Thursday, February 28, 2013

Thankful Thursday: Blessing Others

Newly pregnant with my girls, I experienced pervasive morning sickness for about ten weeks (not much actual vomiting, but a 24-hour-a-day nausea with no appetite). I became more and more depressed and nauseous as my little boys expended their normal energy and I couldn't keep up. Or slow them down. 

The condition is aggravated by stress so the more they ran around, the worse I felt.

Each of my pregnancies affected my husband's work life; he had to modify his hours to help me, both in the beginning, and at the end when the blood pressure problems arrived.

He cried at the ultrasounds and at the births, and when he held our new babies, but every time I announced a new pregnancy, his countenance fell.

Oh, no. Not that stress again.

We didn't have enough support, partially because so many women work nowadays...even older women.

As I reclined on my couch, my stomach teasing me, I pleaded with God to make my boys slow down and watch PBS. We had cable at that time but I don't remember it helping.

I remember vowing to God...If I ever know someone going through this, I will not turn away or be too busy to help. I will be your grace. Your love with skin on.

The pastor of the AWANA church has a pregnant wife and an active, exceptionally adorable 4-year-old boy named Haddon. I've had him in AWANA Cubbies for verse time all this year. I couldn't love him any more than I do...but I'm sure I will. 

If I'd married younger and my husband agreed, I would have had ten children at least. I love a large brood.

Anyhow, what I mean to say is...I offered my help to this couple and they've accepted, though I don't know how often yet. Pastor said last night that he'd give us a couple days notice and not just call on a whim, saying he was bringing Haddon over.

But last night I thought a lot about hospitality. Opening my home to help means it needs to be open anytime (except on physical therapy day). Hospitality isn't letting someone worry about giving 48-hour notice.

I'm trying to get myself on a stricter schedule so I'm ready at any time. Haddon will fit right in with my kids, especially since we all think he's the most wonderful little boy. Everything he says tickles us silly and we find even his stuttering problem very endearing.

God has spoken again to me about organization. Blessing others--being Jesus with skin on--is far easier when we run our own lives efficiently. The more time I take for my interests, like blogging or reading, the less time I can give to others. The more activities I get my children involved with, the same is true--the less time we have to bless others and the less my children grow up valuing service.

The Lord puts together opportunities for my children; I don't have to chase them. The piano just landed in our laps and Paul plays beautifully learning from quality books on his own.

Our friend Dean from California does woodworking, for example, and Peter has developed an interest in building his own birdhouses. No class required! Dean loves to help others and he needs the company and the home-cooked meals, as much as Peter needs the training with tools.

Now back to the Holy Spirit's voice on order to give God his due time, I have to compartmentalize and prioritize better.

I don't want to offer up just my prayer and Bible reading time, but also time to bless others, especially when it flows naturally from my care of my own children. My four benefit from our Saturday Children's Bible Study too, so I'm not taking away from my own as I bless other children. The same will be true when Haddon spends time with us.

The Lord pours into us vertically so we can use our overflowing hearts to bless others. His love isn't meant to be hidden in our hearts, but to be exposed and expressed outwardly. 

We never help anyone in our own strength. He equips us.

The most important lesson I had to learn--coming from a broken Catholic tradition and finally learning about a personal relationship with Jesus--is that I wasn't supposed to try and be a good girl all on my own, frustrating my heart and spiraling into defeat.

Yes, God asks us to be Holy. But that holiness flows through Him into Grace.

Giving thanks today...

Thank you, Father...

...that Beth's arthritis is finally responding to the methotrexate and her therapy schedule may be reduced soon. Yippee! My girl is running around like a champ!

...that Lexie walked back into our lives yesterday, with hugs all around. Peter's OCD drives him crazy around girls because he now feels, at age 11, a physical attraction. The OCD voice tells him he's sinning because of this attraction, so Lexie had to chase him around the couch to give him a hug. He finally consented because I said it's okay to hug someone you haven't seen in a long while. He's a handsome, kind boy and more than one girl pays attention chases him, much to his despair. See book below, which we plan on reading.

Yes, a big prayer request...that the OCD will go away for good. I'm all for keeping contact to a minimum and pushing courtship rather than dating, but I don't want Peter feeling this awful, distorted OCD angst. Martin Luther, father of the Reformation, felt this same OCD religious distortion and praise God, it saved us from the wrong direction the Church was going. God used Luther's suffering for His glory.

