Monday, July 24, 2017

Real Help

"I want to help, Mommy!" can either be a blessing or a curse. Their hearts are so good and I always want to encourage their "help". I just have to be prepared to clean up an entire bag of flour off the floor and accept the fact that I will probably have to give them a bath afterward because they thought it would be cool to spread egg all over their bellies. But as my kids begin to age out of the catastrophic mess phase, I am gaining real help.

"We're done, Mommy!" my oldest yelled from the loft. They had been cleaning for HOURS and I responded to that statement like a fireman called to fire. I ran to the utility closet and lugged the vacuum upstairs so that I could vacuum their bedrooms and the playroom. I only have about a three minute window to do this in between the time they finish cleaning and the time they start playing. If I wait, a bin of legos is sure to be dumped out and the process has to start all over again. There was not a moment to spare.

My middle child was waiting at the top of the stairs. "Mommy, I've got this. Let me do the vacuuming. It's our mess, right?"

I looked at him gauging his seriousness. His big brown eyes were open wide in kindness and he reached out to take the vacuum from me. "Wow, that would be really great, buddy! Thank you." I sat on the top stair so that when he got bored with the task (two minutes was my estimate), I could pick up where he left off. But that kid spent a solid twenty minutes vacuuming every inch of the upstairs. I couldn't believe it. "Drew, you did such a great job and you really helped me out today. Thank you so much!" I hugged him and his chest puffed out with pride.

"Yep. I figure it's about time we help you out a little more."

You know what? He was right. They are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. All those years that they have done more smearing than cleaning the windows and more spreading dirt than sweeping it up, they have been learning. It has been teaching them that they are a necessary part of our family's ecosystem. They are valuable and needed. While the product of their work is not always (or...umm..ever) the quality of the work that we would do, the message is powerful.

I want my kids to apply this to their families as they grow up. I want them to apply it to their community and to the world. Their contribution is important and necessary. If I have to give them an extra bath or two along the way, so be it. You're welcome, world.

Pat yourself on the back for letting your kids help you even when you don't want to. Challenge them to do more than you think they can; they just might impress you.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Matthew 18

"MOMMY!! She ripped apart my LEGOS!!"
"MOMMY!! He stole my blankie!!"
"MOMMY!! He won't let me have the pool noodle!!"

This, my friends, has been my week. No matter how peacefully their interactions begin, they end in screaming. Within minutes, someone is yelling for me and pounding down the stairs, determined to win the battle with my help. 

I cringe at the sound. I pray for patience. I wish my children had a mute button or that someone would invent an invisibility cloak that I could hide underneath. Instead, I pick myself up and face the conflict head on.

I've read books and blog posts about conflict resolution. I've asked for friend's advice. The best advice, however, has come from the book of Matthew. These verses were brought to my attention at a homeschooling conference when they suggested modeling this form of conflict resolution for your kids. The steps are simple. First, go to the person privately. Second, bring along someone else as a witness or helper. Third, bring in someone from the church to help resolve it. I decided to give it a shot.

"Everybody to the kitchen table!" I yelled over their screams. (This blowout was about whose matchbox car was the fastest. Biggie.) 
"Why!?" my middle yelled. "We're playing!"
"To the table. Now." I opened up my Bible and took a deep breath. I want the Bible to always be a positive thing in their life and so I tried to quell my frustration. Once they were seated, I began. "Seems like there's been a lot more fighting going on between you guys."

"Yeah that's because Rosie won't stop messing with my stuff!" my oldest said as he glared at his little sister.

"Maybe so," I said diplomatically, "but I wanted to share this really cool tool I learned about at the conference. It's a way to get through fights and I think it could help." I started reading only to be interrupted by my middle child. 

"Wait, you're reading this from the Bible?" he asked.

"Yeah - There's so many cool things about how to live life in here. I know we've mostly only read stories, but there's so much more. Check this out." I read "brothers and sisters" and their heads shot up, hearing this literally. They were paying attention. I finished reading and ran through it one more time in a simpler way. "This is going to take some practice. Change always does. I'm here to help you after you go to each other on your own. Got it?"

