Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Blessing of Mercy

My little girl has seen me cry way too many times today.   Embarrassed to admit that.  It has been sort of an emotional roller coaster kind of day for me.  Partly mother nature's fault; partly a bit of discouraging (or at least unexpected) news; partly just the third day with Daddy out of town.  I was awakened in the middle of the night twice last night.  And, just when I finished home school reading with my boys today and thought, I can lie down on the couch for a few quiet minutes while the girls are still napping, guess who came down the stairs?  Yep, both of my cute little princesses!

I needed a bit of a break today, but that's not realistic right now.  And, I'm sure there are those of you who could do much better than me at this, or at least those who believe you can.  But, unless you have 4 children and home school 2 of them while your husband is out of town, with no family in town offering to can't truly relate.  The truth is, I cannot truly or completely relate to another mom's situation or circumstances either!  And, I can usually handle my own circumstances just fine...usually!  Today, however, there were quite a few bouts of tears.  I can't always run away and hide when the faucets are turned on either.  If I could have, I would have!  I try to focus on the positive things; I was recounting everything for which I'm thankful.  But, the tears still came a few times.  And my sweet little Ella was a witness to them.

What amazes me about her is...  Wait a minute!  There's so much that amazes me about that girl!  She is so loving and tender-hearted, expressive, compassionate, and understanding.  Let me try to relay to you some of the sweet things she said to me today.  At one point, I walked downstairs after vacuuming and she had seen a few tears escape my eyes.  She followed me downstairs and asked, "Do you want to be alone when you are sad?"  I talked to her a little bit and although I said "yes, sometimes," she sat nearby--fully aware that her presence was helpful, despite my answer.  She gave me several hugs and kisses.  After dinner, she and I spent a while talking and I'm sure she could sense my feelings of disappointment in myself; I'm sure of this because of what she said to me.  Out of nowhere she told me (in my ear so softly), "I still love you mom."  More tears!  Then she said to me, "It's okay mom, we're still best friends."  She kept coming back in the kitchen while I was cleaning up after dinner to give me a hug, or tell me a story, or ask if I was okay.

I hope that you believe that I didn't want to allow my tears to be so visible.  I didn't want to appear like an emotional basket-case to any of my children today.  I want to be strong for them.  I want to maintain an atmosphere of joy and peace.  Not so sure that I came close to succeeding in any of that today.  In fact, I spent the better half of the day beating myself up for what felt to me like failing miserably as a mom. 

Here is the thing about moms that we cannot change no matter how badly we feel we should.  We are going to reveal who we are and what is really going on to our children when we would rather hide it.  Moms are visible to their children.  And I think that more times than not, no matter how much our children are ready to jump into Daddy's arms, they are acutely aware of what is going on with Mommy.  I know that I was as a child.  And I suppose it doesn't directly harm any of us to see another person sad, hurting, or struggling.  How else do we develop compassion?  So, as much as I truly wanted to hide those tears and put on a happy face, I didn't have one to put on...  I'm sure I will tomorrow!  But my little 4 year old has simply amazed me today!  She has blessed me more than I can explain.  So, as much as I have felt like an utter failure as a mom today, she has indirectly reminded me that I am not.  Somehow, I have had a hand (at least a small one) in helping this little girl begin to grow into who God intends for her to be.  We named her Ella because it is a derivative of "Eleanor" and means "mercy."  Wow!  She knows how to give that!  And the red hair she has is a dead give-away that I have had to extend mercy to her many times over also.  But, she has blessed me today more than words can tell. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Extraordinary in the Midst of the Ordinary!

Many people around me have given voice lately to the idea of finding joy in the simple things.  I have also been reflecting on this.  In fact, I think I've decided that if my life as a wife and a mom had a title, it would be Finding the Magic in the Mundane.  Or, I could call it Enjoying the Every Day; The Sanctity in the Simple; Beautiful Moments in the Midst of the Busy.  Okay, you get the idea.  I could come up with quite a few catchy little phrases; that's because I really have made this my aim.  And, even when it hasn't been my aim, it has certainly been God's gift to me....over and over and over!  Maybe you can relate.

Several weekends ago, my husband and I took a weekend to go away and celebrate our 12 year anniversary.  This was so significant for us because not only do we rarely (and I mean rarely) get this kind of an opportunity, but we also find it difficult to have date nights.  We had the most wonderful weekend together.  God blessed us with gorgeous weather both days we were at the lake:  we took bike rides, enjoyed slow walks, ate good food, and had so much fun together.  It was everything it should have been and more!  I am truly blessed and thankful for our time away.

But here is what amazes me about life...and about God's love towards us.  The following weekend we headed to visit my family in Cincinnati.  It had been a few months since we had made the trip and we always enjoy the family time.  I brought my tennis shoes and necessary clothes for morning walks since I have made my physical health a priority.  That Saturday morning I headed outdoors for an early morning walk while the kids were spending time with their Daddy and Papa.  As I walked around my parents' neighborhood, I began noticing all of the trees and changing leaves.  I love fall; it's my favorite season!  The more I looked around, the more I noticed that it truly was the most perfect, crisp, pure, and absolutely beautiful fall day I'd ever seen!  The more I looked around, the more in awe I was!  I couldn't stop myself from smiling and before I knew it I was in tears.  Then, I couldn't stop myself from thanking God for his goodness and praising Him for His beauty! 

You must believe me when I say that my parents' neighborhood is certainly nice, but doesn't even compare in beauty to the gorgeous view of the lake we enjoyed the previous weekend.  And, as I shared earlier, I had the most wonderful time at the lake with my husband.  However, the thing about God is that He can show up so purposefully in our lives whenever and wherever He so chooses!  He can show up on a beautiful fall morning in an average suburban neighborhood and cause you to feel as if you are truly standing on holy ground!  He can do it for whomever He wants and however He sees fit.  I'm not sure if anyone else in that neighborhood experienced anything close to what I did that morning, but I was so moved by God's majesty!  I felt as if I had received a personal love letter from God!  Even  as I remember that morning walk I can still recall how I felt--and feel it all over again!  No one and nothing can ever take that experience away from me.  It was just a regular morning walk on an ordinary day....and it turned extraordinary without warning. 

I think this is what I am learning all the time.  Extraordinary moments can show up unexpectedly in our lives in the midst of ordinary events and circumstances!  The key, at least for me, is to acknowledge these moments and purpose to remember them.  We give these experiences life when we thank God for them and choose to acknowledge how special they are.  How amazing that we can build for ourselves a reservoir of spectacular and awe-inspiring memories to reflect on whenever we want!  Extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary!  Lord, help me to never take that for granted!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Admittedly I haven't wanted to write lately.  I have felt discouraged about something in my life.  Just yesterday I thought, more than once, I really wish that I had never started writing a blog in the first place.  You see, I feel a responsibility to this blog for several reasons, but whenever I am experiencing feelings of discouragement, I'd just as soon not write about much of anything.  I truly love to write, but I seldom feel that any words of wisdom should come from me.  In fact, I've never wanted to approach this blog as someone who has any advantage over anyone else; I simply want to share what I am learning.  But, herein lies my quandary:  when I am struggling to figure things out--really struggling--I don't believe my words can encourage anyone else.  Having said that, I am writing yet another blog out of a personal commitment to write that I made some time ago. 

You see, life may have a way of chewing you up and spitting you out, but nothing and no one can cause you to totally forsake your commitments.  You have control over that!  And sometimes, in the middle of keeping our commitments, we are personally impacted or touched in a way that really means something to us. 

I can identify a few areas where this has happened in my own life.  In March, I made a commitment to become physically healthy.  I began exercising regularly and I began changing some of my eating habits.  After two and a half months I saw no results.  I struggled with feelings of discouragement.  I was running 2-4 miles, five to six times a week.  I was really trying!  Yet, I had not lost one pound or one pant size.  I could have given up!  However, nothing more than my personal commitment to myself pushed me to keep trying.  Not long after this, I received some wonderful words of advice from a close friend (who also happens to be a personal trainer) and things began to change.  I approached exercise with some variety and began to see results.  Since June I have lost almost 30 pounds and I am feeling stronger and more healthy than ever before!  I remain personally committed to my physical health!

