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Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Gift of Gab

My boys weren't talkers.  While Eddie had plenty of words, he was very particular about when he used them (never around a stranger, not often if a simple point and grunt would suffice).  Baby Boy was content to make car noises and animal sounds until well past his second birthday.  If the birth order of my children had been different, I probably would have been very concerned and signing up for speech therapy. Because once Baby Girl came around I discovered something amazing:  toddlers can talk!  And talk... and talk... and talk.

I've always been a talker.  I was, since around nine months of age, "vaccinated with a phonograph needle" as my grandfather would put it.  (A phonograph is a record player.  For those of you who don't know what a record player is, google it.  And you make me feel old.)  I can't help it.  There are words inside of me just bursting to get out.  When I'm in a situation in which talking is frowned upon (church, standardized testing rooms, etc), I literally feel a physical pain in my chest from all the word build-up.  Teachers find this habit irritating.  As a senior in high school my government/economics teacher switched me from desk to desk, trying to find a group of people I wouldn't talk to.  Such a group does not exist.  So she moved me to a desk in the back, surrounded by empty desks.  I talked louder.

I fear the same future for Baby Girl, though I am told she is rather quiet in her Mother's Day Out class.  I'm virtually certain she will grow out of that.  Because at home she talks, non-stop.  Her vocabulary has always been impressive.  While I was telling my mother about Baby Boy's recent trip to the dentist, she leaned over and told her emphatically, "It was a very positive experience."  She talks to all of us, of course, but also to the television during her favorite shows, to her books as she reads them, to her toys as she plays with them, and to herself if no one or nothing else is available.  She even talks in her sleep.

Because of the continuous chatter, sometimes I have to remind myself to LISTEN.  Because the things she says are magical and funny and often really insightful.  She tells stories full of imagination and drama.  Her first story, when she was barely past two, was about a bunny that hid in tall grass and then ran so fast that she could not see him.  Since then we have moved on to fantastic tales of princesses, dragons and even the odd zombie.  Her flair for the dramatic leads to some interesting moments.  Once when we were driving down the road, she started crying.  I could tell the crying was fake, but still glanced back and asked, "What's wrong, baby?"  With her eyes screwed tightly shut she wailed with sincerity, "I CAN'T SEE!"  Aside from the hearty laugh this gave me, I couldn't help but feel a swell of pride at her excellent Method acting skills and envision a career in theatre ahead.

This fanciful streak makes it a little hard sometimes to distinguish between fact and fiction, but that is part of her magic.  There is a fine line between telling a lie and creating a story and I try not to be too strict on this point.  Her mind is filled with rainbows and faeries, exciting adventures and tragic tales and she tells me about them.  I never want that to change.  I want to listen and let her know her words are wonderful things.  I am going to miss her pipsqueak little voice when it matures, will miss the mispronunciations and funny word substitutions of my three year old princess.  But when her voice is all grown up and her stories have changed, I want to change with her.  Instead of just listening, I want to encourage her to use that voice for all its worth.  I want to tell her never to let anyone shame her into silence, to never be so afraid of embarrassment that she shuts up.  (Except, you know, during church or standardized testing.)  I know she already has words inside of her that are bursting to come out and I want to hear every single one of them.  To do that I'm going to have to shut my own mouth (always a challenge), ask more questions, listen more and know less.

It will be a good discipline for me to learn.  As I mentioned, our children are our teachers.  Already she with her gift of gab is teaching me, a perpetual talker, to listen.  Often she presses a tiny finger against my lips and says, "Mommy, be quiet."  It should probably call for disciplinary action, but it never fails to make me laugh, and it is very nearly always because she has something she wants to say and can't get a word in edgewise, so I let it slide.  We'll find our balance and for now I think I'll let her have a 60/40 split.  I'm so grateful to have my little girl to chat with me and look forward to every conversation, every story, even every rant that we have to come.    

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Life Coach

We are a nicknaming family.  My family of origin is one too; we each had a half dozen or so nicknames apiece.  I married a nicknamer so the tradition is being proudly carried on.  Our nicknames range from the practical (Abby for Abigail, for example), to the descriptive (Baby Girl earned the moniker "Princess Pooter Pants" by the time she was six months old for what should be obvious reasons), to the downright silly (Eddie was, is and will always be my Sugar Snap Pea).