Aggressive Girls, Clueless Boys: 7 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son [and 7 Questions to Ask Your Daughter]  -     
        By: Dennis Rainey
With tween girls entering puberty, what defense does your young son have against their brazen pursuit? Give him the courage and knowledge to protect his purity. Aggressive Girls, Clueless Boys, offers seven guided conversations, what-if scenarios, and honest responses to difficult questions that will help your child set boundaries. Also includes questions to ask your daughter. Synopsis from Christian (purchase here)

Lexie's grandfather and her mother still have not reconciled (she's not moving back in with her grandparents), but she will be able to spend some nights with them, even coming to our Saturday Children's Bible Study some of the time.

She quickly made herself at home, helping me whip up chocolate chip cookie bars for the hungry AWANA Cubbies, then thoroughly licking the bowl.

...for a warm husband to hug on winter nights.

...for sweet AWANA Cubbies to delight me on Wednesday nights.

...for blessed hugs from my children.

...for brand-new coats from Goodwill for my girls, tags still on. It's been a nightmare year, keeping these kids in coats. I'll spare you the seam-ripping details.

What are you thankful for today?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Walk in His Grace, Momma

I wake up on a Saturday with many things to do. A house to prepare for a 3:00 PM Children's Bible study; a few things to write on chart paper as part of my lesson; a baked snack to whip up.

Up first is 4-year-old Beth, who wants to read a lift-the-flap book with Mommy.

We must own at least four of the detailed-type lift-the-flap books and all of them make up my least favorite reading material. I like a story or a rhyme with a few flaps, but going slowly through many flaps, looking for this and that? It's a maternal sacrifice.

I know how much it would mean to her but I think of the time and how much I have to do and I lament that parenting is so hard.

Perhaps a mother's most difficult task is to make the right choices with her time. Growing up I don't remember more than two significant conversations with my mother, though I know I was loved. There was the house and the meals and sometimes she worked outside the home. She was a doer and like all of us, she had her demons. She was human.

Life rolled along, the calendar always announcing a new year. At 18 I left for the college dorm.

I don't begrudge my upbringing at all, especially since being a mom myself, I know how hard the moment to moment choices are.

But I have my own ideals, like my own mother surely had. I want my kids to look back and remember significant things about their relationship with their mother. I want them to feel invested in. I want to be more than someone who is always switching the laundry and sweeping the crumbs under the table, though those things are necessary.

I wrote about organization just the other day and that's why, this morning, with Beth hoping for a Little People Noah's Ark lift-the-flap book, I lamented.

If I take the time to do this, something else will be neglected.

How do I make the right choices?

As if on cue, the Holy Spirit brought my thoughts back to something I read in preparation for Bible Study, from the Jesus Storybook Bible Notes for Teachers on the Text.

Second, we learn here of the interior nature of sin. Genesis 6:5 says, "Every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time." 

Sin is primarily a matter of the heart. If we focus too much on behavioral violations, we will miss the internal forms of sin. Sin is first a matter of attitude and motives, and it can influence and grow even before it has broken out into behavior.

I read with Beth, leaving the preparatory tasks for later, because the answer came to me. It's a matter of the heart and of sin, which choice we make. The right choice is always the pure in heart choice. 

Scurrying around making the house perfect for a Bible Study is about me looking good as a homemaker. If my motive is about me, is it usually pure?

And a heart that sees clearly, feels purely? It comes from prayer and Scripture reading. If at each juncture I pray about my choices, and if I'm faithfully washing my heart with the Word daily or mostly daily, I am walking in His will and I can choose in freedom.

Jesus came to give Life, to give freedom, and the truth is written on the tablet of our hearts. The detailed Law spelling out meticulous behavior? It has passed away, gone since Jesus uttered in exhaustion on the cross, "It is finished". Gone since the curtain tore in the Temple and a quake shook the earth.

We only need behavior spelled out for us when we're under the Law instead of grace.

Walk in His Grace today, my mothering friend.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Best Thankful Thursday Ever


On this, a Thankful Thursday, I have a big blessing to share and I'm so excited about it!

That yucky old wrecked 1998 Toyota Sienna van? The one the police officers said was totaled for sure? They told me the insurance company would "low ball" us, giving the bare minimum. One police officer said, feeling sorry for me I think, "It will be hard to replace a family vehicle with what they'll give you."

But he doesn't know my God. Somehow, as soon as I pulled that wrecked car to the shoulder I knew this was a God thing. Even to the girl who hit me I chuckled, saying, "You probably did me a favor. This van probably doesn't have much life yet."
Still, when I looked up the Blue Book value for my van, I expected less than $2000 from the insurance company. The condition was certainly poor, with missing door handles, a missing inside door panel, broken air conditioning, a loud exhaust problem, a sluggish starter.....

So what an incredible blessing when husband told me the truth.