I am home schooling my sons this year for several reasons.  I home schooled my older son for his first grade year, last year.  Reading is a struggle for him.  The evaluation he had at the end of the year proved that he was behind where he should be.  Once again I felt discouraged.  I truly believed while entering this new school year that home school was the best decision for our family.  However, I couldn't shake the feeling that maybe I didn't have the ability to help Jaden improve his reading.  Some days nothing more than a commitment to do this has kept me going.  I can't say that I thoroughly love every moment of home schooling my boys; it's very busy and I also have to occupy my daughters and maintain my home.  But, little changes are taking place.  Jaden voluntarily picked a much more difficult chapter book to read recently (while I was ready to re-read an easier one).  I have to help him still quite a bit, but he's enjoying the book.  We read several pages today and he was more than okay with it; he wasn't begging to stop.  He has also taken the initiative to type stories on the computer, as well as deciding to type out all of his memory scriptures for church.  I'm not entirely sure that his reading has improved, but I do believe he is enjoying it more and is much more willing to approach it.  Might just be my opinion, but I think that enjoying to read is the start of becoming a great reader!

Today, while keeping my commitment to home school, I was personally touched by what I was reading.  I was reading a book to my sons about the life story of Hudson Taylor, an English man who became a Christian missionary to China.  We're not too far into the book but it has been interesting and an enlightening look at life in 19th century England.

Now, to understand why today's chapter meant so much to me, I'll need to confide some of my personal struggle.  I've been feeling discouraged about our finances.  We are a single income family by design, but it means a great deal of sacrifice, and often....frustration.  One thing my husband and I have always been committed to is our decision to give.  We have tithed faithfully to our local church throughout our entire marriage, even during the few occasions when my husband experienced lay-offs with his job.  In addition, we've regularly given charitably above and beyond our tithe and we bless others financially whenever we can.  We have committed to this and we will never stop.  However, sometimes our financial situation is a struggle--a frustration--and seems unlikely to improve.  Yet, we remain committed to bless as we have been blessed!

So today, as I struggled with some feelings of discouragement about this, we read a chapter that I think may have been written just for me!  In this chapter, Hudson Taylor's experience was in learning to trust God to be his provider despite contrary circumstances.  He worked for a Dr. Hardey, who was a good employer, but who often forgot to pay Hudson his wages on time.  Hudson felt that God was trying to teach him to trust in Him to be his source, therefore he decided not to remind his employer that his wages were due...or overdue.  Instead, he trusted God.  During this time, he had an opportunity to visit a poor family and pray for a dying mother of 6.  While he was praying for this woman, he felt impressed to give the family his very last coin, meaning he would surely have nothing to pay his rent.  He struggled with this, but he gave the family his money.  (I felt that I could relate as there have been several times when Ron and I have blessed others who were struggling while we ourselves were struggling to make ends meet.)  As Hudson walked this out in faith, he began to see God provide in miraculous and unexpected ways! 

I choked up as I read this chapter aloud to my boys, realizing that it was God's encouragement to me.  You see, Ron and I are steadfast in our commitment to prioritize our finances.  I wish I could write how everything has begun to turn around and head in a new direction for us.  I cannot write that at this time.  However, one thing I know is that God has always taken care of us and He always will!  I feel better remaining committed to this and trusting God to provide for us than in trying to trust sheerly in our own ability to provide.  We're not God and we don't know His ways!  But, just as God encouraged a young man in the 19th century to trust Him to provide all he needed, we will continue to trust that our God can supply all of our needs in the 21st century! 

What I can sum up from all of this is how important I feel it is to stay committed to our vows.  Whether it is our physical health, our children's education, our marriage, our finances, or developing a hobby or skill, there is something valuable that happens when we keep our commitments.  I wish I could say that I've always been committed and that I've never given up.  This is not so!  In fact, the desire to give up is sometimes present even when I want to be a faithful person.  But, I'm getting stronger every day.  So, I'm publishing this blog without any confirmation that it will encourage or help a single person who reads it.  Regardless, it is my personal commitment and I'm keeping it.   

Thursday, September 15, 2011

One Tiny Victory

I had one of those personal success stories today, a tiny victory.  You know, when you actually put something into practice that you've reminded yourself of more times than you can count?  We had finished the bulk of our homeschool work and I desperately needed to get to the grocery store for some essentials.  My husband is out of town, so there haven't been any evenings when I could sneak out and grocery shop alone.  I told the kids to go to the bathroom, and put on their shoes and jackets; we had four errands on the agenda.  The boys said they were ready and headed out the back door (for just a quick minute) while I was putting on Tessa's shoes.  Once I was ready to leave, they both came running in saying they needed to go to the bathroom and change out of their backyard shoes.  Okay, thanks for listening the first time, is what I thought.

We quickly took care of our first three errands, and were on the way to the grocery store--not the most fun place in the world to take four kids, but we would survive.  As we turned down the street towards the grocery store it occurred to me that I had probably left my grocery list and my hefty envelope of coupons at home.  I reached down in my purse to double check, and sure enough, no list or coupons!  I was slightly irritated.  The first thought that entered my mind was:  Well boys, if you would have cooperated and did what I asked you to do instead of running outside, I wouldn't have been thrown off my game and I would've remembered my envelope on the counter!  Yep, I admit it!  That was the first thought that entered my mind as the irritation of forgetting something necessary swept over me.  We were already running errands too close to the lunchtime hour and I wondered how long my 2 year old would be agreeable.  I felt irritated that I had to turn around and return home before we shopped. 

I'm sure by now you're wondering what personal success I experienced in all this.  Well, although the first thought that entered my mind was a negative one--blaming my children--I did not speak this thought out loud.  In fact, in keeping my mouth shut, I quickly came to my senses.

Was forgetting my grocery list and coupons my children's fault?  Absolutely not!  Have I ever blamed my children, in my own mind or out loud, for something that was not their fault?  Yep!  I am willing to admit that I have, although I am not proud of this.  More times than not, I've had to apologize to my children and explain that "Mommy was just feeling frustrated."  Is that fair or okay?  No!  But, I am human and I struggle with my emotions from time to time.  Okay, maybe "from time to time" is generous, but that's not the point!  I sometimes struggle with wanting to place blame or point a finger--even if it's pointed at me.  I'm especially guilty of this when something inconvenient or frustrating catches me off guard.  Again, I'm not proud of this; it's an area of struggle for me. 

On this particular day, I started my morning with a devotion that reminded me of times like these.  No matter how big or small, when something happens that is frustrating or upsetting, our reaction is what really matters.  It can be unfruitful, at times, to ask Why?.  Moreover, it often does no good to voice frustrations that cannot be helped.  In my case today, it would have been upsetting, hurtful, and possibly harmful to give voice to my irrational accusations in the heat of the moment.  My children would have felt guilty and responsible for something that was never their responsibility--no matter how they behaved before we left the house.  (Not to mention, I certainly would not have been modeling any helpful coping skills for them.)

I was not thrilled to have to run errands with four children so close to the lunchtime hour.  I knew that I still had to hurry home, unload groceries, prepare lunch, and finish homeschooling my boys.  However, I am thankful we had a morning like that.  I'm glad that I forgot my list and my coupons.  I'm glad because it gave me the opportunity to experience one tiny victory:  I kept my mouth shut!  Maybe you can relate.  Maybe keeping your mouth shut is a tiny but significant victory for you--as it is for me!  Or maybe that isn't you at all.  Whatever your personal struggle, no matter how big or small, victory feels great!  Sometimes that's all we mama's tiny victory!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Muddy Madness

Ever have a day when you feel like you've taught your kids nothing judging by the way they behave? Is it humorous that I'm even asking you that question--because you find yourself feeling that way more often than you'd care to admit?  I was there this morning!  Truthfully, I'm there more often than I want to admit.  So, at the risk of being considered an unfit mother, here goes my story!

Breakfast finished; girls upstairs to get some dolls; boys outside to play.  Probably not even 10 minutes later I head outside with my girls to push them on the swings.  On our way out I notice that the water hose is dripping.  I remind Luke not to turn it on without permission, to which he cheerfully replies, "Okay mom, I won't!"  (Good response, I think.)  Then as we head to the swing set, I look at my chaise lounge and notice that there are huge clumps of wet mud splattered all over it...ALL over it!  I am not happy!  I look at Jaden who smirks and quietly points to Luke.  Luke quickly explains, "That was a squirrel's mess!  A squirrel did that!"  Yeah, nice try!  Then I look at Jaden again and command, "You'd better start talking now and tell me the story."  Jaden continues smirking and says, "Luke did it."  (Obviously!)  Then I notice there are also clumps of mud splattered all over one of the swings.  I send the boys inside!

