Thursday, April 29, 2010

Time For Another Stern Correction...or a Hug

I find myself continually wondering why I don't treat my children with the same kind of gentleness and love with which God treats me. I think about this often because it's an area in which I struggle greatly. Gentleness. Gentle, as defined in the Webster's Dictionary, is "generous; kind; easily handled; not violent, harsh, or rough; to calm or soothe as by stroking." Gentleness is an attribute the Bible ascribes to God and to the Spirit of God. We are to strive to be gentle. I wish I could write this blog as someone who has the answers for a reader who is searching for the answers. Well, guess what? I am not that someone. I am spending each and every day of this journey searching myself and striving to become a much better person; a better wife; a better mother; a better friend. So, I write this blog as one who is, like you, experiencing the journey and hopefully getting better each and every day.

So, having said that, gentleness is something I desire to exhibit to others in my life--especially those precious ones for which I'm responsible. I was reading yesterday about love languages, again, and really learning a great deal. This particular concept was that young children rarely act out unless they're on empty. This could mean that the sense of love that they need to feel from mom or dad is lacking. Or, maybe they're physically empty; maybe they're tired, hungry, sick. They act out because they are on empty! Well, I can say first-hand that I understand that! I myself tend to act out when I'm on empty! When I'm hungry or tired, I become cranky. When I'm spiritually dry, I struggle to have faith and trust God. When I am overdue for some emotional fulfillment (time with my husband, time with my girls, or just me-time), I find it difficult to show kindness and gentleness to others. Yep! I definitely can act out when I'm on empty.

I've been trying to take a few extra moments when my young children are acting out to look more objectively at the situation. Not always easy to do. Sometimes in the heat of the moment I tend to be too rough (opposite of gentle). I may speak harshly or react with a punishment too quickly. And, oftentimes this reaction can block any opportunity I may have had for filling up their tanks. Oh, I've been guilty of this! Thankfully, I get another chance--and another--and another. If your kids are anything like mine you can rest assured that you will have many more chances to redeem yourself. God is so gentle with us! He forgives and gives us new mercies and new opportunities each and every day.

Today I had an opportunity to pause for a moment before reacting. Okay, truthfully I probably had several opportunities, but one stands out. I had to spend the better part of my morning at the Pediatrician's office and then at the pharmacy with my 2 youngest children. My baby hadn't been sleeping or eating well and I suspected an ear infection. My suspicions were accurate. So, after dropping off my 4 yr. old at preschool, then driving to the Dr.'s office to spend the next hour, we headed to the store to fill 2 prescriptions. My 2 yr. old daughter Ella was with me and was behaving well considering the circumstances. However, while walking across the large superstore back to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription, the whining and fussing began. Sometimes it's like nails on a chalkboard to me--though by now I'm sure I should be used to it. I really dislike whining! Too often, I begin the verbal correcting, leading up to the stern voice, and ultimately the threats to dole out a consequence. Yes, there are times for consequences. I believe we need to be consistent. But, once we stood in line (for another 5 minutes) at the pharmacy counter, I looked at my sweet, red-head 2 yr. old and paused. She whined some more. I paused again. Then...I got it. Truly. She was on empty! She was tired; she'd had no morning play time; she was thirsty; and newly potty-trained, she'd not gone to the bathroom for over 2 hours. What a sweet girl. She really is. And, she was doing her best but couldn't do it any longer. She needed her tank filled. She needed my gentleness, not my harsh reactions. I picked her up, gave her a big hug and a kiss on her cheek, and I held her. I just held her. She softened. I really shouldn't be surprised. And for all of you more experienced parents out there, I guess I'm just a slow-learner.

My husband has grasped this concept so much earlier than I have. Sometimes, at the end of a long day in which my 4 yr. old does not nap, he can really fall apart. Before our very eyes he morphs into someone we don't know and don't really like. Can I say that? At these times, he's physically exhausted and it doesn't take much to set him off. Often, in the middle of a complete breakdown, my husband will just go and hug him and won't let go. He softens. Gentleness. "Easily handled; to calm or soothe as by stroking." I hope I will continue to pause and remember to react with gentleness. What could our world be like with more gentleness? I'm pausing to think about that.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Oh, To Be Mama Mary!

Today I feel as if every sign in my life is pointing toward the notion of being still. A good friend sent me an email this morning about how she was really making the effort to simplify things and just sit at the feet of Jesus, referencing the Biblical account of Mary and Martha. Later as I was catching up on some quiet reading while my children, thankfully, went down for naps, I read about the same concept. The chapter I read was about occupying our time with that which is fruitful as opposed to just being busy. Okay! I'm getting the message loud and clear! Maybe I am occupying too much time and energy just being busy and I'm missing much that is truly important.

