We All Need Some Grace

This evening I feel very mixed up. On one hand we have a very stressful situation we are working through that always seems to be hovering in the background. Then I have a spot of pure joy bursting through me as my oldest child chose to get baptized yesterday. Then I have issues with my health I’m low-grade worrying about. My children cause a big mixture of love, amusement, annoyance, humour, anger, and really, any other emotion you can think of, sometimes all at the same time. I am feeling very thankful for the good things I have, and then I start complaining cause some things aren’t the way I like them. At a drop of the hat I could get angry about social issues. And at the same moment I could start crying because I just heard a story of about someone being amazingly kind. It’s no wonder that when people say, “How are you?”, you just automatically say, “I’m fine thank you!” What else can you say? It gets a bit complicated if you say, “I am currently feeling every emotion on the spectrum.” 

 

Being human is so complicated. I imagine a big churning pot of stew with a million ingredients and as you stir a big spoon in it, different ingredients float to the surface. How are you doing? Well, right now I’ve got some happiness, joy, and enthusiasm going on. But if you stir things up a bit, I’m sure that annoyance, anger and selfishness can make an appearance.

 

Usually, when I’m writing, I have one set of emotions that is taking preference. They stir up thoughts and memories and I end up having a cohesive idea to talk about. Then there are days like today were my thoughts are going in a million directions, my emotions are having a wrestling match, trying their hardest to be the one on top that gets noticed. My memories are popping up from all kinds of directions, and I just kind of feel like banging my head against a wall to make it all go away. 

 

I’ve been reading a book about God’s grace. I guess that my current mental state is a good indicator of how much grace I need. I’m a mess. And I’m pretty sure I am not alone in the need for grace. I can go on all day about how amazing God’s grace for me and you is. As Christians we spend a lot of time focusing on how God extends grace to us. And that is a very good thing to spend time on. I think though,  I don’t spend as much time thinking about how to extend grace to others. 

 

I am very good at thinking about how downtrodden I am, how deserving of favor I am, how in need of a break I am. I don’t think I spend as much time thinking those things about others. But, when I do, life is so much better. When my husband comes in at night, and I think, I have been here all day with the kids! It’s time for him to step up and help me! I find that this attitude does not make for a nice evening with my husband. But, if I step back and think, hmm.. My husband has been working all day in the hot sun. He must be really tired. I’m tired too, but maybe if I give him a chance to take a shower and eat and give him a big cold drink, he’ll be in a better mood for our evening of parenting we have ahead of us. 

 

I find that this is the same with people who get on my nerves. If I put my entire focus on how they irritate me, kind of keeping a score card of all the things they do wrong, then, yep, I’m going to stay in a constant state of irritation towards this person. But, if I make the effort to walk in their shoes, see what struggles they are facing, ty to get some insight into why they act the way they do…It’s a lot easier to extend grace towards them.

It’s interesting that the more we get to know someone, the easier it is to extend grace towards them. It’s like knowledge and insight naturally produce love and grace. Maybe that’s why God can love us completely and extend such amazing grace to us, because he knows us completely. 

 

In the end, we are all complex creatures who only show the world a tiny fraction of what we are thinking and feeling. May I remember daily to practice extending grace to those around me.

 

 

Boredom is a Wonderful Thing

I read somewhere that boredom is essential to fostering children’s imaginations. It’s only when they are bored that they are then forced to come up with their own entertainment. They are forced to start using their imaginations. This past Friday I turned off the wifi at our house. I had several reasons, but one of them was to help my children foster their imagination. No more instant entertainment from a screen. Use your imagination.

So, obviously, I have set myself up for some trouble. Have you ever had a houseful of children all using their imaginations? It’s a dangerous thing. Using your imagination means taking your helium balloon (leftover from the graduation party) and letting it loose into the ceiling fan. (I just wanted to see what would happen!). It means taking a crayon and writing out a Yes/No quiz on the wall by the toilet. (I suppose so that people who are using the bathroom will have something to do?) Today one child took a bunch of our socks and gloves and made sock animals for all his siblings. (Who needs socks, after all, it’s summer.) It also means taking the hose and spraying it all over a pile of dirt so you can have a good mud hole to play in.  And while we’re at it, lets take these old bricks and stack them on the porch in a rectangle-box shape, and then try and fill it up with water, our very own swimming pool!