$4,600 for the van! Can you believe it? Not only will we be able to pay off husband's hernia surgery bill, and anesthesiology bill, in full, but there's something much more.

Long before Christmas we put a prayer in our jar. "Please God, may we be able to give family gifts to all our Compassion children?"

Christmas came and went and we could only give a meager amount. We kept praying, none of us knowing how God would possibly answer this prayer, but remembering He is faithful! We wanted to give $200 to each family, which could start a business, or buy a roof, or mattresses and bedding, kitchen supplies, large sacks of rice, beans, flour, a water purifier, clothes and shoes.....just sleeping through the night because of greater physical comfort is a huge blessing to Compassion children. It's not unusual to sleep on cardboard for some of these children, with a leaky roof over their heads. Appalling doesn't begin to cover it.

Of all the scenarios I played out in my mind, I never imagined an auto accident would be our answer. And do you know I haven't stopped praying for the girl who hit me? The Holy Spirit faithfully brings her to mind at least twice a day. She helped me, I'm helping her, and through the whole thing our Compassion children will be helped and only God gets the glory!

I knew as we prayed night after night that I wasn't called to take a graveyard job and upset our family and my own health, in order to give to our Compassion children. I knew it wouldn't be a burdening thing, this giving. I knew it would come from Him.

I close today with a quote from our friend Ann Voskamp. Her experiences remind me not to forget my people. Yes, God asks us to give, but not without equipping us first. 

Ann Voskamp from Haiti, Feb 20: It was when I had been here in Haiti in the peak blaze of last July, Johnny, our translator with Compassion, he had just told me how he had meandered out of the Hotel Montana when the deeps had roared quaking mad and blasted dust up the nape of his neck.

And I had turned to him and said it like an even madder fool: “What if you could ever just get out of here– get you and your family to the States?”
And he had looked me in the eye, and it’s what he said next that drilled right up my marrow: “I am Moses. I do not leave my kin.”

I am Moses and I do not leave my kin… and it doesn’t matter if you are born in the land of LCD screens and master ensuites and SUVs with leather seats and turkey with cranberries laid out on granite countertops —  When you’re the one who ends up in the palace, you don’t forget your people. Just ask Moses or Esther or Jesus.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,

and not to turn away from your own kin?
~Isa. 58: 6-7
And that verse slams me to a stop:
The fast the Lord chooses? Is not to turn away from your kin.
The fast the Lord chooses is not to turn away from your kin, and I am Moses and I do not leave my kin, and and the bare bottom line is that if you are going to keep company with Jesus, you are going to have to give up keeping up with the Joneses. What could you want more than this?

What could you buy that is worth more than company with Jesus and your kin?

image credit

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Teach Me, Lord

Multi-tasking mother, darning socks and teaching school

My sister and I are two years apart and all our growing up years, we shared a room. Can you guess which side of the room appeared disheveled most of the time? If you've read here long, perhaps you've guessed it already? was my side.

My head in a book most of the time, I had better things to do. But strangely, I don't remember my mother battling me over my organizational skills or even mentioning that I lacked them. Did she do everything herself, I wonder? While I don't remember any chore system in my home, my sister and I did do the dishes.

I went to college and finished every assignment at the last minute. I knew I was a procrastinator but in my head I didn't connect that with organizational skills.

I became a teacher and still, it didn't dawn on me that organization was a challenge for me. I assumed I functioned like everyone else. Everyone, that is, except people who had nothing better to do than arrange perfect stacks of towels in their linen closets, not an inch out of place.

I didn't want to be a boring towel stacker so my lifestyle suited me fine.

As a teacher I stayed in my first grade classroom a lot of extra hours--evenings and weekends--working on innovative things for the students.

Or so I thought.

Looking back, a lot of that extra time was needed to compensate for poor organizational skills, though the issue wasn't debilitating by any means. I functioned just fine, especially considering I lived alone and answered to no one about my time.

I assumed the teachers who arrived on campus as late as they could, and left as early as they could, weren't dedicated enough. But really, they were probably just more organized...and maybe didn't teach such young students.

Even when I became a mother and struggled to keep my house orderly, I still didn't recognize the problem. As a part-time school district employee working with homeschoolers mostly from my home, my hands were full with a baby and a toddler and a whole lot of paper work. I excused myself from blame because I was so busy.

I visited homeschooling homes as a facilitator and encountered some that were far worse than mine. And when I began homeschooling in earnest some six years ago, I remembered those homes and assumed they went with the territory to some extent.

See, I always had an excuse.

These last months as I've diligently tried to teach organizational skills to my children, the Lord has made it clear that growth is needed in this area for me. As a parent doesn't everything start with us? If we want them to read, we have to read. If we want them to pray, we have to pray. If we want them to work hard, we have to work hard.

