Today I'm praying for/about:

Today, (in no particular order) I'm praying for...
- Fresh ideas, inspiration and diligence to post regularly again

- My dad fighting mesothelioma too far away for me to hug him

- Children, parents, and teachers everywhere preparing to return to school

- My single friends as they seek God for His guidance in relationships

- Broken relationships; for grace to abound where grace has been withheld

- You; I'm praying for every single person who views this blog.

Thank you for standing in agreement with me for these precious souls!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

With Much Love

Well, it's been nearly a week since I posted last.  I've had a few different ideas start to form only to just sort of fizzle.  At the same time I've been knee deep in back-to-school prep (for the kids AND hubby) as well as the constant demands of plain old, every day motherhood.

I've mentioned before that my eldest is struggling with some behavior/developmental issues.  We could probably very easily get some kind of diagnosis that would get us some kind of medication and give us some kind of relief.  However, my husband and I have prayed long and hard over the subject and believe that God has another plan for us.  As such, we've been embroiled in a long, drawn out struggle over our son's growth in the areas of self-control and social skills.

This is a bit of a side note but I hope it will bring encouragement to someone facing the same dilema:  This journey has been agonizing.  Picking him up from every day of every school year thus far has come with a litany of antics, acting out and misbehaviors, we have had looks of distain, felt the shame, been subject to judgments regarding our likely parental short-comings, etc.  Then, through all of that, trying to respond with unconditional love to the "source" of the struggle has, at times, felt impossible.  Last school year we picked up a copy of a book called Transforming the Difficult Child by Glasser and Easley and it provided us an amazing paradigm shift.  One of the first things the book shared was how prejudicial the world is towards the parents of an intense child.  Facing perceptions that we are ignorant to how severe the problem really is, how lax we must be in our discipline of the child, about the kind of junk we must be feeding them, and so on, leaves us seriously (and constantly) questioning our abilities, motives, approaches and evaluating our probable mistakes.  However, the authors pointed out, the parents of intense children are typically the most proactive, well-read, active learners and problem solvers those therapists have seen.  If you are the parent of an "intense" child then know these things 1) it's not your fault 2) you are doing your best 3) there are alternative resources to prescription drugs 4) God has a plan and a purpose even for this 5) you are, in fact, not alone and 6) I am praying for you because I understand.

I remember sharing the kids section of our local Books-A-Million once with a woman and her autistic son.  I smiled and sympathetic and understanding smile and told her "God must really trust you to take care of a boy who needs so much more care than the average."  to which she replied curtly "Yea, that's what people who have no concept of the situation comfort themselves with."  She walked away before I could tell her that while not to the same level/depth of intensity, I could indeed relate and it has, indeed comforted me to believe that God must trust us greatly to give us this boy who needs an extra measure of understanding, learning and problem solving.

One thing I've dealt with for a long time now is the meltdowns and tantrums when he's confronted with either a task he doesn't want or discipline of any sort, which, between him and I, can quickly become a power struggle.  I've tried several different methods of asking, bribing, cajoling, yelling... all to no effective avail.  The other day I had a little epiphany that could only have come from God.  It occurred to me that when we need to develop a character trait (take patience, for example) He gives us chances to practice it.  So, when my son was acting out of control the other day I decided to give him the chance to practice just the opposite.  I set a timer and told him he had to sit, cross-legged, hands in lap for the allotted amount of time.  If he moved from the tile on the floor he was sitting on or talked, time would start over, if he railed against me, fought it, threw tantrums, etc. then I would add minutes.

It all seemed simple enough but as I anticipated, his attitude quickly racked him up a two-hour time-out (of sorts).  Historically, if he fights me long and hard enough I've had to retreat and regroup but not this time.  It took WAY longer than two hours to complete the consequence but I sat in the chair near him the majority of the entire time, telling him I was with him, reading to him from the bible (which he accused me at one point of writing my own), giving him gentle reminders that he could "do all things through Christ who gives (him) strength", that a loving parent provides discipline, and that no matter how long it took I would not be moved.  During that time, especially when I felt my emotions begin to boil, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper "with much love...  with much love, great things..." and I knew it was a reminder to not be the disciplinarian but rather the loving shepherd.  It helped me stay calm and steady, avoiding what would have otherwise been a power struggle.  When the timer finally reached 0 and beeped we both rejoiced, had a cuddle, a prayer and a little talk about love.

