Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My Christmas Ministry--and Yours

You hear about them all the time--those amazing ideas to serve others at Christmas.

Sing carols at an old folks' home.
Visit the children's wing of a hospital.
Feed Christmas dinner to the homeless.
Invite the lonely into your home.

And more ...

These are wonderful ideas--great ways to teach our kids to help others. And although my wiggling toddlers would make many of these an experiment in torture, I think it would be great to give more in the future. My husband and I have even talked about spending Christmas serving in Mexico someday.

But something strikes me about the way people glorify volunteering during the holidays. It's like helping in a soup kitchen etc. are real types of ministry and what we normally do is not. But,

This morning, my two-year-old daughter's eyes scrunched in sheer sadness when she spilled her hot chocolate. Her tear-drenched cheeks wet my shoulder as I held her.

Comforting the distressed is my ministry.

My son, Christian, sitting at the island coloring, fell right off his chair (again)and landed on the linoleum. "Let me get you some ice for those bruises, sweetie." And we snuggled in the blue recliner till he giggled and ran off to play.

Healing the wounded is my ministry.

Sweet Gabrielle, seven, loves to hug. Every few hours she checks in, wraps her arms around me to receive the love waiting in my arms. We finish with a few yummy kisses, and off she goes.

Hugs and kisses are my ministry.

And a couple days ago, my oldest was getting picked on by a neighbor girl who is much older than him. He came inside crying. I held him and told him how special he is. "God loves you so much, Benjamin. Let's play a game together."

Befriending the friendless is my ministry.

Finally, every night after dinner we light the advent candles and read from the Bible about Jesus.

Teaching my children about a baby who grew up to die on a wooden cross to forgive their sins--that's my ministry.

What's yours?

Let's not worry about what others think our Christmas ministry should be, because of Christ, we are amazing moms--and that's enough.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Program with a Four Year Old. Embarrassing? No Way.

My little Christian with his cherry-red chubby cheeks stood on stage with a band of other four and five year olds singing the ever-preschooler-popular "Away in a Manger." So cute.

Of course, my eyes focused on my little one, and what was he doing? Well, he had his priorities in the right place. You see, he was wearing his favorite "play ball" knee-high socks. In order to share the coolness of the socks with his church family, he shoved his pant-legs up to his knees. There he stood, socks in all their glory.

I have to say, he sang pretty well. He actually knew the words--even the second verse. "The stars in the bright sky..." And how cute it was when they flashed their little hands above their heads like stars--except that, with his arms pulling his shirt up, the whole congregation could see that Christian's pants were neither snapped, nor zipped. Nice Thomas the Tank Engine underwear though.

That little boy gives me so much joy. He had no clue he should be embarrassed. He just felt excited to share himself with a room full of people who love him.

Sometimes I feel like Christian looked--not quite tucked in or snapped up. But I'm just me, not the perfect mom, housekeeper, or Christmas decorator, but amazing nonetheless. So at Christmas time especially, I try not to worry about sharing only the perfect version of myself. It's time to just give, however imperfectly.

Why? Because my family loves me, and of course, my heavenly Father loves me too.

"The Lord your God ... will take great delight in you, he will rejoice over you with singing. He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy." Zephaniah 3:17

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Yesterday's Blessings

Blessing number one: I arrived home from a three-hour editing stint with a seriously fried brain and a mounding serving of worn out. "Lord," I prayed as I got out of the car, "Help me make it through the rest of the afternoon."

Walking through the door, the first thing I noticed was a clean family room AND a couch-full of folded clothes. Then I heard the sound of the dishwasher whirring. I glanced toward the kitchen--yep, the dishes were done. I kept myself from fainting and smiled at my most wonderful babysitter. My heart exuded thanks. I really needed the help at that moment. A clean and peaceful home is a blessing--and help getting there double blesses.

