Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nothin' like a redhead in a meltdown

What a day.

The best part of it was going to the gym with a friend. And when the best part of your day is going to the GYM, it isn't a good one.

I don't have any major reasons to be falling apart (or at least things I think are major, like caring for a child with a disability, or getting a terrible diagnosis). My dramas are small in comparison. But today they felt insurmountable. I had at least two hiding-in-the-bathroom crying episodes, and several moments where I just pushed down the inclination to do some more of that. Why is this blog-worthy? Well, because if you happened to have had the same kind of day, I want you to know you weren't alone.

Something about these kinds of extra challenging days causes all my emotions to funnel themselves into a single feeling: overwhelmed. I don't know about you, but when I feel overwhelmed, my world feels really lonely. There I am, sitting in my circumstances, feeling totally ill-equipped for my life. I am not enough. And at the same time, I am too much. (I know in my mind these thoughts aren't what's true about me. But on rough days, I cannot escape their assault.)

Try as I might, the truth that I wasn't alone had a hard time getting through to me today. All the chaos and negativity was shouting so much more loudly. I'm mad that September has brought me this massive new job of homework-management. It's all on my shoulders, and it takes up a ridiculous amount of my time with my child. Doing homework also brings a dynamic to our relationship that I hate. I'm mad that she struggles to stay focused, which makes it take way longer than it should. I'm mad that her fickle self-confidence doesn't help the situation. I'm disgusted and mad that I'm probably some of the cause of her fickle self-confidence. I'm mad that she may not know how beautiful and smart and amazing she is. And of course, I'm mad that I'm mad about all this and not just gracefully, patiently, and cheerfully helping her muddle through for the entire afternoon.

All of the above was the straw. One big straw, that broke me. All this negativity piled onto a bunch of pre-existing junk, unfinished chores that were supposed to be finished, piles and projects neglected, one messy relationship flaring up, and extra commitments this week (two of which we completely ditched tonight due to aforementioned chaos). So of course. Crying in the bathroom was the natural end.

I didn't have a massive revelation. I didn't feel particularly out of tune with God today. I kept talking to Him. I know He was talking to me. But I still struggled. And then shouted a little. And then layed on my bed for one hour, depressed. And then got so incredibly frustrated that I wanted to scream at someone, or run away from home, or both.

One main reason I'm sharing all this insanity is so you know I'm just a regular person. Some days my feet feel so planted and secure. Others, it takes a lot of effort to distinguish between real truth and the distortion of it. Struggler. Lonely. And thankfully, a work in progress. God is not finished with me yet, and probably when I stop freaking out, He'll get a word in. As for my story that God is authoring, I hope He rips out the page from today.

But I bet He won't. He has a way of rewriting the awful parts of our stories. Instead of erasing them, he redeems them.

The next time I have a meltdown like this, please remind me. I'm just hungry for some redemption.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Teachable Moment: Homework & Joy

Homework is in the air, and the air at my house is starting to stink.

My third grader posed a great deal of drama last night over hers. I witnessed one crying scene on the carpet, where every form of complaint about doing the work was voiced. Then a second crying bout ensued in her bedroom, where all words and sounds were muffled as her face was in a pillow. This was when my daughter lamented, "I feel like I'll never get to play again! (cry, sob, sniffle, sob, sob.)"

Somehow, and thankfully, the Holy Spirit was loud enough for me to tune in to Him, and I pushed down the inclination to amplify my case in favor of homework completion. I saw her with compassion. I put myself in her shoes. And I quietly sat down to talk.

I've been trying to be intentional lately about bringing more spiritual and Biblical truths into my parenting and saw this as a perfect opportunity to do so. I didn't plan it, and I didn't know where I was going to go with my little talk, but as always, I just started in, and God gave me the perfect words. (Love that about Him!)

