What a Coincidence

What are the odds? I’ve been thinking about coincidence. You may ask, What made you interested in coincidence? I will tell you:  Waking up in the middle of the night, thirsty, grabbing my cup of water and carefully trying to get a sip while still half-laying down, and then my husband takes that moment to turn over in his sleep and knocks my cup of water and I get a faceful of water…That is what made me think of coincidence. I mean really, what are the odds that he is going to choose that very moment in time to suddenly turn over in his sleep???

As I lay in bed, completely awake, now that I had been dosed with a cup of water, I started thinking about other coincidences, like when I get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and walk into the bathroom and find that a child has already beat me there. Or, when you have a newborn baby that wakes up multiple times a night and then one night the baby sleeps through the entire night! But the toddler is up in the night with a bad dream and the 8 year old is up in the night with a stomach virus. And you just sit there thinking, “Really?”

We can take this out to a wider scope too. What were the chances that we would sign up with a Boy Scout Troupe and the leader has a son named Judah just like you do, and both Judahs are the same age, and share the same birthday. And have the same middle initial.. Or when my husband spent the summer in remote Bethel, Alaska and while there ran into one of his childhood friends from Dexter, Maine. Or my daughter was in a play this summer and then when she went to college one of her co-cast members happened to have the dorm room right next to her. Or, and this one happens a lot, I decide that today I’m going on a low-carb diet and then my daughter shows up with 5 loaves of Panera Bread.

I googled around the internet, curious about Coincidence. I read some interesting articles but they all basically came up with the same conclusion…it’s a mystery. They also came up with some pretty cool stories of people relating Coincidences that happened to them.

Some coincidences I think are God ordained. The other day I was taking a walk with my two little ones. I passed an older woman on the sidewalk who eyed my two toddlers and then paused to launch into a little speech about how she knew all about Those Days, running after kids etc, and now she was a Mamaw and was still running after little kids.. Then she looked at me more carefully, noted my grey hair and tired eyes and said, well, now, you must be a mamaw too. (For those who need interpretation, Mamaw= Grandma). I gulped back any nasty retort that might have popped into my head and instead just smiled and said, No, just an old mom, and went on my way, feeling very depressed…and old. I kept walking and eventually got to the park where we were headed and took the kids to the public bathroom. While we were in there, a young woman came in who looked like she might have had Down Syndrome. She looked at me and the kids and she smiled a big smile and then she said, You are Very Pretty!! I was surprised, but was able to keep my wits about me enough to tell her that she was very pretty too. I went on my way feeling happier, and it occurred to me that God probably had something to do with that encounter, whether you want to call it a coincidence or not.

Imaginary Friends and Other Surreal Parenting Experiences

Imaginary friends. A lot of kids have them. Of my 10 children, I’ve only had 4 or 5 mention their imaginary friend. The others might have had one but just never bothered to tell me. Right now my 5 and 3 year old are very “in tune” with their imaginary friends. They like to talk about their imaginary friends. Their imaginary friends are present often. Phoebe, 5 yrs old, has an imaginary friend named Sparkles. It fits. Phoebe has a sparkly personality and she loves sparkles. Sparkles lives in Imaginary Land, a place where you can eat as much ice cream as you want and there is no bedtime. Pretty standard. Routine. Little girl living out her little fantasy. Cute.

Then we have David (3 yrs old). David is special. I mean that in the most interesting sense of the word. Nothing is normal with David. David also has an imaginary friend. The imaginary friend’s name is David. Yes, same name. David, of the imaginary world, is the Real David’s brother, so I’ve been told. Brother David sits in the same car seat as the Real David. And Brother David is invisible.

We were sitting in the car line at the elementary school, waiting to pick up the school kids, when David first introduced me to Invisible Brother David. Parenting is a surreal experience. I know this because I smiled, and said, Ok. Nice to meet you Invisible Brother David. (It has been my observation that there are 2 types of parents. The parents who insist on keeping their kids in the Real World, and the parents who just play along. I am obviously one who plays along and even helps the kid embellish their story. It just fits with my sense of humor.) As I spent some time getting to know this Invisible Brother David it did occur to me that if I was having this conversation with another adult, I would be backing away as carefully as I could and trying to flee this dangerously disturbed individual.. But when the person is 3 years old, you just smile and say hi to Invisible Brother David. I even gave Invisible Brother David a box of raisins to eat for his snack. Fortunately, since he was sitting in the same car seat as the Real David, it wasn’t too awkward. The Real David went ahead and ate the raisins because, somehow, that made sense to him.

