Children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth. Blessed are they whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate. ~Psalm 127:3-5

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lessons Learned

Today as I was holding and cuddling my baby, Isabella, who doesn't seem like a baby anymore so much as a little being getting older by the second, I was thinking about all the things I have been learning in my journey of motherhood so far. It's only been 5 years since I became a mother - yes, I'm counting from the time I began my first pregnancy - but there is so much I have learned in this short 5 years that it almost feels like a lifetime now. But a lifetime is full of much more than just a few lessons learned, as we change and grow with our children and become more wise (and less wise), empowering ourselves with the strength to not only teach our children but allow them to teach us as well.

I wanted to make a list of some of the things I'd like to tell my children when they are grown and have babes of their own. Here I'll share this list with you, along with a personal reflection on each.

In no particular order of importance:

1. No matter how many children you have or how "stretched" you feel on any given day, make personal time for each of them, even if it's just 10 minutes.
As much as I would love to say this is just about them, it's also about me, too. I get so much joy in my heart from the time we spend together one on one. I also find that if I spend some quality time with each of them, I create a special (and positive) bond, and I believe that bond will connect us forever. Later in their lives, they will remember it and it might just be the only thing that comforts them in some dark moment in their life...or maybe even what comforts me in mine.

2. Laugh with your children. Be silly. A child's laughter has the power to heal the heart in a way nothing else can.
Recently, when I was rocking Bella and playing with her, making silly noises on the top of her head, she broke into the most hysterical laughter I've ever heard come from a baby. That alone made me feel that even in the middle of all we are facing right now, everything will be okay.

3. Listen to your children, no matter what age they are. Some people are under the impression that children don't have anything of value to say but really, often times, they have much to say that has more substance and meaning to it than a lot of what I've heard out of the mouths of some of the adults in my life. My 4 year old is very good at convicting me on my flaws in such an innocent, almost like it's straight from God, sort of way. Just today, at a moment when I was getting flustered and frustrated without even realizing I was doing so, she said very quietly and innocently, 'mom, lets ask Jesus to help you calm down.'

4. Hug your children whenever you can. Make sure they know how much you love them, even if it's just through this simple act of personal touch. We humans were made with the need to be touched (out of love, not anger or control!) and the more you hug your children, the more content and secure they'll feel. Even my 4 year old, who is far from a touchy-feely sort of girl, makes it known when she needs to be hugged and cuddled if we haven't already done so that day.

5. Tell your children that you love them. Every day. Even though there was a lot of chaos in my own home growing up, I always can remember my mom telling me she loved me. Children need to be told over and over that they are loved. Hearing the words 'I love you' is so calming and reaffirming, especially in times when things seem difficult, or they've gotten into trouble, or when they aren't feeling well.

6. Pick your battles. I have come to realize that arguing with my children over some things is just not worth it. It's one thing to want them to obey no matter what, but sometimes before I even give the command I don't think about why I'm giving it. For instance, if my daughter wants to change her clothes back into pj's in the middle of the day, I often am just annoyed that she's changing once again so I tell her 'no.' But really, it makes getting ready for bed a lot quicker if she's already in her pj's and there really is no reason for her to not to be able to do it. It's not harming anyone, she enjoys changing her clothes and she loves spending time in her pj's.

7. Tell your children you are proud of them, even for the smallest of things.
Tonight at dinner, and most nights really, we had to praise the kids and cheer them on every time they took a bite of food or they couldn't seem to go any further. It's amazing how a little cheer, clapping and general hub bub over such a small task that you usually just expect from them, can lift their spirits and give them that little push they need to get it done. Their eyes lit up with the brightest happiness and sense of accomplishment and they felt so good about themselves...all because we clapped when they took a bite of food. How strengthening and encouraging it will be for them as they go through life if we are like this about all their accomplishments, big and small.

