Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Blood Pressure, Old Age and Children

 
You may find the title of this blog odd, but I have to tell you that these three things have been at the forefront of my mind this week. These three recent elements in my life have made me come to grips with the fact that I am not as young as I used to be and that I’m never going to be anything but old from this point forward.

Our worship pastor and his wife have just had their second child this week. We were chosen to watch their eighteen month old for the last few days. I love him, almost like a grandson, but I have decided, though I care for him deeply, I am not cut out to be a 56-year-old parent. The sheer energy it takes to keep up with a walking (mostly running) 18-month-old is more than my wife and I have added together. God certainly knew what He was doing when He arranged for people to have their children in the earlier years of life.

Then today I had a doctor’s appointment. I am usually concerned about two things when I go to the doctor…my weight and my blood pressure. I have always had to deal with being overweight but when I was young, six months of dieting would net nice results and reassure me that I could lose the weight anytime I wanted to or needed to. That is until recently. Now six months of dieting just makes me frustrated with the stubbornness of “old fat” and I have come to realize that my lifelong dream of being skinny and buff is just that, the dream of a much younger man.

Because of my family history with high blood pressure I’m always afraid that although I’ve had no personal history of hypertension, that one day I will blow the bulb off the blood pressure cuff and have to start being medicated. Today, as I sat waiting for the doctor I did deep breathing exercises to try to calm myself down so that my medical insurance premiums wouldn’t  reflect the added risk of a 150/100 blood pressure reading. The deep breathing must have worked because my BP was lower than it had been in years…120/71!

Then I sat answering questions from the Physician’s Assistant about all the things about my body that don’t work anymore, or work when they’re not supposed to, or things that are growing where they’re not supposed to grow…etc. If it’s true you’re only as old as you feel then I’m in big trouble. I left the office feeling about 82 today.

I know everyone gets old, and I knew I would get old someday too. I just thought I had a few more good years left before the process got going to this extent. I’m not really buying the whole idea of “you’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” I’m not a wine drinker but I’m told it works that way for wine. For people though, I think it’s more like old cheese. It just starts to mold. Yes, that’s it; I’m not getting older... I’m getting “molder.”

Well, it’s off to buy some prunes. Until next time.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Changing Stars


In my family we speak a certain language. While we all speak English, we tend to talk in movies. We are huge movie buffs, so we can often be found quoting movies. One of my favorite movies is A Knight's Tale with Heath Ledger. There are just so many good quotes in it. The part that gets me to thinking is where he believes that a man can change his stars. In the movie, our hero, played by Heath Ledger, pretends to be of noble birth in order to joust in tournaments so they can get money to eat. In his heart he knows he is a knight even though he is really a peasant. He believes he can change his stars, that he can become what he believes in his heart he is to be. You have to respect someone who is willing to risk everything, even his life, to do what he believes in his heart he is meant to do. This is why I like the movie. Well that, and there are parts that are just plain funny. “It's called a lance. Hello?”

I wonder what you believe in your heart that you are? So often I believe myself to be a peasant. So often I wonder about people that have taken a wrong turn and how they got there. What do they believe themselves to truly be?

William: I'll ride in his place.
Roland: What's your name, William? I'm asking you William Thatcher, to answer me with your name? It's not Sir William. It's not count, or duke or earl William. It's certainly not King William.
William: I'm aware of that.
Roland: You have to be of noble birth to compete!
William: A detail. The landscape is food. Do you want to eat or don't you?
Roland: If the nobles find out who you are there'll be the devil to pay.
William: Then pray that they don't.

What would happen if others found out who we truly believe ourselves to be? What if they find out we aren't perfect? What if they find out we don't have it all together? Even more than that, what would happen if we ourselves found out who we truly are and not what we believe ourselves to be? Interesting questions don't you think?


1 Peter 2:9: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.


That doesn't sound like a peasant does it? That does sound a lot like royalty. I am certainly not suggesting that we all walk around wearing crowns and looking down our noses at who we believe to be peasants. If I did I am quite certain everyone should be looking down upon me. I am but a speck of dust among a greater kingdom from my viewpoint. But is that how my Father sees me? I don't believe so. If I spend some time getting past my own perceptions of myself and look to the truth of who I am in Christ I will find that really I'm just a D.O.R.K. I'm the daughter of a Righteous King.

John 1:22: But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Why do I believe that I am not of noble birth? 
 