David, being David, decided to take this imaginary world to a new level today. We were going to the lake and he was running around in his swimming trunks, but he hadn’t put on a shirt yet. I told him to go upstairs to his room and get his swimming shirt out of his chest of drawers. He looked at me in that calculating way that he has and said, I don’t want to go upstairs. I said, Too bad. Go upstairs and get your shirt. And I gave him the evil eye. He looked at me and guessed, correctly, that refusing wasn’t going to work. So, he came at the problem from a different angle. He raised his wooden sword that he happened to be holding and said, This is my magic wand. I’m going to wave my magic wand and my swim shirt will appear!

This was a new tactic I hadn’t seen before. I did not have a ready answer to that one. He looked at me steadily, waved his sword around, made some “swishing” sounds and then looked at me proudly. See! Here’s my swim shirt! And he pointed at his naked chest…Ummmm.  I kind of felt like I had entered the “Emperor’s New Clothes” story. David, I hate to tell you this, but you are not wearing a swim shirt. In fact, your swim shirt is still upstairs in your room, and you still have to go upstairs and get it. We then engaged in a several minutes long conversation where he tried to persuade me that his magic wand worked and he was wearing a swim shirt. Surreal. Well, at least he didn’t send Invisible Brother David to fetch the shirt.  

It’s All About Love

1 Corinthians 13
As I looked forward to this upcoming school year I was a bit nervous. I am only going to have two children at home while everyone else goes off to school all day. At first I thought, I’m going to be bored! I started looking around for ways to entertain myself and my two little boys. We signed up for our church’s homeschooling co-op that meets once a week. I agreed to teach piano lessons at the co-op which also meant my 3 yr old could be in a preschool class and be around other kids once a week and the baby could be in a nursery. Then I got myself a double jogging stroller, thinking that I would kill 2 birds with one stone. I would start getting daily exercise and the boys could get out of the house and enjoy all the nearby parks. Then I started thinking about how much our eating habits have slipped, and how this is showing up in health problems in the family, and eventually I decided that I needed to go back to baking our own bread with organic wheat and making our own cereal again. So, I went out and bought 50 pounds of organic wheat berries and 50 pounds of organic oatmeal. I also thought about the fact that when all my kids returned to school the housecleaning was going to land squarely on my shoulders again. No more minions to help with the daily chores. If you can’t tell yet…there is no chance at all that I’m going to be bored. In fact, I’m starting to get a bit overwhelmed and panicky, wondering if I can tackle all the projects I’ve put in front of myself. Now, when I get overwhelmed and panicky, I tend to get rather short and impatient with my family and generally just turn into an unpleasant person to be around. More about that in a minute.

So, one last project I decided to tackle. Since I am no longer homeschooling my children, I don’t have the luxury of having all the hours in the day with them. I have to start prioritizing what we’re going to do in the time we have. This summer I realized that I had really slacked off in the Teaching my Children About Jesus department. While I went through my depression I stopped doing family devotions and bible memory with my kids because honestly, I had a lot of questions about how to go about doing this thing called Christianity. I didn’t feel like I could, with a clear conscience, sit down and drum bible facts into my children, when I myself felt the need to take a step back and really process what I believe. So, we got out of the habit of family devotions. Now, having gone through the process of reevaluating,  I am more than ever convinced that the sole purpose of our life here is to know Jesus and walk in his path, and I feel the pressure to somehow show this to my children while they are still under my roof. I decided that we are going to memorize a chapter of the bible this fall. My motto is always, KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID, and so we are just working on one verse a week. I have been writing down the verse on a giant piece of paper and putting it on display in the living room and then every morning on our way to school I repeat the verse and the kids who are awake enough and not too grumpy, repeat it after me. By the end of the week, everyone has it memorized. My kids aren’t saints. I will freely admit that I am using some bribery. Chocolate every Friday for saying your verse, and if we can all memorize the whole chapter by Christmas, we’ll take a field trip to the aquarium.

