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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Race

We had an interesting morning today.  Phillip's truck would not start so, rather than lose a day of work, I loaned him my car.  While it meant that the kids and I were then homebound, something I hate and fear after a year or more of isolation in Red Rock, I knew we could survive it.  We had nowhere we had to be today and plenty of food and essentials in the house.

It was, however, the first day of fall storytime at our local library.  We love storytime and have a small group of friends we regularly meet there.  I really didn't want to miss it.  So, seeing as I live pretty much exactly one mile from the library, I decided to load the littles up into our double stroller and walk.  Yes, it's hot, but I was confident.  Besides, I needed the exercise.

One block into our trek to the library I regretted my decision.  It was not oppressively hot yet and there was a nice breeze blowing, but my legs felt like they were made of lead.  I seriously felt weary after less than a quarter mile.  And so I started to lose my temper.

You must understand, I have a lot of ego tied in with my athletic ability.  I discovered pretty quickly in school that I had no aptitude whatsoever for traditional team sports.  On more than one occasion declarations of "easy out" made me see red with rage.  I could never do chin ups or climb that stupid rope that you were supposed to be able to shimmy up to pass the presidential fitness test.  Athletics were synonymous with humiliation and defeat.  I did manage to maintain a healthy weight and a modicum of physical fitness, but I was by no means an athlete.  Late in high school I discovered I liked to run, but after running only short distances I always felt winded and had difficulty breathing, no matter how regularly I practiced.

It wasn't until half way through law school that I was diagnosed with asthma and things took a turn for the better.  I began to run in earnest.  I discovered I could take a hit of my puffer and work out like a fiend without going beet red and having a total lung shutdown.  It was liberating.  I became an athlete.  In my early to mid twenties I woke up early and ran five miles in the mornings.  I ran 5ks and, finally, a sprint distance triathlon.  It did wonders for my self-esteem.  It reinvented my idea of what I was capable of doing.

Shortly after running the tri, I met and married Phillip.  We then began to have a series of babies within a relatively short period of time.  I love all my children and would not change a thing about having them, not even the brevity of the gap between them.  God's design and plan was perfect.  That being said, it wrecked havoc on my body.  After having Baby Boy I participated in Baby Bootcamp and was very near getting it all back together, but Baby Girl was hot on his heels.  I had some issues with the pregnancy and had to stop working out just weeks after finding out I was pregnant.  By the end of the pregnancy I was on partial bed rest.  It allowed me to have a full term, healthy baby, but, again, my personal fitness was shot.

I tend to have an all or nothing personality.  In the few times that I have recommitted myself to getting back into shape in the past two years, I always try to start full throttle.  I want to be able to run a couple miles or bike at least five.  I try, fail, and lose my temper.  Then I don't even want to try.  I make excuses that I need a gym membership, personal trainer, or a really nice double jogging stroller all of which I cannot afford.  I vow to wake up early and do a fitness DVD, then I am just too stinking tired.  Really, the excuses are irritating... even to me.

I just want to be in shape.  I don't want to get there again.  It's hard, time consuming, and maddeningly slow.  So anyway, I felt my temper begin to flare this morning as my legs refused to cooperate with our stroll to the library.  I got myself in check, though.  I remembered that I had choices.  I could turn around, disappoint the kids and get no exercise.  I could trudge on unhappily, cursing myself for being such a non-athlete again and make myself miserable.  Or I could enjoy the breeze and just keep walking.  So, I sang a little song as we pushed along (I'm serious, guys; I sing as much and as publicly as Buddy the Elf) and I cheered up.  My legs got themselves together and started helping out.  It was a pleasant walk.

The great thing about walking a mile (or further) is that you are then are forced to walk the same distance back.  I started out with a much better attitude on the second leg.  Even so, about three quarters in, my legs rebelled again and let me know that they would rather not continue.  This time, the athlete side of me smiled and gave them a little pep talk.  We got home just fine.

So I'm officially done with the excuses.  I am not going to run five kilometers tomorrow, but I do plan on at least taking another walk.  I am going to strive to be patient with myself and my progress. But I'm also going to move.  The verse that has been on my white board for a month now says in part:  "But one thing I do:  forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the race[.]"  A race is hard work, both the literal, running kind and the metaphoric, life living kind, but it's so worth it.  I remember the feeling when I crossed the finish line of that triathlon and there is nothing like it.  So I'm going to do it again.  And again.  And again.  Not try to do it, but really do it.  As Yoda once said, "Try not.  Do or do not."  (Yes, in addition to being a Jesus freak, music geek and book nerd, I am also a Star Wars fanatic.  You get a special badge if you manage to quote Scripture and Yoda in the same paragraph.  Not really, but, anyway...)

I'm going to press on, striving for that elusive trifecta of physical health, mental health, and spiritual health.  I'm going to ignore anyone or anything in this world that cries "easy out" as I run by, out of breath and struggling, and I'm going to keep on going.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, so I'm going to do some stuff.  Because I want to run the race of my life well.  I want to experience everything God has to offer me and I can't do that if I'm glued to the couch.  Or to the office chair, for that matter.  I think I hear my bicycle calling me...    

