Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Kindness of Coffee

In our early 20’s, my husband and I were involved in the children's ministry within our church.  Oh how we adored those kids!  We looked forward to teaching them and being with them more than any other day of the week.  Our hearts were completely filled by those little beings.
                During our own church service time, we kept feeling a strong pull toward missions.  We wanted to express God’s love and teach children across the globe.  Brazil, specifically.  We ended up joining a two-week short-term mission trip to Brazil.  The children there were just as eager and lovable as the ones in our church.
                My husband has what I like to refer to as a super power of Child-Magnetism.  It really doesn’t matter where we go; children flock to him.  One of my favorite moments in Brazil happened when we were walking through a village announcing a church service and movie night (“The Jesus Movie”).  Curious children began popping out from every corner.  It didn’t take long before my husband had a full classroom of kids following behind, beside, and all around him.  He entertained them with his attempts at communication in their native tongue.  They giggled profusely.  He played soccer with them on the dirt road.  He organized them in a perfect line as we passed out candy the team had brought to share.  I played Tic-Tac-Toe in the dirt with some boys.  I accidentally kept winning which caused a lot more giggling in the crowd.  During the service, one little girl came over and plopped herself right in my lap.  She gently grabbed my arms and pulled them around herself for a big, long squeeze-hug.  My heart instantly melted for this child.  She went back-and-forth between me and my husband.  Our love for children grew deeper and deeper.
                A couple months after we returned home, we discovered that I was pregnant.  No words could even describe the feelings we had with this news.  We were beyond joyful.  We would have the privilege of loving and raising a child of our very own!
                Little did we know the ups and downs of parenting a small child 24-7!  It was easy in the classroom at church for a couple hours a week.  Those kids went back to their own homes afterward.  I had no idea those little angels could possibly whine and cry and pick at their dinners and refuse sleeping and bathing; let alone show annoyance with their siblings!!  Then again, there’s the smiles and laughter.  The hugs and snuggles.  The joy of witnessing all of the amazing developments as a child grows.  Crawling; their first step, first word.  Their awe at the wonder of life, nature, and animals.  The ease of their faith.  There is SO much to appreciate and enjoy when raising a child.
                I often wish that’s all I really had to do.  Just talk to, play with, read to, adventure with, and what-not with my child.  The other side of the coin involves cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, doctor, dental, and eye appointments; planning, organizing, and the list goes on, with some of it repeating a few times in a day!
                At this point in life, we have been raising four kids.  I kind of cringe to admit it, but I feel as though my patience has weakened more and more with each addition.  With the first child, my days felt rather glorious.  I noticed every blink and could put all of my time and energy into her without much exhaustion at all.  I enjoyed her to the fullest.  The second was fairly easy, although I occasionally found myself irritated by the first losing patience since she now had to wait for things while I would feed or change the second.  By the time the third came along, I had begun to take on some new jobs such as:  referee, judge, jury, and counselor to one and two while they had their squabbles.  Three went with the flow, observing one and two, who both loved him dearly.  Not much “trouble” there.  Finally, four arrived.  The noise in the house began traveling as high as Mt. Fuji!  The boys want to run, jump, and climb like their training for the army.  The girls like to pretend very loudly and gather anything and everything from cupboards, drawers, and closets so they can stream it all over the house and make arts and crafts.  So much for my cleaning efforts!!
