Sunday, October 31, 2010

full of blessings and learning something too

Full of blessings this Saturday night:

- Home for dinner (a rare thing), Daddy played with Baby Beth so Mommy could stand at the stove and tend to the pancakes--uninterrupted.

- Meals are a crazy time around here, but I've learned to completely set the table, thinking of every detail, before calling the family forth.  While it's still not exactly leisurely, everyone does stay seated, including Mommy and Daddy.  That's progress to sing about.  Hallelujah!

- Mommy is learning a lot about grace.  Mary found a vest just before bedtime and put it over her sleeper.   In the not-so-graceful past, I would have insisted she take it off and put it away for the night.  Instead, I said she could wear it to bed.  Twenty minutes later, I came out of Beth's room--having nursed her to sleep--and found Mary still sitting up in bed, intent on buttoning this vest.  Buttoning is a skill she desperately wants to master.  Admiring her perseverance, I decided to leave her be, not letting her see me.  Next, I went into the playroom where the boys were waiting for me to read.  Sure enough, when I checked on Mary fifteen minutes later, she was fast asleep.

I'm blessed tonight because I sense my parenting is beginning to reflect this important lesson:  Only say no when you can't say yes.  Once you put this into practice, you stop exasperating your children.  I'm not there yet, but I'm pausing more and reflecting first.  Is discipline really needed here, or should this moment be grace-filled?

Colossians 3:21  Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Ephesians 6:4  Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

- The boys and I began reading Little Men tonight, by Louisa May Alcott.  This book has one of the most pleasant, engaging beginnings I've encountered in a while.  Ms. Alcott manages to endear her characters to the reader in just under five pages.  Now that's superb writing!  I'm thankful tonight for all the amazing writers--for their countless hours of thankless practice, perfecting a beautiful craft, worthy of delighting generations of readers, young and old.  Writing doesn't pay well, and there may never be any noteworthy recognition, but it's still a priceless endeavor.

- Auntie Lorrie, husband's sister, will be visiting Tuesday through Saturday morning.  We won't see her again until the winter snow melts, giving way to spring color and new life.  She lives in PA, eight hours away, and doesn't drive in snow if she can help it.  As much as having an overnight visitor is a lot of work, I'm really looking forward to her visit.  We've become friends, after eleven years of being mere in-laws.  I'm teary-eyed just writing that.  It's such a blessing!

- Husband will drive back with Lorrie, stopping at James' house (his best friend) to pick up James' late mother's car.  It is old--some twenty years--but it received regular check ups and only has about seventy thousand miles on it.  We will pay James $500 in February.  As long as it works reasonably well (it wasn't driven much in the last year), we are on our way to having a second car!  Auntie Lorrie's church singles' group is going to purchase the first six months of car insurance for us.  This was all put together through phone calls between Auntie Lorrie, James, and my husband, over the past few months.  What a blessing--specially since husband is putting 600 miles a week on our van, driving around to different janitorial contracts--with no gas reimbursement!  Gas prices are killing us.  The van, already having nearly 170,000 miles, is being run into the ground, which is a real problem, given our family size.  Anyhow, God sure puts things together neat and tidy, doesn't he?  Even when all looks hopeless to us.

- It has taken me far too long, but I'm also learning valuable lessons about toys and clutter.  I gave away a large portion of our toys months ago, keeping only the things I thought were necessary.  Now, several months later, I'm purging again.  Lorrie will take several bags back with her, containing toys, shoes, clothes, winter wear, and children's movies, to a fourteen-month-old boy (my husband's third cousin).  The little lad's parents are mere teenagers and they'll need all the help they can get.  I'm thankful we can help, as well as being grateful for another important lesson.  Less is more.

I'm keeping only the train track set, the Tinkertoys, the Lincoln Logs, the two sizes of Legos, small wooden blocks, a few puzzles, board games, the dolls, kitchen and shopping cart.  That's still a lot of toys!  Yet, each of them is a classic, given to much imagination, suitable to multiple ages, and capable of building attention span.  What goes this time is Fisher Price Little People (barn, Noah's Ark, Little People figurines, and accessories), all toddler toys, and all movies except a few Pooh Bear, a few Dora, a few Barney, and number/alphabet movies.

I hate to say this, but next time Lorrie comes, I'm thinking of unloading some books.  I have a massive amount of children's books, but most of them are paperback, purchased through Scholastic book clubs back in my teaching days.  My children rarely look at them, except the board books, which Beth still likes and needs.  Fancy-covered, beautifully illustrated hardcover library books won my children's hearts long ago. My books never had a chance.  They were sent home with my students for nightly reading, so they've seen better days.  This precious lad may not be taken to the library for years to come, or at all, so he'll need my humble books.

School districts find millions of dollars for textbooks, but as a public-school classroom teacher, I found myself spending $100 a month on books just to keep enough around to encourage a love of reading!  One lesson I wish public schools would learn--indeed, all schools--is this:  Trust good literature to teach eager minds.  Trust eager minds to devour good literature.  And stop constant testing!  It's dumbing down both teacher and student--a whole nation, essentially.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Children Are A Joy!

"Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them."  
Psalm 127:4-5

Whether adopted or born to us, children fill our lives with unspeakable joy.  When the nest empties, it isn't the child-rearing hassles that are forever etched into memory.  It's the joy.  Just the joy.

My husband wanted only two children, accepted three when Mary came along, and panicked when I fell pregnant with our fourth (we miscarried babies one and three).  So panicked was he at number four, that he made a vasectomy appointment.  While still sad and dismayed at that, I realized recently that in waiting until after the fourth (or rather, the sixth) to do the deed, he was sacrificing more than I know.  He lost his job just after making the vasectomy appointment, and more than once, he's wondered if God was disappointed in that decision--especially since we're still paying the price of job loss nineteen months later.  His age I'm sure has something to do with the slow return to full-time work.  People over 50 just aren't hired at the same rate as younger people.

There are few things in life that require more faith than having multiple children, especially if Mom and Dad are older than the twenties upon starting.  I don't find fault with anyone's family size, or with birth control or surgeries, but I do think we lose some of God's blessings when we limit our families.  No, I don't think God punishes us.  I just think we know a lesser joy for having limited what God might do through us.  Sometimes he can do more through us by making us barren, or limiting our children, or having our children meet him early.  Whatever the case, I think he wants to run the show exclusively.  And our part is to trust his plan--even when it's unconventional (we're very old or young), or when it's painful (miscarriage, death, infertility).

All that said, I feel like listing the ways children bring us joy:

- They jump up and down when excited.  Adults would never do that--or at least not when someone over ten is watching. :)  Or is that just me?

- Their eyes dance when they've just seen something miraculous--like a lightening bolt, or a rainbow, or a frisky squirrel, or a hailstone, or a colorful bird.

- They marvel at the seasons and remind us that the seasons are marvelous.

- They forgive readily, love readily, believe readily.

- They fit against us perfectly when we cuddle up.

- They clap for themselves when they do something new (or is that just toddlers? :)

- They get super-duper excited about being served some cookies.

- Water gives them the giggles--in baths, pools, rain puddles, sinks, streams.

- They know it's the inside that counts, not the exterior.  Thus, they aren't anxious about whether their hair is combed, their teeth brushed, their clothes wrinkled, their house messy, their face crumb-free.

- Pets fill them with joy, as though they've brought their first baby home from the hospital.

- Smearing things fills them with squealing delight--paint, jelly, frosting, butter, soap, mud (or is that just toddlers?).

- They love a story.  And is it just me, or are animal stories a universal favorite, at least for the early years?  Back to the pet phenomena, I guess.

- They learn new things effortlessly, all the time.  Just not always in the order we'd like, or through the method we'd like.

- Adults come in out of the rain.  Children play in it.  Marvel at it.  Laugh at it.

- They like cheese.  A lot.  They're already smiling when you reach for it in the fridge.  Saturated fat, you say?  Suddenly, at age two, I'm not supposed to indulge in so much cheese?  Saturated, smaturated!  Give me my cheese! Cheese baby!  Gotta have it.  What does that pediatrician guy know, anyway?  Every time I go there I get sick!

- They wake up cuddle-ready.  Every morning.

-  They like to help.  (Or is that just toddlers, again?)

-  Excited, they show you their glorious scribbles, as though they rival the Mona Lisa in magnificence.  And in your eyes, it's usually true.

- They love you unconditionally.

- When they see the first snow, they don't think of the work or hassle involved.  Just the fun.  Always the fun.

- If they're still in their pajamas at 11:00 a.m., it doesn't bother them in the least.

- Their eyes light up at the word pancakes.

- They call you Mommy, even at age eight.

- They love togetherness more than anything.

- Home is where their heart is.

- They like to be tickled--they don't mind out-of-control giggling.  Adults get embarrassed if you try to tickle them.

- Shiny things delight them.

- They are unaware of your age.  Don't enlighten them.

- They get excited about their years going upward.  Adults get depressed about their "growing" numbers (or is that just after 35?).

- They sigh contentedly after nursing.

- They know what's important in life--God, love, family.

Last but not least, their love makes us feel like a million bucks.  No, that isn't the reason to have children--for how they'll make us feel--but it's sure nice to rejoice in their love, for as long as we can.

Friday, October 29, 2010

little rascals and some recipes

Here are a few pictures of my little rascals.  But first, a few food/baking tidbits.

I found it!  Finally!  The perfect cornbread!  You've got to view this delicious honey cornbread recipe.  I substituted 1/3 melted butter and 3/4 cup milk for the heavy cream.  I also substituted 100% whole wheat flour for the white flour.  The honey and wheat are a heavenly combo.  You wouldn't believe how tasty this is!

Terra, by the way, commented on the other post about red frosting.  You have to buy the Milton gel colors to get a decent red frosting.  She is a cake director and says she usually uses pre-made red and black frosting because they are so difficult to make on your own.  Thank you, Terra!