Of course, my kids have been doing these things all along, with or without wifi, it just seems that they now have even more time to devote their energies to these great ideas, instead of it being a once-in-a-while activity. And it makes me happy. Yeah, we’re going through a bit of an adjustment phase while we work out a new schedule. There’s been some whining because we’re not turning on some shows…but, I’m already seeing good fruit. Like the whole herd of children all running outside in the evening to catch fireflies. My teens gathering around a laptop to watch an old dvd together. (Still a screen, but at least they are doing it in community!) Little children are coming up to me with books they want me to read them. My older kids are delving into new book series. Boredom is a wonderful thing.

I myself have been experiencing boredom a bit more. It’s led me to start reading my Bible in the morning again, play the piano more, start thinking about some cleaning projects I need to tackle, pray more, listen to my kids a bit better. Boredom seems to have a roundabout way of making life feel sharper, more in focus. And yes, we do have plenty of fun things planned for this summer, there’s just going to also be lots of downtime.

So, my summer blessing…May we plenty of time to be bored and may that boredom lead us to great feats of creativity!

 

Happy Mother’s Day

I want to wish all the Moms out there a Happy Mother’s Day.

To the Moms of older children, thank you for sticking it out, putting in your time in the trenches. You are a hero.

To the Moms with little children…This is the hardest time. Be encouraged. You can do it. It is going to get easier!

To the Moms who are raising children they didn’t give birth to, you are amazing. Your heart for your children is an inspiration to all of us.

To the Women who think they aren’t Moms, but who go around mothering all the children that enter their lives. You are so important. Raising up the next generation is a community project, and your role is vital.

And to my Mom…Thank you. Thank you for all the sleepless nights you put in. Thank you for sitting with me at bedtime when I was afraid of the dark. Thank you for letting me pour soy sauce all over your amazing cooking because I was too picky to enjoy it the way it was. Thank you for buying me chocolate whistles at the grocery store. Thank you for always having a tissue in your purse when I needed one. Thank you for letting me stay up late reading books. Thank you for turning a blind eye when I came home covered in mud. Thank you for french braiding my hair. Thank you for sharing your Cadbury’s chocolate bar with me. Thank you for making me a pizza with nothing on it because that was the way I liked it. Thank you for all the times you didn’t give me advice, just gave me a long hug instead. Thank you for paying for piano lessons, and not saying a word when I played the same piece over and over and over and over and over again. Thank you for giggling with me over the silliest things. Thank you for continuing to make my birthday special every year. Thank you for teaching me about prayer. Thank you for your hugs. Thank you for being my Mom. I love you.

Mom of Ten: My Very Own List of Stats

The other night my husband and I were out on a date. My teens, who were babysitting, called to inform us that the two year old was throwing up. Yikes. So, we drove as quickly as we could to get home. As we were driving I told my husband I would hold the baby when we got home if he would clean up the throw-up. I then apologetically explained that nowadays, if people even talked about throwing up I would start feeling queasy. I could no longer handle throw-up… I thought about this for a minute…I didn’t use to be that way. Nobody likes throw-up, but I used to be able to handle it ok. What had changed? Oh yeah. I remember. Ten pregnancies, four to five months of extreme morning sickness per pregnancy. That equals, after I did the math, Three Years of Throwing Up. Three Years. Good grief. No wonder I can’t handle throw up anymore. I have a very good reason. I am justified in my squeamishness.

This train of thought led me to think about some other statistics.

 

I have been pregnant for 90 months or 7 ½ years.

 

Seven and half years guys. No wonder my body is a little out of whack. I have reasons!

 

I have gone to an estimate of 140 prenatal visits.

 

That is probably a low estimate as some of my later pregnancies were considered high-risk and I had extra appointments. Plus extra appointments for dealing with the morning sickness. It’s no wonder I don’t blink an eye when people jab my arm for blood or when strange doctors expect me to carry on an intelligent conversation with them while I sit on a cold table with nothing but a piece of flimsy paper covering my body.

 

I have spent 12 years and counting nursing a baby.

 

Nursing bras are a way of life. While I don’t flaunt myself in public, I also don’t mess around too much with cover-up blankets, and I’m not really thinking about what your opinion of me is while I nurse in public. I have nursed in an unheated car in the middle of winter in Alaska, I have nursed on a canoe, somehow managing to keep all life vests on. I have nursed while hiking. I have nursed while camping. I have nursed in sickness and in health. I feel pretty privileged that I’ve been able to have that experience with my babies.