I have to confess that I used to feel somewhat frustrated whenever I'd read about Mary and Martha. I got the point but I just immediately related to Martha. Not because I didn't want or crave time resting at the feet of Jesus, but because I have always believed in taking care of things. I could just imagine that if Mary was the only one running a home, her home might be a pigsty and she might appear flighty and completely uncommitted to priorities. I mean really, who is going to cut vegetables, set the table, and sweep the floor after dinner? It clearly wasn't going to be Mary. I guess Martha would do it....again. It's entirely possibly that Martha had that martyr attitude down pat. But, maybe she just wanted to make things absolutely perfect for the most important guest she had ever hosted. I can relate!

Fast forward to my life today. I admit that while I can so easily relate to Martha, I get the point. I know what Jesus was teaching and I want to be a Mary. I'm not attempting to reteach the story. I'm not attempting to dissect it either. But, I am honestly attempting to learn a lesson from this story that I need to apply in my life. The most important job that I have in my life right now is that of being a mother. I am employed full-time and am responsible for 4 very active clients. I rarely have quiet, uninterrupted lunch breaks; I have no paid vacations; there is little to no opportunity for promotion. Not sure that I'd want a promotion anyway. I really love and cherish this position!

Having said that, I am so often guilty of being Mother Martha. It's an easy trap to fall in. I have beds to make, laundry to do, a kitchen and bathrooms that constantly need cleaned (especially with young boys and their aim). I'm certainly not alone. All moms have this list and a thousand other daily responsibilities. It's easy to feel overwhelmed. It's easy to be consumed with being Martha and to forget about taking time to be a Mary to our children. I know that my children appreciate my Martha tendencies. Really! I think they like having clean clothes available, school supplies ready, toys in order, and good food at mealtime. They may not express their appreciation, but I know I'd hear complaints if their needs went unmet.

However, as much as they need and like that I can be Mother Martha, they crave the Mama Mary. They really need and desire my undivided attention. They want me to sit with them, play with them, talk with them, and respond to them. There are days when I so wish I didn't have to hear "Mom!" one more time. But, this is my job. They need me to be actively involved in their lives. They want to be noticed. They desire, more than anything, that I stop what I'm doing and pay them all of my attention. How often I fail to do this! It's easy to become wrapped up in my daily responsibilities and look at play time with my children as a luxury. Or worse....a burden. Was Jesus' visit to Martha's house a burden to her? I don't know the answer to that. But I do know that Jesus was hoping to help her see that the benefit of time with him would far outweigh the feeling of accomplishment from completing her tasks.

I relearn this lesson on a daily basis. Whenever I focus on being Mama Mary instead of Mother Martha, my kids benefit. They beam with joy when I give them the gift of my time. Just this morning, I spent some quality time with my daughter. We played kitchen, read books, fed the baby breakfast together, and shared a snack. I devoted my time and energy to making her feel that she was more important than my chores. It's doubtful that I send that message every day. I struggle. I waiver. But, all in all I see the absolute necessity and importance of being a Mama Mary to my children. The house will always need cleaned; bills will always need paid; and surely, the laundry will never be done. But, my children won't remain children forever. I so appreciate the way my Mom served our family and made such a nice home for us. But, some of my most fond memories are of times that she spent playing a game with us, taking us for a walk, or baking cookies with us. I can only imagine how she also struggled balancing her mothering responsibilities. Investing time in our children, however, is never wasted! I may regret times when I was too much of a Mother Martha, but I'm sure I'll never regret learning to be the Mama Mary that my children need me to be.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

God Dreams--We're All Born Dreamers

Today is kind of day that I find myself inspired--truly inspired--by so many around me. Ever have a day like that? Throughout the day while I think about the stories of those around me I have been moved to tears. Okay, it's fair to say that I am, by nature, an emotional person; I cry easily. Close friends and family members know this about me. Nonetheless, I am having one of those stand back and admire God kind of days. What I have realized today is that there are friends, family members, and acquaintances all around me who are seeing their "God dreams" come alive. Inspiring.

What is your God dream? We all have them. I'm not referring to something that is highly spiritual. I'm talking about the dreams that we all carry with us day to day--the dreams that we've had in our hearts since we were children. We aspire to something bigger, something greater, something we probably cannot make happen by ourselves. As children, these God dreams are so natural and seem altogether possible. Ask a young child what he wants to do or be when he grows older. Most likely you'll get an answer that is rooted in God's creative and unique love for him. Generally, it's not hard for a child to dream big dreams--God dreams. I remember dreaming some things as a young child that I just knew would happen; I didn't doubt or question their likelihood. My children are the same way. I began asking my oldest son when he was no more than 2 years old if he had good dreams and what they were. I'm not certain that he understood at this age what dreams were. But he sure does now! He often retells his dreams to us in vivid detail. And, he tells us about his daydreams; he describes them as if he was watching a movie. He envisions it! This is how our God dreams start too.

