Thursday, June 30, 2011

Resisting A Rest

I can hear that high pitched, whiny cry again; coming from the darkened room where my toddler is supposed to be sleeping.  In between washing dishes and preparing pizza dough for supper tonight, I wipe my hands dry on my cotton shorts and open the door to his room.  He squints into the light, looking at me, and reaching his arms up.

"Why aren't you sleeping?"  I question him in a sing-songy voice.  These morning naps are still a necessity to me, both for his well-being and my ability to get things done around the house.

I don't smell a dirty diaper, and he doesn't appear overly upset.  Then I see the reason for his lack of slumber.  His soother, usually clipped onto his shirt where it can easily be found, has been tossed out of the playpen and onto the floor.

"Oh Ezra!"  I groan with exasperation.

This has become a habit as of late; him pulling with all his might until the soother detatches from his clothes.  Then he purposefully tosses it out of the playpen, as if to say "Nope!  Not gonna sleep... I'm done napping!"  He even does this first thing in the morning when I get him out of bed.  Even if I take the soother and hang it onto the side of the playpen, he'll grab it and forcefully toss it AWAY from the playpen.

I nursed my little one, hoping to soothe him into a state of calm and I put him back to bed, the soother, once again firmly attached.

Sometimes I wonder why tired little ones work so hard to resist rest.  As adults, we are well aware of the benefits and blessings of "down-time" and any day where I actually get to lay down for a quick cat-nap is a rare, well-appreciated treat!  Yet, here's my little active boy, whom, if given the opportunity would rather wander around the house whining and making messes than have a nap when he needs one.

I have to admit, in some ways I can relate to the idea of resisting rest.  I find myself rushing about, cleaning things that could left for a while, engaging in activities that don't serve to bring peace into my life and hurrying myself and my family all over the place, as if life can't wait for us.

While it is good to establish a sense of physical rest (and this is something I explored in my posting about Sabbath) God offers a deeper kind of rest to us, as seen in Hebrews chapter 4.   Sadly, we often live our lives being too busy, too distracted or we are simply living in disobedience and do not enter into the rest that He gives.  To break it down very simply, rest that you attain in God is acquired merely by belief (or faith) in Him,  as you accept His grace for your life.  Hebrews 4:16 so beautifully instructs us in this process, saying "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."  We can approach with confidence because grace isn't based on what we do and who we are.  Grace is based upon a loving God who paved the way for us, through Jesus.

It feels so natural to resist asking for help.  I'm the kind of person who likes be the martyr and get things done on my own, even if the task looks too great and too difficult.  This tendency in normal, everyday situations lends to my resistance of God, causing me to carry the emotional weight and responsibility of things I shouldn't have to bear.  Not only that, but when I resist His rest, I end up spending far more time worrying, afraid and unhappy because I'm not trusting Him.

My little guy fell asleep - perhaps he recognized the wisdom in choosing to take this time to nap peacefully.  Or maybe he just gave up, realizing that for now, Mommy is smarter and stronger and he shouldn't resist me.  Either way, I can concede that there is a little bit of my toddler's tendencies in myself.  I am aware that I have an inclination to resisting rest.  Will I continue to be stubborn, making life more miserable for myself and others - or will I enter into the rest that is freely offered?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My Gnarly Family Tree

 A couple of weeks ago, I found myself on a surreal journey to the other side of Canada.  In a sense, I felt like I was re-winding my own life as I left behind my husband and kids, to travel with my parents and brother. (How weird is that?)  We attended a family reunion with relatives I've rarely seen in my lifetime, and met up with other relatives who, as a result of a dysfunctional family, had minimal connection with my dad (some of the last contact being 25 years ago).

In a world that is so "connected", it's no surprise that we seem to have developed a lure and fascination with our ancestry as of late.  People scour the internet for their long-lost relatives, looking to fill in the missing gaps on their family trees.  We long to know our roots - where did we come from, who do we look like, what is our family history???  We want to know what sort of people we belong to, and whom we have grown from.

During my trip, I met all sorts of family members.  My mom's side of the family is pretty normal - it's just that growing up, I didn't see them very often as we have been scattered across a vast country, thousands of miles separating us.  My last family trip to Ontario had been in 1984, as we attended a funeral.  On the flip side, visits to our part of the country from my mom's relatives were scattered and few due to busy lives and the expense of cross-country travel.  Yet, despite the distance and lack of real "relationship", I found an instant connection and bond with my aunts and uncles and cousins.  I found myself mentally acknowledging family resemblances - and with amusement, noted: "Now I know where I got my small hips from!"  We laughed and shared memories and caught up on life and children, and talked of how we should make an effort to connect more in the future.

Then I began to meet my dad's family.  All my life, I had the understanding that my dad was the youngest in a large family (at least 10 kids) and that his mom had walked out when he was a baby, leaving all the kids to be divided up into foster care.  It isn't something we discussed very much as a family, considering that my dad prefers to leave the past, in the past.  So now, I had a natural curiosity about these random people - my aunts and uncles - whom I would be meeting.  I'd like to say that we instantly felt a deep affinity for one another and the conversation flowed easily and steadily.  However, there was a sort of awkward caution - a knowing that the family's history had left a strong, indelible stain on so many lives, and would not be forgotten.  Even so, as we gathered in my aunt's log home in the Ontario woods, I sensed the same longing and hunger for family and belonging that is evident in all families - whether weird, normal, healthy or unhealthy.

All my life, I've wondered about this "other branch" of my family tree.  I wondered if my aunts were pretty, and if I'd inherited some of my features from them.  Were they overweight or skinny, tall or short, with curly hair or straight, big noses or small???  Who did I get all of my crazy freckles and moles from?  Not only that, but I wondered what sort of people they had become.  With wounds as deep as their haunting past had created, did they grow up to have normal families or were they still victims and "walking wounded"?  My oldest uncle had apparently snubbed any attempts at meeting with us.  Perhaps the thought of his younger siblings was too strong a reminder of pain buried deep in the past.

I found a few answers, and still many questions.  As the humid afternoon of picture-taking and halting conversation drew on, a tiny thread of connection began to weave throughout our lives.  Address books and slips of paper were passed around as names and contact information were jotted down.  "I've never been much of a Christmas card person," I told my aunts and uncle, "but I'd like to make an effort to stay in touch with all of you."  Realistically, I never had much reason before to send cards to relatives far away...  Now there was a smidgen of hope for a semblance of relationship with my distant relatives.  What was most odd, however, was the constant scramble to remember names - was this Aunt Josephine or Aunt Geraldine? (all the similar old-fashioned names didn't help, either!)

At one point during the weekend, I stole away from the suffocation of chatter and awkward conversation with people I barely know, to go for a long run.  I found myself hidden away, running through wooded trails, passing through sunlight and shadows.  As a prairie girl, I'm accustomed to endless expanses of nearly flat grassland with few trees, apart from the ones growing down in the river bottom.  I found myself inexplicitly drawn to the quiet and calm of the rugged, hilly, densely wooded terrain.  Deeper and deeper I was lured into the hush of wooded trails; twisting and turning past ponds and fallen logs and through the occasional bright patch of a clearing in the woods; a hidden meadow, nestled among the forest.

I kept track of my direction and progress with the GPS on my phone, knowing that at any point in time, I could simply backtrack and find my way back to my aunt and uncle's home where we were staying.  After an hour and a half of solid, hard-core, yet surprisingly refreshing running, I was heartened by the fact that all my twists and turns on unfamiliar, unmarked trails had led me in a loop, and I was, seemingly heading back in the right direction.  