I work hard all right. Just not always on the most needful things.

The Lord didn't want me to change because cleanliness is next to godliness, but because I can serve my family better with improved organizational skills. The less time I spend catching up, the more time I'll have to invest in my children and husband emotionally. And in others as well, like friends and neighborhood families.

The Lord was gracious in not burdening me with this shortcoming when my youngest were babies and toddlers. Beth is four now and the Holy Spirit knows I have more time to address this weakness. He always works with us right where we're at. If you're up at night with a baby and have a toddler running around the house too, don't stress about that disheveled linen closet. Hold those babies while you still can.

The Lord's teaching me that procrastination and poor organization are related. The more we get behind on everyday tasks like managing paperwork, paying bills, folding clothes, and keeping a running grocery list, the worse procrastination gets.

And He's teaching me that I can be organized. The deficiency is really a choice I make...a selfish one. The things I want to do, I do first. And the things I must do, I do later, sometimes not finishing them.

In the workplace I stayed focused because I had to finish things on time. But as the sole manager of my home I don't answer to anyone with skin on. If the pajamas aren't folded and put away on time, no one fires me. Perhaps your husband gets involved in the home-keeping somewhat, but mine doesn't ever comment one way or the other. He's been here alone with the children and he knows how difficult it is to get anything done.

What he doesn't know is that I procrastinate on some tasks, like folding. Yes, I'm short on time because of homeschooling, but I could keep up with the folding if I wanted to. When the evening goes sour because the kids are fooling around inside of getting ready for bed, my husband doesn't connect it to the pajamas being buried on the couch.

But I'm beginning to see these things clearly now. A portion of every child's misbehavior can be traced to a disorganized, or an overly-busy home and lifestyle. Not the major heart things, like lying, perhaps. But listening and following through on a parent's directions can be more difficult for kids if the expectations don't remain constant. I'm learning that if I sometimes allow them to leave a few toys on the floor, I have no business getting upset about their cleaning skills.

The hard work of consistency involves my dedicated presence. I have to care enough to place myself alongside them and not shout orders from another room.

A child thinks...for three weeks I'm supposed to fold my own pajamas, and the next week I'm not asked to? One week my chore chart includes taking out the recycling, but the next week it's left off?

My children may have the heart to work hard, but do I give them enough support for success?

Inconsistent expectations lead to inconsistent performance. It's fine to revise chore lists when they're not working, but changing them too much leads to poor performance. Consistency in all areas makes parenting easier and it makes everyone happier.

But as you read this don't forget grace. None of us is perfect and we'll never be. Parenting is a prayer more than anything else.

In the last few months especially, the Lord has shown me that organizational skills do matter. And it's my responsibility to improve my own so that I can effectively teach them to my children. If they struggle in this area it's my responsibility to pray with them about it. I want them to leave my home knowing what their strengths and weaknesses are, so they can have on-going conversations with the Holy Spirit about all of it.

As Christians we only have to pray about something to see it improve. It may seem like our efforts make the difference, but really it's our teachable heart. The Lord can do wonders with a humble heart.

Teach me, Lord. Show me my weaknesses so I can serve you better.

If you struggle with organization I don't have any suggestions. Every situation is different and only the Holy Spirit can solve your issues.

Just start here, as with everything else..."Teach me, Lord".

Monday, February 18, 2013

Praying as a Family


As I consider my blessings on this Multitude Monday, I'm struck by the immense power of prayer, so maybe God wants me to flesh out that blessing a little today, for your benefit too, I pray?

A while ago I introduced the concept of a family prayer jar. We've used it faithfully since those first posts although our methods have evolved some. We now use index cards cut length-wise into 5 inches by 1 inch "sticks". These are more durable than folded slips of paper. On a larger index card we have the ACTS acronym spelled out for the boys, who take turns with Daddy leading the prayer. We want them to feel confident in leading their families spiritually, and we feel early practice is essential for a smooth transition after marriage.

A - adoration
C - confession
T - thanksgiving
S - supplication (prayer requests)

Using a prayer jar can feel mechanical at times because the prayers are already listed. It may feel as though you're reading something, rather than connecting with the Holy Spirit. But when you go around the table and have each person in turn praise God, then confess, and then say what they're thankful for, it feels more like a connection with the Spirit while still providing children with a model for prayer that is structured and disciplined.

Moreover, the confession part is beneficial to you as a parent. It provides a surprising picture of your child's heart on any given day. You can gauge how much your child is tuning into the Holy Spirit, and you can plan how to further her spiritual growth. And the children can hear how mom and dad struggle and apply grace with a sensitivity beyond their years.

