath, and because of that, I walked out a better (slightly less stressed-out) mom.  I was ready to take on a little more of what this day was dishing out... at least until nap-time.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Facebook Folly

Facebook hurt my feelings today.

Sometimes Facebook hurts your feelings when no-one "likes" your photo or status.  Or maybe you post something meaningful and heartfelt and receive no comments.

Other times, Facebook is hurtful if you check your friends list, and notice that someone "dumped" you as a friend.  That's what happened to me today.  I was the victim of an "un-friending".

The silly thing - I don't even know when exactly it happened.  I don't know the fateful hour when this person decided to clean-up their friends list and wipe me from their newsfeed.

And I honestly felt crushed... but then I began to reason with myself - am I acting like a Jr. High school kid?  Does social media really have that much power over my emotions?

Too bad I'm a softie.  'Cuz it hurts.

However, it does give me cause to question how much "approval" I seek from such a fickle, artificial environment.  Facebook may provide more accessible, often light-hearted access to relationships.  Often, these are people whom I wouldn't physically be able to remain in contact with over the years due to time and/or distance - but, once again, it doesn't offer a true representation of humanity.

Even I am guilty of carefully wording status updates, to ensure they are received a certain way (I hope).  I also avoid commenting on political/religious/parenting/philosophical debates because I don't want to bother with unpleasantness during my "social media break-time". 

Then... there are the profile photos that are so carefully selected to look "better than real life" and display me in the best possible light.

I can't even imagine if Facebook was in "real-time" to the degree that my profile photo was a current image of myself - no matter what I was wearing, what my hair looked like, whether or not I was wearing make-up, and no matter where I was currently seated. (Ummm... I can't be the only one guilty of using their smart-phone in the bathroom!)

So, I've established that social media is contrived, perhaps even fake to a certain degree.  But, "real" or not, it is also very powerful.  It can make me laugh, cry, be encouraged, and even warm my heart.

Despite the "good" of Facebook, I have taken a stand and deleted Facebook off of my phone.  This is not due solely to the woes I've just pointed out, and recently being "un-friended", but because I feel that I need to have a firm grip on reality in order to fully live my life.  I don't want Facebook to replace face-time with the people who have to live with me day after day.  They are the ones who experience the unfiltered "me" and I want to give them a more devoted, attached, committed relationship.  Instead of constantly looking for approval, and connection, and even laughter in the glowing lights of a screen, I am going to look for more satisfaction in the faces of my children, husband and those with whom I am blessed to spend my time.

Facebook is not my umbilical cord of connection to humanity... although, my smart-phone, with it's melodic bleeps and boops throughout the day would like me to believe that the opposite is true.  So, I will silence those noises, and instead spend my days with my attention tuned to the laughter of my children - to the words they are waiting to speak, and to the emotions that they wish to share.

Hello, reality!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cleaning Up... Again!

There comes a point in time when I can no longer identify the food stains on the floor, and I know that I must do a thorough cleaning and mop up the mess.  Last week, our family took turns having the flu, so there was an awful lot of laying around, feeling tired, and looking the other way when someone spilled their cereal or a piece of peanut-butter toast went face down on the floor, under the table.

So this morning, knowing that we would have company tonight for my husbands birthday, I decided to clean the kitchen "for real".

I ignored the children's school-work, instead content with the fact that they were happily playing together - using their imaginations.

I swept, I wiped walls, and I mopped the floor until every splotch and smear was removed.  The table sparkled, the floors were damp but clean and the dishes were all either being washed in the dishwasher, or put away!  Ahhhh.... for a few moments I basked in the simple pleasure of cleanliness.

One hour later...

Salt and food coloring drippings from our craft made a trail from table to sink.

My 3 year old had peed on the floor.

Two children decided to fight over a bowl of sticky dipping sauce from our lunch (mmm... somosas!) and it resulted in splatters all over the two children, all over the table, and all over the floor!

"Why do I bother to mop!??!!!" I said (or maybe yelled or shrieked or perhaps wailed out) to the children.  My heart was pounding, my eyes bulged out, my blood was boiling and my frustration over-the-top!

With a deep sigh, I told the kids "Don't move a muscle!" as their clothing and bare arms glistened with dripping sauce; forming puddles and spots all over the now unclean floor.

I grabbed a dishcloth, wiped them clean and sent them to change.

My floor was sticky.

My life, somehow became undone as I battled the emotions that I've been seeking to contain and control.

I don't want to be angry.  I don't want to "cry over spilled milk", as they say.

But it never seems to end....

And I wondered, for a moment, what it feels like to be Father God, looking down on this mess of a world.

He sees every broken heart, every lonely soul, every angry thought, every desperate action.

He sees all of my mistakes and failings as a mother, wife, friend... but never says to me "Why do I bother to clean you up???"

Instead, "His mercies are new every morning." (Lamentations 3:23)

His "righteousness like the waves of the sea", washing over me; again and again - no matter how many times I fail. (Isaiah 48:18)

I'm humbled by a God whose love never fails, or dries up, or gives up on me.  It continues, and I can always depend upon it; like I know that the sun will rise tomorrow, and the next day, and next week, and next year...

