Monday, March 31, 2014

What I’ve Learned from Pregnancy: I Always Want Jesus Close

The twins are two fairly mellow girls, which is appropriate because we had enough drama during the pregnancy.  It was ever-so-slightly the most high maintenance pregnancy I have ever had, ripe for opportunities to learn about patience and trust, faith and hope. 

I became pregnant two months into my Jesus year when Dennis and I felt God telling us, “Now”.  After coming through the fear of the what-ifs spawned from Sammy’s pneumonia and Wren’s Celiac, we started feeling ready again, like we might be able to hand our hearts over even if they got stomped.  But we weren’t sure on timing.  I was in grad school; we had just started settling into life post-Celiac diagnosis for Wren and D.  It was relatively calm.  Should we wait a bit longer?  No, God said now.  We were pregnant very quickly after we received our response.

 I’m not sure what I expected.  I thought I would spend this pregnancy prepping for a vaginal birth after two c-sections (VBA2C) and just trying to get the little one out would be the big challenge.  My prior pregnancies were, for the most part, simple.  I wasn’t anticipating much different. 

That is until I started feeling different.  My teeth hurt.  I went through a period of not being able to walk more than ten steps without exhaustion, and at one point, tears over how tired it made me.  This was all before I knew I was pregnant officially.  But I knew.  And I knew it was different than the first times.

I started showing, seriously showing, at about four weeks.  I typed  “my teeth hurt + pregnant” in a search engine after we had a positive pregnancy test.  The top responses were from twin message boards where mommies who were carrying twins also had pain in their teeth and gums.  Well, then, I thought.  Makes sense.  I told Dennis we were having twins.

We rolled on from five to eight weeks without an official ultrasound, but I knew.  I started planning for two more babies.  D says he believed me.  His response after the first ultrasound would make it seem otherwise (he was elated but girl-screamed “identical twins?” on the phone so loud I may have partial hearing loss). 

God gave me this early glimpse, I believe, to get me ready for the idea of twins.  By the time I was on the ultrasound table at eight weeks pregnant and the sonographer said, “I have a surprise for you”, I was able to say, “it’s not a surprise”, not because we had any reason to suspect twins besides my gut instinct but because God had already gotten me ready for this.  Now I know why he prepared me early for twins: because there wasn’t much of a way to prepare me for what came next.  He was giving me little pieces of surprise to let sink in so I could handle what was coming, one piece at a time.  God knows how I work, He made me, and He knew I needed this broken into small parts.

The next six weeks were a blur of ultrasound appointments and a lot of “no membrane”, “50% survival rate” “inpatient monitoring, if they make it that long” and the such.  It was dark in that place, but we had tons of support, though the reality came to me that this might not go our way.  It might be a tragedy of epic proportions.  We contacted our Pastor to figure out where we could bury our children should we have to.  We talked about how to prepare our kids for the possibility of two new siblings, or the possibility of this all falling apart.  At Christmas in a hospital out of town with a doctor who told me he thought I was miscarrying (he was wrong; I had the flu), I cried, a lot.  Finally.  I had the body-racking, red-faced near screamfest I had been holding back.  Then I released.  Two weeks later we found out there was a membrane, a flimsy excuse for one, but still a membrane separating our identical girls.  We were then introduced to the slew of other risks that were still present in mono-di pregnancies.  We didn’t listen too carefully.  After being dismissed from in front of a firing squad, you don’t look back. 

I lived those first 14 weeks and the ones that followed knowing this for a fact:  No matter how it turned out, I wanted Jesus.  That might sound obvious, but my attitude when Sammy was sick was quite different.  Sure, I prayed and leaned on Christ.  I knew I could lose Sammy, and I was about as angry about it as a human being can get.  I thought if I lost him I would probably be very mad, turn my back and run from God, make Him chase me through the hell I was going through to retrieve my heart.  I wanted His will and my way and for my child to stop hurting and, I wanted it all delivered quickly. 

With the twins, it was different.  I knew whatever happened, I’d be running straight towards Christ, asking Him to help me, hold me, fix me.  I’d need Him to heal what was broken, and I knew I wouldn’t trust anyone else with that job.  Maybe spiritually I had grown some.  Maybe the whole pregnancy was supposed to encourage that growth.  Either way, I knew the worst loss I could ever suffer would be losing Him.  It’s a relief to know I can’t. 

The girls were born at 37 weeks.  For all the monitoring that is done during these pregnancies, it has since been speculated many months after their birth that they probably had the beginning of twin anemia-polycythemia syndrome (TAPS) since Asher looked like she was sunburned and Eowyn’s skin was pale and a bit saggy (the link will show you a pick, and that’s about how our two looked, though their case wasn't as extreme.)  TAPS is a slow form of twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), one that is not hugely on the radar due to how it happens.  Most of the time TTTS can be compared to a huge water hose flooding a basement; TAPS looks more like a slow drip from a leaky faucet.  Both can be fatal.  TAPS is sneakier.  Both girls were fine; they got out of the womb in time.  But, again, the Lord controlled that.  The doctors and all the machines never mentioned TAPS or suspected it until they were out.  Shows who’s in charge.

I have too many friends who have angel babies, children waiting in Heaven for them.  I think of them more than they know.  And they are still here, raising children, being wives, glorifying God, taking solace in Jesus now.  They have fallen into the arms of Christ fully knowing He can heal, and He’s all that can. 

