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Archive for May, 2011

Family

I am sitting at my desk at the moment, eating a bite of lunch.  As I made my lunch today, I thought of a specialty coffee that I love, and so I’m having that also.  Now, the first time I ever had that coffee was when I stayed with my niece before and after the birth of her son (her mother and mother-in-law living too far to get to do that for her).  One morning, while she was in the hospital and I was taking care of her little girl, I wanted some coffee very much.  I didn’t have a car seat to take Ella out to get some, and I hadn’t seen a coffee maker or anything coffee-related around the kitchen, so I opened a few cupboard doors looking for something to assuage my longing.  Finally, I found a little can that said ‘Café Vienna’ on the side.  I hesitated.  I knew it would be sweet, and sweet coffee has never appealed to me, so I weighed my options.  Finally, my longing for some coffee out-weighed my distaste for sweet coffee, so I boiled some water and made a cup.  Before my niece got home from the hospital, I had devoured her whole little can of it with a promise of replenishing her supply as soon as I could get out to do so.

I have no idea how many cans of that coffee I have purchased in the years since that time.  I love it.  It’s a special treat.  But still (and probably always) I think of Candace with every single cup.  I remember the honor of being entrusted with the care of her daughter, and the special way she has shown her love and trust to me through the years.

When Candace was fairly newly married and her husband was still in seminary, she was surprised with an unplanned pregnancy causing somewhat of a dilemma since they needed the income from her job.  Babysitters are costly and cannot usually give the attention and love to a baby that they need.  Even though we lived about 50 minutes apart, she drove 30 minutes in our direction each day to work, bringing her only 20 minutes from our house.  Suddenly I realized it was within the realm of possibility for ME to care for her baby!  I met her at her job each day to pick up Ella and I got to love on her for the first whole year of her life!  What fun cuddle times we had!  I, whose baby had just left for grad school leaving me with no one to need my care any more—or so I had thought.  God had better plans!

And then there’s Courtney.  Courtney is another niece who encourages me with emails and memories that she cherishes of times we had together in her growing-up years.  In spite of the fact that we’ve moved hundreds of miles away, she continues to stay in touch, wrapping me in her love when I need it most.

Of course, Jenni’s  special too.  Jenni and I discovered years ago that our taste in most things is identical—in spite of the generation difference.  Her mother (my sister) and I love each other dearly, but are about as opposite as any two siblings could ever be, but her daughter is just like ME!  I’ve always loved that.  Especially since I didn’t have any daughters of my own.

I have many nieces and nephews, and each one is special in their own way.  Jeremy comes to visit us out here, Jeff always shows me the WONDERFUL things he is building—letting me tour his renovated historic houses at midnight or whenever it works for us both when I’m ‘back home’ and have the time.

Once years ago, one of my brothers and his wife had to go away without their three little girls for several days.  We kept the little girls (they’re not little anymore!) and I had SO much fun!  (Me, the mother of two sons.)  We painted nails, styled hair, watched teary movies, and cuddled at bedtime.  It was such a special time for me—and my brother and sister-in-law knew that those little girls would be well-cared-for while they were away.

Family is a special gift from God in so very many ways.  It gives us a place to belong; the security of knowing we are special to someone—in fact, more than special:  we are held dear by someone.  We are allowed to give our opinions—whether or not it’s requested.  It may not be agreed with, but it’s still respected—sometimes with some smiles or even chuckles, and maybe even the rolling of eyes, but that’s ok where there’s love.  We are allowed to be exactly who God created us to be.

When I was growing up in that houseful of brothers and sisters, I had no idea how very blessed I was, and how I would grow to cherish the very gift of my family.  I wanted to be me; I wanted to  be alone; I wanted space; I wanted quiet; I definitely wanted less BOYS to tease me with dead mice.  But at this point in my life, looking back, looking around, looking ahead—I wouldn’t trade one of them for anything!  God’s plans and ways are always good.  Why does it take us so long to see it sometimes?

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Phases of Life

This week has been a busy week at my husband’s college bookstore.  I’ve helped as much as I can, and have spent a lot of time watching students; watching people, and thinking.  Graduation.  Whether we are graduating from high school or college, diapers to training pants, receptionist to secretary to office manager, wife to mother, independent living to nursing home, whatever it might be, we think of ‘graduating’ as moving up.  It symbolizes one door closing and another opening.

