Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Memories that Last a Lifetime

The holidays are such a wonderful time for me celebrating with friends, family, food, and own children!  Children make the holidays even more special--more meaningful and alive.  I stumbled across a quote a few months ago about how memories make such an impact, and yet, often as parents life is filled with such hustle and bustle that we don't stop to reflect on the memories we are making for our little ones.  "There were the years when the children were young, fast-moving periods when life flew by without time for the roots of deep reflection, and yet...memories were created whether one pondered them or not." When I read this, I could not agree more if I had said it myself.  We can so easily get caught up in what we (as parents) think is important or necessary during the holidays--or everyday life--that we miss out on memories-in-the-making. 

We may never know what is standing out as a fond memory in our children's lives.  For me, as a child the one holiday memory that stands out so profoundly I can almost see, feel, hear, and smell it is arriving home from school during the Christmas season.  I remember coming in the front door and hearing the sounds of Christmas music playing throughout the house--one of my mom's favorite records, no doubt!  I could smell Pledge dusting spray because she had likely been moving from one room to the next preparing for the holiday.  And, the air was warm with the scents of ginger, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, molasses, and mom was baking!   This was Christmas to me!  I was oblivious to any worries or stresses my parents may have been facing:  How do we pay for all the gifts?  How do we prepare emotionally for visits with relatives?  How will we have the time to accomplish everything?  Children have this way of embracing the joys of the season with pure innocence.  Why burden ourselves so much when what may hold special meaning and stand out in our children's memories is almost completely out of our hands?  Every day is an opportunity for fond memories in the life of a child.  I want to share a poem that I read today, for the first time since I've been a parent.  It held such new understanding for me. 
One Wish of God
If God would grant me just one wish
To be enjoyed through life,
I would not ask for wealth or power
Or comforts, without strife.
I would but ask He touch my heart
And fill it--for this while--
With just the simple loves I knew
When I was just a child.

The kind of loves that made each day
A blessing to behold
And filled my heart with trust and faith
 In Him and human fold,
And this is all that I would ask--
To make my life sublime:
To live with just this kind of love
That, once, was yours and mine.

My aging years have proven, well,
The noblest gift on earth
Is not some gift we take from life
Of selfish, private worth.
It's what we carry in our hearts
To share and give away,
Such as the loves we knew--and grew--
Within our childhood days.

Michael Dubina

Memories are being made in our children's hearts and minds, whether we realize it or not.  Those memories live in our hearts; they last a lifetime; they take us right back to that childhood innocence, playfulness, and bliss.  I don't always remember this...I don't always do the best by my children.  But, my heart's desire and prayer is that I would make each moment count--that I would make each day an opportunity for a special memory to be made.  I may never know for sure when memories are being made, but truly they are. 

*Quote by Erica Bauermeister

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Season of Perpetual Hope

So many have heard that this is the season of perpetual hope!  I agree with this in so many ways, but I have also had occasion over the last few weeks to consider that countless people struggle during this time of the year.  I won't recount all of the ways one may struggle; I'm sure no one would disagree with this fact.  Well, one particular Bible scripture has often come to my mind recently:  "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." Proverbs 13:12  I've given much thought to this, even in regards to my own life...dreams, hopes, and desires that I long to see fulfilled.  I will attest that if my hope begins to fail me, my heart truly feels heavy and discouraged (not to mention the physical implications of this proverb).  However, when a desire or longing is fulfilled, hope is restored and renewed...hope in the good of people; hope in justice; hope in humanity.  My soul feels encouraged!  My steps feel more certain!  My heart feels lighter!  My smile is brighter! 

Everyone deserves to feel this way, especially during this season of perpetual hope!  The reality, however, is that this will not be so.  But I am determined to do whatever I can, during this season, to restore the hope of another!  We all can do something.  Each one has something to give.  Sometimes, the simple act of wearing a smile can brighten another's life and help to restore one's hope in humanity--especially when the smile one receives is unexpected. 

In times past, I will admit that I have counted myself out of being able to do much or make much of a difference.  Often, I have even discounted myself due to financial circumstances--though I always have had a roof over my head, food on my table, and clothes on my back.  I have turned the other way!  I will no longer discount what I am able to give or contribute.  I began this season purposing in my heart to ask God continually, "What would you have me do today?"  It's no surprise that most often what I felt compelled to do was something for someone else!  I have tears in my eyes recalling some of what God impressed on my heart to do, because I am so overwhelmingly grateful that He has allowed me the opportunity to take my eyes off of myself and my own circumstances

What I have begun to experience, in turn, is that my very own hope has been restored in more ways than one.  My heart has been encouraged by the generosity, thoughtfulness, and kindness of others during this season.  More importantly, I am learning that even when I wonder if what I have to give is enough, I realize that if I give becomes more than enough.  As a result, we have more than enough.  A wise man and pastor at our church, Jeffrey Smith, said recently "When it's in your hands, it is never enough; but when you put it in God's hands it becomes more than enough."  There is such truth and hope in this understanding.  If I trust in God when I choose to do for someone else--or give to someone else--God blesses and increases it.  He blesses the giver as well as the receiver.  Hope is restored. 

So my encouragement is that we would all take time to consider others before ourselves.  What do I have to give?  What can I do for someone else today?  How can I be a blessing?  This should be the season of perpetual hope...and it should never end!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Parenting Truths

Recently I had a very humbling interaction that caused me to reflect on some key parenting truths.  I received an email from a college friend of mine who is a newer parent.  She and her husband have been thinking and talking about discipline.  Her email to me was in regard to this topic and she basically asked me if I had any suggestions or "sage words of advice."  Bless her heart, first of all, for the generous implications of that question.  But, I will say that it caused me to do some thinking.  I do not consider myself to be an expert; anyone who has spent any time with my children can bear witness that I haven't mastered the area of discipline.  However, I think I have solidified a few key truths and I am sure of their infinite value.  Here is a portion of my response letter to this dear mom.
Good to hear from you! Thanks so much for the kind words. The fact that you'd even ask me such an important question is an encouraging compliment. Not so sure I'm the person to ask....
You guys are so wise to start thinking and talking about discipline for [your child]! It's never too early. At a young age they may not respond to much, but they are learning that your voice can bring a correction. I think there are so many parenting and disciplinary styles out there and I really don't think I could say one is right (or even more right) and one is wrong. We are all different, therefore, we parent differently! I love watching how people parent differently. We can learn so much from other parents, especially if something is really working for them--or something else is really not working for us. I would probably say that the most important keys are love, prayer, and consistency (at least from my experience)!
Love isn't tough when they are young (and so daggon cute) but as they grow and develop personality and independence (and show that rebellious nature that's in all of us) we have to SHOW LOVE actively and continually to them....because we may be doing a whole lot of discipline.  Prayer is so important because even if we don't see an immediate answer or change, it opens that line of communication with their (and our) Creator--He knows our kids best--and knows how we tic too!  Consistency is sooooooo key and it's soooooooo hard (esp. as they are in the tough toddler years). Not that I never deal w/ behavior issues with Jaden (mostly attitude actually) but by 7 he has learned to obey, make pretty good decisions, and cooperate with the family. For me the ages of 3, 4, and 5 are very, very tough. I'm struggling quite a bit with Luke (5). It feels like NONSTOP discipline some days. But, as discouraging as that may feel, I KNOW that I'm plowing through good soil. He will benefit in the long run from our consistency. But, we do mess up which leads to the final key that I failed to mention.....GRACE! God gives us plenty as parents, thankfully. It's really hard work, though I'd never give it up!! He wants us to extend grace toward our children too!
I have full confidence that you will do a remarkable job with [your child]! You have a good, solid foundation. Honestly, I could not do this without Ron and I know [your husband] is a wonderful partner to you!
I was reminded of some solid truths while responding to my friend's email.  These truths do not change, even though I will and my children will.  I believe what I wrote!  Parenting is a gift but it is also a very challenging job with very little vacation time.  I know that with love, prayer, consistency, and grace as the foundation, every attempt at discipline will be acceptable and profitable...eventually!  Without love, prayer, consistency, and grace, it is impossible (in my strong belief) to parent with any amount of success.  These are a good and solid starting point for every parent.  And, by the way, it's never too late to start again~there is grace!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Openness Closes the Gap

Lately, I've been reflecting about the relationships in my life.  I've been asking myself about the purpose of each one.  When I have a difficult time answering that question, I know I have some thinking to do.  One thing I've been thinking is that without openness in relationships, they can become stale and unfruitful.  Without openness there is little ability to relate to one another.  Without truly relating to another person, what is the point of the relationship anyway?  I don't mean to imply that you should bear your heart and soul to everyone you meet or with whom you have relationship.  Nor do I mean to suggest that every single thought or feeling needs to be discussed.  I guess what I am talking about is a level of empathy that allows you to meet someone else at their place of need.  This goes both ways in relationships.  We all have needs.  We cannot possibly meet every need of another person (especially those needs that only God can meet) but we should be able to connect with people!  If we are not making this connection--a true and meaningful connection--we are not experiencing a fruitful relationship.  This is when the relationship becomes stale. 