No one is immune from tragedy and none of us know when and how it may come for us.  But I do know now that when something happens, something I can’t handle, I will run.  It’s just that now, I know I’ll be running in the right direction. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

What I’ve Learned from Family Driven Faith and Rock Solid Kids: Raising Children in the Lord is the Job of the Family

How to raise kids in Christ is a topic of interest to me, especially with a small army of little people in my care.  How do you teach purity as being beyond just not having sex outside of marriage?  How do you teach Biblical truth as a way of life in a world where Christians are treated as less intelligent for their beliefs?  Living for Christ is not just an at-church activity, so how do you live that out with your kids in life every day?

 Voddie Bauchman’s Family Driven Faith and Larry Fowler’s Rock-Solid Kids are both books that explore these questions and give advice, the best being straight from the Bible:  families raise their kids in Christ and should not expect the church or anyone else to do it for them. 

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.   Deuteronomy 4:9

Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 11:19

Fathers,[a] do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Ephesians 6:4

In a world where the majority of Christian kids are walking away from the church in college, questions are starting to arise about why.  Sure, the church isn’t perfect, but why are kids walking away from Christ’s bride, and by their own admission at times, their faith altogether?  Many theorize that kids were looking at Jesus/Bible reading/spiritual stuff as things they did at church on Sundays, sometimes youth group on Wednesdays, probably church camp, some Disciple Now each year.  Then they went home.  They went to school.  They went to extracurricular activities.  Jesus didn’t come with them.  When they went to college, Jesus, or what they thought was their relationship with Him, stayed behind.  They basically went on living their lives 24/7 the way they lived them before, except now there were no “Jesus breaks” during church time.  As Bauchman says, and I am paraphrasing, they weren’t raised in Christ.  They were raised in church.  There’s a difference, and the results are coming home to roost.

Both books pointed out the obvious:  God didn’t ask the church to raise our kids in Christ; He told us to. 

However, the habit seems to be to hand our kids over to the “professionals,” the childrens ministers, youth pastors.  Parents, it is being assumed, have washed their hands of teaching their kids the Bible, praying with them regularly, laying down Biblical truths, helping them memorize and understand scripture, as well as teaching them what the love of Christ looks like and how it should be displayed in our lives if we are following Him.

This isn’t true for all parents, and children and youth programs are not in themselves bad.  They are not to replace a Biblical upbringing in the home, though.  Both books pointed out that this may be what’s happening, why kids aren’t firm in their faith and aren’t carrying it with them. 

Within the pages, the books gave practical advice for how to start family Bible study, prayer time, and the encouragement that it is not too late to start, no matter the age of kids or how many years it hasn’t been in their lives.  Of course they encouraged being embedded in a church but that raising kids in Christ falls squarely on the shoulders of parents.  

With extracurricular activities, honors classes, and all the latest and greatest programs to advance and enrich kids’ lives, I want to always take the responsibility of raising my kids in Christ as the most important, the number one over anything else I can offer.  Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6  I want to cling to this promise, but it means I need to lean on Christ to help me do the training.  Then, standing on God’s word, I will live confident that our kids will stay on the path God has planned for them, firm in their faith.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What I’ve Learned from Steven Curtis Chapman: The Best Life is One Lived Loved

Steven Curtis Chapman is a Christian singer who has been around forever.  I listened to his music as a teen, and he is still singing amazing praise songs to the Lord.

When hearing his song, “Love Take Me Over” on the radio, I realized it was sticking in my brain.  It’s a catchy tune, but there was more than that going through my head.  The lyrics stuck, especially:

This is what I'm sure of, I can only show love
When I really know how loved I am

When it overtakes me, then it animates me
Flowing from my heart into my hands

This idea of living loved, and of the feeling of love pouring out to others, appealed to me.  It’s not usually the way I do business.  At the time, I was definitely not rolling out of bed thinking of how much God loves me, seeks me, wants to be a part of everything I do.  I knew this intellectually, but I had a hard time letting it in on a heart level.  It’s still a pretty outstanding thought, joyous and undeniably insane news if you dwell on it. 

 As I continued to read authors like Donald Miller, Sarah Bessey, and Jen Hatmaker, I realized this message was popping up everywhere.  Then there’s the Bible where John, my favorite disciple, describes himself as “the one Jesus loves” without any obvious hesitation.  Could feeling loved instead of just shameful and bad when I failed make a difference? 

Life, parenting, everything can be a challenge, and it used to be my habit to replay my failings big-screen-movie style across my brain at night, see them all over again, relive the loss of the way I should have done things.  Sure, I hoped for better the next day, even prayed for it, but I didn’t focus on living loved, and it didn’t work. 

I finally shifted my perspective, decided to truly try to meditate and bask in the idea of a God who loves me, already sent His son to die for me even though He is fully aware of my failings, has given me everything so that I no longer live incomplete.  It worked.

Over the next few days, life did not magically get easier, but how I saw life and responded to it did.  Feeling loved, truly loved, knowing I didn’t need anything else to feel complete, changed how I looked at everyday life and that changed how I treated people.  Feeling loved made me want to share the feeling with everyone.  My kids and husband benefitted.  I still screwed up, but the recovery time was much faster.  People I saw outside of my family commented on my happiness.  I’ve always been a pretty upbeat person, but I actually had a woman tell me I was radiating a natural light.  She didn’t speak English very well, so I’m not sure if that’s what she really meant, but it’s what she said.  Living loved was allowing the light of Christ to spill out of me onto others.  It made a difference.

As with most things, a fallen world makes it difficult to carry out even the best practices, and I have to pray and then focus daily on feeling loved by the Lord, allowing myself to embrace it, which enables me to share that love with others.  It is against my natural way of thinking which is “do well, feel loved” or “fail, feel undeserving of love.”  I have to surrender to the Lord and then fight back the old ways.  But it’s worth the fight.  It’s worth the feeling.  Living loved is when I truly know who I am and when I can truly see the best in those around me.