We talked about jobs. God has given every person a job in this world. We talked about my jobs, daddy's jobs, and her jobs, which include being a student. I shared with her what I truly believe (though not always what I practice): God desires for us to not only accept the jobs He's given us, but also to work at them with joy. I'm not talking about feeling happy about them. Happiness is purely circumstantial; it works from the outside in. Joy is the opposite. It originates in the heart, and then works its beauty out into our circumstances. Joy radiates despite circumstances, and I like to think of it as having an attitude of peaceful satisfaction, no matter what. The satisfaction part comes from one thing alone, that we are right where God wants us to be, regardless of how comfortable that position is.

The more I thought about this today, the more I realized that outside of God and the Bible, true joy doesn't really exist as a concept. I think to most of the world, "joy" is like the Christmas version of "happiness". They are synonymous. And there exists no notion that one should have feelings of gladness or contentment when terrible things are taking place. To the rest of the world, emotions should directly line up with circumstances. If your circumstances stink, then you have every right to complain and pout about it until they change. I get it; to a non-believer, WHY NOT? Complaining makes me feel better. Fair enough.

But I am not a non-believer. I believe God is in charge of all things and has specific, good purposes for my life. And if THAT is true about me, then I need to know joy, and introduce joy to my children, because not all the jobs He has for me are fun. My kids will not have perfect, trouble-free lives either, and I want them to understand how important having a joyful attitude is with respect to hard work and perseverance.

My daughter was hung up on one problem: that her brother didn't have to work as hard as she did (because he is younger). Comparison. We ALL do it, wishing we were assigned the jobs or relationships or incomes or situations to which those around us have been assigned. Ours ALWAYS seem harder, in comparison. I totally get that. And so I could tell her how much I can relate. I also imagined with her what life would be like if I were always wishing I had someone else's job in life. How would that make God feel since He's given me some very special jobs? I was on my way to doing dishes and starting dinner. Neither are my favorite things - I told her I'd rather be doing other fun things - but I was going to go do them with joy, thankful that God has a purpose for me, and has given me a family to serve (again, not always the case with my own attitude!).

I told her that she was created for very special and specific jobs that were made for no one else. And even though some of them are tough, some of them are also fun. The point was that she could do her homework with joy, not because she liked to do it, but because she was doing the job God assigned her, and He always has good reasons for His assignments.

Last night, she seemed to take all this information in, quietly listening and nodding. Tonight, she did all her work with joy. Not a single complaint or tear. I got to praise her for that. (And then make sure I didn't gripe about the dishes.)

Here are a couple verses I try to repeat to my kids, training them in the area of attitude. But they need these truths delivered with a lot of grace, because I know how hard these instructions are to follow! At least quoting them helps me hear the words myself, because I certainly need the reminders.

"Do everything without arguing or complaining..." Philippians 2:13
"Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people." Colossians 3:23

Monday, September 20, 2010

Disgusted that I'm disgusted

Whether you've grown up around church or not, it seems everyone knows that part of the Bible where Jesus says, "And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, 'Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?" (Matt 7:3-5) It's the issue of hypocrisy.

It's an overused word - hypocrisy - and to me, it's nearly lost all meaning because of that. But I like the definition on "a pretense of having a desirable attitude" but, the implication is, not actually having said attitude. Let's just bring this down to my real life right now. Lay it on the table. I used to think I had a decent degree of self-discipline. Now that God has challenged me to step up and I'm actually growing into the practice in various areas, I realize I had way more of a pretense of having it than actual self-discipline itself. In fact, I'm not sure I exercised any at all on a regular basis. Not cool.

But I am experiencing some serious side-effects of the great Surgeon doing a little extraction in my eye. Somehow, once you get that log extracted, it is very easy to recognize that same log in someone else's eye! And not only recognize it, but also feel a little grossed out by their log, even though you had that log like YESTERDAY. I'm disgusted at that person's log, and then I'm disgusted that I'm disgusted because that is so ridiculous! Pride is a sneaky little fox, ready to swipe all my humility from having been on that operating table to begin with.