I was within a couple miles of my destination when I made a wrong turn.  Although I found myself out of the woods, and on a main road, the map on my phone showed me unexpectedly off-course, having headed a mile or so in the wrong direction.  I found myself frustrated and keenly aware of my inexperience with GPS mapping, and my predisposition to having logic become severely clouded by frustration and panic.  At first, I thought I would simply retrace my steps and head back to a point which I recognized, and could then proceed in the "right" direction.  Easier said than done.  What followed, was a miserable few miles... (Yes! I continued to run in circles and covered a few more MILES) before I resigned myself to being too tired, and too lost to figure out my misdirection.  Thank God for cell phones - and a big brother who was all too amused to come and rescue his poor, lost sister.

I have to say, that what started out as a lovely, solitary run, left me longing for companionship near the end.  When you find yourself lost and exhausted, in unfamiliar territory, the last thing you desire is to be alone.  I knew that if my husband was with me, he'd have no trouble navigating the map.  While I certainly enjoy being alone, I couldn't deny the fact that every journey, struggle,  frustration and trial is definitively lessened by companionship. 

Family tends to be the people whom you belong to, who are supposed to stand by you and love you "no matter what".  Sometimes, your family just happens to be people whom you are related to, sharing the same last name and physical features.  Sometimes you can feel entirely alone, although surrounded by relations.  At the root of our frail existence, I believe that (despite how vehemently some of us choose to appear strong and independent), we all long for connection and we all long to belong.
As my trip wrapped up, and the lack of sleep began to override my sensibility, I yearned for my own precious family and for the sanctuary which my home represents.   I recently came across a quote that well expresses my feelings regarding travel and discontent with one's life:
"A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it." -George Moore
In the same manner, I believe humanity searches and commits to all manner of relationships, in hopes of finding deeper meaning and contentment.  I don't know about you, but no matter how awesome my relationships are, when I become honest with myself, and I face the ugliness of my pride and selfishness, there remains a struggle with emptiness and feeling alone.  Many of us are inclined to dig up our family roots, hoping to find something... meaning or significance to hold onto.

I search and I seek and run as far and fast as my legs can carry me...

I've run full circle.  I'm inclined to make a call for help because I'm too tired, too worked up and too emotional to figure things out and find my way "home".  My ancestry is muddled with best-forgotten details and people whom I'll never know.  I'll never find all that I'm looking for in the back woods of Ontario, and I may not even find everything I need here in my comfortable, happy home. 

All that I truly need and desire is a just prayer away.  What I hunger for is freely given through Christ.  I can belong; eternally adopted into God's family.  This is an obvious truth for most believers, still... I need to be reminded of this fact.  I need to remember where my real home is, and how I've been grafted into a new family tree. 

I belong.

God looks after us all, makes us robust with life (Ps 41:2)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Spilling Secrets in the Dark

For me, writing is like going on a sleepover.

I remember my first big sleepover when I was finally old enough to join in on a girls only youth group event.  I was one of the youngest, probably around 12, and both my parents and the leaders agreed that I could attend. 

The night was full of feminine squealing and giggling as we painted each other's nails and gave make-overs.  I wasn't yet allowed to wear make-up and was both shocked and pleasantly suprised to look in the mirror at myself with red lips, blue eye shadow, dramatic black eyelashes and rouged cheeks.  Someone had even crimped my hair and since it was the early '90's, my hair was BIG! 

"I look like a sixteen year-old" I gushed out, then felt slightly embarassed as I noticed the real sixteen year olds around me giggling, with their stylish clothes, spiral-permed hair and far more "shapely" figures.

Nonetheless, as the night wore on and we piled on the rec-room floor, eating junk food and watching a sappy, yet tasteful movie, I felt contentment at being part of the crowd.  I wasn't the coolest, or most popular.  But I was liked for my kind personality and my tendency to "suck-up" and earn the favor of the older kids and leaders.  (Not that I was pathetic, but I did care what people thought of me and I did my best to achieve their friendship.)

Sometime around midnight, the youth leaders, who must have been exhausted from all the crazy estrogen crammed into such a tight space, proclaimed "Lights Out".  Of course, as most of you probably know, this is merely the signal of what sleepovers are all about... giggling and spilling secrets late into the night! 

I parked my sleeping bag and pillow near to a friendly looking girl who was close to my age and we listened with rapt attention to the older girls talk about boys, school and their unfair parents.  After a few rounds of "Truth or Dare", which I hesitantly involved myself in, the girls began to drop off into gentle snores and the room became more calm and more quiet.  With only a few of us left awake, the tone of the conversation changed and became more heartfelt and serious.  I lay on my back, staring up at the dark ceiling, and found myself speaking more and more - opening up my heart to the few girls in the room about my feelings, my hopes and my fears.  I didn't feel like the "youngster" anymore - I was on the same level.  It didn't matter that my ears weren't pierced and that my body hadn't grown up yet.  What mattered was the quality and content of words expressed from my heart.

Under the cover of darkness, my eyes were taken off of the things that hold little bearing on my true self.  It is so easy to be caught up in appearances and to gauge your behavior on your surroundings or how you believe others perceive you.  Some seem to have the "gift of gab", and do not become distracted by their surroundings or audience as they speak.  (Thankfully, that is one of my husband's traits, which is an obvious asset to his role as "preacher".)  I've never felt completely comfortable talking in a crowd, or even one-on-one with a person whom I don't know very well.  I find myself stumbling over my words, with my thoughts all jumbled and missing pieces.  After I stop talking, I'm nearly out of breath and my heart is pounding, and then I remember all the important stuff that I meant to say, and didn't express properly!

So here I sit... typing.  The words flow freely out of my heart because I'm hidden from view and I am not mindful of the thoughts or opinions of others.  It's just me and my open heart.  I would be wrong to say that I feel completly alone in this process, though.  I feel a keen sense of God's presence as I write.  In a way, many of my postings are a form of prayer and connection to Him, as I unveil the failings and weaknesses that I experience in life.  What I find amazing is how we can talk to God, and not feel like He's pointing out all of our faults.  He already knows absolutely everything there is to know about us, and still He offers his love and acceptance.

I Samuel 16:7 is a verse I memorized many, many years ago and cling to:   

"For the Lord sees not as man sees, for man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart."

Thank goodness for this!  I can be honest and open, pouring out my heart because He knows that I will fail and fall, again and again - but He also knows that in my heart, I long to do better and to change.  He doesn't misinterpret my words or actions - He sees the true meaning behind everything.

Keeping in mind the idea of sleepovers and how it is much easier to become more vulnerable, I have a couple of thoughts to leave with you.  I've said it before, but I've found that some of the best conversations I have with my husband are in the dark, with the lights out.  If you're struggling to feel closer, or you find that there are issues that are hard to discuss, next time turn the lights off and see if you can become more honest and sincere.  Also, I've found that there is a beautiful sense of vulnerability that you can witness in your child if you are willing to snuggle on their bed, in the dark and talk to them before they go to sleep.  Even pre-teens (and I'm guessing teens) become more free with their feelings and thoughts because there isn't the same level of confrontation when you are in the hushed, calming atmosphere of darkness.  When you remove the distractions and turn off the outside world, a sense of openness and humility is bred, giving real connection and closeness.

Once again, I sit, in a quiet room... my feelings spilling out, like the secrets of little girls on a sleepover. 

Thumbsucking and Silly Songs

It's official.  The mother of my children is not perfect.  (Wait... is that me?)

I just turned on the TV and my kids are watching mindless "educational" cartoons because I couldn't take another moment of whining, grumbling and mess making.  I think the last straw was when I turned around to see my 3 year old with the upside down jug of milk glugging and pouring into a bowl of cereal and flowing all over the table and onto the recently mopped floor.  

Now there is annoying music, and brightly dressed characters entertaining my children so I can have a time-out.  And I wonder, how is it possible that they can become so attentive and quiet for a tiny, fuzzy 19" screen, watching peasant-vision?  Why doesn't my presence, and why don't my words command the same devotion?

Perhaps if I put on a fuzzy, multi-colored wig and speak in rhymes and sing-songy riddles, then my children will hang onto my every word and do whatever I ask of them.  Maybe it is as simple as shouting cleverly worded progressive questions, then giving short, 3 word instructions for them to chant back in response. 

