Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Am I Ever Enough?

As moms, we sometimes (often) feel that we are never enough.  We cannot get all of the dust bunnies and dirty dishes banished, and feed and clothe and clean our children, much less tend the bumps and bruises on the little hearts and minds of our sweet (needy, demanding, hungry) little ones.

Being a mother is an all-encompassing and is a full-time occupation of our entire being.  It takes more than a body to cuddle, it takes more than a mind to answer a question.  It takes more than the sum of who I am to mother these children that have been entrusted to me by God.

As a young mother, I was overwhelmed a lot of the time.  I felt  like I was at the end of my rope, at some point, pretty much every day.  No matter how hard I worked, there was more to do than I could get done.  If I cleaned something, it just got dirty again.  If I made something, it got eaten or slept in.  I did not fully understand the fact that this is actually the work God has put before us, not by accident, but on purpose.  It is Repetitive, this beating back the effects of the fall - preparing, cleaning, restoring order, taming chaos.  It is daily, nightly, weekly, monthly, yearly, on and on, as far as the eye can see, and the children:  they will still get hungry, they will still need washing, they will make messes and messes and still need my heart and my physical being.  I saw it all as so much weariness and did not embrace this load gladly.

As an older mother, I have learned such a valuable lesson that I SOOO wish I had learned much earlier in life.  Each day does have enough trouble.  It takes more strength than you or I have to do it.  We aren't enough in and of ourselves.  We need the Lord to do more than survive, but truly live this life in joy and freedom.

The lesson I learned late in life is to be thankful - for everything - to give thanks for all the good and the bad - to see each thing through the lens of gratitude rather than resentfulness.  It is true, I lived a lot of my life resenting the interruptions, the spills, the unexpected vomiting in the back seat of the car on the way to church, the poopy diaper right as we are running out the door, late again, the lack of sleep and stained, ruined clothes and so many other such NOT IMPORTANT things that robbed me of joy and delight in my children and laughter in my life and made me feel constantly inadequate.

If I had seen how awesome it was that I even had a child to throw up on me - that this temporary illness was no big deal compared to what could be.  If I had appreciated how truly gifted I was to have a baby with a diaper to change, even if we were going to be later, now.  So what, really??? If I had remembered that God clothes the lilies of the fields, so surely He can replace whatever silly dress I "loved" and feel sad about losing to stains or tears, oh how foolish it all seems now, now that I am older.  None of that was central to my calling. 

I live here and now to love God and to love people.  I thank God for whatever He puts before me - all the so-called GOOD AND all the so-called BAD, knowing that He has His Hand in this, and He has a purpose.  Oh, there is peace in truly realizing this.  I ask Him for eyes to see it, for a heart to praise Him, for the grace and strength to genuinely love each and every person He puts in my life today.  I can live in the moment with gladness instead of the grumpy, impatient, exasperated way I used to approach laundry, dirty dishes, and whining children.

Twenty six years have gone by since I became a mother.  I have six older children,  I am a grandmother and I have a one year old.  I think I would have fainted with exhaustion had I known that was coming, all those years ago.  It is a blessing, though, that is all it is.  Blessings, blessings, and more blessings.  And opportunities to grow in love and grace and patience.  And lots of pain along the way, too. But that is another blog, another day.

Today, I am humbled with thankfulness.

Just a few of my sweet blessings from the Lord.
Alejandro, my resident mess maker

Leah, my sweet 20 year old, and Alejandro, our chubby cute baby

Joel, the "lives in his own world" ten year old, and Alejandro again

Susanna my awesome clarinet-playing, singing athlete, with the baby
(again, really? yes, he is in most every picture lately.  Can't say why, exactly, haha.)

My wonderful and lovely husband, with our baby.  So thankful.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lessons of Gratitude in Colombia

  It is gratitude Monday.  As I was pondering why developing the habit of thankfulness has made such a big difference in my life, I thought about how each and every time we visit Colombia, I am struck with the incredible differences there are in our standards of living here in the USA.  Seeing others being content with far less than we have is a profound lesson in humility and gratefulness.

