Thursday, January 29, 2009

Little Victories

“Thank you for your kids.” The exact words my two oldest kids’ art teacher, Mrs. Drillovich, said. “They’re so nice and well-behaved. I can tell you’ve done a good job.”

Really? I could feel my cheeks breaking into a smile, and the urge to hug my little angels flowed into my arms as we walked to the car. “I’m so proud of you, guys,” I said. “Thanks for being so good.”

“Wanna race?” my daughter Gabby asked Benjamin, ignoring my smushy words. And they took off.

The squabbling began immediately.

“Hey! I wasn’t ready!” my daughter whined as she ran. “It’s not fair.”

The battle escalated as they got into the van. “Mama, Benjamin cheated.”

“You always cheat, Gabby.”

So much for well-behaved kids.

As I go through my days as a mommy, I find life is like this. Little victories, followed by hours of struggle. I want those victory moments to last. I think it’s my latent desire to have a peaceful home where the kids obey, the dishes are done, and a slow-cooking pot roast fills the house with the aroma of love (and a together me).

Funny, but life with kids doesn’t seem to be like that. When Mrs. Drillovich gave the compliment, besides the rush of joy, I also felt the weight of the responsibility that training kids to be respectful, responsible, and productive involves:

>Constant reminders to my daughter to "act like a princess" at the table
>The repetitive "training" I give Benjamin to encourage him stop teasing
>The multiple anger-managment sessions with Christian
>The hours of hugs and “wead-a-book” time with Abigail to help her feel loved and secure

These mommy labor hours (and so many more) are what brought about that compliment. And I still relish it as a reward for hard work.

Yet, the compliment also reminded me of one other very important point. It’s only by God’s grace that my kids behaved well in art class. So rather than strive and struggle, I must remember to put all my parenting into His capable hands, running to Him, in prayer and the Scriptures, with each defeat and praising Him with the victories.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17 NIV

Monday, January 19, 2009

Rescue Me

Rescue Me

I live in a soggy state. I guess that can have two meanings. My state of being is soggy. That’s definitely true. Haven’t you noticed that having kids makes you wet? Runny-nose wet, squirted-juice-box wet, “uh-oh-I-had-an-accident” wet. Yeah, my state of being is definitely soggy.

But I was actually talking about Washington State—where I live. We’ve had tons of precipitation that has flooded many of our waterways. The other day on the news I watched as rescue swimmers jumped into a rushing river to help three stranded teenagers to safety.

I’m a rescue worker myself. Aren’t you? My kids don’t need to call 9-1-1 to reach me. One cry of, “I stuck, Mama!” sends me running to release a jammed baby from her high chair. “I need to go potty and my pants won’t come down!” will also nab my attention—and my fingers in quick response to undo a sticky snap or wedged zipper.

And then there’s that screaming cry that implies physical pain. Last night at church my four-year-old son got himself stuck. When my husband followed the sounds of his wails through the foyer and down the hallway, he discovered a chubby flailing arm sticking out of the ladies’ bathroom. Those doors are heavy, and Christian had somehow gotten his arm lodged. My husband bounded to the rescue, released the victim’s stuck appendage, and brought the little guy to safety. Face red from crying, Christian’s sore arm wrapped around his rescuer’s neck in a relieved hug.

Sometimes my rescue missions are a bit less dramatic than those, like when my seven-year-old daughter’s heart requires the healing that only a snuggle from mama can give. Or when my older son needs me to halt my busyness, look him in the eyes, and actively listen. “So you feel like you have too much schoolwork today? That would be hard.” “You get frustrated when the little kids take your Gameboy? I’m sorry. I wouldn’t like that either.” Then end with tickles, because he’s never too old for tickles.

I like being a rescue worker. It’s a privilege to “save” my kids from their “dire” circumstances, but sometimes I need rescuing too. This week was hard. A lot of yucky things happened—I made a mistake on a manuscript I was editing; my latest chapter of my novel did not go well; I had a night of insomnia; I felt a cold coming on; my son and I weren’t getting along; and well, I just felt grumpy.

In times like these I long for someone to sweep me out of the muck and helicopter me to peaceful tranquility. I’d like to say that happened, but it didn’t. Rather than a sudden rush of peace, like my hugs and quiet conversations with my kids, God was simply there with me. And trusting that the week would end, I’d eventually feel better, and that despite my whacked-out emotions, the truth is that God already has rescued me—by loving me unconditionally because of His unmerited grace—helped disloge my stuck and troubled mind from the crisis at hand. And brought me back to a place of gratitude and joy, kinda like Christian's red-faced hug.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"You Have a Wonderful Husband"

Transition--that's what our church is all about right now. After renting a Seventh Day Adventist building for ten years, our congregation suddenly finds itself needing to relocate. That, along with our dear associate pastor recently leaving to take a call to a new church, (the nerve!) has left us a little unsettled.