Me:  What are we doing today?  (spoken enthusiastically and loudly)

Kids:  Eat... Clean... Grocery Store!!!

Me:  Say it again! (more forcefully, and joyfully)

Kids: (jumping up and down)  Eat... (then louder) Clean....
         (and even louder, and more shrilly)
         GROCERY STORE!!!

It would seem that children's television, along with children's advertising both have the corner on the market when it comes to creating and indoctrinating a captive audience.  I despise this, yet, there comes a time when I lug out the "electronic babysitter" (TV) and assign her to half an hour or more of child minding so that I can get some work done or even just take a break without having a child nag me, question me, fight with their siblings or hang off of my hip and rub their snotty face onto my shirt.

I do love my children though, let me make that clear.  I just wish I was better at communicating with them!  Sometimes I wonder whether they listen to me at all, especially when they make the same mistakes and messes again and again.  Yet, as long as I am a mother, I will repeat myself and find patience within to teach and train my children into successful, hopefully happy and well-adjusted adulthood;  especially when it comes to God's Word and His plans and promises for our lives.  I believe God knew precisely the downfalls of children and their particularly short attention spans when He gave instructions on how to teach our kids about His promises.

Deuteronomy 6: 5-9 outlines both the most important commandment (which was reiterated by Jesus in Mark 12:30) and instructions are given on how to make this message a priority and how to get the message clearly imprinted in our children's hearts and minds!

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!   You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Obviously, God understood that it's not enough to simply tell your kids first thing in the morning what you want for them to do.  It's not even enough to include it in your family time, just before they go to bed!  Clearly we have to be methodical, repetitive and continual if we want to see results when it comes to instructing our children! 

If you don't believe me, then just think of how hard it is to break a bad habit in a child.  For example, when one of our kids was 2, she sucked her thumb and because we were then living in a hot humid climate (Thailand), it was causing her to get a rash where her hand would rest against her chin as she sucked her thumb.  We decided to break the habit, as she was showing signs of growth and maturity in other ways (like potty training), so it seemed to be a good time to stop the "baby-ish" habits and deal with the problem of thumb-sucking.  We explained to her that she would not be allowed to suck her thumb anymore, and that she was a big girl now.  The results were immediate!  She stopped sucking her thumb that very day!  Except... she switched to sucking on her first two fingers, instead.  (Groan!)

For the next several weeks we would verbally remind our daughter to keep her hands away from her mouth and we would stop her every time we saw her begin to suck her fingers.  Morning, noon, and night we corrected her and tried to encourage her.  This habit was strong, however, and we had to try some additional methods in order to change her behavior.  We bought acetate: the liquid that you can paint onto your nails to help you stop biting them, and we would paint her fingers with it.  Trouble was, she would pop her fingers into her mouth, grimace at the bitter taste and yank them out, but two minutes later she had forgotten and tried again.  After a few times of this, the bitter taste had worn off and she could happily suck her fingers again with no foul flavor to offend her taste-buds.  Over the course of the next few months, we attempted many methods to avert this undesirable behavior.

We tried putting socks on her hands before she went to bed at night, but the yearning to suck her fingers was so strong, it wouldn't be long before she disobeyed and removed a sock from her hand.  We weren't about to wake her (and ourselves) up numerous times in the night to check on the status of the socks on her hands, so we had to figure out something that would be more sustainable.  Then I thought to pin the socks to her sleeves, so she couldn't pull them off in the night - but she worked her arm out of the sleeve and we'd find her sleeping, shirt half off, fingers in her mouth.  We began to get desperate, and sought to come up with an idea that would break this habit permanently.  I found an old windbreaker suit - light nylon with cotton inside - that was full bodied, like a sleeper.  We decided to use this as pyjamas for her, and, after pinning socks over the hand holes, zipped it up and put her to bed for the night.  Our clever girl pulled one arm out of the sleeve, in towards her body and poked it out through the neck hole so she could still suck her fingers!  I wish I could applaud her ingenuity and persistence, but frankly, I was livid!

Finally, my husband had a burst of inspiration during his prayer time one morning.  We had some wrist straps that had belonged on one of those unsightly "child-leash" thingies, that we had used for a short time when we had our second baby, and were trying to manage an energetic toddler.  That night, when it was time for our daughter to go to bed, my husband placed socks over her hands, then attached the wrist straps over top, to keep the socks from being pulled off.  Because we knew of her conniving ability and determination - here's where the prayer-time inspiration part comes in:  To keep her from pulling off the wrist bands and socks, my husband secured them tightly with plastic zap straps that would have to be cut in the morning in order for them to be removed.  Success!  We finally found something that outsmarted this cunning 2 year old, and over the course of the next couple weeks, she faithfully wore the socks with wrist bands and the habit was broken.

(As a side-note, after re-reading these last couple of paragraphs, I recognize that our actions may be construed as extreme and that other parents would have opted to let their child continue their habit.  We felt a need to be persistent with our daughter for a couple of reasons: 1) To show that we meant what we said and show consistency, and 2) to deal with the painful red rash that was caused by her thumb sucking.)

Whether we are dealing with kids who are belligerent, defiant or simply distracted in life, I think the message remains the same.  It takes continual, repetitive interaction to impress a message and directive into a child's life.  Even with adults, it is said that it takes 30 days to establish a habit.  I can certainly attest to the fact that developing routine for myself in the area of exercise was a "pain in the butt", yet once I established the habit in my life, I would feel incomplete and crave the activity on days when my schedule was "off" and I missed a workout. 

So what have we to learn from the power of communication devised by television, and the establishment of habits in one's life? 

I need to seek out creative ways to effectively communicate God's truth to my kids, and I need to be consistent and repetitive.  This also means that I can't be a fake.  The only way that I can demonstrate the message of God's grace to my kids is if it is real in my own life 24/7.  With that in mind, I may also employ some silly songs and goofy voices while I'm at it, just to make things more interesting...

And now it's time to turn off the TV, hide it away in the closet once more, and go back to being a patient, loving mother...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

If Time Could Stand Still...

There was a clamoring of children with grubby faces, bare feet and excited, musical voices bouncing on my bed.  We read devotions amidst a babbling, squealy toddler who climbed over knees and tummies that appeared like hills and mountains under a sea-blue comforter.

Simple, repetitive and sometimes confusing prayers were spoken by each child, and we patiently listened and walked with our youngsters to the throne of the One who always listens - even when the prayer sounds like a conversation about what we might do today, and how we should eat pizza and maybe get a treat for obeying Mommy.

The day was filled with activity and noise and all of the normal squabbling of a large family.  Then:  Daddy's home and we are all together again, to eat, talk, correct and connect.

Before I know it, the day is done.  Normally prone to rushing my kids to bed, even setting the "bedtime timer" to prod them through their routines and into bed, I am now finding myself somewhat reluctant.  If only the clock could stop.  If only I could take back my frustration and anger of the day, and capture more teachable, vulnerable and precious moments.  It's past bedtime now, and I look to my husband, telling him I'd rather not rush.  We need to be together as a family.  We need to connect and grow.  When the night is so beautiful, what could be better than the calming, quiet of a summer stroll?  No computers, television or other "noise" from technology blaring at us; just the sound of birds, cars driving in the distance and a dog that yaps at us when we walk by his territory.  Little voices are heard, and finally listened to with patient understanding and keen interest.  I can see the beauty in my daughters and the creativity in my sons that was previously clouded by a busy day and hectic world.

I find myself continually frustrated with this world and all it's advancements in technology and "so-called" connection.  Sometimes I just want to run away with my family to a cabin, far from civilization, with no electronics; no attachments to the masses of population and the commercialized world.  Why can't it be more simple?  Why am I so easily distracted?