Some people embrace these changes with eager anticipation; some with fear and trepidation.  Whether or not we enjoy change, it happens.  I once knew someone who had been in the same job for 40 years.  (That just blows my mind.)  Retirement was a huge adjustment for her, but it happened all the same.

In all honesty, I enjoy what’s comfortable, but at the same time boredom quickly becomes ‘not comfortable’, so there always needs to be a challenge for me; something to stretch me; something new to accomplish.  The way our lives are laid out for us, I can’t help but think that it was not God’s intention for us to remain too comfortable because life continues to push us into the next stage of life, whether or not we want it.

It has not been easy for me to give up my role of ‘mother’.  I know, as long as our children live, I’ll still be mother–but not in the same way.  They are adults now.  They don’t really need me, and that’s hard for me.  They think for themselves.  They never even ask what I think about their decisions.  We raised them to be independent.  Were we wrong?  Sometimes I wonder.

Someday there will be my final ‘graduation’; my final time of ‘moving up’.  Sometimes I wonder if we will always remain the same in heaven.  And if so, will that not be boring?  Will it simply be comfortable?  Will it be that I’ve achieved the most that I have potential to achieve?

Today as I anticipate the graduation that will happen here at the university on Sunday, I watch the bustle of gift-purchasing/giving, cap and gown measuring, hugs and congratulations as people encounter a graduate, smiles and tears, hugs and cheers.  Such a mixture of emotions and sounds and expressions and experiences!  All of this refreshes that wonder in me as to what awaits me at my final graduation, my final promotion.  There may be a few tears from those still toiling here, but will there be a party there?  Will we celebrate together?  Will these awkward feet finally be able to dance?  And will the joy continue for all eternity?  Once in a while, when I think about it, I can hardly wait to know.

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Sometimes Love Hurts

Our house seems very quiet this evening—more so than usual.  Rick sits in his favorite chair reading a book.  A neighbor just finished mowing his lawn and now the stillness is deafening.  I hear the birds singing their lusty evening songs as daylight wanes and my bosom heaves with another sigh.  I’m so very blessed, and yet I’m feeling so very bereft at the moment.

Our children and grandchildren were all here for the weekend.  We try to do this periodically—having everyone here at the same time.  The family is growing and our little cottage seems to be shrinking, but the closeness is all the more blessed for the glorious reason for the crowdedness.

And now they’re gone.  The walls reverberate with silence.  My neck needs one more hug of pudgy little arms, one more moist little mouth whispering “I uv oo, gah-mah!”  My cheeks are damp and my throat is tight with the lump when I think of their precious sweetness.

It was a blessed weekend; one more time of getting to observe our sons brainstorming another creation into being, of hearing our daughters-in-law comparing notes over mugs at the table for a brief moment alone together, of fitting us all in together and listening, chatting, laughing, questioning, watching, sharing, touching hearts and loving.

And now the memory lingers like the aftertaste of a rich dessert, a sweet wine, a good cup of coffee.  I long for just another taste of it, and yet the enjoyment of it lingers faintly.  I can’t bring myself to put the toys away just yet.  Maybe tomorrow…

Maybe with the rising of the sun the loss will be less tangible, the memory more sweet, the knowledge of the next get-together a fresh new hope, the daily-ness of life a steadying of my life once again…and I can put the toys away.  As I wash the sheets and towels and remake the beds with fresh hope for the next time, the loss will be less bitter, the security of our love more strong for the parting.

Yes, sometimes love hurts.  But would we have it any other way?

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Resilience

It rained last night.  It rained hard.  It drew me to the open windows in spite of the darkness and I breathed deeply of the moist freshness that greeted me there.  All was silent outside except for the sound of the rain as it pounded the pavement and beat onto the grass.  I wondered at my fragile flowers.  How would they survive?  Would they be pulverized?  Pounded into the dirt before their time?  What about the fragile little impatiens that often fall to the ground at my touch?  They were just beginning to get a foothold this spring.  Would they survive at all?