I was particularly inspired today by my Pastor's wife as she shared about some recent experiences in ministry that took her breath away. They reminded her of God's faithfulness to answer the dreams that she had in her heart even as a young child. There it is again! We are born dreamers. I believe that God wants to answer the dreams He puts on the inside of us--the God dreams. I was inspired today by a friend and her husband who are soon opening a store, a business full of opportunity. I was inspired today by a father who always longed for his adult children to become active members of a church family. Today he realized that one more piece of that dream is coming alive; he's overjoyed. Today I was inspired by a generous woman who has launched a charity from scratch based on an intense love for children, and a desire to bless and encourage children and families who are dealing with illness. I'm also inspired by friends of mine who continually put their hands to work helping others to achieve their God dreams.

God dreams are all around us. What is your God dream? I have many. So many. Some have come alive and others are yet to be realized. As I look around at those who are seeing their God dreams become reality I am encouraged and inspired. I'm reminded to have the faith, imagination, and heart of a child. I want to recapture that innocence and creative instinct. I choose this day to remember all of my God dreams and to never give up on them. Someone needs for my God dreams to come alive, and undoubtedly, someone needs for your God dreams to come alive too!

Friday, April 2, 2010

It May be Dreary and Rainy, But We'll Make the Most of it

Recently my husband and I took the kids on an afternoon excursion. It was somewhat spontaneous and we waited until leaving to tell the kids just in case our plans changed. With 4 small children sometimes plans simply have to change. We had planned to head to one of our favorite one-day destination spots, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ron and I often visited Ann Arbor when we were dating. There is an endless array of restaurant choices, quaint stores, lots of coffee shops, and of course, plenty of culture to take in; it is the home of the University of Michigan after all. We just love it!

As we were preparing to leave church and head up the road we realized the rain was really coming down. Gray skies were all around and there seemed no hope for sunshine. What to do? We didn't consider for long. We decided to go anyway. Rain, sun, snow, or sleet, we really enjoy taking in that city. Our children, as most children do, take their cues from us so they were excited to go do something new and not one of them whined, "but it's raining." Needless to say, we had a marvelous time. We enjoyed lunch at one of our favorite pizza joints. We spent over an hour browsing at a 2-story Borders bookstore helping each of the kids pick out a new book. And, of course, we winded down our day with a visit to Starbucks for coffee and a snack. Was it a bit chilly? Yes. Was it windy and rainy? Yes. Did we have to push a stroller extra fast and run with our children into stores? Sometimes. Was it all worth it? Absolutely! All of the kids had fun and behaved like angels. Even our baby was content throughout the afternoon. We had a fabulous day and created some fond family memories.

You know, life can be a lot like our trip to Ann Arbor. We have all kinds of plans, dreams, and goals. They are focused on the good, the positive, and the least in our minds. Some plans are ours, some plans are truly God's. Either way, most of us do not spend time envisioning our downfalls, pitfalls, setbacks, or failures. We were created in the image of God and we want the best for ourselves and our family, just as God does. However, life happens. There are downfalls and setbacks; we experience failure and defeat, confusion and frustration. The question becomes, "Should we move forward anyway or allow circumstances to hinder our plans?"

Recently my husband informed me that the company he works for has a slow month ahead. This isn't altogether surprising. The economy is struggling and almost everyone has felt the effects of it. My husband is in a trade that has ebbs and flows. He has been laid off for short periods of time over the last few years. The most recent layoff occurred prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. When he told me, my first thought was do not waste time worrying about this. You see, he was laid off a few years prior. During that time, miraculously, we were able to pay off a good deal of debt. I still don't really know how but by the grace of God. So, during this last layoff I had to choose daily not to worry. Not always easy. We are a single income family with 4 children. However, we made it through. During that time, we were able to do some face lift work on our kitchen. We had paint given to us. We painted the walls and the cabinets and my husband installed a new counter top. I love the new look. Also during this time, my husband's passion for drawing was reignited. He has amazing talent and potential. We were able to take extra time during the holidays to visit with family and were even able to make a trip to Tennessee to visit my Grandparents. By the grace of God, we made it through.

So, as my husband told me he may have a slow month I had to make a choice. Fret, cry, and worry? Or trust in the Lord's provision for our lives? After taking some time to consider....I am human after all....I chose the latter. I know we will be fine. God has never let us down. His ways definitely are not my ways. I do not know how it will all work out but I choose to trust in God. And, I am reminded of our recent excursion to Ann Arbor. How could a gray, rainy, dreary day provide so many fun moments and positive memories for my family? Well, we chose to move forward. We made the decision to have fun and enjoy one another's company despite the circumstances.

My prayer is that I will view every contrary situation and adverse circumstance in my life like that rainy afternoon in Ann Arbor. Will it be cold and messy? Likely. Will I have to be uncomfortable? Possible. Will I have to shield my children from the big, fat raindrops of life? I'll do my best. Will anything good come from it? I imagine so. Will it all even be worth it? With God, I'm certain it will be.