We were reading a story the other day that mentioned fudge, and thereafter the kids desperately wanted to make some.  Never having made any myself, or even watched someone, I perused some sites to learn a thing or two--mostly because Peter wasn't going to give me a moment's piece until I did! :)

This recipe seems good, and it included some tips, one of which was the purchase of a candy thermometer.  Apparently things can go wrong easily if you step away or get distracted.  I get that part.  But have any of you done it successfully without a candy thermometer?

Little rascals playing dress up with some long-lost mittens and hats.

Some fingerpainting on a balmy October day.  The past two days have been quite cold, but earlier this week it felt like summer again.

 They decorated some leftover cookies.  These were too small in diameter to give away.

 Never leave your baby alone with colored frosting--not even for a minute.  Yikes!

 Did you ever notice that babies are forever putting food in their mouths sideways?

This is how a six year old looks when his football team isn't doing well.

Sweet little rascals!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I'm blessed by...

Some current blessings:

- It was Christmas in October night at AWANA.  The children fill Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes with gifts the AWANA families have purchased.  Each child also makes a card to insert.  Afterwards the AWANA kids have Christmas cookies for their snack.  I offered to make three dozen, because in helping the prior two years, I noticed they often run short.  The AWANA director likes them fancy (a real Christmas feel, you know). Why is it when you bake for your family, things usually go well.  But when you have an outside engagement to bake for, things tend to go wrong?

Okay, you veteran bakers.  Why does it take so much food coloring to get red icing for sugar cookies?  We started counting six drops at a time, and eventually used the whole little bottle of red food coloring (big batch of icing) and we still only got dark pink.  So, yes.  I sent some really gaudy cookies to AWANA.  Dark pink with green sprinkles, rather than a nice red/green Christmas combo.  But you know what?  My kids were proud, despite the hot pink.  When all the kids went through the line to get their two cookies, it made my kids happy to know we'd contributed.  I'm blessed by that.  Very blessed.

- Paul, my six year old, loves football.  Do you know he makes a list of PAC Ten teams and actually writes himself a playing schedule?  Then he goes outside and plays football with himself, pretending to be both sides. (Sometimes big brother is involved.)  Paul even does some sensational announcing of plays while he's at it.  We do not have cable TV, and even when we did, football wasn't on much due to husband's lack of time.  He taped games then never watched them.  (Paul now watches these old, taped games.) How did my son develop this passion at such an early age?  Is it the mathematician in him?  He likes to calculate how many yards are left to go.  What blesses me is that Paul has found a passion--something that brings him great joy and excitement.  I think we are healthier people when we have strong interests.

Paul's other passion, by the way, is playing board games.  If you want to make that child feel loved, sit down and play a board game with him!

Now, if only he'd get better at properly putting his games away.  Sigh.  We have a lot of game pieces around this house.  

- Peter, age 8,  has moved on from Junie B.Jones; he's now a Cam Jansen Mystery fan.  Paul, age six, still enjoys Junie immensely.  When I see them lounging around and reading for pleasure, I feel so blessed.  I ached for this to happen-- for them to view books as their friends!  Not just the ones Momma reads, but the ones they read on their own as well.

- My husband is very forgiving--never holds a grudge toward any of us.  I'm not a needy wife; I don't really require anything from my husband.  But I am sensitive, so being married to someone who doesn't hurt my feelings is a huge blessing..

- Mary's passion is butterflies, and more recently, building train tracks and Tinker Toy creations.  I'm blessed by her contagious, animated enthusiasm.  The butterflies have disappeared for now, so I'm curious about what other interests she'll develop this winter.

- My baby must be sleeping better at night.  I'm starting to dream again.  Three times in recent days, I dreamed I was pregnant.  I've also had dreams about being a teacher and being late to pick up my kids from the playground.   What's my excuse?  I don't know.  I only remember the part about arriving to pick up kids from recess ten minutes late--making the yard duty person angry.  What's the meaning of that dream?  Just a sign of stress, like dreaming about being in an exam you didn't study for?

- My husband sold our second car for $250 dollars today, to an auto scrap business.  It became clear we needed some of it for the house payment, so husband looked about a month for a buyer.  They came to get it today via a flatbed tow truck (which thrilled the kids!).  For my part, I'm thrilled to have a little money to buy Paul a birthday present.  I don't want much, Lord, I prayed.  Just to be able to pick out a present for my precious boy.  The money came within six days of Paul's birthday.  To say I'm blessed and relieved is an understatement.

- The children's director has a copy of the adult version of Hinds' Feet on High Places.  She's going to loan it to me, as well as a story version of Pilgrim's Progress. I didn't know she loved to read, but we got to talking about books tonight, and in the end I got blessed with the loan of two books I couldn't afford to order.  I didn't ask--they were lovingly offered.

1 Chronicles 16:8
Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

a recommendation

Hinds' Feet On High Places, by Hannah Hurnard (Delightfully Illustrated and Arranged for Children by Dian Layton)

Excerpt from pages 108-111

"At last she put her hand in His and said softly, "My Lord, I will tell You what I learned."

"Tell me," He answered gently.