Family prayer accomplishes so much, but perhaps the greatest benefit is how it encourages us to apply grace in our household relationships. We grow in love and in compassion toward our family members, as they humble themselves and speak frankly with the Father.

When all around the table have praised, confessed, and thanked God, we then get to the index card sticks (the supplications).

Don't expect it to look like an adult prayer session, I warn you. It is chaotic at times and not every night runs smoothly; just be consistent and keep your sense of humor. The younger your children, the fewer prayer sticks you'll want to pray at one time. You can color-code your index cards and pray some M-W-F-Sun, and some on Tu-Th-Sat.

We had a prayer stick in there for several months about getting a new van, preferably a larger one to take more kids to church or AWANA. Tomorrow we are purchasing the van I wrote about in the last post, so last night as we prayed through our sticks, we were able to change that one to say, "Thank you God for the new used van!"

We also had one in there for several months about Peter getting a hamster that wouldn't lead to asthma problems. For his January birthday he got a new hamster, this one a boy, since the girls have a stronger body odor. Peter is in hamster heaven with no allergy aggravation! When we get to that prayer stick, we always say, "Thank you God for Peter's new friend Scratchy!"

Slowly, more and more prayers are being answered. We had one in there about Peter's ADHD for over a year, and 2.5 months ago he began a new medication that has changed his life immensely--all of our lives. It's the lowest Prozac dose, prescribed for his OCD, which had become more debilitating. We haven't solved the OCD issue, and that prayer is still in there. But the 10 milligrams of Prozac reacted just right with the 10 milligrams of Strattera, allowing an awesome, godly, very sweet personality to surface--a child I never knew. Peter and I are getting closer and closer, and his relationship with his siblings has never been better.

A side note: If you don't have family members with neurological issues, I just ask that you reserve judgement about giving medication to children? Unless you walk a mile in these shoes you don't know what we've lived, and judging is dangerous spiritually. We all judge at times, but it blinds us to what God wants us to learn; we need to pray the tendency away. A brain chemical disorder is not much different than a heart condition, in that healthy living goes a long way, but sometimes medication is needed.

We also had a prayer in our jar about my friend Cheryl's migraines, which she's had for 55 years. Yesterday at church she told me that in the last month, she hasn't had a single migraine!

Nothing builds faith like answered prayer. Prayer is the work of the Christian. We have little control over this life, but we have prayer and it's better than control. Neglect prayer and life feels too overwhelming. Celebrate prayer and make time for it throughout the day, and life is a beautiful faith walk.

On Judgement Day Jesus will say to some self-proclaimed Christians, "I never knew you." We can say a salvation prayer and go to church, but that doesn't mean we know God. Prayer is communing with God and we simply can't neglect it.

Amazing prayer quotes:

"I would rather train twenty men to pray, than a thousand to preach; A minister's highest mission ought to be to teach his people to pray." -- MacGregor

 Prayer does not fit us for the greater work, prayer is the greater work. -- Oswald Chambers

 There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. -- Brother Lawrence

We hear it said that a man will suffer in his life if he does not pray; I question it. What will suffer is the life of the Son of God within him, which is nourished not by food but by prayer...Prayer is the way the life of God is nourished. -- Oswald Chambers

When a Christian shuns fellowship with other Christians, the devil smiles. When he stops studying the Bible, the devil laughs. When he stops praying, the devil shouts for joy. -- Corrie Ten Boom 

Multitude Monday blessing list: 

Thank you, Father, for...

~ a beautiful relationship with my Peter.

~ a new used van.

~ such a good deal on the van that we were also able to order the computer we needed, and the Teaching Textbooks math CD ROM my children need for the next school year.

~ beautiful sunshine today.

~ a new child at our Bible Study on Saturday. 

~ the guidance and peace in our daily life that prayer allows. 

~ the joy of family movies and popcorn.

~ sons who are growing in Christ, making me more grateful by the day

~ a sinus infection much better now with no pain. (They sure can last a long time)

~ hugs from a godly husband.

~ the knowledge that parenting isn't about our performance, but about our devotion to prayer.

Note: I turned off comment moderation because some were having trouble commenting. Your comment should show immediately, and don't worry, that awful word verification thingy won't come up. 


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Prayer for Vehicle Purchase, Please

Dear Friends, a godly couple from our church is selling their elderly parents' 2003 Ford Windstar Minivan with 75,000 miles on it for $3000. The appearance is like new, not having been used by children. It will probably need a battery right away because in the last year their father stopped driving and the van was started frequently, but not always run daily or even weekly.

