Monday, November 30, 2009

Taking Pictures with My Heart

The word "ponder" means "to think or consider especially quietly, soberly, and deeply," or so says old Mr. Webster.

On this cold, rainy day, God has continuously brought to my mind a single verse: "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."(Luke 2:19).

In a world before Kodak and Nikon, every picture Mary took was stored away in her heart. Only a mother could take some of those shots. Only a mother's heart would be pierced by the small things that others would just ignore.

And so I've been quietly treasuring some recent special moments that make motherhood worthwhile:

Afternoon open-mouthed kisses from the twins.

Wyatt asking me to pick him up so he could see himself in the mirror and then smiling as he said, "Heh heh heh. I'm beau-ti-ful."

Three sets of eyes lighting up after being away from mommy for a few hours.

Wyatt scribbling "letters" on a paper, which he gave me as he said, "This is for you, mommy. For my BEST friend mommy."

And just the other day, Wyatt sitting on top of the picnic table (a "no-no") and putting his hand out to keep Amelia from falling. Already protecting his little sister.
My heart is full tonight.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Just Get It Over With

My family didn't get dressed up. We didn't frantically clean house to ensure no relative would find a surface harboring dust. And there was no bird to carve at our table.

But we still ate too much, enjoyed family time, and took an afternoon nap.

Turkey and andouille gumbo, homemade rolls, fried shrimp and oysters--it may not sound like Thanksgiving fare to you, but that's the meal our kitchen turned out today.

Before all the food made it to the table, Wyatt wandered into the kitchen to discover his Grandmama frying shrimp. Since this is one of his favorites, he quickly scaled rungs to sit atop the bar stool and somehow convinced MaMa that he needed a shrimp now. A short prayer later, that shrimp was history.

Moments later, I saw him take another shrimp from the bowl, bow his head a second time and repeat his meal-time prayer again.

I held my breath as I listened, making sure I could understand the words.

Although this is supposed to be a week of thanks, two days ago, Wyatt decided he could rush through his mealtime prayer. In his impatience to start eating, he decided expediting the prayer would be ok.

It started on Tuesday when Wyatt forgot to pray at lunch. Hungry from three hours of running around outside, he didn't have to be told twice to get in his chair. Two little hands grabbed the peanut butter and honey sandwich as he opened his mouth as wide as it could go, ready to take a huge bite.

He was mid-bite when I yelled, "Wait! You forgot to thank God for the food!"

He removed the sandwich from his mouth, but didn't drop it as he bowed the head.

"God is great. God is good. Letusthankhimforthefoodamen."

I had to make him repeat it twice before he got it right. But then he did the same thing for supper that night and then again lunch the next day.

Mommy's authority was failing to stop this new speedy prayer. So, I tried the "blame it on God" tactic. "You need to say your prayers slowly. God can't understand you when you talk so fast."

Wyatt grinned that "mommy is so stupid" grin and in his silly voice said, "God can understand ME."

Ok, got me there--dumb mommy.

So then I explained that maybe God liked it when he said the prayer slow because it sounds more like he really is thankful and it makes God feel special.

Surprise, surprise--that worked. No more just-get-it-over-with prayers in the last 24 hours.

The sad part? I know where he gets it from. I've caught myself with the same attitude about prayer.

I know the role it should play in a Christian's life. I have lived the results of its power. And yet, all too often, I rush through a prayer so I can get on to something else. Even at night when I sit down to do an hour or more of in-depth Bible study, I find myself praying all too quickly so I can get to the "good part."

Maybe I'm the only one who has this problem.

But I want my prayer life to be more than just me repeating my prayer-list back to God. I want it to be more than just the sentence prayers of thanks and requests that I offer up all throughout the day.

I want to enjoy an unrushed two-way prayer exchange between me and God just like my Bible study has become.

I want to consider prayer the "good part," too.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Destination Nowhere

My shoulders stiff from hours stooped over student papers last night, I take hold of the handle and begin pulling 50+pounds of twins in the red wagon.

Wyatt knows what it means when I click the blue straps around two little waists. And he responds as only he can--skipping, jumping up and down, running in excited jubilation.

But even though he knows what's happening, he still asks the same question each day. "We go on a nature walk!?"

He and I march through thick grass, wet from Sunday's showers; through clean packed dirt marked with fresh deer tracks at the edge of the fallow field; and through crawfish hole territory where a village of towering mud homes makes easy targets for small feet to kick over.

As we make our way around the yard, Wyatt kicks at each ant pile to reveal an underground network filled with white baby ants. He adds one more small stick to the towering pile of limbs needing to be burned. He picks me blue weed blossoms to wear in my hair or put in the back porch vase.

The point isn't to get exercise, although that's a side benefit. It isn't to go fast and get the journey over with.
No, in this case, the journey is the destination.

