Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Living before a mirror

With enough kids, two usually does it, every parent has a mirror. The child that acts just like us, reflects our childish faults that we hide behind social filters.

Big one is mine.
I sit in the playroom watching her interact with her friends. She doesn't know which way to turn in her frustration. Three two-year-olds, none of them are playing correctly with her toys. Don't they know that you can't pour tea into the baby doll cups?! And boys aren't supposed to cook! Even her sister, who has been carefully trained for years, isn't following procedure.

I see that day in college when I realized how other people saw me. An ice breaker that I'd played before, so I took charge of the 20 man group and told them exactly how to beat the game. Everyone blew me off, and I didn't understand why. Days later, I introduced myself to a new employee who responded, "Yeah, I heard about you... You're the one who told everybody how to play the game."

I was devastated - I was bossy. I was cold and controlling. I wouldn't let other people use their skill and imagination to solve a problem. My way was the only right. I wouldn't be friends with me.

I'd like to say I've outgrown that side, but DH can quickly refute it. Even if I don't say anything, my face contorts every time I hear a word mispronounced. I might go along with his plan, but my attitude lets him know my plan was better.

Parenting is the same devastating encounter. The heartache my kids approach weighs heavy on my momma heart. The mirror child reminds me of the sins I managed for years without repentance. Of the heart change that still has to occur in both of us.

Big one and I snuggle at nap time. I brush her hair with my fingers and pray. Lord thank you for the way she... how she... Everything that comes to mind brings frustration. Frustration because I know how much sin and hurt those same characteristics have wielded in me.

God, is there nothing in her that doesn't have to be redeemed first?!

Softly I hear my answer, Of course not. I must make all things new. Her entire personality must be made over. Every part of her can glorify me or idolize herself.

The same is true of me, of small one, of all of us. Nothing is born perfect, until it is reborn.

My heart calms. He planned every part of her, every part of me. And when he makes new, he can use every part of her, of me.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Peace in the stacks

We have days: Monday grocery shopping, Wednesday library {most weeks}, Friday day off with Daddy. Weekly rituals give something to anticipate and add structure to lives that lean towards the reactionary, which wheel squeaks the loudest.

This morning, after two years of library trips, I realized I was breathing easily at the library. A little girl was crying and whining, her mom trying every trick to calm her. My girls kept giving her the 'seriously, get a grip' look while I browsed the non-fiction shelves for school material. Small one sat with a modest stack of board books, happily flipping pages, pointing out animals. Big one lost herself in the Illustrated Grimm Brothers. They sat like that for thirty minutes{!}. I finished before they did. A family milestone.

How did this happen?

Our first library trips were nightmarish. Big one emptied the board book bin all over the floor and ran circles around the circulation desk while we checked out. Small one wrapped her body around a book and screamed torture if you tried to remove it - we worked out a system where I held her over the counter and the librarian scanned the clutched book. We barely made it to the library once a month because momma couldn't take it.

Even a few months ago, small one ran the stacks in a peace disturbing game of hide and seek. Big one sat down next to a stranger and told him she wore 'big girl panties' all the time. And I snatched books of the shelf without cracking the covers hoping a few would prove school worthy.
A peaceful library trip is such a small thing, yet my heart sings. The library is one of my happy places - all those books that I don't have to pay for. Made even better by sharing it with the girls. Especially if we can enjoy the literary wonder without ruining it for others.

At least until little man discovers the board book bin...

The library is our greatest home teaching resource, even over free coloring pages. I want more for my family than an education. Recognizing the ABC's is not enough, a subgoal really. What good is reading if you hate opening books? My homeschooling hope is that they become life-long learnersseeking information after degrees are earned, when no one is testing their knowledge or offering career incentives.

A questioning mind complemented by a library brimming with answers are true tools of learning. When the girls bound for and squeal over new books, curiosity sprouting, we're on the right track.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Love in hard phases

I'm adding chicken to the soup pot when big one waltzes into the kitchen. What are you making?

Good dinner. I heard years ago never to tell your menu to a toddler so they couldn't decide beforehand that they didn't like it. My trick failed.