One of Baby Boy's nicknames is The Life Coach.  He earned it when he was no more than two years old and it fits into the "descriptive" category.  He is one of the most encouraging pint-sized people you will ever meet.  I try not to project too much of an image of what I think my children will grow up to be.  I avoid it primarily because I don't want to decide that they are going to be investment bankers only to be blown away and gasping for breath when they reach their young adult years and decide to be tattoo artists instead.  I want to be able to smile and say, "That's awesome, honey.  You just follow your path.  I'm proud of you."  And mean it.

Anyway, that being said, I can't help but think Baby Boy is destined for some motivating future career.  Perhaps sales but I'm thinking personal trainer, motivational speaker or, as the nickname would suggest, life coach.  He is full of boundless energy and eager to share it with others.  Although he has a natural caution when in comes to trying new things and is refreshingly wary of adult strangers, get him around a group of peers (and he thinks the "peers" age range is from 2-12) or a group of people he is comfortable with and he is going to jump right in, trying to make everyone comfortable and even push their limits a little.  When he was two years old and I was reticent to engage in any form of exercise apart from toddler wrangling, he would come up with elaborate fitness routines.  Like, run around the ottoman until you're dizzy, then crawl like a baby, then jump around and wiggle your hips.  If you didn't get up promptly to join him, he would say, "C'mon, get up.  Get up!"  If you were slacking on your baby-crawling form, he would urge you with a calm but insistent, "No, like this."  Once you got your act together, he would shout an encouraging "Great job!  Great job!"  Did I mention he was two?

While physical fitness was and is his focal point, he is the Life Coach rather than the Personal Trainer because he extends his knack for encouragement into other areas.  He is very supportive of all creative and culinary adventures.  Once, while we were gardening as a family, he busted out with a heart felt, "We make a great team!"  I seriously don't know where this kid came from but I enjoy the hell out of him.

Since I have begun working out with a passion, he continues to be my greatest fan and motivator.  As I push my double jogger, he often shouts, "FASTER!  Great job, great job," spurring me on to longer, faster and better stroller runs.  When I pick him up from the gym daycare (one of his favorite places), he usually has an encouraging word.  Some recent favorites are "That was a great workout, Mom.  You so stronger" and a request to not only run and swim with me but also "do stairs."  I'm telling you, he is a four year old Bob Harper.

I've been blogging long enough now that I can't really remember what I've mentioned and what I haven't so forgive any repetition.  If I'm repeating a concept, though, it is because it is one I find to be true in a mind-blowing kind of way.  One of these concepts is that we are not our children's teachers nearly to the extent that they are ours.  If we will set aside our manic adult need to be right all the time and remember that the kingdom of God belongs to these little balls of light that we are lucky enough to raise, we will not only do them a world of good, they will change our lives.  Radically, completely and all for the better.  My Life Coach makes me smile.  He makes me work, he makes me want to be better, and he amazes me.  When my oldest baby and perhaps my greatest teacher died, at that time in my life when I could have so easily been ready to give up hope, this little encourager was growing in my womb, already giving me something to hope for, something to thrive for, something to look forward to and someone to live for.  So today's post is just a little note of gratitude for Baby Boy, for that bright light of atomic energy with his "full speed ahead" attitude and smile that you can't help but return.  He is just awesome and I can't wait to learn everything he came to teach me.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Just Breathe

You know how I told you God was going to heal my asthma?  (If you have no idea what I'm talking about you can go back and read the blog post entitled "No Matter What."  Or you can just jump in right here.  Totally up to you.)  Well, I realized recently that although I had told everybody out here in internet world that He was going to, I failed to mention that He had.  Rather than feel guilty about that and ruminate on the story in the Bible where only one in ten lepers goes back to praise Jesus for healing his leprosy, I'm going to send a quick "sorry" heavenward and remedy the situation.