  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Civil Obediance

A lot of people (my former self included) balk at the idea of religion because they view it as a series of rules that we are forced to follow.  If you consider yourself something of a non-conformist and don't do well with authority, the idea of there being a big, big, BIG book full of instruction (a.k.a rules) to follow once you sign on to be a Christian, it is tempting to not enlist in the first place.  As I said when I was four, we are "not through being bad yet."

Bad seems fun.  Good seems boring.  Bad = exciting.  Good = blah.  Bad is easy; good is hard.  That's what the world tells us, right?  And to some extent our experience tells us this as well.  From the time we are little we want to make the wrong choice.  Hitting our sister in frustration feels better than sharing our toys with her.  Eating a marshmallow pie gives us more pleasure in the moment than noshing on those carrot sticks.  It's the way we're wired.  As adults, though, we know that the consequences outweigh the benefits.  When we grow up, hitting can land us in jail and cost us lots of money.  Habitual eating of marshmallows over carrots results in obesity and all the health problems and disease that accompany it.  This, too, is just the way things are.  Bad choices = bad results is also part of the natural order.

God's rules are natural rules too.  He wants our obedience, not because He is on a power trip, but because He wants good things for us.  Good things come with good choices.  If God is calling us down a specific path, it is because that path is laden with blessings.  So we should go, even if we don't want to.  Even if it isn't a very "sexy" path.

When I was younger I had dreams of fame and fortune.  I pursued both music and acting and their accompanying lifestyles.  I wanted what the world told me was freedom:  to be able to do whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it, regardless of consequences.  Even after the more glamorous dreams died down a little, the pursuit of selfish pleasure did not.  In the midst of it, my life seemed exciting.  It certainly wasn't boring and the choices came pretty easily.

It took a long time for me to see through the lie and, while I do have some funny and interesting stories to tell, they are just a fragment of a longer, tragic tale.  I can laugh about those days, but if I follow that rabbit trail I ALWAYS end up at some memory I just would really rather have forgotten.  There is nothing easy about the shame of facing people who you love but who you have betrayed.  There is nothing fun about waking up in your own vomit, unable to remember where you are or how you got there.  It's ugly, hard and really not glamorous.  If I had to do it all over again, I wish I had just listened to God and obeyed from the get-go.

Baby Boy loves the story of Jonah.  He retold it to me today and got me thinking about all of this.  His retelling:  "God said, 'Go!'  Jonah said, 'No!'  So a big fish eat him and then, 'blah,' spit him out.  God said, 'Go!'  Jonah said, 'Yes.'"  Not only is this evidence that my church is awesome and my three-year old brilliant, but it also really sums the story up nicely.  I was Jonah for way too long in my life.  Like it or not, rebellion against or avoidance of God has bad consequences.  While the Jonah story is definitely interesting and exciting, I'm sure being thrown off of a ship and eaten by a whale was not a pleasant experience.  I'd imagine that, if Jonah was granted a do-over, he would skip that part and go straight to Nineveh, where God was telling him to go, the first time.

God's rules, the ones in the Bible, are simple.  Jesus broke it down to two basic precepts:  love God and love one another.  Those aren't the rules of a dictatorial super-power who just wants to make us miserable.  Those are the rules of a loving parent who hates to see us hurt.  The trick is that part of loving God involves obedience.  Part of loving each other involves putting our needs and egos aside and serving them with humility.  Still for my part, I've had enough "belly of the whale" experiences to last me a lifetime.  So, I'm going to obey the first time.  When something feels wrong or I have a clear directive from God that it is a "no," I'm just not going to do it, no matter how much fun it seems.  If I have a great temptation that shows a lack of regard for God or another human being, I'm going to get some help, from God and man, and resist it.  I'm going to serve others even when it seems hard.  I'm going to walk by faith and go wherever the Spirit leads me, even if the path isn't glamorous or even particularly exciting.  Because it is finally more important to me to be happy than interesting.  I desire more to be faithful than funny, more godly than glamorous.  It may not be Hollywood Boulevard, but the road I'm treading leads to one paved with gold, where I will experience joy and peace heretofore unimagined.  That's pretty exciting.  

Friday, August 26, 2011

Writer's Block

So it has been a week since my last blog post.  I would like to say that I have been really busy doing lots of new and interesting things and now I'm back to tell you all about them.  I would like to say that I've been on vacation, somewhere a few degrees cooler than North Texas these days, and I have a few anecdotes to share from my travels abroad.  Neither of these statements is true, though, and since I strive for rigorous honesty in all things, I'm going to tell you the truth.  I have a killer case of writer's block.

I have opened up blogger every day of this past week and clicked on "new post."  On some days I have typed a paragraph or two on various topics relevant to my life and faith journey.  Then I have read back over those paragraphs, highlighted each and every word, and hit the delete key.  Because it all stunk to varying degrees.  Some of it was just slightly pungent, the "does this milk smell right to you?" variety of writing.  Some of it was reminiscent of manure.  None of it was fit to be shared.

Then there were the other days when I stared at the blank page ahead of me and... nothing.  Not a word.  No ideas whatsoever.  Nada.  I'm not sure which feeling is worse, having something to share and being unable to phrase it in a decent manner or being unable to think of anything of possible value.  I had begun to think I'd run out of things to say, but, if you know me and know therefore how much I talk, you see that this concept is both ludicrous and absurd.