For a few minutes, we stop our individual labors and join together, this mommy and her children, to notice God's creation changing around us.

We marvel over the single pear blossom, open out of season. The pink toadstool near the back "hill". Stiff moss growing on a rotten tree branch. Tire tracks from daddy's lawnmower labors. A woolly bear caterpillar that, as Wyatt put it, curled up into a "prick-i-ly ball."
Thanksgiving isn't one day a year at our house. God's creation gives a new reason to be thankful every day...if we just take the time to really look around us.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Living in the Outtakes

A three-year old and one-year-old twins walk into a portrait studio.

The newly-walking 1-year-old girl says, "Wide open space!" and refuses to sit still unless bribed with animal cookies.

The 1-year-old boy says, "No, I'm not going to smile" and proceeds to look bored in all the shots.

The three year old says, "I don't want to take pictures!" and does everything he can to prove his point.

He says "cheese!" and grins like a goofball.
He sticks his hands in his pants and then hides behind mommy when told to stop it.

He pulls his pants up to his knees.

And when he finally cooperates, the twins start crying.
The final picture we'll send to family and friends (none of these here) just doesn't tell the real story.

It doesn't show the night before preparations--six pairs of brown and black shoes lined up across daddy's desk. Six little pairs of socks laid out with six precious outfits.

It doesn't show a devoted pair of grandparents waving feather boas and musical Santa dolls in the air behind the camera to try and get three independent children to cooperate. Or those same grandparents helping dress and redress squirming arms and legs.

It doesn't show a mother's prayer for just one decent shot of everybody looking at the camera...and for her to maybe look halfway pretty, too.

But these pictures that didn't quite make the cut...they're where my life truly is. My life definitely isn't found in three perfectly behaved angels or in perfect hair days.

It's found in loud shrieks of laughter, boo-boo tears, and many a child's pant-less (and shoe-less) afternoon on the farm. It's lived in tousled hair, dirt-streaked faces , and truck races to the back pine tree.

No studio portrait can show all that.

Monday, November 16, 2009

An Upside Down Christmas

Each time we visit the mall, my almost three-year-old is drawn to the cow hide ottoman and zebra hide chair. Textures interest him. But lately, his interest has shifted to this upside down Christmas tree.

I initially thought it was some stock boy's idea of a joke. But another upside-down tree is in the same major department store at the other mall across town. It's intentional, obviously a decision from corporate headquarters.

Whether or not it's intended to serve as a statement on what Christmas has become, that's what it says to me.

Surrounded by evidences of a celebration of hope turned into a celebration of commercialism, this tree shimmers as a reminder that this is not how it is supposed to be.

The store ads keep emphasizing that Black Friday is coming.

But so is the birth of my Savior.

And He bled drops of red for me.

(Many thanks for the kind prayers you sent me--I am doing much better and the children are perfectly healed. My hubby is still suffering some, but he, too, is starting to recover.)

[Update: I googled the phenomenon today and discovered upside down Christmas trees are the newest fad. Moms like them because they can keep more ornaments away from small children and pets; retailers like them because they allow for more ornaments at eye level, which encourages people to buy more; kids like them because there's more room for presents beneath them. USA Today reports they're selling like hotcakes. Does no one but me see the terrifying irony in buying a tree that points to hell?]

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Pause Button

"Dinner and a movie" just hasn't been penciled in on my calendar since the twins were born. If anything, "dinner and grocery shopping" is more like it. Any movies I see have long ceased to be the topics of blogs and coffee house discussions. Now I know why my parents were clueless about pop culture--raising me and my brother took all their free time.

Through the miracle of TiVo, though, I can watch commercial-free movies once they hit TV. It's a good distraction when I'm folding clothes at night. A few months ago, I had the displeasure of watching Click as I worked through another overloaded basket of laundry.

If you missed this pretty lame flick, the premise is that Adam Sandler's character, Michael, is so focused on getting ahead at work that he has no time for his family. Then one fateful night at Bed Bath and Beyond, he runs into this eccentric guy named Morty who gives him a "life remote control." If you don't want to endure another fight with your wife--hit the fast forward button. If you want to experience something over again--hit the rewind or slow motion buttons.

Cute. But then I realized the remote control obviously had no "pause" button. Huh? Why fast forward through a rotten weekend spent working? Why not just hit the pause button, get all your work done while life is waiting for you, and then start your life again?

If some frazzle haired dude gave me a remote control for my life, that is the first button I'd be looking for!

Just imagine!

I could pause the setting sun and see my husband during the daylight hours...while three, quiet, "paused" children let us catch up on the day together.

I could pause my babies when they put their head on my shoulder for an all-too-quick snuggle.

I could pause the few remaining moments Wyatt and his "Uncle Johnathan" have together before he heads off into a life of military service as a chaplain.
I feel like I've lost a week with the children being sick and another week with me being sick.

