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.