Sunday, August 29, 2010

rest in his arms tonight, friend

I don't have time to blog tonight.  Really, I don't.  But this day (Sat.) was so ripe with frustration, I need to sort out my thoughts.

There is always an answer to frustration.  The Lord is not a God of confusion or of disorder.  He provides rest for our souls. (Matthew 11:28-30)

We need not worry. (Philippians 4:6-7).

If we feel those things, something is off kilter--we're making an idol of something, or trying to please someone other than God.

So knowing this, I shall go through my frustrations in no particular order, asking the Lord for guidance.

1.  The fall clothes storage boxes are still sitting in my living room, having no other home.  I have more sorting to do, but the temps haven't gone low enough to warrant removing the summer clothing from our closets.  Only the mornings feel like fall; by noon, it feels like summer.  So, the storage boxes take up space in my living room, driving me crazy.  It's too much trouble to take them back to the shed, especially since I've already laundered the clothes we'll need for fall.

- Why am I bothered by the boxes, really?  They don't look all that messy.  The room just looks cluttered.  Am I doing the best I can to provide an orderly home, given that I have no help with the children, and that one of them, a toddler, needs constant supervision?   Yes, I am doing my best.  And the children aren't going to remember that when they were ages 1, 3, 6, and 8, Mommy had a number of storage boxes in the living room for a few weeks.

My off-kilter issue here is that I'm not remembering what God desires from me, as wife and mother.  What is important to God, in terms of my time?

Just that I, through His strength, love and respect my husband, and instruct my children in the truth of the Lord, while not eating the bread of idleness.  Nothing more.  When homecare frustrations mount in this season of life, I need to narrow my focus.  God's priorities must be mine.

2.  The children ruined the blinds in their bedroom and in the playroom.  Baby is the culprit in the playroom, and Mary and Peter in the bedroom.  I tried to stand the less-than-private situation as long as I could, but having such a big gap in coverage really bothers me.  Privacy makes me feel safe, and I spend a lot of time in this house--day and night--without my husband.  Today I spent money to remedy both situations--simple curtains in the playroom, and cheap replacement blinds in the bedroom.  We're both furious with the kids over these expenditures.  We've explained so often that we don't have money to replace things, and they were warned many times that the blinds were getting worse and worse.  Peter has anxiety and pulls the blinds apart whenever he hears a sound outside the window.  Mary pulls them apart to look outside when she has trouble falling asleep.

Children do childish things, of course, and they disobey.  But am I failing them, that they couldn't show restraint?  I think probably not.  Even if I were a perfect parent, they would still do childish things at this stage.  Part of my frustration comes in not knowing how tough to be on them for childish issues.  In this case, Daddy spanked them for the disobedience (although not the baby), and we told the two children they couldn't have any of their own food at the fair tomorrow--only bites of what Daddy chooses for himself, because of the money needed to replace the blinds.

My off-kilter issue here, I think, is that I'm trying to raise the kids in my own strength, rather than taking each situation to the Lord, and asking for wisdom (James 1:5).  If I pray beforehand, my response will always be of the Lord, and I need not worry about whether it was the right thing.

3.  While Peter still suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, his anxiety about being away from us is improving.  It began in 2009 during VBS.   Daddy accidentally left Mary in the nursery and came home with just the boys.  He immediately went back for Mary, but since then, separation anxiety has been rampant in Peter's life.  He's been convinced we'll leave him alone somewhere.  In an encouraging development,  Peter went to VBS this summer without much difficulty, even though neither husband or myself could stay and help.

While I am encouraged about that progress, something else has surfaced in the last few months.  Each night he worries at bedtime that I'm going to skip out on my children--take off into the sunset.  I have no car most nights, but that doesn't deter him from this recurring thought pattern.  He comes out to the living room where I'm either writing or reading, cleaning or folding, to check on me and tell me he is scared.  This often keeps him up an additional 45 minutes, making me feel like I can never get a moment's peace.  If he hears the front door open or close as I take out some recycling (during the day or in the evening), he runs toward the door with a panic-stricken face, breaking my heart.