"First," she said, "I learned that I must accept with joy every path that You lead me on and everything that You let happen to me.  I am not to try to get away from what You want for me; I am to lay down my own desires and be Your little handmaiden, Acceptance-With-Joy."

He nodded without speaking and she went on.  "Then I learned that I must forgive when others are allowed to hurt me.  I am to say, 'Here I am, Your little handmaiden Bearing-With-Love.'  Then I will have the power to bring good out of the bad things that happen to me."

He nodded again and she smiled happily.

"The third thing I learned was that You, my Shepherd King, never looked at me as I was--weak and crooked and fearful.  You saw me as I would be when You had done what You promised.  You always treated me as though I were already the King's daughter and not poor little Much-Afraid."  She stopped and looked up into His face.  "Oh, King, I want to treat others the way You have treated me!"

He smiled at her with a very lovely smile and nodded for her to keep on.

"The fourth thing was really the first lesson I learned up here, on the High Places.  Everything that happens in life, no matter how crooked and ugly it may seem to be, can be changed if I treat it with love, forgiveness, and obedience to Your will."

"You let us meet with the bad and wrong things that You want changed.  Maybe that is why we are in this world.  You want the sorrow and suffering, the ugly and wrong things, to be made into something beautiful.  You want us to overcome evil with good."

At last He spoke.  "You have learned well.  Because of these lessons, I was able to change you from limping, crippled Much-Afraid into Grace and Glory with the hinds' feet.  Now you can run and leap on the mountains."  

"So remember this:  As long as you are willing to be Acceptance-With-Joy and Bearing-With-Love, you can never again become crippled, and you will be able to go where I lead.  Now use your hinds' feet again.  I am going to lead you to another part of the mountain."

Excerpt from page 113, toward the end of the book:

Then Grace and Glory (formerly Much-Afraid) looked over at the great waterfall, which joyfully sang the water song as the waters poured themselves forth.

Come, oh come!  Let us away
Lower and lower every day.
From the heights we leap and flow
To the valleys far below.
Always answering to the call,
To the lowest place of all.

Suddenly she understood.  She was only one of the many, many servants of the King who had been brought to the High Places.  She was only one drop among the millions of self-givers who could now pour out their lives like the waterfall.

"He brought me here for this," she whispered to herself.

The King nodded.


Buy this book for your children, please!  Or borrow it from your church library.  It may not be five-star writing, but my boys understood every word of  it.  Each night, they didn't want me to stop reading.  Each night, I cried over the beauty and truth of the words.  I grew spiritually, too, while reading it!

Most importantly, it has given me valuable tools and language for speaking to my children about hardships, and about why God allows them.  After reading this book, youngsters will actually understand why they must surrender their will (desires) to God.  Too, it can be reread often, and the concepts alluded to, throughout a child's upbringing and young adulthood.

Children my boys' ages (6 and 8) often understand the concept of salvation, but not that of Lordship.  I have spoken of it for years, but this book introduces it in story form, and I sensed a deeper comprehension in both boys.  I am so excited for them!

Sorrow and Suffering are Much-Afraid's helpers (given to her by the Shepherd (Jesus)), who hold her hands as she climbs to the High Places.  Much-Afraid starts out crippled at the mouth and legs--later to be healed, which is symbolic of Jesus making our hearts more beautiful, after we surrender our will.

Along the journey she meets some enemies (her unsaved relatives), in the form of Pride, Self-Pity, Resentment, Bitterness.

How I wish I had known about these enemies, growing up!  Think about how useful (in Kingdom speak) our children will be, if we teach them early about Lordship, about Acceptance-With-Joy, about Bearing-With-Love.  And about our enemies--Pride, Self-Pity, Resentment, Bitterness--who would stifle the voice of God, if allowed.

Now, there are no shortcuts to the learning that sorrow and suffering afford us.  How I wish there were!  I know my boys will have to go through things on their own, as adults, to fully understand the beauty of sorrow and suffering.  But all the things they are enduring now, as a result of financial strain, fit right into these concepts, and they will remember this time, and these lessons.

This book can be read at any time with young children, but it's especially valuable when your family, or your child, is going through a trial.

I plan on looking for the adult version right away, which I understand is a classic devotional.

Peter was especially blessed, since he deals with some huge hardships--vocal/motor tics, ADHD, Obsessive/Compulsive issues (distortion of religious beliefs and contamination obsessions).

One person some of you know online, who reminds me of Much-Afraid (who became Grace and Glory) is Ann Voskamp.  Ann has suffered in her life, in ways chronicled on her blog A Holy Experience.  Her mother was diagnosed with Split Personality Disorder while Ann was still a child, and went into an institution for an undisclosed amount of time, which left Ann to mother and cook for her whole family, at the age of nine. Her father would not allow the family to discuss the mother's absence or illness.  They lived in secrecy, rather than with support.

Later, when Ann was older, her mother disappeared for awhile, which eventually led to her father remarrying-- breaking Ann's heart.

Also, Ann has agoraphobia, which apparently used to be more debilitating than it is now.  Most of you have probably visited Ann's blog many times, but if not, know that it's always a good read--very spiritual and also poetic, partially because of her signature sentence length (she writes very long and winding sentences, which no one else could get away with.  But from her, it is poetry.).