The chapter we are memorizing is 1 Corinthians 13. The love chapter. I felt like we really needed to focus on this. My kids are in school now. They are surrounded by kids who look different from them, come from completely different backgrounds from them, and often have a very different code of behavior. It is bewildering and my kids need a lot of grace as they learn to navigate this new world of relationships. The one thing I keep trying to make them understand is that each of these kids they interact with has a backstory. There are things going on in their lives that affect the way they respond to the world. My 9 year old was telling me how one boy on the playground was bothering him. I asked him if he had tried talking to him. My 9 yr old said, Well, he doesn’t really speak much English. Oh.. Where is he from? The 9 yr old said, Maybe somewhere in Africa? Ah. Yes. Knoxville actually has a pretty big refugee population. Just thinking about what this child’s life has probably been like so far made me gulp. Grace, these school kids need grace and love. My kids are just kids. Life is simple for them, they don’t understand all the differences between “love” and “like” and all the varying kinds of love, and so I keep it simple. Be kind. Just be kind. All these kids around you, they need kindness. And so, every morning we’ve been reciting verses from the love chapter and after we recite the verse, we talk about what love is and I pray for them to have the grace to be kind to everyone around them.

It’s been really good for me too. I’m sitting there, snapping at my kids because I’m just trying to get the house clean for goodness sakes and they keep interrupting the process, and the verse, (edited) comes to mind…If I get my house completely clean but don’t love my children in the process, I’ve gained nothing. I’m tackling the laundry project and go ballistic because my kids don’t put away their clean clothes properly after I just spent hours washing/drying/folding and delivering their clothes to them. And the verse comes to mind. If I complete all my projects, but don’t have love, I am nothing. And as Overwhelmed, Panicky Mom keeps listening to the verses, keeps repeating them for her kids so her kids can remember them, Overwhelmed and Panicky Mom slowly becomes Calm and Patient Mom again. God is good. I find now that I am really looking forward to this school year.

 

The Inner Critic

As I have been writing more about myself I am noticing a trend. I am very quick to point out my faults and failures. I can poke fun at my shortcomings, laugh at all my foibles. But, I have a really hard time saying anything positive about myself. It’s like there is a mental block. I have decided to be curious about that. Am I too afraid of getting prideful if I mention something that I’m good at? Or worse, am I so used to only looking at the negative that I can’t even come up with positive things to say about myself?

Let’s look at some of the things in which I poke fun of myself.. Housekeeping. I’m not a good housekeeper. I don’t dust. I rarely take care of the piles of clutter that accumulate. Mopping happens when my feet start sticking to the floor. But here’s the thing. I am so much better at keeping house than I was 19 years ago. I am now able to keep a tidy house. Not a clean house, but a tidy one. Considering where I started from, that is amazing. Let’s also look at the fact that I genuinely despise housekeeping. It does not give me happy feelings to clean. I feel like patting myself on the back and getting a sticker every time I clean because I dislike it so much. It’s like watching the kid who hates vegetables to the point of throwing up, eat a big salad every day. I really need to give myself credit for the amount of self-discipline and selflessness I exhibit every time I pick up the broom and start sweeping, or go and wash the dishes. I somehow make myself do the distasteful every day. (Ok, there are the occasional days when I give in to laziness and don’t clean at all, but then I have to pay for it the next day.)

I make fun of myself because I’m not a great cook. But here’s the thing. I am a fast and efficient cook. I can prepare a meal for 12 people in 30 minutes. I am creative. I can take whatever remnants I have in my pantry and fridge and somehow make a meal out of it. I am also a thrifty cook. I can take a very small amount of money and somehow stretch it so that everyone has been fed and no one is hungry. I am not a gourmet, but really, considering I’m feeding 12 people, I do alright.

I make fun of myself because I am absent-minded and not the most observant person on the block. I am rarely going to notice what shoes you are wearing. I’ll probably forget what outfit you were wearing as soon as I’m not looking at you. Forget about me noticing your haircut. But, I do notice people. I notice what kind of mood people are in. I notice who is feeling tense and out of place at a party. I notice what kind of vibes you give off: friendly, uncertain, scared, angry, aloof. I notice these things. I notice people. Just not the outer-layer of the person. I am simply tuned in to a different level of what’s going on.