I hate it. I'm not eating it.

That's where we're at right now. A very difficult three year old stage. She hates mac n' cheese; she hates the Veggie Tale movie Sister picked out. She is so hungry, but she can't eat that. She wants to play, but there's nothing to play with in the brand new play room.

I think this stage is usually called adolescence. But I'm learning that adolescence starts as soon as baby can exert his/her will. It just climaxes in the teenage years {we can only hope}.

The family sits at the dinner table. PoppaDaddy and Momma stirring cheese and spinach into chicken chili. Small one eating like a recently rescued refugee. Big one staring at her bowl in disgust, whining that she is hungry.

She calls my bluff and loses. At 6:30 she is in bed for the night with no book, an empty stomach, and the promise of chili for breakfast tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, small one is chatty and cuddly. In the midst of the best phase of two - past the tantrums when the world is opening up. She and I have the evening all to ourselves, just mommy and baby girl. We giggle and snuggle and sing together and read all her favorite books. And I enjoy her crooked smile and her growing heart.

Some days, I don't know how to balance my favor. How to enjoy the child in the difficult phase as much as the one in the sweet phase. I love them the same, but how do I like them the same? How do I show the obstinate child that I wish I were spending an evening singing and reading to her too?


Bursts of my sweet little girl.

That's what I have with big one right now. A glimpse of sun behind clouds, and when the rays shine, I must run and celebrate them.

Watching for those sunbursts requires patience and diligence. And mostly presence. My hardest fought gift for my family. So busy caring and serving that I forget the people I serve. In trying phases, the  hard-liking phases, she needs my attention to her detail. She needs to hear, 'yes.'

Yes, Mommy can put off writing to cuddle you to sleep.

Yes, Mommy will hold you accountable to your poor choices.

Yes, Mommy can put off washing to read one more book.

Yes, Mommy is serious that we don't tear down those we love with hurtful speech.

Yes, Mommy can still see that you are my beautiful girl through all the ugly words you're throwing.

Yes, Mommy loves you and likes you just as much today as I did when you were 2 1/2 years old and discovering the world.

Yes, Mommy will love you and like you just as much tomorrow when your heart hasn't softened yet.

Yes, Mommy is praying for you, today and every day.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The painful looking glass

I watch a Godly woman anointed and prayed over. Her body attacking itself and causing endless pain. Forced to quit her full-time ministry job for surgeries and therapy. Where is God in her pain?

Or my dad. Almost daily migraines for decades. Stare at a computer until he physically can't sit up any more, lay down in a cold, dark closet until the pain subsides enough to earn the next pay check for his family. Where is God in my dad's pain?

Or my friend whose pastor husband unexpectedly died, leaving her a widow in her 30's with two young sons. Where is God in my friend's pain?

And please don't tell me it's sin. That we live in a broken world, and pain is part of it. If pain is brought on by sin, I feel like the child molester should have the debilitating auto immune disease, not my college pastor. Can't God alleviate that suffering for the faithful? Why are we declared righteous in Christ and still suffer? Why heal some and not all? For every blind or lame or bleeding person Jesus healed, hundreds of others must have believed that Jesus could heal and simply never ran into him. For every Godly person who lives a peaceable day in the West, there are ten who are martyred in the East. Is God's relief random chance? Does he leave some to suffer the consequences of a fallen world and deliver others?

Surely God is bigger than that.

Above all, how does suffering because of a sinful world explain Jesus? If pain is only the product of human sin, how could sinless Jesus face pain? How could sinless Jesus die?

Unless pain is bigger than we know. Unless God is bigger than we know.

I can't speak to every example, but I can speak to two:

1 My own pain - Without chronic migraines, I would remain firmly convinced of my own ability to parent my children, love my husband, serve the church, and build our home. I spend hours, sometimes consecutive days in bed, ice on my head, watching all my hard work give way to time. It only takes a couple hours for the dishes to pile up, for the girls to turn feral, and for Tim to wear down. Not because I'm so good at spinning plates. Because my work on Earth is meant to unravel, so I recognize that my toil under the sun is a breath.