Blue Book lists about $4000 for this year and model, so the price is excellent and the mileage is of course unusually low. Though this van is nearly as safe as our Toyota Sienna, Ford Windstar's reliability is just average, at least for this year. Ford changed the name to Freestar after 2003.

We ran that Toyota Sienna up to 226,000 miles as I said, and we had no pricey repairs at all--a miracle considering its age. There were annoying things like outside door handles that broke frequently, and the keyhole device had to be replaced, but we didn't put much money into that van after purchasing it with an initial 126,000 miles on it.

We would prefer another Toyota Sienna, but I know that individual vehicles can be lemons or highly reliable, depending partly on God's plan. Consumer reports and expert reviews can't tell the whole story.

Please help us pray? This is a big decision for a family with little money for pricey repairs (reliability is so important). We test drove it Friday night and will talk again with the couple after church on Sunday.

We have a rental van right now and can use it for 24 days if necessary, so while we'd like to get this settled, we do have a little time.

Thank you for praying!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mothering: Like a Box of Chocolates

We're night people here; mornings roll along slowly.

The morning after Valentine's Day found all four children in bed with me for a cuddle, until Beth remembered her box of chocolates. She sauntered into the kitchen, brought her box to the bed and asked for a chocolate.

Beth loves chocolate. I recall at least six times this year her waking in the night, obviously dreaming, whimpering, "I want some chocolate chips!"

It's not unusual for her to begin the day asking for chocolate, even though my standard response is, "Mommy doesn't serve chocolate for breakfast."

Still, she keeps asking, because a couple times per year, like the day after Valentine's Day, I actually say yes.

"But only one piece before breakfast."

So there we are on the bed, all four children now with their heart boxes of chocolate. 

And what are they doing? Negotiating. Serious, amusing negotiations ensue...and me? 

I'm lying there trying not to laugh.

Turns out their boxes have a number of yucky kinds, like the ones with the cherry or orange goo in the middle. Then there are the dark chocolates, which they also dislike. 

But Peter, he happens to love the goo in the middle, so even 24 hours after I gifted them with the boxes, Peter has a full box. And I suspect the child has consumed more than his share of chocolate. 

When we pray after dinner, using the ACTS acronym, Peter's nightly confession part has something to do with stealing snacks from the kitchen. "Dear God, I'm sorry for stealing that chocolate." 

And every night my husband and I have to put our chins deeper into our chests, for fear the children will see our smirks.

The nature of the negotiations means that the children's chocolates are flattened, with the insides sticking out so they can see what they're trading. Mary only likes the caramel ones, so her box is mostly empty. She's given most of it away and probably eaten the few caramels she's gotten in trade.

And Beth? She's a Hershey's girl, or a semi-sweet baking-chip girl, and this box of surprise chocolates was not what she expected. After the first bite into something with fruit-flavored goo, she was not amused. Her box is empty and she's eaten very little. Most of her chocolate, no doubt, resides in Peter's box.

As they negotiated and dropped tiny bits of chocolate on the sheets--I guess this is a sheet-laundering day--I thought about their various love languages. Peter went to the kitchen and asked me to stay put, please, because he would be right back and wanted to talk with me.

Peter's love language, see, is quality time...and he's very verbal.

Peter came back to the bed and I said to the children, "Peter loves me most when I sit and talk with him. Paul loves me most when I bring home some bacon." That one brought a giggle, but it's true. His primary love language is gifts and bacon isn't a normal purchase for us.

"Now, Mary, when do you love me best?" Mary didn't quite know what to answer, but finally she said, "When you tickle me."

Beth was next. "Beth, when do you love Mommy best?" 

Beth still nurses twice a day so we're still very close. She sleeps nestled against me half the night, preferring our cheeks to meet in the night, her arms snug around my neck. 

In response to my question, she jumped into my arms, knocking me backward, answering, "I love you all the muches and all day long!"

Mommy was in maternal heaven then, I don't have to tell you. 

After releasing me, she added, "Except when you're mean, like when you put me in time out."

Mothering is like a box of chocolates, isn't it? Some things, like getting them to clean up their messes and brush their teeth, are the equivalent of icky-sweet cherry-goo chocolates. Yuck!

But so many things, like Beth's sweet hug and having a talk with your 11 year old, are carameled-inside, or bona fide, decadent chocolate through and through. 

Savor those decadent mothering moments, dear friends. For the time will come all too soon when the box is empty and our children have moved on. 

And we'll ache for them to be young again. We'll ache for their messes and the teeth-brushing battles, and the tracked-in mud on the carpet.

Really, we will.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Jolt to the Minivan and Heart


She pulled out in front of me, this girl whose soul I can't stop thinking about.