Some of the things I take for granted are:

lots of hot water, and lots of water pressure
clean streets
most everyone obeys the traffic laws-it's not chaos
 drinkable water from the faucet
I do not have to lock the doors on my house
there are a million things to choose from in the grocery store
if I couldn't afford to feed my kids, I would not have to beg on the street
if I couldn't afford medical care, I would not be turned away

In Colombia, I have seen mothers with babies or very small children begging, or worse: sleeping on the streets in cold weather with only a small blanket or coat over them.

I have seen the poorest of the poor, so many of them, digging through trash at night with their hands, finding whatever might be there to eat or use or resell.  In Colombia, they are called the Recyclers.

I have seen men who pull large carts themselves, full of fresh produce or other things for sale.  The men who have a little more money use an old, skinny horse to pull the cart. 

I have seen small children working, selling packets of gum and crackers or shoelaces at little stands on the side of the street.  

I have seen poverty to such a low level as I never imagined it could exist.  It almost seems that we do not even comprehend what that word means, here in America, where even the very poor have televisions and foodstamps and medical care for free.

Most of the Colombians I know are simply happy with less.
They have much smaller and plainer homes,  they walk or take public transportation most of the time, they do not have all the latest stuff from Best Buy, or much stuff of any sort, in general, and most of them drive tiny cars if they own a car at all.

I don't have to beg on the streets for food for my children.
My husband has a good job.
  I get to stay home with our baby and the ten year old whom I homeschool.  
Our older kids go to great schools.
We live in a quiet, lovely neighborhood with zero crime.
We have a spacious home and we can take long, hot showers whenever we want.

Reading Crazy Love and Radical really spun me around.
Visiting Colombia again spun me around some more.

I am learning to be grateful with less, in this time, in this place, with whatever He gives. 

I don't need different possessions, and I don't need different circumstances in order to be happy.

I need to know the Lord, and love Him, and trust Him.

For this lesson, I am SO grateful. 

  More gifts:

* Casting all my cares on Him, for He cares FOR ME!
* celebrating another's triumph
*courage to speak
*self-control to be silent
*all of us together - sharing life
*laughter over hazelnut hot chocolate and homemade cinnamon rolls
*watching a friend's quiet strength while her oldest son is stationed overseas in danger
*quiet, slow-falling snowflakes, that quiet my soul as well and take my breath away
*letting go of fear, yet again, and falling into the arms of God
*a friend's beautiful, beautiful birth

Monday, January 3, 2011

Thankfulness, finally!

I have been meaning to do this forever.  I started counting toward my 1000 Gifts, which I was inspired to do from Ann Voscamp's most awesome blog, A Holy Experience, a long time ago.  Privately.  In my journal.  Sort of embarrassed and amazed that I was at such a point in life that I had forgotten how to be thankful.  There are times when life can be so dark, so difficult, so stark and cold and battering, that yes, a daughter of the Holy God and Loving Father can almost, almost forget that she is loved.

But I started counting gifts.

And I have learned SO MUCH.

I started with the silliest things because I was a bit cynical and dark and thought nothing would shake that hold on me.  So I chose to be "thankful" for air to breathe, a comfortable bed, clothes and food, my husband and children.   And as I, wrapped in grief, let myself speak to ALMIGHTY GOD, I could not say these things flippantly.  I had to acknowledge that He has, truly, blessed me and given me these things and so much more.

Now I remembered what I had forgotten:  That God's hands are evident, all the time, everywhere, all around us.  His love is all-encompassing, and we owe Him our most heart-felt praise and gratitude.

We can see so much more than we see now, if we practice.  We need to use the eyes of our heart.  We look.  Then we see.  We hear.  Then we listen...and amazingly, we understand.  This is also a gift.

Somehow, as we start to just say Thank You, to the Lord, for whatever we have, (and all of it He has indeed given us), we learn that there is one more thing and one more thing and one more thing again, that we have been GIVEN, lovingly, preciously, from a Father that is full of grace and mercy,  and our hearts are moved.  We are changed.  We see that our lives can be an act of praise and we want to find even more ways to give Him adoration for what He has done and is doing, and will do!