Roland: But you're not of noble birth.
William: So we lie. How did the nobles become nobles in the first place? They took it; with the tip of a sword. I'll do it with a lance.
Wat: A blunted lance.
William: No matter what. A man can change his stars, and I won't spend the rest of my life as nothing.
Wat: We're the sons of peasants. Glory, and riches, and stars are beyond our grasps. But a full stomach, that dream can come true.

What if we believed we could change our stars? What if we believed that we could do as Philippians 4:13 says: I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. What if we believed that?

William: Can it be done father? Can a man change the stars?
John Thatcher: Yes son, if a man believes enough a man can do anything.

What if we believed Him enough? I think that if we believe not in ourselves but in God we can do anything. That maybe, just maybe we can not only change our stars but we can believe God in the truth of who we really are:

Children of God.


Friday, May 25, 2012

The Critical View

I'm so unworthy.

I'm so overstretched and overwhelmed.

I have no patience.

I am so damaged.

I'm ugly.

I'm too overweight.

I have done too many things in my past to be forgiven.

God Himself couldn't forgive me.

I feel like a bad wife.

I know I'm a bad, impatient mother.

I have disdain in my heart.

I have bad thoughts.

How can I ever make up for what I've done?

I don't do the things I know I'm supposed to do.

I gossip.

I lie.

I am unlovable.

I am unforgiving.

I am the opposite of gracious.

I am not merciful.

I am not loving.

I am not accepting.

I don't love unconditionally.

I am broken.


How many times have we said these things to ourselves?  Some of these are my own thoughts.  Some of the above are things I don't struggle with, but I have friends who have said these exact things in recent days.  I think these things are common thoughts for all of us living in the human condition.

I was thinking the other day, and in trying to help a friend get through a struggle - a struggle which brought up so many of the above thoughts - God really spoke to my heart - I let go of my thoughts of the situation and let God take the lead - to let Him guide my words to her. 

The biggest thing that was impressed upon me is that we are so very hard on ourselves.  Yes, we have "standards" (for lack of a better word) that we want to live up to and things we should be doing.  Among these things, in my life (my struggles) is being kind (I have to work very hard at being nice to people - "nice" is not my default setting, I'm prone to tell people what I think they need to be told... "stupid" is a major pet peeve of mine and accepting some people for who they are is a real challenge for me. I will say that years of making this practice, however, has made a lot of the kindness second nature. A very good thing. When "nice" becomes habit, it is not so hard to do!)  So if I say something (or even think something) to or about someone who has been less than kind to me, I am extremely hard on myself.  I want to treat people how I'd have them treat my mother.  So my standards are much higher in this realm than other areas of my life.  I don't want to treat people how I want to be treated.  I don't care if someone doesn't like me.  I want to treat others how I want my mother treated... Most everyone wants their mother treated with utmost respect and love.  So this is one area that I am very demanding on myself.  Everyone has different challenges and it looks a little different for everyone.

The second part of the big impression God made on my heart is that we say these horrible things about ourselves, we are so critical of ourselves, often in times of real hardship - we continuously beat up on ourselves.  It occurred to me that when we are beating ourselves up, the names we call ourselves... we are calling God these same names and beating up on God as well.  Don't get me wrong, I think God is a very BIG God...He knows we're human, He knows we're frustrated.  But...the overarching theme is that God created us.  He didn't create ugly, fat, impatient, ungracious, unmerciful, lying, hateful, gossipy creatures... He created us in HIS PERFECT image.  Yes, we are going to deal with negatives... but when we handle our challenges by being overly critical of ourselves... we are being critical of our God who has the whole world in His hands.  We're questioning His creation when we question ourselves.

As with so many things, our lives are a balancing act.  We want to do things right, but when we turn critical, we are less likely to learn from our mistakes and keep ourselves from moving forward.  When God is in our hearts, revered as the Creator, we are able to keep perspective that we are His children.  Most people wouldn't dream of calling their parents the horrible names they call themselves, why is it OK to call God these names?

I am all about personal accountability, so sometimes, I get it when we say "Oh boy... I blew that one!"  But our response needs to be one of moving forward and learning from our mistakes instead of beating ourselves into the ground and getting stuck.  God forgives us.  There is NOTHING that we can do, NOTHING we can think of that He doesn't cover in grace.  Mistakes? Sure.  Bad mistakes? Absolutely.  He's got our backs.  We need to let go of our perceived control and LET Him have our backs.  No name calling.  Just giving our worst thoughts of ourselves over to Him and letting Him handle it.  Because He will handle it.  Always. No exceptions. Ever.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Do You Trust Me?