That brings me back to openness.  Without it, it is rarely possible to develop and sustain meaningful relationships.  I also think that without openness, it is difficult to help someone else in his journey.  Without some level of openness about our own journey, it is unlikely that others will consider turning to us in a time of storm.  For me personally, I want to be someone that my friends and loved ones can turn to (should they have need) in a time of storm.  Again, not to replace the kind of help and healing that only God can provide, but to be love with skin on to another person.  Openness can really close the gap.  Openness can go a long way to help another person feel that he is not alone. 

I recently spent some time in conversation with a fellow mom of young children.  I know our time together did much for me, but I think it encouraged her also.  We were discussing a couple of issues concerning our children.  One was fairly comical.  She told me that sometimes at the breakfast table with her children, they get so easily bothered by one sibling or another looking at them.  She told me how her children will sometimes form makeshift barricades with their cereal boxes so that no one will look at them while they are eating breakfast.  The childishness of this amused me, but the story (and her openness to share a morning frustration) really encouraged me.  Why, you may ask?  Well, some of my children also have a problem with morning grumpiness.  They fuss at each other, bicker at the table, and at least several times a week one of them is complaining about someone looking at him.  Too often, I blame myself for these childish behaviors and become discouraged.  I question where I've gone so wrong that my children bicker so easily over such small things.  She shared another story about how recently her children were arguing so much in the car that she told them all not to talk any more for the remainder of the car ride.  She said a common frustration that her children share is when one wants to tell a story to another and the other one won't respond to the story-teller.  Oh, how I can relate!  Bickering...childish behavior.  Once again, when this occurs, I often blame myself because I am assuming that other families don't share these specific struggles.  (If we don't see certain things, we don't know that they occur.)  This friend's children are kind, gentle, and very well-behaved.  I would have never suspected that she experienced some of these daily struggles just as I do.  Her openness made me feel a bit less alone in these parenting struggles.  (Here I could easily digress as to how silly and naive I am to believe that I am the only mother facing certain struggles....but I won't...for now!)

I appreciate this friend because she is always open with me, as I am with her.  By no means do we enter into pity-parties wherein we complain about the woes of parenting; we are simply open and honest in our conversations.  She has never tried to wear a mask around me or put on a performance of perfectionism.  I have a high regard for her, but it's certainly not because I think she's doing everything perfectly!  It's how she relates to me.  And, before we were as close as we are now, I recognized this about her.  When I faced a challenging struggle that was seemingly overwhelming, I confided in this friend.  She encouraged me!  By that time, I knew well enough that she was a friend who didn't consider herself stronger or better than another because she never shared her struggles.  She lives her life with integrity but is unafraid to be relate to another person. 

Not too long ago, I saw a few comments made on a social website by an old high school friend of mine.  She and I have corresponded via email several times in which we've shared about our families, our children, our values and beliefs.  The few comments I saw were in relation to some very difficult struggles with one of her youngsters.  I sent an encouraging word but it wasn't enough.  The more I thought about her and prayed for her that day, the more I thought about some of my own past experiences with my young children.  I felt so impressed to write her a much longer, more detailed letter of encouragement.  I took the time to detail to her the events, my interactions, how I felt afterward, and what I've since learned.  I knew, while writing, that the most important message I wanted her to read was about how I felt.  Sometimes we go through experiences that seem so discouraging and insurmountable.  It's amazing what can happen when we are open and honest about that with another person facing something similar.  It closes the gap!  She wrote me a return letter with a heartfelt "thank you" saying that God must have known she needed that encouragement--and how deeply she appreciated it.  So glad I took the time!  So glad I chose to show my scars to someone!

Opportunities are all around us to close the gap.  How wonderful it is when we realize that we are not alone in our struggles.  Much easier to share the victories.  Much easier to always smile and pass the moments in small-talk.  But there is little purpose here.  There's a huge gap between myself and another person when I don't take a moment to listen--to really hear her heart--and share in her life.  It's fairly easy to find others to celebrate with us.  But, at the heart of the matter, who is there to get in the trenches with you?  Who are you helping out of the trenches?  You are not succumbing to negativism because you relate to another person--because you share your struggles.  You are showing another (and reminding yourself) that you are human!  You are learning, struggling, conquering, failing, overcoming, slipping, and growing.  There is a balance!  We don't do anyone a favor when we act as if we have it all together!  No one is helped by this.  When I started this blog, the one goal that was so important to me was:  to be honest, vulnerable, and transparent.  Do I want to encourage?  Absolutely!  Do I attempt to be positive and uplifting?  Absolutely!  But, I refuse to believe I can help anyone in this world without revealing the humanness of my journey as well.  We all have a story to tell!  We each have a way we can relate.  We all have the ability to listen, to truly hear the heart of a friend.  As parents, we want to do that for our children as well.  Let's be love with skin on.  Let's show some empathy!  Let's use genuine openness to close the gap!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Peace In My Own Footsteps

I wish I could do what she does.  All of her children are well-behaved most of the time.  They get along so well and they never seem to have a temper.  I know it's because of the person she is.  I wish I could be like her as a mom.  She is so gentle and kind and almost always soft-spoken towards her children.  She loves her children and sees the best in them so effortlessly.  I wish I could figure out how to be like her.

Okay, thoughts like these and many others often cross my mind.  I have a real problem!  I find myself comparing myself with other women--other moms--and spending time wondering how I can be more as they are.  It is really unfair!  It is unfair to me, my children, these other women, and my Creator.  I am far from perfect as a mom, but I am the kind of mom that God made me to be, regardless of how I compare to others.  How can I instill in my children the conviction that they are created in the image of God, and that He made them unique and complete, if I myself struggle to believe this?  I must learn to celebrate these other women--how alike or different they are from me--and I must learn to celebrate who I am!  I need to learn to have peace in my own footsteps! 

There is a mom who is a super socialite.  She's the hostess with the most-est!  She hosts Valentine's parties at her house with children running everywhere.  She bakes cookies and doesn't fret about how clean and perfect the house is when it's time to party.  She organizes get-togethers and outings with other moms on a regular basis.  This mom is not me to have peace in my own footsteps!

There is a mom who continually plans fun activities for her children.  She bikes with them, hikes with them,  roller blades with them, and searches for bugs with them.  This mom is not me to have peace in my own footsteps!  There is a mom who is always doing craft projects with her children.  She finger-paints with them, glues with them, and gets out the playdoh every day.  This mom is not me to have peace in my own footsteps!  I know a mom who hosts play dates every other day.  She makes sure her children always have social activities to look forward to and she invites friends over whenever her children ask.  She signs her children up for every sport and class they show any interest in.  This mom is not me to have peace in my own footsteps!

I know a mom who is unafraid to ask for help.  She frequently sees the need for her own time and she asks for it without hesitation.  This mom is not me!  I know a mom who reads to her children constantly.  She only feeds them organic food.  She plans weekly library trips and rarely turns on a cartoon.  This mom is not me!  I know a mom who schedules professional pictures every three months for each of her children, without fail.  She is on top of schedules and never misses an appointment.  This mom is not me!  I know a kind-hearted mom who always includes other moms.  She is absolutely never "clique-ish" and she is always willing to make a new friend.  I am not this mom.  I can celebrate her inclusive spirit; I can learn from her ways, but I am not her.  I can thank God for the goodness in each of these other moms and I can encourage their gifts--their ways--but I am not them.  Help me to have peace in my own footsteps!

How unfair to only see the good in others and not recognize my own strengths.  How unfair to convince myself that these other moms have figured out the magical, mysterious formula to being great moms just because they have strengths where I struggle.  Maybe, just maybe, they struggle where I am strong.  Maybe they can learn something from me just as I can learn something from them.  Maybe it really does take a village to raise a child and that's because we are stronger when we learn from other people.  Maybe, as moms, we need to celebrate the strengths in other moms and offer support in the areas that need strengthened.  Maybe I can be an even better mom today if I learn to have peace in my own footsteps!