I pray before and after every blog post.  I pray before I write that the Spirit guide me on which words to use or topics to share.  I pray before I hit "publish post" that God bless what I've written and bless others through it.  So unlike other times in my life when I've hit a writing wall (Exhibit A:  the tomes of novels begun and never finished), this particular case of writer's block seemed to have a spiritual element to it. That being said, I was unwilling to explore the matter further.  I just shut down the PC for the day and wished myself better luck tomorrow.

It is a pretty good indication that if you really don't want to look into something, if you are hesitant to so much as scratch the surface and ask "so, what's going on with me?" that there is, indeed, something going on.  For me it usually is the same thing and this time was no exception.  I just miss Eddie.  Although my life is better and happier for having had him, there is always the underlying reality that I have lost someone I loved more than life itself.  I don't get to see him again this side of heaven and, even when I'm coping well with that fact, it still really stinks.

One of my best friends was telling me the other day  that her son asked her what happened to Eddie.  She said that she started crying as she was explaining it and that her husband said, "It's just so wrong."  I remember another friend expressing the same sentiment while staring at Ed's teeny-tiny casket the day before his funeral. And it is.  It's really, really wrong.  There is something so unnatural for a parent to bury their child, especially one so young.  And sometimes I just have to allow myself to say, "This hurts and that sucks."

As usual, I allow myself a little while to visit this head space, but never to stay.  We live in a fallen and broken world.  Things happen to us, to our children, that should never, ever happen.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that we have a Savior.  That Jesus Christ died for our sins, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.  So even though this world is fallen, we don't have to be.  Even though tragedies strike, they don't have to define us.  Even though we experience pain, we also may experience joy, communion and communication with a heavenly Father who loves us and never fails to bring us comfort.

As I was writing this post, I felt the need to find out why my children were being so blessedly quiet.  I found them hiding behind an armchair in the living room, whispering, and divvying up the contents of my purse.  And while I, of course, retrieved my debit card and various other assorted items from the hands of the preschoolers, I did so with a smile and a laugh.  I did it with gratitude for these two little lights in my life that never fail to dispel the darkness of my grief.  I did it with a prayer of thanks to the God of Light who has blessed me so richly and held me so dearly even on the blackest nights.  We don't have to dwell on the shadows; we are always welcome to live in the Light.  So I'm going to take a couple deep breaths and focus on what I have, not on what I've lost, and rejoice in this bright and beautiful day that the Lord has made.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lovely Little Miracles

When we think of miracles, we tend to think in terms of the really big ones.  Christ raising people from the dead, feeding 5,000 people with one kid's picnic lunch, those sorts of things.  We seem to act sometimes as if God only shows up in burning bushes or pillars of cloud and fire.  We are often oblivious to the fact that He is all around us, everyday, performing miracles constantly.  It's like our internal radios are tuned into one station and we never touch the dial.  It is, by and large, a really annoying channel too, full of commercials for what we "need" and depressing, self-defeating tunes played on a repeating loop.  Songs like "I Can't Do It" or the ever-popular "Why Me?"

It really does only take a slight adjustment to retune our thoughts to Him.  Phillipians 4:8 makes it clear where our thoughts should be.  We are to be tuned into things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.  My favorite in this list is "lovely."  There is something about that word that makes me smile just saying it.  I want to think lovely thoughts about lovely things.  Lovely.  

Granted, it is sometimes difficult to think of something lovely, much less something pure, noble, etc.  We get down in the dumps and all we can think about is the dark, nasty, unfair stuff.  There are ways to combat this though.  One device I use is music.  I'm a tried and true music geek and most of my favorite artists sing songs that are pretty bleak.  I love Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits to name a few.  And, in my humble opinion, there is nothing wrong with liking and listening to these artists.  If, however, I'm thinking to myself, "What's the point of it all, anyway?" and working myself into a pretty good hopeless depression spiral, it is probably not a good idea to pop in Mule Variations and get some psych support from Mr. Waits.  Recipe for disaster.  That is when my praise music comes in handy.  If you find Christian music annoying, as many do, use whatever works for you.  You know what your happy tunes are.  I don't care if it's Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, play it loud, play it proud and sing, sing, sing.  I promise it won't be long before you can think of a happy thought and once you've thought of one, they will keep on coming.  

The other thing I have started doing is keeping a miracle journal.  I got the idea from Priscilla Shirer's study on Exodus titled One in a Million.  She talks about how quickly the Israelites forgot about the miracles God performed for them in the desert and the abundance of life awaiting them in the promised land.  She points out that we too forget the amazing things that happen in our lives and our focus becomes our hardships, fears and anxieties.  She urges us to write the good stuff down.  I did this study over a year ago and fully intended to keep this journal.  What I realized recently, though, was I was waiting for really big stuff to write down.  Because I've been blessed to experience lots of really big, WOW miracles in my life, I fully expect them.  That's not a bad thing; it's a good one.  But it can also be dangerous, because God does not always show up in big, glossy, glamorous ways.  He is most often the still, small voice.

