Still Christmas

Christmas is over, leaving behind the remnants of wrapping paper scraps hidden under legs of furniture and the usual weariness that follows post-holiday. My belly is confused at its remaining fullness and tightness of my pants after a mere three days of rich food and celebration with family, and I’m actually looking forward to eating vegetables that aren’t part of a casserole.

My kids made me proud these past couple of days as they expressed gratefulness and excitement over their presents–exactly what every parent wants to see on Christmas morning. Today we enjoyed a day of playing and building and reading, but tomorrow I foresee a little more ‘normal.’ Laundry for sure and mopping the floor, perhaps, interspersed with Lego guidance and Bey-blade battles.

As I transition back to normal, the hollow stillness that accompanied me prior to Christmas waits again. I had never been profoundly affected by a tragedy prior to the murder of those 20 sweet children in Newtown, Connecticut, but since that terrible Friday, my mind consistently thinks of the victims, the loved ones they left behind.

Perhaps I’ve cried because I am a mother, one of my children in kindergarten, another in first grade, and I see firsthand every day the innocence of children that age. Whatever the reason, for the first time I felt the weight of evil in this world. I saw the loss of innocence for all those children who were instructed to close their eyes as they left the school building and all of us in this country as we wept for them.

As the days went on, I couldn’t help but think of the irony of the season. We were preparing to sing, “Joy to the World” and proclaim “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace(E) to those on whom his favor rests” while our hearts felt anything but joy or the promise of peace. How could such darkness, such evil live among us, and how could the words of Christmas ever speak truth?

I thought of the little babe come to save the world, entering among blood and sweat and his mother’s cries as those 20 children left the world the same way. And for the first time I felt darkness surround me and a stillness about my faith. I didn’t sing for joy, and I couldn’t feel the peace.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay

I didn’t question ‘why’ so much as ‘how.’ I knew my theology and believed it–still believe it–but what comfort could Christ offer any of those grieving parents? Aside for the hope of eternity, what could he do to remove the darkness now?

So I didn’t write. I grieved with the rest of the country. And I thought about Christmas.

Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day

And the more I thought about Christmas, the more I realized it was exactly the point. From the moment Eve and Adam ate of the fruit, God knew He would have to save us. The paradise He created for us was now tainted with sin, and we would forever feel the consequences. We can pass more regulations over who can get guns and what types (and I think we should), but we will never rid ourselves of evil. When Cain spilled Abel’s blood, he demonstrated the evil that dwells within us all.

To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray

Yet God still wants to save us, so we celebrate Christmas. We praise God that this mess is not our home. And we acknowledge that our feelings are appropriate–sadness, despair, hopelessness–because this world is fallen. This mess was never supposed to be. And we wait. We wait for the Savior who came as a newborn child and died as man to come once again and end our misery.

We look for glimpses of Him to remind us of the goodness that awaits–the love that we feel for our children, the satisfaction of a warm meal, the wind whipping through the trees–promises of a new creation where we will cry no more. But in the meantime, we can cry, for the pain is real. We can celebrate Christmas and the promise of joy, and we can return to our routine.

And we wait. As we look for the good, we wait.

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Save us from ourselves.

O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy


 

 

 

I Have No Mercy for Kids With Mono and Other Tales

I found out last Saturday that my five-year-old daughter has mononucleosis. Of course like any good parent, I felt sympathy for my poor little girl who didn’t feel well. Then I felt relief. And guilt.

For the month prior, my daughter’s behavior was beyond horrible. Even asking her to put on her clothes was a battle. She would throw uncharacteristic temper tantrums, screaming that she was so tired and couldn’t do it. Her room remained a condemned area, as she refused for two weeks to clean it. She was grounded from a birthday party, the playground, dinner with the family–anything else I could think of–and yet she still refused to put even one dirty shirt in the hamper.

Hannah Grace has always been stubborn; refusing to do chores or taking forever to get ready in the morning was not beyond her capabilities, but she had reached such an impressive level of defiance that my visions of her future all involved jail time.

I spent nights crying in bed. All of my prayers started with her. In fact, I spent many nights after the kids had gone to bed walking up and down the hallway, prayer walking, casting out the demons that surrounded her room in Jesus’ name.

In fact, one night the urge to pray was so intense that I went to her room and laid hands on her sleeping body, assuming God wanted me to perform a mini exorcism. That night, Hannah Grace climbed into bed between Matt and me, and we could feel the heat emanating off her limbs as she snuggled next to us. She clearly had a fever. I figured God was giving me a sign that He was burning up the demons.