                I have found myself yelling at the top of my lungs sometimes (I mean...Mt. Fuji is pretty high up there and I have to make sure they can hear me, right?).  Some days I want to hide from them as they whine and fuss with each other.  I just don’t want to deal with it!  I’ve even had moments of quiet tears, feeling helpless, in the middle of their antics.  “Failure”, I think to myself.  “How could I go from the ease of enjoying children so much to this dark desire to run off and hide?”  I harbor so much guilt inside with all of these thoughts.  I don’t feel like the brilliant super-mom I dream of being.   Super-Mom is bright, tender, kind, loving, gentle, patient, self-controlled, calm, playful, engaging, generous, fun, always smiling, never raising her voice, and her toilets are forever sparkling.
                I have read quite a few wonderful books on parenting hoping to “get-a-grip” on it all.  I have had a number of really great super-mom days.  I have been very careful to teach my kids values, morals, and respect.  I apologize to them when I lose my temper.  I acknowledge that I am a good mom and I “do-it-right” for the most part.  I know it, because of the way my children behave in public, with their teachers and their friends.  I know it because of those moments when they express such tender love toward one another.  They share and serve and praise each other on their accomplishments.  They are four very amazing, sweet, and wonderful kids!
                I still have this awful tendency to focus on my failures.  I think I’m “ruining” them when I get irritated or yell or fuss at their messes.  I am especially certain of their doom when I accidentally allow a bad word to slip out!  I feel so pressed to do it just right all of the time.
                The dynamics of parenting are innumerable.  I want my kids to experience life in perfection with no bumps or bruises along the way.  I know it’s not realistic, but that’s just the feeling.  It’s what keeps me fighting against my own unfortunate, natural tendencies.  Sometimes, I think it’s good to realize our own failures so we can get “fine-tuned” as we work through them.  I tend to go too far with it though.  I become clouded, trapped in a whirlwind of my faultiness.  Until, finally, the sun breaks through in the form of a child.  The other day, as I folded some laundry, my mind took me into that familiar whirlwind.  I was jolted out of it when my son announced to me that my coffee was ready.  He had very carefully taken it out of the space-saver microwave (he had to pull up a step stool to reach it), carried it over to the table and gently placed it down.  This small act of kindness from my thoughtful son caused a pool of tears to well up in my eyes.  It hit me that “I am not a failure!”  My children do good things for others.  They are kind, thoughtful, giving, loving, joyful, peaceful, helpful, responsible, caring, supportive, and faithful.  All of which exemplifies the fruit that has been planted in them throughout these years of parenting.  I realized this is what I need to focus on.  The moments where my kids make a selfless choice; when their love shines; when their hearts sing out to God; when they celebrate each others’ accomplishments; when they do a chore without being asked; when they offer a spontaneous hug at just the right moment. 
                This outlook fills me with joy and helps me strive for more of the positive. It’s so much better than wading around in my river of mistakes.  I am still that person who is passionate about children and enjoys being surrounded by them.  I am still the person who longs to rescue hurting children across the globe.  But, I know my mission today is in my own home, raising four precious lives to the glory of God.  I will continue to make mistakes just as I will continue to succeed as a loving, kind, and gentle mother.
                *If you made it to the end of this post, congratulations!  Haha  I hope it brings you some encouragement on your parenting journey.  I believe many mothers experience the feeling of “failure”.  If you are one of them, my hope is that you will recognize that when the qualities you have instilled in your child/children come to fruition you can take pride in your success as a mother.  Be on the “look-out”! 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Real Laundry, Real Friend