8. Snuggle and cuddle your children, especially in the evenings. This sort of goes along with spending time with them or giving them hugs but I wanted it to be a specific and separate thing because I think it's significant, outside of those other ones. Snuggling and cuddling seems to be a sort of calming thing and if done in the evenings, it gives them that last little ounce of attention and love before they go to bed and helps them to unwind and be peaceful in the process. It also reaffirms that sense of safety because their is nothing more comforting and safe-feeling than the strong embrace of your mother or father's arms.

9. Give your children small tasks to do around the house as soon as they are old enough to understand, being careful not to be critical in any way but praising them for their work instead. Giving them little chores to do not only builds character and an appreciation for organization/cleanliness but it helps them with that sense of accomplishment that is so important to their fragile hearts, especially when you make sure to praise them for their work (regardless of whether it's "perfect"). My children are so proud of themselves when they straighten their toys in the playroom or pick up the clothes on their bedroom floors, especially when they do it of their accord.

10. Be mindful of what you say around your children and how you act, regardless of whether you think they're paying attention and regardless of their age. I'm sad to say that for the first year or so of Angelina's life, her father and I fought horribly practically every night. Often times, we were so loud, it woke her up. Even now, she has issues with sleeping through the night, often wakes up crying or screaming, and is just generally a more fragile sleeper than our other two, or any child I know. On a less serious note, there have been times that we've said things we didn't think Angel or Aidan could hear but later heard them repeating it to us or each other. This can be embarrassing in certain situations!

11. Talk to your children about God, even when they are babies.
While it's last on my list, it's the most important. Children need to be taught about God from an early age, and every day from then on. We talk to our children all the time about God's love for us, how God loves them, praying to Him, asking Him for things (especially things not necessarily of a material nature) , etc. We pray with our children and make sure they know it's important to trust in Him for all of our needs. To have that in their minds, in their hearts from even before the moment they're capable of remembering will give them the sense of something secure to fall back on throughout their entire lives. It's our duty as Christian parents to teach our children the essence of God's love, not only through these talks but through our entire process of parenting - the hugs, the encouragement, the listening, the loving.

Throughout my life and the continuation of my motherhood, as my children get older and I grow more mature, there will be many more reflections I will wish to pass on to them as they pertain to my children's lives as parents. These are just 11 things that have been on my mind and heart lately and I hope that they give you, my readers, a small glimpse into my life as a mommy, and hopefully, they will also give you some direction on your own path. I realize that as my children get older, the lessons I will learn will also be learned by them and we will all grow in our knowledge of parenthood in a deeper sense than that of just flying through, talking but not listening to our children, teaching them but not learning from them, raising them but not loving them with every fiber of our being.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Apology To My Readers

I apologize to anyone who is following my blog on a regular basis, for not updating it anytime recently. I've been swamped with the daily stress of the household, and that's not even including all the small wrenches that have thrown themselves into the works just these past few weeks.
I realized that the last post I wrote was just after Joe got laid off and I am sad to say that he is still searching for a job, but I am happy to say that we are both still trying our hardest to put our trust in the Lord and remember on a daily basis that He will provide for all our needs, regardless of what happens.
I don't know when I'll be "inspired" to write another blog post but I am getting antsy with the writers block that has settled in as a result of all the craziness going on here. So hopefully it will be soon! In the meantime, I would appreciate prayers. Thanks to all of you who visit my blog on a regular basis and again, I'm sorry I haven't had anything new to post for you!

Monday, February 9, 2009

In His Loving Arms

If there is anything I actually hate in this world, it's money. The relationship with money is so complex because we need it to live and we like having it, but when it comes down to it, I hate that we need it to live and I hate that we like having it. Right now, we don't have it and at this point, I'm not sure when we will. It doesn't seem like there is any rest for the weary.