A few hours later, the fever was gone, and Hannah Grace was back to her defiant self. She said she didn’t want to go to school with venom in her voice, and I knew it was just another of her evil ploys. After all, I had already picked her up from school previously when she said she didn’t feel well, and she bounced around the house all day. We had gone to the doctor another time when she said her throat and stomach hurt, but her strep test came back negative. Clearly, I lived with a manipulative little faker.

So when the nurse called on Saturday and said, “Hannah Grace has mono,” I felt immediate relief that my daughter was not possessed by Satan. And then I felt guilt that I had thought my daughter was possessed by Satan. And guilt that I didn’t renew her gymnastics classes due to her defiant behavior and refusal to do chores.

Yep, that’s motherhood–doing my best to raise my kids well, seeking the Lord, only to realize that I wasn’t reading the signs He was giving me correctly; having to kneel before my child humbly, asking her forgiveness for not understanding.

And, yet, motherhood, is experiencing the biggest smile in my soul, the kind that runs from my stretched cheeks to my toes, as I watch my son round home plate and jog towards his dad who scoops him up in celebration. An in-the-park home run caused this little boy to run to his dad, his coach with tears streaming down his face because, as he explained, “I was just so happy.” These days are what make motherhood, life, amazing; the constant swinging of the pendulum through guilt and relief and compassion to joy and feelings that I don’t even know how to describe.

But I want to try.

I’ve know for some time what I’ve wanted to do, but, honestly, I’ve been afraid. A few weeks ago, God stirred in me that desire again. I attended Hutchmoot with my best friend Wendy, and I fell in love with the story, God’s story. His amazing Creation. His love story told through the pages of the Bible, a story that doesn’t end with Revelation but is just beginning.

I want to tell part of His story; I don’t know what part or where I’m starting, but I want to tap into the creative spirit that He’s given me, that’s He’s shown all of us by every beat of our heart, each breath that we take.

In order to write, though, to capture these moments of life that point toward God’s bigger story of hope and redemption, I have to give myself permission to let go of my blog. I already haven’t written as much as I would like, and that fact hovers over me and actually causes me guilt and disappointment.

The fact is that I want to write without the need to hit publish. I want to write and continue to write and see where my story takes me, but I can’t unless I release this need to write in this space.

These words are hard for me to type because this place has been such a significant part of my life for the last three years. I have shared my joys, my struggles–most of my heart–right here. And while I don’t have a large following, I am very aware that I have a great following of some of the most loyal and faithful readers out in this strange and wonderful world of the blogosphere. I call many of you my friends even though I’ve never seen you face to face!

Thank you for sharing this journey with me, and, perhaps, one day I’ll have a more substantial work to share with you again. In the meantime, I’m sure I’ll visit this space from time to time as my kids always provide the best material–after all, if I don’t write about it, I”ll forget it. And since I don’t scrapbook, my writing really is the best record of my kids’ childhood that I can provide. And now that I’m freeing myself from this space, perhaps I’ll be better at visiting each of yours.

Please pray for me that I would have the discipline to keep writing. And please continue to pray for my family–especially now that I have two kids with mono (Caleb was diagnosed yesterday…I’m hoping my tiredness and headache are just allergies)!

Three years ago when my husband bought me this laptop, I was angry that he spent this money. However, now I can only thank him. He gave me a gift that I never would have expected by renewing my passion (But please, please, Matt, do not buy me another one…even if parts of  this laptop are cracking).

May God bless each of you as you continue on in His story….


Stretch


Caleb and I were practicing his spelling words this morning, and he tripped up on ‘fast.’

“F-a-t-”

“No,” I interrupted. “Remember, stretch your words. Say every sound.”

I had heard Caleb’s teacher tell all the students to stretch their words when sounding them out, to say every syllable, every little sound by making the word as long as possible. I enjoyed watching their little mouths as they contorted in every direction try to speak every sound.

“Faaaaaassssssttt,” we stretched together.

“F-a-s-t,” Caleb spelled after hearing the ‘s’ clearly.

As I got in the car that morning, I thought about stretching. We stretch our muscles so they won’t tense up after a tough workout, and we stretch our words to hear clearly those extra sounds; and I thought, perhaps, I needed to stretch my mind that morning.

Since school started, the spaces on my calendar were already disappearing, and I hadn’t even added in my own obligations yet. School, sports, appointments, on and on and on. The muscles in my neck felt tense, and I had that jittery feeling inside. And at that moment in the car, I started to stretch. I said my tasks slowly, focusing on each one, one at time. When I tried to list them too quickly, I got nervous, feeling like I would miss something, but when I stretched, I could take each moment slowly.