His anxiety is a co-morbid disorder, often occurring with ADHD.  There is nothing I can do about it.  Absolutely nothing.  You can't talk an anxious person out of their fears.  They don't believe you.  Peter tells me outright that he doesn't trust me, although he wants to.  He tries to.  Telling him how much I enjoy being a mother does no good.  Telling him how blessed I am to be his mother, does no good.

His doctor knows about these fears.  If they don't improve with maturity and they significantly affect Peter's quality of life, anti-anxiety medication is warranted.  Hearing this, I envision Peter being on it for life, despite the unpleasant side effects associated with this type of medication.  My brother, who also has ADHD with anxiety,  has to take anti-anxiety medication to continue driving a car.

The number one answer to my stress over Peter's problems?  Give thanks. Count my blessings.  It could be worse--he's not, after all, suffering from a terminal condition.  And God's strength is revealed though our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9).  His grace really is sufficient, even when disability causes pain and discomfort.  Through His grace, my heart and Peter's heart can embrace disorder, being happy to serve the Lord through it.

So, how are you this Saturday night?  Are you burdened or frustrated?  Get paper and pencil.  List each bothersome issue, and ask God for help.  Then, sit back in your easy chair, close your eyes, and listen for his wisdom.

The next thing that pops into your head will probably be of him.  Funny how that happens.

Rest and peace will then be yours.

The alternative is that you can stew over your frustrating issues all evening and into the night, leading to fatigue in all your endeavors.

Rest in his arms tonight, friend!

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Seasons of Marriage

As I've reread marriage articles lately, I've see that in the comments section some people assume from the practicality of an article that the author isn't "in love" with her husband and perhaps never was.  For surely if she were in love, the article wouldn't be so full of "shoulds" and "try tos".

I've also noticed that young marrieds and never marrieds can get depressed reading the practical advice and warnings of seasoned marrieds.  To them, it all seems so hopeless and cold and full of hard work.

I remember as a single woman hearing two married women laughing about how they'd rather have a Big Mac hamburger than have sex.  I was floored.  What!  How can that be?  What's wrong with these women?  Single people of course spend a good amount of time lamenting about their lonely, sex-deprived status.

While I'm not fond of hamburgers, eleven years into marriage, I do understand the sentiment. Women tend to get bogged down in day-to-day struggles with children and homecare responsibilities.  Sex is wonderful once it starts, but the problem for many women is settling down enough for the mood to overtake us--overtake us enough to initiate sex, even.

There is a time in pregnancy--usually around weeks 11-14--that I want sex so badly I initiate it nearly everyday.  We've both wished the libido of those weeks could be captured and bottled!

The bottom line?   Seasons of never-ending responsibility kill libido for women, which is rarely the case for men.

This can all be explained to a single, childless woman, but until she is living it, it seems preposterous.

The same is true about the seasons and depths of romantic and agape (sacrificial love) love within a marriage.  My husband was my soul mate for the first several years of marriage, but right now, we are both severely fatigued emotionally by underemployment, lack of couple time, the special needs associated with ADHD, and by parenting young children without extended-family help.

There is no doubt in my mind that the soul mate status of our union will resurface.  Those feelings aren't dead; they're just buried for a season.

And so, articles about marriage must be practical if they are to prepare couples for the inevitable valleys.  When you're deep in a valley you need encouragement to work at your marriage for the sake of your legacy, for the sake of your commitment to God, and for that blessed fiftieth anniversary day, which will come if you do love, even when you don't feel love.  

In the valley you need reminding that, no, you didn't marry the wrong person.  You married a sinner.  A sinner uniquely placed in your life by the God of the universe, to make you holy.

Because of our ages we may never reach fifty years.  But we will grow old and shriveled together, God willing.  On our final day together, it will be as though we'd made it to the top of Mt. Whitney. Our love will have depth and beauty--the likes of which we can only imagine.  I envision it as the highest, most evolved form of love experienced on this earth.  