 

Going on an average of 5 diapers a day, a low estimate, my husband and I have changed around 49,275 diapers.

 

Ok. This one makes me feel bad. I don’t use cloth diapers. I’m not a tree hugger, but I don’t want to be irresponsible either. That number feels irresponsible. In my defense, we were living in a bush Alaska with our first baby where you have to buy your water and it’s pretty expensive, we couldn’t afford the extra water bill. Second baby was while we were in Chile and all I had was a simple agitator washer and I had to hang all my clothes up to dry. I couldn’t even keep up with our regular clothes, let alone cloth diapers. Our third baby, we were living in a camper and then a rental house and I went to the laundromat. Somewhere around baby five or six, I hesitantly suggested cloth diapers to my husband. He was very skeptical of my ability to wash poopy cloth diapers. He said, I know you, you would just throw them away. He’s right of course. Remember that three years of throwing up? It also made me very reluctant to deal with any stinky, yucky, messes. I am hoping to potty train my youngest this summer and then, NO MORE DIAPERS!!!!! We will have a party when that happens.

 

I have been buckling kids in and out of car seats for over 18 years.

 

Car seats are my best friend and my worst enemy. They keep my child contained and they give me sense of security. Yay. But Oh, it’s a pain in the butt when your baby falls asleep in their car seat and you have to remove them from the car without waking them up (this takes great talent which I don’t have, even with 18 years of practice). And then there’s just the annoyance of always having to twist around in your seat to unbuckle them or climb around to a backseat to help them buckle up. No fun. I’ve still got many years to go before we pass this stage. Sigh.

 

Going on the average, I have taken children to at least 151 Well-Child Checkups.

 

I am blessed that we have an awesome pediatrician. We have been seeing the same doctor for 15 years, and she’s had the same nurse helping her for those entire 15 years. She’s an older lady who has six children of her own, nursed her kids well past the Fashionable One Year Mark, has a grown-up daughter who is a homeopathic doctor so she knows all about alternative medicine ideas, and she’s open to having discussions with me about vaccines. Honestly, in a weird way, I consider her my friend. She cares about my kids and has given me good advice over the years, even been a sounding board when we’ve gone through some particularly rough periods with one of our kids. So, I have come to not mind those appointments so much.

 

Last but not least..

 

We have owned 6 cribs.

 

Cribs should last forever. After all, how much harm can a baby do to a bed? None in fact. The problem lies in the older toddlers and school age children who always seem to gravitate to the crib as some awesome playing place. Let’s pretend it’s a cage and we’re wild animals locked up! Let’s pretend it’s our spaceship! Let’s pretend it’s a trampoline! Yeah. Despite all my efforts, warnings, punishments, etc, an older child always does something to the crib. We have moved our youngest out of his crib just recently. I am officially done with cribs. Woohoo. Anyone want some well-used crib sheets? I can’t give away the last crib because…it’s broken.

I didn’t even get in to how many pounds of fruit I buy a week (around 55 pounds) or how much meat I buy a week (around 20 pounds). Or how many socks our family owns (who knows, maybe a couple hundred?).

I’m glad we have a large family. It’s fun. Life is never dull and I am surrounded by cuteness, mischievousness, curiosity, drama, and comedic relief. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but I’m glad for this unexpected role I ended up with. Mom of ten. That’s me.

 

 

 

Jesus is Enough

This has been an unsettling week for me. A week where God confronted me about my online content: this is not pleasing, uplifting, edifying nor is it drawing you closer to God. Uggh. But it’s fun and entertaining. Everyone else does it. And a whole list of excuses, and this time I felt like God was just looking at me with a raised eyebrow. It’s your choice, are you going to listen to me? And so grumpily I walked away, looking over my shoulder with a bit of longing. I walked away because I know it doesn’t have to do with following a set of rules, it has to do with drawing closer to God, and I knew that my online activity was setting up a barrier between me and God that was getting harder and harder to climb over.

There was also the evening when my children’s bad behavior just felt overwhelmingly like me failing as a parent. I ended up sobbing on my husband’s chest, feeling like my kids were all going to hell in a handbasket and were probably going to end up homeless on the streets because I haven’t made Bible Time enough of a priority… And how on earth do I give ten kids the one-on-one time that they need to be well-adjusted citizens??