Friday, March 28, 2014

What I’ve Learned from D: Creative Expression is Worth It

D and I bonded over writing way back when.  Both of us write, but D has always been more disciplined than I am about it.  He writes works and completes them; I start a million different projects then abandon them when I get bored.

 As the pace of our lives has picked up and the day-to-day doesn’t look like it did five years ago, I put writing on the back burner.  It seemed the obvious choice to go.  There are only so many hours in my day, and almost everyone needs them.  I don’t resent this or even mind it most of the time, but I couldn’t deal with trying to squeeze a creative outlet in with the already ever-present demands in front of me. 

 D never gave up.  He somehow helped me co-parent our herd while completing a novel, an amazing novel that is now in the revisions phase and that I cannot wait for other people to read it.  I help him revise, and I am addicted to this work like it is crack on paper.  He has a gift.  He prioritized what he loved, and he treated it as a discipline, which is a task I never bothered to try. 

 While I was admiring Dennis’ abilities, I was also reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.  (Confession:  I am not as enamored with Lamott as most people who read her work.  I liked Bird by Bird best of all her books I’ve read, and I think she’s an amazing writer.  However, most people who have read her start their own fan clubs and try to collect locks of her hair.  I did not fall in love with her that way.  Sorry.  I feel somehow responsible for this.)  Anyway, Bird by Bird is a book about writing and was recommended to me in 2007 by another writer, Ken Gire.  I didn’t read it because I guess it wasn’t the right time in my life.  I needed the message saved for a few months ago when I turned through the pages and found truths I needed to hear, answers to the questions in my mind? 

Ø  Why write?  Because I need to write, every day, something. 

Ø  What about publication?  It probably won’t happen, and if it does, it probably won’t make us rich.  But that’s not the goal.  Satisfaction in creating is satisfaction in itself. 

Ø  What if it’s awful?  Revise a ton.  First drafts are supposed to be awful.

 Dennis knew this and had been trying to spread the message to me for years.  However, I was too productively minded, even giving up on blogging for a while because I couldn’t figure out why I was doing it.  Enjoying blogging and journaling our lives didn’t seem tangible enough.  I don’t make money- nor do I particular desire to-from the blog; it’s not leading to publication; it’s just me writing.  Lamott and D told me that was enough, and I finally had ears to hear it.

This revelation led to me picking up work on a novel I’ve been dreaming about, researching, and dabbling with for almost three years.  Again, I shelved it due to the what-ifs:  what if it never gets published?  What if I have to take it very slowly with all the other hats I wear?  What if it is just downright awful?  D and Lamott’s answer:  I will still have a book that I wrote, created, completed.  That’s enough. 

So, I’m helping revise D’s book, which I hope is published because it would be a disservice to humanity if it wasn’t (I’m only being slightly dramatic because it is AMAZING!)  And I’m writing pretty much every day, something besides a grocery list or a reminder to call or email someone.  It feels good.  God gave us joy in certain tasks, and I enjoy writing.  That, in itself, is enough.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What I’ve Learned from Sarah Bessey: I Enjoy Being a Girl!

Sarah Bessey was a welcome discovery through Jen Hatmaker, who I hope to blog about next week.  Sarah has a blog and wrote a book called Jesus Feminist.  I know, the title alone is just about blowing your mind, right? 

Let me explain what this book is not: 
  • Ø  An angry scream-fest from a hard core modern-day feminist; it’s quite the opposite, in fact, Bessey being pro-all life and in favor of reclaiming the word feminist within the church as many early feminist were Christian women seeking justice for others.
  • Ø  An irrational argument for what women should or shouldn’t be or do;
  • Ø  A book simply meant to be controversial with no other purpose.

Bessey discusses feminism, what it is now, what it was in the beginning, and the idea behind a Jesus feminist, which is the belief that Jesus likes women as much as men and gifted them to serve the Kingdom of God.  That statement either sounds very obvious or extremely inflammatory, probably depending on the church/family/religious beliefs you came from. 

I appreciate that Jesus Feminist made me look at what being a Jesus-following female means to me.  I was raised in a family of girls with a dad who never treated us like he had gotten handed the second string team because there were no guys.  We were taught to learn everything we could, take care of ourselves, and my dad was so heavily invested in our lives and activities that many times he was the only dad at the girl events or milestones.  It was quite the confidence builder.
As far as how I felt about women in relation to God and the Bible, I had never thought about it much.  I knew Jesus had some very important women in His life when He was on earth, that He loved them.  He defended women, He chose women to spread His word, He didn’t let them get mistreated.  I know there are passages in the Bible about women that are still confusing to interpret.  I know certain people who have tried to use passages out of context to abuse power, damage women, not hold up their end of God’s expectations as to how women should be treated.  And I know others who pour over the words about women in the Bible, trying to embrace what is said and what is seen throughout the Bible and the New Testament.  People who just want to know more about what Jesus has in store for women.  Bessey is one of those.

I have never really doubted that God has a special plan for my life, and I have never felt it limited to a “girl job”, though I do feel in my life right now the call to raise a house load of Jesus-following kids, centered and certain of who they are and whose they are.  I also feel God lets me write because I like it, and I hope it brings something to His glory.  And I work outside of the home part-time.  And I co-partner with Dennis in every aspect of our crazy lives, though he always takes out the trash and I do the laundry to the point he can’t actually turn the machine on.  Not sure how that happened.  And I feel a call to serve, follow up on opportunities God is pulling my heart towards.  I’ve never once felt being a female should hinder me in any of this. 