I'm not proud of this, but like I said, I'm laying it on the table. If you have kids, I know you can relate. I've experienced the same side-effect in parenting. Let's say I can't stand a certain tendency in myself. I know my weakness, and I hate it. Suddenly, I have a three year old doing the exact same thing. You'd think my reaction would be ever so gracious, seeing how I should be able to put myself in her shoes and patiently teach her the way to deal with this. Right? No, it's maddeningly the opposite! I am all the more disgusted at the miniature version, because I am now extra mad that my ugly weakness is bubbling up within my precious child.

Ugh. Where am I going with this? I don't know. Just venting my frustration with myself right now, I guess. And living one day at a time. Thankfully, God's mercies are new every morning. I hope they arrive by 6 a.m.

Big Winna! lucky friend Cheril won the Lunchbox Love Notes!! Ok, Cheecha, I'll have them in the mail to you soon and you're kids will be so happy to get them.

Have a happy night, everyone, and even if you didn't win the love notes, a handwritten one stuck to a mirror or hidden in a shoe is just as effective in sending a message of love to a child before he or she goes out into the big wide world....or just down the street to school. Same thing.

Once they're past my porch, it's the big, wide, unkind, challenging world. Love notes are one teensy way I can be a ray of sunshine to them (which helps counteract the times I am nothing but thunder and lightning!). Peace.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Keep Swimming...

Salmon swim upstream. They were created to. The drive is in their nature. It's clear that my instinct is to let the current carry me, and I'm having lots of thoughts about that.

A few weeks ago, I read something that stuck with me. It was one item on a long list of things some person thought you should do every day. You know those kinds. It could have been in a book, email forward, something that was not that impressive. But days later, one item kept itching like a mosquito bite. It said, "Make it a practice to deny yourself something every day."

My first question was "Why?" And I've been thinking about my answers to this question for about a month. My first reason is that we, as Americans, are way too comfortable. I can go purchase an iced-tea and pastry whenever I feel like it. I drive my full-of-gas car there. I use a debit card. I give in to my child's plea for the $3 package of madelines. And not once do I consider myself indulgent. It is normal. I know you know; we do and have and pursue a thousand things on a daily basis which provide us with comfort.

I'm pretty sure I don't want to be insulated from discomfort. I'm pretty sure too much comfort blots God out of our lives, because we are no longer aware of our need for Him. And I'm very sure discomfort is one of God's favorite tools to bring His children to Himself. So why, then, do I resist it so much?

It turns out that self-discipline hurts. As I've begun to live differently, I'm being reminded of the pain in so many ways; lately, I'm keenly aware of how resistant I am to being stretched, literally and figuratively.

I used to do yoga quite a bit, in between baby one and two, which was about five years ago. Well, I'm picking it back up and went to a class on Friday. And therefore, ouch. Somehow yoga reveals muscles you never knew you had. The large, normal muscles are fine. It's my obscure muscles that are probably too minor to have been named by scientists that were screaming, "What is happening? You've never used me before in your life and now you're trying to tear me into two?"

But all complaining aside, I couldn't stop thinking about how my physical body just didn't want to do what I was trying to make it do. It seemed that every few minutes of the class, I had to push through resistance to the physical work. Every few minutes, my body was saying, "Just stop. Just stop. This is too much effort, too uncomfortable." And inside, I kept having to push those suggestions OUT. The whole time! Self-discipline is something I keep chasing, and something that keeps eluding me all at once.

Then there's the getting up at 6 thing. I'm doing that too. I don't mention it because I'm so proud of myself for taking on new disciplines. I'm actually thinking (hoping) it may be strategic. Maybe if I incorporate self-discipline into my whole life - not just one aspect - it will be easier to assimilate as a way of life. I'm even trying to make different choices in tiny ways as well. If I walk past something out of place, instead of thinking "Ugh, I'll put that away later," I put it away then. "The dog can wait a while to eat....No, I'll feed him now." "I really don't want to have to deal with ______ today....but I'll choose to, if only for the sake of practicing DOING the thing I don't feel like doing."

All those choices have a push-through point. Throughout the day, I'm faced with a million decisions to either push through something that takes effort I don't want to give at the moment, delay, or avoid it completely. It has been a week and a half of this for me, and from time to time, I've been stepping back, trying to get a view from outside myself. I did not expect self-discipline to be such a continual challenge. I'm shocked at how much I feel like I'm swimming upstream.