“In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God,”

About a year ago, God took our family on an Abraham and Sarah journey from Maryland to Texas.  We knew very little about where we were moving to and didn’t know anyone either.  It had it’s good moments and bad ones, but through it all, we felt a peace that we were going where God was leading us. 

Now, we feel a lot like the Israelites waiting to enter into Canaan.  God has done so much for us.  He has provided for us financially, even when my husband was struggling to find employment.  He provided us with a home that we could afford, that met the space needs for our family and a neighborhood where we can get involved and be intentional missionaries.  He has protected us physically through months of no health insurance.  God has blessed us over and over again.  Yet, as we feel God leading us to take a new and uncertain step to continue to fulfill our purpose here in Houston, we have the choice to trust God and step forward or listen to our fears and try to do the “safe” thing. 

Deuteronomy 1 tells us about the conversations that were going on between God, Moses and the Israelites when they arrived at the edge of the Promised Land after their exodus from Egypt.  Moses tells the people that “…God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (v.21)  But, the people want to know what they are walking in to.  They want to be prepared.  (I’m just like those Israelites, Lord.  I want to know what is going to happen, so I can be ready.  I am sorry for not just taking you at Your word.) 

So, they sent 12 spies to check things out.  Moses didn’t ask God if they should send spies.  He said, “The idea seemed good to me…” (v.23).  (Once again, I can relate.  I have lots of good ideas.  The question is, are they mine or God’s ideas?)

Of course, the Israelites get the report from the spies that there are lots of good things in the land, but there are also people who are big and strong with large cities and tall walls.  And the Israelites succumb to their fears and say, “No, we won’t go.”  (My paraphrase, of course.)  Moses then tries to remind them of God’s promise and His faithfulness in the past.  Verse 31 paints a beautiful picture of how God was taking care of them, “…and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” (Lord, I remember so many times when You have carried me.  Help me to ALWAYS remember those times.)

Unfortunately verse 32 reveals the Israelites’ response, “In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God…”  They didn’t believe in God’s plan, so God gave them 40 years to learn from their distrust.  Even when they tried to take back their decision and go into Canaan, they didn’t succeed because God would not be so easily swayed. 

How many times have I said no to God, only to try to take it back later?  I have had so many opportunities to put my trust in God for things, like our finances, and then I fall back on my fear and do what I can to “fix” it myself.  So, God makes me wait… and then gives me another chance to enter into His plan.  I want to let go of the securities of this world and “not be afraid or discouraged.”

I want to FULLY trust in the Lord MY God.

What is God's plan for your life?  What are the fears that are holding you back from stepping into His plan and making it yours?    

Monday, May 21, 2012

Music

I was chatting with a friend last night as I often do in the late evening. During our conversation, she mentioned that one of her greatest connections to God is music, especially now when things are hard in her life. She hears him when she listens to worship songs. Her heart cries out to Him as she sings along. On this I had to agree with her. I feel exactly the same way. Music is my refuge to which I escape to be with Jesus. On days when I can't write in my journal because I don't know where to begin, music speaks the words I can't say. In moments when I need to escape to the place where I just listen for His still, small voice, music is always there to speak His words to me. When I sit down and try to read the Word and find that I can't focus for more than 5 seconds, music is there with lyrics taken straight from the Bible.

God gave me this gift, this love of music, this meager talent. I have loved music since I was a very little girl when I used to go to the basement and use a hair brush as a microphone as I sang my heart out while John Denver and the Muppets played in the cassette player. I loved music for what it was, for it's beauty, for the way it made me feel, for the way it made me pause and think and listen.

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to study collegiate music. That God called me to do so is a gift that I will always cherish. Of all the choices I have been given in this life, there are many things I wouldn't choose to do again, but spending 5 years studying music? I would do it again in a heartbeat.

While studying music in college, I learned that music was a gift God gave to me that I could use to serve others. Every performance became a worship experience and a chance to speak to other people, to show them a little more of Jesus. The time I played a Brandenburg Concerto with the Indiana Wesleyan University Orchestra? I worshiped Him. My senior flute recital? Hours and hours were spent in the practice room and recital hall rehearsing, practicing, thinking, working out the hard stuff, praying, and listening to God so that I could give Him this tiny offering in the most excellent form I could provide.

Music was my life. I loved that life. I loved those years. I thrived. 