There is a mom I know who prays continually for her family and for her friends.  She is not particularly crafty, but she has kept up fairly well with her children's baby books.  She sings, dances, and laughs with her children.  She may not bake homemade cakes for every birthday or bring homemade cookies to preschool, but she sits down to breakfast with her children and talks to them about the Lord and loving other people.  Her house may not be perfectly clean, but her kitchen is rarely a wipe-out and there is almost always fresh fruit for her family.  I know a mom who reads to her children, prays with them, and gives them hugs every day.  This mom is me!  I may not be crazy about playdoh or play dates, but I am crazy about my children!  There may be smudges on our storm door, but there will always be love and laughter in our home.  I am certainly not perfect, but I am doing the best I  I am learning, growing, and changing every day.  Most importantly, I am learning to remind myself that I am the mom God intended for these four precious jewels and I am learning to have peace in my own footsteps!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

So Many Hopes and Dreams

So many prayers for my children are continually running through my head.  So many hopes and dreams.  Not necessarily dreams of success, but dreams of peace, joy, love (and more love), grace, and mercy.  I hope and pray that they will stay close with each other; this life can be so tough and we need our loved ones.  Life can chew us up and spit us out.  When that happens, we need the comfort and safety of those who have loved us for so long.  True, we find family in many different places, but God has given us a family from the beginning.  I watch my children play, work, eat, and build together.  I see them fight and then forgive and I envision that this will always be so.  Let them always love each other.  Let them always be there for each other.  Help them learn to forgive one another because there will always be a need to do so.  There are some friends who are truly like brothers and sisters to us and that is a wonderful gift, but I long for my children to be friends also!  Let them remember that a true friend loves at all times! 
I hope that they can learn how to extend grace and mercy to one another.  I am well aware of how often we let others down.  We disappoint those with whom we are so close, those who we love--sometimes without even realizing this.  We fall down, make poor choices, forget what we were taught, forget to extend the love, grace, and mercy that we ourselves so desperately need.  Let my children never become so full of themselves that they forget to extend love, especially when it is undeserved.  Let my children see in others--in one another--the God who loved them so much that he breathed life into their physical bodies.  Let them never forget that we rarely deserve the love we are so freely given; it's a gift and we are responsible to give it back.

I hope that my children will grow to see beauty all around them...because it's there!  I hope that they will approach life with curiosity, creativity, laughter, and vitality.  Life holds so many possibilities.  Allow my children to see the potential in their own lives and the lives of each person they encounter.  You never know when you may meet your best friend, see the most breath-taking sunset, make the deal of lifetime, or encounter an opportunity that changes everything.  I pray that my children will awaken each day of their lives fully aware that opportunities are all around and that they come in many forms.  Sometimes our greatest triumphs are born out of our weakest moments or worst nightmares.  No matter what life throws at my children, I pray that they will learn to live free from regrets.  I hope that they learn to release failures, forgiving themselves.
I hope that they experience love, joy, and laughter.  Laughter truly is such a medicine for our soul.  Some of my most tender and difficult struggles in life have been lightened by true joy and laughter.  We are never promised, in this life, to be without pain or struggle.  If we find those with whom we can laugh and experience true love and joy, we have found a treasure.  In every season of my childrens' lives, I pray that they have the closeness of friends and loved ones with whom they can laugh.  May they learn to love life!  May they learn to embrace the storms of life just as much as they welcome the joys.  I truly hope that my children will always know how to play.  How much more wonderful is this life when we can find ways to play and gulp it up!  Let them find joy in the simple pleasures and delights; let them learn to be content at all times.

The Mom in me, who loves my children so purely and so deeply, could go on and on and on.  And I the privacy of my own thoughts, dreams, and prayer times.  No one can love your children better than you.  There is a reason they were placed in your care.  Never doubt this.  While reading a fiction book earlier this week, I stumbled across a truth that spoke volumes to me.  No matter where we go or what we do, we are connected to our children.  This fictional character--a mom--looked around the room full of strangers where she was, alone, and noted, "These people here, they looked at her and thought she was alone, she whose children were with her even in her dreams."  That is what it's like to be a mom.  We are never truly alone.  We are never apart from our children.  Our hopes, dreams, and prayers for them are the purest ones because God entrusted us with their precious lives...for a time.

(quote from Erica Bauermeister)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Resting in One Who Cares For Me

Every now and then it feels as if my world is shaking...a bit more than I'm used to...or comfortable with. My mind may feel restless, my thoughts erratic, my emotions close to the skin. When this is the case, the everyday dealings can even feel overwhelming. A situation earlier today will bear witness to this. I had to pick up my 5 yr. old from morning preschool. He had gotten a bump on his lip from an accidental fall. And, as soon as I arrived he started asking, no begging, for his friend Emily to come home with us. I already knew I had to run to the store for a few things and it was simply too last minute, so I said "no." Luke began pleading, then crying. I realize he was mostly tired (from a later bedtime than normal) and a bit shaken from his earlier accident. I escorted him out of the school and he became more and more upset and resistant. As he got into the car he swung his school bag (thankfully mostly empty) at his sister on the way back to his seat...simply because he was upset.

If that wasn't enough, my baby was extra tired and fussy since she avoided a morning nap. I still had to get gas (as I was on empty), and pick up a few things at the store; later there would be soccer practice and a birthday party. I still had some school work to complete with my oldest, who was continuing to remind me of the Boba Fett costume he so desperately wants for Halloween (which costs more than I care to spend). Ella was upset over Luke's actions, and complaining of a bit of a belly ache. As I pumped gas into my car, feeling the cool autumn air, I spoke a soft prayer: Lord, please help me at the store. I realize that this could be a disaster. So much could go wrong with each of my kids. I need your help even to go to the store. I need your help in something this menial. I really cannot do this today...without you! My eyes welled up with tears. I really needed help from my Helper to do something so simple as shop for a few minutes with my children.

We got through our shopping experience without a hitch. I was thankful and relieved! Earlier, while my kids were resting, I opened my Bible to seek and write down a few scriptures related to encouragement for raising my children. Here is what I found:

Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. Psalm 37:7

I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. Psalm 40:1

My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken. On God my salvation and my glory rest; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Psalm 62: 5-8

Truthfully, these are not the kinds of scriptures I thought I would be reading. I was surprised that this is what God revealed to me. But it made sense--so much sense--for so many reasons! God is concerned with everything that concerns me. He heard that prayer I sincerely uttered as I pumped gas. And He is aware of all that is unsettled in my mind and my heart. He knows about my world. He knows what concerns me yesterday, tomorrow, and right this very minute. I am so comforted to be reminded that He cares for me; He cares for us. I am choosing today to rest: to quiet the thoughts, feelings, questions, and concerns inside me. I will just hope in Him. I will wait for God to do what He sees fit to do. And I will never, ever cease bringing my cares to Him!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Tough Words

It never ceases to amaze me that when I confront my children, who were just yelling and fighting with one another, that each one always has the exact same story to tell, "It's not me. It was all his fault..." These statements are followed up with many more explanations and excuses as to why the first statement each of them made is completely true. Well, thank goodness I asked them what happened!

Earlier while I was finishing some housekeeping chores and my girls were napping, I allowed my boys to play in the backyard. It's a fenced in yard so I feel safe allowing them to play unattended. However, I always (no matter how chilly) have the kitchen window open so I can hear them. Surprise! Surprise! After several minutes, I heard arguing and yelling....not happy, playful sounds. Sometimes I think that my kids enjoy arguing with each other as much as they enjoy playing together. And sometimes, it produces a weariness inside of me. I went out and escorted them both inside. No surprise on their responses to me, "I didn't do anything! He did everything! It was all his fault!" As I sat them down for a time-out together I instructed them to think about how neither of them did anything wrong, yet here they were...both being disciplined.

As I walked into the dining room, away from my sons, the thought immediately occurred to me: they are just like adults, we never think or want to admit that we are the ones guilty of wrong-doing; it's always easier to point a finger. Now, in this case there's a happy ending--or at least a temporary happy ending. They are outside right now constructing some kind of a new bridge or tree house together (always building just like their Dad). I just checked on them moments ago and the report was that they are getting along and doing fine. Now, maybe their problem was swept under the rug or maybe they realized that they both had a hand in their argument and bad behavior and they both were going to have to make some changes if they wanted to play outside any more this afternoon. I think, generally speaking, boys don't hold grudges as long and can get over issues faster than those of us of the female persuasion. (I'm a girl, and I've found this to be true most of the time). But, I also believe that children can much more readily accept that they need to change something to get a different result. As adults, we tend to grow more stubborn and stuck-in-our-ways.

However, back to the beginning of this story--the dilemma. According to Jaden, Luke was wrong. According to Luke, it was all Jaden's fault. I heard the arguing and can verify that they were both guilty of wrong-doing (as am I because I fail to consistently work with them to resolve conflicts in the best way). Honestly, I haven't got it all figured out myself. I'll just be honest here (because if I can't be honest then this is a waste of time): there are times when my husband and I argue and I walk away before it is resolved....I give up. There are times when I know I am wrong, or at least partially responsible, and I take my good ole time to say the tough words, "I am sorry." There are even times when I don't want to receive his apologies. I am guilty, all too often, of pointing the finger at my husband and so readily being able to detail his wrongs to me. What I need to learn to do is to look in the mirror and point the finger at myself and tell myself how I've fallen short! Thank goodness we love each other! Thank goodness for grace and forgiveness--and room for growth! But, truthfully, all too often, we are just as little children in our relationships, "It's all his fault!"

I suppose my own faults seem much more clear to me now, when I see these altercations played out between my children. I see the errors of my ways. I really don't want to pass on judgement, criticism, and unforgiveness to my children. I do not want that to be the legacy I leave for them! Saying "I'm sorry" can be hard...really hard, especially when you want the other person to admit his failures and faults. And sometimes "I'm sorry" does not fix everything. There are those times when saying "I'm sorry" simply opens the door for some real resolve. Resolving matters of the heart can often take a very long time. Biblically speaking, Jesus said that we were to forgive our brother "seventy times seven times." (Matthew 18:22) I think the point Jesus was trying to make was that you will be wronged often and you will need to forgive more times than you can keep track. If I need to forgive someone that often, it's likely that I'm just as often the one who desperately needs forgiveness from those I love. Sometimes "I'm sorry" is just the beginning. But, it is a start. Humility is always a better starting point than superiority.