"Got it!"

The fighting continued incessantly and I have spent the last five days answering their tattling with, "Okay - What did he/she say when you shared with them why you are upset?" They usually run away without a word to try and handle it themselves. This has erupted into further argument and I try to help coach them through the interaction. Today, I heard them actually do it on their own.

"Rosie, I'm so upset that you slammed the door in my face," my oldest said calmly.
"Can you forgive me, Luke?" she replied.
"Okay!" he said and they returned to playing.

Change isn't easy and I think this is going to take years to really sink into their little brains and habits. (They actually interrupted my writing just now because of a fight.) But if I can teach them to go directly to someone that has upset them rather than letting it fester or stop them from telling everyone else except the person that wronged them, I will be thankful. And if they can stop screaming for Mommy every five minutes, I'll be even happier.

Is there conflict somewhere in your life right now? Between your children, your spouse, your extended family? Take a look at Matthew 18:15-17. Pray over it. Ask God how it may help you and your family to grow.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Cold Feet


"Rosie, let's get married," my five year old said as they sat side by side licking ice cream cones. She put her arms around him and smiled.
"Okay, Drew!" she said sweetly. "Mommy! Drew and I are in love."
I smiled and felt my heart warm at the sweetness of this moment. "That's wonderful, babe. When is the wedding?"
Her face blanked and she looked to her brother/fiance for guidance. He was ready with an answer. "Let's do it now. I'll plan the whole thing, okay, Rosie?"
She finished off her ice cream cone, no longer interested in the conversation.

"You need invitations!" my oldest announced and the boys ran off to write it out.

I resisted the urge to point out that the finished invite didn't mention a date, time or even who was getting married. "Looks great, guys!"
"We need to make fifty copies to give to all of our friends and family," Drew said.
"Well, we would need to give friends and family a bit more notice if you want them to come.  How about we keep it small - just immediate family?" I suggested, trying to keep a straight face.
"That works," my practical oldest agreed.
"I am going to put Rosie down for a nap and you guys can finish up the wedding when she wakes up. Deal?"

"Okay! Let's make an aisle, Luke!" They ran off to tape miles of computer paper together and plan a menu of shrimp tacos and poopsicles (their boy word for fudgesicles). But their sister was not feeling the same level of enthusiasm.

I heard crying on her monitor and switched on the video to see what was wrong. I saw her tossing and turning and talking to Pooh Bear. "I can't get married, Pooh! I'm not ready to get married! I want to stay with my mommy and live with Mommy forever and ever. I can't do this!" It was a textbook case of cold feet. I went up the stairs to bring her a bit of comfort.

"Honey, it's okay. It's just a pretend wedding. It's a game. You don't have to leave Mommy." I hugged her close and wiped her little tears away.
"Mommy?" she said as she pulled away from the hug. "I just love you so much."
"I love you, too, sweet girl."

Sometimes we agree to things in the moment and then regret our decisions. Sometimes we over commit and our chest constricts at the thought of doing one. more. thing. My daughter reminded me today that it's okay to step away; it's okay to say no even when we've already said yes.

If you are feeling overwhelmed today, I challenge you to take a look at your commitments and your schedule. Is there something you can cancel? Is there something you've been asked to do but haven't had the courage to say no? Make the call, send the email, send the text. It's okay - We've all been there.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Anchor for my Soul

I went to the jetty a few weeks ago to get my head straight. I was overwhelmed. I couldn't understand why God wasn't answering very specific prayers. I had begun to think that if I did everything right, then God would just do what I asked him to do. I felt an immense need to take control. I was spiraling in anxiety and asked my husband to pray for me. He held me close and prayed that I make time that day to just be with God. "Maybe she can go to the jetty to just unwind and be with you, Lord," he prayed. And so that's exactly what I did.