I could breathe, I could see, and I could cross one off that list as I took the dog to the vet.

Five Minute Friday

Linking up with Lisa-Jo for “Five Minute Friday.” Have you stretched this morning?


School for the Escape Artists

The first social media outlet to go was Twitter. I never even tried Pinterest. Now, Facebook‘s days may be coming to an end.

It’s not them; it’s me, really. I still have my Twitter account, and I think I even have a Pinterest account (though, I’ve never logged on), but I can’t allow myself to use them. I know myself, and I know I’ll start the comparison game. I’ll find all the reasons I’m not doing life right or depriving my children of the perfect childhood, so I’ve decided to spare myself the torture.

I had never thought I’d treat Facebook the same way, but last night I started to reconsider my previous position. Post after post after post were from moms commenting on their children’s first day of school, and the moms were all crying. Those moms whose children won’t start until next week were squeezing their babies tighter, not wanting that dreadful day to come.

My first thought was, What the heck is wrong with them?! However, after reading how many moms were crying, I then thought, What the heck is wrong with me?!

My son starts first grade tomorrow, and the only emotion I feel is excitement. Yesterday, we visited his classroom, cute little desks filled with brand new workbooks and the hermit crab class pet to complete the perfection, and I wanted to start school with him. My daughter starts kindergarten in a week, and the very mention of school brings a smile to her face. When I visualize her wearing her plaid uniform and hair bow, I smile with her.

I know I’m not a bad mom for looking at school as an exciting time, but I can’t help wondering why I’m not more sentimental….

Last night, I lay in bed for a good while before I fell asleep. My mind was full of random thoughts, ranging from the sermon I heard two weeks ago to the bedtime routine of my kiddos when they were three. My mind stayed on the latter.

None of my children transitioned to the toddler bed well, and nap times were extremely difficult. At one point, we resorted to turning the doorknobs around so that we could lock the door from the outside and trap our kids on the inside in hopes of forcing them to sleep.

Caleb was the first child to defy nap time. I remember feeling like the victor after changing the knobs, knowing that I would finally have the ‘mommy time’ to clean or pay bills or just sit for a minute while he rested quietly in his room. That is until I saw him make his way down the stairs. How in the world did he get out? I wondered. After putting Caleb back in his room, re-locking his door, and finding this little boy down the stairs again, I repeated the routine but stayed camped out in front of his room. I would crack the code.

As I sat, I watched the lock magically turn to the horizontal position, and there stood my three-year-old, having pushed open his door with his Lightning McQueen suitcase in hand. I was baffled–until I saw that he was holding the zipper. Yes, my little boy learned how to pick a lock with the zipper on a suitcase.

I promptly removed the suitcase and locked his door again, but Caleb knew that his jeans also had zippers. I couldn’t even lock my son in his room.

I knew Caleb was clever, but I was hoping for different results with his sister. Hannah Grace, however, proved that she, too, had the criminal gene and picked her lock with the prongs of her nightlight. Chloe’s room had a dutch door so that we could see in her room while she was locked out. She didn’t mess with picking locks. Instead, she dumped out the baskets that held her shoes and simply stood on them, reached over, and unlocked her door. Pillows, dolls, and laundry baskets could also give her the extra height if she needed it. When all such items were removed, Chloe flung her body, catching her forearms on the top of her door. She would use every bit of her strength to wiggle up and over the top.

I was no match for them.

locked in

I’m not sure what started the train of thought that led me to thinking about those dreadful days. However, I did figure out why I wasn’t crying about school starting–I was all cried out.

What emotions did you experience when your children started school? Were any of you out there a successful escape artist as a child, or do you have an escape artist of your own?

*photo courtesty of Trevin Shirey via Flickr ‘Creative Commons.’

Fearless Faith

I can’t turn away from the Olympics. The clock may flash warning numbers as the midnight hour approaches, but if there is still a gymnastics rotation left in the schedule or a lap for Michael Phelps in the pool, I’ll continue to sip my caffeine until I reach the finish. We’ve made a party on our couch of celebrating the world’s greatest athletes by eating cookies and staying up so far past our bedtimes that we’re useless the next day.

Yes, I see the irony in our situation.

As I watch these men and women, young girls and boys, an excitement turns in my stomach. The former gymnast in me is driven by competition, and every four years I live vicariously through the USA’s athletes. While I remember the numerous sacrifices I made during my gymnastics career, I also realize that these athletes take sacrifice to a whole other level.