I don't want to sound like I'm worshipping a person, which we humans are apt to do.  Ann is only spiritually beautiful because of what God has allowed in her life--none of her stunning spiritual revelations or her poetry are of her.  It's all God, using the gifts he has given her to bring glory to Himself.  She has learned to willingly pour herself out for Kingdom purposes.  She walked the path to the "High Places", and now God uses her mightily every day, at home and in the blogsphere.  She is a giant in the Christian blog world, and her post today will illustrate why.

Ann's life work is her family, and only secondly, her writing.  Her most important life lesson to date, that of gratitude, marks the cornerstone of her Christian walk.  She has learned that to deal with our enemies--Pride, Self-Pity, Resentment, Bitterness--we must be grateful.  We must choose gratitude, clothe ourselves in it, even. (Humility finds its way into all her posts, as well.)

It's not a new lesson, but it's a timeless one.  The Christian mothers in abject poverty have no education or speaking platform, but I know they've come to the same conclusion.  Gratitude.  

It heals, strengthens, and endures.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

let sorry and worry pass away, Momma!

It's been an utterly exhausting evening.  No particular reason, really.   Just witching-hour stuff that extended until bedtime.

90% of the time the dinner dishes must be left until all are in bed.  I stagger bedtimes--three of them--to enjoy special time with each girl, and then the boys together.  I don't mind dishes, generally.  But I dread post-bedtime dishes! After caring for little ones by myself for fourteen straight hours, energy no longer flows from me.  Someday, perhaps husband will be home in the evenings to start baths while I clean the kitchen early evening.

Nothing grows you like solo parenting.  A few minutes here, an hour there, is all we get of Daddy.  Such is the life of the "working poor".  Busy, busy, busy, with no forward motion.  Quite maddening.  My husband is feeling the stress keenly.  The working poor--often scrambling in several different jobs--is a fast growing segment of society, thanks to the recession.  Many people were unable to obtain comparable income, after losing their jobs initially.  Some were in fields that outsourced or automated (like administrative secretaries).  

Anyhow, if you know a single mom, ask her if you can watch the kids for a couple hours?

Time to count some blessings so I can spring right up and dash to the kitchen joyfully--cleaning and wiping away.  The simple act of surveying the day, looking for bright spots, is an act of worship.  However downcast you were, all sorrow and worry will pass away, as your list builds.  You melt knowing that, yes, God is there.  Still.  Sovereign and Almighty.  Detail-oriented expert, blessing you in the moments.

Notice.  Notice and give thanks.

My Blessing List

- During dinner I always ask about their favorite parts of the day.  Peter said, readily, "My favorite part was writing the letter to my new pen pal."  A blog reader and I hooked up our kids and today we got our first pen pal letter in the mail.  Oh my, were they blessed--particularly Peter!  The same-age pen pal wrote that she liked bugs and animal science.  After Peter read that, he grinned up at me, "Mommy!  Jesus keeps blessing me with people who like bugs!"  I choked up at that, and could only give him a hug in reply.  Dear Friend, thank you for having your daughter write that precious letter!

- Finding some long-lost mittens and hats, the children tried them on. Imaginations sparked, leading to bandit and sheriff play.  Laughter filled the halls, the bedrooms, as they looked for black clothes.  These moments of imaginative play make me want to stop time--to freeze frame the raucous sounds and sights of sibling delight.  (Okay, it can does give me a headache, but I still appreciate it.)

- The view outside.  Half-naked trees....leaves blanketing lawn.  Wind gusts and leaf showers remind.  Winter's new set of tree clothes--snow white--arrives soon.  Praise God for four sets of tree clothes--all uniquely beautiful!

- Homemade applesauce

- Comfort-food aromas

- Freshly-vacuumed carpet

- Children who notice nature.  Our resident squirrels are mighty busy right now.  "They're getting ready for winter, Mommy".  Acorns were gathered at a park yesterday, then thrown around our yard for the squirrels.  Let's see what happens to those the squirrels don't find, shall we?

- A boy of six who hugs Mommy after she apologizes for harshness. "I know you sometimes have a hard time, Mommy.  I love you."

- Sitting on the couch this morning with the children, as they practiced their Christmas Pageant songs.  The songs are beautiful, teaching well about the true meaning of Christmas.

Peter said as we were finishing up, "Christmas is so much more than the decorations, isn't it, Mommy?"

It's one thing to preach this, but kids love their glitter and glitz, don't they?  Even though my boys have solid relationships with Jesus Christ, they've never really comprehended the true meaning of Christmas.  I sense that through this Christmas Pageant story ("Miracle on Main Street"), that will change.  We're practicing their parts and all the songs for our morning devotions, through mid-December.

Every year they've asked for a well-decorated house and every year we can't afford it.  Perhaps they won't even ask this year!  Remind me to give the Children's Director a big hug for her pageant-curriculum choice!  Perfect timing for our family.