And I also envision the God of the universe, who designed the hiking trail up to Mt. Whitney, saying to us, when we arrive in Paradise:

"Well done, good and faithful servants."

Ecclesiastes 3
 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

a man's need for respect

Here is another post about marriage which I neglected to link to in yesterday's marriage article.  It addresses a man's need for respect.

The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands

tips for thriving in a time-constrained marriage, or improving a floundering one

There are a number of reasons marriages can become time-constrained:

- Travel-heavy jobs
- Working and going to school
- Working different shifts
- No help with the children
- Caring for aging parents
- Health issues/hospital stays
- Parenting a newborn
- Parenting a special-needs child

The effects may not be felt right away, but over time they can be potentially devastating.  Marriages are nurtured by time spent together, including between-the-sheet time.  Neglecting to talk and have sex regularly leads to emotional distance, which makes it harder to cut a partner slack on day-to-day living issues.  In the absence of goodwill, little issues can overwhelm and before you know it, you're spending your precious couple time bickering.

By instituting a few safeguards, your marriage can thrive despite these challenges.

1.  Make appointments for sex at least once a week.  Most men need twice a week at least, but try not to go longer than once a week.  Otherwise, your husband may start having trouble with his thought life and with wandering eyes, even if he loves you with all his heart.  Don't underestimate his need for sex.  Start preparing mentally the morning of the appointment, so you don't find yourself making excuses in the evening.  Try to get good sleep the night before.  In the evening, wear something your husband likes.

2.  Confess and apologize readily.  You don't have time for stubbornness.  Admit what issues the Holy Spirit is working on with you, so your husband knows where your heart is.  He can't stay mad at a tender, repentant heart.  You have limited time with him and you can't afford to leave him with negative feelings.  Call him if your last interaction wasn't positive.  Try to turn it around with your words.

3.  Try to see your husband the ways Jesus sees him--as a sinner in need of grace.  This will prevent you from stewing about the ways you've been wronged.  Also, remember that as a fellow sinner, you are just as hard to live with.

4.  Take every opportunity to touch one another.  Look into each other's eyes, if only for a minute upon saying goodbye.  Give full body hugs.

5.  Staying close to God is important for so many reasons, but in your case, it is even more important.  A spouse can't be called upon to give you joy or fulfillment, and an absentee spouse even less so.  Only God can meet our innermost needs.  The people in our lives can only hope to be the icing on the cake, in terms of our self-worth and happiness.  God loves you so much, and felt you were so precious, that he suffered humiliation, beatings and an agonizing death, so that you could have a relationship with Him.  Make the most of that relationship, every day.

6.  Don't compare your situation or your marriage to that of others.  No one truly knows how healthy another marriage is.  What can seem so lovely on the outside may truly be in shambles.  Marriage, like parenthood, is designed more to sanctify us, than to make us happy.  Let God use your husband to mold and change you. Have a teachable heart.  Have a grateful heart.

7.  Identify your husband's love languages--both primary and secondary.  The choices are:  physical touch, affirming words, acts of service, quality time, gifts.  Try to send him off with what he needs to feel loved, even if he isn't doing the same for you.  Be selfless in your giving.  Let God work on your spouse.

8.  Try to discuss life details--such as bills and schedules--on the phone, so that your face-to-face time is as relaxed as possible.

9.  It's ideal to pray together regularly, but if your husband won't make the time or doesn't value this, don't insist or nag.  Ask the Lord to bring this about in your marriage.  Even weekly joint prayer is better than nothing, and is better than what most Christian couples have.  The same goes for joint Bible reading.  Be thankful for what you do have in this area.  Men usually need a godly man in their lives encouraging them to be the spiritual head of the home--especially if their own father didn't lead this way.