I have so little time left with them before they're gone.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Comfort in Consistency

The basket in our one and only bathroom is over-stuffed with a wide variety magazines--Texas, Parents, Men's Health, Prevention, American Baby. Unlike the men in my household, I'm not allowed the luxury of reading an entire book or magazine while I sit on the throne. The three shadows that follow me everywhere consider reading to be something I'm only supposed to do for them.

But I still enjoy keeping up with the world, and I do somewhat. Most nights, my fabulous husband watches the kids while I relax in a hot bath...with a magazine perched on the side of the tub. Wet fingers turn pages leaving them badly crinkled and sometimes stuck together for the next reader.

In these coveted, quasi-quiet moments, one thing I've noticed is all the parenting magazines say the same thing--children thrive on routine and consistency. You'd think this would be such a "duh" concept that researchers wouldn't have to waste time on studies to prove it. But if they're looking for photos of routine-driven children, mine should be on the front cover of their report.

It's so amazing to me how quickly those routines get established. Do an activity one day--no big deal. Do the same activity two days in a row and I've just instituted a new routine without even knowing it.

But lack of routine has been a problem over the past few days. By Tuesday afternoon, I had succumbed to the cold the children have had for the past week and a half. I hate when God chooses personal illness to remind me of how pathetically inadequate I am and how I should reconsider my attitude when complaining about my children getting sick because it could be worse--I could be sick.

But children don't understand mommy being sick. Even though Wyatt is the only one who can vocalize it, they all understand routine, and they want to stick to it no matter what.

Mommy's throat hurts? "Can you read this book, mommy...and that one, too?"

Mommy's body hurts from the fever? "Want to play soccer?"

Mommy's has a cough? "Want to go outside?" (in the wind)

Mommy has a fever and wants a nap? "No! I don't want to take a nap!"

I might as well be speaking a foreign language. The "Mommy-has-needs-too" language just can't be interpreted by three little would-be tyrants. No Rosetta stone around to help out.

But I take comfort in routines, too.

Mommy's head hurts? Wyatt says, "I kiss it and make it all better"

Daddy says time for bed? Wyatt puckers up for a kiss and says, "I love you mommy."

Mommy rakes up a leaf pile. Wyatt runs and jumps in. Joyous laughter.

Please pray for my health and healing.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Nobody Told Me

Nobody ever told me about the dangerous situations mothers put themselves in everyday. No, I'm not talking about some quiet-mom-by-day, vicious-roller-derby-viking by night routine.

I'm talking about sitting on the floor to read a book. Making the bed. Walking across a room.

All are dangerous activities.

For the past few months, my body has been a constantly changing canvas of cuts and bruises. It's like I'm one of those art shows that changes every week.

This week, I've swapped out the bite mark on my shoulder for a cut over my eye from razor-like little fingernails exploring my face. My feet. My legs. My arms. Even my fingers are decorated with a rainbow of browns, yellows, and dark purples.

Wyatt has been warned several times: "Mommy is a unicorn, not a horse! Be gentle!" But look at his face in the photo, and you can guess how long he remembers that instruction. Even the 1-year-old twins view me as a mountain to climb over, a trampoline to bounce on, a pillow to slam into, and just another object in their way to step on.

And that's just a few of the physical dangers of being a hands-on mother who gets asked to hold, hug, kiss, and snuggle their squiggly little forms several times each hour of the day.

But what's really making me struggle lately is the mental danger of motherhood called lack of sleep.

Our house has been struck by some mystery virus that depletes every Kleenex box in the house and leaves glistening wet patches on all my shirts where little noses have rested for comfort.

This time around, there has been no fever. Just runny noses...and a cough.

But if I didn't know any better, I'd think my children developed that hacky, dry-throat cough on purpose. Call it their own little version of Chinese water torture. They wait until the fuzzy moments when I'm just beginning to float into the peaceful arms of sleep.

And then one of the three torturers coughs.

I startle awake. Listen for sounds that nurse mommy is needed. Wait. Nothing. Convince myself it must have been an isolated incident. And I begin to drift again.

Cough. Cough.

For eight days, I haven't slept soundly. I try. Yet my God-given mommy radar keeps being tripped throughout the night.

Between the bruises and the sleep-interrupted nights, I am learning the cost of love. And I learn it's a price I'm willing to pay 100 times over.

Love that costs me nothing is not love. I only need to look at my God to see that.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son..."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tunnel Vision

Snot, Kleenex, and a seasonal cold do not necessarily lend themselves to hearing God's still, small voice, or so I've learned.

For the past few days, I've only managed to hear God's voice in Scripture during the dark hours after the children are in bed. And that's just not enough of God in a day filled with three young children fussing at me for not having having six hands and me saying, "Blow. Blow again. Wipe your nose. No, you missed some. Come here."