Well, this lesson was for me today. If I never learn another lesson in marriage, parenting, or any other relationship, I hope that I can at least conquer this one. I hope I can learn to swallow my pride (and that lump in my throat) and say the tough words, "I'm sorry. I was wrong."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Catch 'Em Off Guard!

My children, I believe, have come to expect my reactions most of the time. They know if they are whining, I am going to ask them to repeat it nicely--which may or may not happen. They know if they are bickering that I am going to give them one warning to play nicely and treat one another with love. When that doesn't work, time-out is next! I try to be consistent in my disciplinary tactics, and for the most part I think that is well and good. However, sometimes it seems as if the same disciplinary measures over and over don't seem to yield any real changes.

So, I am proposing an amendment to my steady rule of consistent discipline. Sometimes (when I am clever enough or the mood strikes me just right) I am going to change it up a bit! I am going to catch 'em off guard! Well, I remember doing this one time with Luke and it was like an immediate answered prayer--which is rare! He was having a melt-down of some sort and was in need of some serious discipline. Well, instead of beginning whatever course of discipline I would normally use, I said "Come here Luke." And, what happened next made a world of difference almost immediately. I pulled him close and gave him a hug, a nice big, squeezy hug (as my 7 year old would call it). I think I actually felt the tension in his body--and mine--leave during that squeezy hug. No discipline was needed!

This morning, on our drive home from taking my son to preschool, my 3 year old lost her shoe in the car (translation: she kicked off her flip-flop), only to ask for it a second later. For whatever reason, Ella enjoys a struggle, an argument; I think it's the red hair! When I told her I could not reach it and she could not unbuckle to get it, the fussing began. Now, normally, I would attempt to ignore the fussing (which never deters her). After I become frustrated listening to it, I usually warn her that she will be disciplined the moment we arrive home (which often does not deter her). What to do? So, as she began fussing, whining, almost crying for her shoe I said to her, "Ella! Tell me all the ways that crying will help you get your shoe! Go ahead!" I said this in the most upbeat, pleasant voice I could muster. It worked almost immediately! I think it just completely stumped her. She had no idea what to say and therefore was quiet--from there on out.

So the amendment goes as follows: When ye are tempted, once again, to begin the traditional methods of verbal correction and discipline (that often do not yield success), consider an unexpected--possibly shocking--new method of deterring your little angel! Sometimes it is for your own sanity, especially if chocolate is not within arm's reach! Sometimes it is for comic relief! One such story comes to mind: my son Luke was playing in the sandbox with his brother and sister and he began to become upset each time one of them invaded his area (in one of the largest residential sandboxes I've ever seen). He was just being a bit cantankerous. So, out of the blue I said "Luke! You have on a yellow shirt, and I have on a yellow stop fussing!" There is no logical reason why this should have mattered--it certainly made no sense--but it worked! He looked at me and smiled! Back to work he went without any more fussing or complaining. (My husband and I laughed about it the rest of the day!) So I encourage you to give it a whirl! Get creative! Have fun with it (I know I do)! When you catch 'em off guard, you just might get the exact behavior change you were hoping for.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Practice Makes Patience: The Lesson I Learned From "Evan Almighty"

My husband and I picked up the movie "Evan Almighty" with Steve Carell quite a while ago, but we hadn't watched the whole thing. My children ended up watching it several months ago when they were at Grandma & Grandpa's house. They seemed to enjoy it tremendously, so we decided to give it another try. Of course, watching it with our children, who are so easily amused, made the movie enjoyable for all of us. We have to rewind it to the first song of the closing credits again and again because it's great dance music; my kids try all kinds of new dance moves and end up in hysterics. Some movies are fun for us all!

In the climax of the movie, God, played by Morgan Freeman (as one would expect) speaks to Evan's wife about prayer. He reminds her that when someone prays for something specific, God gives that person the opportunity to see that specific something change. For instance, when someone prays for their family to become closer, God gives the family opportunities to grow closer. When someone prays for patience, God gives that person opportunities to become more patient. I've spent many years hearing people in church say, "Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it." You know, be careful if you ask God to give you a deeper compassion for hurting and lost people, because He'll probably send you to live in some third world country for five years. Really! This be careful what you pray for notion has kind of messed with me for some time. In certain areas of my life, I would pray and then have some skepticism about what would happen next. I mean, who wants to pray for patience if the answer is going to come in a book entitled, A Hundred Ways You Will Feel Impatient Today? In some areas, I really did hesitate before I prayed. Maybe it would just be better not to pray about this thing....

Well, I am going to humble myself right now and admit that all of this became so much more clear to me after thinking about how Morgan Freeman said it. That figures! Well...Morgan Freeman and the most recent transition of home schooling my first grader. My husband and I made the decision mid-summer that I would home school my first grader this year. There are several reasons behind this, but for this year it turned out to be the best decision for our family. So, weighing it all out and deciding if I could do this lent itself to a bit of soul-searching and some changes in perspective, which is all good. My greatest concern, however, was in the area of my patience, or lack thereof. I would like to go on record declaring that I am one of the most loving and patient moms anyone could ever meet. But...that would be stretching the truth! Before I became a mom, I most likely considered myself to be a very patient person. Honestly, I can't remember ever examining the idea of patience so intensely as I have since becoming a parent. I mean to tell you, it's a daily struggle now! Each and every day my darling children provide me with such a wide variety of opportunities to show patience, bless their generous hearts!

And, don't you know, that each and every time I begin to pray that God will give me a patient heart, I hear that be careful what you ask for in the back of my mind gnawing at me. Then I hesitate again, if it's this much of a struggle now do I want it to get worse? So, I sometimes back off and decide to just pray for my friends, as Job did!

Well, the climax in my story is that after several days of home schooling my son (all the while taking care of my other 3 children, my home, grocery shopping, laundry, the budget, etc.), I realized that I have felt more patient in my heart and in my reactions than I have felt in a long time. I was astonished! How could this be? I am balancing more on my plate throughout the day than I have since becoming a mom. This home schooling is no easy task. Teaching my 7 yr. old to become a more proficient reader is no easy task! But, I am becoming more patient each and every day. In celebrating this discovery, I remembered Morgan Freeman's words (well...paraphrased, that is). He told Evan's wife that if someone prays for patience, God gives them opportunities to become patient. I just always looked at this the wrong way! God didn't give me a hundred ways to feel irritated or impatient over the last week or so. He gave me many opportunities to practice patience. I have found myself practicing patience because I really have no other choice. Well, I do have another choice, but I have realized that I am becoming more patient because of this decision to home school. As I said, there were several reasons behind the decision to home school, but God developing patience in me was not atop my list of considerations. Yet, here we are! God is developing patience in me!

The climax of my story is that stretching myself to do more than I was even sure I could handle, is causing me to become a more patient person. Having to balance many tasks and responsibilities throughout my day is proving to be more of a blessing in my life than I thought possible. Yes, it's early. Yes, I'm sure my children will continue to try my patience when they see fit. But, I am learning that practice makes perfect (just as I tell Jaden about handwriting and reading). And, practice makes patience--or, at least in my case. I may be a special case (and from time to time I like think I am) but most likely I am the same as anyone out there. We hesitate to make a decision, or utter a prayer, that could test us. We don't want to fail. What we need to realize is that God tests us with good things--good opportunities! He knows what we need long before we realize it. I believe also that He knows how best to get us there. So, as I teach my son to read, write, add, and subtract, I am allowing myself to learn to be a more patient person. As I encourage him to slow down and sound out the words, I am reminding myself to choose patience. As I take a break from our history lesson to solve a toddler dispute or comfort my tired baby, I am practicing patience. So, thank God for "Evan Almighty" and the profound lesson that Morgan Freeman shared with me. When I chose to ask God for patience, He provided me with an opportunity to home school my first grader. I am learning each and every day to practice patience. For that, I'm thankful.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Safe Hiding Spot

The way my kids go about playing a game of hide-and-seek is quite amusing. They're young so it's not a surprise that they only have a few hiding places. They will run and open the door to the hall closet yelling loudly, "I'm not ready yet!" Ella has learned from her older two brothers where the good spots are and how she is to go about the job of seeking. It's understood that they will basically hide in the same 3 or 4 places over and over....and over. But, the seeker must not look in those places until he or she has exhausted every other imaginable place (where no one ever hides). Moreover, if the seeker goofs up and finds the hider a little too soon (without exhausting all of the other clever hiding places), then the one found is likely to be a wee-bit perturbed.