Still, I learn that it is more about myself, than about my surroundings and though I am averse to take responsibility, I endure the consequences of my actions and attitude.  Sometimes, I just have to take my eyes off of the clock, and embrace the moment.  Sometimes we will be late - because my child's heart is more important that appearing punctual and always put-together.  There will often be late nights with my husband, because somehow the best conversations begin once the light is out, and we pour out our hearts, emotions and thoughts to one another.

It's always easy to plan for tomorrow, and think that change is on the horizon.  It's another thing entirely to commit ourselves to NOW; not letting the moments slip away.  As hurried as we have become, being drenched in complicated schedules and clinging to our routines as if they hold the key to our sanity - I feel that we are more trapped than ever and that which was designed to free us, has become a tether to bind us and dominate our families.  It's as simple as learning to ease up on the requirements you hold fast to in your mind - the ones that seem to matter, yet have little lasting value.  It's as easy as taking your eyes off of the clock, and when you capture a moment worth holding onto, you grasp every second without a sense of haste. 

Just hold on to my hand, for another moment or two, 
until all that seemed to matter slips away 
and our love burns bright and clear

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

From Lentils to Childlike Faith

A tired little girl sobbed on my lap.  "I'm different from everyone in the family" she wailed, with tendrils of hair scattered across her face and tiny bits of twigs and leaves crowning her head from a day of caterpillar hunting.

"What do you mean, sweetie?"  I gently prodded, stroking her back.

"Everyone likes supper but me... "  and another humongous, albeit dramatic sob rocked her body as real tears rolled down her soft, sun kissed cheeks.  She explained further that she just couldn't eat her supper, yet she still wanted a cookie.

I told her that everyone is different, but that was what makes us special.  I told her that she was a precious part of our family.  I even told her that supper tonight wasn't my favorite (my eldest daughter made it, and it was good, well... as good as a lentil-based stew can taste) but even when we don't like supper, we had to be thankful for the hands that prepared it and for the fact that we had good food to eat.

However, her cries could not be settled, and from the depths of her little soul, the sorrows of a five year old gushed out of her heart.  "But I do bad things... and I lie and I disobey..." She crushed her little body against mine, spilling tears onto my neck as she clung to me tenaciously.

"Oh sweetie..." I stroked her back and told her how the Bible says that no one is good, that we all do bad things sometimes.  "Jesus wants to help you, though." I reassured her.  I told her how He can make your heart clean and take care of any mess that you make.

We went off to a quiet space and I asked her if she wanted to talk to Jesus.  She needed a few more moments of regret, however, and lamented to me:  "I don't care about being on the front page of the newspaper, I only care about Jesus! ...and Mommy."  (Just that day, she and her brother were posted on the front page of our local newspaper, in a picture taken at a community event the day before.)  I smiled and felt my heart melting at the precious and simple perspective that my daughter held.

"Are you ready to talk to Jesus now?"  I quietly asked her, as she sat curled up in my lap, her head on my chest.

"Okay" she replied, and began to whisper a simple little prayer into my ear.  "Dear Jesus, I hope you can come and make my heart all clean and be with me always.  In Jesus' name, Amen."

Done.  Clean.  All is well.  I felt a spring of joy fill my soul at my daughter's beautiful expression of trust as her little arms reached out to a Father who loves her.

"I feel a smile in my heart, don't you?" I asked her, looking down into her pretty hazely-blue eyes.

She nodded, the corners of her rosebud mouth turning up with an expression of contented happiness.  We merrily headed outside, her little hand in mine, and joined the family on a beautiful, early evening walk.

Dozing In the Pew

An old bank with granite walls and a towering ceiling is where I spend my Sunday mornings worshiping.  There are drums, keyboards, guitars and a bass, along with an electronic loop melodically and artistically weaving through the songs; some new, and some old hymns with timeless lyrical content.  There is a youthful vibe among the crowd although many different ages and stages of life are represented.  Most of all there is a sense of unity and family, as we seek to love and follow the Lord, and love each other along the journey.

This is quite a contrast to my previous weekend, in Ontario, when I visited the old church where my father occasionally attended Sunday School as a child.  We awoke early, driving out of Ottawa and through the countryside to the smaller town where my dad grew up.  The air was humid and warm and the sky was overcast.  The miles passed with rolling hills and thick patches of trees and brush, sparsely dotted with old farm buildings and some newer homes.  I plugged my ear-buds into my MP3 player and listened to my music, dozing in the backseat along the highway as my brother sped along.  I just couldn't keep my eyes open and felt like it was 5:30 in the morning, not 7:30 because of the time zone difference.

We started with breakfast at my Uncle's house, which was interesting all on it's own considering that I've never really spent any time with my dad's family before.  After a buffet style spread of toast, sausages, bacon, bagels and fruit, we piled into the rental car for a short drive to the local town's church.  My interest was piqued at the sight of a traditional church building on a street lined with all sorts of historical looking structures.

As I approached the open doorway, strains of a familiar chorus and scripture, sung to an unfamiliar melody poured out from the passionate, mostly elderly choir.  My brother and I stuck together, like in the days of our childhood when we accompanied our parents to various adult-oriented events and only had each other for company.   The cavernous ceiling featured a couple dusty, old, 70's style chandeliers and fairly small fans which spun rapidly, having little impact on the circulation of the humid air.  Rich, red carpet paved the way down the centre aisle and across the front of the stage, showing wear from the years of use. 

My brother and I sat ourselves down on the end of a hard, wooden pew and the already warm sanctuary began to rapidly fill with parishioners.  Finally the service began and we sang old choruses that I remember from when I was a child, when my family attended a more traditional church.  Occasionally my brother and I would poke each other, as we relieved our childhood and the days of goofing off (without getting caught) in the serious atmosphere of church.  After a couple giggles from myself, I regained my solemness, remembering that I am an adult now, and I attempted to lose myself in the songs of "long ago".

When the minister began to preach, although the words rang true, I found myself struggling.  It's not that his content was particularly boring, but it was just so dang hot!  I looked back and noticed that the doors, once open to the cooler, refreshing air from outside, were now sealed.  The tall, simple stained glass windows were also sealed shut, and the sunlight shone through, casting red and blue beams of light into the room, heating it further.  With all the humidity, and all the warm bodies, I found myself unpleasantly warm and struggling to keep my heavy eyelids from flickering shut.  I glanced over to my left, where my Uncle sat and noticed him nodding off.  Further down the aisle, and a few more people away from where I sat, my dad was working hard to stay awake as well!  Next to me, on my right, my brother sighed and I saw beads of sweat glistening on his forehead.  He looked like he could use a nap as well, and to keep himself from slumber, pulled out his I-Phone and began to play a game.

The jet-lag, busyness and early morning began to take it's toll on me.  I glanced up at the two small fans overhead that frenetically worked, to no avail.  The preacher's voice faded in and out of my conscious thought and I wished that I had stocked my purse with some chocolate covered espresso beans.  The words spoken were life-giving, but the humid heat hovered like a thick blanket, causing heads to nod - not in agreement, but in fitful slumber.  Finally, as a last resort, I pulled out my little brown notebook (or Brownberry, as I like to call it) and began to write a description of my surroundings.  The act of writing and concentrating on the details around me allowed me to summon the strength to remain awake and somewhat alert.

Suddenly, I was overtaken by hiccups!  I sheepishly tried to hold in the jolting, rhythmic spasms without making any obscene noises.  I could feel the eyes of the elderly seatmates on the pew behind me boring into the back of my head.  If there was any consolation in the situation, I could be thankful that I didn't feel sleepy anymore.  My big brother kept smirking at me whenever he felt me bump into his shoulder, lurching from the force of each hiccup.  An occasional squeaky noise escaped as I attempted to hold my breath, relax and hold back the hiccups so they would stop!  I'm sure my face was red with embarrassment and I was all too happy when the minister called up the choir and pianist to conclude the service with some music.