By the time last night came around, more than anything, I craved some Christian fellowship, just being in God's house, the atmosphere of worship, the unity of corporate prayer...and we've been doing a series on witnessing that I didn't want to miss.

As usual, we didn't have any extra time to spare. And I had told Doug to stay home since he was feeling more than a few effects of the mystery cold.

I need a strong super-hero name here for moments like these--my arms full of 46 squiggling, uncooperative pounds of babies, and Wyatt...all of us just trying to make that short walk from the van to the church building.

Well, I was trying. Wyatt? He was trying to enjoy God's creation. "Look at all the big stars, mommy! They're BEAU-ti-ful!"

I quickly glanced up, noting the sky was clear and the stars were bright. But that was beside the point. "Yes, I see. Now come on."

As I left church, the nursery coordinator asked if I had seen the gorgeous moon last night. Yes, my husband had asked me the same question the night before.

It had been quite a sight, a perfect, glowing full moon in a pitch black sky. But in a parking lot surrounded by trees, the full moon now only peeked not-too-spectacularly through the trees. And besides, I was in a hurry to get home in time for the kids' bath time.

Hours later, I sat down to catch up on reading a few blog postings, one of which "just happened" to be about seeing the fullness of God in the stars.

My heart fell. I felt like such a failure. God had been speaking all week, using others to remind me that even if I couldn't see beyond the runny noses, He was still with me. All I needed to do was just STOP and look at His creation.

And worst of all, when I basically ignored my son's wonder at the stars, I passed up a precious chance to show him the God who created them.

What would it have mattered if I had stopped, just for a minute, knelt down on the asphalt with him to look at the stars? Sometimes, my tunnel-vision doesn't make room for an opportunity like this one to teach my children about God.

But I'm thankful that my God keeps on speaking, allows me the privilege of repentance, of learning from my mistakes, and offers His forgiveness.

As I write this, I'm waiting for the moon to come up so I can have a do-over with my son. I can't wait to take him outside and enjoy the magnificence of God's moon and stars.

"The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands" (Psalm 19:1).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Marriage Wasn't Meant to Be Easy

As I thumbed through a catalog at my mom's house, the title caught my eye: Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?

Woah. What a different concept. I knew I had to read this book.

This book is not a "10 steps to a better marriage" reading. I've read several of them and rolled my eyes at the "duh" concepts they said I should apply to my marriage.

One of this book's main concepts is that we seek to fill spiritual voids in our lives by making our spouse the center of our everything instead of God: "We need to remind ourselves the ridiculousness of looking for something from other humans that only God can provide" (25). Oops--that's me, Ms. Ridiculous.

For me, the book's most groundbreaking concept is the thought that God did not intend my relationship with my spouse to be easy--instead, marriage can be considered as a "spiritual discipline," as a relationship intended to help develop Christ-like values within me--values such as forgiveness, selflessness, perseverance, holiness, persistent righteousness, love, and sacrifice. In short, marriage is "an entryway into sanctification--as a relationship that will reveal your sinful behaviors and attitudes and give you the opportunity to address them before the Lord" (97).

Thomas' other interesting point is that marriage models Christ's work of reconciling God with sinful man: "Everything I am to say and do in my life is to be supportive of this gospel ministry of reconciliation, and that commitment begins by displaying reconciliation in my personal relationships, especially in my marriage" (34).

Over the past month of reading this book, my view of my husband and my marriage has changed. He's still not perfect...and neither am I. But my perspective has made a difference.

I wish someone had handed me this book before I got married.

Like many couples, Doug and I struggled through the early years of our marriage. For the first three years, he was in school and I was working two jobs to keep him there with as few student loans as possible, so we many times only saw each other over the dinner table. He spent evenings studying at the coffee house next door, and I spent most Saturdays at home with my parents so he could study more. The result? We kept pushing aside the big issues we would have to reconcile to make our marriage work.

Then, once he graduated and had a good job, the dynamics of our relationship had to change--and that was more than a little difficult. No longer was I the main breadwinner in the household. No longer were my Saturdays "mine." And no longer was there an excuse of "no time" to resolve some important issues.

It was a pretty low point in our marriage--months of having the same argument over and over with neither of us seeing any way to a solution. What made it worse was that our relations with some family members were strained because of this issue. And on top of that, we were failing to conceive a child. It was a recipe for disaster.

I remember curling up on the floor at the far end of the house and feeling such despair. But I also remember my husband telling me we would get through this somehow. He believed even in those moments when I did not. And I will love him forever for that.

I don't recommend many books. And like most authors, Gary Thomas is long-winded. But to reframe marriage as not something for me but something to make me more like Christ--it makes me perceive picking up Coke cans and dirty socks a little differently.