But I did not choose these jobs or callings because I felt the Lord saying this is what all women do, and this is ALL I CAN do.  I did what Bessey discusses and makes the case for which is follow Jesus.  Men, women, follow Jesus.  He’s going to tell me where to go.  He’ll point out my gifts and my place and make sure I end up where I belong.  More than anything He will end the pointless arguments, the useless words that keep us all from doing what God created us to do:  serve Him, seek justice, be a voice for those without one.  My loving Father  has plans to use me for His glory, wherever and however He chooses.

I am re-reading Jesus Feminist right now.  This blog post is completely inadequate in describing the profound and thoughtful way Bessey has handled this topic.  If you can get a hold of this book, read it.  If you can’t, email me.  I will find one for you.  I can think of no one who wouldn’t be better off after reading and thinking on, discussing and studying Bessey’s strong Biblical perspective on what it means to be  a Jesus feminist.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What I’ve Learned from Mad Men: We need someone to complete us, and it’s not Renee Zellweger from Jerry Maguire

Dennis punked on "Mad Men" during season six.  Dennis is a completest.  I sometimes buy the first then the third book in a series just to watch him stand in front of the book shelf and twitch because the second one is not there.  For him to bail on a series we have watched together for six seasons and say only, “Let me know if Don Draper gets hit by a bus in season 7.  I’ll start watching again for that.” Well, it’s kind of a thing. 

I understood to an extent.  Some of the characters were becoming insufferable, most hugely self-involved.  So when Asher and Eowyn decided that while nursing them at night I was no longer allowed to move my arms or fingers to turn the pages of books, I resorted to re-watching seasons one through six of "Mad Men" to see if D was right.  Could I care about these characters anymore?

Remember Donald Miller?  Changed the way I read the Bible?  Kind of awesome?  Yeah, he rocked my view of Mad Men and life in general!  See, I had recently finished Miller’s Searching For God Knows What where he presents the lifeboat theory.  Read the book because I will not do this justice without downright plagiarizing, but it boils down to this:
  • When God was in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, they were naked and probably really self-assured, not comparing themselves to others or what they should be doing, saying, looking like.  I mean, God was hanging out with them! 
  • Sin enters, and now we spend our lives constantly comparing ourselves to others, like we’re in a lifeboat and we have to fight to prove we’re worthy of staying in.  We’re insecure.  The one we need to feel complete security had to get away from us and our sin.
  • BUT, He sent atonement!   Christ died for us.  If we can remember that, live in that, embrace our relationship with Christ fully, we can be connected to God and love others the way we should.  No more comparing!  No more feeling not good enough!  God made you, sent His son to die for you.  What else do we need?!?

Such an unworthy recap.  Miller’s words paint a picture of romance and betrayal, loss and insecurity, satisfaction in Christ.  I’ve read the book twice and I will probably read it 17 more times before next year. 

So when I re-watched "Mad Men", here’s what I saw:  people HUGELY separated from God.  People who need others to love them, approve of them, acknowledge them.  People who sometimes try to act like they think a lot of themselves, but inside they are these broken, screwed up individuals, grasping for life in the lifeboat, fearing they are not good enough.

Peter Campbell, one of the most hard-to-like characters ever, straight out tells the Don Draper character he needs Don’s approval.  Watching it the first time I thought, “What a weird little guy.”  The second time, I almost cried.  Don seeks approval in the skirt of every woman he sees, but he’s still not happy.  All these people are alcoholics, womanizers, married to their jobs, unsure of their roles in life or all of the above.  They are incomplete.

On a bigger level, apply this to life.  When I feel loved and intimately connected to the Almighty Creator of the Universe, how does that change how I love others?  How does it change how I love myself?  If there is no reason for insecurity, if someone else’s success doesn’t threaten my confidence, if I have no reason to not believe in and look for the best in people, how would my life change?   Majorly, my friend.  Majorly.

So, yes, I am finishing "Mad Men", though I am sure the completion these individuals need is not going to be presented on a mainstream hit TV series.  I’m still curious to see how else they search, what lengths they go to, if they can heal in any way at all before this comes to an end.  And guess what?  I drug D into watching the parts of season six he previously missed, and he is now probably going to finish season seven with me.  Because it’s all about completion.

Monday, March 24, 2014

What I’ve Learned from Pandora, Moriah Peters, and the Kiddos: Truly Care for Others

We listen to Pandora radio with our must-have stations being:

Jamie Grace Radio
Lindsey Stirling Radio
Mozart Lullaby Radio (I listen to this one to calm the twins down for bed time.  Everyone else HATES it because the music is slow.  Sam will actually just sit in the floor and cry when they play “You are My Sunshine.”  I have highly sensitive peeps in my house.)
The Woods Brothers Radio
Elvis Presley Radio

All that to say this:  I point out songs I like to the kids on a regular basis.  As Pandora provides the soundtrack to our lives, I will offhandedly mention my favorites and sing, or screech, along.  The kids are running or crawling 90 miles an hour, and I usually feel I’m just telling myself which songs I like.

I was proven wrong a few months ago.  When Moriah Peters song  “Well Done” started playing, both Wren and Sam said, “Mommy, it’s your song!”  “Well Done” is indeed one of my favorites, a fact I had only mentioned once or twice.  My kids picked up on it though.  I felt loved, validated, like people were listening to me, all over someone remembering a song I like. 