But I lost something, and I think I've only recently realized it.

I forgot why I fell in love with music in the first place. Music is, indeed, a channel God gave to me to minister to others, but I fell in love with music long before I learned to use this gift in that way. I think I spend more time thinking about how to use my gift and less time thinking about why I want others to experience music.  I want them to experience the reason why I love it so much.

Music is the gift God gave me to speak to me. Music is the language that He understands even more than I do. Music is in me, and God knows this because He put it there. Music is part of what defines my personality, and God uses it to speak to me because He knows I'm listening. The Father uses music to breathe life into my very soul.

I have performed music that has made me smile, laugh, and cry. I have been blessed by performances that have made me gasp and pause in wonder at the talent God has given to some people and at the way He uses even secular musicians to reach my heart and to speak truth to me. Music is my second language, a language best understood by the Creator Himself.

This afternoon as I played my flute, I listened. I played an arrangement of It is Well With my Soul, and I heard the Father reminding me that my soul is what matters. This life is temporary. My soul is well. Some day, the trumpet shall sound, and all the trials of this life will be over, and my soul will be all that matters in that moment.

I played an arrangement of His Eye is on the Sparrow and heard the Holy Spirit whispering to me, telling me that, not only is His eye on the Sparrow, but His hand is on my shoulder. His arms are wrapped around me. His feet are leading me. His voice is whispering into my ear and drawing me closer to His perfect love.

I played Holy, Holy, Holy and imagined the moment when I will one day sit at the feet of Jesus singing those very words with the angels in heaven, and all this will be gone. All these things will pass away, but His Word will never pass away. 

Music is my gift. Maybe it isn't my second language. Maybe it is my first language. When my stubborn heart won't listen, God always uses music to touch my heart, to reach my soul. He knows what I need. Music is what I need right now. Jesus and music will get me through this. I am grateful, so very grateful, for this gift. The Father has given me a piece of heaven on earth. Sweet melodies fill my heart until it is overflowing with words from heaven. 

Thank you, Father, for this reminder. Thank you for speaking to me. Thank you for showing me that you are here and that you love me. Thank you...for music.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Intentional Living: Choosing Joy

There is a massive difference between "happiness" and "joy".
Happiness is a very fleeting feeling that ebbs and flows with the circumstances of life.  Kids and spouse are healthy?  I'm happy.  Money in the bank account.  I'm happy.  Got a promotion at the office or finally got that long worked-for degree.  I'm happy.

But what if life takes twists and turns and throws you something you weren't prepared for?  Suppose you lose your job.  Suppose you miscarry or lose a child.  Suppose you find out you have the big "c" word (cancer).  What then?  Can you possibly be happy during the tragedies of life?

Happy, no.  (No one's "happy" experiencing a loss of any kind.)
But we can choose to find joy in every situation.

According to James 1,

"Consider it all joy, my brethren, WHEN you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be complete, lacking in nothing."  James 1:2-4 (emphasis mine)

Let's face it, trials WILL come.  So expect it.

No where in Scripture does it say that Christians will live carefree, happy lives without pain or trial.  There is no "lucky rabbit's foot" that comes with being a believer.  It's not all sunshine and smiles.  Rather Scripture says there WILL be trials, there WILL be persecutions, there WILL be temptations, there WILL be struggles.  We live in a fallen world.  Everything has been tainted and marred by sin.  With that comes decay, disease, pain, destruction, death, etc.

On top of that, as believers, we are children and heirs of God- we are THE threat to Satan's kingdom.  We are constantly engaged in a battle, fighting against the world forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:10-17).

Satan is unable to take away our salvation, but he sure will try to make a Christian ineffective.

He will try like mad to get you "down" and keep you there.  He doesn't want you sharing the good news of Christ and salvation within your sphere of influence.  He wants to keep you distracted, depressed, or just plain ineffective as a Christian.  He wants you joy-less.

Joy is not a "feeling".  It's a state of mind, a knowing that...

GOD IS IN CONTROL OF ALL THINGS!!!  GOOD AND BAD!!!

Will you believe Scripture?
Will you lay aside your feelings (which are based on circumstance) and trust completely in God's Word, whether you understand it or not?

Believe me, I have gone through some gruesome experiences!
But I CLUNG to God's Word, even when it didn't make sense.  Even if I didn't understand what or why something was happening.  And I was able to experience JOY amid tragedy.  I believed:

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."  Romans 8:28

ALL things?  Really?
Even in war, economic collapse, loss, disease, starvation, etc?