I look at my daughter as I hear the story of Gabby Douglas leaving her family in Virginia Beach to train in Iowa. Would I be able to let my daughter go, knowing that there are never any guarantees of success?

But, of course, there are no guarantees in life, no guarantee except ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ I look at the smiles and tears of those who stand atop the Olympic podium, and I know that they are only standing there because they pushed aside fear. They decided the hours of training for a chance at the dream were worth the risk that that dream could remain unreached. They ignored the fear that keeps some from even starting and pushed themselves to the finish.

photo via nbcolympics.com

Watching the Olympics these last few days jostled that something that lives inside me that wants to do more. Then a sermon at church this past weekend shook it wide awake.

After reading from Matthew 8, the pastor brought our attention to Jesus’ question. The disciples are panicked as their boat begins to sink in the midst of a ferocious storm. They are terrified for their lives as the waves crash around them, yet Jesus asks, “You of little faith,(A) why are you so afraid?”

Isn’t it obvious why they are afraid? They are going to die as a result of drowning in the storm–they had a good reason to be afraid, yet Jesus admonishes them for their lack of faith. The disciples had forgotten the most important detail: the God-man in the boat with them was greater than the storm that surrounds them.

Our pastor went on to say that Jesus requires fearless faith. We often brush aside fear as something normal, when, in fact, for the Christian, fear is sin.

Every person who made any significant gains in spreading the word of Christ had to push aside fear–the Apostles, Martin Luther, Jim Elliot, Corrie ten Boom–they each had to worship Him who is, was, and will always be greater than that which they feared,to remember why they could have fearless faith.

And that requirement for fearless faith is for me, too.

I sat in my chair at church, and my insides were a mess. I wanted to jump up and do something, but I wasn’t sure what.

Given the start of the Olympics, I thought, perhaps, the Lord wanted me to start training. After some consideration, I decided a sport where I use a gun or the coxswain in rowing are my best bets.

Over the last few days, I haven’t felt confirmation of this Olympic goal, but this uneasy, excited feeling has continued. I don’t know where God is going to take me, my family, but I know I want to be fearless. I don’t want to miss out on the life I could have because of fear or complacency. I don’t want to use my kids as an excuse or my lack of ability to do something that God is asking. I want to do His will, whether His will takes me around the globe or just down the street.

And in the meantime, I’m going to start target shooting just in case….

Have you ever equated ‘fear’ with ‘sin’? This idea was new to me. Are you living completely fearless, or do the comforts of your everyday routine keep you from questioning if there is more for you to do?

Boycotts Leave Me Hungry

I typically avoid writing posts political in nature. While I do my best to stay informed and vote every election, I find myself a little disillusioned by the whole political process as of late, and I don’t like any one candidate enough to fill others’ Facebook streams with my opinions. That, and I really don’t like appearing condescending and mean.

Nonetheless, I find that I can’t look away when, yet, another Chick-Fil-A article rolls down my newsfeed. Let’s be honest–Chick-Fil-A serves food, so they have my attention. And given the fact that their chicken actually looks like the chicken that I buy at the grocery store, they’ve had my business for many years. Since serving those squeezy applesauce pouches in the kids meal, the decision to indulge at this fast-food restaurant became a no-brainer.

So I’m frightened.

If anti-Chick-Fil-A advocates are successful with their boycotts, what other restaurants will be ruined for me? Last night, I prayed that Taco Bell didn’t give their money to any organizations–I can’t risk not having the Cheesy Gordita Crunch to run to on cheat days.

I admire people who are willing to take a stand, forego the most tasty chicken fillet with two pickles between buns, because they don’t want to send their money to organizations who then in turn use that money to support causes with which they don’t agree. However, I’m just not that disciplined. The fact that I have allowed my children any fast food is proof.

Out of curiosity, I looked up a list of companies who support causes with which I don’t agree. The conclusion: I’d have to buy a farm because I couldn’t eat at some of my favorite restaurants or shop at the grocery store. Thank goodness I didn’t see any pizza chains on the list….

Frankly, there are too many views in this world to choose the ‘anti’ stance any time anyone disagrees with me, not to mention that sometimes I find myself disagreeing with myself. I’m a flip-flopper. Over the course of my life, I have found myself vacillating between stances on different issues. I’d like to attribute this truth not to a lack of conviction, but, instead, a desire to thoroughly investigate and learn more.

As a result, my worldview has some black and white on the shores filled with a sea of gray. The more I try to investigate, think for myself, and empathize, the more my ‘convictions’ become ‘best options at the time.’ When I look at the issues dividing our country and seek the example of Christ to guide me, I am more uncertain. Christian denominations full of devout individuals who love Jesus can’t even agree on ‘what would Jesus do,’ so why would I loudly proclaim my opinion?