Joe got laid off last week and while I understand that there are many people in the same boat as us, or in similarly small and fragile vessels floating on these treacherous seas, I can't get past feeling somewhat jipped in this little game we call life. I know it's just another opportunity for our faith in God to be tested and strengthened. I'm just trying to figure out how to get to the point of having a stronger faith through this without losing my sanity along the way.

I am having a difficult time understanding the way God is working in our lives. I am cynical about His way a lot lately and I don't want to be. Because deep in my heart, I know He is sovereign and because we choose to live our lives following Him as best as we can, He will take care of us in the end. But at the same time, there are moments when I feel so hopeless and wonder why we can't just have it a little bit easier.

My mom recently sent me something that was written by Michael Dubruiel, a writer who died suddenly while working out at the gym. He was a devout Catholic and his final column for the Diocesan newspaper in Alabama was about "the big lie" we tell ourselves. (Originally this idea was from his friend, Father Benedict Groeschel who wrote about it in his book
Arise From Darkness). The general idea of the big lie is that nothing awful will happen to us if we say the "right" prayers and live our lives the "right" way. It's a wake-up call when you realize how much of a big fat lie this really is and how miserable we can become with this realization. Ultimately, hope is the shining beacon on those treacherous seas that leads us back to an understanding of not necessarily how God works but how He doesn't work. That lie is exactly how He doesn't work. But it's this fact that actually feeds my cynicism in times like this and keeps me awake at night, wondering how we're going to feed our children next month and how we're going to keep our house if Joe can't find a job - despite that shining beacon.

I've been complaining a lot lately about the fact that the people that represent the company Joe worked for (i.e his boss) obviously weren't on the level of caring about our personal situation when they made the decision to lay him off. His immediate boss knew we have 3 children and another one on the way and he knows the economy is difficult right now because it is the reason they had to lay him off. But it didn't seem to matter. Money matters. And I've also been complaining about the fact that there is a person in our life who we owe money to, which we've been paying every single month as agreed, but who all of the sudden wants all of the money we owe her - only to satisfy a greedy itch to have power over us and have the ability to continue to live the excessively comfortable life she is used to while she faces her own "financial issues." This person doesn't even
need this money yet it's important to her to come after us for it, despite her knowledge of our situation (which was not as bad at the time of initial demand but not in any shape to pay off thousands of dollars all at once) and despite the basic evilness of such a demand. And through these complaints, I've been told I need to just forget about it because it's not important. I've been told I need to trust that God will provide for us and to not worry about the negative influences of these people and their idea of what matters in this world.

And really, all of this sounds nice when someone says it and maybe it gives a little bit of encouragement or hope... But I still have this little doubt in the back of my mind that makes it very hard for me to hold on to that hope, to trust in God. And it makes me very sad. Is it the devil or is it just my own weakness of flesh? I recently wrote these words in an email to the ladies in my mom's group:

..... I'd like to say that lately I have been finding it incredibly difficult, as I'm sure many of you do sometimes, to understand why these things seem to be happening to so many people we know and love. And why "things" in general are so difficult for us personally right now. With some of our husbands (or ourselves) losing their jobs and so many in turmoil for various reasons, I myself have found that I am feeling a little LESS hopeful about our own situation just because there are so many others in the same boat and everyone keeps saying it's just going to get worse.

But at the same time, and through many different loving and encouraging people - some of them in this group, I also have that glimmer of hope that's fighting to remain on top - that light from Jesus that often gets cloaked in the darkness of our tribulations but is always there none the less. And I am trying desperately to grab a hold of it and allow it to fill my heart - to have the strength and the faith in Him to bring us through everything we are facing. Despite my own (maybe even selfish) feelings of desperation, I'd like to encourage everyone of you all to keep sight of that light, no matter how awful things seem around you, and rest in the comfort of our Father's loving arms as He holds us and carries us through these difficult times. Please know I am praying daily for each and every one of you and I hope that we all can make it through our various struggles with a stronger love and faith in God and a deeper love and respect for each other and the world.

