Saturday, September 29, 2012

God, What do I do??

Do you ever have those moments when all you can do is ask God, "What do I do?"  There are times when we don't have the answers within ourselves.  Maybe we're facing a difficult situation with friends or things are falling apart at home, but we find ourselves floundering.  What do we do then?  We have a couple options: we can assume that God isn't speaking to us at the moment and try to figure things out on our own, or we can lean on Him and His eternal wisdom - fall to our knees and ask for help. 

When I run into this situation in my life I have a passage that never fails me: Psalm 91.

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.2 I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." 3 Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence.4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. 5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.9 If you make the Most High your dwelling-- even the LORD, who is my refuge-- 10 then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.13 You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.14 "Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.16 With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation."

This passage speaks to me on so many levels.  When I was a teenager I read a book titled "A Thousand May Fall," by Bodie Thoene and I was intrigued by the title.  I looked up the passage in my Bible and it hit me for the first time that this is how God looks out for ME every day in every situation.  Ever since then it has been my go-to Psalm when times get tough.  I love the fact that you get to hear God's perspective as well as the psalmists'.  There's something really comforting about God telling you that He will be with you in your time of trouble.  The imagery in this psalm also gets me every time.  I can just see God spreading HIs protective wings over me when I'm at my weakest.  And, boy are there times I need that image.  I need to know that He is in my corner blocking arrows and pestilence! 

What is your go-to passage?  If you don't have one, I highly recommend finding one.  God wants to share His comfort with you, and sometimes His word is the best place to find it.  We should be actively praying, of course, but I think we do ourselves a great disservice when we neglect to search the BIble for help.  The Bible is as relevant today as it was back when it was written!  It amazes me how much I can find in there that applies directly to my struggles today.  We always assume that the Bible was written to people "back then" who didn't deal with the same things we do.  But, the more I read the more I find that they were dealing with the very same stuff we do - it took different forms, and technology has certainly made our world different, but overall we are facing the same spiritual battles today that our early Christian fathers did.  We should take comfort in the fact that the same God who helped them through their troubles is ready and willing to help us through ours... if we will just ask!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What About the Small Stuff?

My Ladies' Bible study just picked up for the fall a few weeks ago.  We're studying James this year, which is very exciting.  I have the honor of writing and leading this study every week and it's such a blessing to me.  Our conversation yesterday centered around James 1:1-8 - trials and suffering and how we should deal with them as Christian ladies. 

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:2-4 (NIV)

One of the things that really stood out to me after we read these verses was that we often remember to ask God to help us with our "big" trials: illness, losing a job or spouse, or financial difficulties, but we don't often think to ask him for help with the "small" stuff: tantrums, perpetual chatterboxes, smart mouthes, or any number of daily minutiae that slowly drive us insane as mothers.  These are the times I need to remember to stop and ask God "Please Help Me!" 

What happens in your household when the small stuff builds up?  Around here Mommy has a bit of a meltdown and children usually start crying.  I wonder how often these meltdowns could be avoided if I learned to take the small things to God when they're happening, and better yet, if I could learn to rejoice in these trials that come my way.  But, how do I learn to rejoice in Abby's constant distractedness, Morgan's stubbornness, or Emily's know-it-all-ness?  Aren't these the things that are supposed to bother me?  It's a bit of a quandry. 

Considering my trials a joy doesn't mean that I don't ever discipline bad behavior in my kids.  If I read this passage further, I can see that testing my faith develops perseverance.  Dealing with these things gracefully will help me grow as a Christian.  I want to be mature in Christ and I want to teach my girls to be mature in Christ as they grow up.  My personal challenge right now is to let God take over and deal with these little things that make me crazy.  I want to let Him shine through me and help me weather these little mini-storms every day.  If you find yourself dealing with this same situation, whether you have children or not, I would challenge you to try the same thing.  Give it to God - let Him do the heavy lifting for a change!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

What a Job!

I have held some interesting jobs in my life: babysitter extraordinaire, billing clerk, waitress (a couple of times), paralegal, and business owner.  You certainly run into all sorts of characters in each of these fields, from cranky children to mean bosses and rude customers.  But, never have I felt challenged the way I do in my current job:  Mommy.  I've been at this "job" for 10 1/2 years now, and it just gets more challenging every year.  It was almost easy when they were babies - they didn't move a whole lot, feeding them was really easy, if inconvenient sometimes, they slept A LOT, and they didn't talk.  Granted, they were up at all hours of the night and caring for babies is a full time job, but no one prepares you for mothering older children. 