1 Thessalonians 5:18
..give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

And It's No Thanks to Us

Can you name any little sins or weaknesses you've made progress on in the last year?  I mean to the extent that you no longer consider them problems?  

Does the Christian walk seem futile sometimes?  I mean, sure, we have these Christian words we use--like grace, mercy, humility, brokenness--but are we really any different than the average Joe?  

Are we set apart from the crowd--evidenced by our inner joy and peace?

I'm not sure how this miracle works, but the answer is emphatically, YES! We are different. Even on our worst, most downcast days, we look blessed to Someone--a someone who is quietly noticing us.  We never know who or when or where or why, usually.

We don't need to know.

And who has set Someone's (meaning any person's) gaze upon us?  The Lord!  They see in us only what God wants them to see.  We are merely instruments in God's plan.

And it's no thanks to us.

The more I live this Christian life, the more I realize my will is nothing--accomplishes nothing.  It can hurt, but it can never help.

I used to dislike cooking.  There weren't many things I could make well, partially because I was afraid of high-flavor foods (for their fat and salt content).  I've always been an eat-to-live person.  Food only interested me in restaurants. Indeed, I'd get lost in a book and forget to eat, back in my single days.

And another thing.  I had the hardest time remembering to thaw something for dinner.  It was amazing how many consecutive days this would happen to me--forcing me to thaw something at the last minute in the microwave, which sometimes ruined the meat.

But no more.  I'm a decent cook now.  And guess what else?  I love to cook! I actually love to cook.  And "what's for dinner" is always on my radar--no more microwave thawing.

Tonight, as I was making two batches of potato soup, I marveled at the change in me.  I now view cooking as a gift to my family.  No, not a chore.  A gift, happily given.  A fun thing to do, even--minus the toddler's interruptions.

And here is the miracle.

 I don't recall saying to myself, "It's a shame I can't cook well.  I really need to improve in this area, for these reasons--blah, blah, blah."

No, I never had such a conversation with my head or heart.

My point in all this?

IT WAS GOD!  He wanted me to become a good cook--one who blesses willingly and lovingly.

I don't know why, or even why now.  Why isn't important.  The lesson is that positive change comes from God, not of ourselves.  And it comes in His timing, for his purposes.  His "to-do" list for our hearts and lives may not match ours.  As I said, I wasn't berating myself for being a mediocre or poor cook.

Now, the volume of unfolded clothes on the sofa?  I berate myself often for that.

This whole, now-I-can-cook topic probably seems like a small thing here on this screen, as though it was even silly to write about.

But I know how big this change is, from yesteryear.  Only tonight in my soup making did it really hit home.

I'm a different person.  Unrecognizable even, in some respects.

Friends, be joyful.  God is working on you in ways you can't even imagine--for his purposes--and you don't need to worry about the details.  Your will, your plans, however lofty...they are nothing.

When God needs me to keep up with the clean-laundry folding, I will suddenly start doing it.  Easily.  Joyfully.  (Right now, I must confess, I hate it.)

It gives me such peace, knowing that I'm God's piece of work.  Not my own. The blueprints are none of my business, really.

So, what does God want me to do then?  What is my role, if it isn't to improve myself?

To fellowship with Him.  Give Him the glory.  Live joyfully, with a peaceful, grateful heart.  Be as a child without burden.

Psalm 118:24 "This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."

"... for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."  Philippians 2:13

Saturday, October 23, 2010

what binds women friends?

We had a playdate with a new homeschooling family this week.

I liked Kathleen, the mother, and her two girls (her older boys stayed at home).  She has one biological child and three adopted children, two of whom came from Guatemala three years ago.  Her children range in age from 6 to 14.  She is 48 and her husband is 54.  I am 44 and my husband is 52.  

A rare picture of our full family, minus Daddy.

Kathleen lives in a neighborhood where the average income is probably $400,000/year.  My neighborhood's average is roughly $45,000/yr.  

Kathleen sends her kids to an exclusive school twice a week, for $8,000/yr total.  I struggle to buy 3rd grade lined writing paper.

She is wife to a doctor.  I am wife to a custodian.

She has stylish clothes and a great haircut.  My hair is four months behind on a trim and I wear thrift-store clothes.

The differences are many.  Striking.

But they didn't matter.

What could we have possibly had in common?  And how did we manage to understand each other?

We are both mothers, struggling with our own sin as we strive to love, encourage and teach our children.  We both imperfectly, but passionately, love the Savior.  We both imperfectly, but passionately, love our children.

Motherhood and the Savior.  What better to bind new friends?

Kathleen and her husband have their home up for sale.  They are downsizing and paying off all debt, and ending frivolous spending.  All this was from the Lord.  They are also overseeing the building of a children's home in Guatemala.

It's one thing to downsize because you lost your job, but quite another to do it voluntarily, when you already use every inch of your home.  I admire their obedience so much!  Goodbye materialism!