Today we toured two possible church purchases. Since my husband, Michael, is the deacon, (that's right, by God's providence, we only have one now, and Michael is it) he guided the tours today.

"As you can see, the roof looks good. Just replaced." "The classrooms comply completely with the state." "Here's how we can afford this..."

I watched him, this man I've known since he was a gangly twenty-something, going to Orange Coast (Junior) College, driving a Gran Torino, sporting a mullet.

And I was impressed. He'd done his research. He knew his stuff. He led well.

The tour ended, and we gathered for an informal "family meeting." Michael directed it with cordial professionalism. He talked about leaving a legacy for our children, using the many classrooms to provide for homeschool groups, or seminaries, or maybe even starting a Christian school. He asked whether the buildings would fit our spiritual identity.

Who knew my Michael was so wise?

But it was his heart that got me. The church we liked best had been there for fifty years. The members had stained the wood in the ceiling themselves. They served the community and the Lord with humility and love. Now struggles with money, regulations, and unforeseen yuck has caused them to sell.

Something about their plight touched my husband, and he suggested sharing the huge church with this flegling congregation if we should be able to attain it. Why not let them continue to serve the Lord in the building they so love? He suggested letting the pastor keep his office space as well.

In this world of selfish ambition, it touched me that he'd think of others--not how to get the killer deal or the "most for our money"--but to serve.

After the meeting a friend came up to me. "You are blessed to have such a wonderful, thoughtful husband. It's not often that someone has a vision." Her eyebrows scrunched with sincerity, and I thought she might cry.

My heart shot to my throat at her sweet and heartfelt compliment, and, filled with emotion, I said, "Ah, he's all right." We laughed, but then she gave me a hug.

Michael showed us Christ today. And as I walk this journey with my once goofy junior collegiate, I'll continue to be grateful for the Lord's work in his heart, knowing that as Michael becomes more like Christ, I and our church body reaps the benefits.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

White Lightning--and a Day of Failure

Yesterday was wrought with the primordial struggle between mom and preschooler--getting him to stay with me.

You see, it was our first day back to our homeschool co-op. The rules are very clear. You must keep your kids with you. They must never roam free--especially little guys like Christian.

Well, we arrived to co-op on time (yea!), and I situated the kids in the meeting room for announcements. I then had to run back upstairs to grab our storage bin--a two-minute task--so I left my four darlings with strict instructions: "Stay here. I'll be right back. I even coiled Christian's chubby fingers around the back of our chair.

I jogged up the stairs, grabbed our purple bin, lugged it back down, and guess what? No Christian in sight. It was now one minute till the meeting began, and I didn't know where my third-born son was.

I don't know why I didn't think he'd be in the bathroom playing with bubbles in the sink, but that's where I found him.

"I sorry, Mama. I forgot. I promise I won't do it again."

But he broke that promise--over and over! After announcements he completely disappeared, only to reappear (after I experienced a brief panic attack) right where he belonged in class. Before lunch I found him playing alone in the gym with his illegal black-soled shoes on. During lunch I had to round him up at least twice ... and after lunch, he even committed the greatest crime at co-op. He went outside to recess without me!

Of course I didn't even notice he'd gone. One minute he was sitting next to me eating his ham sandwich, the next, a young girl was delivering the criminal. "He's uh, not supposed to be out there."

The worst part was when after a full day of struggling with him, the recess monitor also informed me, as kindly as she could, "Just so you know, he's not supposed to be at recess without you."

I wanted to crawl into the trunk of my green Honda Odyssey and hide. Instead I harnessed my little white lightning and had him appologize, which he did with a sincere smile. "I sorry. I won't do it again." I think he fooled her, but he didn't fool me.

What a crazy day I had following my disappearing act around. It was exhausting, frustrating, embarrassing, and even a little discouraging. The discouraging part came from worrying about what other moms were thinking about me. "What a bad mom. Why can't she keep her kid under control?"

I don't know if anyone was thinking that. Since they're all moms too, who love the Lord, probably not. But I still felt yucky.

The truth is I should've been more on top of watching him. I tried, but sometimes even when I try my best, I fail.

So how did the day end? I tickled Christian's round tummy, and we giggled together. Then he snored on the way home.

We'll do better next week, but for now, I'm going to be content with my weaknesses, knowing that my son's happy snores are more important than a day of seeming failures.

"The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs... You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail." Isaiah 58:11 NIV