And she totaled my old and nasty, but beloved 1998 Toyota Sienna Minivan. No injuries, thank the Lord, as I proceeded through a green light with my Walmart cargo at 10 PM, my brakes failing to avert the assault as she attempted a left-turn-on-yield onto the freeway.

Very friendly and chatty, her conversation revealed so much. "I just got out of jail today," she said, as though that happens to all of us.

"Oh.....I'm so sorry," said my feeling, shivering, shocked self, as we exchanged information and awaited police.

Strange response? I suppose so, since really aren't we supposed to be happy when someone gets out of jail? That's better than going in, after all. My heart felt sorrow over her jail-riding lifestyle, but I didn't think till later how odd my response probably sounded to her.

Domestic violence isn't something I've ever experienced, but in the last year I've encountered three people who've been in jail for it, this girl being the third. How odd that I reached 40-something, just now aware that for many people, jail for domestic violence is a common experience.

When the highway patrol arrived at the scene of our accident, she told me, giggling, "Wow, this is the first time I've encountered the police and wasn't scared."

I think I just smiled, not having the wherewithal to respond otherwise.

But it pained me to hear it...that her life was that dysfunctional and yet she was happy and chatty. So lacking shame.

She seemed lucid and I didn't smell alcohol, but later I remembered that drug users can seem normal. Was that why she was so chatty, revealing so much in her happy-go-lucky way?

A township police officer arrived later to help the highway patrol. More witty than I, when she told him, giggling, that she'd gotten out of jail that day, he said with a chuckle, "Well...then it was a good day before this."

She walked up to me later, saying, "Well, at least the police officers are nice. That one is really handsome."

Oh, my.

In my slow-witted, shy way, I could only smile at that as well, amused at her youth. He was probably 20 years my junior.

If my body hadn't been trembling from temperature and shock, I might have said that whether a man is handsome or not doesn't mean much to me now, married thirteen years...especially when they're young enough to be my sons.

The paperwork all done, the photographs taken, and the girl cited, Mr. Handsome drove me home, my van finally on its way to a tow yard. Bless his heart, he lugged my groceries and miscellaneous bags too. New on our township force, he was grateful to have a job.

He spoke about domestic violence, the girl having admitted that's why she was in jail. He said it's almost always because of substance abuse, like so many other domestic problems.

Sympathetic, he mentioned how sad the scenarios are. These people grow up around these same problems... and life is hard enough these days just holding down a job and paying bills. They have much haunting them on top of normal problems and often they don't even realize it. As the girl's manner revealed, getting in and out of jail seems like a typical experience to them.

I hadn't thought much drugs with Lexie's mother and boyfriend, but now I wonder.

Lexie's never come back after her mom's fight with her own father (Lexie's grandfather). It's been nearly a month and she changed schools as well; I assume they're living with the mother's boyfriend.

I pray for her often, reminiscing in my heart about her sweet little face and her surprising ways. I pray that her commitment to the Lord will grow stronger even while there's deep dysfunction around her.

The last time she was here for Bible study I taught her to pray using the ACTS acronym, telling her she could pray about anything and the Lord would give her peace. A peace all her own that no one could take from her.

Little did I know that would be one of the last times I'd see her.

Oh, my readers...we never know what tomorrow will bring. God wants us to share Him every day, as though we'll never have another chance. Each day, we must awaken with the knowledge that to God, this is just one more day to have a soul secured for eternity.

It's not another day to pick up some things from Walmart and sweep the kitchen floor, but a day that to someone, might mean Life itself.

The officer pulled into my driveway and helped unload my groceries.

I expressed my thanks and bid him goodbye, brought the groceries in, closed the door, and mourned for all humanity. 

It seemed the most fitting ending for my experience with a giggly girl who got out of jail...and then hours later totaled my van.

The next day I began praying in earnest for that twenty-something girl. She caused problems for us, sure, but nothing the Lord didn't plan.

We need a new computer and I want it desperately so I can open several windows at a time, study Bible commentary and go back and forth and reread and contemplate meanings and verses, formulating a mindset and spiritual direction that fits my own heart and life as relates to the scriptures. I want to click on my e-mails and have them open reliably. I want a computer that doesn't slow me down and remind me of why even American-style poverty stinks.

But instead we're looking for a used van to replace ours, hoping for a God-designed miracle for $5500 cash, thanks to a tax credit and the expected meager State Farm reimbursement for the van. We paid $4000 for our Toyota Sienna in 2005 and drove it over 100,000 miles, taking it up to 226,000 miles before its untimely death.

So I know God provides reliable wheels for his people. He can even put an updated computer in my lap if he thinks I need it.