Blessing number two: "Honey, can you bring home some paper towels and diapers from Costco today?" You see, my husband was laid off from a mortgage management position a few months ago, but rather than waiting around for the perfect situation in the finance world, he took a part-time job straightening bread for a vender at Costco. He rises in the wee hours of the morning to provide for us, then heads back in the afternoon.

This gives him time to pursue other work while still providing help with the bills. I'm so blessed by his hard-working, dedicated attitude. Plus, he did bring home the paper towels and diapers AND a roasted chicken for dinner. Wahoo!

And blessing number three: "Ho-ly! Ho-ly! Ho-ly!" My little singer-superstar Abigail belted out in typical off-key howling yesterday afternoon. "Hoooo-leee!" I laughed, not just chuckled, but a real hearty guffaw. Then she giggled and did it even louder and with odd and varied lip positions. "Hoo-ly," she sang with her lips all pooched out, then "Ho-ly," with her lips smacking. Ah, we laughed and laughed.

After my long hours editing, the comic relief felt good. Plus, the sweet innocent joy of a two-year-old girl screeching with delight about God's holiness--you gotta love that.

Then I remembered my prayer. "Lord, help me through the rest of the afternoon." Like Abigail's praise, I'd prayed with simple trust--childlike--and a loving Father answered.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Last night I got together with a good friend at Starbucks. Having tried a variety of the chairs and tables at that particular Starbucks, I knew the best table to choose--the one that has a cushy seat on one side and a regular seat on the other. It's next to the wall, nice and private, and away from the speaker for when the music gets too loud.

So I used my influence to get her to agree to that table... "Does this one look okay?" (as if I had no opinion). She went to get her drink, and I sat down in the regular seat, leaving her the cushy one.

When she got back, she smiled. "You left me the soft seat, that was very unselfish of you, but I guess with four kids, you know a lot about self-denial."

We laughed, and I said something about mommyhood taking self-denial to a "whole nother level."

It does. Doesn't it? Really plunges the depths, testing our ability to give and give and give ...

I have to admit, sometimes it's really hard. Little things like never owning your very own Diet Coke. Honestly, sometimes I don't want to share it. "It's MY Diet Coke, and you can't have it! Mine! Mine! Mine!" I feel like that at times, but I usually end up sharing. Same goes for chocolate or a new perfect pen or even a just a few quiet minutes alone. Stuff that used to be all mine, now is shared with eight grubby little hands.

Self denial also hits on an emotional level. When my older kids pierce me with angry, painful attitudes, I don't always think, "Yea! What a great teaching opportunity. I'm going to help them learn a life lesson." No, more often, especially when I'm tired or overwhelmed, I'm tempted to indulge myself by throwing good discipline out the window and lashing out in sarcasm or manipulation.

How do I keep from getting sucked into this yucky cycle? Well, I learned a really great thing about self-denial. I do it not to somehow change the kids' behavior or make myself look like a good mom. I deny myself simply because that's what Christ did. It's not out of a sense of duty or guilt, but because I love Him, and His love, joy, and peace fill me up. If instead of focusing on the things I'm giving up--Diet Coke, chocolate, or an indulgent self-centered attitude--I focus on serving the Lord, self denial becomes a joy rather than a sacrifice. And when I serve out of joy, those grubby little hands don't bother me. In fact, there's nothing I'd rather do than serve them.

"Serve the Lord with gladness." Psalm 100

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Cheerful Heart is Good Medicine

Last week I went for my annual check-up. Fun! No really, it was fun. Why? Because my doctor is so cheerful.

He's been our family doctor for years now, and I would never go to anyone else. He greeted me with a big smile and a "How are ya?" He asked, "How are those kiddos of yours?" and also made sure I wasn't too overwhelmed by mommyhood. While he was stethescoping my back, he had to take a phone call, and, after apologizing for the interruption, he grinned and said, "Don't go anywhere." Like I could while donning that paper blouse. I laughed--imagine, a doctor who'll joke with you.