I make fun of myself because I do not have any of the handyman/handcraft/do-it-yourself-project type skills. Don’t ask me to make things with my hands. But, I can make things with words. I can communicate very well. I’m good at taking thoughts and putting them into words so that other people understand exactly what I mean. I’m good at running interference in my home because I can see where there is a breakdown of communication between two people, and I can help them communicate their thoughts better and thus defuse the situation.

I could probably go on for a while about this. But I do have a point I want to make. I have a feeling that I am not the only person who’s inner-critic speaks a lot louder than their inner-encourager.  No one has ever been as mean to me as I am to myself when I start in on the self-criticisms. Usually I’m not even aware of this inner-critic. It’s just there, part of my thought life. I trip while walking down the sidewalk. My brain says, Well, of course you’d trip, you are so clumsy! You’ve always been so clumsy! You probably looked like an idiot. And I just nod and accept it. Yep, I’m a clumsy idiot.

How do we get this voice to stop? I am hashing this out as I write. I don’t have all the answers. But something comes to mind. When my children are afraid, I always tell them to speak truth over their fears. You’re afraid of the dark? Ok, let’s speak some truth over that. The dark is just absence of light. There is nothing in the dark. It’s just your bedroom. There are no monsters. There are no bad guys. It’s just your bedroom. Truth. It helps with fears. I wonder if truth would help with criticism? Let’s speak truth to that voice. Wait a minute. I’m not a clumsy idiot. There was an unexpected rise in the sidewalk and I wasn’t able to anticipate it and so I tripped. Nothing out of the ordinary here. Tripping does not automatically make me an idiot. It just means I am human and susceptible to the laws of gravity.

I think it’s hard to stop listening to that inner-critic because deep down, we think it’s right. We have not fully grasped truth yet. We still don’t quite believe that we are created in the image of God. We don’t quite believe that we are a unique wonderful person. We don’t quite believe that God loves us in a deep, passionate way that defies understanding. We don’t believe. And it’s easier to listen to that inner-critic than to fight it with truth.

I have for many years now had the belief that if I could ever truly understand the depths of God’s love for me, if I could truly embrace that and live in it fully…I would be invincible. Unstoppable. There would be no boundaries on the things I could do if I could fully live in that truth.

It’s a journey, I’m still reaching for that goal. Maybe the first step though is to stop listening to my inner-critic. Start confronting that voice with some truth. I think it would be a giant step in the right direction.

Grocery Shopping in the South

We live in Eastern Tennessee. I love the South. People are friendly. Yes, the South has just as many problems as any other region in the US, and maybe more, but I’m going to focus on the positive right now.  I love the fact that total strangers strike up conversations with me…regularly. Especially when I’m standing in line at the grocery store.

I just got back from the grocery store. The woman in front of me in the checkout line had unloaded her groceries and there was still room on the conveyor belt so I put up the little divider stick and started unloading my cart. The woman smiled at me and then pointed at the three Orange Crush Bundt Cakes she was buying. “These are the best bundt cakes EVER! Why, everyone down at the church was disappointed when I didn’t bring more last night!.” I smiled, nodded, and agreed that they were very good cakes. (I could say this with authority because someone from MY church had brought some to a church function. Orange Crush Bundt Cakes ARE good!) A bit later, after eyeing how loaded down my cart was, she made a comment on how many groceries I was buying. I told her I had 10 kids and I just hoped the groceries lasted through the weekend. Her response to that was that she had 2 boys which was the same as 10 kids and there was No Way my groceries were going to last through a weekend. She finished checking out and went on her merry way, I finished up my trip with a smile on my face. I was thinking to myself how much I enjoyed meeting friendly people at the store and then I started laughing to myself as I remembered my friend Peter’s trip to the store that he told us about a while back.