Yes!

Whatever your circumstance, God foreknew and predestined it.  NOTHING happens "just because." NOTHING escapes God's eyes. 

"And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do."  Hebrews 4:13

He cares for you!  He knows how many hairs are on your head!  He cares for the birds and the flowers- how much more important are you than them?!  (Matthew 6:25-34, 10:29-31)  We are the only creature made in His image.  (Genesis 1:26-27)  Believe God's Word- He's watching out for you and cares deeply for you!

"And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should but the Holy Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."  Romans 8:26

The Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we're weak and don't even know how or what to pray for.

God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things!  He created the universe and holds it together.  He created the cell structure and the atom and holds it all together.

GOD.IS.IN.CONTROL

We must believe this truth.
And when we believe this truth, it WILL come out in the way we live.

When we can begin to wrap our minds around the awesomeness of God, we can release our fears, our struggles, our worries, etc and embrace JOY.  Because no matter, what, God is in "it" (whatever "it" is for you!).

There is a purpose in your trials.
You will never see the full extent of that purpose here on earth.  Oh, you may catch glimpses.  But you'll never see the full reality of it this side of heaven.
God simply wants us to fully trust in Him with everything.

Is there something in your life right now that you are struggling with?
A trial?
A temptation?
An enslaving sin?
A fear?
A loss?

Can I encourage you to let it go?
Give it to God.
Spend some time with Him and first, get right with Him.  Confess your sin and repent.
But then I want you to release whatever is holding you back from experiencing joy.
Tell Him you're angry.  Tell Him you're scared.  Tell Him you've had enough.  He's a big God- He can handle your thoughts and feelings.  Besides, He already knew it anyway.  It just helps laying it all on the table.

Give it ALL to God.
Let it GO.

And when you're done, choose JOY.

Knowing that God is in control of all things.
Because you have given over the reigns of control to Him.
No matter what, You know He has your best interests at heart and He will use whatever is going on for good.
He's watching out for you.  He's protecting and caring for you.

You CAN have joy no matter what the circumstance!
Choose Joy Word Art Sign

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Happy (Late) Mommies Day!

Kissing boo boo knees, chasing away bumble bees, goodnight hugs, getting homework done, packing school lunches, loving them bunches, that's what mommies are made of. Hushing their cries, soothing sweet lullabies, in parking lots griping, warm pancakes flipping, babies on a hip, a sense of what's legit, that's what mommies are made of. Always multi-tasking, grocery bag balancing, mommy bear protecting, lots of gentle correcting, cleaning up messes, reassuring caresses, that's what mommies are made of. Filling their tummies and warm evening tubbies, own mom appreciating, gag reflex depreciating, forever lack of sleeping, in charge of innocence keeping, that's what mommies are made of. Embracing, swaying and rocking, keeping going without stopping, never traveling lightly, often smiling brightly, worry and smile lines collecting, precious lives affecting, that's what mommies are made of.

I am blessed to come from a long line of wonderful mothers. I have the best mom, who will still stop everything to help me if I'm in need and a mother-in-law who is always willing to lend a helping hand. My mom and my dad brought me home from the hospital early, because of a sickness going through the NICU, when I could still fit in the palm of their hands after being born two months early. My mom cared for me in this fragile state (less than five pounds!) while living out in the country, away from her family and while my dad was working crazy hours to support the family. She then took care of me at the hospital and at home, when at 18-months-old, I splashed a carafe of scalding coffee on myself during Christmas dinner, giving me second and third degree burns over 1/3 of my body and sending her into labor with my brother.

My mom's mother, before her held, a marriage together, and raised a baby while my grandfather was drafted in WWII while she was only 16-years-old. She managed this with the help of a very supportive and godly mother-in-law. I find myself amazed at my grandmother's accomplishment of holding this marriage together and staying married for fifty plus years, especially after watching the recent reality shows that offer a glimpse of what a disaster relationships can become after girls have babies so young.

My dad's mother took care of two young children while my grandpa was usually gone the entire week as a traveling salesman. My mom's grandmother raised five children in a one-roomed dirt-floored shack and kept their bellies full with vegetables from her garden, fish from the stream and sugar beets that fell off the trucks along the road since she and my great-grandfather were both deaf and he had a difficult time getting work. So, after watching this long line of women, I thought I had a fairly good idea of what it would be like being a mother. But I didn't, not until I experienced it first hand.