The very next morning, before we could even have breakfast it all began again with some ugly words toward his brother and a tantrum.  Before I could even get the words "five minutes" out of my mouth he was yelling rotten things at me.  I started adding minutes, he continued.  That consequence took even longer, most of the day, in fact, to complete what could have been a mere 10 minutes.  However, from everything I've read, researched and learned from a therapist friend of mine, is that he NEEDS to know that no matter how hard he pushes the buttons, no matter how long he fights, we're not giving in or giving up.  This is because the underlying message would be "you're not worth THAT much effort".  It's part of what the verse in the bible means when it says "whoever spares the rod hates their children but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them" (Prov. 13:24)

On day three of this method he was doing phenomenal for the first half of the day, even served a couple 10-minute "sit-downs" with a great attitude and did a couple chores in the same manner.  Unfortunately, he and his brother started acting silly so I assigned another sit-down together.  Boy 1 railed, boy 2 complied.  Boy 1 took almost an hour to get through his 10 minutes but I can tell he's starting to figure this whole thing out.  There was an example in the book I mentioned above about someone getting a speeding ticket daily for as long as it took for them to decide to lay off the accelerator... I feel like I'm handing out speeding tickets BUT instead of him blaming me for them, he's starting to back off a bit and realize that he needs to take responsibility.  We keep lovingly reminding him that no one, not even the devil, can force him to do anything; that only he controls his actions, attitudes and words.

I've also read that giving such brilliant children warning after warning is less conducive to them learning a lesson because it's insulting their intelligence.  Because of that, over the last few days, whenever he breaks a rule in our home that's been reiterated to him countless times in his short life, rather than lecturing him, I've been instead telling him "That's five minutes; tell me why."  It's actually been working so well that I'm beginning to use it on the next two boys.

Don't get me wrong; I by no means claim to have found any sort of magic, fix-all answer, just sharing my most recent approach.  The main points I've hoped to make here are 1) to attempt to emulate our Father, the great and perfect parent and 2) how vast a difference our approach, mannerisms and attitude makes in even difficult children.  I'm sure we could drug him into compliance, spank him into submission*, and try to conform him by force.  None of that, however, would change his heart or address the original source of the problem which I believe to be, in part, due three unavoidable separations between him and I in the first two years of his life.  (I was very honored and proud to serve my country but this is one very major reason I do not miss my career)  Those instances left him questioning whether mommy (or anyone) has every truly been there for him, no matter what.  I think also that on occasions in the past when I've grown frustrated and "gone back to the drawing board" it has inadvertently reinforced that fear.

It's been a very long, exhausting week but also, I feel, a productive one.  For a boy who has grown up insecure, I think I may have found one tool to help him find security.  If actions speak louder than words then I pray I'm showing him, by spending the day next to him, still in my pj's, no shower, committed to seeing the consequence through, that I really am here for him, no matter what.  I pray also that reinforcing that approach with scripture will help him understand that God disciplines all of us, throughout life just as Proverbs 12:1 (NIV) says "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge but whoever hates correction is stupid."  ((My son was furious the first time I read him that and indignantly stated that he hates discipline but is not stupid!  Then he accused me of writing my own bible...  That one's going in my "funny motherhood memories journal"))  Finally, I pray that all the struggle we're going through will be for the purpose of helping someone else find a pathway through it, feeling less alone and a little more understood... because, with much love, great things!

*Just a note: I am not against the spankings; he is just the type of kid that I could probably wear myself out on without impacting his behavior.  While I do believe in corporal punishment when it's called for, I don't see it as the answer to every issue.  It is a very effective tool for out-and-out defiance but, in my mind, not effective for issues of the heart, especially deeply rooted ones.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Look at Me

I mentioned in another post a speculation I have that my eldest son and I share a generational issue of mild attachment disorder.  One of the "symptoms" of it is an avoidance (possibly even inability) at making solid eye contact when talking with someone.  I've been researching activities and exercises that, with God, will help the two of us restore what was robbed from us.  One such exercise is staring contests and another is making extra effort at eye contact during all communication.  Because of that I've found myself almost constantly saying "Look at me; look at my eyes."  It seems very easy for him to miss what I'm saying when he's looking all over the room.  It leaves him open to distractions and hinders him hearing my full message.

During a phone call with one of my dearest mentors this morning I shared some of my current struggles.  She told me to "keep looking at Him; look only to Jesus."  It hit me in that moment that God's been trying to tell me the same thing I've been trying to tell my son.  "Look at me and only me... so you hear only me, only what I have to say and so you don't miss any of the message."