As I tossed my tank top in the laundry pile I noticed how worn and stretched it had become.  I thought about the future when the top would again be fresh and crisp, just the way it had been when I bought it.  This is one of those things I love about the whole cycle of laundry.  The clothes stretch with wear and then pop right back into shape as they are laundered.  Following these simple thoughts came a spiritual parallel:

Everyday our minds, bodies, and spirits get used, worn and stretched by life.  How do we stay fresh, crisp, and new?  Experience has taught me that when we share our cares, worries, and desperation's with God, He gives us the strength, love, and hope we need to carry on.  He pops us back into shape through the power of His love.  He fills us up and makes us fresh again.  The cool thing is that even if we lay ourselves down in the worn-out laundry pile for awhile, He is still immediately there when we're ready for a wash.

I know some will easily agree and feel the simplicity of relating to God in this way.  Others may sense an obligation to roll out the red carpet; spend hours setting out fine china and candles, and have a written script edited by the Pope.  I tend to relate with God as a friend.

Friends are wonderful to share ideas with, go to fun places together, "blow-off" steam together, and just talk about life with.  All of these experiences grow connection and trust.  Once in a while I'll talk to an old friend I haven't seen in years and we'll just pick up where we left off as if a moment has never passed.  I've had those same moments with God.  There have been times when I've sunk down into the "everyday", too into myself to make the connection.  Boom!  I'm waddling around in some over-stretched jeans and a sweat-stained t-shirt.  "Gross!  Somebody, do my laundry already!"  And there He is...waiting with arms wide open, to hug and hold dirty, smelly, old me.  He listens, fills, and strengthens, and I am overwhelmed by His love again.  I'm so glad God is there in my everyday.  I'm glad I don't have to handle all of these dirty loads of life alone!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Real Date Nights

Today's real life is the need for date nights.  Especially if you're married with any amount of children! They sure are wonderful, but, let's admit it....they take a lot of "life" out of us.  Children seem to be in constant need of something.  Whether it's food, clean clothes (we have a serious sock issue in our house), kisses for boo-boos, "entertainment", food again, a listening ear, a referee, guidance, someone to play games with,  food, etc.  You get the picture.  It goes on all day long.  During the summer months it can be extra wearing on a mom.  Not that it's a bad thing.  We are mom's after all.  This is what we "signed-up for, and we dearly love our sweet angels.  But, sticking with being real; it gets exhausting when all we do is serve our family's needs, right?

I often feel quite guilty when my husband comes home after a long day of work, and the joy I had earlier in the day has fizzled out.  I wish he could have seen how much I enjoyed the kids and laughed and smiled and glided along.  What he tends to see is a solemn face after I have prepared a delicious meal in the middle of screaming children who have completely forgotten how to be calm and get-along.  Why do they desire to run around the house screaming their heads off just as I'm mixing and stirring and cutting raw meat?  Come on!!  Finally as the meal is crisp and steaming on the table and the kids have gathered 'round, I get to sit down to enjoy the delight of fine herbs and sauces, veggies, and all the healthy stuff a dinner should contain.  Next thing I know my angels have begun complaining that their food has some kind of actual flavor!  My poor husband peeks over at my disappointed face and tries to rescue me from the ridicule.   I'm beginning to fold.  I would love to just take my plate to a secluded location as I consume the new-found recipe.  What kind of "example" would that be, though?  Ugh!  I should pause to say that my poor children do not act like this at every meal.  We have taught them well about how to behave at the dinner table.  We do not "tolerate" such complaining; yet it does happen from time to time.  So, I sit and eat and try to distract from the meal by creating conversation about each family member's day.   This tactic proves successful and we move on to our evening.

By the time we get the kids in bed for the night, we have about two hours to spend together.  There are quite a few options.  The problem is, I have no energy for anything!  I would rather be alone with a book to read.  I don't want to give anymore.  I'm done, cooked, baked, fried.  My husband puts his arms around me, and I remember the importance of looking past my own deflation in order to keep our relationship alive.  Of course, there are those moments when we should have that alone time, but we must be aware of the delicacies of our spouses too.  Welcome to marriage!  It ain't all about you anymore. haha  So, we realize it's time for a night out!  Alone....Together.

The emotions of arranging this evening out may become so overwhelming (who's going to watch the kids?, do we need to make them dinner before we go out for our dinner?, how late is too late?, how much to pay?) that we decide to forget it and wait another month.  Uh-oh, you know if this happens, by the time that other month hits, we may not  even want to go out anymore!  This is why we must go.  Just arrange it and go!  Once we walk out the door, it all works out and we get to re-energize our beautiful marriage. 

I believe date nights are very important to the quality of marriage.  I imagine the lack of this time out together has sucked the life out of many relationships, thus resulting in bitterness, resentment, and even divorce.  We truly need to take the time to enjoy our friendship in marriage.  So, where do we go?  Is there any fun out there other than dinner-and-a-movie??  A movie is a definite no if you haven't communicated on a regular basis at home with your spouse.  That still counts...we don't want to "save-up" all of our communication just for the date night!!   I am trying to come up with some fun dates that we could plan other than the regular old dinner-and-a-movie.

So far I have thought of the following:

1.  Go to the place where our love began, or even the place of our first kiss.  While there, reminisce about the personal qualities that attracted us to each other.  Bring an old memento to share from that time together.

2.  Go on a romantic picnic, complete with blankets, pillows, and champagne in a secluded area.  Bring a small gift you know will make your spouse feel loved (something thoughtful that shows you know them).

3.  Do something adventurous....such as:  kayaking, canoeing, zip-lining...maybe something you've never done before so you can share a new experience together!

I would love to hear any other date night ideas!!  Please share.  My husband and I are attempting to write a book together about this.  That's where real faith comes in....Thanks!!