I can tell you the exact moment I realized what being a mom was all about. Oh, of course I had already completely fallen in love with my first born, with her tiny fluttering kicks and blurry ultrasound photo. I understood the intensity of a mother's love, but I remember the first time I felt the full weight and responsibility of motherhood. My daughter had a difficult birth. The doctor broke her clavicle with the vacuum he used to deliver her and also damaged me so I required many stitches. The visitors had left, and like almost every other night in our married life, my husband dimmed the lights and turned on some mindless television show so we could relax a few minutes before going to bed. But after the day we had just experienced, we were really looking forward to getting some sleep. It seemed like any other night, until my daughter woke up from her newborn sleepiness and spent most of the night screaming in pain from her injury.

Up until that point, every difficult challenge in my life had an end date: stressed out about college exams? I knew I could spend at least a few days sleeping them off when they were finally done. Difficult project at work? I usually knew when it would be over and my husband and I would spend a weekend going to the movies, drinking a bottle of wine or going out to dinner. It suddenly dawned on me at that very moment, that with my daughter, there was no end date: not even her adulthood would cancel parenting responsibilities. My husband and I were it. We were the ones that God put on this earth to meet all of her needs, physically, emotionally and spiritually until she was strong enough to meet them herself. The weight that I felt at that moment was overwhelming, but the love and joy she brought to our lives was, of course, worth it.

I am so blessed to have so many wonderful mothers in my family and to know so many wonderful mothers as friends. While sometimes the role can be overwhelming, the Bible exalts motherhood and the joys and burdens that it carries: “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.... She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her. Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Proverbs 31:10, 27-29. While being a mom can be difficult, the blessings are abundant. Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Character over Comfort

I've been reading a book recently called Sacred Parenting.  The second chapter is  entitled: 'The Hardest Hurt of All.'  It's a chapter that focuses in on valuing our children's character over their comfort.  And, to be honest, this chapter kicked my butt.  I want my kids to have good character and I want them to be able to make wise choices that will help them through the rest of their lives... and ultimately, I want my kids to have the kind of character that will eventually help them be good parents.  And yet, I've always valued their comfort.  I want them to enjoy life... I want to protect them from as many hurts and wounds as possible.  But as this chapter details... I may not be giving my kids the best gift by sheltering them and protecting them from every little thing that comes their way.

Thomas starts by sharing a really powerful quote from the mother of John Quincy.  Abagail wrote the following words to her son:  "The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties.  Great necessities call out great virtues.  When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman."  It stands as an amazing reminder that parenting is not always about shielding our kids from all pain and struggle... but it's about helping to equip them with the character traits and disciplines to help them navigate THROUGH times of pain and struggle.

And that's not an easy job.  Just recently, my ten year old daughter, Emily, came home from school and was quite concerned about a new venture she was trying on for size.  She signed up to be a fifth grade patrol next year.  But she has to be trained for a week this year, while she's in fourth grade.  And she has to be trained by a fifth grader.  She was extremely nervous about meeting her fifth grader... to the point of possibly backing out on the whole thing.  As a parent, it would have been easier to say... sure... just back out.  But I knew this was something she wanted to do... and I knew that she was going to have to learn how to deal with all sorts of people in her life... so she might as well get started now.  So I asked her to give it one shot.  And she ended up enjoying it... even though she had to work through her nerves to do it.

Thomas later writes:  "If we protect our children from all risk, challenge, and possible rejection, they likely will become developmentally stunted and will therefore remain immature."  This is the last thing I want for either of my kids... and I know this means I will walk a balancing act as a parent.  And I also know that they will be watching me to see how I react in my life situations.  They will see how I treat people... how I go about my work... how I treat my life... how I handle pain and stress... how I live life.  Without knowing it, they will pick up on how I decide to engage and tackle life... and it will, at very least, influence future patterns, decisions and relationships in their own life.

In fact, later in the chapter Thomas quotes C.J. Mahaney... who asks every parent to ask an insightful and potentially butt-kicking question:  "What do you think your daddy and mommy feel most passionate about?" I know for a fact that my kids would answer Cardinals, Star Wars... and maybe even Disney World... and I hope they would pick up that I'm passionate about God... but honestly, I'm not sure how often it comes up in day to day conversations.  It's probably something I need to begin intentionally weaving into conversation.