Now, I will not bore you with the details of their discipline, but I assure you that they were disciplined!  After their time of discipline was finished, I talked to both of them.  I talked to Luke first and he was well aware that he had acted wrongfully.  When I began to talk with Jaden I had every intention of reminding him that he was wrong because he didn't tell Luke to stop what he was doing and because he didn't come tell me.  So, I asked him "Now you do know why you were wrong, don't you?"  He replied, "Yes."  So I asked him, for the purpose of discussion, "Why were you wrong?"  His answer shocked me!  "Because I told him to do it."  Give me a stinkin break!  Are you kidding me?  My 8 year old told his brother to do such a thing?  These were my thoughts, though they may have been just a bit more colorful in my mind...  Now, insert the I have no idea if I've taught my children anything at all feelings.  Oh, and add to those the common mommy-comparison thoughts and feelings.  (Oh yes, guilty of those too!)  I'm sure so-and-so's kids would never ever do something like this.  Maybe some of you think I'm overreacting and that's fine.  I also imagine that poor, childish behavior--such as my boys' this morning--is more common than most of us mothers like to admit to each other! 

Now, on most given days I can think of a multitude of stories about my children that make me feel so proud of their character.  I love sharing those glowing stories.  I do not enjoy sharing the stories that reveal how they are still so lacking in judgment, decency (sometimes), and even common sense!  Come to think of it, they often remind me of some adults I know!  At some point, I will laugh at this situation, but this morning I was not happy and was certainly not laughing!  Later in the day, I heard a familiar song--the words seemed so fitting.

So I'll learn to love these days
Life along the way
In the middle of the crazy
God your love is so amazing
Through the ups and downs
You're the only hope I've found
Lord you meet me in the madness
I'll learn to love these days

And that is the truth of it, isn't it?  God is still so amazing and His love is unending!  Even in the mess and madness of my days, He loves me and He loves my kids.  Even when I question the ultimate success of my mothering (which by the way, I'm not supposed to judge...let alone judge by my children's behaviors), He's patient, gentle, and loving with me.  So..."I'll learn to love these days!" 

*lyrics by Mandisa

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Please Pass the Grace!

Oh the irony of it!  I headed for the back door to tell my boys that they could stay outside and play for the afternoon, instead of coming in for a rest, because they were playing so nicely.  As I opened the back door I saw my 8 year old, adorned with a grumpy face, holding his shoulder and claiming that Luke hurt him.  "He kicked me!  He did it on purpose!"  Luke, dragging his feet behind Jaden replied, "No I didn't."  I began to ask Luke what happened and if it was an accident.  Jaden interrupted me and fussed, "He did do it on purpose!" not even giving Luke a chance to explain.  "Okay!"  "In the house and up to your room for naps; if you can't play nicely or extend any grace to one another, you don't get to stay up!"  And that was that. 

After everyone had washed their hands and was in bed, I laughed a bit.  Just a bit.  Ten minutes earlier we were all outside and it was delightful!  My girls were running through the yard, jumping on the swing, jumping off, and running to the other end of the yard giggling away.  My boys had been working in their construction site (a.k.a. large sandbox turned into large dirt box complete with a boy-made 2.5 ft quarry in it).  They were so cute working together.  At one point Jaden said to Luke, "Luke you are such a great pal for helping me out!"  My mama's heart was full and smiling.  Ahh, but this smile doesn't always last...for kids will be kids. 

I still don't know if Luke kicked or hit Jaden on purpose; or if it was a careless accident; or if it was on purpose--but instigated.  I probably will never know because frankly I don't feel like digging it back up after they nap (or lie awake on their beds for the 45 min. that I require of them).  I can't always get to the bottom of every squabble or tiff.  Moreover, I don't always have the best answer or strategy when these situations arise.  I don't always know what to do and I don't often have time to deliberate.  And it's likely that I react wrongly or inappropriately from time to time.  But, there is grace!  I am given grace from God because He surely knows that parenting is tough work.  This isn't my second go at having an 8 year old and a 5 year old boy.  They didn't come with complete play by play instructions.  I am learning as I go.  So are you!  So, thankfully we have a God who offers us His grace over and over and over. 

Not only am I thankful for that grace, but I choose to offer it to my children daily.  Yes, there will still be consequences, direct and implied, but I will offer grace.  They are imperfect children just as I am a very imperfect mom living in an imperfect world.  That's the imperfect beauty of it.  So, today there won't be any rehashing of what went down in the backyard.  There will just be grace.  There will be a second, third, and fourth chance to try and work out disagreements.  Surely, they will fail again.  But just as surely, they will learn and succeed at working out their problems with one another.  Just as I receive God's grace...just as they receive my grace...eventually they will extend grace to one another.  They will.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Memory Lane...With a Twist

Today has been one of those glorious days that we moms get to experience with our children every once in a while.  Not often enough, in my opinion.  So many days are full of chores, errands, discipline, or even sheer monotony that it becomes difficult to remember how truly blessed we are.  Just last evening I was telling my husband that the dinnertime hour is my least favorite time of the day.  Even declaring that makes me sad because I have such fond dinnertime memories from my childhood.  Good food, laughter, stories...being together!  But, with 4 children still so young (and most of them still picky-eaters) we are not at the wonderful, relaxed, dinnertime hour...just yet!  Even while I am busy preparing delicious and healthy meals, I know without a doubt, that someone will complain, whine, or ask if they have to eat what I've made.  Then, we enter the actual sit-down-to-dinner-together meal and the work of being parents is in full-force.  Manners, messes, arguments over vegetables, a whining toddler who won't eat and instead tries to throw her plate (good thing this mommy has mad-reflexes!) and the list goes on.  Not to mention the cleanup in the kitchen, the dining room, and under the table following dinner!  Okay, you get the point!  Not my favorite hour--though I hold high hopes for the future!  So that's how parenting is so often--diligent, tough work--but now and then you have glorious times!

Back to my original thought!  This morning was one such time.  We headed to one of our favorite parks right away after breakfast and brushing teeth.  My oldest son, now 8, has become such a helper, so he headed to the garage to get the blue stroller (not the small purple umbrella one) and opened the van doors for the other kids.  I envisioned playing, walks, stopping for a snack, a coffee for me on the way--a good time!  As Jaden pushed the stroller to the side of the van where I was getting my little one out, I realized he did not get the blue stroller with the storage space for my backpack and drinks.  He got the umbrella stroller.  No room for drinks, sunscreen, snacks, or diapers!  And I had pants with no pockets!  The backpack has a broken strap!  I then realized we would have a much shorter visit at the park, right?  No, that's not what happened at all.  We had a long, glorious morning at the park! 

The weather was cooler than it's been and the mosquitoes were not out.  No one was at the playground for our first playtime.  We had the equipment and space to ourselves.  My 4 year old, who has a tendency to become quite whiny, did absolutely no whining!  Really!  None!  We decided to head off for our usual walk down the boardwalk bridge to the creek where the kids love to throw rocks, leaves, and sticks through the slats of the covered bridge.  Usually the walk ends there and we head back the way we came.  But today everyone, including my inclined-to-whine-Ella, was happy to take an even longer walk.  We strolled and took our time--it was so nice and leisurely!  It was glorious!  We all enjoyed each other's company as well as nature's beauty. 

It got even better for me.  We headed to the lovely garden beside the historic manor house we've visited before.  I began to tell the kids (although maybe we've told them before) that this was the very place Mommy and Daddy came to have our pictures taken when we were married.  They've seen our wedding pictures.  And I'm pretty sure they've walked through that garden before.  But suddenly, such a wave of emotion came over me!  Amazement.  Thankfulness.  Awe.  I was walking down my own memory lane...with a twist.  An amazing, beautiful twist!  As I pointed to one of the gazebos where Ron and I had posed for a picture, I thought about some of the dreams, hopes, and visions that were inside both of us on that beautiful day.  And here I was, back at that same magical place, with four of those dreams right by my side.  Awestruck!  Completely overwhelmed with the glorious, miraculous magic of how our lives unfold. 