God does the real work in our house. I change sheets. He changes hearts. I point out stains. He convicts of sin. I present basically clean, half-mussed children one day a week. He presents his Son with a spotless bride.

I wouldn't see this without the pain. I know I wouldn't because I didn't for years. Could not see the futility of my work for my efficiency. Years of migraines showed God's work.

And I wouldn't take pain free years in exchange for a glimpse of the glory of God.

2 Without the cross, we would remain firmly convinced of our ability to make up for our shortcomings, to earn good.

Christ's pain was the plan before God said, 'light.' Through his pain, we see God's perfect justice, no sin in his holy presence. And we see his never ending mercy, complete forgiveness, unfailing love. Who else can be both just and justifier? How else can we see his character except through our pain and his? In the ultimate miracle, sin and pain and death serve to reveal God's nature. As the girls' Bible storybook says, "everything would be better for once having been so bad."

We wouldn't see our fallenness without Christ's pain. We wouldn't see His grace without Christ's pain. I know we wouldn't because we don't. Because every other religion is based on our earning. Every other religion says that our condition is one we can atone for. Only Christ says, You didn't earn, you can't earn, I gave. He gladly shouldered the pain of the cross for God's glory that would be revealed.

God's glory gives my pain purpose. Redeems the effects of a fallen and broken world. I'm not just a victim of meaningless suffering. He doesn't withhold his power to heal and abandon me to pain. Suffering can be a looking glass into the glory of heaven. As Christ's suffering was.

And as a mother endures labor to hold her newborn, I wouldn't trade the suffering for the glory.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The results are in...

Ultrasound today and...

Blue socks!

It's a boy!!!

Baby is healthy. Mommy is healthy. Best 20 week ultrasound we've ever had. Thank you Lord!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On Ash Wednesday

The first day of Lenten season. Preparation-for-the-cross season. I search out the crucifixion in my daily reading, and the living word does not disappoint:

My Help and My Deliverer
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
40 uwaited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and vheard my cry. He drew me up from wthe pit of destruction,
out of xthe miry bog,
and yset my feet upon a rock,
zmaking my steps secure. He put aa new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will bsee and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.Blessed is the man who cmakes
the Lord his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
to those who dgo astray after a lie! You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your ewondrous deeds and your fthoughts toward us;
none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
yet they are gmore than can be told.hIn sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
but you have given me an open iear.1Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written jof me:kI delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is lwithin my heart.”I have told the glad news of deliverance2in mthe great congregation;
behold, I have not nrestrained my lips,
oas you know, O Lord.10  I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.11 As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain
your mercy from me;
your psteadfast love and your faithfulness will
ever preserve me!12  For evils have qencompassed me
beyond number;
my riniquities have overtaken me,
and I cannot ssee;
they are tmore than the hairs of my head;
my heart ufails me.13 vBe pleased, O Lord, to wdeliver me!
Lordxmake haste to help me!14 y Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be zturned back and brought to dishonor
who delight in my hurt! 15 Let those be appalled because of their shame
who asay to me, “Aha, Aha!”16 But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
bsay continually, “Great is the Lord!”17  As for me, I am cpoor and needy,
but dthe Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God!
In the cross is the fullness of deliverance, the awesome faithfulness of the Father proclaimed to the whole world. From the moment of sin, God was not content only to execute is holy wrath. Grace leads to a conversation with erring children. Grace leads to a promise of salvation. Grace leads to the cross and God's great deliverance.

We rejoice and are glad in this season of fasting and preparation!

Resources for Lent:

As you prepare, may I suggest a simple devotion such as this book from last year

or John Piper's brief insightful work, The Passion of Jesus Christ.

Over at A Holy Experience, Ann Voskamp is offering a free printable to use with your whole family.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Misunderstood downpour {or how rain saved a party}

A dead car battery. I can postpone a trip to the grocery store or library. But this trip is special... a little girl valentine's day party. And we're buckled into car seats, boots and coats on, ready to go.