Thomas concludes the chapter by reminding us that God the Father did not remove pain from God the Son. And that the Bible has a theology of pain built in to it which suggests that when we step into moments of loss and pain... we are actually perfected and formed into stronger humans.  When we shield our kids from all responsibility, hardship, challenge, difficulties... we are actually hurting them in the long run.  We are not preparing them for an incredibly difficult world of criticism, evil, pressure and hard work.  This is an area that I can get better in as a parent and I'm glad Gary Thomas took the time to write about it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Bread and the Knife

   There's a great poem titled "Litany" by Billy Collins that starts that way: "You are the bread and the knife,/ the crystal goblet and the wine."  I love that poem for many reasons, but mostly I like the way that he compares his love to every day objects and, likewise, the functions they perform (there's definitely irony there!).  Because I'll tell you what...after 14 years with my husband there are times that the love can seem mundane.  We get wrapped up in the kids and activities, in the appointments and routines, and before you know it romance has gone on sabbatical. I've been trying to make romance more intentional -- just because it's not always spontaneous does not mean that it's not romantic. I came to this conclusion: in a marriage you must nurture the love affair AND the friendship.

   Think about when you and your spouse were dating (or someone that you're dating now or have dated in the past, if you're not married). What kinds of things did you do together? How much time did you spend just thinking about that other person and what kind of date you wanted to surprise him or her with?  I used to spend hours thinking about cute, funny, or romantic gestures I could make, cards that I could mail, etc.  I used to sit around just picturing his adorable face and beautiful brown eyes. I used to think about conversations we had the day before and wonder what we would talk about next.  See? It was moony, it was saccharine...it was new love! Think about how surprised your partner would be if you just started bringing the romance back, one loving gesture at a time. Here are a few of my brainstorming ideas for ways to feed the love affair that is your marriage: 1) Read a book out loud together one chapter at a time. 2) Go on a walk and discuss how you met, your favorite memory from your dating days, the moment you knew he or she was "the one." 3) Spontaneously serenade your husband or wife with "your song;" dance around the living room or kitchen while singing. 4) Place some of your favorite pictures of your spouse and your family in a small photo album with a title page that speaks of your love. 5) Give him or her a back rub or foot massage with no strings attached. 6) Get out a fun old board game like Sorry or Scrabble and just play together.  The point is to bring back the allure and fascination that he or she used to produce all of the time. This reawakening of romance will deepen intimacy as well.

   Now, the other half of that relationship is the friendship. Your spouse is (or should be) your best friend.  What do you do daily to foster that relationship?  I was thinking about this over the past week, and I realized that I don't necessarily try to foster my friendship with Rich as much as I do with my own girlfriends.  I honestly was stunned by this and a little ashamed that it never dawned on me sooner.  Reflecting on some of the ways that I nurture my friendships, I came up with these actions: 1) Give 100% -- Give freely of myself without expecting anything in return. 2) Focus on affinity -- celebrate what we have in common. 3) Accept him "as is" -- don't start nit-picking and try to change methods or idiosyncrasies to fit my own preferences. 4) Be authentic and allow my spouse to feel safe enough to be real. I want to know true thoughts and feelings! 5) Give assistance -- put the other first. Complete one of their chores without complaining about it or even pointing it out. Just do it to lighten his or her load. Think about what would make them happy, brighten their day, lessen their stress...you get the idea. 6) Give affirmation. I always try to build Rich up, point out his attributes and give genuine compliments. I should always be his biggest cheerleader.  I can send him emails, drop him notes, call him just to say hi, do favors for him, and give him the benefit of the doubt.  I should always -- and firstly-- extend him every courtesy that I extend my friends. Man, why don't I do that consistently? Why do I take him for granted? Why am I sometimes harder on him than a situation really calls for? I don't want to fall into that trap.  Because I adore my husband. Truly. He's the bees' knees. So now I'm going to be intentional about making sure that my actions, words, and love are all in sync.

   Genesis 2:23 says, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man."  I love this verse. When reading it, I picture Adam and Eve in the garden, he with his arm around Eve as he holds her to his side.  In that moment, snuggled rib to rib, Eve makes Adam complete again.  The Bible verse read at our wedding is Ruth 1:16 -- "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.  Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God." I like to think that this is not only about physical proximity. I look at the words "don't urge me to...turn back from you," and I think of intimacy and sharing as well. Don't ever push me away from you.  I want to be intentional each and every day to foster romance and friendship with my spouse, to find comfort in the utensils and accoutrements of years together because they represent a wholly shared life.