God used this experience to point something out to me:  I don’t do this for others near enough.  I have vague ideas of what most people in my life are interested in, but it is not often I remember the details.  Sure, I can tell you almost anything about the five people I see daily, but outside of that, I have partial memories, fragments of everyone else’s interests.  For a while I blamed it on mommy brain, but a more accurate truth started to surface:  maybe I just didn’t care or listen enough. 

That’s not to say I don’t care about other people; I do.  But maybe I don’t show that well by listening, by asking, by delving into what others enjoy simply because it pleases them and offers opportunities to discuss.  Maybe when I get off the phone or finish a conversation with someone I need to make the effort to remember the details instead of rushing to the next thing.  Perhaps making sure events are centered around what someone else enjoys instead of what I enjoy, or what I assume they enjoy, would be a good idea. 

It’s simply living out the Christian principle of dying to myself, daily.  Living for Christ, living for others, and dying to self.  It’s a much more satisfying way to live, but it takes turning it over to the Lord every single day, sometimes more than once, and being content with the idea that every person should come before me.  Running my to-do list in my head while listening to someone on the phone is not dying to self, or even polite.  Nodding my head as I dash from one place to the next when the kids are asking me questions does not offer the best example of focused listening and attentiveness, an issue I get on to THEM about.

Here they were all the time, listening much better than I was.  And caring enough to remember.  They draw me red tulips because red is my favorite color and tulips are my favorite flower.  Wren tells me I look “posh” when I wear pretty much anything but sleepwear, probably because she notices I wear sleep wear a ton and it is an event when I don’t.  Sammy says he loves my hair because, “it’s brown like doo-doo.”  I don’t really know what to make of the last one, but he seems sincere, and he knows what color my hair is.

Perhaps some of the intense focus of childhood that manifests itself in Sammy only reading Fly Guy books and Wren only watching The Incredibles for a week also flows into other parts of my kids’ lives, like their intense focus on those they love.  They are completely, insanely, focused on what they care about, and they made me want to be the same.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

What I’ve Learned from The Happiness Project: God Made Me to Enjoy Some Things More Than Others

Gretchen Rubin wrote The Happiness Project and has a blog that accompanies it.  The book deals with this question:  if so many of us are living privileged, pretty much needs-free lives, why aren’t we happy?  Why wasn’t she happy?
As a Christian, I personally believe true contentment and joy come from Christ, but Rubin still poses an interesting question, even for Christians:  why are there still believers running around without joy or happiness surrounding them?  What kind of loop have we fallen into?

I read this book probably about mid-way through the Jesus year when a friend loaned it to me, so it’s been a while.  However, my big takeaways were: happiness is a choice, then an action and don’t try to make yourself happy doing things that don’t make you happy.  This doesn’t mean live a life that revolves around selfish desires; it’s about knowing what you like so you can use your gifts in the right areas to serve others.  Rubin did this many times throughout her project, both serving others and loving it at the same time.  
Rubin spent time-much like  Crystal Paine who I blogged about earlier this week-prioritizing her life into what fit and what didn’t, and focusing on what she loved.  This takes some self-awareness because many of us are programmed to pretend to like things we see make others happy; we assume they should make us happy to.

This does a disservice to our individuality, to the way we were made.  I have certain gifts and I enjoy certain activities more than others.  My enjoyment is not particularly going to come from the same place someone else’s does.

My Personal Happy List

Ø  Reading

Ø  Writing

Ø  Discussing reading and writing

Ø  Music

Ø  Teaching

Ø  Exercising, because I like it.  I’m not motivated by the scale, my biceps, the size of my waist or competing.  I’m just in it for the endorphins.

Ø  Cooking and baking, when there are not already hungry people nipping at my heels begging for food that will not be ready for another hour. 

Doesn’t do it for me

Ø  Sports, except an occasional Rough Riders or Rangers game

Ø  Shopping or consumerism in general

Ø  Mani’s/pedis, unless these are done in a setting with friends where the main focus is socializing.

Ø  Big social settings where conversations are surface level and it feels like every encounter with another person is akin to a drive by. (I usually don’t do well talking in these situations because I get flustered and make weird, out-there comments.  I do this anyway, but rushed conversations will encourage me to be even weirder, wave my freak flag extra high.)

Applying my happy list to my life helped me see clear distinctions in what I enjoy and how to live my life to maximize what I like to do to help others.  When my neighbor has her son next month, I’m going to cook a meal for her.  As I set out to find more community, even in this season of chaos in our lives, I know I’d rather be in a group focused on service or reading books and Biblical writings than a group centered around shopping excursions and mani/pedi days.  My choices are not better than anyone else’s choices; they are just mine, and knowing that will help me find a group with common interests where I can invest myself.  Plus, I can utilize the hours in my day doing what I really like, not what I think I’m supposed to as a 30-something mommy and wife with kids.  It’s freeing.

Rubin has written more books, and I think I’m going to grab them.  She likes to write; I like to read.  Together, we make each other happy.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What I’ve Learned from Cookie Monster: It Can’t All Be Bad

I’ve blogged pretty extensively about Sammy’s pneumonia, Wren’s Celiac, the year of 2011 being a roller coaster ride of PICU stays and allergy testing, counting baby breaths and eliminating over half of the foods in our diet.  We grew a ton in Christ during this time, and we became more disciplined.
What I have hesitated to blog much about because it hurts is that I think I was the worst of the worst of mothers that year, especially to Wren.  Because I was so tired; because I was so scared; because, at times, I was so hungry; because I didn’t even focus on trying to be patient, instead settling on surviving every single day and moving to the next with everyone still intact.  Some days, we just barely made it.