I brought my journal and a favorite pen and sat down to write and think and pray and listen. But five minutes later, a very vocal older man plopped down his chair right next to me. He complained about the weather, the fisherman, the boaters and anything else he could think of and tried over and over again to engage me in conversation. I tried to politely smile and go back to my journal but it wasn't working. My frustration was mounting until he yelled, "What in the hell are they thinking!?" My eyes shot up to see a yacht with the engine stalled.

The jetty is a narrow water way that leads from the Intracoastal Waterway into the Gulf of Mexico. It's lined with rocks on both sides and the yacht was inching its way toward the rocks. I felt a gentle urging from God to pay attention. The young men on the boat were obviously inexperienced boaters and they lowered the anchor but not enough. The boat continued to drift. Men on both sides of the jetty yelled out to the boaters, "You have to let out more line! The anchor didn't catch!!" The young men rushed back to the front of the boat to try to set the anchor. As soon as the anchor caught, the engine restarted.

I felt God impressing on my heart, "I am your anchor but I cannot protect you from the rocks if you don't give me enough line." I almost lost my breath - That's how struck I was with God's wisdom. The one thing I did have control of was my trust in Him. I had to give him the line. I felt a tear drip down my face and suddenly was aware that I was crying tears of relief. He never stopped holding me in his hands.

When I got home, I checked to see if there were verses about anchors and found this from Hebrews 6:19 "We have this hope as an anchor for our soul". My pastor told me that an anchor needs three times the depth of the water in order to be secured. Three times. That's a lot of line. And so, each day I am working to give him control. My beautiful sister bought me an anchor charm to wear and remind myself everyday that Jesus is the anchor for my soul. When my chest tightens, I simply touch it and am filled with awe and wonder at God's endless love for us.

Is there a prayer that isn't being answered in your life? Remember that He's a good good father and even if he says no, he loves you endlessly. Give him control today. Give him the line. He will protect you from the rocks.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reluctant Servant

"I'd really like you to bring the kids to the Challenger baseball game," my husband said. He was volunteering for Sertoma to help push a man with disabilities through the bases in his wheelchair. He is constantly finding opportunities to serve. It's one of the things that made me fall in love with him but it can also get overwhelming at times.

I looked at him, trying to find a nice way to say, "Are you kidding me? Have you seen our schedule for the weekend? Did you notice that the house is a disaster and this is my only day to get ready for the week?" Instead, I chose a more diplomatic track. "Let's play it by ear."

I saw the look of disappointment cross his face and felt the guilt creeping into my heart.  He tried one more time. "It's just that I'd love for the kids to see these people with special needs playing baseball. It think it would really make an impact on them, you know?" 

Great. Just great. How could I argue with that? "Okay, you're right. We'll go."

Time got away from me and I as I scrubbed the bathroom sink I heard my husband saying it was time to go. I had him go in a separate car while I scrambled to get the kids ready and out the door. As we drove, I worried that the kids would say something that would be hurtful. They had never been exposed to a large group of people with disabilities. "Hey guys? Just a heads up that the people playing might look different or talk differently than you do. Some may be in wheelchairs or use something to help them walk. But God designed each of them perfectly. Please make sure you don't point out how they are different. I'm sure that would hurt your feelings if someone did that to you."

"I think it's so cool that they can play baseball in a wheelchair. That would be so fun!" my five year old said. 

With that one comment, my perspective began to shift. I prayed that God help my children and me to see the players' abilities, not disabilities. I prayed that I be shown their gifts, their light, their joy. And he truly did.

I have never in my life seen so much enthusiasm in a game. They played with heart and dedication. They celebrated each other's victories and gave encouragement when there was a swing and a miss. One little boy smiled bigger than I've ever seen a child smile as he was pushed around the bases. "He just loves to run," his mom confided in me. My five year old loved watching as well. "Did you see how far he hit that ball?! I hope I'm that good some day!" I hope he's as kind and giving as his Daddy is someday, too.