Then I got in a discussion about church practices with a blogger online. I didn’t agree with his position, but at the same time I didn’t feel like I had an answer to the fundamental question he was trying to address…How do we show Jesus to the lost?

Then I started thinking about politics and church and race and economic differences in the world and I felt like I just had this giant question mark floating around my head. No concrete answers. No concrete conclusions. Everything felt like a foggy haze.

It didn’t help that this past week I’ve undertaken a diet that consists of only fruits, vegetables and nuts. It’s an attempt to deal with several health issues, weight actually being at the bottom of that list. My body has been in shock. WHAT’S GOING ON??? WHERE’S THE BREAD?? WHERE’S THE MEAT??? More brain fog as I try to adjust to this very different routine.

In the midst of all this haze, I started a new book, “Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church” by Rachel Held Evans. She’s a blogger. I don’t read her blog. I’m pretty sure it’s a lot more liberal than I am comfortable with. I don’t unreservedly recommend her as a theologian or someone to model your life after, but there is something in her writing that feeds a hungry place in me. I think what draws me to her is that she is honest about her life. She is honest about her doubts and failures. She asks questions that I tend to skirt around. In the book it feels like she is rediscovering her walk with God, rediscovering Jesus.

As I’ve been reading her book I have felt something relax inside of me. I have been reminded that this walk with Jesus, this life we’ve been given is not a three step process. Our Christian walk isn’t about walking in absolute perfection every single day, and if we mess up, then it’s all over. It isn’t about having the answer to every single difficult question. It’s a lot more about stumbling along in all our imperfections and ignorance and continually turning back to Jesus, asking for help, asking for forgiveness, asking for strength to get up and try again. Asking for wisdom when we don’t know what to do. Seeking God’s face on Sunday, messing up on Monday, and then Tuesday, seeking God’s face again. A little bit wiser, a little bit stronger, hopeful that this time we won’t stumble into the same pit.

And through all our floundering around, Jesus is enough. His Word is enough. His Grace is Enough. His Love is enough. I long for solid answers, concrete paths, rigid systems to follow. A certain future that is all laid out for me. That’s not what this life is about. In fact, the only solid thing I have to hang on to is Jesus. He knows everything, but he only likes to tell me what I need to know on a moment by moment basis.

The fog clears a bit and one thing comes into sharp clear focus. I’ve got Jesus, he’s got me. It’s enough.

 

Oh Christmas Stick, Oh Christmas Stick..

Christmas trees are one of my favorite parts of celebrating Christmas. Every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving sees our family going and getting a live Christmas Tree and putting it up in our house. My husband is in charge of putting up the tree, putting on the star on top and doing the lights. After that I’m in charge of handing ornaments to the kids and letting them put them wherever and however they want. Later, after they’ve all gone to bed, I go to the tree and try to spread the ornaments out a bit better so they’re not all clumped together in one spot. Not that the ornaments stay where I put them. What with toddlers, preschoolers, kids throwing frisbees at the tree (on accident!), and the general inability of children to not touch shiny sparkly things, the ornaments get moved, dropped, picked up, and moved again. Over and over again. It’s a continual work in progress. Every year we lose a good handful of ornaments that just break from all the mishandling. I have developed a philosophical attitude about the whole thing, and just buy new sets of plastic shiny balls every year and try to hang my favorites or the most breakable ones way at the top of the tree where no one can reach. (We do tall trees.) (We have high ceilings.) (Why not?).

When I was a kid my Christmas Tree experiences were a lot different from my kids. Probably the combination of both my parents growing up in the tropics, being missionaries, and moving around a lot, the Christmas tree was not a sacred thing. We always decorated something. Just not necessarily a Christmas Tree. I remember when I was very little, in Haiti, my parents chopping down some kind of tropical bush/tree thing that had lots of little round leaves. That was our Christmas tree. Another year we decorated one of my mom’s indoor plants/bushes. Another year, when we were living in a trailer and planning on having company over the holidays, my mom declared that we simply did not have room for a tree. Instead we decorated one of her tapestry wall hangings that happened to be in a triangular shape. Other years we had an old fake tree that always looked a bit scraggly. The important thing though, was that we decorated something! We made things look festive and cheerful.