Jesus didn’t seem to be as concerned with politics as with saving our souls, so I quietly choose His model. I don’t recall reading about boycotts in the New Testament; instead, I see Jesus shocking the religious establishment by spending His time with tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus didn’t yell His message of equality for women in the face of others; instead, He quietly asked the woman at the well for water. He knelt down on the ground of the accused adulteress and forgave her sins.

I find eating dinner with those whose actions disturb me harder than refusing the meal they made. It’s much easier to boycott companies who support Planned Parenthood than to forgive, much easier to picket outside an abortion clinic than to adopt an unwanted child.

It’s much easier to shout what I’m against than to actually live what I’m for.

Perhaps, that’s one reason that I don’t boycott much of anything. The few convictions that I do have require much more than my money. Sure, withholding my money from those organizations whose beliefs go against my core convictions can be seen as action, but I find it a trap to complacency.

Especially as a Christian, I can use my money as a powerful tool to bully the world into feeling as I do, to feel like I am standing up for God and my convictions. But truly standing up, truly making a difference is so much harder.

That kind of a difference sent Jesus to the cross. Jesus seemed more repulsed by those who kept the rules than those who broke them. Perhaps, Jesus saw those who broke the rules as broken people and felt His time was better served by investing in them.

I want to follow His example. I want to be more like Him. I want to invest in people, not by whether or not I buy a chicken sandwich, but by actually learning people’s names and their stories.

And, well, I really like food. I think Jesus’ model of having dinner with sinners (since I am one, after all) works better for me.

I don’t want to know your opinion on gay marriage or Chick-Fil-A. Instead, I want to hear stories of people and convictions and how they made a difference. Do you know anyone who has adopted an unwanted child? Do you know anyone who sold all they had to care for the poor? Share your stories and inspire us!

 

Content

I don’t typically write without knowing where I’m going or having a point neatly wrapped up in the midst of one of my stories about marker-stained carpet or stolen peaches. However, today I felt the need to just write. I’m not sure where this post will end, but I wanted to begin, nonetheless.

The last few weeks, I’ve felt this overwhelming surge of happiness. I’ve tried to attribute the source–a vacation with Matt that worked, prayer that had been answered, the right dosage of medicine, visits with the chiropractor to get my body working properly–but I’m not sure what/who is to thank; maybe all of the above.

All I know is that I feel wonderful. I still wake up feeling like I could go right back to sleep, but I’m able to shake that cloudiness once I get going. I’m not sure that happiness and feeling wonderful are even the right words to describe where I am. Perhaps, content is a better description.

Most of the factors in my life that caused me grief before are still here–Matt’s long hours at work, a constant feeling of being overwhelmed by the kids and house–but I have a sense of ‘okay’ with all of them–not that I’m okay with those factors but that I am okay, we will be okay.

I’ve been looking at my children a lot lately–obviously, I see them every day–but looking at that little spark that makes them them. I can’t help but smile when I see it.

A few weeks ago, I wanted to write a post about all that I had forgotten. We had found some home videos of the kids when they were babies and toddlers. Caleb on his second birthday–I had forgotten his little voice, the way he sounded when he said ‘hanga-burger’ for  ‘hamburger;’ Hannah Grace, how beautifully sweet and how deep her voice was, even as a little baby as she said ‘Bye-i;’ Chloe and the first time she ate the carrots that I hadn’t quite pureed enough, Caleb laughing a weird, throaty laugh in the background. That night, my heart and insides literally ached for those days, not because I wanted them back, but because I couldn’t remember. I grieved for those little babies and wanted one more time to squeeze them and suck in every detail, memorize the sounds and smells so that I would never forget.

I guess that’s the consequence of having baby after baby after baby–one loses brain cell after brain cell after brain cell, and I just couldn’t take in all those details that I now miss. I think that feeling of loss is why I’m drinking in their uniqueness now.

I look at Hannah Grace, and I marvel. This child has captured a part of my heart. Boy, she is stubborn, but that sweetness inside of her–I’ve never met another with it. I took her to a trial gymnastics class the other day, and I prepared a water bottle for her. When I told Hannah Grace that this bottle was hers if she was thirsty after class, she just looked at me for a moment, paused and smiled. She slightly cocked her head to one side and quietly said, “thank you.” Looking at her face, one would’ve thought I told her that we deeded her the house when she turns 30. It was as if in her little heart she thought, How am I so special? and Now it’s my turn after a year and a half of watching her brother’s baseball games. The gratitude quietly shone through her.