Serving isn't always convenient. In fact, most of the time it isn't. It interrupts your plans for your day or your week. But our time isn't really ours. We are here to do God's work. When we do, our souls are filled. We are amazed by grace in face of adversity, uplifted by faith and given a glimpse into what it means to truly love someone else more than we love ourselves.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rest and Renewal

I love seeing vacation posts flood my Facebook feed in the summer. Little girls smiling next to Disney Princesses, Dads with kids perched on their shoulders to see fireworks, gorgeous meals with a wine glass shimmering in the sunlight...Every picture makes my heart smile. I'm so happy for them and the memories they are making. And yet I'm realizing as I get older that my favorite vacations are those that I stop doing, well, almost everything.

As we planned our trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, my kids and I cruised blogs and made a list of all the things we wanted to do. We were going to see the wild horses of Corolla, stay up late and chase ghost crabs, climb the dunes of Kitty Hawk...the list went on and on. When we arrived, I pushed my husband to make an itinerary and he pushed right back. "You've got a lot of ideas and not enough days. Why don't you decide what's really important to you and we'll do the rest if we feel like it?"

I reluctantly accepted this plan and, a few hours later, I realized how truly tired I was. I fell asleep for two hours that day and almost every day after. I found myself reading for hours instead of minutes, ignoring the dishes and the laundry and spending time real quality time with my family. We laughed so hard playing a game with my parents one night that my stomach actually hurt in the morning. Now that's fun. I had the joy and blessing of being with family I hadn't seen in ten years and my kids are already asking when we can go back to see "the cousins". We did go some places together and, of course put our smiling faces on Facebook, but it wasn't forced fun. We just went when we felt like it and came home when we were done. What a novel idea.

The most amazing thing has happened since I gave myself rest. Real rest. This tightness in my chest (that I didn't even realize I was living with!) has lifted. My heart is light and my creativity is emerging once again; A true sign of renewal. And I am thankful.

Are you in the middle of planning a family vacation? I encourage you to plan rest and renewal in the midst of the great adventures- The memories and fun will follow, I promise.




Thursday, May 11, 2017

Refuel

You know that feeling you have when you get home after a long day? You just want to quiet your mind, pour a glass of wine, maybe cook something delicious or curl up on the couch and talk. The last thing you want to do is field a million questions and give commentary on Lego creations, art projects and gymnastics tricks simultaneously. My husband used to be abrupt with this influx of information. He would hug each of them but then send them upstairs without paying much attention to the things they showed him. He would simply seek me out so that we could swap stories about our days. This led to many conversations about better ways to handle the transition home. I wanted him to give the kids all the attention they desired; he wanted them to respect his need for 20 minutes with me.

I understood why he wanted it but, to be honest, I spend so much time tuned in to my kids' needs that I can forget to think about his. I decided to try a different track this time. We told the kids that the first half hour was Daddy and Mommy time. After that, it was family time. It has taken months for it actually to sink in that we are serious about this time but it has completely changed our family dynamic. Dane and I cook together while we sip a glass of wine or I just sit down and watch him do the work and feel grateful for a husband that cooks. We have time to tell funny stories, talk through big things that happened that day or just sit in companionable silence. It reconnects us and after that thirty minutes, he's completely ready to be the amazing dad that he is.

The other night, Rosie had taken a really long nap and she woke up in the middle of dinner. Dane took off her diaper and, instead of going upstairs to grab her undies, he put her in a pair of my son's underwear he had found in the laundry room. Gotta love dads. The song "My Girl" came on and he scooped her up off the couch and danced with her. He smiled a smile that is reserved only for her and asked her if he could dance with her to this song at her wedding. "Sure, Daddy. Sure, you can," she said as she laid her head on his shoulder.

We can't give when we are completely spent. We can't be expected to run on fumes. And yet, so often, we keep pushing ourselves and giving into everyone's demands. We say yes because we "should" and end up only being able to give half of what we normally could. My husband reminded me that it's so much smarter to stop, refuel and then embrace all the joys of life.

Do you need to carve a space in your every day to refuel? Twenty minutes may be all you need. There's nothing wrong with taking a little so that you can give so much more.


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