Peter and his wife Emily and all their children are some of our best friends. Peter is a tall, lanky guy, very gregarious, never met someone he didn’t like. Unlike me, who’s just doing good to respond to someone else’s friendliness, he has no problem striking up conversations with strangers. One time when he was over, he told us about his recent trip to Kroger, right down the road from our house. He said that he was standing in line and noticed that the woman in front of him was watching the register carefully as the clerk ran up her bill. Finally, she stopped the clerk and said that was all she could get, she didn’t have enough money to get the rest of the groceries still on the conveyor belt. Peter, who is always ready to lend a helping hand, stepped up to the woman and asked her if she would mind if he went ahead and paid for the remaining groceries. She was delighted and profusely thanked him. She went on for quite a bit about how much of a blessing he had been to her and then she said, “I want to bless you too! I’m a pastor and I’m going to pray a blessing on you right now!”

Now Peter is well-versed in the more charismatic side of church life. He was quite happy to take any blessing coming his way and so he said, thank you, that would be great. He then closed his eyes and in good charismatic fashion, raised his hands a bit in order to receive this blessing. The Pastor Lady, who was from a more energetic-type congregation, stretched out her hands and started praying a loud, excited prayer of blessing over him, right there in the Kroger check-out line. Peter is generally up for anything, but he couldn’t help feeling just a bit self-conscious and he slit his eyes a bit and looked around him. He looked at the clerk and there she was, hands outstretched, nodding in agreement as the pastor prayed on. He glanced behind him. No irritated customer there, the lady had her hands outstretched to him too, joining in the prayer. He looked behind the pastor and a random shopper had stopped her cart and stretched out her hand as well. At which point in time, Peter relaxed, went with the flow, and just took that blessing that was being poured out on him.

While I can’t say this story happened because Peter was in the South, I sure think it helped.

Writing Therapy and Ceilings

Writing is a form of therapy for me. It’s one of the big ways I deal with stress. This was from a couple days ago.

There are days when you just want to bang your head against a wall. Or a ceiling in this case. I was going about my business this morning, taking kids to school, feeding breakfast to the little boys who are now my sole companions during the day, washing dishes, starting laundry, trying to clean up at least the downstairs of my house (we’ll save upstairs for tomorrow) and I walk into my bedroom to put something away and I see this. (Ignore the unmade bed and the apple that some child apparently deposited there as well.)

ceiling

 

My ceiling collapsed. In my bedroom. Randomly. Yes there was a crack in the sheetrock, but nothing that called for this!

Our bedroom is actually, technically, a sun room. It does not have a closet (one day my husband will build me a closet, when all the stars line up perfectly) and so I bought one of those freestanding clothes racks, put it in the corner of my room, and that was my closet. You’ll notice, from the picture, that the ceiling collapsed on my closet. It also collapsed on my dresser. Not Andy’s dresser. My dresser. And of course, I was in a hurry this morning, and was getting dressed in the dark and so I left half of my dresser drawers open. And it collapsed on my bed. You of course didn’t know this, but the ceiling collapsed on MY side of the bed. Not Andy’s. I’m feeling just a little bit picked on by whatever randomness caused this to happen.

Andy came home early from work to try and fix it, but two and half hours later, nothing has happened yet. I asked Andy what the plan was and he said the little kids invited him to sleep upstairs with them. Hmmm.

This is of course also the day that my son informed me that his pet ferrets had fleas and I have been trying to tackle the momentous task of de-flea-ing ferrets, and then de-flea-ing their bedroom. All of this involves laundry.

Now that I think about it, maybe it’s not as random as I thought. My room is in desperate need of paint and some kind of organized scheme that will properly house all of our belongings. I am not good at home-remodeling-type projects, but two days ago I was sitting in my chair staring at the walls of my bedroom and I decided. I’m just going to do it. I’m just going to go out and buy paint on my own. I’m just going to paint these walls without waiting for Andy’s superior skills to become available (his current to-do list is already a mile long). And then I looked around a bit closer. There was one space where the ceiling met the wall and there was a large crack. Andy had said that it just needed a piece of crown molding to go over it. Could I put up crown molding? Maybe…not. The ceiling had a big crack in it and I knew it was going to have to be repaired eventually and did it really make sense to paint the walls when the ceiling was going to have be repaired first and that big crack taken care of. Maybe I shouldn’t try to paint after all. (Did I mention that this house is over 100 years old and is only half-remodeled?) And so, I talked myself out of it. Now, two days later, ceiling laying on the floor, I’m starting to think…Maybe it’s a sign?? My ceiling is about to get repaired, how hard would it be for Andy to slap on a piece of trim to take care of the crack and then I’d be home-free to start painting!  