10.  When your husband starts leading, follow.  Believe me, this is easier said than done ( I struggle! ), but necessary for your marriage to be all that God designed.  Try to have your own mentor (a Titus 2 woman) encouraging you in this area. Following doesn't come naturally to women and this is a life-long struggle.  Don't give up on yourself!  Take it one day at at time.  And know that you can follow and still have a voice; it just isn't an insistent voice, but one that yields.

11.  If there are babies or toddlers at home, come to agreement on how you will handle nighttime sleep and comforting issues.  We are both incapable of letting babies/toddlers cry it out, so we have a modified family bed.  I nurse our babies in our bed for much of the first year, and if they are still not sleeping through the night, I go to a spare bed with them.  My husband needs more sleep than I do.  When the child sleeps through the night, or nearly through the night, I go back to the master bed and we let the toddler join us as necessary in the middle of the night. This isn't for everyone.

Whatever the arrangement, both partners should be on board.  If you don't like the cry it out method but your husband doesn't want a family bed, could you nurse/comfort, possibly sleep with baby in another room for awhile and offer to be in bed with your husband when he falls asleep and when he wakes up?  Those are the usual times of master-bed cuddling, and they may be all he cares about.

How babies/toddlers/preschoolers will be parented in the middle of the night is a big issue, but some level of compromise can usually be reached.

12.  Pray for your husband and for your marriage.  If you spent as much time praying as you do lamenting, just think how wonderful your marriage (and your husband!) would be!  Turn every complaint, every sad moment, every comparison, into a prayer.  Give thanks.

Marriage articles I've loved from other blogs:

I Didn't Marry my Soulmate

Let's Tell a Different Story

Wouldn't God Want Me To Be Happy?

Loving a Stranger, And Being Willing to Change

Five Secrets to Make a Marriage Last

A Letter to My Children About Marriage

Monday, August 23, 2010

for you of little faith

Something really unusual happened last night.  It's hard not to see the hand of God in it.

You see, my husband has a poor relationship with our ADHD son.  I saw the same thing growing up, between my half brother (who has ADHD) and my step-father.  Whether the father-son pair typically struggle when one or both are afflicted, I can't venture to guess.

My mother was often angry with my step-father for the way he treated my brother.  I now struggle with that same thing--anger toward my husband.  All the can't-you-see-what-you're-doing conversations do no good.

I worry much about their relationship--about how my son will be affected.  As always, the worrying doesn't change anything.  It only makes me less effective and more exhausted.  I am powerless in this situation, even as it continues to drive a wedge in my marriage.

All day yesterday, the Holy Spirit seemed to be saying:

"You must give it over to me.  Do not get involved.  Change a few things about yourself, and leave the father-son pair to me."

This wisdom is in keeping with my main philosophy regarding marriage.  If you aren't willing to say first and foremost, "Change me, Lord", you don't have much hope for a happy marriage.

Oh, sure.  You'll be happy enough for about seven to ten years.  After that, marriage is hard.  You know the term "seven-year itch"?  I don't know where it came from, but I know that marriage changes a lot after seven to ten years.

Basically, you wake up.  You realize that you married a jerk.  Okay, maybe not really, but it can sure seem like it!  He isn't at all what you thought he was.  And now you have to learn to love him, whereas before you just plain loved him.

In reality, you loved the person you wanted him to be.  

Changing husbands won't work.  Not that I've ever tried it, mind you.  I just know that it will cause a lot of problems for you and for everyone around you, and then you'll be faced with the same thing in another relationship.

Okay.  That's enough now with my pessimism realism.  Those of you in your blissful marriage years are reading this and thinking, "That isn't going to happen to me!  My husband is great!"

On to that unusual occurrence I began with.

Late last night while walking up to the doors of a bank he cleans, my husband felt something on his arm.  He brushed it away, thinking it was a moth.  It landed on the glass door of the bank.

It was a praying mantis, which my son covets like no other insect.  My husband, a life-long insect lover, also covets them.  They've been looking for one since late spring in many a park, and on many bushes in our backyard.