So, yeah... I don't have asthma!  And, no, it is not that just at the present moment I'm not feeling any bronchial discomfort.  I mean I'm breathing better than I ever have in my entire life.  It was like there was a whole level of breathing I had never been exposed to, except in the brief moments immediately after using my emergency inhaler.  My "normal" was so not normal.  Consequently, I'm feeling like some kind of superhero with special breathing powers.  I take so much pleasure in just the simple act of drawing breath.

I don't know the moment I was healed.  I know that after God had promised me He was going to heal my lungs, things go worse.  Downright scary in fact.  I could hardly breathe sometimes and had a perpetual cough.  I just did my best to ignore it and I didn't panic.  Then things went back somewhat to normal.  Sometime after that, however, "normal" became extraordinary.

I noticed it while I was running.  You see, I had what is called "exercise-induced asthma."  (It was also stress-induced, pollen-induced, food-induced... you get the idea.)  Anyway, I would have to take a couple hits off of the puffer before I started even light exercise or in no time at all I would be reduced to a panting, wheezing, red-faced blob.  On the occasions when I would go out for a run prior to God's word on healing, Phillip would always call after me, "Do you have your inhaler?" for fear I would collapse on the street somewhere.  It was fairly serious.

But, as you know if you have been reading, I've been on quite the running kick for the past two months or so and haven't used an inhaler.  Not once.  And it hasn't been because of grim determination; I haven't needed to.  My lungs don't just feel fine while I'm running, they feel better.  Like everything is open and wide in there.  It makes me giddy just thinking about it.

So after my running realization, I decided to try something else out.  Yes, it is true; you should not put God to the test.  You are not going to see me pick up any rattlesnakes or anything unless I get a very clear directive from God to do so.  It's not the same thing, though, to realize you are healed, in accordance to a personal promise from God, and try to do something you couldn't do with your affliction.  It would be silly if God healed a paralytic but they continued not to walk.  So I took my own version of those first steps... in the kitchen.

You see, there were certain foods that triggered my asthma.  Delicious, wonderful, healthy foods that if I ate them even in reasonable quantities could possibly kill me.  I once scared Phillip to death on a dinner date because I ate all of the grape tomatoes in my salad (because they are DELICIOUS) and then a few moments later was unable to speak and turning a bit blue as I rummaged madly in my purse for the puffer.

So it was with a keen sense of excitement that I returned from my run and made myself a feta and tomato salad (with a little balsamic vinegar...delish).  It was a monster-sized one too and I ate the whole freaking thing and then spent a few minutes gloating and breathing with not so much as a wheeze.  Since then I have eaten other priorly forbidden foods with the same result.  Avocado, watermelon, how I love thee.  I even guzzled a big glass of milk and then went for a run, which in the past would have needed to be preceded by the writing of a suicide note.  I have the bronchial tubes of a champion.

Before this all happened, when God had told me it would but hadn't healed my body yet, I was talking to a woman about all this healing stuff.  She knew my present struggle but the conversation had turned, as it always tends to, to Eddie and all that I'd been through with that.  She asked me how I do it.  How I live without him, day in and day out.  I told her some days are easier than others.  Some days joy is right there waiting for me when I wake up, but on other days all I can do is just sit with God and breathe.  I don't pray really; I just breathe.  She made the observation that this was interesting to say when now my breath seemed to be being taken away from me. I smiled, realizing that this test of my faith was no different than any other.  I needed to ignore what "seemed to be" true and just breathe.

I'm grateful that I can now breathe with abandon.  That I can breathe with a greater depth and a greater awareness of what a privilege it is just to draw air into a pair of healthy lungs.  I'm so grateful that I had asthma so that I know what it is like not to have that privilege, to live restricted.  I pray that I never forget or begin to take this all for granted.  That every time I bite into a tomato that it taste all the sweeter for the fact that I can have it and continue to breathe.  Just breathe.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Endurance Training

I just joined a gym a week or so ago and got a complimentary training assessment.  There was a place on the assessment form that asked if you were actively participating in any sport:  soccer, baseball, etc.  I kind of skimmed over it and, not seeing an option for "running," I thought the answer was a definite no.  I have never been one for team sports.  I have a lot of heart but a complete lack of hand-eye coordination.  So, while I was talking with the trainer, I was surprised that when he got to that portion of my assessment he put a check mark.  It was in front of "endurance training."  