I can make light of this church experience, yet I was impacted nonetheless by the evident faith and love I witnessed in the believers present.  For example,  I was introduced to a kind, older gentleman named Rod (he was 93), who, half a century ago would drive his car around to different homes in the country, picking up children to bring them to Sunday School.   My father, then living in foster care, was one of those children.  Little did this man know the fruit that would become of his humble ministry.  He would patiently wait for these kids, sometimes even waking them up and giving them time to get dressed so that they could come to the loving and friendly atmosphere of church and learn about Jesus.  This is just one example of a seed of hope and love, planted into a life, that was not in vain.  I saw Rod's face light up with joy at the presence of my father and the realization of the good fruit from his labor.

On this particular Sunday morning in June, as I was smothered by Ontario's humid summer heat, I was encouraged to never underestimate the impact your actions can have on a life.  You never know how much you can affect someone, by the little things you do.  If it wasn't for a man like Rod, I probably wouldn't be here today...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Journey of Mommyhood

Exploits of Mommyhood has reached it's 100th post!

Initially, I started this blog on April 23, 2007 as an online journal; a place to capture my feelings and thoughts as I tread the waters of being a wife and mother in this hectic, challenging world.  With ketchup smeared on my shoulder, a baby on my knee and children racing through the house pretending to be dogs (barking loudly and shrilly, I might add) I began to chronicle the hidden channels of my heart.

What started out as intermittent respite from peanut butter and jelly, chasing butterflies and tending to dishes, diapers and other disastrous events, has grown into a continual reprieval from my daily duties whereby I commit my life to observation via the internet, with the intent of learning more about myself and how to best serve God in my role as mom, wife and friend. 

Back in 2007, I was the mother of merely 4 children - although another pregnancy was in the works.  Sadly, my second month of blogging would see me processing through the grief of a miscarriage, leaving me raw and disillusioned, but maintaining openness and honesty to the few friends who read my blog.  Now I am the mother of 6, with preteen children, all the way down to my "almost toddler" baby of the family (who has stubbornly refused to walk for months).  To add further excitement and challenge to our lives, it should be noted that my husband and I are beginning our third year of pastoring, placing our lives on stage for constant scrutiny and continual (mostly welcome) intrusion.  This career is something I certainly didn't foresee, yet it blends well with our sense of adventure and our love for community.

So just what are "Exploits of Mommyhood"?  I thought I'd use this post to give a definitive answer to the name of my blog.

If there is one message and motto that I want to get across through my blogging, it is this:   

Your circumstances may define you, but do not let them limit you. 

Just because I'm the proverbial stay-at-home mom, swamped with the activities, cares and concerns of 6 youngsters, doesn't mean that I limit my thinking to the confinement of life within the four walls of my home.

I make it a practice to think outside of the box.  Yes, you can define me as a married-with-children woman, but that doesn't mean I live in sweat pants, eat K-D and Drive-thru Mickey D's all the time, and live my life through my kids.  I am continually seeking the adventure within my situation, or I at least attempt to laugh at myself after I get over the initial shock and horror at the adventures that befall me continually on this journey.  (Just as I was writing this blog, my 9 year old son was taking a bath in my "big tub".  I told him that once he was clean behind the ears, and his hair was washed, he could turn on the jets for a few minutes (as a treat).  Moments later, I heard a forceful spraying and splashing sound and water was shooting upwards, out of the tub like an opened fire hydrant!  Apparently, he had turned all of the jets into an upward facing position, so they were sending the water out of the tub, and all over the floor!  I had a big freak out for a couple moments, got my pants completely soaked as I fumbled to reach the button that turns the jets off, then mopped up the puddles of water and walked away, shaking my head and attributing the whole situation to the fact that this was one of those "boy" things, and at least nothing was wrecked!)

When I say that circumstances define me, I am acknowledging the obvious in life.  Yes, I am female.  Yes, I am married... I wake up every morning next to a wonderful man who promised to be by my side til one of us is no longer.  Also, I am quite overwhelmingly and obviously a mother if the comments that I get at Wal-Mart and Superstore hold any merit.  "Wow, you've got your hands full!" and "Oh... you must be busy!" and the good one... "Have you figured out what causes that yet?!"  Thank you.  I needed that.

After about the 4th kid, I realized I could handle these remarks in a couple of different ways.  I could get snappy and say "What's your problem?  Have you NOT figured out how to cause this yet?" or "You must be pretty pathetic if you can't handle more than one child..."  But of course, I am generally sweet-natured and wouldn't say something so menacing.  Instead, I've found the adventure in having a large family and I've embraced it.  I usually reply to people these days with "It's so much fun to have a big family!" or "There's always someone to love and spend time with in my family!"   In my circumstance I am merely a mother of many children. Yet, my perspective has reached far beyond the circumstances into believing the best and joyfully embracing the life (and children) with whom I've been blessed.

Let's look in further detail what it is that I've ascribed to an uphold in my not-so-normal life.

World English Dictionary
1. a notable deed or feat, esp one that is noble or heroic
2. to take advantage of (a person, situation, etc), esp unethically or unjustly for one's own ends
3. to make the best use of: to exploit natural resources

Let me be clear:  although my children may say that I exploit them on a continual basis, specifically with cleaning, doing dishes, laundry and... gasp... the fact that they must clean their own rooms; I would venture to say that I do not subscribe to the 2nd listed definition of "exploit".  (There is really nothing unethical or unjust going on in my home!)  

So let's look at the first and second meanings... "a notable deed or feat ", and "to make the best use of ".  I'm amazed at how things can turn out despite my circumstances.  You might think that you are tired, weak, ignorant and insignificant.  You may feel that you are only worth as much as the style of your clothes, the shape of your body and the price tag on your home; additionally you may measure yourself according to whether your children speak 2 languages, excel in school and are involved in all the right extracurricular activities.  I've been there! I've lived in that mindset and swallowed the lie - hook, line and sinker.  This is where the exploits come into the situation.  I feel called to more - despite my situation or circumstances.  In fact, I know that I'll be having fun and enjoying life and embracing the adventure whether my bank balance is zero or two hunderd thousand dollars.

For me to be committed to the idea "Explots of Mommyhood" refers to the fact that I can look past lil' ol' me and see the blessing of opportunity.  When we had the opportunity to buy a gutted house, and my husband warned me that it would be an immense amount of work and that I would have to put up with a lot of mess and challenge - I became a visionary and imagined my kids happily camped out in the basement of the house, with stud walls and signs of heavy construction all around them - but the opportunity to stay up late giggling and becoming better buddies with each other.  It was indeed a larger project than any sane family would take on, but I also found myself counting my blessings throughout the ordeal and developed a heart of thanksgiving. 

As I sit here in my bedroom, typing away on my computer with a lovely king-sized bed next to me, painted walls and soft carpet beneath my feet, it still only takes me a moment to conjure up the images of what this room once was like (just 17 months ago).  We slept on a double mattress on the floor.  There was no drywall seperating our room from the view of the rest of the house.  The floors were littered with sawdust and wiring.  Boxes were piled up with the necessities, including kitchen gear which we could not use - except when we cooked on the hotplate in our future kitchen (that lacked a kitchen sink, cupboards, countertops...)  Oh, and our fridge was plugged in and set up in our bathroom (which also had no walls!).  So how on earth did I survive?  I thought of what was to come.  I embraced the absurdness of this adventure that I was powerless to change.  And, on top of that, I knew that what I had: a warm place to sleep and a bed and food - was more than many people in the world have on a daily basis.

Exploits.   Making the ordinary extraordinary. 

In simplicity what I'm trying to describe is all a matter of perspective.  I can touch the lives around me with a love and passion for God, and persistent, unselfish care for others or I can bury my head in the sand of my circumstances and let them be the judge of who I will become.