I've pondered how our culture, our wealthy society, and the world at large has aggressively marketed comfort. I've wondered how future generations will even survive, given how tremendously indulgent much of American culture is today. But there is a deeper curse at work, and that is our inborn selfishness. Living for something beyond the desires and needs of oneself will always be swimming upstream. But I'm hoping, with practice, I'll become a stronger swimmer.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Love for a lunchbox: a give away!

What kind of lunchbox did you have? I think at one point I had an ET one; you know the scene where Elliot's bike takes off into the air with the moon in the background? The movie and the trusty metal lunchbox are rightfully classics.

I'm so glad metal lunchboxes are back in style. Both my kids carry them, and I hope they look back on their "lunchbox years" fondly, like most of us do. I think so many of us love to reminisce about lunchboxes because they are comforting. Lunchboxes are a familiarity from home, carrying evidence that one is loved by way of neatly cut sandwich triangles, a baggie of fruit, and perhaps even a sweet treat.

At lunchtime when I was in elementary school, I remember feeling like there was nothing better than to find something unexpected in my lunchbox. It usually happened after Halloween when my mom would sneak in a piece of candy from my post-October stash. And once in a while, she would write a note of encouragement. I loved even to see her handwriting. Her loopy cursive, which I could barely decipher, was a loving reminder that she was not far away.

I want to create these kinds of memories for my children. And now, as my youngest is off to Kindergarten as of five days ago, I am thinking of ways to do so. Today, when I picked up my son from school, he ran into my arms in tears. When I asked him why he was crying, he said, "Because I missed you so much!" It's only been five days, and I'm already focused on my own agenda while they are gone. The few hours is precious time for me to be productive, and I've already lost sight of how challenging those few hours can be for a child, and the younger they are, the moreso.

So I'm brainstorming ways can I "be there" for my kids without physically being there. Here are my first couple ideas. My son asked me tonight if he could take a picture of me to school. I thought that was a great idea! I am going to send him with a small photo of he and I, for him to tape inside his pencil box that he keeps on his desk.

Secondly, we don't forget the "kissing hand," where I place a kiss in the palm of a little hand and fold up the fingers. The love sticks there (even after hand-washing) and is available all day for pressing to one's cheek for the reminder, "Mommy loves me." This little tradition is from the book of the same name by Audrey Penn, and is excellent to read to a child who is going to preschool or kindergarten for the first time.

We've been reading it for a couple years together because my kids are always needing reminders of how my love stays with them, even when we are apart. I recommend it.

And finally, I'm using these amazing little guys.

Last year, my cousin (who has children a little older than mine) gave me these as a gift, and I was instantly in love with them. This company, Lunchbox Love, is so awesome in their singular aim: to encourage a child by way of a lunchbox. Each set (there are 16 sets in all!) contains four credit card-sized, durable, double-sided notes featuring one bit of love and encouragement and one bit of humor. They are reusable, easy to read, and in lots of fun colors.

I love them so much that I'm giving away TWO SETS to one of you! Please sign up to be a follower on the right - that will make you eligible. If you want an extra entry, please leave a comment below...maybe with your favorite lunchbox as a kid.

If you don't have kids, then it would make a great gift for a mom with young kids. Memories of small gestures of love found in a lunchbox may last for decades later.

* The winner will receive two different sets of notes. I'll choose a winner on Sunday night and post about it Monday!

Whatever happened to my lunchbox?
When came the day that it got thrown away
And don't you think I should've had some say
In that decision?
-John Mayer

Monday, September 13, 2010

New (school) year's resolutions

You know why this guy looks so mean? Because he wakes up really early, when it's still dark, before everyone else. Then he has the cruel job of waking up those who are peacefully asleep. He is mad. Have you ever seen a happy, friendly looking, rooster? If you're not sure, here are a few more for you.

This one is the passive aggressive type. Bottled rage, for sure.