Older children talk... A LOT!  In fact, there are times when all three girls are talking to me at the same time about three different things and I think, "My brain's going to explode!"  Obviously, that doesn't happen, but I feel so overloaded that peace and quiet seem like a heaven that I'll never quite make it to.  Then there are the days like yesterday when Mommy decides it's time to clean our rooms.  You would think I told the younger two girls that we were going to practice Chinese water torture!  There are tears and emotional outbursts - they often forget I can hear them from the next room - and lots of time spent not cleaning, and they wonder why Crazy Mommy comes to visit the house that day.  Needless to say, a 1 hour max. job took them over three just because they refuse to focus and do what's necessary.  I have yet to find a good solution for this, other than sending them up to pick up immediately after getting home from school; before snack time or play time, they have to make sure their room is clean. 

I had a bit of an epiphany about this yesterday - thanks Charles! - and I think I know why I'm so unsuccessful at the cleaning/picking up aspects of mothering.  I am not consistent.  That really stinks!  I pride myself on being a consistent discipliner, but here I am contributing to the problem by letting things go.  I feel mean when the girls miss out on outside playtime because they have to clean their room, but if they have to do it EVERY time their room is messy, I'm sure they'll get a clue and start picking up after themselves. 

This makes me think of how God must feel about us sometimes.  How often do we let the messes of life throw us spiritually off track?  How do we stay on task when life is throwing 30 different things at us all at once?  I think the answer can be found in Proverbs 22:6, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.  If I train my girls now in something as simple as keeping their rooms tidy, when they are older it will be ingrained.  Likewise, if we train them from an early age to love the Lord and glory in His commands, when they are older their lives will reflect His love and goodness.  That's what I want for my girls, and it's what I want to continue to grow in my life, too!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Winning and Losing

Today’s question is this: when did it become a bad thing to win?  I read a friend’s Facebook post this afternoon and my mind started racing (sorry Eileen!).  A girls’ soccer team (girls around 8 years old) was forced by the referees to quit scoring goals so that the other team – the one they were beating – wouldn’t feel bad.  I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I was on plenty of losing teams and was not scarred for life because we didn’t play as well as other teams.  I fear that we are doing our children a huge disservice when we don’t teach them how to lose. 

What does losing teach us? 

There are so many varied things that losing teaches us that you’re going to get a list of just a few today:

1.     Losing teaches us humility.  We all need to be humbled once in a while so our egos don’t expand to the size of an elephant.  When we lose a game (which I do a lot!) we learn that we are not the best at everything we set out to do.  This comes in very handy later in life when a business we start doesn’t work out or we lose a job.  If you understand beforehand that you’re fallible, then the blows aren’t quite so devastating.  It still stinks, and I have yet to meet someone who likes to lose, but those who learn to lose gracefully seem to roll with life’s punches a little better.

2.    Losing teaches us compassion.  When you’ve been on the losing team, or finished the race last you can empathize with others when they lose.  If you never lose, you don’t know how it feels and it doesn’t matter as much when someone else suffers loss.  In a very real way losing at easy things like sports or board games prepares you for dealing better with bigger losses down the road.

3.    Losing teaches us self-control.  Learning to be a “good” loser does wonders for your self-control.  How many times have you seen tantrums out on the field because someone’s team lost?  How many times have these tantrums involved the adults, not the kids?  Think about what this teaches the children – it’s OK to yell and scream when you don’t get your way because you are Number One all the time everywhere you go.  A little self-control in that situation works wonders.  No one’s going to be happy with a loss, but you can still emphasize the positive aspects of the game: maybe Charlie caught a ball or Johnny made a run – losing the game doesn’t take away from the accomplishments the kids made. 

I could go on and on all day about this topic, but I’ll spare you the pain!  To conclude, my point is this.  Winning and losing are important concepts for everyone to learn.  Kids have been learning about winning and losing for generations with good results – well-adjusted adults who can take the good with the bad in life.  When we take winning and losing away from our kids, we are severely handicapping them for life in the real world.    

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Musings After Midnight

It's 1:04 a.m. and I'm still awake... again.  So, as I was laying in bed begging my leg to settle down in between massaging and stretching and icing I started my evening prayer.  I got as far as "Why can't I sleep?" when I had a bit of an epiphany.  Maybe I shouldn't be sleeping right now.  Maybe I need to get up and go write. 