Whether or not others will follow me on this journey, and whether or not people will continue to read my posts, I'm stuck on this regime of impassioned adventure.  Mommyhood at it's best and worst... expressed on a simple website for me to creatively articulate;  wide open and honest; available for your consumption in hopes that I may touch your heartstrings, give you something to laugh about and maybe allow you learn from my Exploits of Mommyhood.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Riding With An Apostle

My teenager-rooted dreams of being dangerous, rebellious and cool were lived out in a simple 2 1/2 hour motorbike ride on the back of a Harley.  I donned a black bandana over my hair in attempt to cover up my urban-housewife/soccer mom persona, and glared a little at the camera as my husband took a snapshot before I put on my motorcycle jacket and helmet.

My brother is part of a Christian motorcycle "gang" called the Apostles and has the leather jacket with their symbol boldly proclaiming his elite status.  He also has all the proper gear: leather chaps, a cool skull-cap style helmet with skulls decorating it,  along with tattoos and earrings to further enhance his already tough demeanor (which is hardly required in the first place, considering his build and height).  Now, for the unfortunate part.  Before I popped onto the Harley behind him, my husband dutifully (and with moderate concern) wanted to ensure my safety and dressed me in his sporty motorcycle jacket that has a protective interior designed to help in the event of a crash.  I also wore his full-face helmet (much safer than my brother's type of helmet).  Basically, I was the preppy version of a biker - more like a causal, city biker who rides around on Hondas instead of Harleys (this being the type of bike that is often known as  a "crotch rocket"), and I did not look the part of being a member of a dangerous biker gang.

Yet, I was still caught up in the excitement as I climbed behind my big brother and he took the bike from 0-50 km in about 4 seconds (or so it felt) as we raced away from my pretty little life on our quiet city street.  I was on the back of a Harley.  I was one of "them".  Soon I forgot my own attire, and melted into the black leather in front of me, my eyes drinking in the sight of blurring vehicles and trees beside us, my ears filled with the roar of the bike and the wind that whipped against my helmet.

After an enjoyable ride on the highway, we entered Calgary and from time to time passed other bikers on the road.  I felt a sense of haughty pride as my brother signaled a nonchalont two finger salute/wave to the other tough bikers as we swept past each other.  We were the cool bikers now!  At one point, we stopped at a traffic light and I peered over at the passengers of the car next to us.  They seemed to avert their gaze, intent on looking forward and not messing with the biker dude... and me, of course!

Really, I've often felt the same way - I mean, who wants to incur the wrath of a biker?  What if he's a Hell's Angel and you look at him the wrong way, and he takes you down?  Usually, I'm just a petite, casually dressed "soccer mom" (not that my kids play soccer", but I drive the mini-van) and if you were to pick the most vulnerable looking target, that just might be me!  Not that I'm vulnerable... I've got some street smarts, I'm tough, and I wouldn't go without a fight.  Yet... that little sense of caution and niggling fear occasionally creeps in whenever I pull up to a group of bikers on the road or in the parking lot of 7-11.  But for now, if only for a few hours... I was one of them!

As the passenger, I didn't have a lot of say concerning the direction we were headed - I figured we were on our way to my brother's house to get some rest before our big trip to Ottawa.  Yet, he suddenly took a detour from the route towards his house and went off the main drag and soon we were swerving through traffic in the sketchy part of Calgary (Dover, of all neighborhoods).  I began to wonder just what was in store.  We turned down an alley and screamed to the end of it, stopping behind a group of fourplexes... you know, just the kind of neighborhood where pleasant middle-class families and their sweet children live (NOT!).  My brother parked,  nonchalantly eased his burly, bad-ass, leather-clad-self off of the bike and told me he'd be back in a couple minutes.  I watched as he approached a nearby house and was rightfully disturbed and filled with concern at the sight of a large biker-dude who opened his door and started to talk to my brother. "Crap!"  I thought... "I sure hope this guy doesn't mess with my bro.." but that thought was interuppted swiftly when the tough biker dude, whom I thought was a pretty big guy, stepped off of the porch onto the sidewalk next to my brother and I could then see that my brother was a good 6 inches and 60 pounds bigger than him!  "Ha ha..." I chuckled to myself with relief, "I'm with the big guy!"

So apparently this dude was a friend, and my brother chatted with him for a few more moments before returning to his Harley (and me, his little sister).  Once again, he started his bike with a tremendous roar, and we raced off to... home?

Again, we were headed in the right direction, and I relaxed, thinking that this ride was nearly complete.  Then, the unexpected happened: just ahead of us, in the parking lot of an A&W was a crowd of bikers.  Black leather dominated the terrain with big bikes, new bikes and older antique bikes decorating the lot.  At first, I was mildly curious about this event.  After all, I was the passenger on the back of a pretty sweet ride.  The more I looked around though, the more concerned I became as I suddenly realized that I wasn't one of them.  I was the preppy kid caught up in a crowd of metal-heads.  I was the cat, lost in a dog-pound.  Everyone, and I mean everyone else was wearing black leather and I had my safety suit - nylon black and blue jacket with the full-face helmet.  It's like when the neighborhood kids are out playing street hockey and your mom makes you wear all the padding and safety gear from head to toe and everyone else is just in shorts and t-shirts.  Suddenly I didn't feel quite so cool and the thrill of my previous journey evaded me.  I'm good at putting on a facade however, so I just played the part and followed my brother around as he talked shop to the other bikers.  It wasn't too long before we sought a bite to eat in the A&W and I eventually forgot my discomfort.

That pretty much concludes my stint as a biker-chick.  If there was any lesson to be learned, it would be this:

When you're riding behind the right person, you've got nothing to worry about.  Believe me, they're looking at the big guy in front of you, especially since you are a shrimp compared to him.  It doesn't matter if you don't have it all together.  It doesn't matter if you don't feel tough enough, strong enough, smart enough... just relax and let the driver do the swift maneuvering and aggressive driving (all the while being street-wise with the proper dialogue and secret hand signals), and you'll be fine.

If you haven't put two and two together yet, I'm relating my experience to life with Jesus.  To put it simply, when you put Him in charge of your life, you're like the passenger on the back of a Harley.  You can rest in the fact that it's His reputation and strength and ability that will get you where you need to go.  Just grab onto the smooth, black leather in front of you and enjoy the ride.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Beautiful Encounter

I felt the familiar whisper of His presence today.

A velvety, silver-blue ribbon stretched across the horizon where land blurred and met with the calm of the azure sky.  The prairies were a rippling, living carpet of energetic green, and a flock of ducks scattered in flight, their wings beating rhythmically, with musical cadence, as if they heard my adoration and shared my heart of worship to the Creator.  And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!" (Isaiah 6:3)  Yes, indeed, the whole earth is full of His glory.

The skies were painted majestically with broad strokes in translucent shades of blue.  Whipped puffs of cloud blanketed the south, fading over the westerly mountains into delicate swirls of pure white.  A lone eagle soared effortlessly over a valley, with wondrous calm and liberty.

I was alone with the wind whipping around me, speeding down the highway on the back of a motorcycle - yet I was surrounded, and effortlessly gliding through God's splendor of creation.  His artistry permeated my senses as waves of color lay banquet to my eyes, the essence of clover and freshly mown grass tickled my nose and my body was pressed back into my seat by the billows of wind that swirled forcibly against me.

My mp3 player seemed in tune with my emotions, as the words "come, take me away with you" and "I belong to you..." melodically flowed and washed over my soul like a healing balm. (Both from the album "Songs In Secret" by Great Awakening)

Radiant beams from thy holy face... sunbeams streamed down; warming my wind-chilled legs and I lifted my closed eyes, allowing the caress of pure light to cascade over my countenance.

Perfectly safe.   Perfectly complete.

I'm grateful for these bursts of oblivion, where all else is forgotten and the cares of the world are trailing somewhere far behind. 

Moments with Jesus. 

Peace.  Strength for the weary, bread for the hungry.  You give me water, so I will never thirst again.