This little fellow wants to hurt you. That's why there's a fence between he and the photographer.

The answer to my question is no, you've never seen a happy one. They are all slightly scary looking. Don't you think it's possible that it's because they know God gave them a rough position in the whole scheme of things?

I'm telling you, now that school's started, it's hard not to be one of those guys, my red hair fanning up on the top of my head something awful after rolling out of bed in the dark of early morning. I have never once in my whole life except maybe when I was an infant (but probably not) liked waking up early. Early meaning before 9. In high school and college, it was 10.

I've always complained about it and dramatized it, especially when my first real job ever out of college was in customer service for a pharmaceutical company and I worked the shift from 5:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. I acted like such a victim of the regular rotation of the earth.

Well, I've lately felt compelled to step up my practice of self-discipline. I have lots of ideas about the concept. Too many for right now. Maybe later. But suffice it to say that I have committed to waking up at 6 a.m. this fall on weekdays. Honestly there is no other deeper, more spiritual reason than practicing self-discipline.

And it's kind of funny that 6 a.m. is not that early! I know several friends who wake up earlier, and have forever. They are not dramatic about it. But for me, it's a big deal. I did it for three days in a row last week, and my husband told me that he was "super impressed." Wow, at first I think "Thanks!" and then I realize it is actually not complimentary because it speaks of the fact that I haven't done such a CRAZY thing like wake up at SIX A.M. three days in a row in a long time. Yuck. Part of me is so annoyed that I can be still so much a teenager on the inside. Too bad the wrinkles under my eyes, which are magnified from waking up early, prove otherwise.

So here goes. Early bird means no more night owl, which is the biggest hurdle for me. And after last week's first three days of school, I learned that I need some ideas for what to do while I'm the only one awake. How do I get my mind and body going that early while maintaining a happy heart? I discovered that any kind of reading or prayer is out of the question, at least for now. It just makes me want to go back to sleep. Also, I can't make much noise for the first 30 minutes at least. Any thoughts on helping me wake up? (Besides getting a rooster.)

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Lead Me

I heard this song called "Lead Me" on the radio the other day by a band called Sanctus Real. OK, it is slightly corny. But truthfully, you have to give Christian music a free pass on corny if you want to even approach the genre, because if you didn't, there would be nearly nothing left in it. So with the free pass in hand, this song is awesome because it stands for commitment. It stands for family. It stands for a lot of things that many men in this day and age aren't thinking about at all. So I felt it deserved some recognition here; yes, what an honor, I know (sarcasm through and through).

I only know this guy's name is Matt, this singer/songwriter member of Sanctus Real who is speaking this message to the world through his song. But I have a deep respect for him for a couple reasons. When searching for the song on YouTube, I found a video where he explains his inspiration for writing it. He and his wife are featured on the video, giving a fairly vulnerable bit of background on some rocky times they have had. How courageous. But not only is he speaking candidly about his own life, he is exhorting others to stay committed to their marriages, seek God's guidance, and put family first. My favorite bit is at the end, after a sweet montage of photos of he and his family, where he says he regularly asks himself, "What kind of man am I today?" He exemplifies that leadership begins with humility.

Matt clearly has a new found passion for his family and for the Lord, and he is sharing that passion with his listeners. He is using the pain they have experienced in marriage to speak to others who are in pain. He is bravely stepping up into the God-given roles in which he is called to lead. I'm sure he is not a perfect dad nor husband, but pursuing his powerful vision for leading his family is a pretty darn good place to start.

The song and interview are both awesome. If you're a guy, I hope you feel inspired. If you're not a guy, you may get a little misty-eyed....if not during the first verse, then for sure during the second. I'm just saying.

The embedding is disabled on the story behind the song, so you can click here to watch it on YouTube.

The song and lyrics are below. Sanctus Real dude, Matt, you rock.

Lesson #2: Hold their hands

Hi everyone! I bet you thought my last post should have been titled "Turning my back on my blog" since I have been so inconsistent lately in posting. Honestly, I've been missing writing. I would love to write every single day, and in fact I'm drafting in my head on a daily basis. However....priorities, priorities. You get it, I'm sure.