The children are looking for a good place to let some salamanders go.  Peter found them last weekend and observed/enjoyed them at home for four days.  This was the appointed day to let them go.  The new friends, two girls ages 6 and 9, were thrilled with Peter's salamanders.  Their mom, on the other hand, was not.  Not  a creepy crawly kind of gal.  :)

Praise God for the way new friends cross our paths!  Amazing, isn't it?  I sent out Ann Voskamp's posts about Guatemala to my homeschool group, and Kathleen (who is on the e-mail list) sent an e-mail introducing herself to me, and asking if we wanted to get together.

Psalm 119:63  I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The task-oriented mother - do her children feel loved?


It's a beautiful word....a beautiful state of being, isn't it?  Such a privilege.

Much of the intensity is over in eighteen to twenty short years.  That's really short, when you consider that most people survive well into their seventies. The majority of our earthly years do not include having children under our roof.

That fact should make me feel an ounce of relief, given the current state of:

- my living room (four loads of clothes to fold)  

- my kitchen (baked chicken/mashed sweet potato dinner dishes to do, and double chocolate chip baking paraphernalia to clean. I baked for the church children's director's family).

- my dining room floor (grass/mud tracked in from back door today, crumbs from about five meals, sticky unknown substances under the table from the last two meals)

- my bathrooms (both floors need moping, mirrors need windexing)

- the playroom (massive amount of large Legos were dumped before bed, train track pieces and books are also all over, courtesy of my sweet toddler.)

Too, I should feel relief at the thought of having leisure time for reading--something from which I derive much pleasure.  And leisure time for creating a beautiful, soothing flower garden.

But somehow the thought of these future pleasures--reading, gardening, gourmet cooking, having a clean house--give me no relief.  Not even an ounce.

Nothing will ever be as special--or as pleasurable--as what I'm doing right now.  Mothering.  These are the best years, months, days, hours, and moments, of my life.

When you're pregnant with your first child, or about to adopt your first, no one tells you about:

- the joy of having a sleepy little person come down the hall at 7:00 a.m., ready for some good-morning lovin'

- the joy of having a squeaky-clean little one in your lap for night time stories

- the joy of having a toddler/preschooler talk your ear off during potty time

- the joy of seeing your big-little boy settle down with a beloved book several times a day

- the joy of hearing giggles in the playroom while you cook, squeals and laughter in the yard while you hang clothes, friendly sibling whispers in the bedroom after tuck in

- the joy of watching your beloved husband hug your little toddler, his eyes tearing up

- the joy of being the absolute favorite person of four little people

- the joy of nourishing a sweet baby/toddler at your breast

I can make this list much longer, but the words still won't adequately express the heart-joy that is motherhood.

I want so much to convey to my children, every day, how much I love being their mommy.  How much they color my world happy, meaningful, growth-rich.

And yet.

Oh, yes, there is a painful yet.

I am, by nature, task-oriented.  Understand, I don't want to be.  I don't choose it.

Do you know someone like that--someone task oriented?  They give you the busy-bee impression, without meaning to. You can feel it as you stand next to them or talk with them on the phone.  They rush through life, moving from task to task, crossing off their to-do list.

I have one aunt here in Ohio with whom I can sit on the couch, feeling as though she has all the time in the world to spend with me...with my family.   She's completely engaged, in tune with the people--always the people.

I have another aunt here who is just as nice, but when I sit on the couch with her, I have the impression she's about to get up to attend to something. She's completely preoccupied, although she's still polite enough to make eye contact.

Both are lovely, genuinely nice ladies.

But guess which one I want to be like?  Which one do you want to be like?

In order to convey to our children that we love being their convey that everything they think, feel, and do is important to us, we have to fight our first nature--that task-oriented nature.  (If you don't have a task-oriented nature, you're a fortunate mommy!)  I don't mean we have to follow our children around all day, hanging on their every word and forgetting all housekeeping.  But we do have to give the impression of the first aunt I described--the people-oriented one.

For most of us with more than one child, that means learning to live with a disheveled house.  A less than clean one.  Forget about what that neighbor thinks, the one who happened to see it at its worst.  Does her opinion count?  And why should it?  Is she part of our legacy?  Is the shape of our house part of our legacy, really?

Years from now, it won't matter that we merely felt our children were our greatest joy.

We have to convey it, too.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

into his courts with praise

My gratitude list:

- my two boys reciting AWANA verses with joy and precision

- my two boys learning how to really study

- Hinds' Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard, adapted for children by Dian Layton.  This is the best children's devotional I've seen.  My boys are hanging on every word.

- The True Tale of Johnny Appleseed, by Margaret Hodges.  What a gem!  It highlights John Chapman's Christianity (Chapman was Johnny's real last name).

- motherhood

- when Mary says "Read it again!"

- my sweet toddler, cupping my face in her hands in the wee hours, telling me she wants to "Nur!" (nurse).  What a joy she is to me!  What a joy nursing is!

