So, What’s the Big Deal About Today?

Good Morning Internet World! Here it is Easter Morning and as I sit here in my home, writing on my computer, I wonder how everyone’s morning is going, and what this day means to you. When I first started this blog I was pretty purposeful in my thoughts that this wasn’t going to be a “Christian Blog”. What I mean by that, was that I did not want to write out little sermonettes and discuss bible verses every day. Neither did I want it to be an “Advice Blog” where I could spell out how I do things and encourage you to copy all my neat tricks for living. I just wanted to write about my life and the stories I have to tell. As it turns out, since I spend my life trying to make Jesus the most important thing, he kind of crops up in my blogs. Pretty regularly. And I have ended up dispensing some advice here and there. It’s just happened, the inevitable result of writing about my life. Today though, I am just going to be blatant Christian. I want to share with you all why today is so important to me.

Today is Easter. The day we celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead. What is that all about? Well, he was God, in the flesh. He came down to earth and lived the perfect, sinless life, because I couldn’t. And then, even though he was perfect, he was killed: whipped and then nailed to a cross, dying a torturous death. Why? Well, the punishment for sin is death. All of us have sinned. We all deserve to die for our sins. There was nothing we could do to change that. So Jesus came and changed it for us. He died in our place. Took all of our sins on himself and paid the price for us. Now, if we repent of our sins, believe in Jesus, ask his forgiveness, he does forgive us and he “Makes us white as snow..” He declares us innocent, clean, forgiven. And he promises that he will be with us and never leave us. And when our earthly body dies, we will go and be with him for all eternity. Easter is the day we celebrate that I can now approach God and have a relationship with him, all the barriers have been removed.

So, what does Easter mean to me?

It means I am no longer alone. I have someone that I speak to all day long. Sometimes it reverent, “Lord, thank you for the beautiful sunshine!” Sometimes, not so much, “LORD! Help me! I am so tired!! I can’t deal with this messy house!!” Sometimes it’s just commenting on daily life, “Wow Lord, I cannot believe that driver just cut me off like that!!! Please help me to not start swearing!!” And often, it’s just the word, “help”. For me, it’s an all-day running commentary on my life. And I know he’s listening. And he answers. Not so much an audible voice, though I have heard his voice a couple times, but more like a redirection of my thoughts. I’m grumbling about what a lousy day I’m having, and suddenly I remember the bible verse, “This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it!” Or I find myself harboring a bunch of anger towards someone and the verse pops in my head, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” It’s a conversation of sorts…with someone who never goes away, always listens, and knows all your thoughts. Can’t really get more intimate than that.

What does Easter mean to me?

It means I have peace. When I do things wrong, I don’t have to walk around feeling guilty. I can ask for God’s forgiveness and then I can count on him to give me the strength to ask forgiveness from the person I wronged. And if things continue to remain tense, I can have peace knowing that he will be with me and give me wisdom to know how to proceed. The underlying guilt that I used to carry around with me is no longer there. I am forgiven.

What does Easter mean to me?

It means I am no longer afraid. What is the worst thing that can happen to me? Death? Well, if I die I know that I will be with Jesus…forever. Doesn’t sound too bad. When I am tempted to be afraid for my children, God reminds me that he loves my children more than I do. Their lives are in his hands. They might not get the fairy tale life that I envision for them, they may go through horrible things in their lives, I may even, Heaven Forbid, bury one of my children (Lord, may it not be so). But, I don’t have to live in fear of these things happening. In the end, I have no power to save my children or protect them, and God never promised us a pain-free, trouble-free life. But, he promises to never leave us, to take bad things and turn them into good. I can trust him.   

What does Easter mean to me?