As I am renewed and empowered by this grace and mercy, I have strength to mop the floor again...

But, concerning all my adorable little mess-makers... I'm pretty sure it's naptime.


Monday, January 28, 2013

If Life Could Be Fixed With A Glue Gun...

The new, oversize Frog stuffie has lost an eye.

Moms are meant to fix those things, and sew on buttons that rattled around in the dryer, pulled loose from someone's favorite sweater.

Moms are supposed to keep the house clean, too.  Most days I scatter myself around the house, pushing one load into the washer, dumping one load on the bed, then answer the child who asked "How do you spell 'considerate'?" and then chase the buck-naked three year old out of the pantry where he was trying to climb the shelves and steal some chocolate chips.

So I didn't get around to dusting... mopping... but at least a toilet was cleaned when I gave myself a "time-out" for five minutes.

I could never finish all the tasks on the "To Do" list.  So I am once again in the process of determining priorities.  I ask myself: What is urgent, vital, required?
What really matters?

I'd rather have the contented accomplishment of a meaningful, heartfelt conversation with my child(ren) than know that I gave the bathrooms a thorough cleaning.  I'd rather teach my children character than chemistry.  Yet, I know I can't forgo academic pursuits in their entirety just to pursue warm fuzzies and endless snuggle-time.

I'm on the prowl for a life-change; a change of me and my focuses and direction; so that I can use my time wisely.  Because it really does go by in a blink.  SUDDENLY, I am the mother of six children.  SUDDENLY, I have a teenager.  SUDDENLY, my kids will be grown up and leaving home, one by one.

I want to do things that really matter.  I want to set my priorities properly.  How will I make the right decisions?

I was reading an article about a homeschooling mom who was burnt-out and asking for advice, and the advice given was to


It makes sense.  I need to know my destination before consulting Google maps for directions.

I have a feeling that this isn't as simple as it sounds.  I'm not going to take this lightly as I tweak, adjust, modify, dissect, and amputate areas of my attitude, hopes, ideas and life.  Much consultation will be done on my knees, in prayer, as I seek God's plans and vision for my family.

For now, given the daunting task ahead of me, I'll fix the simple.  Time to get the glue gun and stick Mr. Frog's eye back where it belongs. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

New Season

-17*C and so much snow!
On a day like today, I actually started browsing the "last minute vacation deals" on various websites, feeling that if I could just find the right deal, I could fly my family (six kids and all) to a warm, tropical, white sand beach where we could relax and soak up some sun.  Pushing the fantasy aside, I instead browned chicken in a large stainless steel pot, preparing a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs stew for our family's dinner tonight.

Since I don't have an extra $7000 sitting around for an impromptu getaway, I could turn up the heat and the kids and I could get out our favorite summer shorts and tank tops.  Better yet, as an overt denial to this wretchedly bone-chilling weather, I could just prance around outside in a sundress, shake my fist at the falling snowflakes and scream out: "Winter, be gone!!!"

Okay, that would be some serious denial.  And I might freak out the neighbors... and my children.  (My husband? ...not so much!) 

Reality and circumstances dictate that I accept the changing of seasons - my very life depends upon it (unless I want to die of hypothermia).

For many months now, I've been struggling to return to the blogosphere and write about my feelings, revelations, activities and life-lessons.  Since the late summer, I've even had the same theme in my mind of a blog that I wanted to write, entitled "sabotage".  I wanted to express how we, ourselves can sabotage our personal success and even emotional health by making poor or negative choices.  For example (one of the easiest to pick on) is eating unhealthy.  You know that you "should" eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, and not fill yourself up on cheese puffs and Mars bars, but you give in continually and end up tired, sick, and overweight.

For me, the idea of sabotage came with the realization that I am personally responsible for much of my success in life.  I make choices that influence my emotions, physical health and spiritual health.  If I dwell in the past failures or frustrations or hurts, I may very well be sabotaging my ability to enter into happiness.  I could become fixated on how weary I felt last winter, and expect this winter to be a repeat of that unhappiness. 

At the beginning of this post, I talked about the need to accept when a season is changing.  You can't live the exact same way in the winter as you did in the summer.  You have to get the shovel out of the garage, put on some tall boots and mitts and deal with the snow.  (Or, be like a teenager I know and wear a stylish coat and cute little shoes with no socks and look pretty while being cold!)

I've been sensing for my life, with this new year, that I'm entering a new season.  I'll admit it - the last few years have been filled with some incredible challenges - renovations, new baby, living with relatives, pastoring a church, trying to homeschool, and being iron deficient!  We entered into a time of major transition this fall and had a flurry of activity as we scrambled to complete renovations on our house, sell it and move back to the 'big city' for my husband's new job.  Now that the dust is beginning to settle, I'm getting the feeling that I should expect life to be different.  Of course we live in a different house, are attending a different church and are seeing different friends - that's not what I'm talking about.  I'm talking about my expectations and hopes and my emotional outlook.  I sense a new season in life... where I don't have to expect most days to be a struggle, but where I can enjoy the tasks I have at hand instead of dreading them and feeling exhausted.

A changing of seasons requires a change of mindset. 

"Onward and upward!"
-C.S.Lewis The Horse and His Boy