My son was discouraged about not seeing one yet.  He's been asking frequently, "When do you think Jesus will bless me with a praying mantis?"  I knew they'd be reaching full size soon, making them easier to spot among the foliage.  Fall is their mating season.

I encouraged him to keep praying.

I can't even begin to tell you how unusual it is for a praying mantis to hang around the concrete walks of a bank!  There isn't any foliage there!

My husband was so excited that when he came home at 2:00 a.m,. he went into the boys' room and woke up our son, to whisper in his ear that Daddy had caught a praying mantis.  My son, for his part, was so excited that it took him an hour to get back to sleep.

When I heard the whole story this morning, I just knew it was God!  Not only did he have a blessing for them, but also a message for me:

"See now, oh you of little faith?  I really do have the father-son relationship covered."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

all things for good

I used to think not having transportation would be unbearable.  The mere thought of it frightened me.

Well wouldn't you know?  God allowed that very thing to happen.  And it isn't frightening at all.  It isn't miserable. Challenging sometimes, but not miserable.

Yesterday on the way back from the park, six-year-old Paul said, out of the blue:

"I've had a really great summer."

First of all, I was blessed.  Then, I was flabbergasted to hear this, since we really haven't done much.  Like, almost nothing, outside of parks and the library

And today, as we hung out together all day by ourselves (Daddy at school, then away for long hours of work), six-year-old Paul said, out of the blue:

"I've had a really good time with my family today.  This is grace."

I've never heard him use the word "grace" before.  Not sure what he meant, exactly, by using that word, but I got the main message.

He enjoys being with his family. 

As I reflected, I knew.  I knew why he was so blessed by his summer.

It's simply this:  We haven't done much!  

Being busy is no blessing.  Being together, unhurried, is!

What did we do this summer?

We did togetherness!   Because we had no transportation!

And my son is right.  It has been awesome!

Whatever your circumstances, know that God is working all things for your good.  You can't see it, perhaps.  But in time, he will show you.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

Photos from our "just hanging out"  day.  I put the baby down for a nap midday, and when I came back out of her room, I saw the playroom in this state.  The older three were having a ball, building a train village.  The large puzzle pieces and the deck of cards make up the walkway for the "train people".

They were so excited by their train town that I didn't have the heart to say, "Make sure you clean all that up when you're done."  

But, I was thinking about clean up time, and how they were going to feel overwhelmed by the mess.  And later, there was some ugliness when clean up time came, but in the end my older one calmed down and they did a terrific clean up job.

When  Miss Beth awoke from her nap, they gated her out of the playroom so she wouldn't ruin their train town.  Trouble is, they ruined the tension gate by stepping on it too many times.  It's now almost worthless.  When Miss Beth wants to, she bangs it down easily.  This time though, she was content to stay out of the playroom for awhile and "help" Mommy with laundry and stuff.

The children were excited to find that they brought home more than just the one large Monarch caterpillar.  Some baby ones hitched a ride on the milkweed leaves.  We'll have to let a couple of them go on some milkweed plants near our home.  Little ones don't do well in captivity.

I kissed Beth's knee boo boo.  She followed that by giving her own knee a kiss!  Practicing to be a gentle, loving Momma?

She ends every meal with food in her hair and all over this and that.  I have to warm up a clean washcloth and wipe her thoroughly down after breakfast and lunch, knees included.  After dinner, which seems to be the messiest, I carry her directly to the bathtub.

Other notable things include Momma's trip outside to take out the trash.  Husband is very good about remembering trash day.  Roughly twice a year, he forgets.  Last week was one of those weeks, so today when I went to put our trash out, I was shocked to find maggots crawling over the top of the bags and over the inside of the lid.  I screamed and ran in the house, calling for Peter to come quickly.

Momma, frantically:  "Peter!  There were maggots on the trash outside.  Do I have any on me?  (He was way too casual about looking.  Because he was rather amused at me.)  "Peter, please look at me!"