And now you can see how writing is therapeutic. I have just written myself out of a bad mood.

P.S. Not only did I get my ceiling fixed, but my dear husband put up crown molding and he’s talking about picking out paint… Hurray for collapsed ceilings!

19 Years and Counting

This week we celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary.

I like to think of our marriage as an “arranged marriage”. God-arranged. That’s really the only way I can tell you how a girl going to school in Southern California hooked up with a guy who was living in Northern Florida. (No internet or dating sites were involved.) My marriage is all about that cliche “Opposites Attract”. In one corner you have renaissance man who can spin, knit, sew, bake, build houses, fix cars, and start a fire without matches. In the other corner you have the domestically challenged, absent-minded musician who takes great pleasure in reading copious amounts of books and then thinking about what she read and perhaps discussing some of the finer points. My shy, inhibited self was very attracted to his no-inhibitions, seize-life-by-the-horns style of living.  

As all opposites do, we at first relished each others differences and tried to share in those things. I went on a lot of camping trips. Andy bought me a baby grand piano and spent many evenings listening to me play. I thought it was fun to try new things with my husband like letting him teach me how to knit a hat (one of the ugliest hats you’ve ever seen)(Andy’s was perfect) and Andy indulged me by taking me to the bookstore regularly to update my pile of books I was reading. And then, slowly, the charm wore off and we had some hallelujah moments like, Look buddy, I’m not a sewer, I’ve never been a sewer, I don’t want to ever be a sewer- if you want hand-sewn curtains, do it yourself…And he suggested that maybe I should go to the library to find my books, and maybe I should put that book down and possibly help with the housework?

It’s called marriage. Two people learning how to stop putting themselves first and stop being so selfish and learning how to cooperate. Overall, we have managed to learn how to live with each other’s differences. I know better than to expect him to read anything besides Louis L’Amour or Clive Cussler and he doesn’t ask me to participate in handcrafts.

It’s been a good 19 years. Lots of laughter. Lots of shared smiles. Hand-holding. Snuggles on the couch. Shared  “secret” icecream that we sneak into the kitchen to eat and hide quickly whenever we hear a child approaching. Leaning into each for comfort at the end of a really hard day. Just sitting quietly together, no need to talk, just being in the same space with each other. Making eye contact across a crowded room and sharing an amused smile. Silly texts.

This is not to say our marriage has been a bed of roses and smiling unicorns and rainbows and whatever other analogy you like. We have had many moments where we still love each other but don’t really like each other too much. We’ve had a couple moments where we’ve had to call our pastors and say, Hey we need an emergency marriage counseling session. But, we keep overcoming and moving on and falling deeper in love with each other.

When Andy first asked me to marry him he told me that he was committed to me. He was committed to our marriage and being the best husband that he could be. This has meant a lot over the years. We have found that the emotion of “love” comes and goes. Some days you  wake up and you’re just not feeling it. Here’s the thing we’ve also learned though, love is a choice, not an emotion. We’re committed to this marriage and so we choose to love each other. The Bible says that love is patient, kind, long-suffering, never keeps track of wrongs, never gives up… So, we’ve made the choice to be patient and kind, long-suffering, not keep a list of wrongs, and we keep trying over and over again. Even when we are irritated or annoyed and we fail horribly, we apologize and then we keep trying. I would have to say that this quality of commitment is what I treasure most about my husband. I know that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep our marriage healthy.  

Every morning this past week my husband has awoken me with a kiss and a whisper in my ear Happy Anniversary Eve Eve Eve Eve…Each day one of the “eves” disappear. And every morning I’ve been  waking up with jolt of panic, Did he say happy anniversary? Did I miss it, did I forget? And then I smile when I register that he said “eve” and I haven’t missed it and he’s just being super-sweet and how did I get so blessed to be married to him? That is a mystery that’s right up there with the Bermuda Triangle, where do missing socks go, and why am I the only one who replaces the toilet paper roll?