But don't worry, I am not the  bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and -- somehow -- the wine.
~ from "Litany" by Billy Collins

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Seven More Please....


Do you have that day in your life that no matter how long you will live you will remember EXACTLY where you were the minute that something happened?  I don’t have a lot, but I remember where I was the day the Challenger blew up; the room I was in when I watched the second plane fly into the World Trade Center; and where my husband asked me to marry him…And I remember exactly where I was on May 9th, 2005. 

7 years…to write it down it doesn’t seem like a very long time.  Truthfully, looking back on it, it seems like just a heartbeat.  7 years ago tomorrow my first child, Josiah was born. 

Don’t worry, I am not going to bore you or gross you out with the story of his birth, because he is not defined by his birth.  He is defined by the last seven years.

When he was born, I was almost 29 years old, but I was about the most naive person ever in regard to what life as a parent was going to bring.  When he was born, my husband and I had been married just a week shy of two years, and I had graduated with my bachelor’s degree a week earlier.   I knew how to take care of babies, and I thought that life was going to be one more beautiful movie and I was playing the lead role.

That little boy had my heart from the moment I knew I was pregnant and it just got worse after he was born.  I was amazed at how this baby that couldn’t even walk or talk yet was able to show me love.  He used to LOVE to lay on my chest with his head right under my chin.  I would sit for hours like this and periodically would rub my lips back and forth on his head and give him kisses.

I will never forget the day when he was in my arms and moved his head to my lips and ran his head back and forth over and over again.  I asked my husband what on earth Josiah was doing, this was a new behavior…and he reminded me that I did that to him.  That was the first time he really showed me true love. 

I look back over the last seven years and I am amazed at the ups and downs that we have went 
through.  During the time when he regressed in his language and would just sit and scream, or slam his head into whatever object was closest, I thought life was going to stay like that forever.  I thought I had lost my boy forever.  I still smile at the calendar I have saved where I wrote “Josiah said, I want.”  It was the first two words that he had used together in almost a year, and he was 3 ½ at the time. 

But even through all the hard times, I remember some amazing times too.  Being in Hawaii and having ALL of those people fawn over our little blond haired, blue-eyed boy.  I bet there are more pictures of him that belong to OTHER families from our vacation than I took of him.

I guess I just wanted to say, that I wouldn’t give up the last 7 years for anything.  Yes, there has been some very hard times, lots of tears, yelling, praying and questions, but I cannot wait to see where the next 7 years will take us.  I can’t imagine him as a 14 year old, but I wouldn’t give up the chance to see it for anything in this world. 

I look forward to seeing if he is going to be a doctor, or a race car driver, or a plumber, or the first author ever to write a book about Dracula (this he just told me last night…I didn’t want to dash his 7 year old dreams ) J  I can’t wait to see if he has the kids that he tells me about (he says that their names are Caleb, Gabriel and Alicia).  I just can’t wait!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Waiting

I think I may have a small understanding of what my friends with children have been through now.  A VERY small understanding.  I'm not pregnant, never have been, and with the potential health risks that could happen, don't plan to be.  I am, however, waiting to find out about when we will have the opportunity to parent a child.

After it became very clear that biological children were going to be an extremely risky proposition, we decided to look into becoming foster parents.  A co-worker of mine was going through the process, so I peppered her with questions and asked her how long the process would take.  Her family was licensed in roughly 4 months, and would have been done sooner had they not had such a wacky schedule to try to work the classes and training into.

Once we made the decision, it seemed like we couldn't get started fast enough.  We began looking for a new place to live, one that would have more space than our two bedroom townhouse.  That happened, and we're now in a three bedroom house - not an apartment.  We bought some twin bed frames and dressers off a friend for much less than buying them new would have been, and after what seemed like forever we contacted the Department of Child Services to ask what we needed to do to start the process.  We attended the information meeting and mailed the first round of paperwork off the next morning.

And now we wait.  We can't go any further until our background checks come back.  We were thinking we'd get school-aged children only to find out that infants, toddlers, sibling groups and teenagers are the most urgent need in our county.  So we're working our connections to be prepared for the possibility of little little ones. (Teens are not on our initial plan, because we just don't feel like we're old enough to be effective in fostering teens.)

So how am I like my friends who have had children?  We don't know when we'll be able to have children to love, we don't know gender.  And in our case, we don't know age or ethnicity. We're just excited that this opportunity has presented itself to us, and that we are on the journey!