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.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Small Gifts

Remember the first time you saw a rainbow? Such a faint, yet striking and unexpected beauty. A gift. A small gift after the rain. Recently, a very talented musical artist who I know wrote a song about "the calm after the storm." Ever since I heard it, the melody and the words have echoed again and again in my soul. I guess for me this song came at just the perfect time, reminding me that God brings calm and serene after the storm--just as the rainbow. If we look up, we will always see small gifts after the storm.

Nothing earth-shattering, I just happened to have a rocky, unstable, and stormy few days. Emotions unbalanced and on the edge, struggling to keep life and responsibilities balanced in perspective and harmony. Falling down, falling apart, then getting right back up and trying again. Sometimes this is life. And, on the heels of Mother's Day, it's fair to say that most moms can relate. I've had several other jobs in my life. I've dealt with other people's children; dealt with the public; trained employees; had to meet sales quotas; helped families in crisis. But, this job of motherhood is by far the most difficult. I'm all tied up and tangled up in it and I'm not going anywhere. I'm committed! I cannot give up or give in. And sometimes, it takes every bit of me and then some. It had just been a stormy few days for me when I first heard this song. Then, how timely I was reminded that there is always a calm after the storm. If I look up, I just may see a rainbow--a small gift after the storm. God's love becomes evident!

God loves to give gifts to mothers. And sometimes the small gifts are the most precious. After settling myself and taking some time to look up instead of looking in (at me) I began to see all the small gifts around me.

On Mother's Day, my 6 yr. old son used all of his earned children's church points to purchase a small gift for me. At first I didn't realize this. He mentioned before church how he really hoped the Spectrum store (where children of a certain age can redeem points earned for attendance, bringing their Bible to church, and scripture memorization) was open so he could get something. In the past, he has purchased a model car, model airplane, and other small toys he enjoys. When he handed me a small nail-grooming set, I thought it was his. It wasn't until we got home that I noticed it said "Happy Mother's Day." He got it for me! He could have used his points for any new toy but he chose to give me a small gift. I still tear up thinking about the sweet generosity and thoughtfulness of his heart.

My baby said "mama" for the very first time early in the morning on Mother's Day. In the midst of waking up to a crying baby in the middle of the night...what a delightful gift!

My sweet daughter Ella often comes and holds my face in her hands and just puckers up to offer me a kiss. What a precious gift I never want to take for granted!

My son Luke has been learning to write his name. He is writing it so perfectly and is very proud of himself. His face just beams when I recognize him for doing this so well. He also willingly and happily holds my hand when it's just the two of us. It's a rare occasion, but when we have it....what a gift!

When I look up, I see so many rainbows. There are many small gifts after the storm. I'm not promised calm, peaceful moments all throughout motherhood. However, I am learning that I will always receive and enjoy small gifts if I take my eyes off myself and look up. Just as the rainbow reminds us of brighter, more peaceful moments ahead, these small gifts are reminders of God's love for mothers. He has enabled us to do this job, though it may be rocky, unstable, and sometimes stormy. He sure doesn't have to give us the gifts. Nonetheless, they are always there. Always. We simply have to look up, after the storm, and we will see all of the treasures that are as evident as His love for us.