Big one bursts into tears when I tell them the car is dead. 'C-c-can't you find some battery juice, Mommy?'

Now I'm desperate. Scanning my contacts - Monday morning, everyone's at work.

Scanning the street, up and down for anyone with a car in the driveway. I knock on a neighbor's door, not a complete stranger, thank goodness, but a retired missionary couple. He looks puzzled to see a panicky, soaked momma on his doorstep. Please, can we have some battery juice?

A jump later, and we're back on track for the party. The girls shout their thanks to our neighbor. He smiles and says, 'That's what neighbors are for.' Then adds, 'Ya know, we were supposed to move into our new house last week, but with all this rain, they couldn't pour the driveway yet.' He wisely winds up his jumper cables and climbs back into his van. Smiles again and waves.

And I thank the Lord for the rain that has turned our yard into a swamp and held up a build site. For a neighbor who wouldn't mind saving the day for two very disappointed little girls {and one disappointed momma}. For a large grace on a small day. He sees the little stuff.

As I thank Him for the rain, I remember my own bitter heart toward that rain which fell as I was planning our spring garden. The rising puddles still present five days later irk me, especially the ones over last years' garden plot. I recall how beautiful my plants looked covered with tiny white flowers, only to drown the next day in a summer rain storm. Raised beds for tomatoes and eggplants, pots for root veggies, and I'm griping. Griping the drainage and the cost of good dirt and the general inconvenience in a Spring full of projects.

Now I sit, engine running, watching more large unrequested rain drops plink against the windshield. What if these drops fell, each one divinely directed, so we could go to this party? What if Mr. Don's house was held up, so he would be here to save the day? What if I've been grumbling all week against the blessing God was about to give?

Our family reading is in the wandering years of Israel. Each time they gripe about water, complain about manna, threaten to return to Egypt, slavery was better than God, DH and I shake our heads. How could they believe that? How could they grumble against a God making food fall from the sky every morning? This morning, I understand.

God didn't give me what I expected, what I understood, and I didn't trust.

And His grace abounds all the more - grace to forgive my untrusting heart and peace to believe him next time more misunderstood blessing falls from the clouds.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Boy or girl?

Friday is the day... we find out Baby's gender! DH and the girls could not be more certain or more opposed.

DH knows it's a boy, refers to baby as, 'little man.' He'd really like another guy in his corner. Someone who would vote for a trip to Bass Pro over a craft day at home. I get that.

The girls are dead set on a baby sister. They used to be cool with the idea of a brother but not any more. I told them that a little brother would be fun, like having their friend Jonathan over to play. Big one's expression clearly said, 'meh.' Small one just became more firm, 'No means no! Girl!'

I'm the only neutral party. Boy or girl - I can't be disappointed. I'd really love to get some trucks and mud and snails around here to balance out the pink and paper dolls and princesses. I love watching little boys play, especially outside. Small one doesn't realize how much fun she would have with someone else who likes getting dirty.

But my own two sisters are such a blessing. Three girls - our own version of Little Women. And I couldn't imagine not having them both, especially as grown up friends.

Essentially, we can't go wrong.

Now's the time to poll the audience...

What do you think, girl # 3 or little man??
In case you are a big believer in old wives tales:
Heart rate: 155 bpm {same as the girls}
How I'm feeling: very few migraines, but morning sickness was a doozie {opposite from the girls}
How I'm carrying: low and forward {same as small one}
What I'm craving: mostly salty, but I never pass up ice cream {I was all ice cream with the girls}
That's all I've got... no draino crystals or needles from strings. Sorry.
 I'll let you know what the ultrasound reveals on Friday.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Sugar, sugar {or sugar 3 ways}

Stopped in to see now grown up sis's apartment. It has a European feel - tiny compact, intentional, and homey.

But... there is no storage. None. Her pantry is a 2'x2' table next to the kitchen door and a wall hanging spice rack from my grandmother. Might not matter if you don't cook, but she does. She cooks marvelous, exotic, complicated fare. With no pantry or prep space.