I carried this loose expectations of a Christmas Tree with me when I left home. When I was in college and Christmas time came around, I decided on the Christmas Stick. Yeah, I was going home for Christmas, but I was going to be in my dorm for almost all of December, that was several weeks of Christmas Cheer that I didn’t want to miss out on. So, dragging my roommate with me, we went in search of the perfect Christmas Stick (basically you need something with lots of little twigs on it). We decorated it with lots of laughter and it’s happy blinking lights made me smile as I pushed through finals.

 

biolastick

When I was 20 I went back to Haiti for four months. I lived with my old piano teacher and helped out wherever I was needed. One of the places I was needed was at the mission school that was set up for the children of the missionaries. The small school had a couple teachers, but they were stretched thin and so I stepped in to teach math and science to the two sixth graders. We had fun. Christmas time came along and I determined that we must decorate our little classroom for Christmas. I did not have any stores available to buy shiny lights and pretty ornaments, so we got really basic. We made paper chains out of red and green construction paper. Then, I introduced them to the tradition of the Christmas Stick. We went out on an expedition to find the best stick ever and then worked out a way to keep it standing upright. We decorated the tree with paper chains and then used string to tie on our “ornaments” which were pencils and rulers and a nice shiny cd for the star. I admit, it was rather homely, but it made us happy and made the classroom feel cheerful.

jerichostick

 

After I got married I got to join in my husband’s tradition which was to get a live Christmas Tree every year. Yay! I kind of forgot about the Christmas Stick tradition. Then, this year we had cousins come to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. One of the young cousins asked if we could make a Thankful Tree. I said sure! She went out and found some nice sticks, set them up in a coffee can and then cut out leaves. Everyone wrote down things they were thankful for on the leaves and then we tied them to the tree with string. It looked very cheerful and was a great way to remind our kids about being thankful. We set the tree up in the center of our table for the big meal and just left it there.

After the cousins had left, we slowly got into the swing of decorating the house for Christmas. I was idly standing by the table, looking at the Thankful Tree and thinking I needed to take it down, when something suddenly clicked. Christmas Stick! I got excited! After a quick trip to the Dollar Store, I had everything I needed, the tradition had been revived!

christmasstick

 

I have no idea why silly things like Christmas sticks make me so happy. I’m just wired that way I guess. My kids roll their eyes at me, my husband smiles and shakes his head. But, deep down, I think everyone loves my Christmas Stick. 🙂

 

9 Down 1 to Go

So, this is all about potty-training. Not super-interesting to the general populace, but I’m a mom, it comes up, and it’s my blog. So I get to have a day where I pontificate about potty-training. 🙂 

I am feeling the need to celebrate. I believe that I have now successfully potty trained my 9th child. There is nothing more delightful than to see your potty-training child stop playing with his toys and run for the bathroom…without you saying a word.

I have potty trained 9 children. This is proof that practice does not make perfect, the more you do something, the better you get is not true, and repeating an activity over and over again does not make it more bearable. I extremely dislike potty-training. I’m horrible at it. It requires a level of calm and patience and kindness over a prolonged period of time that I find really hard to muster.

All of my kids have potty-trained later than their peers. But this is because, in my mind, potty training is all about me, not the kid. I am not willing to engage in potty-training unless I know that I am looking at a couple weeks where I’m going to be relatively unstressed, and where I know that I can make myself be sweet and patient, even while I’m cleaning up the 20th potty accident in one day. I had hoped to potty-train David when he was about 2 ½. He is now 3 ½.  It’s a good indicator of my mental state this past year that it is only in the past couple weeks that I’ve been willing to tackle the job. Even then, when he had pooped his pants for the 5th time I finally lost it and heard the words coming out of my mouth, “If you poop in these pants again I’m going to spank you!” My oldest daughter was walking by and heard me. She raised an eyebrow and said, “Don’t children respond a lot better to positive reinforcement?” Umm..Yes. So I went to the store, bought a bag of chocolate and told him he could have some every time he successfully pooped in the potty. And that was that. We haven’t had another accident. (Because my kids seem to really respond to treats!)(Probably because I’m the mom who never buys candy and who gives them watermelon for dessert.)

All of that to say, when I finish potty-training a child, I feel like celebrating. I’m not really celebrating my child’s achievement. My kids are smart and awesome, and with a different mom they probably would have been potty-trained at 2 yrs old. No, what I’m celebrating is that I somehow managed to achieve a level of maturity that enabled me to love my kids and to show them grace while they conquered this milestone. Even when they peed on my shoes or pooped on my couch. Hurray for me.