This Melina girl....she needed to smack into a Christian's minivan on Tuesday night.

She needed someone to pray that sometime this year...even this week...her heart would be transformed and she'd be compelled to weep at the foot of the cross, thankful for her Jesus.

Her saving, redeeming Jesus.

And the rest of us...the ones who don't call jail home? We need to be smacked into too. We forget all too easily...."There but for the grace of God go I."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

First Love


 Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

Do you ever feel utterly alone? Sometimes when depression sets in, either during illness or tragedy or turmoil, we automatically look for comfort from those with skin on. 
But those of us with skin on, in our humanness, are often so wrapped up in our own troubles, that when someone needs us, we're only half there. We don't feel we have time to stop everything and enter into someone's sorrow fully, though we may pray faithfully.
I am aware of this and have felt it from others, and I try to enter fully into others sorrow--to be Jesus with skin on for them. But alas, sometimes life is topsy-turvy here and I can't do it well. 
But I sincerely want to and I pray to get better at this. I think it is so precious.

God has been gracious to me, the lone Christian in my family clan, by providing e-mail relationships for me with three older women of faith. Their notes encourage me and make me feel loved, and we enjoy praying for each other.

Even the partner I have in the church nursery shares some of the pain of my daily life, in that she has a daughter with similar struggles as my Peter. Though we are the same age and have four children each, her youngest is 18 and mine is 4. So yes, there are differences, but there's that one shared sorrow and being able to share it even for a few minutes while we play with babies, helps both of us. And knowing the flavor of her troubles means that I pray faithfully for her and for her daughter, because I know the depth of the situation more so than others could.

And that is blessing.

And just this week I resumed contact--after I sent her a Christmas letter and picture--with a mom of three I worked with in California when I was a homeschooling facilitator. Her three children are in college now, and one of them has OCD badly enough that he has extreme difficulty taking the exams necessary for his nursing degree, though he's a highly competent student. The stress of the entire program has worsened his OCD and it's been difficult for his mother to watch.

This woman is 55 and her youngest is 18. She lives in Arizona and I live in Ohio. It can only be another e-mail relationship, but I often tell my husband...would I really have time to actually meet with anyone in the flesh? Not right now, for sure. God knows what I need and He puts together what will work.

God put our reunion together and I'm so grateful, for I've thought about her son four times this morning, and I've prayed each time for his peace and for the OCD to go away. And I've eagerly awaited another e-mail from his mother, who is a dear person with a gentle and quiet spirit.
It occurred to me today that she may have an empty nest in the next couple years, and during that transition she will need prayer, even though she may not know it yet.
I will be there, praying from afar, and that feels like such a privilege.

Our skin-on relationships are such a blessing.
And it's a big BUT.

Despite these grace-filled relationships that help me immensely, God still knows I need him more. I need to go to Him every day, but especially when my spirit is high or low, when I'm faltering, when I need direction and comfort.

I thought I had this flu and sinus infection thing beat yesterday (Monday). I woke up feeling decent for the first time in over a week. I cleared away clutter and worked on the laundry diligently, planning on doing the vacuuming and mopping in between school today.

But I was foolish. After doing the saline nasal rinse several times over the weekend, I didn't do it at all yesterday, since I was feeling better. The discomfort returned last night and I only slept about four hours.

Then today, my body feels like the flu all over again. A setback, just when I was so ready to resume my life and activities. Depression threatened to sink me, and I knew God was the only one who could help me.

I love to read this Zephaniah verse:
Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. 
I'm so comforted by these words especially: he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love
The reminder that my Father rejoices over me, that he's glad he created me, that he desires to quiet my spirit with his unfailing love? This always heals me within. It's always my hope, answered.
We must go to Him often. He is our hope, answered. Our need, met. Our Father, in all perfection. He is what our souls long for, and until our souls get Him--enough of Him--they will not rest.
It takes greater effort to read the Bible when we're down. Depression can make it hard to concentrate. It's harder to care for ourselves and work smart when our spirits are so low.
And God knows that. The Words of Scripture penetrate deeper when our need is deeper. Simple words that before just seemed beautiful, will seem like life itself in our hour of need. That's what it means to say that the Word of God lives. It responds to our spirit's need. It penetrates the places of our heart that need growth, and comforts where there is pain.
Sometimes, God will purposely leave us without enough skin-on support. We might get on the phone and no one is home. We might send an e-mail and there's no response. 
This is just His intent, so we'll go to the one Source who always has time. The Source who always has an answer. The Source who always understands our inner turmoil. The Source who always leaves us richer, brighter, more joyful and full of peace.
 Give thanks for your support system with skin on, but never forsake your first love.
Mark 12:30
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’