This morning, the sun shines distantly on a still-dripping world, but I eagerly go from window to door, gently lifting a curtain to look at what may be left of my gardens.  The flowers look brighter than they did yesterday.  Even the peonies that often droop to the ground from their own weight are lifting their petals in worship.  The sweet fragrance of the irises lifts my mouth into a smile.  My heart feels tight within my breast.  “And the glory of the Lord shone round about…”

I run for my camera; my laptop.  The joy spills from my fingers and bursts forth from the pages.  The flowers survived!  And they didn’t just survive—they flourished!

And here I sit, master of the object lessons thinking of the comparison.  When the hard times beat on me, when even what’s good for me comes all at once and overwhelms me, do I lay on the ground like a beaten down petal?  Or do I accept His offered gift of strength as I lift my face once more to the heavens, thanking my Father for the refreshing, the enlivening?

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This Mother’s Day, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage, and hopefully strengthen, all young women that are in the early years of motherhood.  I remember hearing the older women say so many times, ‘These are the best years of your life.’  Yes, looking back I realize how very good those years were; what precious, fond memories I have of watching and helping God in the shaping of those little hearts and minds.  Children are so very impressionable; so very moldable!  They are fresh, clean slates that we have the opportunity and responsibility to write on in permanent marker.  My caution is this:  be very careful and intentional about what you write on those slates, AND be very careful and intentional as to who is allowed to write there.

Giving birth or adopting does not make you a good mother.  Taking your children to church does not do it either.  Those two factors are actually a very, very small part of the picture.  And, you may as well face the fact that being tired is generally part of the picture as well.  But let me encourage you with these goals:

1.                  Plan ahead.  Before I was even close to being a mother, I began planning how I wanted our household to be.  I thought about it when I was quite young, when I considered marriage, as well as when we actually anticipated starting a family.  I had decided when I was young that I wanted a quiet and peaceful home for our children.  I wanted them to feel secure.  I wanted them to always know they were loved—no matter what their capabilities or personality quirks, they would still be loved completely—and they would know it!  I planned to accept each one and nurture their individual characteristics—never comparing except to show them how wonderfully individual they were.

2.                  Be disciplined yourself.  It seems like we focus so much on disciplining our children, and too often are totally unintentional in our own self-discipline.  Do you eat well?  Do you get plenty of sleep?  Do you spend plenty of time in God’s Word and in prayer?  Is there plenty of quiet, at-home time for your children to play and learn and work quietly, or are they entertained constantly?  Entertainment (amusement parks, picnics, outings, movies, even playing with friends) should be the exception—not the rule!  They should be sprinkled into life occasionally as a rare treat, but children need time to be alone with their own family in the quietness of the home to be taught godliness, self-discipline, and good character.  It is not easy to do this in today’s society with so very much available and with even so many church activities, but it is important that we choose carefully, and sparingly.

Also, be certain that they are disciplined in their eating and sleeping habits.  Tired children have difficulty focusing and reasoning.  Naps and early bedtimes are an important part of healthy growing years for children.  And schedules help children to learn self-discipline as well as giving them a sense of security.

3.                  Verbalize.  Tell your children what you expect of them.  Explain why—within reason.  The two-year-old season of ‘why?’ to everything would be an exception.  Personally, I often merely said, ‘why not?’ to end the constant ‘why?’ of that stage and to help them begin to reason for themselves.  But, if you explain things to your children as they grow, you can forestall a lot of arguments and dissension as well as helping them to understand how to begin reasoning and making choices for themselves.  It also gives opportunity for them to realize that obedience is not one option of several, but is anticipated without exception.

4.                  Praise well.  DON’T do it with a bumper sticker announcing to the world that your child is an ‘A student’!  So what?  What if my child is a ‘B student’ but is giving it all he’s capable of giving?  Does that make him of less value than your ‘A student’?   No, being boastful and gloating is NOT something you want to teach your children.  But telling them personally how very proud you are of their behavior, obedience, grades, creativity, whatever…is very important to their self-esteem.  Let them know you are proud of them for what they are personally.  Don’t ever compare.  Good praise:  “I saw you sharing your trucks with your brother today.  I know that red one is your very favorite.  You made me feel good inside and I know your brother was pleased and happy.  And can you even imagine how happy God was with you?  Thanks for being so kind.”  Or even:  “You did it!  You studied hard for that test and you gave it your best shot!  I’m SO proud of that B you got!  Way to go!!!”  Bad praise:  “I saw you sharing your trucks with your brother today.  The neighbor boy never shares his and is hateful and mean.  I’m glad you’re not like that.”  Do you see the difference?  Comparing is NEVER a good way to praise.  Affirming their good choices and behavior simply because it is the right thing to do will spur them on not only to more good choices, but making those choices for the right reasons—not to out-do someone else.