When I was writing them, I really felt like God was giving me these words to help spread some hope to all of the women in the group who are facing difficult times. But even now as I am looking back on it, I am thinking that maybe God was also using it to help me, to give me hope as well. It's easy to give words of encouragement to others but to believe in your heart what you are saying to them is what truly makes it powerful.

Yes, our relationship with money can be complex and it can be difficult - especially in hard times like these when it is dwindling fast with no visible reprieve on the horizon. But that's just the thing - God isn't usually visible accept in the small ways, the ways in which you have to sort of squint your eyes and turn away from the horizon in order to see His hand.. Like in the people who offer us food when we need it or money to pay our bills or an encouraging word or a prayer. Money does not matter when God is bigger than any of it, more powerful than any greedy person, His love more valuable than any thousands or millions others seek. And yes, on the surface, I may worry and I may be angry at certain people for being so selfish and I may be questioning of even God Himself. But deep in my heart, I believe exactly what I told those ladies and exactly what I've been telling my husband - He is carrying us through all of this, as we are tucked safely away in His loving arms.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Scrounging for Dinner

Yesterday, as I realized we probably couldn't afford to go to the store this week for much of anything except maybe milk, I started thinking about what we had in the house that I could make stretch for the week's dinners. It was getting late in the afternoon and I hadn't even really thought about dinner for the night, let alone for the rest of the week. I started to panic a little. I wasn't sure I had inherited my mom's talent for making delicious meals out of random things, though I knew I had done it once or twice before. And as usual when there seems to be a shortage of food, my belly churns at the thought of there being "all these people" to feed and not enough to go around.

Around 4:00 my hubby called to tell me he was on his way home and he asked me if he needed to stop at the store for any last-minute ingredients for dinner. I told him I had just been standing in the kitchen trying to figure out what we were having for dinner. "Just come home," I said "we really can't afford for you to stop and pick anything up..especially when I don't know what I would need." As I waited for him to arrive, I pulled out my big huge manila folder of recipes, hoping to find something that would demand very few ingredients, but ones I already had. As I sorted through recipes, some of which I've had since high school, my mind was reeling at the thought of eating peanut butter and jelly for dinner. My kids might not complain so much but I knew it wouldn't sit well with my hubby.

Like I said, some of the recipes I've had since high school, and many of them I never even used. I started to wonder why I kept them but as I came upon one for cream of chicken soup, I started forming a plan in my head. Glad I held onto this particular one for all these years, I began taking a mental inventory of things I had in my pantry and 'fridge. I had planned on doctoring up the recipe a little bit, making it thicker and turning it into a sort of stoup that could be ladled over baking powder biscuits which were also from a recipe I had kept since high school. I knew that I had only 1 medium-sized chicken breast in my freezer. I prayed that it would be enough.

The parable of the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish came into my mind as I pulled the chicken breast out of the freezer, realizing it was a lot smaller than I had remembered. I certainly was not going to be preparing food for 5,000 but a family of 5 surely would need more than 1 chicken breast between them! My hopes were faltering as I began to defrost the chicken in the microwave. I kept praying that somehow, it would stretch and that whatever the end result was, somehow it would taste at least decent. I definitely did not want to make something and have it turn out disgusting when I knew we were all going to be hungry and I would be using ingredients from a meager supply.

As I got to work, I felt peaceful and though I had no clue what I was doing or what the end meal would actually be, I decided it didn't matter at that point. I was going to do my best and even though I was just throwing random things together, I trusted my capabilities and my God. I chopped 2 small potatoes - old ones but the only ones in the house, 2 stalks of celery, some baby carrots and the last bit of onion I had. I made a rue from some butter and flour and found 2 cans of chicken broth in the pantry that I poured into the rue along with some milk. I also added a bunch of seasonings which I can't even remember now. I chopped and added and stirred and simmered and about 45 minutes later, I was pleased to see the entire thing coming together to create a delicious comfort food to be ladled on the biscuits I had just pulled from the oven. Not only was it so yummy, but there was A LOT! I made so much that my husband and I each had two bowls of it and there was enough left over after everyone had eaten that hubby had some to take to work for lunch today. (The kids sort of just picked at it but they ate some, which is the norm. around here.) Definitely plenty to go around.....and more.