It means my life gets a bit uncomfortable at times. God’s number one priority for me is not for me to be happy. His number one priority is that I learn how to be like him. And sometimes learning that is a bit painful. Awkward. Esther, I want you to love your neighbor as yourself. Esther, I want you to forgive those who hurt you. Esther, I want you to help those in need. Esther, I want you stop putting your selfish desires above the needs of your family. Esther, I want you to trust me with this problem instead of worrying about it. Yeah. It’s not all fun and games. This weekend, I had an old friend reach out to me for help. My very first thought was, No way. I can’t help you with this. It’s too much. It’s going to really inconvenience me. My husband and I prayed about it. The next day, I still wanted to say No, sorry, can’t help, but God very gently pointed out to me that all my reasons for saying No were selfish and rather petty. And so I found myself saying yes. I can help you. But here’s the thing. All this nudging to change, do things differently than I want to, in the end it’s slowly shaping me into the person that I have always wanted to be. I have no power in myself to turn Esther from a selfish, self-absorbed person into a selfless person who always puts others first and is always ready to forgive, ready to lend a helping hand. It’s a change that only comes from listening daily to the quiet nudges from God as he slowly chips away at all the rough edges of my character.

What does Easter mean to me?

Everything. It means everything. And this is why I tell my children, this is the biggest holiday of the entire year! Easter! The day that enabled me to pass from condemned sinner to beloved daughter of God. Oh yes, Easter means everything to me.

 

Fat Fridays: Week 17 Navigating Birthdays and Restaurants

Hi all. How’s everyone’s week been? Mine has been busy. Our family has three birthdays within 8 days of each other and then Easter is also right in the middle of that. Plus, the weather has definitely warmed up and so I have had to do the seasonal clothes-switch-over. Throw in choir practices for our church’s Easter program and my son’s theater performance and I feel a bit like I’ve been running a marathon. April is one of our busiest months. It’s always like that. With my son graduating high school next month, May is also going to be really busy.

So, what does all this have to do with diet. Well, I would say one of the challenges I have been facing is how to keep on track when you don’t have a lot of time to devote to food-prep, and also how to deal with events like birthdays and eating out. My daughter wanted pizza and cake for her birthday. I love pizza. Her birthday was on a Friday and Friday Night Pizza is a pretty standard treat around here. I knew that the pizza was going to be a really big temptation for me. So, before it came, I ate a big meal of vegetables and beans and plantains. Filled myself up. And then I gave myself permission ahead of time to have some pizza crust. (I am one of those weird ones who thinks the crust is the best part of the pizza. It works well in my family since most of them don’t like the crust. Kind of a symbiotic relationship.) Right now my diet is vegan and grain-free. But I don’t plan on staying grain-free. I’m going through a three month course of pills to try and reduce the candida in my system and get my digestive tract back in shape, I do plan on eventually eating small amounts of whole-grains every day. So, I don’t feel too bad about cheating with grain.

The plan worked well. I ate a pizza crust and then realized that actually, it didn’t give me that rush of “feel good” that I used to get from eating my favorite foods. It actually made me feel a bit yucky and I didn’t feel tempted to eat any more. Yay.

In the past week I also have eaten out twice. I went out to a Mexican restaurant with my girl friends, a place we regularly visit, and I came prepared! You know that in Mexican restaurants they always place this giant bowl of fresh hot chips and salsa in front of you. And you sit there and munch and talk and munch and talk and it’s only hours later that you realize you’ve eaten an amazing amount of chips and salsa. This time I came with a bag of plantain chips and I planned ahead what vegan food I would order. It worked pretty well, though I’ll admit that at the very end of the evening, I did grab a couple chips. Cause they were just sitting there. Looking really good. Again, it was grain, so I didn’t feel too bad about it.

Then my husband and I went out with another couple to a Thai restaurant. I chose the restaurant because I knew that I could get a good vegan meal at a Thai restaurant. I decided ahead of time that I was going to eat rice with the meal, so I didn’t feel like I was cheating or caving in on the spot. I got Prik Poa Pork, without the pork, and it was amazing! I foresee eating a lot of Thai food in the future as their menu has an option to substitute vegetables for any meat. And I love Thai food anyway. 🙂

I guess the biggest lesson I’m learning is to think ahead. When I know I’m going to be in a different setting than my own kitchen, I can plan which foods I’m going to allow myself to eat and which ones are definitely a NO. Bring alternative food when necessary. Fill up ahead of time so I’m not as tempted to cheat. I think these are lifelong skills that are going to prove to be very beneficial to me.