Do I want to?  Um... no.  I want to be in bed next to Charles sleeping because, like it or not, I have to be up to get girls off to school in the morning.  But, here we are anyway - just me, a sleeping house, and a crazy leg sitting down at the computer to muse on life.  For those who don't know me well, I'll give you a little back story - those of you who know me and my exciting story, sorry.  You can skip this part if you'd like!  This particular story starts just over 8 years ago, not long after my sweet Abby was born.  I don't remember the exact date it happened, but I started having some serious pain in my lower back that radiated down my right leg.  It was a pain like I had never experienced - which is saying something considering I was recovering from my first c-section at that time!  I sought help from my chiropractor, who eventually referred me to my doctor for an MRI for a suspected disk herniation.  My doctor at the time decided - no, you don't need an MRI.  It's a pulled muscle.  He sent me home with some stretches that alleviated the radiating pain in my leg and I thought we were done.  All through this time I had what I call crazy legs, or my version of sciatica.  Every night at bedtime my leg would start to tingle and go numb which made it very hard to sleep.  Charles and I got into a routine that involved him rubbing my back until the knots dissipated enough that I could sleep.   
Fast forward to 2011.  I still had my crazy legs, but they started getting worse.  Instead of tingling and numbness, I started having leg spasms and some crazy muscle gymnastics every night.  I also had a persistent pain in my low back that never really went away.  That didn't bother me so much - it was pretty normal at this point.  The legs, however, were a problem.  They were starting to keep me up ridiculously late every night, so I sought out my doctor for help.  Fortunately, since moving to Maryland I have found a wonderful doctor who is on top of it, and he sent me for an MRI where they found a rather large disk herniation.  He got me hooked up with a great neurosurgeon and I started physical therapy and pain management.  After several months of PT and a couple steroid injections my pain and nerve issues were just getting worse.  They did surgery and I felt great... until I re-herniated my disk.  They got me in for a second surgery and I am 8 months out at this point with no re-herniation.  The pain is much, much better!  My legs are still crazy though, which seems to be caused by inflammation of the tissues surrounding the nerve root that runs down my leg.  I've been in for another steroid injection and will probably have to go in for another soon.  I keep hoping that one day this will be over and I will lay down in bed to sleep like normal people.
Now, you might be wondering why I had to write a novel about all of this.  Shouldn't I just keep all of this to myself and go back to bed?  Maybe.  But, maybe like me you're wondering "Why" about something.  God doesn't put these things in our paths to destroy us - he puts them there to make us stronger.  I guess my question to myself today is "How is this going to make me stronger?"  I can honestly say I've been letting these legs trip me up instead of looking for an answer in these quiet hours of the morning.  I moan and complain and shoot my why's at the ceiling instead of doing something productive with my time.  Maybe I'll find that my best creative time really is at 2 a.m. and I've really been missing out on something! 

I keep thinking about Paul and his thorn.  In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 he says, "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   
I don't know what Paul's thorn was, but it was a torment.  How many of us can understand that?  Torments come in all shapes and sizes and are tailor made for each one of us.  The question we have to ask ourselves is what are we going to do with that thorn?  Let it stay inside and fester until it destroys us from the inside out or use it to become strong and effective for Christ's kingdom?  I choose to let God make His power perfect in my weakness.  Will you?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Yay for Sick Days!

Believe it or not we are having our first sick day of the school year today.  Abby is home with a barky cough - whether allergy or cold related I can't tell yet.  I'm not a mom to keep my kids home when the first sniffle hits, but there are times you can tell they need a day home to stay in their jammies and let their little bodies recover.  So as I write this, Abby is downstairs watching Scooby Doo in her pajamas and cuddling with a kitten or two on the couch.  I'm sorry she is sick, but I'm kind of happy that I get her to myself today. 

For those of you with more than one child, do you find it hard to get time individually with them?  My girls are so close in age, especially Abby and Morgan, that I feel bad Abby hasn't had the time alone with me that Emily had.  Abby has always been an independent little girl, which is both easier and harder on me.  Easier because as long as she has her sisters or her imagination she's quite happy and self-sufficient.  Harder because it gives me a guilt complex - surely I'm not a good mommy to her if she doesn't need me constantly, right?  I feel like sometimes I have to create opportunities for us to be alone together so she will feel special.

One thing I have found with all of my children is that it doesn't take much from me to make them feel special.  Just a random hug and "I Love You" can make their day.  I wonder why we think that everything needs to be a grand gesture with our kids.  They certainly don't seem to care as long as we're doing something together.  In fact it seems to be the littlest things that mean the most to them: playing Barbies, baking, coloring, reading, and other simple things that only take a moment to do, but mean so much in their hearts and stay with them forever.  

I get so caught up in the day-to-day living that I forget to stop and enjoy little things with my girls.  My goal for this fall is to take some time each week to spend individually with each of my girls.  Maybe we'll go somewhere together or we'll do something at home - either way we'll be together having fun and making memories!  It's time for them to get some "Fun Mommy" instead of normal old boring Mommy for a change!  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Who Needs A Break?