When we arrived home with Sammy after his bout with pneumonia, I came home to a quarantine situation with two kids, one of who had a major nervous breakdown in my absence and one who was to be rushed to the hospital immediately “if you even think he might be breathing differently.”  Wren did not recover from her breakdown; it was her trigger event, activating her Celiac and beginning days that looked like this:
  • Wake up  at 5:45 in the morning to feed Wren, try to keep Sammy asleep while nursing him and watching Alice in Wonderland or Cookie Monster.
  • All day:  stay in the house, feed Wren 13 more times (not an exaggeration), change her diaper full of food at least seven times, nurse Sammy, deal with Wren crying for no reason, call the doctor, wait for Dennis to get home.

In between I was crabby, sleep-deprived, and not that understanding.  Once Wren was diagnosed, we added forcing supplements down her at least five times a day and completely changing our diet, with grocery shopping averaging about two hours a trip.  At least we could all leave the house by then and go to the store. 

My memories of that year involve me saying “no” a ton and “take the supplements the easy way or the hard way, but they are all I have to help you.”  I also fought with some GI doctors, rushed Sammy back to the doctor for breathing issues, and went to bed every night replaying all the things I had done wrong as a parent, vowing to do better tomorrow.
Wren was two.  Sammy was an infant.  They deserved better. 

What I learned later was that sleep deprived people have memory issues, one of them being that they remember the bad times but can’t remember the good.  I spent that entire year fearing sleep, afraid I would awake to Wren choking on vomit or Sammy not breathing, so even when I did sleep it was broken.  I started to wonder, had there been some good?  Would I ever be able to dig deep enough to find it?

About two weeks ago, Sam found the old C is for Cookie DVD.  He asked me to sing the theme song; I knew it by heart.  Then I started getting flashes, memories, short but real.  Sometimes we watched Cookie in the afternoon, when Wren would sleep in later than 5:45.  We’d save TV for the end of the day.  Sammy would be awake, and towards the end of the DVD, Cookie would go all retro and enter the disco.  He’d proceed to sing about how he “lost his cookie at the disco” complete with 1970s styled back up dancers.  Wren loved it.  It was glitter and crazy and disco ball delicious.  It was right up her alley. 

And I danced.  Almost daily, I held a baby Sammy on one hip and a tiny, malnourished Wren on the other.  We spun under the ceiling fan, our own private disco ball, and we sang about our cookie at the disco at the top of our lungs.  It was the best part of my day.  I’m the TV control freak, but we would rewind that song and dance to it four or five times in a row, until I didn’t have the strength to hold them both anymore.  It was so good.

I cautiously asked Wren, so scared I had filled that year with so much bad that she wouldn’t be able to retrieve any good, if she remembered Cookie.  She’s five now, and this just happened weeks ago.  Thankfully, a smile spread across her face, and we started singing our cookie disco song, hand motions and dance moves.  She laughed.  I wanted to cry. 

Cookie monster is a self-confessed glutton, but he’s a good friend.  He reminded me that it is almost never all bad.  As I let myself try to release the guilt and think about that year a tad more objectively, I hope more good stuff will surface and I’ll remember giving my kids at least a few things that were precious to treasure, like disco ball memories and a mom who cared, even as she came unhinged.
I attached Cookie rocking it at the disco.  Enjoy.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What I’ve Learned from Crystal Paine: Being Co-CEO of Ramirez, Inc. is a Calling is one of the most popular mom/budget blogs out there.  Crystal Paine, the mastermind behind the blog, has written two great books, and I recently finished the latest one, Say Goodbye to Survival Mode. 

Honestly, when I picked up the book, we were still in survival mode.  I was fine with that because I had made my peace with dirty dishes, piles of laundry, and getting by, as long as I was able to spend some semblance of quality time with my kids, homeschooling, nursing, reading the Action Bible, chatting it up.  I was still sleeping in the recliner with the twins every night because it was easier to breastfeed that way; we were managing.

I wanted to read the book, though, knowing eventually we’d pull out of basic survival and be able to function a bit better in all areas.  Plus, I am the least organized person on the planet.  It’s one of the most awesome and most awful things about me.  I’ve accepted the way God made me, but I needed tips on how to refine the disorganization into something that wouldn’t be a complete detriment since I’m going to attempt homeschooling four kids, we eat at home almost every meal, laundry multiplies like rabbits, or like me and D.  I wanted to have all these tips in my mind, ready to use when needed.

As soon as I started reading this book, I transitioned to the bed with the twins, and it worked!  Sleeping in a bed made me feel more human because there was more sleep involved, and I found myself able to use some of Paine’s advice right from the get go. 

The book is a gem of information, but I’ll stick with the best of what I learned:

If it’s not the best, don’t waste my time:  I only have so many hours in a day.  Prioritize what I really want to do, what’s most important, what I value.  The rest is fluff. (She gives excellent tips for doing this.)

Know your I don’ts, and know everyone has some:  Paine is one of those women who’s easy to look at and believe she does it all.  I don’t believe anyone can do it all, but I have wondered sometimes if she might be the exception.  However, she listed her “I don’ts” in the book, the things she doesn’t do so she can do the things that are on her best priorities’ list.  Here’s my I don’ts list, the abbreviated version, because there is a ton I don’t do:

Ø   Iron clothes-they go to the cleaners or in the dryer for a fluff up round

Ø  Throw parties or events with themes or anything off Pinterest involved

Ø  Have my kids in tons of extracurricular activities

Ø  Knit, sew, crochet, all the cute things other mommies do

Ø  Spend time couponing because the food we buy doesn’t generally come with coupons

That’s the very short version, but you get the idea.  None of the above things are bad, and I have plenty of friends who do all of these things.  I don’t because they don’t fall in line with my best priorities, though I might decide to do some, one day.  Paine reminded me it’s okay to not do some things and to remember no one does it all.