Ok. Exercise update. I got on the elliptical three times this week. Yay me. I would like it to be more like five times a week, but it’s good progress. (And this blogging accountability thing really worked! I was like, there is NO WAY I’m going to tell everyone that I didn’t exercise again, so I just did it!)

Goals for the week: Somehow navigate the Easter Candy thing and Easter Dinner. NO SUGAR! I will not give in! Keep exercising. Stick to the diet.

 

Have a good week everyone!

 

Notre Dame

Yesterday, while I was driving home, a friend texted me with a picture of Notre Dame burning. I didn’t get to read the text till I got home. I grabbed my phone, glanced at the text with the thought that I would jump out of the car and continue the conversation in the house, and then I stopped. What??? Notre Dame?? The famous church in Paris that has been around Forever?? How can it be burning? It’s kind of like someone saying a meteor landed on one of the Great Pyramids and destroyed it. My friend didn’t have many details and I started searching the Web for more information. I shared what I knew on my Facebook page and saw that all kinds of other people were sharing the same information. The whole world was in collective shock.

Why are we so upset about this? I’ve never been to France. I’m not Catholic. My friends who were sharing the information, most of them have never been to France either. We have no claim to this particular historical landmark, so why are we feeling it so strongly? I think because Notre Dame has, through the sheer tenacity of existing for almost a thousand years, become part of our human story. It’s part of our collective history as a human race. We can point back in time and say, Look! A bunch of us humans got together and with no power tools and no gas powered cranes and lifts, somehow we humans created this amazing piece of architecture! And we feel proud of ourselves. And amazed at our collective ancestors. It’s part of our human story.

I remember when I first learned about Notre Dame. I was in 7th grade. We had just moved back to Haiti after a long stint in the US. I was doing homeschool of sorts and my parents had ordered my curriculum from Calvert, a long-standing source of curriculum for missionary kids. I actually really liked the curriculum. It was different. I was learning World History instead of US history, I got to read a bunch of interesting literature, and I studied, of all things, a small book about Architecture. I remember it was a thin paperback book, red covers with very simple printing. Inside were the occasional black and white grainy photos of various famous architectural feats. I remember especially the chapter about Flying Buttresses. That term took my fancy and I can remember it even now, twenty-eight years later. There were some photos of Notre Dame and, after learning exactly how they made the flying buttresses, I was properly awestruck. Wow. How did they do that?? And just like that, Notre Dame became part of my identity. I now knew what it was, a little bit about how they built it, where it was located. From then on when someone mentioned going to Paris and seeing Notre Dame, I could nod my head wisely. Oh yes. How were the flying buttresses?

As I have been reading the news about Notre Dame, one other part of our human story has been coming through. People stepping forward to say, Let’s Rebuild. Here’s some money. We can do this. And this resonates deeply within us. I feel tears forming. Because, somehow, this is also who we are. We get knocked down, tragedy strikes, and then we get back up again. Rebuild. Try again. I believe it is part of that “Created in God’s image” thing. There is something strong in us, something that won’t give up. And that is also a part of the human story.

May Notre Dame live again.

Parenting Goals

My two year old son is in that wonderful/horrible stage where he imitates everyone around him. His favorite muse to copy is his four year old brother who takes great satisfaction in teaching his baby brother all the ways of life. If the four year old comes running into the room yelling and then strikes a karate pose, you can bet that about thirty seconds later the two year old will also come running in yelling, striking a pose. It can be a real blessing, like tonight, when all my children were thanking their Grandma for their supper and the two year old, hearing this, also chimed in with a garbled, “Thank you Grandma for the good food!” It can be a curse when the four year old throws a tantrum and says “NO!” and the two year old decides he should also yell “NO!” It’s amusing, but it’s also just an amazing way that God made children, to learn by imitating those around them.