So I'm going to start recording what I call "mini miracles."  Little, everyday happenings that make me smile, that brighten my day, and that are, in fact, miracles.  For example, several days ago I had one of those "why is my kid so quiet?" moments and investigated, only to discover Baby Girl perched on my bathroom sink drawing on the mirror with Vaseline.  I focused on two praiseworthy things.  First, I had found out that the medicine cabinet was no longer baby proof without the need to call poison control.  Second, I praised Baby Girl's discovery of Vaseline-on-glass as an artistic medium.  This all to keep me from losing my cool over the fact that she had smeared petroleum jelly all over one of her best dresses.  

I have had lots of laundry adventures and if I have found out one thing it is that, absent some heavy duty Oxy Clean, oil-based stains just don't come out.  I had no Oxy Clean and no cash or motivation to go buy any.  So while I did spray a little Shout on her frock it was really only out of habit not any real hope of stain removal.  I tossed it into a cold wash and murmured a little prayer:  "Please, God, let that stain come out."  Once the wash was done, I tossed it into the drier without even looking.  A day later, I retrieved it and inspected it for damage, expecting to make a determination of whether it was wearable, if it was destined for the donation pile, or if it was basically a fabric scrap.  To my amazement, there was not a stain to be found.  Anywhere, at all.  Now, that is what I call a miracle.

I know some people may be scoffing that I think God cares about my laundry.  I know in the big scheme of things the issue of whether or not my little girl's dress has a stain on it is not of global importance.  In fact, it is a privilege to even have that concern in a world full of children who may not have a stitch of clothing to wear, stained or unstained.  But the Bible tells us to pray without ceasing and also to pray in all things.  So, in that sense, He does care about my laundry.  He cares about the little prayers and the big ones.  He shows His presence, His relevance, and His love everyday, sometimes in big, dramatic ways and sometimes in tiny touches.  

I wrote my stain-removal mini miracle down, not because of its earth-shattering significance, but because it will remind me in those moments when I feel like He's not listening that He actually is.  That in all times and in all circumstances, He is there, watching over me and caring for me.  I wrote it down because it is a lovely little miracle.  When my thoughts begin to darken, when clouds begin to gather, I can turn to it as a jumping off point to remember all the things in this world that are praiseworthy, excellent, and true.  For He is great and worthy to be praised.  We just have to tune in to the right station.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bathtub Breakthrough

I'm a bath person.  I had never really thought this was a defining characteristic until one day when, walking into a Bath and Body Works, the salesclerk stopped me to ask, "Are you a bath person or a shower person?"  Surprised and a little nonplussed by the sudden inquiry into my personal bathing preference, I stammered "a bath person."  She then directed me toward some of their new products for bathers.  I assume that if I had answered differently, she would have pushed the shower gels.

I assume you shower folks are the short, sweet, to the point, Type A kinds of people for the most part.  I appreciate that.  Not all of us need to linger over our personal hygiene with ritualistic bliss.  I, however, love to lie in a very deep tub full of very warm water and soak until I resemble a raisin.  I love bath products, soaps, and shampoos that smell of lavender, sandalwood, or rose.  I spend so much time in the bathtub at times that when I was pregnant with Eddie I actually got stuck in the tub (it was my ninth month and it was a small apartment tub) and Phillip didn't come looking for me until the water was very nearly freezing.

My bath habit has only gotten worse since having children.  It is now my primary and sometimes only place of retreat.  I have a Jacuzzi tub in my house and I fire that sucker up and talk to the Lord.  Sometimes the moment my husband walks through the door I gleefully announce my intentions and bolt for the bathroom.  I have discovered that Jesus has no problem hanging out in the loo.

So last night I was soaking and fretting.  I have been stressed out over the past few days (okay, weeks) and my back and shoulders were suffering the consequences.  I have this spot right beside my right shoulder blade which is sort of my "anxiety gauge."  The higher the anxiety level, the sorer it gets.  Lately it has been unbearable, so I know I'm not trusting my Lord.  Anxiety is not an inevitable state; it is a direct result of a lack of trust in a loving Savior.  It is a symptom of mental and spiritual disobedience.

Anyway, I was sitting there fretting about fretting.  Worrying about my worry.  Having anxiety about my anxiety.  (I'm not the only one out there that is this neurotic, right?)  Then suddenly it really dawned on me what I was doing and that I had a choice not to continue doing it.  I started singing.  I have just discovered a Christian artist named Jenn Johnson.  She's all folky and pretty and I love her song "I Love Your Presence."  So I started singing it, softly at first, hardly discernible above the sound of the jacuzzi.  As I sang though, I started feeling really good so I sang louder and louder until I was belting it out.  I highly recommend singing in the bathtub, by the way.  Why let the shower people have all the fun?

So I got so encouraged by my little bathroom concert that I just started praying out loud.  I started praising God.  I started confessing my lack of trust and started speaking the Truth over every single one of my circumstances.  I'm telling you, there was a one-woman tent revival going on in there.  I expected at any moment to hear a tentative knock from a concerned husband, but I didn't care.  Because for the first time in a long time, outside the realm of a big ol' worship service, I had a breakthrough.  I saw clearly that I had been sitting in a big stew of my own insecurities instead of soaking in the big tub of God's love.  He says we are to abide in Him.  Abide.  Soak!  Breathe and see that He is good, as soothing as lavender, as sweet as the rose.