We played a rousing game of hide-and-seek this morning and this time the kids chose to play in the basement. Now, the basement is their playroom so it is filled with Lego's, cars, games, tubs full of toys, art supplies, an art table and chairs, and a futon. Again, my children are quite predictable. When they choose to hide in the basement, it's Mom or Dad that has to find them. They may spend half the morning constructing their hiding spot. But, it's always the same general idea. They move the art table and Lego table near the futon and then barricade them with chairs, pillows, and various plastic tub lids so the sides are blocked. The way that the pillows or lids block the tables may change a bit, as well as who hides under which portion of the "house" as it's called, but other than that, it's not too big of a mystery where they are hiding. Yet, they absolutely love this game. And not to disappoint, Mom takes her good ole time looking in the laundry room, storage room, bathroom, behind the chair, behind car mountain.....all the while commenting, "Where in the world could they be?" "These kids are hiding so well." "Hmmm....maybe they're in here." I do my best to make it the game that they expect to be played.

That's just it. It is what they have come to expect! Sometimes I'm not sure how it can be so much fun when it's so predictable; it's not always tons of fun for me (though I try to remain enthusiastic). Every now and then, I just wish I'd open the door to the dark bathroom and have one of them jump out yelling, "Boo!" scaring me half out of my pants. Alas, it will probably be several years before our game of hide-and-seek varies much. Right now, it's just as they expect--just as they predict, and that's why it's so comfortable for them.

Children like consistency. They feel safe when they know what to expect. Children crave and need consistency and stability; too much instability can even stunt them developmentally. Most parents understand this about their children--I know it's true for mine. I strive for consistency in dealing with my kids. But truthfully, it can be tough. I know that when Ella begins whining after being told "No," that it will often escalate into a tantrum. I know that the best solution for her when this happens is a time-out (although disciplinary strategies can vary from child to child). However, sometimes I'm just too tired of doing the time-out thing. I will tell her "No," and then the whining turns into a fit, and what do I do? I give her another warning, sometimes another after that. What? Why did I just cave? Why couldn't I remain consistent in my discipline (usually knowing full well while I'm warning her that time-out will be the end result anyway)? I struggle to remain consistent. And then, back to the drawing board....I start over vowing to remain consistent in all future power struggles with my 3 yr. old.

Well, needless to say, this morning's very predictable game of hide-and-seek was not only fun for the kids, but it reminded me of this important understanding of young children. They need consistency and predictability; they are looking for it; they are expecting it from us. It's comfortable! And, while I know that I will most likely screw this one up again (just as I accidentally found Luke a little too soon on round 2 this morning), I am not going to give up trying. My kids need consistency from me. They appreciate it and have more fun when I play the game right! Honestly, in the real everyday situations of our lives, it not only helps them, but it helps me too to remain consistent. While I may occasionally wish someone would jump from an unexpected hiding spot, I know my children feel most comforted and most able to be themselves (to just be kids) when I am consistent in my parenting. Let's try not to unnerve our children by being unpredictable! Let's just have fun playing the game of life as they have come to expect it...for now.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Shiny New Shoes

As a young girl I loved getting a new pair of black patent leather shoes for dress-up occasions. I remember wanting to wear those new shoes to bed for the first few nights after I got them. Most little girls love their shoes....and most grown women do too! As mamas, we spend a lot of time wearing our tennis shoes; we've learned that we need to be willing to work hard, get dirty, and try to be comfortable while doing the mothering job. But, every now and then we get to experience a feeling similar to putting on a brand new pair of patent leather shoes.

I have grown accustomed to looking for the good amongst the not-so-good; the rose in the thorns; the calm after the storm. Still, every now and then I experience a kind of good that I truly didn't expect. It can impact the course of my entire outlook on a day or a situation. Today I had one of those times. Today is Sunday, which is my favorite day of the week. It's the one day that our family is guaranteed to be together from start to finish. We go to church together, have lunch together, and enjoy whatever chores or activities we have planned together--as a family. It's the day that I get to put on my shiny shoes. However, sadly I'll admit that sometimes I forget how much I love Sundays.

There are those Sundays when the children are especially tired, cranky, or contrary. There are those Sundays when laundry has piled up after a busy week. There are those Sundays when my husband or I am somewhat tired or pensive about something and it begins to weigh us down. There are perfectly good Sundays that start out great but get too loud, chaotic, or messy to be fully enjoyable. Oftentimes I put too many expectations on my Sundays to be happy about the reality of them. Sometimes I get upset about having to put my tennis shoes back on. We have young children that need to be taken care of; they need our full attention most of the time. Being a stay-at-home mom, I am with them all week. But when Daddy is home they desperately want his undivided attention (which is especially difficult while Daddy is painting the exterior of our 2-story home). I've tried to be a bit more realistic about our Sundays. I know we will all be together and that my husband and I will enjoy an afternoon coffee together at some point. But, will we enjoy any halfway decent, intelligent, or uninterrupted conversations? I'm sure you can guess the answer as well as I can.

But today I realized that, lo and behold, miracles do happen on Sundays! I was able to keep my shiny shoes on longer than usual. After the kids finished their grilled cheese sandwiches and strawberries, and the new Lego tractor was constructed, my husband and I were able to have a wonderful, meaningful (and very minimally-interrupted) conversation. We had one of those conversations that I have only come to expect on long drives together or on the rare occasion that we have a date night. During these times I am prepared to discuss in detail any number of important married-raising-kids topics. But have a full, meaningful, adult conversation in the midst of our otherwise very kid-focused Sunday....what a treat! What a delightful and unexpected pleasure! Just like putting on a shiny new pair of patent leather shoes after wearing dirty tennis shoes all week.

It can happen. Children truly are a blessing but they come with strings attached. Those of us that planned for our families know about and are prepared (at least as much as we can be) for the strings. And most parents grow to enjoy and welcome the strings. We love wearing the comfortable, durable tennis shoes. But, in the midst of untangling, tying, and retying the shoe-strings, sometimes we get to put on a shiny pair of patent-leather shoes. And, boy does that feel good! We feel refreshed, refocused, rejuvenated....and our spirits are rekindled one to another. This is good and I will look for it more often because you just never know. You might find yourself dancing in shiny new shoes in the midst of a floor full of tangled up, tied up, beat up old tennis shoes.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

We Need to Hear It

Recently after a Sunday church service, my husband and I made the spontaneous decision to take our family out to eat rather than heading home for the usual Sunday brunch of pancakes or grilled cheese sandwiches. Like any sensible parents with young children (we have 4) we chose a family-friendly restaurant that is typically noisier at the lunchtime hour. The two oldest went to coloring their menus; our 4 yr. old is artistically inclined and this comes complete with a tongue-stuck-out-due-to-serious-concentration face! He is too cute! My baby was very content throwing crayons, her sippy cup, and various baby toys on the floor for mommy to pick up so she could try again. My 3 yr. old daughter was delightfully telling us stories about her class at church and who she played with, etc. There were some small kinks here and there, but altogether we had a nice time. For the majority of our time at the table, across from us sat two older couples enjoying a lunch together. I noticed them watching our children now and then; I found myself hoping that they weren't thinking our children were too loud, or ill-mannered. Just as they were winding down their visit and preparing to leave they looked at my husband and said "They're such good children; so well-behaved." He proudly smiled and said, "Thank you." I also thanked them for the compliment.

I cannot explain how much a compliment such as that means to a mom like me! It is such a good reminder that I must be doing a few things right. God knows I'm trying! Sometimes I'm looking at my children's behavior through a microscope analyzing every single action and I fail to see the big picture. This brief encounter reminded me (and my husband) that they are good kids. And whenever this occurs, we look at each other not long after and say to one another, "They're good kids." We need to hear it.

I had a similar situation this morning at the Dr.'s office. My oldest child's 7 yr. checkup was scheduled early in the morning. Last night I was telling my husband how I wished I had someone to help me during these times; I wished I didn't have to take all 4 kids. Even when we were finishing breakfast I had the fleeting thought of calling the office to see if they had a late afternoon appointment so I could just take my son alone when my husband returned home from work. Then, I reminded myself that this wasn't the most convenient plan for us and that certainly, I could take my kids to the Dr.'s office by myself. It's not as if I don't do this already. We shop together, go to friends' houses, go to the park, run other errands. I rarely if ever ask for help in these types of situations. But, it doesn't make my mental preparation any easier. I sometimes have to remind myself not to be anxious. "They will behave," I tell myself. And guess what? They behaved. I may have had to shush them once while the Dr. was asking me a question, but they were angels. My Dr., a father of 4, looked at me as we were discussing typical discipline and behaviors of boys, and said "They're good kids." I responded, "Well thank you for saying so." To which he responded, "No, trust me. I see kids all day and yours are good kids." We shook hands as he left the room. Boy, I sure like our doctor! I was beaming with pride! It's so good to hear it!

Now, I know that I'm not alone here. Those of us moms (and dads) who are especially concerned with raising well-rounded, well-mannered children can put so much pressure on ourselves. We can also directly judge ourselves and our own parenting success or failure based on our children's behaviors. It's unfair, but we do it. I recently read a facebook entry that a friend of mine had posted about her parenting. She's an amazingly gentle, positive mother to 7 children. She said that she sometimes feels she is doing "everything wrong." As you can imagine, her remark was met with much encouragement and reminders of the great job that she is doing. People who know her children well reminded her that they didn't get to be such great kids all on their own. We rarely credit ourselves for the good in our children, but often take the not-so-good very personally. We forget that children will be children and we will be just fine too--doing the best we know how to do!