I overheard a bit of his phone call (not on purpose!) and he exuded friendliness to that person too. "Hey Joe, thanks for calling me back." He had that smile in his voice they tell you to have. Yeah, the check-up included all the uncomfortable stuff, but I left with a smile on my face. It felt good to be around a happy person for an hour.

I want my home to be like that. After my appointment, I began assessing my cheerfulness level. I think I could be a lot more jolly with my kids. So I tried it. We've been laughing more, and when I get all serious about the "To Do Lists" in my day, I've been trying to slow down and smile instead of growl. It's not that difficult to do, and guess what? They like their mom better this way--and so do I.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Me Overwhelmed? Weird--or Not

"The thing is," I told my friend Sarah, "I feel overwhelmed all the time." Sarah is one of those un-assuming, yet remarkable, women whose easy-going attitude and great kids (five of them) inspire me.

What nugget did wise Sarah give me in response? Her brow scrunched in compassion, and she said, "Well, you have four little kids, you homeschool, you edit (something I do to help financially), you have a house to take care of...You're going to feel overwhelmed all the time."

Huh. It took me a minute to let that sink in. I'm going to feel overwhelmed all the time. As she waited patiently, still smiling empathetically, the meaning of her words swirled through my thoughts.

Sarah was telling me that my state of being overwhelmed was not abnormal. In fact, considering all I do, it's perfectly reasonable to feel like I'm drowning.
I looked up from my pondering and said, "Thanks. That's a real comfort."

It was. Her kind and wholly rational words reminded me that God knows how I feel like flood waters are whooshing over my head--all the time. He knows how my stomach turns at the thought of keeping up with the laundry, or how a messy diaper at the wrong moment (like when we're already rushing to be on time)can send me into frantic, crazy-lady mode.

He also knows how I feel like a failure when one of my kids shows his sinfulness by lashing out at me with disrespectful words. Or another one refuses to forgive, holding a grudge for hours. Or when I, rather than exemplifying loving, Christ-centered behavior, instead lash out right back at them.

He knows that these and the many other challenges of parenting overwhelm--all the time. And rather than stressing and struggling like a panicked swimmer, I can trust that this is the heat I'm supposed to be in--not an easy one, but worthwhile. I can rest in Him, trusting His ability to save me--be my strength.

"Trust the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight." Prov. 3:5-6

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Look What God Made

"What's that, Mama?" two-year-old Abigail's little voice questioned as she pointed to the animal in front of her. "Kitty?"

"Nope, sweetie, that's a jaguar."

Monday we went to Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo. It was Abigail's first excursion to any zoo, and it warmed my heart (despite the chilly Washington weather) to see her eyes light up in wonder at the animals. It was also fun to hear four-year-old Christian's roaring--doesn't matter what animal we saw, his response was, ROAR!!!

On occasions like a trip to the zoo, I always keep the phrase, "Look what God made," handy. I want them to know where to direct that awe they feel over the amazingness of nature. "See the speckled giraffe, the powerful gorilla, the purple, poison-dart frog? Look what God made."

I also experience another kind of awe when I gaze at them--an amazing feeling of gratitude. And on Monday, as they delighted in God's creation, I delighted in them, saying to myself, "Look what God made."

My Benjamin, Gabrielle, Christian, Abigail. Even the most awe-inspiring, intricate aspect of God's creation pales in comparison to my kids. What breathtaking spot in nature could attempt to surpass the feeling when Benjamin hands me a note from the heart--"You're the best mom ever." Or when Gabby has a smooching contest with me, or when Christian falls asleep on my lap in church, or when Abigail giggles. They are the most amazing creations in my life. And He's given me the privilege and duty to be their mom.

Look what God made, yeah. He made my kids.

"The Lord your God is in your midst. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, He will rejoice over you with singing, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy." Zephaniah 3:17 NIV

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I Love to Laugh--Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!