I know this is a concept I have brought up before in this blog, but I believe it is a vital point:  God really does want us all to relax.  We aren't supposed to worry and we do not have to.  We can abide in the vine.  He is the vine; we are the branches.  The last time I checked, branches did not do a whole lot in their own power.  They don't control if they are going to get nutrition from the earth, sunlight or rain from the sky, or if they are going to bear fruit.  They just hang out... literally.  If we would just look to Him, really look to Him, He promises to provide everything we need.

The Christian public image is not relaxed.  Christians in general have been painted with a really broad brush, lumping all of us in with outspoken, conservative political pundits and television evangelists.  These folks, by and large, do not exude a spirit of inner peace.  I do not want to get political in this blog, but let's just say if I were in charge (which thank God I'm not), there would be a lot more drum circles and bonfires associated with Christianity than currently enter the picture.  We would be singing "Kumbaya" a little more often and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" a little less.  Not that I don't love my country; I really, really do.  I'm just saying to those non-believers (or not-sure-what-I-believers) out there that Christ followers are all over the place.  Some of us sing in our bathtubs, go barefoot a lot and might even belong to a party that starts with a "D" and ends with an "at."  

And our Savior, your Savior, does not belong to any political party.  He doesn't hate any of His children and He invites you to come into his presence anytime and soak in His peace.  He is not about consumerism and economic prosperity; He is about love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, faith, and hope.  He is the most awesome hippie I have ever met and I love His presence, whether it be in my church, in my heart or in my bathroom.  If you already know Him, I encourage you to spend some real time with Him tonight, just breathing and abiding.  If you don't, I can't wait for you to meet Him.  I pray blessings and peace for everyone single person who reads this.  Now, if you'll excuse me... it's time for my bath.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Broken Places

A favorite quote of mine is from Hemingway.  He said, "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."  I think that this is for the most part true.  Almost everyone I know has been broken in one way or another.  And while God does enter into those broken places, allowing for a sometimes supernatural strength, they are broken nonetheless.  Like an amputated limb, there is never a complete recovery. Only a resolve to live life to the fullest in spite of our handicap, to overcome our soul's disabilities and live in the fullness of joy no matter what.

Tonight I ache in the broken places.  My heart yearns for my little boy.  I am covered from head to toe with the raw power of loss.  It's not pleasant, but it is honoring.  It honors Eddie's life and memory.  It honors God too.  Because it is genuine and true and I am bringing it to Him just as it is, just as I am.  A broken and a contrite spirit He will not despise.  And tonight I am broken.

I know where to go when I feel this way.  I take a deep breath and I thank God that He is with me.  Then I sit with the pain, the awful, burning, sanctifying, glorifying pain and try to just experience it.  Accept it for what it is.  To feel it to its fullest so that I can grow from it and move past it to a place of greater peace and understanding, a greater gratitude for the life that I got to share and for the God who gave me that privilege.

We who have experienced great loss have been given a gift.  We have been given a reason and an opportunity to run to the shelter of an all-loving God with desperation.  Sri Ramakrishna said, "Do not seek illumination unless you seek it as a person whose hair is on fire seeks a pond."  That is how I need God.  How I seek Jesus.  It is not an option; it is a burning, fierce necessity.

Hemingway ultimately committed suicide.  I think it was not because he was more broken than the rest of us, but because he failed to seek the One who can give true strength.  The One who shines through the gaps of our brokenness, not only filling us with His glory but allowing it to shine through us to others.  Tonight I am grateful for my broken places.  For the lessons they have taught me, the strength He has given me through them.  I pray that they are a blessing and a source of illumination to you all.    

Monday, August 8, 2011

Love & Logic

So I'm a "Love and Logic" parent.  A dear friend of mine gave me the "Love and Logic: The Toddler Years" audio book even before I was pregnant with my first baby and it was love at first listen.  Not because I necessarily think spanking is evil; it certainly seemed to work in our household growing up.  Each of my now living children have gotten a half dozen or so single swats on the padded area God provided for that purpose when Mommy has been driven to the point of exhaustion and is out of any clever ideas.  It is only a last resort, however, and I hate it every time I pull that one out of the bag of disciplinary tricks.  Frankly, it almost always boils down to laziness and a lack of patience on my part.

Baby Girl is currently testing my resolve.  To the extreme.  Baby Boy was, in retrospect, an easy two.  Eddie was not, but he had special needs and was terminally ill so I tended to let discipline slide.  Baby Girl is proving to be as ornery and strong-willed as her eldest brother and since I am fairly confident that she will one day need to be a functioning member of society, she has to be disciplined.  It is making her crazy that she is not my boss and it is making me tired (if not crazy) to keep reasserting that I, indeed, am.  After the third time-out before noon, Mommy begins to fantasize about taking a long vacation...alone. In a child-free environment.

Luckily for her (or unluckily, however you look at it), I recently got a refresher course on the Love and Logic approach and am attacking this dynamic in new and interesting ways.  Ways like:  "I only give juice boxes to girls who sit in their car seats" or "I will talk to you when your voice sounds like mine."  I am empowered; she is infuriated.  But, little by little, she is also much more cooperative.  Because she really, really wants that juice box.