How easy it is for us to get distracted and begin looking all around us and only (maybe) half-listen to the Holy Spirit's voice.  There's the phone, now rehearsal, TV, Facebook, tweets, texts, doorbell, Ipod, new release movie, committee meeting, lesson plan, shopping, playdate, orientation, audition...  Noise.  Demands and distractions all pulling us in different directions, all for justifiable, healthy (ish) reasons but all of them detracting from what we NEED to hear.

I love my children.  They are amazing, full of adventure, always ready for a wrestling match or some form of chasing game (usually through my kitchen).  As happens though, the rough-housing gets too rough and someone's crying, now it's snack time, the baby's ready for a nap, he took my toy, I'm bored, someone spilled, or any other litany of grade/pre-school dilemas and only I seem hold the solutions to everyone's problem.  It can get overwhelming and the "noise" (often literally) of my life gets to me.  Today I found myself in the middle of one such moment.  I knew I needed a few moments of peace, to seek God, to "reset" my spirit.  I also knew there was NOWHERE I could go that the "noise" wouldn't follow.  I had to get out my ipod and my noise-cancelling headphones and turn Michael W. Smith's "Freedom" album up LOUD.  Some of his compositions are "powerfully peaceful" and I found myself just a few minutes of "quiet time" as I hid under some music.  I had to create a curtain or shroud of peace, a closet, where I could go seek His face, to breath deeply, cry two or three tears, release the tension and emerge refreshed enough to get through the rest of the day.

Thankfully, God meets every one of us right where we are.  Rituals are not required; only a desire to seek and find.  No matter where we are, He is.  All we have to do is find a way to tune out the world so we can tune into Him.  Think of where you find the most peace; maybe it's listening to crickets in the dark, relaxing in a hot bath, under a veil of blaring praise songs, watching a sunset, cuddling your child, or lying still in utter silence.  Matthew 7:7 says "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."  Just like any loving father, our Holy, All-knowing God is so personal that He knows what your heart needs.  Sometimes you just need to cry, sometimes to vent, sometimes scream, sometimes praise; all He asks in return is that we look to Him and listen.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Butterfly: Affect.

Last year I had the privilege of attending the Women of Faith conference where I heard author/speaker Andy Andrews share from his book Butterfly Effect.  It struck me in a profound way so as soon as I could I picked up a copy.  I need another one already because I gave it away.

If you've never heard of the basic premise of the butterfly effect, according to Wikipedia (because I can't explain it in any more concise terms) it is described such:

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions; where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. For example, the presence or absence of a butterfly flapping its wings could lead to creation or absence of a hurricane.
Although the butterfly effect may appear to be an esoteric and unusual behavior, it is exhibited by very simple systems: for example, a ball placed at the crest of a hill might roll into any of several valleys depending on slight differences in initial position.
The term "butterfly effect" itself is related to the meteorological work of Edward Lorenz, who popularized the term.
The butterfly effect is a common trope in fiction when presenting scenarios involving time travel and with "what if" cases where one storyline diverges at the moment of a seemingly minor event resulting in two significantly different outcomes.

At the WoF conference Andrews shared the story of a slave-born baby rescued by a couple in the middle of a frigid night.  The man rode the family's only horse for miles to negotiate a trade with night raiders the horse for the child.  He then went on to tell how that child grew to manhood and impacted the world through his work in agriculture and alternative crops.  That man was George Washington Carver and if not for Moses Carver rescuing him it's possible that none of us would have peanut butter in our pantries.  

Andrews' book further cites others further back as well as forward in the chain of people connected to Carver's life with the point of illustrating how one simple act on our part can have profound effects on the world around us.  He provides one of the best "what if's" I've ever considered and it's compelled me to be much more aware of how I interact with my world.  

One day I very randomly (and by very random, I mean this is the only time in as long as I can remember) I bought a scratch ticket at the store.  That scratch ticket won me a second one and the second one had a $2 prize on it.  I had to get somewhere so I just slipped it in my pocket and headed out.  As I got in the car and backed out of my parking space there was a homeless man headed into the store.  I felt compelled to hand him the ticket since I had no other cash to give him.  As I headed down the road I started to second guess my choice as the thought started to build that I had only given him a pathetic $2.  But then the Holy Spirit interrupted that thought and said "What if that man bought another scratch ticket?  What if that scratch ticket had a large prize on it?  What if that cash prize is all that man needs to get some new clothes and rent a room to get a job?  What if he gets a job and gets back on his feet?  What if, after he gets back on his feet, he gets reunited with his family?  And all because of a pathetic $2 scratch ticket that some young woman gave him in a parking lot."  What if...?