I'll tell you what:  if God never does one more thing for me in this life, I'm overwhelmed with thankfulness for that which He's already done.  I realize that every parent may not have a similar opportunity--to walk with their children in the specific place where their union became real.  But, I do believe if we are willing to slow down once in a while; to stroll leisurely; to purpose to take our time enjoying our children, we will have opportunities to be overwhelmed with the realization of the miracle that they are.  Further, I believe that all of us can experience such moments of deep and grateful realization, even if we do not have children.  Life is so much more precious when we take the time to slow down, enjoy it, and treasure simple moments.  The magic for me was in the simple moments of this day.  Dinnertime may continue to be a bust for a few years, but I aim to slow down and enjoy more and more the four beautiful gifts God gave me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Spiritual Time-Out

Earlier I sent my 8 year old to his room to take some time alone and talk to God.  His attitude had gone from just okay to downright not nice.  He was falling apart over little things and not responding well to anyone.  I told him he needed to just take some time and make things right between him and God, and that he could not come out of his room until he had done this.  About 15 minutes later, while I was in the shower (door open, mind you!) listening to my daughters slamming their bedroom door over and over and over, I thought, "I wish I had sent myself to my room to talk to God!"  If only, right? 

Nothing about my day started out great.  I woke up to my 2 year old screaming and crying.  As I entered her room, I smelled the offense!  She has experimented with removing her own diaper recently.  This time, something happened soon after for which she was ill-prepared.  She was trapped at one side of her bed absolutely terrified at what was laying on the other side!  Okay!  Bath time bright and early!  Laundry to follow. 

After breakfast, I agreed to let the kids build a monstrous house out of every cushion, pillow, chair, blanket, and book in the house, accepting that I would use the living room space for my workout this evening instead of this morning.  Shortly after this process began is when my son's attitude took a turn for the worse.  He's a perfectionist with very big visions; when he can't make the visions a reality, he becomes easily frustrated.  Meanwhile, my printer misprinted and ruined at least 4 pretty valuable coupons.  I realize this isn't a life or death issue, but when you're a single income family, saving money is key!  My online banking website also seemed to be having an off day, but when I finally reached it I realized that a check written weeks ago had not cashed.  It was now past due!  Beautiful!  (Please forgive the sarcasm.)  So, I could hope that my insurance company would practice some decency; that after I submitted an online payment, should they receive a check that they contact me before cashing it.  But, I don't have that much faith in insurance companies.  So, I sat on the phone with a very courteous bank representative who kindly stopped the payment of my check to the small tune of thirty-five dollars!  Yippee!  Well, at least that's done!

So, fast forward to my epiphany in the shower that I really wish I'd sent myself to my room to talk to God.  The reality is, that is exactly what I needed and need to do!  At least, in a sense.  So, maybe I can't actually remove myself entirely from my young children's presence for 20 minutes to go to my room for a real time-out, but I can take a spiritual time-out whenever I am smart enough to realize I need one.  This can be as simple as stopping, breathing, and refocusing on God, "the one in whom our hope should rest in quiet confidence all along."  Yes, all the little frustrations of the day are valid.  Each one was unexpected and irritating to some degree.  But, is it the end of the world?  Heck no!  An early bath here, some extra laundry there, $35 here....  It is going to be alright!  I would have realized that much earlier if I had simply taken a moment to remind myself of the one who holds my world in His hands. 

I had enough time and insight to afford my son the opportunity to go remind himself of the one who cares for him.  He could have taken two minutes or an hour and it wouldn't have mattered to me!  I just wanted him to take a spiritual time-out so that his day would get better and not worse.  Not surprisingly, he came downstairs after about 30 minutes and gave me a hug and apologized for his attitude.  I knew he had talked to God!  I never told him he needed to apologize to me.   But, this time of quiet meditation or prayer with His heavenly Father was all he needed to redirect his path.  He has been just fine ever since.  I will be too.  I have taken a few moments to quiet myself and place my cares in my Father's hands.  (They're much bigger than mine--He can hold an awful lot!)  I know I can't fix every aggravating thing that happens in my life, and I really don't expect God to either.  But, I know that if I quietly remind myself, in the middle of life's aggravations, that God cares for me and sees the end as well as the beginning, I can handle just about anything. 

*quote by Candy Chand, Gift of Grace

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

When All Is Green...

There is a song that my parents have always enjoyed, and we grew up hearing many times, called "Summertime and the Living is Easy."  Have you heard it?  It really is a catchy tune!  You can just imagine yourself lounging near water on a beautiful, sunny, breezy summer day.  There is just something about summer, isn't there?  (Well, especially for all of my Midwest friends.)  We feel the seasons and we find ourselves, at some point, longing for those summer days.  And it's not only about school being out; it's not only about the long swims; it's not only about popsicles and ice cream sundaes (though a sundae sure sounds heavenly right now!).  It's the whole thing!  There's just something about summer...when all is green.  Isn't that the way life is too?  When the living is easy--when all is green--we do just fine! 

I've been thinking about that in my life for several reasons recently.  There's just something easier, more slow-paced and relaxing, when it's summertime.  Sure, I still have responsibilities; I'm not even entirely finished with the home school year for my son.  But, the living is easy!  I only have to look out my windows and see all the green and I'm overwhelmed with joy, peace, and utter contentment!  (Maybe it helps that green is my absolute favorite color!)  I'm sad to see it go, and so happy to see it return!  It's the whole picture really:  the blue skies, the contrast of the green leaves, brown tree trunks, and the vibrant colors everywhere!  I'm in awe of God's glory all around!
"The earth in summer is brimming with beauty, beauty of such magnificence and variety and unembarrassed lavishness, ripe beauty, lush beauty, beauty given to us with such generosity and abundance it is almost scandalous."
In summertime, the living truly is easier.  In summertime moments of our lives, the living is easier too--no need to strive or work relentlessly.  There is an easier flow or current to our days.  The reality of our lives, however, is that it isn't always summer.  The living isn't always easy.  This is when the work needs to be done.  This is when we have to take stock of exactly where we are and how we got here.  And sometimes, we even need extra help in our journey!  We're soaking in the rays of the sun during the summer; but in the bleak days of winter, we have to work purposely to warm ourselves.  It's crucial for us to do what needs to be done when we aren't in summertime moments or days.  If we have to work extra hard, or seek counsel, or evaluate and re-evaluate, then that is exactly what we should do!  If we need to steer our boat in a different direction because a cold front is moving in, then that's what we'd better do!  If we pay attention, we can surely see the warning signs that tell us it isn't summer any longer--or not for long. 

I'm not always completely at peace in my own skin when it comes to growing older.  If I'm honest, I'll admit that there are times when I long for younger, more carefree days.  There are times when my numerical age just annoys me, because I feel at least 10 years younger on the inside.  However, one thing I so appreciate about growing older is that I've learned better how to embrace different seasons of my life.  Not always.  Not without some work and determination.  But, I've learned that there is a time to rest and enjoy; there is a time to put my hand to the plow; there is a time to study, reflect, listen, and learn.  Wisdom tells us that we benefit from paying attention to the season that we're in and do what needs to be done during that season.  So, when all is green--when the living is easy, then great!  But, when the living isn't so easy, it is time to take stock and direct our lives, our days, on purpose

I've been reflecting on this concept, as I said before, in several realms of my life and the lives of others around me.  I've considered relationships specifically.  Whether it's the relationship I have with my spouse; or the relationship with my children; friends or others, I have to choose to pay attention on purpose.  I need to take stock at times.  You know, driving is a lot easier in the summer (as long as your AC doesn't quit on ya), but driving in the winter takes a lot more skill, caution, alertness, and patience.  There may be adverse road conditions!  Our relationships can be exactly the same.  When I see adversity arise in any of these relationships, I owe it to myself and the other person, to take stock and develop a course of action. 

I honestly don't think that many of the conditions in our relationships take us entirely by surprise.  If we are paying attention, we see the warning signs.  When my daughter is whining excessively, chances are she needs some one-on-one time; she needs me to slow down and pay attention to her.  She needs me to put the vacuum away, come sit with her on the couch, snuggle, and read a book.  She doesn't need me to put the vacuum away and move on to the next task on my to-do list, while fussing at her to stop her whining!  And I'm guilty, all too often, of the latter.  When my husband and I start bickering about the relatively insignificant details of our lives, we need a date night!  We need time to truly reconnect; we need to remind ourselves why we are together, what the future holds, and what we love about our life together.  And, if we can't have a date night out, we make one at home; we get coffee or take-out, and we spend time together...we do this often!  When it's summertime, we can just run outside in shorts and flip flops and take a walk.  When it's getting colder, we have to do much more preparation to even venture outdoors.