Some of the tenets of this style of parenting, as modeled by Super Nanny if any of you watch that show, is enforceable statements and natural consequences.  That being said, I made the biggest parenting boo-boo a few days ago that I have ever made.  Baby Girl is fully potty trained, but that night she did not want to sit on the potty before bed even though she was doing what we affectionately call "the pee-pee dance."  (For you non-parents or even parents who don't appreciate potty stories, bear with me; it's short and there aren't many details.)  So while she is screaming at me from the toilet "NOT go pee-pee," I, brainiac that I am, say, "Ok, but we are going to sit here until you go pee-pee."  As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I wanted to shoot myself.  My child once "held it" for eighteen hours when we were still new to the whole potty thing.  She is one stubborn goose.  I could have set myself up for a long, long night sitting on the the bathroom floor.

God was with me, however.  Her brother was getting to watch a Mickey Mouse cartoon before bed.  She said she wanted to watch the movie.  I said the sooner she peed the sooner she could go watch it.  The result was immediate and I breathed a huge sigh of relief and a prayer of thanks.  I was able to tell my husband and laugh at myself.

On the natural consequences side of things, she taught herself what I hope was a valuable lesson this morning. It was definitely a painful one, both for her physically and for me emotionally.  She was throwing a fit after getting out of the bathtub.  She didn't want to get dressed and was refusing to leave the bathroom.  In the midst of the tantrum, she threw herself face-down on the bathroom floor.  Since her arms were busy holding her towel around her, she did not catch herself with anything but her face.  Or, more specifically, her upper lip.  It was one of those impacts that you can tell is a bad one from the sound that it makes.  I immediately felt sick to my stomach.  I fought the urge to scoop her up and offer her a million kisses and utmost sympathy.  I know it sounds cold, but I do believe it helps children understand that their actions have consequences and that they are responsible for those consequences.  In this age of entitlement, I am desperate to teach my kids accountability from a very young age, while the consequences are relatively small.  Still, I never would have given my kid a fat lip and was fairly distressed that she gave herself one.  I took a deep breath, offered a sincerely empathetic, "I bet that really hurt," and picked her up to analyze the damage, praying that she didn't break any teeth.  Her teeth were fine; she has a busted lip and, have to say, a bit of a better attitude.  When her dad asked her how it happened, she answered simply, "I hurt my mouth."  When he pressed and asked her how she hurt her mouth, she immediately changed the subject.  I'm guessing there was, indeed, a lesson learned.

I am fairly convinced that this is how God our Father operates.  I know people who believe they are being punished by God, when from an objective standpoint their circumstances have naturally progressed from their own patterns of behavior.  I was one of those people.  My life was a shambles, I couldn't maintain healthy relationships, I suffered from headaches and hangovers, my finances never looked as I thought they should and I kept looking to other people, factors, or ultimately God to assign fault.  In retrospect, God wasn't making bad things happen to me because I was a drunk; I was a drunk, made poor choices, and therefore bad things happened.  Even if our lifestyles are not so dramatically out of line with God's plan for us, we still choose our responses to the challenges which inevitably come our way.  God lets us choose to be angry at Him.  By doing so, we separate ourselves from God's love, the one thing that can lift us up out of any circumstances, giving us renewed strength, joy and peace.  We might even throw ourselves down in our anger and give ourselves a spiritual boo-boo worth reckoning with.  A word to the wise:  God uses enforceable statements.  There is a big, thick book full of them.  And He always wins.

The good news is, though, that God also believes in positive reinforcement.  Not in the "give your church $10, God's going to give you $100" (aka -- God as a piggy bank) kind of way.  You may give your church or favorite charity $10 and not see another dime.  Without fail, though, if you are obedient to Him, both in action and attitude, He is going to bless you.  Maybe materially, always spiritually.  There is tremendous relief and peace the moment you stop screaming at God, stop wildly kicking your feet at Him, and start making good choices.  We are His children.  He is an all-loving Father.  If we face some hardship or limitation, there is some good reason for it.  We have every reason to simply trust and obey.  If we choose not to, I think that like any parent God feels a sense of sadness at the scrapes and bruises He knows will be coming.  Ultimately, however, we only will be hurting ourselves.  I am praying that Baby Girl "gets it" now, while the worst consequence she has suffered is a split lip.  It took a long time for me to learn that, in the words of Bob Dylan, "you're gonna have to serve somebody."  I am a servant of the Living God and instead of weakness, my submission has granted me a power unlike any I have ever known.  The power to be happy, to be well, and to thrive.  That's a pretty awesome love...and God's kind of logic.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Child's Prayer

Nighttime prayers are a tradition in our family.  I can remember with complete clarity my mom sitting with us at the foot of our beds every night, helping us say our prayers.  We didn't say the traditional "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" prayer.  I think my mom thought there was something a bit macabre about the whole "if I die before I wake" thing.  I agree whole heartedly.  That sort of prayer could give a kid a complex.  So we prayed a different prayer (my mother's creation, I believe) and with only one slight variation it is what I pray with my children each night as well.  It goes:  "Thank you God for this wonderful day and help me make good choices tomorrow.  Help me have good dreams and not any bad ones.  Thank you for everybody I love.  Please send guardian angels to protect us.  In Jesus' name, Amen."  The second half of that first sentence was, for me and my sisters, "help me to be a good girl tomorrow."  Since we have representatives from both genders and I am in the whole "we are never bad, we just make bad choices" school, I changed it up a bit.  Other than that, though, this is what I said, verbatim, every night at bedtime for well into my young adult years.  It's still what I say if I'm really worn out and don't feel like going into lots of specific prayer requests or in depth analysis of my life/day.  It's a handy little prayer.