The question is, at what stage should we stop imitating the people around us? The desire to imitate seems to be deeply ingrained. I still find myself defaulting to “imitation status” when I have big decisions to make in my life. (We can’t become nomads, it’s just not done!). Or when I’m contemplating new ideas (I don’t belong to that political party, so there’s no way I can get behind that idea!). Or perhaps when I’m making parenting decisions (That really popular parenting book says this is the way to do it!). I find it especially hard when it comes to spiritual matters. There are so many voices out there claiming to know the truth. There are so many people who take a verse from the Bible and just run with it, creating an entire new way of thinking from just one verse or passage. How do I discern who is handling scripture correctly?

There are two scriptures that I think are helpful in the whole arena of imitation. The first is Ephesians 5:1 (ESV)

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Who should we be copying? Jesus. And if our actions are not loving and sacrificial, putting others ahead of ourselves, then we probably aren’t imitating too well.

The other verse that is really helpful is James 1:5 (ESV) that says,

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

In the end there is no pat answer for who to trust, who to imitate, who to listen to, when to branch out on your own completely, with no regard for the thoughts or opinions of those around you. There is no way to know, case by case, how to act. We need wisdom. We need God’s wisdom. And amazingly, he says, just ask me, I’ll give you all the wisdom you need! (Of course, the next 3 verses remind you to ask with faith, no doubting!). I am so thankful for God’s wisdom. I have asked repeatedly for this wisdom, and God has not let me down. This is my prayer for my children. That God would give them wisdom. Not just wisdom for a particular situation, but the wisdom to even remember to ask for help in the first place. Wisdom to know when to follow and when to strike out on their own. Wisdom to remember that they are supposed to be imitating Jesus, not their peer group. That is the goal for my children. That they would go from toddling around in their diapers, copying the antics of their siblings, to copying Jesus, relying on his wisdom as they make their way through this life.

Lord, may it be so!

 

Fat Fridays: Week 16 Finding the New Normal

Here we are again, another week has zoomed past and I’m stopping to take some time to reflect on what theme stands out from this week. This week has been one of those weeks where I really questioned whether my diet is actually doing me any good. My weight loss seems to have slowed down. I have had a couple days where I’ve been really tired, two mornings where I’ve woken up with a really bad headache. My blood sugar has been dropping really low at unexpected times, where I find myself shaking and needing to eat immediately. And of course I blame it on my diet. I’m not getting enough protein, I’m missing out on some key nutrition, I’m doing this wrong somehow…

I was starting to feel really discouraged  two days ago and then I thought about it and got some perspective. First of all, not only do I have a giant diet-change going on, I also stopped nursing my toddler. Cold-turkey. He’s over 2 years old. I never meant to nurse him this long, it just kind of dragged out. He’s our last baby and I wasn’t in a hurry for him to grow up. But then the nursing was starting to get really annoying. He was getting up every night and then wanting to nurse and being whiny all day about it. I was complaining about it to my husband last Thurs and he said, You need to wean him! And I agreed. And we just stopped. One week later, he is sleeping through the night, has stopped pestering me all day and seems a lot happier. It was definitely the right time. But, as I have blamed my diet for making me feel weird this week, I conveniently forgot about the fact that my body is going through the shock of not nursing anymore. And it’s an even bigger shock because, aside from about 3 months back in 2010, I have been nursing or pregnant for 19 years straight. I think I need to have a little grace for this poor body as it tries to figure out what is going on and get adjusted.

The other thing to take into consideration is all the toxins in our environment. Toxins that get inside of us and then get stored in our fat cells. And then, when you lose weight, those toxins get released into your body. That might account for some of my headache days I’ve been having. I woke up with a headache this morning so I took some chlorella which helps flush your system of toxins, and drank a bunch of water and the headache eased off after about an hour.

I wish that I knew exactly what was going on inside my body since I’ve changed my diet. If some of you readers have articles to share that teach you exactly what is happening hormonally and on the cell-level when you change over to a vegan diet, I’d love to read them. Share a link in the comments. I have always been one of those people that need to know Why? Why do I have a headache? Why am I sick? What is going on exactly in my body? What is this medicine actually going to do inside of me to make me feel better? My mother is Physician Assistant, and I remember as a child, when I was sick, I always wanted in-depth explanations of what was going on in my body, and she was always willing to take the time to explain it to me. I still want that in-depth explanation.