In a world so vast, I am a creature so small and insignificant, yet He shows me His love in so many ways.

Just one response - no other will suffice.

thank you

On the Road With Ma, Pa, and My Big Bro

I'm about to climb on the back of a motorbike with a burly, 6 foot 4, bearded, tattooed biker guy, and race up the highway to cow-town.  I may even play the part and find a leather jacket to wear with my skinny jeans, change my nose-stud to a hoop and put a black bandana over my hair. 

My Big Brother
 It's the beginning of a family adventure that has the makings of a bizzarre indie film that explores the complexities of family dynamics over a decade after the kids have grown up, moved out and lived their own lives. 

I'll be flying "back east" to Ontario with my Ma, Pa and big brother as we take a whirlwind trip to celebrate my Grandpa's 90th birthday and have a family reunion.

 I grew up calling my parents "Ma" and "Pa", just like in the Little House on the Prairie series.  My mom and dad enjoyed the wholesomeness of the popular television series, with Michael Landon as "Charles" and decided that they wanted to be homey and traditional and have us call them by the same  moniker.

So here I am wondering:  What on earth will it be like to cram the next 5 days with constant interaction with my parents and brother?  Will it be awkward?  Will we annoy each other to death?  Will I get bored, lonely, angry, or frustrated?  Keep in mind that I left home about 13 years ago or 4745 days + 3 leap year days, which equals 113, 952 hours of life where I've plotted my own course, made my own choices and adjusted my personal affinities to live life with my husband and develop our own family culture.  I was practically a child when I left home, and I've changed a lot!

Yet... these are the people that brought me into this world, diapered me, clothed me, fed me and taught me the basics of life.  I carry their DNA.  And if we're going to compare the years, days and hours, then these are the people with whom I spent the first 18 years or 6574 days or 157, 776 hours of my life, from birth to moving out, after a year of college and getting married.  Surely that speaks for the bond that lies in the deep, inner space of our hearts?

At any rate, this is certain to be an adventure.  Whether we fight, laugh, pout or become ridiculously bored with one another, we're bound to make some memories to last a lifetime.

Though I am certain to miss my husband and kids, and I prefer not to be away from them, I'll look on the bright side of things.  No diapers, dishes or whining (expect for my own whining) for the next 5 days!

Stay tuned for my thrilling, weird and wild adventures...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Pursuit of Joyfulness

I love moments of delirium, when everything is hilarious and jokes flow as easily as ice cream melts and dribbles down a toddler's chin on a hot August day.  These moments just don't occur often enough - and for me, this doesn't happen on normal days, but is more often the result of too much sugar coupled with too little sleep.

Show me a bottle with some florescent yellow-colored happy pills (yes, they have to be bright yellow), and I'd be the first one in the room to pop one into my mouth.  Now, I'm not saying I'd take illegal drugs...but... for some reason I tend to look at and focus on the negative side of things, seeing the glass half empty when it's really half full.

There are all sorts of satisfaction-enhancing systems, products and activities in our society today, all designed to make oneself happier.

Chocolate bars, according to one heart-disease-prevention website, can make both me and my heart happy.  Sounds like a fantastic form of therapy, doesn't it?  I've been taking this sort of medicine for years!

Exercise is scientifically proven to release endorphins which flood your body with both contentment and energy.  Check.

Starbucks is the "Queen" of coffee purveyors, promising to deliver caffeine (and sugar) "However you want it".  Good thing I own a Starbucks espresso machine, so I can find satisfaction without even leaving the comfort of my home.

Along this idea of pursuing joyfulness, I've made it a habit to become friends with bubbly people.  Sometimes you just need to hang out with a wild, rambunctious giggler who can find fun in every  moment.  Sounds a little like my husband, minus the giggling.

So I've tried the proper diet (chocolate and caffeine included), exercised, and surrounded myself with shiny, happy people.  Yet, where's the joy? Could it be that joy is something you cannot purchase, ingest or manufacture artificially?

This is not what I like to hear.  I'm naturally lazy.  I don't want to have to change myself - I'd prefer someone flips a switch and fixes my issues.  However, the idea of a happier, more joyful outlook entices me.  I'm listening... what should I do?

In my devotional this morning (which I read in the only private room of the house, if you can guess where that is) I learned how joy dwells inside of you, waiting for activation that only you can initiate.  So we're back to the fact that my emotional state is my responsibility and should not be determined by other people or my circumstances?  Groan.  Sigh.  Alright, let's continue.

I believe that joy, just like love and patience is primarily a choice.  Furthermore, joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, so I would venture to say that we can draw upon joy in the same way we draw upon peace when life is confronting us with fear or discouragement.  I have long since learned the lesson of peace after many years fraught with emotional ups and downs that sprout from human existence in an imperfect world.  Peace, I've found, comes easily when you turn your situations and most of all your heart, over to God in utter dependence.  What about joy, then?

Joy is typically a product of gratefulness.  Joy comes from seeing the good, counting your blessings and cherishing the positive elements in your life.  Yet, there are times in life when nothing seems bright, you can't see the silver lining in the rainclouds and you lack the energy to even open your eyes and search for some sort of blessing to acknowledge.  When all else fails, and everything seems to SUCK, there's still a possibility for joy.  If joy comes from the Lord, and you've received Jesus into your life, then joy is accessible not by earthly means but is more spiritual in nature.

This may very well be as simple as saying (or singing) "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart... (WHERE?) Down in my heart... to stay.  And I'm so happy, so very happy, I've got the love of Jesus in my heart!"  Sounds ridiculous?  I don't think it is as childish as it seems.  This is the sort of joy that comes from the fact that Jesus loves me and accepts me with all my weird habits - like the fact that I always have to open chip bags from the bottom and I can't use a bathroom without drawing back the shower curtain (you never know if someone is hiding in there!).  Even the simple knowledge that He accepts me despite my faults is enough to spring a well of joy within my heart.  It's kind of like when you pick up your grubby, muddy toddler and he gives you a contagious belly laugh that warms you from head to toe - that is real, pure joy.  The sort of joy I'm talking about runs deep - deeper than your circumstances and hurts, discouragement and exhaustion.

Activate joy today.  You don't need money, honey or even your hunny to make you happy (ya, ya, that's pretty lame, I know!) - Just remember, the joy of the Lord is your strength.  (Nehemiah 8:10)
Full of Joy...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Be Fragrant

Several years back, when my husband and I admitted to ourselves that marriage had caused us to gain a few pounds which were not entirely pregnancy related, we decided to change our diet.  Instead of looking at caloric intake or finding some fancy system to track our carbs/protien/fat.. etc., we instead decided to try eating a more ethnically eclectic diet.  For several years, our favorite food had been Italian which involved lots of pasta, breads and rich, creamy sauces.  Now, we began to venture into the world of Indian cuisine, experimenting with curries and dahls and chutney.  Soon our cupboards were stocked with colorful, fragrant spices and we quickly learned that tumeric should never be left on the counter, as it's deep yellowy orange color has the staining power of permanent ink!  At one point, our friends jokingly told us that they always knew when our family had arrived at church because they could smell the garlic!  We tried to accept that as a compliment.

Being a young family, we had a lot of friends with small children and one day, a friend of mine was going to drop her little girl off at our place to be looked after for a few hours.  Apparently, her daughter protested, saying that our house smelled funny!  Several months of cooking curries on a regular basis had taken their toll on our house and I guess the smell pretty much permeated the walls and curtains and was noticeable when you walked in the door!  (Good thing it was a rental property! Hee hee!)