- two boys with passionate interests...passionate hearts

- my local librarian

- having all my meals with my children, who are my favorite companions, along with their Daddy

- homeschooling

- good literature

- motherhood

- double chocolate chip cookies 

- hearty homemade soup for lunch

- bedtime stories (my favorite time of the day)

- peeking out the window at four beautiful children (mine, no less!), laughing and playing in our yard

- my oldest boy, raking up and bagging leaves like a champ

- motherhood

- my Mary, who is an intriguing mix of sweetness and independence

- my Beth trying to get in the middle of every hug I give to her siblings

- sisterly love

- motherhood

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us,
and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise:
be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting;
and his truth endureth to all generations.
Psalms 100:1-5

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Know Your Worst Parenting Mistake

Blog topics form in my head based upon the type of day I had.  Monday was a challenging day, partially, I believe, because the kids were over-scheduled on Sunday.  Morning church, followed by only a few hours at home before they were whisked off to a park playdate (which they loved!), then home for dinner, followed immediately by art class and then bedtime prep.  They simply didn't have enough time at home, which they love and need, even if they can't articulate it.  I remember Monday always being a difficult day when I was a teacher, also.  Students were tired and cranky on Mondays, probably because of later bedtimes and a lot of activities.

So, based upon my personal challenges, I humbly bring you this post.

What was your worst parenting mistake ever?  I mean your very worst!

Was it that time you served cake for breakfast? (No....I've never done that. Shame on you, girl!)

Or the time you rewarded a public fit by giving in?

Or was it the time you gave a stern punishment, only to find out later that no wrong was committed--you just hadn't listened well enough?

Was it the time you became seriously unglued over spilled milk, acting so despicably even your husband was quieted and traumatized?  (Um, yeah.  I'm ashamed to say this has happened here.)

I'm not a fly on your wall, thank goodness, but I could probably guess your worst parenting mistake.

It's the same as mine.

Not enough grace or mercy.  

How many times have you lost your temper, only to have your children turn around and extend the sweetest, tear-jerking grace toward you?  Have you ever known them to hold a grudge over one of Mommy's sins?  Has your children's approval of you ever been based on your performance?

Now, let's turn the tables.  We love our children unconditionally, sure.  But is that what gets expressed?  Or are we forever getting annoyed at their shortcomings?  Pajamas left on the floor everyday, despite a chore list? Mud tracked in way too often, despite reminders and safeguards?  School stuff not put away...again?  Toothpaste everywhere and the cap left off....again?

Nag, nag, nag.  Drippy faucet parenting.  We're good at that, aren't we?

How does our Lord parent us?  Does he lack patience, gentleness, self-control?  Is his love based on our performance?  When we commit the same wrongs over and over, does he berate us and make us feel small--like failures?

We all know the answer.

So right now, let's make sticky notes and put them in the bathroom and kitchen, reminding us that our approval of our children can't be based on their performance.  They, like us, are works in progress, destined to fail often.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. (Psalms 103:8-14 KJV)

Monday, October 18, 2010

giving thanks in the mundane--practically speaking

I loved  The Love With Which We Perform, by Simple Mom author, Tsh Oxenreider.  My favorite take-away quote is this:

"From God’s perspective, there is no difference between twilight hours of Scripture reading and running our daughter to ballet class with a happy heart. Our moments of paying bills on time and sweeping the floor under the highchair are as glorious as kneeling before His throne, hands upward in praise."

Her entire post is a gem, even for those who already understand the importance of giving glory to God in our daily work. 
I shamefully recall saying more than once this week, "Can't one meal be peaceful, God?"  And, "Can we go one night without a soaked bathroom floor?!  Just one night?!"
It's all well and good to read an inspiring post about praising our Lord through mundane tasks, but practically speaking, how does an overworked mother do that each day?  If your husband arrives home every night at 5:30 p.m., maybe it's possible, but some of us parent alone 24/7, for whatever reason.  Is there hope for us?
Yes, there is!  Here are some practical tips:
1. Give thanks; make gratitude lists (Ann Voskamp wrote this post on having children list their blessings along with you.)
2. Pull your children close for a snuggle when you feel a complaint arising in your heart.  Your children are your life's greatest work.  Their hugs will give you strength to keep your focus heavenward, and your behavior exemplary.
3.  Try not to do mundane tasks back to back.  Break them up and read a story to your precious ones.  When baby naps, read a Psalm or an inspiring blog, rather than spending the whole hour on chores.
4.  Make a schedule if possible for your chores.  Focus on one problem area at a time.  Along with the meals, laundry, and spontaneous messes, you'll only have time for one other chore anyway

5.  Don't compare yourself or your skills to others; God doesn't make mistakes and he is just.  We deserved death, yet he gave us life abundant.

6.  Keep that praise music going!  Dance with the children.  Pick them up and twirl them, raising your hands together toward your Father, whose perfect love enfolds you. 

7.  Take five away from the kids.  Kneel and pray.  Ask for forgiveness and strength.  Often, that's all you need to take back the day.

8.  Then say you're sorry to the kids, if they heard your complaining spirit.  Their forgiveness will warm your heart, helping you move forward with a lighter spirit. 

9.  Work out some way to escape for at least an hour a week, even if it's just to the grocery store--alone.

10.  Finish well.  Let love and grace reign in the minutes before bed--for your sake and theirs.

11.  Know this: They don't want a perfect mother.  They want you.  God chose you for them--and he doesn't make mistakes!