My sister's oldest daughter recently prepared lunch for herself, my sister, and her two younger sisters voluntarily. Tears welled in me when I thought about this. What a wonderful young girl she is and she didn't get there alone. No, we can't take all the credit for our children's strengths, but we sure have something to do with it!

Each of these examples has reminded me that parenting is a lot of hard work and that we need regular affirmation that we're doing a good job. And, if you're taking the time to read a blog about parenting issues, you're doing a good job! Let me be the first to tell you that today! Pat yourself on the back. And (you may feel silly about this), but tell yourself, "You're a really good mom (or dad)." And mean it! We need to hear it! Plain and simple. We need to hear it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Band aids, Tylenol, and a Merry Heart!

Okay, so being a mom, I feel I am an expert on band aids, Tylenol, and pretty much all things concerning kids' ouchies. If you are a mom, I'm sure you can relate. Half of the time, my kids claim that they need a band aid (or a "boo-boo sticker" as we used to affectionately call them), when they really don't need one at all. But, for whatever reason (and Spider man may have something to do with it) they work! Just this morning my 4 yr. old scraped his finger on some unfinished wood where a doorknob had come off. That was all it was....a scrape. No blood. Yet, he insisted on a band aid. After complaining that we still didn't have Batman band aids, a shark band aid was applied, and he was instantly all better!

Tylenol (or Advil, or even generic Target brand ibuprofen, which I'm admitting I've purchased) can have a similar effect. However, this is something that I don't give just because my children ask for it. They really have to need it. (I'm not advocating the medication of children for no reason.....though I completely understand contemplating the use of antihistamines after the fourth night in a row that your toddler hasn't slept well.) Typically, my kids don't ask for pain medication. But I know when they need it. Whether it's a fever, some serious teething pain, or an earache, pain medication so often does the trick. On a stronger level, it has almost the same effect as that band aid when it kicks in. All better! I remember giving my 3 yr. old some pain medication one night when she woke up fussing, crying, and slightly feverish. After medicine and snuggling with mama for 20 minutes, she was actually running around, laughing, and playing doll house as if nothing was wrong.

A merry heart. Now, this is much more serious and ultimately life-changing. A merry heart can have a measurably greater impact than band aids or Tylenol ever could. The Bible says that a merry heart does good like a medicine. My Bishop talked about this at our mid-week service last night. I'm not trying to re-preach his message. The gist of it is that if we keep our hearts merry, we can survive anything. I believe this to be true, although it doesn't always feel true. If we live long enough, suffering will come to our doorsteps. What do we do when that happens? Do we allow devastation and desperation to turn into debilitating depression? Or do we purposefully look for the silver linings in the dark clouds knowing that there has to be a better tomorrow? I know the correct answer. However, I'm not declaring that it's always easy.

I also believe that what goes hand-in-hand with the decision to have a merry heart is the decision to pour out our souls to our Creator--the one who best knows our heart cries. As Lisa Harper wrote in her book, A Perfect Mess, "When we tell God where and why it hurts, we will experience divine embraces that last until our souls stop quivering." "...our Redeemer draws close to brokenhearted people." Just as our children have to tell us about each and every boo-boo, demanding our attention and comfort, we can come to God in much the same way. He already knows our pain, but it's for our comfort that we turn to Him. He can put a band aid on it and kiss the pain away. At other times, He may reach down and truly administer some tangible healing that makes the fever go away. But, when we choose a merry heart...and choose to trust Him with our heart, this can provide deeper healing still.

Mamas have a way of making the pain go away. Our kisses, sweet words, band aids, and Tylenol can all seem very magical when we use them. There are other times--and will be other times--that we cannot make the pain go away....when we can't turn off the heat. In these times, we hope that our example is strong. I hope that my example will be a powerful reminder to my children. I truly hope that they will recount all of the days when I kept a merry heart, even in the midst of difficult circumstances and trying times. I hope that they will remember that I put my hope, my trust, and my heart in the hands of one much bigger than me. I hope that they will choose a merry heart in the face of life's challenges, struggles, and disappointments. I hope that they will choose to bring all of their pain to the lap of the one who loves them unwaveringly.

Band aids and medicine are well and good. But when all else fails, one thing is sure to bring us closer to true healing...a merry heart!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Lingering Question

The most lingering, difficult, pervasive question that lies in my heart each moment of each day is this: "Should I even be a mom?" The reason that this is such a difficult question for me is because I already know the answer. Yet, I continue to ask myself this question because the answer is not altogether easy to accept. The answer, I believe, is that: no, I probably should not be a mom (at least according to my own expectations and standards). And, the second part of the answer is: with God, I am more than able to be a wonderful mom and therefore, yes, I should be a mom. Seems contradictory!

I was reading today about one of the founders of the Proverbs 31 ministry. Lysa Terkeurst's story was about how God called her into the ministry even though she believed she was a very unlikely candidate. This was both powerful and personal for me to read....not that I'm called into ministry. But, where I can relate is the calling, in general. I believe I was called to be a mom, even from a very young age. Really, it's the only thing I ever knew without a doubt that I wanted to do...and be. I was always drawn to babies, children, and all things mothering. I didn't rush necessarily to make this all happen; I was 28 when I had my first child. But, I had finally arrived! And, it really wasn't too long after my second child was born that the daily, lingering question began, "Should I even be a mom?"

I ask this question consciously and subconsciously all day long. It has been quite a personal struggle. Of course, it didn't stop me from having two more children after the first two were born--I love being a mom. It is the joy of my life! But, in the quiet of my own heart and soul the question stems from knowing that I fail continually. I fail my children, I fail myself, and I am sure I fail my culture's expectations of mothering. And why shouldn't I? I'm human! However, the feeling of failing as a mom in what I believe I should do; in how I should respond; in the initiatives I should take--this can be overwhelming!

Lysa Terkeurst's story was emotionally freeing to read because she also described a similar quandary of not feeling qualified to lead a ministry, yet being called by God anyhow. She said so perfectly "Often God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies those that He calls." And, as I read those words today I realized that that's the answer, in a nutshell, to my lingering, difficult, pervasive question. No, I may not be truly qualified to be a mom to four amazing children. But, God is continually dedicated to qualifying me for this amazing job each and every moment of each and every day! I can't explain it any better than this. I've often confided in my husband that it is so discouraging to me that the one thing I feel called to do is the one thing I struggle to feel capable of doing successfully. Well, in and of myself, I will most likely never be capable of doing this job of mothering successfully. But, I am never alone! God is my ever present help; only a whisper away. Only a heart's cry away. He longs to help me in this journey.

When I keep this hope and this reality close to my heart, I am able to feel more-than-able to be a wonderful mom. Yes, I should be a mom! And, more specifically, I should be a stay-at-home mom to Jaden, Luke, Ella, and Tessa....because that is exactly what I am doing. I am not doing this on my own, thankfully. I have a Helper who loves these children more than I do. And, He is using every situation, every struggle, every success, every prayer, every bath, every diaper change, and every trip to the store with 4 lively children as a means to qualify me for this most important job. I'm humbled. I'm grateful. And most importantly...I have an answer to my question.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Heavenly Hammock

I have a good friend who is one of my true confidants. She is in a stage of life much like me as a stay at home mother with 3 young children. We catch up fairly regularly and definitely rely on each other during those times when we need wisdom, counsel, or support. Our conversations are always encouraging to me; often it's that one of us says just the right thing at just the right time. More often, it's just good to be reminded that we're not alone--we're not going through something that is completely foreign. What I find really encouraging is when she tells me about some good times with her family, and she'll say, "It was just heavenly." When I hear my friend say this I often wonder how we can describe earthly, simple experiences as heavenly.

I've been thinking a lot about that recently. My family and I had a really good weekend! We celebrated my baby's very first birthday and were able to visit with family both near and far. Sunday was Father's Day. From start to finish it was a fabulous day: we went to church, played outside, napped a bit, hiked at the park, played games, and ate lots of food. It was simply heavenly. As I've reflected on my weekend and several moments since then I have realized that heavenly truly is the right adjective for these times.

One definition of heavenly in the Webster's Dictionary is "causing or marked by great happiness, beauty, peace." Well that's it! It is acceptable and even true and correct to describe some of these wonderful experiences, times, and moments with our family (or others, for that matter) as heavenly.

I had a heavenly weekend with my family. I've likely had many of these. I've had heavenly times with my children. I've experienced heavenly moments. One such moment was earlier this morning. My 2 young girls, overly tired from their busy weekend, went down for naps in the late morning. My boys were happily playing in the backyard. I went out with them and decided to lie down in my hammock. (It was my Mother's Day gift 2 years ago and I've lain on it maybe five times.) We have a small backyard but we have several large trees. As I was lying on the hammock I could hear my boys playing together nicely; I could hear birds singing prettily; I could hear the gentle wind causing the leaves to whisper. And the view was beautiful--looking up at a canopy of green leaves and blue skies. It was an absolutely heavenly moment! In that moment I was astonished at the beauty around me. I was completely at peace. I was happy just to be alive! Heavenly!