"They all ate and were satisfied. And they picked up the twelve wicker baskets full of fragments....." Mark 6:42-43 NAB

Monday, February 2, 2009

Growing Love

Even if it was a matter of life or death, I probably couldn't tell you the exact vows my husband and I took on our wedding day. At least, not all of them. I remember "to love, honor, and cherish..." And I definitely remember "til death do you part.." But the part that really sticks out in my mind is an image of us standing face to face, bold black letters flowing out of our mouths, spelling out "in good times and in bad." I am betting not a lot of us really think about these particular words in that moment - their weight or meaning, the sudden permanence they stamp on our lives. This isn't to say we don't mean them, it's just a matter of actually thinking at that moment that we are making a promise to each other that we must keep. And as things stand in this world, it doesn't seem to matter if we keep it or not.

But to me it did matter. And it still does.

I've been thinking a lot about the many aspects of being a good mother to my children, and I realized that a very important aspect is being a good wife to my husband. I've touched on this subject very little and can only think of
one post in which I know for sure that I mentioned this idea. But since things have been a little crazy around here lately and my husband and I haven't really been on the same page much, I have been convicted of this idea more and more. The convictions have come in starts and spurts, sneaking up on me in small ways that have left very large impressions on my heart. Like the look on my daughter's face when her dad and I are yelling at each other. Or my son's new way of expressing his anger - a finger pointed at one of us, the "s" word tumbling out of his mouth in broken 3 year old speak. I'm sad to say that this is our fault but along with that sadness comes some much-needed humility and a clearer view of the bigger picture.

I remember that when my husband and I first got married, some people were convinced of some crazy ideas of the motivation for our marriage. A lot of them didn't think we'd make it and made all kinds of judgments that we didn't even love each other. Some of this wasn't mentioned until much further down the road, when things were kind of chaotic for us and our future didn't seem so bright. But we pressed on, knowing that deep down, somewhere underneath all the craziness and dirt, we did have a seed of love that was dying to be nurtured.

Four years later, we still haven't gotten our gardening skills quite right. We have come a long way but sometimes, it feels like we're just moving backward, digging up what has been planted. Often, I feel like nothing has changed but in my heart, I know it has. We gave our marriage to the Ultimate Gardener - God - the day we took those vows, even if at first we forgot this fact. But He did not forget and He took our willingness to give Him the control and through His love, He has been nurturing that seed, even when we neglect it. That's not to say the seed doesn't need our hard work, too. But it's an amazing feeling to know that He is there to keep it alive even when we can't find the strength to.

As the keepers of our children, it's our responsibility to give them the best example we can of a love that emulates His. Ours is far from perfect. There is still so much work that needs to be done. But we need to go back to those vows we took on our wedding day and really think about them and their meaning for our life together. And we need to start living them each and every day. It's hard work to grow love, especially when the beginning seed is so small, so fragile. I often wish we both had taken some more time to think about the promises we were going to be making to each other before that day, because then our garden wouldn't have been so full of weeds over the years.

I have this image in my mind of our tiny garden starting out with so many of those weeds, our attempts at clearing them being too meager to make much difference. But God can do some amazing things with willing hearts, even if the space is small and overcrowded. With His strength, we have been able to start pulling even the tallest weeds with the biggest roots. And though there are times when it seems like we might even be planting new weeds, our little garden of love is slowly flourishing. It's hard to remember this fact in the middle of angry moments or difficult times. But in my heart, I know that those promises we made on our wedding day - even if I can't remember them exactly - were promises with their roots in God's hands, and nothing will pull them out.