In the end, I think this week has been about my body trying to find the new normal. My hormones trying to adjust to no longer supporting another life, me trying to figure out exactly what I need to eat, and how much in order to keep my blood sugar steady, my body trying to drop weight and having to deal with some negative side-effects from that. I think it’s going to take a while to find this new normal. But, knowing that I’m going through an adjustment period, instead of the diet failing me, helps me to not be discouraged. I’m not giving up! Onwards, towards the new normal!

Goals for this week: EXERCISE!! Since I’m using this blog as a sort of accountability, I will make myself confess that I, once again, did not exercise much this week. Aside from a walk to the park with a bunch of kids that involved me pushing a very heavy stroller up a very long, steep, hill…I have not exercised.  THIS IS GOING TO CHANGE!!! Cause it’s getting embarrassing to keep having to tell you guys that I didn’t exercise. That’s it. This is my only goal besides sticking to the diet. See you all next week!

Fantasies of a Middle-Aged Housewife (G-rated)

Ever since I can remember, I have put myself to sleep at night making up stories where I’m the main hero. When I was a kid I would think about some great book I had just finished reading and I would re-imagine the story with me as one of the characters. I remember Little Men by Louisa May Alcott in particular. I was a tomboy and I loved imagining being part of the gang. I would spin stories in my mind till I fell asleep.

Today, as I waited in the car line to pick up my kids from school, I found my mind wandering, starting to make up a new story. What if, for some reason or other, I was taken away from my life to some resort-like place where I would be forced to undertake some drastic, but super-healthy, weight loss program, and also take yoga classes, and lift weights, and maybe start running again. And get plastic surgery for stretch marks, and, here’s the real amazing thing, get put under the charge of a dentist who would fix all my teeth and make them all white and straight and beautiful (because what middle-aged person doesn’t fantasize about having a fortune to pour into their teeth??) And of course there would be a beach nearby that I would walk on regularly until I had achieved complete inner peace. And then, after all that process was finished, and I now looked like one of those people out of magazines that you always secretly ooh and ahhh over, then I would go home to my loving family who somehow managed to be completely happy while I was away. And I would say Surprise! And they would be awed and amazed at this New Esther.

And then somewhere around there my fantasy fades out, because, in reality, my family doesn’t care a hoot what I look like, or how straight my teeth are, or whether I have stretch marks or not. And really, they wouldn’t be happy if I went away for any length of time. My family can hardly make it if I leave for the day.

But it’s fun to dream.

I think it’s funny what I fantasize about these days. Let’s see. I fantasize about having a housekeeper who lives with us and takes care of all the cleaning chores in the house (especially laundry and dishes!). In fact, I would take care of the grocery shopping and cooking, so I wouldn’t be considered completely lazy, just so I don’t have to clean.

How about this one? Enough money to take summer-long vacations with the family to exotic places all over the world.

Or, my toddler potty-training himself, in one day.

Here’s a good one. My husband handing me a large chunk of money and telling me he wants me to go to the beach by myself for a week, since I seem a little stressed lately. 🙂

How about hair that doesn’t turn grey and remains as thick and full as when I was 20?

My favorite one, children who never fight, always do their chores cheerfully, and love to help around the house.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work this way. Usually, I can accept that with a philosophical shrug. Then I have days like today when I’m just unusually tired and really all I want to do is climb into bed and nap and read and eat take-out. But instead, I clean the house, bathe toddlers who rolled around in the mud, cook a healthy supper, and plan to be up till late at night as I divvy up my attention between all my kids.