My husband is such a gentle, wonderful man who loves me and loves his children immensely. Following Father's Day, I feel compelled to acknowledge that he is truly the most wonderful father to his children. They could not have asked for a better father. He loves spending time with his children--playing with them, talking to them, and just loving on them. He often gets a look in his eyes and a smile on his face and tells me "I just got butterflies." For a while I didn't really understand this. I think I've felt butterflies in my stomach before, but for me it's generally been before I sing publicly or prepare for an interview. His butterflies are good butterflies--a feeling of intense and overwhelming thankfulness, peace, and joy. I have begun to understand that his butterflies are the same as my heavenly moments. They are times of supreme peace and happiness. All is right with the world! (Although when he finds out that I shared his butterflies with the world, all may not be right....)

I realize that all weekends can't be and probably won't be heavenly. And I can't think of the last time that I could say an entire week felt heavenly. But, I am filled with gratitude for the heavenly moments that life gives me. Whether it's celebrating a birthday, watching my kids give each other an unexpected hug, relaxing in my husband's arms, or lying in a hammock looking up at the trees...heavenly weekends, days, and moments are available continually. Maybe I don't feel the butterflies exactly as my husband does, but I treasure all of life's meaningful and beautiful heavenly moments.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"Get up! Go outside and play!"

Well, in the Hinz household, we just finished off our very first soccer season (possibly of many to come). I have never been in too big of a hurry to involve my children in organized sports, or any other organized activities for that matter. I love helping my children learn to foster their own creativity and imagination! They can play together for hours without the help of a video game, TV, computer, or soccer team. While all of these activities and others are fine, I guess I tend to be more old-fashioned in this way; I love giving my children many opportunities to create their own games and activities. It's amazing what they come up with sometimes. I guess I could be categorized as the kind of mom who tells her kids, "Get up! Go outside and play!" Okay, generally I accompany them to the backyard because they are young but even when I don't they play as kids should play.

I was by no means a tomboy as a child, but I did love being outside. I'm pretty sure that we spent most of our spring, summer, and fall days outside. Yes, I liked playing inside too with Barbies, my doll house, and Holly Hobby Bake Oven, but some of my most fond childhood memories are outside memories. When I was 8 we lived in a neat neighborhood in Lynchburg, Va. There was a tree to the side of the backyard in which my brother built a makeshift ladder to climb up to the first branch. He was quite the little monkey so I'm sure he then climbed up as high as he could go! I was fully content to climb the ladder to that first big branch and claim my perch. I can still picture the view from that branch. I felt like I was so high I could see the world! Most likely if I were to revisit that home today(and if the tree was still there) I would be amazed at how close to the ground that first branch really was. But, I not only felt like I could see the whole world, I remember sitting there imagining that the whole world was open to me--that the possibilities were endless! I did some of my very best dreaming from up on that tree branch in Lynchburg, Virginia.

In that same neighborhood there was an area up the street that we called a bamboo forest. Thinking back on it, I'm not certain what all was there, but there seemed to be a good deal of bamboo wood and to us, it was very tall and full of adventure. We loved going there. On the other side of the neighborhood was a small park. There was a big hill at this park with several bike trails (really they were just divots from kids repeatedly riding their bikes down the hill). A couple seemed very steep and one was just right for the not-so-daring (that would be me). But, we loved riding our bikes over to this park. We often spent time playing in the woods behind our backyard. We loved being outside! Sure, we could make fun inside too, but playing outside is what we wanted to do.

My kids are the same way! They want to head outside as soon as they finish breakfast. I often hear huffs and sighs when I tell them they need to first brush their teeth. They could stay outside from sunrise to sunset if I let them. And, as I said before, when they don't initiate it, then I'm the one who will kick them outdoors....gently of course! Not only is the fresh air and vitamin D from the sun good for them, but something else happens outside. It's that same something that happened to me as an 8 year old girl each time I sat on that tree branch. The sky opens up! Literally! Whether you live in a breathtakingly beautiful part of country with hills a plenty, or by the vast blue sea, or inside the city limits, the sky is big and beautiful. Sure, most of us wouldn't mind a change of scenery occasionally. (I live in Toledo, OH so I can attest to this.) But go outside and look up. Look really far up. Look up so that it hurts your neck. The sky is the limit!

We're all children at heart! Life can beat us up a bit. But, we all still need to envision that the sky is the limit--that our realm of possibilities is endless. From this vantage point we can do great things! We can conquer the world! We can change lives! We can live that dream that's within us!

My 4 year old finally learned how to pump on the swing yesterday. We've been practicing with him for months and he finally got it! It's all he wants to do. Thankfully we have a swing in our backyard, along with a never-ending fort, a huge sandbox complete with a crane, and a coffee shop (not an ice-cream shop or a house, mind you) on the first level of the fort so that mom can have an endless supply of pretend decaf mochas while outside! My husband cannot stop expanding my children's play area! He now has plans to put seats on the upper deck of one of the forts so that our patio chairs can remain on the patio. His mind never rests when it comes to what he can do to improve our kids' outside experiences. We live in the city and have a small backyard, but my kids do not have a small mindset when it comes to playing outdoors. Just like their Dad, they're constantly creating things and coming up with new ideas. Just yesterday Jaden, with my husband's help, installed gutters to the coffee shop in case it's raining and someone wants to order a coffee. He designed them, nailed the wood together, helped Dad caulk the pieces together, and had a plan for the downspout (with his trucks catching the rain). They're constantly envisioning their world as bigger and better. And why shouldn't they?

When I watch my Luke, proud as can be, pumping his legs on the swing and getting higher and higher all by himself, I remember that feeling. It's been a little while since I've been on a swing because I'm usually pushing a baby on the swing, but I remember the feeling as a child swinging so high. Just like the feeling on that tree branch! I could see everything and conquer the world! I love sending my children outside to play. I hope that they experience the exact feelings I always did: adventure, excitement, hope, creativity, and tranquility. The sky is the limit!

Send your kids outside to play. Even better, go outside with them. Wherever you are look up! Look way up! Take a long, deep breath and inhale the beauty of the sky and the endless possibilities of your life and theirs. Sit on a tree branch, ride a bike, or swing as high as you can. Remind yourself of that childhood optimism and innocence. The sky is open to you!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I'm Looking at Her, But I See Me

There have been so many moments (too many to count really) over the last several weeks that I've looked at my daughter--at something she's done or said--and I've seen myself. I'm sure that this has happened in the past with both of my boys but it really seems different with my little girl. My little fiery red-head Ella recently turned 3 and she is developing such a personality. Such strength, determination, and stubbornness. Yet, such gentleness, sensitivity, emotion, and a superb sense of humor. She's delightful and frustrating all at the same time. Sometimes I don't know whether to kiss her or stand her in the corner. Such personality! Such strength of character! I can see it in her...I just don't always see it in me.

The other morning I was feeding my baby breakfast in her high chair. Ella had been playing in her little kitchen but came over to the table to join us, her baby on her hips. As I was feeding Tessa I began to sing a worship hymn that we've been singing recently at our church, "Lord, whatever you're doing in this season...don't do it without me, don't do it without me." Ella studied my face intently. Within seconds she was watching my lips and attempting to mouth the very words I was singing. After a few rounds of the chorus, she had it! She sang it over and over. And she didn't just sing it; she meant it! I could see right through her little face into her heart. Such a gentle spirit.

Every so often I get headaches. Ella will give me lots of kisses and say, with such sweetness, "It's okay baby." One time in particular stands out because she prayed for me, "Dear Lord, thank you for loving Mommy's head. Amen." She has compassion for others so naturally. She is also sensitive and her feelings are easily hurt. Quite the challenge for a parent learning to appropriately and consistently discipline. I don't want to bring her to tears because then we've missed the point. Other times, her stubbornness kicks in and she gets a very gruff look on her face and tells me not to look at her. And if her Father has to correct her...uh-oh, watch out, here come the tears! She can be quite dramatic when the mood calls for it, which is apparently often, and I'm reminded of another little girl who was easily brought to tears.

Earlier today we were driving home from the park and a familiar song came on the radio. As I was singing at an almost obnoxious level, I looked in my rear view mirror to see my little girl singing along. Her voice was so soft, but she sang with such expression and emotion on her face, "....don't be afraid to stand out-that's how the lost get found!" It's the ring tone on my cell phone. I have prepared many dinners while she has had me play it over and over, dancing and mouthing the words--so seriously. As I was in my car looking in that rear view mirror I realized I was looking in the rear view mirror of my own life. As a little girl I loved singing. I remember belting out the tunes of my Dad's Barbara Streisand records. I would stand on the fireplace hearth and pretend to hold a microphone. "New York State of Mind" was my all-time favorite! He would turn it up so loud and I would sing as loudly as I could. (Maybe he was secretly trying to drown out my voice). I was looking in the rear view mirror of my own life while looking at my daughter....and seeing my future in her face! Does that make sense? I know I am not her and she is not me. She is a very different and distinct person altogether; stronger, more compassionate, more loving, and more gentle. But, at the same time, she is so much like me it's like looking in a mirror. And I can almost see the woman she will become.