But I really do want to share another important lesson I learned from Hinds' Feet on High Places before I get on with other things I have to share. Remember where we left Much-Afraid? She was caught between her Fearing relatives and the Chief Shepherd, unsure of with whom to side. Well, she eventually escapes her family, and follows the Shepherd to the foot of the mountains, the starting point of a long journey to reach the High Places. All the while, the Shepherd has promised her two of his best guides to accompany her. He assures her multiple times that these guides are the best and strongest companions He could choose in order for her to complete the journey with success, and at one point asks her to confirm her unfailing trust in his choices. Much Afraid confirms her absolute trust. She believes he has her best interest in mind. She feels something that seems like love from him. She feels safe.

And as they approach the base of the mountain, all that security melts away as she looks upon her companions. The two women are tall, silent, and veiled. Much-Afraid's comfort turns to terror as she learns their names: Sorrow, and her twin sister, Suffering.

"I can't go with them," she gasped. "I can't! I can't! O my Lord Shepherd, why do you do this to me? How can I travel in their company? It is more than I can bear. You tell me that the mountain way is itself so steep and difficult that I cannot climb it alone. Then why, oh why, must you make Sorrow and Suffering my companions? Couldn't you have given Joy and Peace to go with me, to strengthen me and encourage me and help me on the difficult way? I never thought you would do this to me!" And she burst into tears.

A strange look passed over the Shepherd's face as he listened to this outburst, then looking at the veiled figures as he spoke, he answered very gently, "Joy and Peace. Are those the companions you would choose for yourself? You remember your promise, to accept the helpers that I would give, because you believed that I would choose the very best possible guides for you. Will you still trust me, Much-Afraid? Will you go with them, or do you wish to turn back to the Valley, and to all your Fearing relatives...?

Much Afraid shuddered. The choice seemed terrible. Fear she knew only too well, but Sorrow and Suffering had always seemed to her the two most terrifying things which she could encounter. How could she go with them and abandon herself to their power and control? It was impossible. Then she looked at the Shepherd and suddenly knew she could not doubt him, could not possibly turn back from following him....Even if he asked the impossible, she could not refuse.

The Shepherd leaves Much-Afraid with the exhortation, "Go with Sorrow and Suffering, and if you cannot welcome them now, when you come to the difficult places where you cannot manage alone, put your hands in theirs confidently and they will take you exactly where I want you to go." But she is not confident, even in the least. Instead as they begin their ascent, she shrinks away from her guides, as far as possible, and pretends not to notice their outstretched hands.

Much-Afraid meets trouble of every kind along her journey. Deserts of loneliness, perilous cliffs, and dreadful storms are a few of the physical trials she endures, in addition to the regular attacks by her relatives who continue to pursue and torment her. She is defeated and discouraged often in the beginning, when she neglects to take the hands of her companions. Part of her journey is learning to trust them, ceasing to resist and fear Sorrow and Suffering.

I don't know if you do, but I find myself in that analogy. My instinct is to resist basically anything uncomfortable or upsetting. I stop seeing the thing at the sorrow and begin to breakdown or feel overwhelmed, instead of looking through the problem to the potential purpose. It takes a lot of self-control for me to underreact to pain, and wonder what else God may have in mind for me or my family. On occasion, I get it right. So many times, I resort to an outburst much like our heroine, flat out questioning why God has chosen the helpers for me that he has.

My take home lesson is to be so consistently close to the Shepherd in my spirit, in communication with Him and His word, that when I walk straight into something painful, I have spiritual eyes with which to see the matter. I don't want my heart to knot up in fear and discomfort, fighting the circumstances until they pass. I believe God has my best interest in mind, no matter what He allows to come my way. And more than anything, I want to humbly accept the teachers He has personally chosen for me, be they Sorrow, Suffering, Pain, Sickness, Grief, Loneliness...or whatever guide points me ultimately to Him. I want to hold their hands with all I have, not shrink away. Because I can't make this trip on my own.