It's well and good to enjoy the summertime days of our lives.  When it's lush and green, enjoy as you should!  It's also okay to go through the other seasons.  They each have a purpose and something to teach us.  The key is to pay attention.  We must!  Every relationship in our life is depending on us paying attention to what season it is!

*quote by John Eldredge, Captivating

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's Just Like Riding a Bike!

We've all heard that cliche', "It's just like riding a bike!"  People use this when they're trying to make the point that once you learn how to do something like ride, you never really forget.  Even if it has been years since you have been on a bike, once you get back on, it all just comes back to you.  There's no need to re-learn.  Well, in case you think this is headed in a particular way, let me just say that it's much more simple than that.  Over the last two days I've been thinking about that saying.  Why?  Because I got back on a bike.  And, surprise, surprise!  I didn't forget how to ride one!

It has been years since I have been on a bike.  The last time prior to yesterday that I was on a bike was when my oldest son was just a baby.  And that wasn't even my own bike; it was my sister-in-law's and the tire blew out on me.  For one reason or another I just haven't been on a bike since then.  But lately I have been getting the itch for one.  I kept thinking just how much fun it would be for me to join my husband and kids in their spring, summer, and fall bike rides.  They frequently go for rides; my husband attaches the bike trailer for my girls and the boys ride their bikes.  During these times, I usually enjoy some me-time, but I've been wanting to join in.  So yesterday, on a whim, I sent a text message to my husband:  Hey! Why don't we go buy me an inexpensive bike and take the kids out for a bike ride later?  His response:  Sure!  Why not?  Well, I didn't waste any time (thanks to technology) hunting down the perfect bike, calling the store, and asking them to hold it for me!

I probably wasn't on that bike for thirty seconds before I was grinning and couldn't stop!  Oh my goodness!  How great it felt to ride a bike again!  I had completely forgotten!  Now, don't get me wrong, I do plenty of things for myself:  I read, write, run, do yoga, and enjoy coffee dates with good friends.  But, to do something as completely carefree and enjoyable as going for a bike had been too long!  For me, this was complete bliss!  We were blessed with a sunny Saturday (which is out of the ordinary in Northwest Ohio these days) so I sort of talked my family into another bike ride.  We bribed the kids with a different location, a picnic, and some nearby water to throw rocks in!  Well...we all enjoyed another bike ride.  For me, once again...complete bliss!

I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only mom who has put her family's needs in the forefront and has momentarily forgotten what took her away as a child.  My family's needs are a priority to me (as they should be) because my family is my first ministry.  And, as I said before, I make sure that I get enough time to do things that I enjoy.  But, I think in each of us there is something we remember doing so often as a child simply because we loved it.  And maybe it was that same something that we could do to get away (even for a few moments) from realities that were tough:  struggling in school, not fitting in, or even just the simple childhood disappointment of not getting to do or have something we wanted.  We had something that could take us away!  Well, I guess at this point in my grown-up life, I still have that child-like desire on the inside of me to just get away and forget about responsibilities or tough realities.  I still desire to do something that feels--like it did as a child--completely blissful and carefree.  I need that.  Maybe it's just me, but I'm guessing that there are other grown-ups that feel this way too.  We have no intention of shirking responsibilities, but it sure is nice to feel carefree and child-like again, even if for a few brief moments.
As a kid, riding a bike wasn't always entirely carefree.  I do remember one incident in particular when I had my first bike accident.  I was 8 and still pretty new at riding without training wheels (my boys learned when they were 4), and my older brother decided to help me ride more safely.  We didn't ride with any helmets or protective gear then, as our kids do now, but my brother decided I needed a seat belt for my bike.  I don't have a good recollection as to what this contraption looked like, but it wasn't all that genius.  The only way it worked was to hold onto it with one hand (and I got to test it first!) see where this is going!  Well, my newly acquired riding skills were put to the test here, and they failed me big time!  I'm sure that my brother, to this day, would declare it operator-error (and there's certainly some truth to that) but I wasn't happy with him!  The whole family gets a good laugh over this story whenever it is re-told at the dinner table.  I'm sure my own children will have some good biking stories to re-tell as our family enjoys this activity together.  I hope they will!

For just a split second before I got on my new bike yesterday, I wondered if I could still do it.  Silly!  I know!  Then that old cliche' came to mind, "It's just like riding a bike."  And, of course, it was.  I was just fine.  Actually, I was more than fine...yesterday and today.  I was in my glory!  I felt completely carefree and blissful!  As I was gazing up at the trees and the blue sky while riding behind my son, I thought to myself, I need more of this in my life!  Can you relate?  Is there something you do or have done that leaves you feeling, somewhere deep on the inside of you--in that childlike part of you that we all have--I need more of this in my life?  Maybe it's all the green that I saw over the last two days (and green is my favorite color).  Maybe it's the way my cheeks and hair felt while the wind brushed past my face.  Maybe it's the memories attached to riding a bike, or that I'm now enjoying this with my children.  Whatever it is exactly, all I know is that I need more of this in my life!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

20 Minutes to Reflect!

Here is the task:  to write a blog in 20 minutes!  Why?  I don't have more time than that.  Honestly!  This day has been filled up with reorganizing toys; cleaning; home schooling my son; exercising; printing coupons; and trekking through a wet, puddled basement to complete a few loads of laundry.  It has been another busy day at the Hinz house.  Even through the clutter and chaos; through the dampness of the day (inside and out), my heart and my soul are at peace.  This is the forever "thing" that I am wanting to pass on to my children as well.  Life is so much better lived with peace!

We want to rent our home and move.  We want to enlarge the area in which we live.  We have many other short-term as well as long-term goals.  But, each and every day this family's biggest goal is to live in peace.  This peace is best achieved by contentment and joy.  This joy is best arrived at by laughing at life and enjoying the quirks and goodness in one another.  Our children are continually cracking us up!  Just last night, while we were doing our bedtime routine, my sometimes emotional and occasionally cantankerous 3 yr. old said, in response to being corrected, "I don't trust anyone!"  My husband and I just looked at each other completely astonished!  I asked, "Ella, where in the world did you hear such a thing?"  To which she replied while smiling, "In the Jungle Book."  We were relieved!  Then we had another good laugh!  The things our kids pick up and pay attention to!  Well, that's just it, isn't it?  It is amazing what they pay attention to....and they are paying attention! 

Knowing that my kids are paying attention, I want to grasp hold of each and every opportunity that presents itself to impart something good--something of lasting value--into their lives.  When they show interest in something, I really want to take the time to talk further with them.  When they have questions, I need to answer them!  When they are showing me that they desperately need my attention, I need to give them...myself!  They are watching; they are listening; they are paying close attention!  They remember things that I sometimes don't.  Just days ago, my 7 year old was retelling me of the time when my husband gave his coat to a man who was likely homeless, who was spending time around the dumpsters where my husband worked.  It was winter and the man needed a coat.  It seemed a simple, easy enough thing to do.  My son was probably 2 or 3 years old when this took place and I really don't think we've talked about it since then.  But, my son remembered because we did talk with him about it at the time; we told him how important it is to do something even when you are not sure there is much you can do.  Apparently, this had a lasting impact on him!

So, my forever lesson and my forever prayer is that I am living in peace with my family, with my neighbors, and with myself!  My children are paying attention to what I am doing and what I am saying.  They see my reactions to life.  They see the peace exemplified!  And, they see when peace is not what I have chosen.  We are continually living this life in front of our children, even when we are not sure what to do--or we don't feel we have enough time to do what needs to be done.  They are watching!  Young, impressionable lives are watching mine lived in front of them!  Lord, help me to remember to love as You do!  Help me remember to have peace in every circumstance.  Allow me to live with joy and contentment all the days of my life.  And, help me to take every opportunity to teach my children about what matters in this life.  Help my children to see you in the every day circumstances!

My 20 minutes is up!  My daughter is also up...from her nap, begging for a snack.  Laundry needs folded; toys need picked up; Lego pieces need found; a phone call needs to be made; and dinner needs prepared.  Life is busy and sometimes difficult to slow down.  But, in the midst of my busy life....little lives are watching!