Okay, to be fair (or maybe just honest--not so fair really), when I look in my bathroom mirror I see a very different reflection. I see crow's feet, laugh lines, wrinkles on my forehead that deepen almost daily, age spots (that my husband claims not to see at all....God bless him!), and a few straggling grays (which I completely blame on my 4 children). And that's just from the neck up! We won't discuss the rest of the reflection. Ella, on the other hand, has beautiful red hair with soft curls, deep brown eyes, a pure complexion, naturally rosy cheeks, and possibly the cutest little legs you've ever seen! Okay. Maybe I'm biased, but I think she's beautiful and breathtaking, inside and out!

It's really not so much that my reflection has changed, though it has. It's more accurate to say that the mirrors I'm looking into have changed. I'm looking into living, breathing, wide-eyed, strong, yet fragile and pliable mirrors--4 of them to be precise! These mirrors are changing day by day and I get to be a part of that change! What an unbelievable honor and a heavy responsibility! As parents, we bear this responsibility for each of our children. We help them become who they are meant to be. We see strengths and help our children to use them. We see weaknesses and help our children to overcome them. We see potential and help our children to reach it! I looked in the rear view mirror at my little red-head singing along to one of her favorite tunes I realized that I am responsible for a whole lot. Not me alone. But, I don't take this responsibility lightly. Who could? I look at her and at each of my children, and I see so much of me. I see the good. I see the not so good. I hear my daughter speak gently to her baby and tuck her in with kisses and I'm encouraged as a mom. I hear her fuss at her brother and huff as she stomps away, and I'm reminded of my own struggles and shortcomings. All of these gazes into the mirror cause me to take a longer look at myself. Who am I when I look in the mirror? What reflection do I really see? What needs to change? What has to change? It's no doubt that she's looking at me. So....what does she see?

I pray today, Let the reflection I see when I look in the mirror be one that is more like God. Let me reflect good and not evil. Let me reflect the love of God so that when my children look at me, they see God's love at work. I realize the weight of this responsibility of parenting my children. And, just as I look at her and see me, help her to look at me and see You Lord.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Gift of Presence

I am a relational person. I thrive on good relationships in my life and can, at times, focus too much on struggling relationships. I spend a good deal of time reflecting on the condition of all the relationships in my life. What is the purpose of this one? Where is that friendship headed? Is the chapter in this relationship ending or are we closing the book altogether? Why does this relationship encourage me so much? What can I do to improve that one? I think it's important to continually reflect on relationships and work to make them what they should be. Not every relationship is a forever relationship but some are truly meant to be. I believe that marriage is meant to be, though I'm not seeking to convince anyone of that. And I definitely think that the relationships we, as parents, have with our children are meant to be forever relationships. Therefore, it's necessary to continually reflect on these relationships and seek to make them--and keep them--healthy and thriving.

One aspect of the relationships in my life that I've given much thought to as of late is presence. What I mean by this is, although it's very easy to be present, it's another thing to be fully, emotionally, and thoughtfully present and engaged. You know the saying, "You look like you're a million miles away." That's what I'm talking about! To truly be present in our relationships we can't be a million miles away; we need to be right here, right now. And that is something that has the potential to make any relationship incredibly fulfilling and rewarding!

I often talk to my husband about one of my favorite college courses which was Interpersonal Communication. I absolutely loved that class! I gained invaluable information and learned lessons for life. I guess if I had to sum up what I learned from that class in one word (which would be very difficult to do), I would say....presence. I'm sure it's a gift for some, a natural tendency for others, and a struggle for many. How do I become and remain present in the most important relationships of my life? Pretty sure I don't have all the answers to this question (and certainly there are many), but I do think it's something important to consider.

When I feel that whoever I am with or talking to is truly present, it does my heart good. The conversation need not be deep or even altogether thought-provoking. It's simply the gift of their presence that I desire. I find myself wanting to spend more time with people who are really there when I'm with them. When I see wandering or distracted eyes, far away stares (while I'm talking), or continual unresponsiveness, I don't wish to further the conversation. And, if this becomes a pattern, I really don't wish to further the relationship. I have not perfected this skill myself, but I am sure trying to improve upon it. In my life relationships, another person's presence, or lack thereof, truly affects me. And, if this is someone for whom I care a great deal, then it's a pretty lasting effect. I don't easily forget those feelings.

As I said before, I believe the relationships with our children are meant to be forever relationships. Children are like us. They want to experience the presence of other people in their lives, especially those important to them...their parents. Life is busy and complicated; sometimes our minds are drifting a million miles away. However, to our little ones and loved ones, our presence means the world. I watch my son's face just light up when his Dad sits next to him at dinner and puts his arm around him for a moment. I experience such joy when my little girl puts her lips to my cheek because she's glad I'm there....really there. Presence is a gift! Any parent can be present, but it is admirable and life-changing to be present. Imagine how fulfilling our lives will be when we strive to be present in our every relationship.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Do Your Eyes Smile, Mom?

I heard a story this week that has really given me cause to reflect on my demeanor, especially my demeanor from my children's perspective. The radio station I listen to was taking calls about things children have said to their parents that served as wake-up calls. Our children often have a way of saying things with such innocence, yet unexpected wisdom, that it can catch us off guard and really cause us to think. I'm sure most parents could recall countless comments, questions, or remarks from their children that have done just that. The particular story that struck a chord with me was about a 4 yr. old daughter who said something profound to her mother. Her mother had been widowed and left with two young children. Her grief was consuming her and making it difficult to care for her children with any joy. One day, the 4 yr. old crawled up on her mother's lap and said to her, "Mommy, your eyes don't smile anymore." Wow! That was, I'm sure, heartbreaking for her to hear. And, it served as a wake-up call to that mother that she had to get her life together and reclaim her personal joy so that she could raise those two beautiful children.

I've spent several days since hearing this story thinking about it over and over and over. I haven't experienced any trauma close to what that particular mother experienced. I cannot pretend to relate to that situation. However, I can relate to allowing the circumstances and struggles of life to overwhelm you. As parents, when we are overwhelmed with difficult circumstances, relationships, or transitions our children not only can sense it--they can see it! Don't fool yourself. Your children see the struggle when they look in your eyes.

Now, there must be a balance here. We cannot expect our young children to comprehend the complexities of our adult struggles. Moreover, it is simply unfair to expect them to. Children should be able to enjoy life--to sing, play, and have fun! This world is filled with plenty of evil, anger, corruption, and disappointment; most parents hope to shield their young children as long as possible. However, it is unrealistic for us as parents to go through very difficult or trying times without allowing our children to see any of this personal struggle. Perhaps, a certain amount of transparency is a healthy teaching tool. We are human before we are parents, after all. And, we should train our children to move through their lives with a healthy level of emotional maturity. This maturity will not development successfully if they never see it modeled before them. Okay, off of that soap box.

Back to what really struck me about that story. The entire demeanor of that mother was unmistakably noticed by her daughter and was most definitely affecting her. I believe we have this impact on our children, whether we purpose to or not. They observe us--every part of us. They notice our facial expressions, our tone of voice, how we react to others. Children are very attentive and can be quite perceptive. Therefore, it's important that we are careful how we handle our emotions in the presence of our children. We don't want to burden them with struggles they cannot understand. And, I think it's crucially important to exhibit a presence and a demeanor of peace and joy for our children. While we may be unhappy about specific circumstances, or we may be uncertain of the outcome to some of life's tough decisions or transitions, we should hope to pass on a sense of security to our children. I believe that security can best be felt by children if they know that there is joy and peace in their home. Truly, if joy and peace are in their home, then they should regularly see it in the eyes of their parents. They should see our eyes smile--at least most of the time.

As I said earlier, this particular story struck me so much personally. I never want my children to look into my eyes and not find the security that they so desperately need. The eyes are the windows to our soul and our children know this instinctively. They are looking for our eyes to smile!

On a much lighter note, my home is often filled with silly kid songs. My kids make up some doozies, as well as enjoy some familiar oldies but goodies. At my son's preschool, they sing songs regularly. The teachers put new words to familiar tunes to help the children remember certain things about which they're learning. I have done the same thing with my recent lesson. Remember the song, "Do your ears hang low, do they wobble to and fro?" Well, I'm a goofy mom so here is my rendition (about smiling eyes). I imagine my child singing this to me so I will never forget the importance of my demeanor around them.
Do your eyes smile, Mom?
Do they light up at my glance?
Can you make them sparkle?
Can you make them dance?
Do they reflect the love & joy that you say you have inside?
Do your eyes smile, Mom?
I hope your eyes are smiling today. Someone needs them to be.