My kids have added an adaptation.  I have asked them for about two years now if there was anything they would like to thank Jesus for before we say "Amen."  Usually they said no or just didn't say anything at all (to be fair, Baby Girl was an infant at the time so I didn't have high expectations).  The first time Baby Boy  accepted the invitation was after a trip to the Rainforest Cafe.  He was two, just barely so, and when we got to the end and I asked if he had anything else to add he thought very hard, then simply said "monkey."  We thanked Jesus for monkeys.  Then he didn't mention anything else for a long, long time.

I, for the most part, had stopped asking the question.  Then about a week ago we were saying prayers and after I said "amen," Baby Boy said, "Okay, my turn."  He clasped his hands together, clenched his eyes shut, turned his face heavenward and with an astounding sincerity for such a tiny little man, thanked Jesus for every member of his family by name.  I managed not to cry as I thought it would cause him never to do it again (he is a boy, after all, and does not appreciate Mommy showing an abundance of emotion) but I was extremely touched.

Since then he does this every night and his little sister, in keeping with her usual pattern of big brother adoration, has started doing it as well.  Their lists of praises vary, but Baby Boy's always includes Mommy, Daddy, Sister, and himself.  Last night's prayer was pretty awesome.  After thanking Jesus for his family, including all his sisters, his aunts, his Nana, and his Mimi, he thanked Him for Lightning McQueen, rock-n-roll, Princess (his sister's favorite alter-ego), Batman, Superman and Ironman.  Can I get an Amen?  In all my time on this earth, I have never thanked the Lord for rock-n-roll and, let's face it, where would we be without it?

Baby Girl's prayers revolve more around events ("thank you that go potty on big potty" is a recent favorite) or are spoken so softly that I can't quite make the words out.  Unlike her brother's fervent clasping of the hands, squeezing shut of the eyes, and facing the heavens praying style, she places her hands together very softly in a traditional "praying hands" fashion, closes her eyes in an equally demure way and solemnly bows her head.  I wondered at first who they were modeling since neither Daddy nor I pray in those ways usually, but then had a thought.  I think that they already have a relationship with their Savior.  Not just a knowledge but a relationship.  And I think each one of us has a unique way of approaching our King.  Their prayer styles are as much a part of them as the color of their hair or the way they carry themselves, part of their own soul-speak between them and their loving Protector, Comforter, Father, and Friend.

I does the heart good to pray and it does mine even better to watch my children pray.  Yesterday, Phillip peeked in on Baby Boy in his room.  He was reading a story in the Children's Bible to himself, not each and every word though he has started reading a little already, but telling the story from the pictures.  Once he was done, he put the book to the side, clasped his hands together and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving.  All alone, thinking he was unobserved, he was reaching out to Jesus and giving him thanks for the people and things in his life.

I have been far from a perfect parent when it comes to religious instruction.  Before we found our current church, actually the reason we found our current church, is because I had a terrible sense of guilt that my little guy knew who Lightning McQueen was but not Jesus Christ.  I prayed for God to give me help and He led me to a church which, in my opinion, has the best children's program I've ever seen.  I also prayed that He help me to model Christianity, that my children learn from my example how to know, love and follow Him.  What I am witnessing now is not something I've done through my power.  I don't spend every free moment of the day pushing a Christian agenda.  We often forget to say grace before we eat.  We watch just as much Diego or Yo Gabba Gabba as we do Veggie Tales.  No, this is simply an answer to prayer.  I asked for the Lord to speak to my children's hearts and He did and does.  I will continue to pray and hope that my life is a witness to them, but I'm not going to ignore that their lives are becoming witnesses to me.  I have added to my own of nighttime prayers "help me to have the faith of a child."  And I know He will continue to show me how.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Surprised

I realized something today.  I received an invitation to Step 2's tenth birthday party next week.  Her birthday is on the 10th and the party is being held on the 11th.  My first thought was "Oh, no!  I don't think we are going to be able to make it this year!"  It is in Austin and I have a conference to attend that weekend so while I think her dad will be there, her brother, little sister and I will probably have to miss.  

None of this seems particularly interesting, I realize.  But you don't realize the significance of August 11th.  It was in the wee hours of the morning on August 11th, 2007 when my little boy went home to be with the Lord.

It is therefore singular, unique and surprising to me that my first response to seeing the date in black and white on an invitation was a reaction to the event at hand, not to the catastrophic date in the not-so-distant past.  I realized that this was the first time since Eddie died that I have not been having a mental countdown to that day since sometime in July.  Normally, I am steeling myself, trying to fortify myself against the inevitable breakdown that will occur on or around the 11th.  Not so this year.  My feelings on this fact are mixed.

Ask anyone who has lost a child:  it's complicated.  The majority of my heart is happy with this revelation.  I take it as a sign of healing and hope.  A validation of the fact that my life is not and does not have to revolve around the death of my child.  Then there is the flip-side.  I feel guilty.  Like it is somehow disloyal to his memory that I had all but forgotten that I was only one week away from the anniversary of his death.  It is at the same time right and very, very wrong.