"That does not sound sexy!" I blurted to my critiquing friend last night. Three of us gathered around our favorite table at McDonald's, struggling to tune out the loud voices of the older gentlemen's loud conversation. The point? To give our best opinions about how to make eachothers' manuscripts more griping, emotionally intense, or polished. It's very satisfying as a writer in many ways--and refreshing.

The best part is the laughing. Not a McCrit (that's what we call it) goes by when we're not snorting and guffawing about something. This time an out-of-place phrase a character said in a hot and heavy romantic scene just struck me. We all almost lost our Diet Cokes over that one.

As a mommy, I believe in laughter. It waters my dry land. The days filled with laundry, dishes, organizing, and most of all striving to be the best parent I can be sometimes saps the juice right out of me, but laughing gives it back.

Nothing bonds friends together like a full-bellied chuckle. It's hard to be transparent sometimes, even with other moms. We want to appear like we have it all together, like our backs don't ache at the end of the day, or our kids don't drive us to desparation at times. A good laugh can break down that barrier. Sharing a funny can make us feel free to share the struggles as well.

And how great is laughing with our kids? My 8-year-old son, Benjamin, can really get me going. He or I will mimic something we've seen Christian doing, like saying, "I a knight. I sword you!" And we'll jump and take his fierce knight stance. We'll giggle and giggle. Or my second oldest will tell me some story that I don't understand, and she'll start cracking up. I don't have a clue what it's about, but I join in anyway, because laughing is contagious.

Oh, and the ability to make a kid chortle helps with discipline. My favorite way to melt a kid's mad face into a smile? Say, "Would you like to eat my boogers?" Works every time.

What a gift laughter is. Thanks to the Lord, the source of all joy, for creating us to laugh.

"The joy of the Lord is my strength."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Shoulders Feel Better

Since I finished my stint teaching twenty jr. highers everything they needed to know about the Crimean and Civil War, I somehow feel more relaxed. Huh.

I think it's good to have a big goal. I like it--the adrenaline rush, the sense of accomplishment, the knowledge that makes me feel smart.

And I also like gifting my kids the opportunity to experience these benefits of hard work. Their goals of, for instance, making their beds every day, or, finishing their math surely do give them the bliss of a job well done.

Okay, maybe not. But it is beneficial to have them work hard even if rather than blessing me for my wise foresight, they whine, get mad, slouch, procrastinate, and sometimes cry.

Another thing is good too.

A break.

After teaching for six weeks, I need a break. And my kids' hyper-emotions tell me they do too. So this week we've thrown math out the window. Their beds aren't made and I don't care! Yesterday we made thumbprint thank you cards. You should've seen little Abigail. The ink didn't quite stay on her thumb. Instead her fat thighs were decorated with swirlies and squigglies. But we had fun and the cards got put in the mailbox with the flag up. All five of us went for a long walk/bike ride (the older two riding bikes), and eight-year-old Benjamin made the coolest skids in the gravel. Today, my six-year-old daughter Gabrielle got to trade her treasures for the neighborhood kids' allowance money, and I helped Benjamin sell his Cub Scout popcorn. We've been reading books we like, and tomorrow, I plan on playing games with them--Jr. Boggle, Aggravation, Uno! Monday we're going to the zoo.

Sometimes in my frenzy to check off the to-do lists I make for my kids I forget they need a break. We all do sometimes--it helps those shoulders relax.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Giggling with Abigail

"Go away, bug!" my two-year-old squeaked in church today. A fly had swooped by her ear during the Prayer of the Church. Her commanding words were heard far beyond our pew.

We're trying to train her to sit in church, and I was pretty impressed that she made it that long, so, for the sake of the others trying to concentrate on worshipping God, I took her to the cry room.

But that doesn't mean she can run free. Like I said, we're trying to get her to sit through service, so the rule is she must sit on my lap and be quiet. Well, how do you think that worked out? She's a talker, you see. She loves words and wants to tell me everything. Yet, I know she needs to be quiet.