It was a small moment, quick and quiet, but my heart warmed all the same. I love this little girl.

We watched Annie the other night with the girls, and I realized, if Hannah Grace is my Punky Brewster,’ Chloe is my ‘Annie.’ I never understood why the babies of families tend to be spoiled; I’m starting to get a sense of it now. The other day, Hannah Grace called her little sister ‘stupid’ from the top bunk of her bed. Well, if that little three-year-old didn’t get to her feet and start climbing the ladder ready to pound her sister. I pulled Chloe off the ladder, chuckling inside at my little tiger. If Caleb had reacted that way, I would’ve been horrified. When I pray at night, I pray my feisty little girl will turn that confidence and fighting spirit away from people’s noses and toward her Lord and convictions.

Last night, Caleb helped me put away the dishes. He told me that I could sit down; he would do them for me. I told him we could make the chore go quickly if we did it together. And that’s my boy–emotional and sensitive and ever the people-pleaser. Too much like me. Sometimes, I look at him and want to yell, “No! You don’t want to be like me!” but then I remember how he wanted to go to the pool when it was busy so that he could make new friends. Yeah, he’s not totally his mommy, after all.

Sometimes I look ahead and wonder what scar I will have left on their skin. I picture my kids in therapy relating, “My mom just couldn’t ___”, or “My mom always ____.” I’m far from perfect, but I hope these three know how my heart swells when I look at them, how I think they are the most beautifully unique people I have ever met.

And then there’s Matt. He brought me flowers last week…and a few weeks before that. I’ve been trying to show more attention to his work shirts. We kiss a little longer in the mornings and smile a little more often when we look at each other. It’s the little things, and the sense that we’re both working together, for each other, that makes the work worth it.

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I don’t hold back from sharing the ugly in my life. But writing authentically means I share the beautiful, too, and I’m finding the beauty in just living contentedly. I’m not complacent–I know God shakes things up often–but for the first time in a while, I feel different.

I spent some time with a good friend a week or so ago, and, after our visit, she said, “You sound good. You sound light.” I feel light. I want to see those little glimmers in the everyday, those ordinary moments, and like Hannah Grace taking her water bottle, I want to smile and say, ‘thank you.’

Linking up with Michelle and Jen. I’d love to read your glimmers of content in the comments below.


 

I’ll Never Judge


As I was pushing around the heavy steam cleaner, God brought to mind a thought that entered my mind seven or so years ago. Yes, God has a sense of humor, and His timing is perfect. The day when I couldn’t stand to look at the dark spots on the den carpet any longer, the day when I decided that this was the day to try to remove the evidence of little girls sneaking Mommy’s make-up and magic markers, God reminded me of an ignorant thought that I will never again think:

I’ll never let my carpet get this bad.

Seven or so years ago, I was sitting in the den of a husband and wife who had volunteered to coach other small group leaders. They were as nice as nice could be, and their two blonde girls throwing cartwheels here and there completed the picture of the happy family. But their carpet…

…I was momentarily distracted by it. The fibers were worn–there was no ‘fluff’ or softness left–and the once pale, beige color was spotted with dark circles throughout. And in that moment, I remembered thinking that if I were them, I would get new carpet.

Of course, I had that thought when I was only married a few years. I had never had to re-carpet my house, so I had no idea of the expense. And the most important fact to explain my ignorance–I didn’t have any kids.

I had no idea the futility of getting new carpet when little kids were bouncing around, intent on destroying everything of value in one’s home. I had no idea the time wasted in cleaning anything because Murphy’s Law said less than 24 hours later that same area would be covered in filth.

Therefore, God reminded me of all that I had learned in the last six years while I worked the stains that penetrated my own worn carpet. I felt a twinge of guilt as I remembered my stupid thought. I only had a steam cleaner because my mom passed her old one on to me, and I didn’t whip it out every time a stain hit the rug because steam cleaning was a time-consuming, cumbersome chore.

As I finished the last row in the den, I started to feel what could be described as satisfaction. However, before my body would even let me acknowledge that fulfilling feeling, my mind woke me up: You know everything you just did was pointless, right?

And I did, but I drug the heavy machine up the stairs, anyway, determined to make less of the bright colors that dotted the landing, decorated my daughter’s room. Less than one hour later, after I had drug the machine back down the stairs and emptied the dirty water, my children drove home the lesson of which God had reminded me earlier that day.

Apparently, construction paper when wet will stain carpet. My son’s anger over his sister boiling the panda food in her little play pot that he had created earlier in the day ended in black splotches all over the other sister’s floor.