What if your smile is the one someone's asked God for as a sign that He's really there?  What if that sign is what makes them decide not to attempt suicide?  What if letting someone into traffic makes the difference between them making the next light, making it to work on time, and saving their job, their house payment, their marriage?  What if being gracious to a stranger motivates them to choose the same later on?  What if...?

As all of us have changed like a caterpillar into a butterfly through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  As such, as new creations, we need to remember that God's plans and purposes for us all pertain to people.  Saving trees, saving whales... all well and good, noble causes but if "we have not love" then how will it benefit the Kingdom of Eternity?  We are charged with leaving a legacy by affecting everyone we come in contact with.  God "formed you in the secret place" because He "knows the plans He has for you" to "go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit".

Now, as you ponder that and go about life, keep an eye out for those "what ifs".  Make the conscious choice to make a difference.  Smile.  Be considerate.  Be kind.  Be Christ.  Flap your little wings and change the world...  Butterfly: Affect.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Of Life and Surf

My husband and I met in Hawaii in January of 2001.  We were in partnered work sections on the same schedule and so ended up spending our off-time with all the same people.  We worked odd shifts which was brutal on our sleeping habits but great for days off when normal people were working.  It was during that time we learned to surf.

Now, while I say we learned to surf and, I can honestly say I've surfed Hawaii's legendary North Shore, I should, by no means, be considered a surfer.  I can paddle, catch a wave, get up, ride it and repeat (on a long board).  However, I have never attempted a short board, I cannot carve, whip the lip, get my toes on the nose, and I've never been "in the barrel" (on purpose anyway).  Oh, and the waves I rode are probably what a pro would put their toddler on so, to put it plainly, I have no claims to surfing greatness.  Even my husband, who has some more experience than I do, probably would not consider himself a surfer either but both of us really enjoyed what we got to experience and, if we ever went back, would definitely do it again.  The rush of riding a wave is amazing and the power of the ocean is humbling, beautiful and awe-inspiring.

We finally saw Soul Surfer the other night and while I don't see it garnering any Oscar nods for the acting, it was still a great film.  It brought back a lot of memories for us despite being set on a different island than we lived on.  One interesting note is that Bethany Hamilton's attack occurred while we were living out there and it was all over the news.  So much so that it left me feeling some trepidation before rushing into the waves but we went anyway.  Her story circulated especially quickly through the Christian community out there because of her peace and tenacity through all of it.  If you can look up any of her interviews they're really uplifting and encouraging.

One thing God showed me out on those waves so long ago, and, reminded me of again during the film, is that there's ups and downs of varying degrees, storms, dead calm; days where you're on your A-game and days when you fall... a lot.  The worst though, is when you get caught in the roll.  When the waves begin to toss you; when you finally figure out which way is up, break through to take a breath but find that the next wave is on top of you, rolling you again.  Getting caught in the roll can be fatal if you get disoriented and can't catch a breath.  Sometimes, there's even rocks or reef waiting for you and it's those moments you realize how truly strong and unyielding mere water can be.  One of the tricks to it is to stop fighting and calm down... be still.  The more you fight the waves the more lost, the more exhausted, the more panicked you become.  Sounds a bit like life.

Railing against the waves of life is an exercise in futility.  You can't stop trials from coming any more than you could stand on the shore and keep the sea at bay.  Try to protect your child from every woe, try to plan against pitfalls, try to keep tragedy from calling on the phone, try to keep evil from breaking in.  At some point, we will all face our waves; some come in sets, regular, steady, bearable; a duck-dive and you're through it.  Maybe right now it's flat with nothing exciting or promising on the horizon.  Then there's some that come like a tsunami; larger than imaginable, devastating, wreaking havoc.  Only with Christ can we find the way up, catch our breath, and escape the undertow or the rip current.  Whatever the waters seem now, there's a couple things to remember:
1) Whatever you're facing right now is going to change.  Waves are affected by weather, tides, temperature and currents; the only thing consistent is the inconsistency... just like life there's so many factors that all you can know for sure is right here, right now and God promises to never leave or forsake.
2) We cannot allow ourselves to fear what may be or dwell on what has been, it will prevent us from fully experiencing what is right now.  Whether pleasant or painful, God has something for you in this moment so ride it out for all it's worth.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Ninevah Next Door

I recently had the privilege of going through a Priscilla Shirer study called Jonah: Navigating a Life Interrupted.  We were challenged to look at "interruptions" we've experienced in life from a Heavenly perspective and try to view those instances instead as Divine appointments.  The concept was a blessing and it's a process I've been working on for some time.  This study nudged me a little further down that path.  I'm realizing where I've experienced my own "Nineveh" on several occasions and where God either did something amazing or I totally failed and missed out on blessing.  Since the study I've been more compelled to check my attitude when life's irritations confront me.