5.                  Enjoy those children completely.  If you’re tired yourself, make a point of getting more rest.  I realize the first few months of a baby’s life can sometimes be very exhausting until they get the hang of learning to sleep for 8 hours straight, but getting them onto a schedule that works well for you, will also benefit them, so be disciplined yourself.  And spend plenty of time watching and listening.  I can’t tell you the hours I spent hidden around a corner as I watched (without interrupting) the play and conversations of our little ones.  I would check on them to make sure they were safe, but would often stay and listen and watch (unobserved) just because it was SO much fun watching their imaginations grow.

And lastly, but most important of all:

6.         Pray together.  This point is truly the most important of all.  From infancy, establish a family worship time for your family and through the years, guard it fiercely and maintain it faithfully.  The world and all around you – even possibly your church – will try to steal that time from you, but never allow it to happen.  It is imperative that you teach your children yourself to know God and to understand and comprehend His great love and expectations for them.  No one or nothing can take your place in this task, and nothing will bring as delightful results or give such security and strength to your children as well as to your family.  In Deuteronomy 6 we read God’s instructions to His people:  “Hear, O     Israel:  The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie   down and when you get up…”

Do you know why this is important?  Because there is no one in the whole wide world that cares as much as you do how your children will turn out!  No one cares   as much as you do that they learn to love the Lord and follow in His ways.  Others   will try to influence them through the years, but you have opportunity to set their minds and hearts in the right direction and gently encourage them with the Truth.

It has often been said that having grandchildren is even better than having your own children.  Well, I guess it depends on one’s own personal perspective, but in my book there is nothing that compares with having my own children to teach and to nurture and care for.  Grandchildren are wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but I have to leave them with their parents!  I have to go home and leave them behind.  And then I miss them!  So…I say to you, if you are a young mother:  eat well, rest well, discipline yourself and your children well, spend lots of time praying for wisdom, teaching them God’s ways, and enjoy!  It just doesn’t get any better than this!

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Fitness

Fitness, fitness, fitness…Sometimes I just want to scream!  Can you even imagine in your wildest fantasy what this world would be like if we spent as much time on our spiritual fitness as we do on our bodies?

Please don’t get me wrong.  We MUST take care of our bodies.  We must eat what is good for us, get plenty of exercise (not necessarily aerobic or intense concentrated movement, but activities of some kind on a regular basis), and of course eat that most necessary of all health foods (dark chocolate) regularly.  (Ok—yes, I’m being funny there with the comment about chocolate.)  But must we devote our every waking moment to thinking about food and exercise?  Sadly, I believe in too many instances our bodies have become our gods.  We are so obsessed with ‘taking care of our bodies’ that we have sadly neglected our true God—the Lover of our souls!

Do a quick inventory here.  Think back over the past day.  How much time was spent in exercising and food preparation/consumption (including planning, purchasing, preparing, and consuming), and how much time was spent in prayer and communion with God?  How much of our conversation with our friends is about our diets and exercise programs, and how much is about what God is doing in our lives, about Who He is, even in praise and conversation with Him?  How do these things compare?  In the last week?  Month?

I have to think that I Timothy 4:8 puts it all into perspective:  “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”  There’s nothing wrong with exercise – unless it is overdone, of course – but we must be careful to keep it in perspective.  I challenge you to this:  log your time spent for a day or week and be honest with yourself.  How much time is spent on the body?  How much time on the soul?  How do these two numbers balance?  Think through the verse above and remember that godly pursuits have double the value of physical training.  Are you as spiritually fit as you are physically fit?  Are you balancing your time well?  Just checking…

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