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Position of Peace Or An Angle of Anxiety

As I sit at my computer to write, our house is buzzing with loud, crazy, happy sounds.  We have a smaller home and wood floors so sounds are not absorbed so well.  All 6 of us are here in the living room.  The boys are building Lego's with Daddy and the girls are happily racing from the living room through the dining room to the kitchen and back, half-naked, squealing the entire time.  It is loud!  You may wonder why I am attempting to compose my thoughts right now.  Well, I guess I don't see why not.  This is my life, most of the time!  And, although the house is loud and somewhat crowded right now, there is peace.  There is peace here because my husband and I have peace, therefore our children are able to experience peace. 

I am in no way bragging about having peace; I don't always have it.  Now, in saying this I am also not trying to suggest that peace is some ethereal state of being that sometimes shows up in our midst...and sometimes doesn't.  Peace is a decision.  I would say that it's a daily decision, but honestly, I think it is more of a moment by moment conscious effort.  I can make a conscious decision to live my life from a position of peace or from an angle of anxiety. 

I am convinced that we can have peace in the midst of struggle.  I believe we can have peace in times of transition just as much as we can have peace when everything seems settled and smells like a bed of roses.  We can have peace during life's ups and downs because we can choose to have peace!  Personally, our family is in the midst of some decisions that will lead to transition--and we don't know what the outcome will be.  Now, I could allow anxiety to take a firm grasp on my soul and I could experience, emotionally and physically, the side effects of stress.  However, I am resting in peace.

I have noticed that when I feel anxious, it is a direct result of my lack of trust in God's best for my life.  At times, I allow myself to question whether or not God has good intentions for my life.  Admittedly, at other times, I have even come to my own conclusion that God truly does not have good plans for my life.  Needless to say, this is not a good place to be.  It is no wonder that in low times like these, I am anxious about darn near everything...and it shows.  I feel the anxiety; my husband sees the effects of my stress; and certainly my children live in an atmosphere that is not conducive to joy or peace.  It really doesn't take long for me to realize that I need to get my act together!  There is no magic solution; I have to make the decision to go back to the basics.  At the most basic of all my beliefs is God's love for me!  He has good plans for my life!  I need to turn back to the love and peace of my Father.  When I do this, I once again feel peace take its place in the center of my life.  If I choose not to, I experience anxiety. 

Right now I am choosing peace.  This is a really good place to be!  Now, every single thing isn't perfect.  Every unknown has not been made known.  Every question has certainly not been answered.  In fact, some circumstances could easily be seen as contrary, but we are choosing to trust in God's goodness.  Even when life isn't good...even when life is frustrating...God is always good!  He always loves us and He has good intentions for our lives!  From a position of peace, everything that I approach as a woman, a wife, and a mother is much more hopeful.  Peace lends itself to this hope.  Hope reminds me that there are better days ahead and that there are many more great experiences to come.  My children, just like me, thrive when peace is in our home--when peace is in their midst.  I have found that I can also accomplish even more in my daily life when I am in a position of peace.  When I am looking at life from an angle of anxiety, it is difficult to complete even the most menial tasks.  But, from a position of peace, I am able!  Obstacles, challenges, and transitions are surmountable from a position of peace. 

So, as I wrap this up, my children and my husband are obnoxiously singing silly songs while cleaning up a huge pile of Lego's (by throwing them into 2 plastic bins).  It has been a noisy hour!  We have had wrestling, squealing, bickering, running, crying, and hysterical laughing all the while I've been writing.  But guess what?  I have peace right now!  So, surprisingly enough, I have been able to write an entire blog entry despite contrary circumstances.  Writing does my soul good!  It's something I love to do; it helps me when I have the opportunity to write.  From a position of peace, I am able to conquer just about anything...and you are too!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Living In This Moment

I've been determined to do some writing over the past few days, but I keep allowing other distractions--or in some cases, other priorities--to deter me.  I determined this afternoon, after tending to some responsibilities; doing some reading and studying; and allowing my son a chunk of time to explore, that I would absolutely sit down and write a new entry in my blog.  As I sat in front of my computer, I was at a loss for words.  I know, I know!  This seems highly unlikely!  There are many, many thoughts, ideas, and dreams turning around and around in my head, but I seem unable to grasp just one good idea to chew on.  I feel a bit distracted!  Then I realize, this is truly one of the most real essences of any mom.

For me, this is a reality of being a mom of 4 young children.  I am busy even when we are not busy.  I'm sure most moms (and many dads) can relate!  Very seldom do I collapse in bed at the end of a busy day, breathe a sigh of relief, and declare "I'm glad it's all done now!"  Nope!  That is simply not my reality.  Not to say that I go to bed each evening with responsibilities weighing heavily on my mind.  But, I am fully aware that just as tomorrow is a new day full of potential and promise, it also holds unfinished laundry, floors that need swept, bathrooms that need cleaned, projects that need tackled, and more plowing through certain behavioral issues with my children.  There are priorities...and there are distractions.  There are musts and there are maybes. 

My job is to exercise wisdom in how and what to tackle first.  My challenge is to live at peace with the right-now moment of my life.  I need for the striving to cease.  I need to learn to inhale...and exhale...the forever peace that comes from knowing that God knows right where I'm at and He knows all about my world.  If He expected me to be at the finish line, then I wouldn't be here.  I am a work in progress!  My husband is a work in progress!  My children are works in progress!  And, there will always be inconveniences, failures, upsets, and distractions in my world.  What I do with them is the real question. 

I can strive and push to accomplish more and more and more.  Sure!  (And I can run like the hamster in the wheel, endlessly striving to get somewhere while only growing more and more tired.)  Or, I can choose peace.  I can choose to rest in each moment just exactly as it is.  I can accept the fact that while attempting to read even just one chapter (in a somewhat secluded part of my house) I will still encounter interruptions from an excited 7 yr. old about the points he racked up in the online Lego game he just learned.  I can accept that while I sit down to write or journal for a brief time, I will have a 3 yr. old who wants to sell me things in her pretend store, or crawl behind me in my computer chair to play with my hair.  I can accept that while all kids are seemingly otherwise occupied and I sneak off to run a couple miles on my treadmill, that I will have a little one who wants to come watch me (and of course, needs me to stop frequently to put a new article of clothing on her baby).  My time is really not my own!  And this is okay!  At this time in my life, my time is not really my own!

The reality is that when I said "I do" to motherhood, what I really said was "I am giving my time away...for a while."  I am fully okay with this; it is not a drudgery.  I wanted and I want to be a mom!  What I have never wanted was the constant pull of trying to live one life while desiring another one.  "All of our deepest desires are our soul's way of calling us back to simply being all of who we are."  All of who I am supposed to be is exactly what I want to be.  One of my very deepest and most meaningful desires is that I would be a loving, affirming, faithful, wise, gentle, patient, and kind mom to these 4 lives in which I've been entrusted.  This is of the utmost importance to me because other lives are directly affected by my life's actions.  So...I want to be all of who I am supposed to be.  In this, I can have peace.  If I am fighting with this life that I am living right now (along with all of the quirky circumstances), I will miss the beauty of it.  I'm sure of that.  I don't want to live with regret.  I don't want to look back on the brief days of raising my young children and realize that all I did was fight to flee that time.  What a sad realization that would be! 

So, I am going to choose peace in the midst of everything that vies for my attention today.  I am going to stop reading to give a hug.  I am going to stop typing to listen to a story.  I am going to stop scrubbing the floor to pour a glass of juice.  I am going to stop running to put a dress on a doll.  I am going to remember that for right now, my time is not really my own.  I am going to cease living in another moment.  I am going to make this my forever goal.  I want to live with my children and my family in this moment, in today!  I don't know what may try to distract me tomorrow or even in the next hour--as I'm sure that something will--but that is part of this thing called motherhood.  I'm okay with it.

*quote by Oriah

Friday, February 25, 2011

Let Someone Else Shovel!

You know, as mamas, we are forever busy taking care of others.  It's okay, it's more than okay!  We were made to handle it.  Most of us are at our best when we are nurturing, comforting, providing for, or helping others.  This is our most natural sense of self.  But, there are those times when it may be emotionally or perhaps physically impossible for us to be the ones doing the caring for and nurturing.  These may even be the same times that we need someone to care for us!