Intense focus:  Using a short period of time to complete a task is awesome because you get to finish something, or at least a portion of it.  So much of the time I spend 15 minutes running around trying to do the 11 things I need to do, and accomplish nothing.  Using her keys for intense focus helps me mark things off the list and move on, leaving other tasks for when I can complete them.

My house is not spotless; everything isn’t in its place or even clean when we hit the bed every night.  However, her tips have made an impact.  I’m generally never more than one dishwashing away from a clean sink (we eat in almost every meal, and we cook them ourselves, so that alone is major.) and laundry is generally within one load of being completed in the clean department, no more than two loads behind on folding.  I know, the domestic divas are reading this and cringing, but we were in a place where getting dressed meant picking what you could find from the clean pile on the floor, sniffing it, and then deciding if it was still clean after how long it had been on the floor.  Baby steps.

Being one of the managers of the home is a big job, and Paine reminded me it can be a calling and should be something I put all my heart into.  The way my household runs doesn’t have to be the same as the way everyone else’s does, but making it as functional as I can for my family in the season we’re in is part of my job as co-founder of Ramirez, Inc.  It’s a job I’m quite fond of.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What I Learned from To The End of June: We May be Having More Kids

I picked up this book on a whim when I saw it atop the New Books shelves at the library.  D and I had recently discussed the fact that foster care was on our minds.  It had been on our minds for weeks and neither of us mentioned it to the other until we did, then we realized it was probably a God thing because our thoughts collided into this: we’re having more kids. (FYI-this is how we got pregnant with the twins.  Well, not just talking technically, but God put it on our hearts to try at the exact same moment and, well...)

Then we agreed not to tell anyone about the foster care revelation, and now I’m blogging about it, with D’s permission, for a ton of reasons.  We’ll need the prayers and emotional support when we do this; we need accountability to do this, because we have no illusions about it being easy.  For whatever reason, God is saying this is our path.  Follow. 

We know right now is not ideal, and we are not feeling pressure to do this right now, but we are both seeing this on the horizon as our kids get a tad bit older and God continues to show us some details we need to iron out before a home study and this very huge commitment.  Our intent right now is foster-to-adopt, probably just adopting one child unless there are siblings involved.  However, we never want to reject a kid who needs a home forever, so if we end up adopting our first foster, are we out?  Do we continue to take in kids who will more than likely be reunited with families after completing our first adoption?  In the words of Carrie Underwood, or whoever wrote that song, “Jesus, take the wheel!” 

And that’s what He’ll do because we have no idea what we’re doing.  I lost one of my children when she crawled under a coffee table today and Sam and Wren fished in the toilet WITH THEIR HANDS a few months ago to unclog it.  I mean, thanks for trying, but hand IN THE TOILET after Sammy had gone number two?  I am obviously doing an awesome job rearing these kids, right?  And always being able to find all four of them?  Why not more? 

I have no idea how it works that God allows us to do things that are beyond our capabilities, but He does.  And reading To the End of June painted me a picture of how very not within my capabilities I consider this.  The book presented the foster care loop that usually begins with poverty, drugs, alcohol, neglect, abuse and can just run from generation to generation, a trap no one on their own can escape.  Add to that the pain of giving back a child you thought would stay with you, the conflict because you know, in many cases, these kids do need to be with their birth parents if it’s at all possible; being okay with being a stopping place for love, but not a final destination; making our other kids okay with that; dealing with the bad that has already taken place for a kid to be in foster care.  I cry typing it.  I will cry living it.

And that’s okay.  Our treasure lies in Heaven; there will be hurt here.  But I think the little bit of treasure we can carve out here lies in not letting the what-ifs get in the way of what God can do if we surrender.  And this will be a surrender, a falling-head-first, gut-rushing-to-the-throat-not-knowing-where-we’ll-land surrender.

But, if one child can escape multi-generational problems, know Christ, maybe build a multigenerational faith in their families to come, the surrender doesn’t seem so much.  And even if we are a just a stopping place for love, not a forever home for a child who needs to take a breath while their parents work to get it together, we can do that.  

To the End of June showed me that this will not be ideal and I am not delusional.  In the best case foster scenarios, kids are still generally scarred from repeat placements, parents who don’t want them or who do but can’t quite pull it together, and the constant breaking of established attachments.  But I serve the great healer, so I’m going to leave that to Him.  For now, all I can do is count the chicks I already have in the nest, waiting for the possibility of more to come.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What I’ve Learned From Emeli Sande: God is Always There

I am not generally a person who gets in a funk.  It happens, but it’s rare, and I’m grateful for that.  What spurred the mini-funk I got into in January was this:

This happens every day.  This is reality.  This is unacceptable.
So I went home and lamented to Dennis.  He listened while I droned on for 30 minutes without taking breaths, ending with, “And what do you even do?  How do you fix this?  What can you offer a country of children where almost 100% have already been sold by their parents to be raped?”

“The promise of something better, of a Savior, of a world beyond that will not be like this.”

He wasn’t saying don’t do something now.  Obviously, something needs to be done, and there are organizations and individuals who help stop sex trafficking.  As long as this exists, everyone should be committed to helping stop it in some way.  What he was saying is that sometimes when you arrive, the damage is done.  You try to prevent future damage, but undoing what has been done is impossible.  Having a Heavenly Father who loves you, a paradise waiting for you, that is something to be offered, and that is the ultimate. 
His words were so true.  And also, I was very pissed about this whole thing.  I wanted more.