So we discuss the merits of basic ingredients - the true staples that produce all the stuff you usually buy. My pantry is bigger than sis's, but I find it clutters quickly unless I focus on staples. I can't keep four different types of the same product, for example. Which leads me to sugar.

White, brown, dark brown, powdered, turbinado. That's only the crystalized stuff. Never mind molasses, honey, agave, corn, and maple syrups. Sugar by any other name.

Trying to keep the pantry cabinet simple, I found I need 3 sugars: organic, unbleached cane sugar, unsulphurized molasses, and honey. From those three, I can make or substitute for any other 'sugar' ingredients.

I want to mount a mini soap box about organic sugar: you probably don't ingest many chemicals with regular sugar - it's highly processed. The chemicals and farming practices affect the regions where the sugar is grown, especially the water. We buy organic sugar for the sake of the plantation workers and their families. Something to think about.

For the recipes:

I started making powdered sugar when I realized I was out of powdered sugar halfway through a recipe blurgh. After making it once, I was so pleased by how easy it was that I gave up buying powdered sugar. {Making your own is also an easy way to get organic powdered sugar, which can be tricky to find.}

To make 1 c powdered sugar:
Pour 1/2 c granulated sugar into a blender or clean coffee grinder. Pulse for several seconds at a time on low speed until the sugar starts growing. Continue pulsing at 10-20 second intervals on a higher speed until sugar has reached desired consistency {usually 5-6 minutes}. It will double in size during the process. Ta da!

To make vanilla sugar {perfect for homemade hot chocolate or sugar cookies}:
Fill a 1 qt glass ball jar with 4 c of granulated sugar. Bury a vanilla bean in the sugar. Shake every few days. After 2 weeks, remove vanilla bean. Ta da!

To make brown sugar {courtesy of Homemade Pantry}:
Mix 2 t molasses into 1 c granulated sugar. Blend with fork, past the clumpy stage, until smooth. Ta da!
For dark brown sugar, add more molasses.

An additional note about sugar:
Regardless of the form, too much sugar isn't good for you {duh, right?}. I found baking at home that I'm more likely to count the sugar when I add it myself. I poured 3 c of powdered sugar in those meringues the other week. I'm not going to eat six in a sitting. Also, sugar can't be hidden under a different name if you bake it yourself. There are hundreds on monikers for sugar, and they can all be listed separately, giving the appearance that a food is healthier than it really is. Again, when you mix in the sugar, you know exactly what your family is eating.

So... I use real sugar, no Splenda or Truvia. Because I know what's going into our food.

Monday, February 4, 2013

More joy in my heart

We laughed last night as a Baltimore Raven made a purple and gold confetti angel on the field. Grown man giddy and childish. Joyful over a goal complete.

A sweet friend birthed her second this morning. Everyone is happy and healthy. Delighted. Joyful over new life and love and family.

I'm happy enough for the Baltimore Ravens. The Lombardi trophy is nothing eternal, but their excitement was infectious.

I'm much happier, thrilled, in fact, for my friend. Can't wait to give her a hug this evening and present little man with his quilt. Your own pregnancy or a friend's, doesn't matter, those nine months stretch like an eternity. The anticipation of meeting a brand new person, well, I have goose bumps.

With all the surrounding excitement, my heart was a bit downtrodden and raw when I opened my Bible this morning. Accumulation of small stuff weighing on me. But my should be joyful heart wanted very much to curl up on the couch. When I read:

You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. Psalm 4:7

And I saw that football player rejoicing in confetti, the team crying and hugging. Big contracts about to be written. Big rings about to be forged. Top of the world. All their grain and wine before them.

You have put more joy in my heart.

I thought of a hospital, my own babies laid in my arms for the first time. Tears of joy and wonder at their tiny noses and pillowy cheeks. Dreams for a family fulfilled. All our grain and wine before us.

You have put more joy in my heart.

Do I really believe that he is my joy, more joy? Yes. And no. But mostly yes.

I do believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living Psalm 27:13 and will recognize the fullness of his joy that he has put in my heart. And I do believe that in him this day is my fullest joy.


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