I was kind of surprised to learn that my girls needed a break this year.  Over the last several years, we have tried soccer, swimming, fencing, and dance.  Not all at the same time, but one or two each year.  I thought they had fun and enjoyed it until last year at dance.  I started getting a clue that maybe it was too much when my kindergartener Morgan got off the bus feeling fine, but mysteriously developed a stomach ache right before dance; or maybe it was Abby, my second grader, bursting into tears every Thursday night before dance.  I may be a bit dense, but even I figured out that they weren't having fun anymore!  Their Daddy and I certainly weren't enjoying ourselves either - who enjoys sitting in a parking lot by yourself for an hour waiting?  But, we finished  out the year and I gave them the summer to think about what they might like to do. 

When I brought up the topic of what activities they were interested in trying this year, Emily, my oldest, asked, "Mommy, can we just take a break this year?  I don't want to do anything."  This was followed with a resounding chorus of "Me, too!" from Abby and Morgan.  It got me to thinking that our kids sometimes need a break from responsibilities and "real life" just like we do.  Here I thought we were doing them such a favor - offering all these really cool activities for them to try out - but they just want to come home and play with their friends.  We will still attend church activities, and there are clubs at school they want to participate in, but my calendar has significantly cleared for the year and my girls are much happier! 

What do you do when you need a break?  I usually find a comfy chair, a good book, and a cup of coffee and escape into someone else's world for a while.  It gives me a chance to recharge and build back up.  What things help you reset your brain?  For some it's a walk outside, watching a movie, or any number of things.  It's different for each one of us, which is how God intended it.  I often beat myself up for needing a break from things, but I have to remember Jesus needed breaks too.  More than once he retreated to a quiet place where he could recharge and reconnect with His Father. 

I am trying to get better about taking quiet time with God, letting Him speak to me in His special way.  It's hard to do that when you have 5,000 other things flitting through your mind, so it's quite an exercise to clear the mind and listen. But when I do, it's the best, most spiritually productive time - more than I could ever ask for or expect.  It doesn't take much, just a quiet room and open mind.  He's always waiting for us to take that step and seek Him out. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

To Discipline or Not to Discipline?

That is the question today!  This is such a hot topic, I am going to try not to step on any toes but share some insights.  Discipline comes in many forms and variations, and is often looked at negatively.  But, have you ever seen a child that REALLY needed to be disciplined?  I am not necessarily talking about spanking or swatting - there are many different ways to change a child's behavior without a spanking.  These kids are begging for some discipline.  So many parents today seem scared to discipline, thinking their kids won't like them.  What I find to be interesting is that it's the disciplined kids who typically like their parents more than the undisciplined kids. 

We just adopted three kittens a few weeks ago - one for each daughter.  They are absolutely adorable and we all love them already.  But, they need to be disciplined or they will overrun the house in no time!  I had to pull out the spray bottle, and we have to be consistent with spraying every time they get on the kitchen table or the counter.  If we don't do it now, they will always see the table as their stomping ground and I'd better get used to cats in the casserole! 

So, what do kittens have in common with kids?  Quite a bit, actually!  They both have endless energy and huge hearts that they are ready to share with you, and they both have a need for someone to show them the boundaries in their world.  Who will teach your child what's safe to touch if you don't?  Who will teach your child not to run out into the road if you don't?  Who will teach your child how to play with other kids if you don't?  They are relying on you to point them in the right direction, which includes some course correcting! 

Proverbs 29:15 says, "To discipline and reprimand a child produces wisdom, but a mother is disgraced by an undisciplined child." (NLT) 
Isn't it interesting that the parent is the one disgraced by an undisciplined child?  How many mortified moms have you seen in the grocery store, standing by while their child has a meltdown?  Have you been one?  We've all had those moments that we wish the earth would open up and swallow us whole.  But, if these meltdowns are the norm at your house, maybe some change in how you discipline is in order.  None of us wants to be the "mean" one, but your child will thank you for laying down the law - if not in words then in deeds and behavior.  Maybe it's time to sit down with your spouse and create a list of your family rules.  You can also discuss appropriate consequences for breaking rules, and rewards for following them. 

"Discipline your children, and they will give you happiness and peace of mind." Proverbs 29:17 (NLT)  
I don't know about you, but I'm a big fan of happiness and peace of mind!  This proverb makes such sense, doesn't it?  If I instill a sense of discipline in my child, I don't have to worry the second my back is turned.  I can trust that they will remember what they've been taught - whether I'm there at the moment or not. 

If you have questions about discipline and its benefits, I urge you to read the book of Proverbs.  See what God thinks of discipline and its results!