The funk descended, and I settled into it.  I didn’t go into some deep depression or refuse to get off my couch.  I went about my day feeling helpless to do anything and ashamed that I thought in my life I had ever suffered.  God doesn’t want us to do this.  This kind of funk can cause shame and inaction that don't help the situations that put us in the funk in the first place.  It’s counterproductive, but sometimes I indulge.  And these kinds of funks always make me feel far from God.

While at the dentist with Wren, uncomfortably settled into my uselessness and disgust, I noticed the dentist’s office was now down with the modern music on the radio, and I felt somewhat concerned.  We don’t listen to much modern music in our house or car, especially since the most seemingly innocuous tunes now have subtle references to sex, drugs, and alcohol.  My kids are like sponge parrots:  they soak up everything then repeat it 24/7. 

However, I do occasionally catch a tune, as evidenced by the Taylor Swift lesson.  And I knew the song that came on as Wren sat contentedly getting her teeth polished.  I knew it was for me.  Sample lyrics are:

You won't ever find him be unfaithful
You will find him, you'll find him next to me

You won't find him tryna chase the devil
For money, fame, for power, out of greed
You won't ever find him where the rest go
You will find him, you'll find him next to me

When the money’s spent and all my friends have vanished
And I can’t seem to find no help or love for free
I know there’s no need for me to panic
‘Cause I’ll find him, I’ll find him next to me

When the skies are grey and all the doors are closing
And the rising pressure makes it hard to breathe
When all I need’s a hand to stop the tears from falling

I will find him, I’ll find him next to me

When the end has come and buildings falling down fast
When we spoilt the land and dried up all the sea
When everyone has lost their heads around us
You will find him, you’ll find him next to me

 These lyrics weren’t written about Christ, but that morning in the dentist office, I looked up and in my mind said, “Hello.  So you’ve been there all along?”  And I knew the answer was yes.

Dennis and I are moving out of our apathy, the apathy bred with the privilege of not having what most of the world considers problems on a daily basis.  We are getting involved with causes that touch us, causes God said to get involved in, justice, here, now. 

But it’s overwhelming.  I still take solace in the fact that God does not leave me or those who suffer.  He’s next to me, fighting for those who don’t have a voice, comforting those who are broken, offering a forever only He can give.  Next to me, always.

I attached the video for this song because you need to hear it.  The beat, the passion.  Stand up.  Get ready to dance King David style unto the Lord.  It’s an anthem of sorts for me now.  I sing it in the car, alone, where eardrums will not be shattered. 

For further information on how you can help stop modern slavery and human trafficking, refer to these excellent sources:

Monday, March 17, 2014

What I’ve Learned from Donald Miller: The Bible is a Love Story to You and Me

When people hear that I majored in English they expect me to know the ins and outs of grammar and to be able to understand the meaning behind every piece of literature I read.  I’m not very good at either.  I majored in English because I love to write and I love to read, but it’s a very sloppy, passionate love affair that hasn’t been refined, and I’m pretty much okay with that.  I have no desire to be the grammar Nazi, and I use Google like everyone else to find grammar rules I don’t remember.  And I like reading a book multiple times and peeling back the layers, catching what I missed the first reading instead of beating myself up because English majors are supposed to catch all the nuances the first time.  I don’t need that kind of pressure. 

What sometimes surprises me about my love affair with literature is that until recently, I was not crazy about reading the Bible.  I would read it, sometimes.  I approached it like a moron without learning the historical context of the time or viewing the maps that would help me get my mind around the geography (I’m a map person.  I like being able to put my finger on where things are.).  Nor did I realize I was supposed to understand that part of the Bible is history, portions are poetry, entire books are letters, there’s the Gospels, the Prophet books, Proverbs, tons of figurative language.  The Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount were not meant to scare me to death but to make me realize how desperately I need a Savior.  I have one, so good news! 

Donald Miller, who wrote Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What (and others, these are my favorites so far), introduced the Bible to me in a whole new way.  He presents the idea of reading the Bible and paying attention to how God deals with people, how He has relationships with us.  Undoubtedly, God is holy and perfect and we are not, so we are not an easy crew to deal with, but He does.  He sends a Savior; He calls the church His bride; we are God’s children; I read the Bible for years and sang “Jesus Loves Me”, but more often than not I didn’t feel it.  I’d open the Bible and find all the things I’d ever done wrong and be sure this was just a letter to me that was the equivalent of God holding the L for loser sign over His forehead, then I wouldn’t want to read it anymore.  The misinterpretation was entirely mine.  As Miller pointed out, I was trying to make the Bible a formula instead of what it is: a journey of God’s experiences with people, evidence of His love and faithfulness.  So much for being an English major.

After reading the Bible in its entirety and now going back and reading more, digging deep, dissecting and pulling apart and reading commentary, I am enjoying it much more.  Besides really sitting down and reading the whole book cover to cover, the next most revolutionary change to my view of the Bible was reading Miller’s view of it.  He is okay with saying some things can be understood easily and some cannot, transparent in his desire to know the Lord more.  He believes God’s word and doesn’t try to make it anything it is not.  I’ll speak of him more during this series because his effect on my views has been pretty profound, but I appreciate the way God used Miller to help me want to read the Bible more, want to dive in between the pages and hear the love song being sung.  Sung to me.  Sung to you.

Sidenote:  Since reading the Bible, I now know the following:  my favorite books of the Bible are Genesis and Acts, my favorite Gospel is John, and I adore Paul and John as writers.  Paul because he is intense and John because he defines himself as “the one Jesus loves” and his writing is evidence that he believes it, threads of love woven into beautiful chapters.