Even now, I'm feeling convicted regarding a little boy in our neighborhood who seems quite lonely and largely ignored by his dad (he says he has siblings but we've never seen them).  In the opinions of the majority of our neighborhood, he's really too young to be out by himself, especially for hours on end and many are finding him a bit of a nuisance.  (Just the other day he pounded on the door during nap time, setting off the dog; I'm afraid I was not at my sweetest when I told him the boys could not come out to play)  I don't really feel comfortable inviting him in (something about his dad makes me feel uneasy) but I also don't want the discomfort of sitting out front in the hot sun to watch my kids play on the sidewalk.  On the flip-side, though, I feel a deep pang of conviction every time I turn him away.  What if our family could plant the seeds of his salvation?  What if my choice between hosting him or turning him away makes the difference in an abduction?  What if my hospitality towards him shows all our neighbors how real Christians should act?  What if...

And yet, here I sit, writing this, comfortable in my home, with my kids, safe inside, that familiar thorn still in my side that's driven deeper with every justification of why not.  I'm deeply conflicted about this little boy.  There's something in my spirit that feels uneasy and yet there's the pondering of stories I've heard about "that one family who reached out" to someone and made a profound difference in who they grew to be.

My point of this post is not solely about our little neighbor boy; instead I hope we all can begin to recognize our own "Nineveh".  Maybe Nineveh is snoring next to you every night, maybe it's in the next cubicle.   Wherever (whom ever) it is, we need to become more and more willing to tolerate discomfort, irritation or a challenge to our point of view so we can deliver the message of salvation where God wants it received.  Maybe it involves hospitality, maybe it involves getting up and moving.  Either way, we need to trust that obedience will bring blessing and reward that will outweigh any discomfort the journey may bring.  If you can make time, read through the short book of Jonah today; it will bless you.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sacred Chaos

We have four children...
All boys...
Age seven and under...
Two in school...
One in pre-k...
One in diapers...
My husband is a bi-vocational, part-time youth pastor/full-time analyst...
He's pursuing his undergrad in his "free time"...

We almost always have chaos.  Terms like "sleep", "vacation", "day off" and "relax" are not, at this stage of life, part of our regular vocabulary.  As such, there are things we just don't do.  None of our kids are in organized activities (yet), we are not actively part of the PTA, and I don't make any long-term, regular/weekly commitments.  We know it's only for a time and that as the degree gets completed, the kids grow and our roles evolve, so too will our lifestyle.  In addition, I speculate that due to some generational issues and some abuse I endured in the past, I struggle with a bit of an attachment disorder.  Not to a debilitating level but it just adds to the chaos as I grow through my own struggles while trying to co-shepherd this house full of man-hearts.

For now, I've learned, for the most part, to embrace this sacred chaos.  It is the sounds of children growing, refining taking place, foundations being built, and a period of life that every sage mentor I've ever had has told me I will someday miss.  My laundry baskets are never empty, my dust bunnies never vanquished, my furniture never polished with anything besides a banana, and a bathroom that's probably never sanitary for more than five minutes.  What we do have instead is giggles and wrestling matches, crying and cuddling, tantrums and lectures, messes and miracles, set-backs and breakthroughs.  We have a leader that God is using in and out of our home, showing four little boys how to be men, how to balance family and ministry, and, most important, we hope, how to be warriors for God's Kingdom as eventual husbands and fathers themselves.

I've pondered many times "Why?"... Why did God choose us to raise up four men?  Why do other couples try for years before they get even one... maybe none?  I so often feel inadequate and overwhelmed by our life; sometimes in a negative way but sometimes in a positive way, humbly in awe that God would entrust me with these remarkable little people.  God's word says "Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children are a reward from Him (Ps. 127:3) and I recently came to a much deeper understanding of that verse.  I realized that if we'd had daughters, there's a probability that a Godly heritage in my husband's family name would die with him.  I believe God has a purpose and a destiny for this band of brothers and I am honored that God chose me to be their mommy.  I am learning to embrace the chaos for what it is, nurture them into who they're meant to be and praise God for the sacred beauty in all of it.

By the way, wherever you are, if you happen to be raising my future daughters-in-law, I'm praying for you and them.  I can't wait to meet you someday, to watch them grow in their own love, to coo over our grandchildren and sit back, giggling, as they sort out their own sacred chaos.