I admit that I felt a little puffed up for a moment.  That sounds tough, doesn't it?  "Endurance training."  It makes me think of marathons and Ironman competitions.  It is not what I think of when I'm huffing and puffing along, struggling just to complete a two mile run.  But what is the saying?  "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."  I took a moment to let myself feel proud, to feel like an athlete.  

Endurance is not just for athletes, though.  It's for all of us.  I remember one doctor's words when Eddie was just a few days old and I had spent all but a couple of hours sitting on a stool next to his crib in the NICU.  He told me to go back to the Ronald McDonald house and try to get some rest.  "This is a marathon, not a sprint," he said.  Those words stuck with me.  It think back on them often.  He was right.  It was a marathon and it required a crazy kind of endurance.

Hebrews 12:1 says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also set aside every weight, and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."  That great cloud he is referring to is a long list of faith-filled people that were listed in Hebrews 11.  We're talking Moses, Abraham, etc.  To me it seems that he is saying that those people are watching over us, cheering us on if you will, waiting to see what we do with the path that has been given us.

Some of us are lucky enough to have stumbled upon the truth of God, how great it is to live our lives for Him, how rewarding it is to run His race.  We do well to remember this verse, to set aside the weights of our anxieties, our plans and our egos.  To disentangle ourselves from our sins and get running!  But as with everything else, it is finally our choice.  There are far too many people who might start out strong but when it gets hard, they quit.  They sit on the curb (or in front of their TVs) and let the rest of the runners pass them by, never knowing what blessings were ahead of them on the course.  Others never even get past the start line.  

We all know the excuses.  Most of us have rehearsed them ourselves a few time.  "God, this isn't fair."  "God, it's too hard."  "God, anything but this!"  They all boil down to a version of "I can't."  But the Bible says we can do all things through Christ.  So that means, if God has set a course for you, "I can't" is really "I won't."

I don't mean to get preachy.  I just feel passionately about this subject because if I can get off my tush, trash  my excuses, and run my life with endurance ANYBODY can.  I am a least likely candidate.  I had a challenging childhood, a raging addiction, poor health, and then I lost a child.  No one would blame me if I curled up in a ball and refused to get out of bed for the next decade or so.  I have the perfect excuse to quit:  my baby died.  But I didn't and I don't.  I make a conscious decision every day to get up, get moving, throw of the weight of grief and self-pity, refuse the sin of disobedience, and run, run, run.  Sometimes with joy, sometimes with pain, but always moving forward, seeking what's next, looking up at the One who keeps me moving against all odds.

No one said this life thing was going to be easy.  Just like literal running, there are times when it hurts like hell. I don't approach the finish line of races feeling like a million bucks.  More often than not my lungs are on fire, my legs feel like lead, and I'm trying not to puke.  But the moment I'm across that line, I know that I accomplished something.  That I pushed my limits, got out of my comfort zone, and DID something.  That's what I want my life to look like too.  When my baby left this world, it felt like the bottom dropped out of everything, but I didn't give up.  I knew I had run a good race with Eddie, that I had done everything I could do, that I never gave up or let him down, that I left it all on the track.  It makes it easier to live my day to day now, free of regrets.  I could have quit the moment they told me his prognosis.  I could have killed myself, checked into a mental hospital, or hit the nearest bar.  In many ways, that would have been the easier route, but when I think of all the blessings, all the joy, I would have missed, I can't imagine taking that course.

Eddie's death wasn't the finish line for me; it was just another starting gate.  I've got lots more years to run and I want to run them strong, delighting in the capability God has given me to do anything He wants me to do and just praying and powering through the times when it all seems too much.  I want to tune in to the great cloud of witnesses watching me and cheering me on.  I never want to stop my endurance training because I want to be ready for the next challenge.  I want to answer every call that God places on my life, every obstacle he asks me conquer with a confident, "I will."  I want to cross that final finish line knowing that I did something, that I accomplished what God put me on this earth to do.  Free from regrets, ready for glory.