Peter:  "I don't see anything.  How many were there?"

Momma:  "Tons!"

Peter goes out to check out the situation, while I strip down to bra and panties, frantically shaking out my clothes and hair.  There was nothing.  But still, I washed my arms and hands thoroughly, and picked another outfit.  

Peter comes back in to tell me there were only about sixteen maggots.  

Peter:  "Aren't you acting a little crazy?  Boy, it really is true that girls don't like bugs!  They're only these white larva things that turn into flies."

Momma:  "Peter, you don't understand!  Maggots are about the worst creature around!"

Three-year-old Mary:  "But I thought lions were the worst creature."  

P.S.  I do think this will be the last time I mention maggots.

Friday, August 20, 2010

God's art at the park

NOTE:  Park photos published in two posts, since Blogger was acting up on me.

Do you have a favorite day of the week?  Is it Saturday?  Mine is certainly not the weekend.  Husband works seventeen hours over the weekend, with some flexibility mind you, but it makes for a solo-parenting weekend marathon, with the studying thrown in there too.  

I used to dread Thursdays quite a bit.  Keeping the children quiet so Daddy could slept late after graveyard shift, has never been a welcome task.  But since we started going to the State Park near us on Thursdays, dread has quickly become delight!

Toddlers, for one thing, can't get into much trouble at the park.  My toddler singlehandedly keeps me running on empty most days, with little time to get nourishment even.  She only sleeps one hour during the day, necessitating an incredibly early bedtime--6 p.m.  Makes for a rushed evening, to say the least.  Instead of napping much, she sleeps longer at night than most of the napping-age set (although with short wake-ups still).  The twelve hours of night sleep mean that during the day, her body will only do one more hour, making her total sleep thirteen hours, which is normal.

These days I am physically exhausted by the time their staggered bedtimes come and go, spanning from 6:00 p.m. to 8:45 p.m..  Solo parenting will do that to you!  I actually need more sleep now, as a result.  I'm aware that my situation is not atypical and whatever my challenges, I'm blessed by these kids.  Make no mistake about that!  

So anyway, enough reflecting about how hard parenting can get in certain seasons.  

Back to a topic of pleasure.  The park.  It's a time of worship, a time of laughter, a time of wonder, a time of enjoying each other fully.  There is no discipline, no chores, no endless pile of dishes, no laundry, no spills, no toys, no meal prep, and no worrying about whether someone forgot to latch the yard gate, or the front door, or close the hallway doors.  There is no wondering how I'm going to cook with my toddler constantly getting into things, or how I'm going to keep up with the laundry when she keeps slamming the dryer door while I'm trying to process dry clothes.  She is every bit a blessing I can't bare to see grow up, and a Dennis-the-Menace who drives us all a bit batty.  All my other toddlers were good nappers, making this stage much easier!

A picture of what is to come, amidst a sea of green.

My children cannot get enough caterpillar metamorphosis!  I don't blame them really.  What compares to this lovely gift from God?

This year, thanks to my nature-loving son, I've learned all about tent caterpillars.  They do this to trees.  We have them housed in a plastic container, to which they've done the same thing.  My son is still captivated.  Mommy and Daddy are not.  But, whatever.

Beautiful, and a time I really need to know where that macro-shot button is on the camera. I keep forgetting to ask husband.
Sky art, by God.

These plants were teaming with butterflies.  See the one in the center?

My favorite flower color.  More of God's art.  The park is full of His work.  Every turn, every angle is a time of worship.  It surrounds us and we thirstily drink it in....take pictures, and then drink it in at home all over again.  Can't concentrate on your Bible or on prayer?  Go to a nature park, get into His presence, and then open your Bible and your heart.

It was getting too close to noon by this time.  Not a good time for picture taking.  The light is best in the morning and in the late afternoon.  Makes all the difference.

I love all the hues of green.  Something California never had to offer, even in the spring.

Baby wrens

The drive home.