At this point in the story, I did what any mother would do and gave up.

Since becoming a mother, I’ve given up most expectations. No longer do I expect clean carpet, and if I go to your house, I won’t expect it there, either. In fact, if I come to your home, you can count on the fact that I won’t judge anything.

If there are dust bunnies in the corner or blatantly blowing like a tumbleweed through your family area, I won’t judge. If your clean laundry is tossed on a chair in a wrinkled mess, I won’t give it a second glance, unless I decide to help you out and fold a pair of pants or two. If your walls have the renderings of Picasso wanna-be’s or the letter ‘d’ 17 times because your child just figured out how to write, I won’t even notice. And if your counters are covered with enough papers to convince me that you are in charge of simplifying the tax code, I’ll nod with empathy. I’m that important, too.

I don’t judge anything, anymore. Even you, well-dressed 20-something rushing through the aisles with a frown at the grocery store–I know you’ve just yet to be enlightened about the workings of a four-year-old and a mini shopping cart. Don’t worry; I don’t judge you, either. I just suggest that  you move to the other end of the store. Your thoughts might come back to bite you later.

What is a judgment that you used to make that you will no longer?

Saying ‘Yes’

The words of an older generation lamenting the children who will one day take their place ring with some truth. The problem with kids these days is that they need to learn the word ‘no.’ Of course, they are referring to an over-indulged generation that they feel gets everything it wants without working for anything.

My son has asked on more than one occasion for an iPod. He cites the fact that a boy in his kindergarten class has one. I cite the opinion that six year olds should not own electronics that cost more than a week’s worth of groceries. However, he now is on a quest to fill his savings jar thinking that if he earns $200, I will relent. I’m thinking that saving that much money will take a long time….

Nonetheless, I understand why he asks. More and more kids around him do seem to have fairly expensive gadgets, and, if I’m honest, he’s not faring too poorly, himself. Yet, lately, I’ve started contemplating that, perhaps, the problem isn’t that I tell him ‘yes’ but that too often he hears the word ‘no.’

I think of requests from him, requests from his sisters, simple requests really, and many times the answer is ‘no:’

Can we build a fort in Hannah Grace’s room and all sleep their tonight?

Can we have a makeover party?

I have my reasons. Sometimes, they’re valid–the kids misbehaved and, therefore, won’t get rewarded. Sometimes, my answers are a little more forced: They went to bed too late last night. Little girls shouldn’t wear make-up. Then I hear a little voice reminding me that it is summer–now’s the time to build forts. Little girls don’t have to leave the house with make-up on, but they can have a little fun with Mommy. I start to have a nagging feeling that I say ‘no’ a little too much because it’s just easier.

‘No’ doesn’t require planning. ‘No’ doesn’t keep me from the bills I want to pay or the myriad tasks I want to give my attention. ‘No’ doesn’t entail a massive clean-up.

But ‘no’ doesn’t reward discovery, create memories, or keep kids away from the T.V.

The other day, I read David Brooks’s article, “Honor Code,” in the The New York Times. Brooks argues that if Shakespeare’s character Henry V were in an American school, he would do poorly. He continues that today’s school punishes boys who are active and aggressive and adventurous compared to those who sit quietly in their desks, and these factors contribute to boys’ lagging performance compared to girls.

I would argue that there are many factors that would lead to a decline in educational performance and cannot simply be blamed on gender differences; likewise, not all girls fit the model of thoughtful, organized, attentive student. However, Brooks’s article did make me think about how I taught my former students and how I parent now.

I would argue that the thoughtful, organized, attentive student is easier to teach. Similarly, the orderly, obedient child is easier to raise. However, the adventurous student, curious child, the child who gets into trouble for dragging mud through the house or creating a culinary masterpiece all over the kitchen floor is the child whose mind is ready to absorb all the new information and discoveries that come his or her way.

I put a lot of pressure on myself as a parent, and I pray daily that I won’t fail my God or children. I try my best to teach good manners. I discipline my children when they break rules, and I monitor what they eat. All of these actions are important, but probably the easiest thing to do, getting down on the floor and playing, is the most essential.

God created children with curious little minds, and they learn through play. They create memories of the adventures they’ve had and journeys they’ve taken–assuming I haven’t thwarted all of this self-discovery by saying ‘no.’

Yesterday, I heard the hose running while I was in the kitchen. I stepped outside in the backyard where the kids were supposed to be playing, anticipating that I’d see them spraying each other in an attempt to cool off. However, I knew they didn’t have on their bathing suits and would be a mess, so I was already frustrated before I made my way through the back door.