Reality. It’s actually more fantastic that my fantasies. Who wouldn’t enjoy a long trip to a spa? Who wouldn’t flourish under that kind of care? The real amazing thing is being able to flourish and enjoy a day of hard work under less-than-ideal working conditions. To end the day satisfied and content despite the fact that I wasn’t pampered or given special consideration. That kind of reality can only come from the daily grace Jesus gives me. I’m so thankful for that grace and I’m clinging hard to it today. May I end the day thankful. That’s a fantasy worth pursuing.

🎶We All Need Somebody to Lean On!🎶

This Saturday I got to attend a movie with my 5th grade boy and a bunch of school children from across the county who are involved in Project Grad. We showed up at the school along with a handful of other moms and their children, got on the big yellow bus, drove downtown, and entered the movie theater through the back door. Other kids from other schools were arriving at the same time and we quickly grabbed our little tray of popcorn and a soda and went in to find a good seat. Some other families from our school were there, having used their own transportation. I asked my son where he wanted to sit. “Somewhere close to Ms.Partin!” Ms. Partin is his homeroom teacher who had the fortunate (unfortunate?) job of being one of the chaperones. I smiled. It made me happy to know that he liked his teacher so much that he would want to hang out with her even when they weren’t at school.  

We all found good seats and were hanging out, eating our popcorn, waiting for the movie to start, when suddenly someone walked into the theater that caused a big stir. Dr. Brace! It’s Dr. Brace! Kids started calling out from all over the theater, “Hi Dr. Brace!!!” It was like a celebrity had arrived. Let me explain. Dr. Brace is the principal of my kids’ elementary school. Yep. The Principal. So, why on earth would a bunch of school kids be so excited to see their Principal? Because it’s Dr. Brace. She is super-friendly, knows every single child in the school by name, and their parent’s names. She takes time out to talk and listen to the kids. She’s full of enthusiasm. In fact she went around the theater, greeting each child by name, high-fiving, checking in with parents. Then she had to go around again and get a picture of each child, and then one more time to say goodbye to everyone as she was just doing a walk-through to make sure that everything was going well for the outing. There is something about her that just makes you start smiling whenever you see her. I don’t know her personally, but I love this woman. I love the fact that she has helped to make our elementary school a safe place where kids feel loved. I love the fact that she makes parents feel welcome and feel like they can be involved and speak up about issues and concerns. I love the fact that my children count her on their list of friends.

The movie that we watched was an animated movie about a little girl who faces a crisis in her family and becomes withdrawn from her normal bubbly, creative personality. I noticed that in the movie, part of the problem was that as things got harder for her in life, she stopped turning to her family and friends. When she finally hit rock-bottom, what helped her to turn things around was remembering her mother’s words, her mother’s love for her. As things got better, she turned back to her community, and her community helped pull her through her hard situation.

Two years ago I was trying to homeschool my children while going through a very deep depression, a depression that lasted about two years. I finally hit rock bottom and had to accept the fact that homeschooling was not something I was capable of doing at the time. I put my kids in public school, a very hard decision for me. Putting my kids in school became something of a turning point. It lifted a burden that had me pinned to the floor, eased it enough that I could slowly start getting up. Slowly pull my feet back underneath me. The kids’ schools have become a community for my children and even for me and my husband as we have slowly learned how to let go and let others help us.

I love that song, “Lean on Me”. I remember singing it at the top of my lungs in the back of the car with my teenage friends as we drove home from summer camp. It’s fun. It’s a classic. Makes you feel good all over when you hear it. I think it’s all of those things though, because the words are so true. We were not made to do this life thing alone. We were made for community.

Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12 says:

9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 11Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

I am so thankful for the community we have found in our local schools. I am so thankful for the teachers and staff who work there, giving their best to my kids. I am so thankful that I don’t have to be everything to my children. That when God gave me ten children, it wasn’t with the intention that I would somehow become superwoman who can do everything all by herself, but that he had helpers lined up to help. Community to come alongside us and walk with us on this journey called life. I am thankful.

🎶“We all need somebody to lean on!” 🎶

 

P.S. I have really hesitated to post this as I don’t want my homeschooling friends to feel like I’m slamming homeschooling. That is not my intention. I just wanted to share what a blessing our schools have been to us.