Recently I found myself in this very circumstance.  About a week ago, I developed flu symptoms.  Before I knew it, I was in the grips of a full-fledged flu and it knocked me down....literally!  I did little more than leave the couch to visit the bathroom for 4 days.  Thankfully, my husband was available for most of the time with the exception of his work-day on Friday.  In fact, an ice storm on Sunday evening caused a power outage early Monday; by Monday afternoon, we found ourselves at my husband's parents' house for an overnight stay.  Little did I know it at the time, but even this was a blessing in disguise.  My husband took great care of me and the kids while I was sick.  Once at my mother-in-law's, she and my father-in-law took care of the kids and let me get further rest and recuperation.  They even offered to keep our kids an additional night so that I could rest at home on Wednesday!  Really, this flu bug had wiped me out and I needed every bit of extra rest available to me!

During this time, my eyes were opened to some simple truths.  Mamas need to sit down and be taken care of now and then.  I know, it should be an agreeable truth, but our very mama-instinct internally shouts "No!" to this.  We still want to be the ones extending the helping hand, offering suggestions, planning meals; it's tough to give up this role...even when we need to!  When my husband was here, I was fully aware that the kitchen wasn't being cleaned to my specifications (though I definitely appreciated all he did), but I had no choice but to be still.  I physically did not have enough energy to protest.  I think my husband actually got a kick out of me being forced to be still--to not get up and fix everything--and it was good for me to see that the whole house would not crumble if I wasn't in charge!

When I heard my kids bickering at Grandma's house, everything in me wanted to run downstairs and attempt to settle the dispute...but I was too exhausted.  So I would lie in bed and hope that conflicts would be resolved, and you know what?  They were!  My presence was not absolutely necessary.  Would the meals be prepared exactly as I would have prepared them?  No.  But they were certainly fed!  I know, this seems over-the-top obvious, but when you are accustomed to being the one constantly running the cruise ship, it's tough to turn the stern over to another.  But it is a good thing to have to do.  Personally, I think I put so much pride in what I do and am able to juggle as a mom, that it has been a healthy experience for me to see that, although things were functioning differently in my so-called absence, they were functioning!  Everyone was getting along just fine.  Not to suggest that moms are not needed, but I believe that if we are doing what we do best when we are able, then everyone will get along fine when we are unable.

The other truth that I learned (or re-learned) is that mamas need extra love and tlc too!  And, it's there for us when we need it.  It may come in ways that surprise us or we wouldn't readily choose for ourselves, but it will be there.  When our power went out I didn't think, "Oh yay! Now I can get a day off from my responsibilities and visit my in-laws."  No, I was frustrated and my gut reaction was "Now this too?!  On top of the flu, now we have no power!"  I was less than enthusiastic when I reluctantly began packing our bags to spend the night elsewhere.  But, it was a blessing (for me) in disguise!  My kids had fun too!

Today, I am feeling much better, but God gave me yet another reminder that He looks after and cares for His mommies.  We were slammed with an additional 6-8 inches of snow overnight...on top of slush!  My husband had to leave for out-of-town meetings very early--too early to shovel--and I need to leave with the kids later this evening.  I looked outside as I donned my winter gear and sighed, "I can't believe I have to do this and I'm still not feeling 100%."  I attempted to shovel the sidewalk.  I struggled!  I shoveled off the porch.  I could barely catch my breath (still coughing from the effects of this flu bug!).  This was going to be so tough and I just may die!  I really felt like I might just collapse and someone would have to shovel me up!  I took a break inside; fixed my kids lunch; ate a sandwich; and sat down briefly at my computer to glance at a social networking site.  I made a comment "Where are those teenage boys who offer to shovel?  I have CASH!"  Within a short time, a friend from church recommended her teenage son's shoveling services to me; he gave me his number; we talked on the phone; and he knocked on my door an hour later!  What a relief!  He was a polite young man and I'm sure he was happy to earn a little extra money.  I am so happy that I didn't have to go back out there!

Moreover, I had one additional reminder--in case I'm ever tempted to forget--that God sees His mamas' needs!  He knows where I live.  He knows what I need.  He never forgets about me.  As Kari Jobe sings, "I know that [He] will never forsake me in my weaknesses."  I am pretty sure that my kids are glad I'm moving around again; making their meals; making sure they have clean socks to put on.  But, it was good and healthy for me to be reminded that I'm not the one who makes their world go 'round!  It has been just as encouraging for me to be reminded that I have a God who sees my needs, who meets me when I'm at my weakest!  He provides just the right help at just the right time, and I'm so grateful!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Value of the Valleys

I've had cause lately to consider the valleys in our lives.  This isn't entirely personal, but I have given personal reflection to it.  I was reading a wonderful devotional passage yesterday by Marjorie Holmes and the prayer she wrote at the end was, "Father, grant me the patience to see the value of the valleys, as well as the joys of the mountaintops."  This really spoke to me.  She referenced our heart (the largest organ in our body) and how it contracts and expands just to work properly day in and day out.  So it is with our very lives!  So it is in my life.  So it is in my dealings with my children. 

Most of us agree that our character is defined by the valleys in our lives.  Anyone can celebrate and exude joyfulness and thankfulness when times are good.  But, who are you when times are tough?  How are you toward others--those you love and don't like so much--when life is rough?  How is your outlook on life when it seems like the valley is where you have been for way too long?  We all want the mountaintops, along with the mountaintop views, but we forget that we must climb up there!  Before we climb each mountain, we rest (and sometimes camp) in the valley.  The valley provides us a really good view also, and time for reflection and necessary preparation. 

I'm not an experienced mountain climber, but I have done some hiking.  I spent some time in Switzerland during the summer of my senior year in college and did some beautiful hiking there.  I couldn't wait to get to the higher place on this one particular mountain.  However, it wasn't long before I realized how tough this climb was.  At the higher altitudes, it was more difficult to breathe.  At times, the climb seemed so steep and treacherous that I just wanted it to be over!  Don't get me wrong, the higher we climbed, the more beautiful the view was (when I actually stopped to look).  But, in all honesty, I enjoyed my rest in the valley even more than the climb to the top of the mountain.  Sure, the mountaintop was breath-taking, but I couldn't stay there forever.  It wasn't reality.  It was temporary.  Such it is with most things in life.  Momentous victories are wonderful and breath-taking, but we don't live there.  I'm not suggesting that we settle for living in the valleys either, for we need both, but there is value in the valleys

Billy Graham said, "Mountaintops are for views and inspirations, but fruit is grown in the valleys."  This is true too.  Who we are is tested when we are down in the dust, on even plains.  We can dream here too.  Yes, we can dream on the mountains, but let's not forget we must first do the hard work of climbing them.  I'll admit that as a mom, I have such dreams and desires for my children; I want them to live on mountaintops!  But, I have enough sense to admit that such an existence wouldn't even be healthy.  They must go through the times in the valleys just as I must.  In my parenting, I need to learn to embrace the valleys also. 

Boy, sometimes it is anything but nice.  Sometimes, in the valley of my children's defiant behavior, whiny attitudes, or bickering nature, all I want is a nice juicy slice of pineapple.  There are the moments, hours....days when it seems that the fruit will never ripen.  I wonder when we will head up the mountain.  I wonder when I will see the victory of my hard work.  I wonder when they will show me that they actually have learned a lesson.  Then it happens!  I see a victory, or at least a victorious moment or situation.  It feels wonderful on the mountaintop and I feel like heaven is near!  These times are beautiful!  But, I can honestly say that these mountaintop moments really wouldn't be much to celebrate if the valley didn't feel so endless at times.  I'm not so sure that I would enjoy the mountaintop views either, if I didn't have the valleys to look at once I am there.  When I'm on the mountain, I can easily appreciate my time in the valley.  When I'm on the mountain, enjoying a crispy ripe apple, I remember how it was grown while in the valley. 

So my personal challenge is to remember that there is purpose--there is value--in the valley.  When I am tempted to complain, fret, become frustrated, or even run up the hill instead, I hope I choose to reflect on the purpose of the work done in the valley.  The valleys in my life don't always look so beautiful when I'm in them, but they make the mountaintop view that much more splendid.  My personal challenge is to accept that there are days when there is much work to be done in the valley.  But I know I will not remain here always.  Just like the heart that is in perfect balance, expanding and contracting, so it is with my life...and so it is with my work as a mom.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Adjust Your Expectations...You are Stronger Than You Think!