They surprised me, though; instead of watering each other, they were watering a section of the garden that I never planted.

“We’re making a dam,” Caleb informed me.

“Yeah, we’re just like beavers!” Hannah Grace exclaimed.

Chloe mimicked her sister, and the three of them continued to flood the soil with water. My first instinct was to say ‘no;’ I could visualize the mud covering their ankles and shins. I saw the sloppy mess all over the kitchen floor and the work I’d have to do. Instead, I went inside and got a dirty towel. At least the area I carved out for a garden that I never planted would see some action.

We talked over some rules. They needed to ask before they turned on the hose so I could make sure I’d still have enough money to feed them next week; when they were finished, they needed to wipe off with the towel; and they needed to know the proper placement of the pine straw to stop the stream of water.

I was amazed that these little minds even somewhat knew the concept of a dam since, at their age, I would’ve thought they were just cursing (but then again, I never liked getting dirty). I was amazed that the three of them worked together without fighting. And I was amazed that I almost told them ‘no’ because I felt lazy.

Parenting is a tough job. From the time a baby is born, one can be bombarded with theories on eating, sleeping, and pooping. However, I’m starting to think that we made parenting harder than it needs to be. Perhaps God just wants us to let kids be kids.

Perhaps He just wants us to say ‘yes’ and let the kids play.

This morning I walked outside to see how the dam held up in the storm. It didn’t fare well–the neat wall of pine straw piled high to form a pool of water was strewn all over the muddy ground. Luckily, I know of some little beavers who can handle this mess….

 

Do you have trouble saying ‘yes’? If so, why do you say ‘no’ more than you should?

Rest

Sunday night, Matt and I drove back up our driveway to reality. For the past four days, we had lived as newlyweds, except on this ‘honeymoon’ we were content to sit next to each other with a book in hand.

I read two books this week. I have to admit, I was relieved to know that I could still read considering I had taken six months to read my last book. I guess all I needed was a beach chair and umbrella and a couple of hours to myself.

And for four days, that was our existence. We woke up late and went to bed late after spending hours at the beach doing nothing. It was glorious. I’ve never been one for doing nothing, but now I see what I’ve been missing.

We started our vacation by getting our rings polished. Those first few years of marriage, we kept our rings sparkly and clean, but neglect from the last few years had taken its mark. They had become dull, merely a symbol that encircled our fingers but didn’t catch our eye. However, when the attendant walked out with our rings, I actually giggled. I found myself staring at my ring the way I had when it newly graced my finger.

Matt and I took long walks on the beach talking, not ‘how was work?’ talking, but really talking. We talked about our future and remembered our past. We didn’t talk about our kids much, either. I felt a little guilty that I didn’t really miss them.

Sure, I enjoyed talking to them every day, but I didn’t want to go home. I entertained the thought of hiring a nurse like the one in Romeo and Juliet. I would play with my kids and then hand them over to her when they started fighting or peed their pants. I decided that that plan wouldn’t work, though, because I actually do want to raise my children–just not during those days on the beach.

On the second full day, I surprised myself. I didn’t feel tired, anymore; sure, I felt lazy, and some of my plans for the day included a nap under the umbrella, but I didn’t feel like I couldn’t go on. And that feeling was one of the best of the trip.

We drove up our driveway last Sunday, and as the garage door rolled up, three little munchkins in pajamas ran out. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time we received applause from our children. I wanted to scoop them all up–there is just something about newly bathed children in clean pajamas.

And then the reality of what we’d been missing hit us quickly. Matt went right back to work, and I spent a morning at the chiropractor’s yelling at children who were fighting over toys. But I noticed, even while having pain in my back that wouldn’t let me turn to see what was actually happening in the rear of the van, I had patience. I disciplined better. And I loved greater.

I spent more time playing with my kids’ hair, and Matt and my kisses ‘goodbye’ lasted a little longer. I longed for him, and I desperately wanted, want, to keep up our walks at the beach where we talked about everything and nothing, together without distraction. I don’t want to fall into the rut of TV and Twitter; I want to keep our rings polished.

Rest was exactly what we needed to see each other with fresh eyes, and I don’t want to wait another ten years to rest again. I love Matt and my kids too much to run on empty. So the next time Mommy says” I need a vacation!” everyone better start packing their bags.

Have you taken the time to get the rest you need? Realistically, we can’t take vacation all the time–and in this economy, sometimes we can’t take a vacation at all. What are your suggestions for getting the rest we all need?

I’m linking up with Michelle for her ‘Graceful Summer.’