Another pungent odor that I'd like to tell you about is relates to my husband.  Now, I know what you're thinking... and it's not what you think!  Ha ha!  Actually, the smell I'm talking about is that of wood-smoke.  My husband has long held the title of 'pyromaniac' and loves to build campfires and burn things.  That fits in quite well with family get-togethers because my older brother is quite passionate about fire as well!  A couple of years ago at Christmastime, our families were together and once the presents were opened and the women were busy in the kitchen, the men headed out to the backyard fire pit to get down to business.  Of course, all fires are more exciting when enhanced by some sort of dangerous fuel, and this event was no exception.  The boys, as I will call them in this scenario, built up for themselves a tower of wood and cardboard, slathered it with gasoline, stood back and threw in a match.  "POOOOF!"  The guys jumped back instinctively and then quickly regained their manly stance of fire technicians on a mission.  The flames of their fire probably rose to heights upwards of 10ft, and we were lucky that the neighbors were occupied with Christmas festivities indoors, and didn't call the fire department!  (Not that a friendly visit including a fire truck would be anything new to my husband and brother... they had quite the history when it came to building gigantic non-conforming campfires within city limits.)

When my husband came inside a short time later, to nibble on Christmas cookies and candy and nuts, I walked over to him and smelled a familiar smell.  "Mmm..." I said as I gave him a hug, "You smell like fire."

"Thank you!" he replied, with a twinkle in his eyes.   The format of this conversation has become a tradition for us -  due to my husband's love of fire, he feels greatly complimented when I comment that he smells of wood smoke.

Unfortunately, one thing I've noticed is that if you spend a great deal of time around a campfire, your clothing can take a very long time before the smell wears off.  There was one particular camping trip that my husband took in the winter and came home stinking like a campfire.  Due to the miserable weather and constant wind, he was encompassed by the smoke of his fire for hours as he and his friends cooked their dinner and sat around talking, late into the night.   When he returned home and walked in the door, I could smell the smoke from across the room!  I washed his sweater right away, but it still reeked of smoke and took another couple of washes before the odor disappeared completely.

You may be wondering how I got onto the topic of pungent fragrances,  and the thought process began quite recently, while I was running outdoors and found myself overcome by the heady, yet deliciously sweet scent of blooming lilacs, apple and cherry blossoms all through the neighborhood.  I instantly thought of the scripture "For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing." from 2 Corinthians 2:15.

Just what sort of scent is "the fragrance of Christ"?  I imagine it to be an intoxicating perfume that entices you to inhale deep breaths of it's refreshing fragrance.  It's the kind of smell that you want to draw closer to, drench yourself with, and become surrounded by.  You will carry this aroma by spending time in the presence of the source of the fragrance - Jesus.

I could talk about how Christians often stink in the presence of the lost (and I don't deny that many Christians fail to walk in love and are often offensive with their hypocritical behaviour) yet, I think that would be taking this verse out of context, and in the wrong direction.  I really like how The Message translation phrases the verse:

Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation - an aroma redolent with life. 

On our own, we stink.  With Christ, we are drenched and baptized with a sweet smelling perfume - we're made clean and new from the inside-out. Just as I described in the previous paragraphs, you can absorb the scent of food or a campfire that you spend time around.  Jesus is the same.  The more we spend time in His presence, the more we are attuned to His love and character.  After a while, this permeates your life and is evident in the way you talk, and act, and overall in how you are perceived by others.

One last thought... I believe that the fragrance of Christ is characterized by joy.  Those who know God and set their hearts on Him live a blessed life and a contented life.  Psalm 16:11 is a favorite of mine which gives a persuading reason for seeking and experiencing the presence of God.  "You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore."  I want to know God, know the path of life and be filled with joy.  I can't think of a better way to live.

Monday, June 6, 2011

When the "How-To" Books Fail You...

 Desperate times call for desperate measures.  Let me tell you something about my history... my world has been a whirlwind since I graduated from high school almost exactly 14 years ago, and it shows no sign of calming or slowing down for the next decade or so.

From high school, I entered Bible College, and after completing one year of religious education,  I was engaged.  We married in the late fall, and thought we'd take a chance at "trying" to get pregnant just 2 1/2 months after our wedding.  I guess there was no such thing as "trying" because we didn't have to try at all - I became pregnant immediately!  Just 3 weeks before our first anniversary, our lives came to a screeching halt when our first wonderful, albeit strong-willed baby came into our lives and made us into a family.  It was rather like being at the top of the roller coaster, just before plunging down an enormously steep hill that includes some upside down twists and turns.  I wasn't exactly ready for the ride of my life - and I actually tended to look at marriage and parenting as being "a neat experience" or "the thing to do".  I'll even admit that in some ways, I had an immature understanding of life in the "real world".  I attribute my success, or probably better phrased: "survival", to my steadfast relationship with God that has revealed itself to be far more about Him holding onto me than me holding onto Him!

Following the birth of our first child, a cycle began which unveiled itself in the appearance of a new baby approximately every two years until we found ourselves with 3 girls and 3 boys, and the reality of a big, busy, but blessed family.  We've lived on the other side of the world, had home births, had financial catastrophes, and yet somehow have developed a sense of rhythm within chaos and now find ourselves in the rugged terrain of being in "the ministry" whilst raising our energetic brood.

So you can well imagine the stress and moments of panic which I encounter on occasion - like with my first pregnancy, and later when my husband was laid off from his job and we had two small children.  Other occasions where anxiety made it's presence known were when I realized I was unexpectedly pregnant with my fourth child as we prepared to move overseas, and more recently, the realization that I am living with...(drum-roll, please...) PRETEENS!  So what does an introspective, quiet person do with these situations?  Often I turn to books.  In this educationally rich culture, there's always a book telling you the precise way to handle your marriage, family, pregnancy, or imminent financial ruin.

I could list dozens of books that I've encountered over the years and show you many books on my shelves which unveil the best strategies, "4 Easy Steps", and the "One Weekend Makeover" to change your life!  While the knowledge contained in the pages of these inspirational reading materials is certainly of great value, and I am thankful for the wisdom of people who have walked through the battle before me, I feel that something is lacking.  I've applied the principles often, determining "once and for all" in my mind to change.  I've used the secret phrases designed to unlock the door to my child's respect and obedience.  I've even resolved to have "No More Headaches" like the marriage book promised it's principles would allow me to achieve - and yet... I still don't fail to frustrate myself with selfish behaviors and an overall disappointing track record when it comes to the relationships in my life.  Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not in crisis here!  I just know that when it comes to my marriage, my kids, and in general my LIFE... there is so much MORE!  We were designed to have incredible, fulfilling relationships - they are the basis of our very existence.  Yet we struggle with the petty and mundane every-day issues, along with the larger, painful-to-talk-about situations that inhibit intimacy and closeness and overall completeness in our lives.

This past weekend, I came to a sobering revelation while struggling with my bad attitude and irritability that was mostly induced by early mornings and late nights out attending a conference with my family.  As I sat frustrated on the couch, the words clearly came to me:  "There are no short-cuts."  Egad!  What did this mean?  And yet, deep down, I had the answer that I was seeking.  I felt a sense of firm conviction that brought both relief and panic, all at the same time.

I can figure out the methods and systems.  I can apply all the principles.  I can go to that "week-end getaway" designed to refresh, encourage and resolve me to be a better wife, mom, and woman.  But there are no short-cuts when it comes to true change.

Change comes when I get down on my knees and humbly submit myself before God.  You see, in that quiet time, He gains access to my heart and mind and will.  He can speak healing to the things that are broken, and He gently chastens me in the areas of my selfish nature.  He will give me His perspective when things don't seem to make sense.  He will grow within me a greater love for my husband, children, friends and even my enemies as I am filled and refreshed with His love.  This isn't attained by reading a book.  This isn't something you can learn.  This can only be acquired by patient, continual surrender in the presence of Jesus.  There's no possible short-cut to the peace, joy and love that can be received in His arms.  I can figure it all out in my mind, and determine to change my behavior - but it's my heart that needs to be fixed.

I began this posting with the phrase: Desperate times call for desperate measures.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm desperate to live a life of surrender.  No more 'trying to figure it out' and think my way through things.  My heart is in His hands.  Surrender... continually.