So we begin a back and forth dialog, starting with the items in her surroundings. "Mahm, toy." My response? "Quiet, Abigail." She says, "Mahm, nose." I say, "No talk, Abigail." She taps her soft little finger on my sweater. "Mahm, button." I respond, "Shhh, Abigail." Then she grabs a book. "Mahm, goggie," pointing to a dog, and "Mahm, goggie," pointing to a donkey. "Abigail, pray with Pastor Randy." Now she looks out the glass to the people in church. "Mahm, Barker." (Our church's pastoral intern.) "Mahm, Papa."... "Abigail, listen to the Bible."

The problem is, she's just so cute and sweet, it becomes a game for both of us, and soon she's giggling. Okay, I'll admit, I giggle too. How could I not? What better place than in church to enjoy her? What better way to glorify God than to rejoice in this precious gift He's lavished on me.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Let's Encourage Each Other with Our Words

What a day! This morning I went to my MOPS meeting which I haven't been able to attend for, well, a long time. As I dropped off my little girl to the nursery, one of the mommies saw me. Her face lit up and she attacked me with a big hug. "Hi!" she said, "It's so good to see you." The same thing happened all morning. Even the director from up front, when she saw me, paused and squeeked in joy. "You're here!"

How good did that feel? So good. I also just got an e-mail from a lovely lady at my homeschool co-op telling me how much her kids, who are in my class, "love and respect me." Now, I know I probably need more praise than some. (Verbal affirmation is my love language.) But every mom feels encouraged by kind words.

I remember once a few years ago. A lovely young mom was herding her two wee toddlers around the zoo. Her kids were so cute and she was so sweet with them, I couldn't help but comment. "You're doing a great job with your kids." You should've seen her face. She actually teared up. A simple kind word from a stranger.

Maybe it's because our own self talk isn't always the most positive. Maybe it's because we doubt ourselves as parents. Maybe it's because our kids don't always have the nicest things to say. I don't know, but we mommies need positive words. And who better to give it than other mommies--the ones who know how hard it can be. Let's take this challenge and encourage one another. Is there someone you can call, or send a card to? Maybe just remember to bless a mom you know with a "good job" the next time you see her.

So thanks to those of you who've blessed me today. I hope to pass the love on to others.

"Encourage one another and build each other up." 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Time management--ha!

Hi everybody,

I haven’t blogged in so long. I’m glad to be back. Because of my schedule, I’m going to only write short little blurbs for you, and they won’t be perfectly edited. Gasp! The perfectionist editor in me is screeching, but that’s just the way it has to be.

What’s on O’s mind? Well, a lot about time management. I’ve been teaching a 6-week history unit to a group of twenty jr. highers. It’s been so fun. Such a great age and a nice break from my little ones—four of ‘em ages 2-8. But my quest for perfection does make my teaching stint very time-consuming. What have I learned? Even imperfect class activities still bless my students! (A Flylady concept.) The activities don’t have to be perfect and I don’t have to be an expert in the causes of the Civil War to be able to teach them something valuable.

How does this apply to us mommies? Well, I have to keep telling myself that I don’t have to be a perfect mommy. In my striving to be a good mom, I find myself adding more and more to my schedule—gotta read to the kids or they won’t be smart enough; I must do more activities with them or they won’t be mentally stimulated; they need more play dates or they won’t make friends. And there’s the pressure to organize their dressers, scrub the corners, take them to museums, library story time, soccer, dinner! Not to mention the pressure to take care of myself. All the magazines say I must have “me” time. I must, or I won’t be a good mommy! But when????

Ugh. I can’t do all this. I don’t know what the secret to time management with little ones is, but I do know that I am loved—by my husband, kids, family, friends, and especially the Lord. As my four-year-old Christian commands in his most bossy tone, “One at a time!” Maybe that’s the answer. One moment at time, with my hand firmly grasping the nail-scared hand of the Lord.

"If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalms 139:9-10