Last week I had a new experience of being a stay-at-home mom of 4 youngsters for 4 days while Daddy went on his first business trip.  Approaching the week, I think that my husband may have been more concerned than I was.  Of course, he was concerned about our overall safety, etc., but there was more to it:  he was worried that the stress would be too much for me.  In his defense, this is entirely my fault!  I have come to depend on him immensely; I depend on the support of an outstanding father to my children all the time.  He is immersed in their lives, adoring of them, and a constant help to me.  The day-to-day stress of raising 4 children--home schooling also--can be quite a lot to handle at times.  When the stress feels overwhelming, I know that I can depend on my husband to help relieve some of it for me.  And he is glad to do so.  I have many friends who could echo this about their husbands and it really is a blessing!  Having said that, I too often release the cares of my day onto my husband, rather than onto the Lord.  Not that it's wrong to share my feelings and experiences of the day, but when I dump them on my husband first (rather than in the lap of God), I am placing a burden on my husband.  This burden, I believe, is not altogether wrong, but has the propensity to cause undue concern.  So, the fact that my husband was probably more worried about how I'd do for 4 days without his help, is due to how I handle my role as a mom expectations of how I handle this job!

I had a conversation with a good friend on the third night sans Daddy.  She asked how things had been going.  I had recently been asking myself that question.  You see, on a day-to-day basis, I sometimes feel as though I may not make it to bedtime with my head screwed on.  However, while preparing for my husband's business trip, I kept telling myself, "We will be just fine!  I can do this!"  So, my answer to her question was, "You know, it's been really fine!"  "The kids have been behaving better than normal; they've played together nicely most of the time."  "We've really been okay and I feel fine about the whole thing."  As we talked, I told her it was as if God had allowed everything to go more smoothly since I'd been without Ron's help.  She agreed that this could be, but she posed another thought, "Maybe you adjusted your expectations of yourself and so you've felt better about your time."  Light bulb!  I responded, "You know, you might be right!"  "I kept telling myself we'd get through these days, and we're doing just fine!" 

You know, our expectations of ourselves can be very complex.  We think certain ways, therefore we talk certain ways...which leads us to think certain ways...and respond in certain ways.  You see the pattern?  You are what you eat, well maybe, but you really are what you speakAs one pastor said, we frame our world with our words!  I am not taking any credit for this idea; it's been the topic of motivational speaking and Bible teaching forever.  And there is truth to it!  It's really not new to me, but this recent experience put it into new perspective.  I have certain daily expectations of myself based on what I am thinking (or saying to myself).  I react accordingly.  I've had days that were really okay, overall, but I allowed just a few negative incidents to overshadow the entire day.  By the time my husband walks through the door, I unload it all!  ( if I hardly survived it!)  I know, how ridiculous!  Then, I find myself irritated when he worries about me surviving 4 days with the kids without him!  Well, this is my fault!  You see, we also train other people to react to us based on what we expect of ourselves.  Examine your relationships and you'll see that this is true!  Sometimes, I feel disappointed that my in-laws don't offer to watch my kids more often (as they do for my husband's sisters).  Ron reminds me that they probably assume I really don't need much help; you know, the squeaky wheel gets the oil!  And, in this example, I present myself to his family as one who handles being a stay-at-home mom of 4 with little struggle.  But, as I explained earlier, my husband has seen all of the emotions-on-edge. 

This certainly could be a subject of intense study, and I'm not necessarily trying to dissect it all.  But, as my friend and I talked (and the light bulb went off) I realized I could probably adjust my expectations for every day...and every situation.  If I approached every day with the expectation of, "I can handle this~of course I can handle this~it's not too much," then how different might my attitude be at the end of the day!  So, we got through my husband's time away without a hitch!  We really did!

Then Sunday came, and you will not believe what the visiting Pastor at our church talked about.  Ready for this?  You can handle the pressure because you were made by Almighty God to handle it!  I'm not making this up!  He reminded us that we should not shy away from pressure (when the going gets tough) because we need it to perfect us!  I am not going to re-preach his message, but I am literally shaking with excitement as I recall his words.  Engineers test products for pressure-capacity (or something like that) and we are engineered by God in Heaven to handle what pressure comes our way too!  When it seems like it's too much, that's good because we lean on the One who knows we'll get through!  We've heard the cliche,"What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger."  Well, there is truth in those words!  There is biblical truth, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." (1 Corinthians 10:13)  I believe that part of that way out is speaking about ourselves what God says about us, despite what we feel, "Let the weak say 'I am strong'."

So, needless to say, I have been so encouraged and strengthened in these past few days.  As much as my children and I missed my husband (and as glad as I am that he's safely home), I am so thankful that he left us for a few days!  I could do it again!  Even more amazing, I can do today!  I can accomplish everything that I am supposed to do in this life because I am created in such a way that I am able to handle it!  I can handle the pressure!  All I have to do is adjust my expectations!  All you have to do is adjust your expectations--you are stronger than you think!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Building Friendships

Okay, so I'm learning (while stumbling quite a bit) how to allow my children to develop their own relationships with one another.  I have always had a desire--a strong desire--for my children to be friends.  However, I understand that as much as I long for this, I cannot control it.  I can steer them here and there but I cannot control the outcome.  They are individuals with unique characteristics, views, and temperaments; they will develop relationships according to what works for them throughout life.  Having said that, I really want them to like each other, enjoy each other's company, and to learn to be there for one another.  What I am learning is that in order for these friendships to be built, I have to back off a bit. 

There is a delicate balance, I believe, in allowing them to form their own type of friendship with one another, and helping them to resolve conflicts with one another.  I have never wanted to be a hands-off or even permissive parent that leaves her children to fend for themselves, so to speak.  I fear, in wanting to help them learn to work together appropriately and to resolve conflicts, that I have probably interfered now and then in opportunities for these relationships to form naturally.  It is a delicate balance!  I'm learning that it is good and healthy on occasion to allow them the opportunity to work out a conflict on their own.  Of course, if I hear ear-piercing shreaks or furniture being overturned, I should intervene.  However, when I have allowed for this, usually they work it out (even though from time to time there are raised voices or childish names being called).  Generally, when they see that I am not running in the room to settle the dispute, they come to some sort of a compromise or way of making peace.  Surprisingly, I think that even they prefer peace!

So, it is my goal to give myself the permission to back off a bit more often.  And, I am purposing to afford my children more opportunities to learn to work and play together.  Sometimes, when I least expect it I see evidence of their love for one another and their enjoyment in each other's company.  Just this afternoon, Jaden and I had finished his home school work and he was putting together a Lego set.  Luke was busy with a toy.  I had just finished some yoga stretches with Ella (who always tries the stretches with me....and does fairly well for a 3 yr. old).  Tessa was laughing at us and lying down by us from time to time.  After this, I put gates at the stairs (so Tessa wouldn't attempt them) and ran upstairs for a super-quick mommy shower.  (Yes, I am one of those awful moms who lets her children survive without her for 10 min. while she showers....with the bathroom door open so she can hear almost everything!  And, yes, I have had to run downstairs in a towel with soap in my hair before!)  Anyhow, as usual, when I turn off the water I listen carefully or call down to see how things are going.  As I listened I heard soft talking and the sounds of pleasure...really!  Not fighting or bickering!  I quickly dressed and ran downstairs.  All 4 were gathered in a close huddle around my daughter's tea set.  They were arranging plates, napkins, and forks and placing them in the basket.  They told me they were going on a picnic.  Tessa, almost 19 mos. old, had no idea what she was doing but she was right there with her brothers and sister.  I told them their rest-time would be soon, but they quickly asked for more time to do their picnic.  Of course, this was not a difficult request to fulfill!  I delighted in watching them march around the house hiking to their picnic spot.  It was pure mother's joy...completely precious!

So, as much as my children argue, bicker, and disagree, they are developing friendships with each other.  It does my heart well!  I see that certain ones play more often--or do particular activities--with another.  I see that dynamics change depending on the day and who is around or not around.  Just as I like certain things about each of my kids, I think they have certain characteristics that they like about each other too!  My baby, for instance, plays with her sister most often.  But, she trusts Jaden alone to pick her up, get her out of bed, or buckle her in her booster seat.  However, her brother Luke is the one she goes to most often to hug or give a spontaneous kiss--she adores him.  There is nothing wrong with this.  It's good and healthy.  I'm so looking forward to watching these friendships grow and develop over the years.  As often as I choke up at the realization of how fast these early years are moving, I honestly get such a sense of excitement thinking about their teenage and young adult years.  I can almost see and hear them sitting around a table playing games, laughing, and reminiscing.  It does my heart well!  Personally, this evidence and development of sibling love is as much a reward of parenting for me as the reward of my own relationship growth with my children.  What a true joy to see them learning and desiring to love one another!