William Wordsworth wrote a poem that was one of my favorites, decades before there was a reason for it to be.  It is called "Surprised By Joy" and I recall that it is about the death of his own daughter, who died as a child.  I loved it from the moment we studied it (I believe it was sophomore English?).  If you will indulge the English major in me for a moment, here it is in its entirety:

Surprised by joy--impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport--Oh! with whom 
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb, 
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind-- 
But how could I forget thee? Through what power, 
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss?--That thought's return 
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore, 
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn 
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

Ok, so I realize probably not everyone is as big a fan of 18th century Romantic poetry as I am.  But this poem sums up better than anything else I have ever read the strange fluctuation of emotions you experience when you have suffered a cataclysmic loss.  

Sorry for the fifty cent word there, but I've already used "catastrophic" and, besides, Wordsworth has me going.  "Vicissitude" means the quality of being changeable.  He says in a fancy way the simple fact that once someone is dead there is absolutely no changing it.  Phillip's little cousin Ethan put it in much simpler terms on the day Eddie died.  We were gathered with various family members at my mother-in-law's house, going through pictures of Eddie, deciding which ones to use at the funeral, laughing, crying, and reminiscing.  Ethan, who was four at the time, came in and, upon seeing the stack of pictures, said, "That's Eddie!!"  We all agreed, lumps in our throats.  He then asked, "He died?"  Swallowing hard, I managed, "Yes, honey, he died."  There was a long pause.  Then he asked in a very matter-of-fact tone, "Can't get him back, huh?"

It is one of the hardest truths there is to face.  No, we can't get him back, not in this life.  I have confidence about the next; I know that we will see each other again once I cross the threshold and join him in heaven.  But the fact remains that "neither present time, nor years unborn" will restore him to me on this earth.  That I can't hold him, inhale his wonderful sea-salt smell, or kiss the curls that gathered at the back of his neck.  So I guess it does not really matter on which day he died.  Whether I take the anniversary as an opportunity to celebrate his life, to mourn his death, or just simply let it pass by.  Because the truth is I miss him everyday, I celebrate him everyday, and everyday I am surprised by joy.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hot and Happy?

Well I am going to attempt a blog post today even though I am so out of it I almost sprayed cooking spray in Baby Girl's potty instead of Lysol.  I guess even us stay-at-homers can still have a case of the Mondays.  It's amazing, isn't it, how effortless some days can be and how others can have relatively the same set of circumstances and be so...difficult.

I would blame the heat, but I'm tired of everybody blaming the heat.  For those of you readers who do not live in North Texas at the moment, we are experiencing temperatures in the 100s day after day after day after day...with no end in sight.  It does take its toll on you.

Today we were in the drive-through lane of our bank.  It seemed like the best choice.  I had the kids in tow (as always), the parking lot was crazy full, I was only making a deposit, and the line was only three cars deep.  A no brainer, right?  WRONG!  I am not sure what transactions the other cars were making but two of them took a long, long time.  Meanwhile, I was beginning to stress out.  The temperature gauge on my car said it was 109 degrees outside, my air-conditioning was beginning to be significantly less chilly, and I had two sweaty, red-faced preschoolers getting a little bit cranky.  I was tempted to bail but I really needed to get the deposit in there and there was only one car left.  I started praying that whatever this customer was doing, they would do it quickly.  That the teller move with lightning fast speed so I can get my car moving, the air blowing, and back to the cool of my home.

No such luck.  They were taking a long time too.  I felt the old me begin to rear her ugly head.  I wanted to yell at Baby Boy to stop whining, lay on my horn, then gripe out the teller for being so unbelievably slow.  Luckily, I now have a red flag that goes up when I experience these feelings, so I did none of the above.  Instead I took a deep breath and prayed.  Instead of asking God to change the situation, I asked Him to change my reaction to it.  I asked Him to restore a new spirit within me, to give me patience.  I thanked Him that the car had not overheated (yet) and that we still had lukewarm air moving.  I assured myself that we weren't all going to suffocate or get heat stroke in line for the bank.  I took a few more deep breaths.

Suddenly the heat did not seem so oppressive.  I had a flashback to my law school days, when I used to hang out at Gruene Hall in 100 degree weather, sweating under the ceiling fans listening to some great Texas country band.  It wasn't any cooler in there, sweating under the ceiling fans, but I never felt like complaining.  I was having too good a time.  Okay, granted, I didn't have a three year old whining, "Mommy, I'm hoooooot" every few minutes, but I'm grateful for that three year old.  The memory made me smile and consequently relax.  The car in front of me pulled away.

Call it mind over matter or whatever you want to; I call it kingdom living.  Because the Bible makes it clear that we don't have to live like everybody else does:  complaining, irritable and miserable.  It says our circumstances don't determine our joy.  I don't ascribe to the belief that we are probably going to be miserable down here but can look forward to joy in heaven.  I think the message of Christ is that we get to be really happy down here, no matter what, and then be even happier in heaven.  It just takes right action on our part or, in this case, right prayer.  And while I'm a little scattered this evening, I'm smiling.  While I've had a few grumpy moments, I didn't pinch anyone's head off, literally or figuratively.  I'm going to approach this heat wave with joy, ask God to guide me toward fun and fulfilling indoor activities...and pray for rain.