My list so far is in a journal, and I try to jot them down five or ten at a time, but I don't think I am  going to recreate that list here - that would take forever and would probably not even be read. So here are current ones, fresh from my heart that is still learning to be grateful for all things, big and small.

*older brothers and sisters playing with the baby, of their own initiative
*warm homemade soup and bread on a cold night
*new books to read from Christmas
*blankets from the dryer to snuggle under
*cloudy, sleepy days
*encouraging, grace-filled sermons that seem preached right to me...and then the same simple message repeated by random friends, music, the book I am reading on an unrelated topic, and then echoed in prayers.  A. MAZ. ING!
*freshly washed diapers
*unexpected chances to touch someone's life
*knowing someone's struggle so I can pray - and care

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Can We Be REAL?

One of the hardest things to do as a human being, I believe, is to BE REAL, to tell the truth, especially about who we really are.

We are people, sinners, surrounded by sinners.

We hurt each other; we inflict wounds and receive wounds from others, either intentionally or unknowingly.  But by these experiences we learn to pretend.  We wear a mask that is acceptable to present to the world.  And inside, we hide the real me, the real you.

Some of us learn very early that it is not safe to tell the truth.  From our parents, our siblings, our relatives, our teachers, and our little friends it comes, that first wounding. 

Not many of us escape that wound.  We find through pain of rejection that it does not reward us much if we show our true selves:  the things we have done or are thinking about doing, or our feelings-our thoughts-our intentions, our hopes and dreams and wishes, even.  There are things that we do not speak of.  There are things that we do not acknowledge.  There are secrets that must be kept.

And we grow up...perfecting the art of the lie about WHO WE ARE.  

We present ourselves as whatever we need to be in order to feel acceptable and worthwhile.  How well we present the image instead of the substance of who we are to the public.  But inside we know very well who we are and what we are doing.

We are sinners.  Yes, we know that we are.

We feel the brokenness.  We feel the failure.  We feel the weight of sin, those times when it is confessed yet we somehow cannot release it.  Memories haunt, taunt us.   The women we so want to be is beyond our reach.  The quest for perfectionism beats us into submission and we crawl into the darkness of our hearts and our closets and cry, weep, wail, in anguish.  We grasp for hope, for help, look for light.

We are alone.
Even God seems distant.

Oh, we cannot do this alone.

But to ask for help, now that is just too hard.
Because then we would have to let someone see inside.
We would have to let them know what living in this fallen world has done to us, how sin and failure have maimed and scarred us.
We would have to reveal our brokenness, our helplessness.

And then they might not accept us.

They might think we are weird.
They might think we are just truly messed up.  Or worse, that we are just bad.
They might wonder why they are even friends with us.
They might think we are broken beyond repair.
Our burden might be too heavy for them to bear.

We are so scared to really speak truth with each other.  Our brothers and sisters in the Lord are supposed to be our family.  The church, the people of His body are supposed to be the ones to whom we can go to find love, grace, forgiveness and acceptance. These people are supposed to be Christ in flesh form, so that we can know but also experience that we are His and that we are not alone.

But honesty is dangerous.  And costly.  And difficult.

It requires much courage to open everything in our heart and let someone see it all for what it is:  imperfect, flawed, struggling, in need of healing, in need of love.

You see, we are like God when we see someone in truth, and do not turn away, but instead give grace.  This is being a real friend.  A friend loves.  A friend listens.  A friend cares, even when it is hard to care.   A friend is safe to be honest with, and a friend shares openly and honestly, too.

Without this honesty, though, real family unity, real community is impossible.   And it requires that we give of ourselves, both the one being open and the one who is seeing the openness.

And oh the love of God that is poured out on both the giver of this grace and the receiver of this grace when we are strong and bold and courageous and SEE each other in truth and we then CHOOSE to love anyway.

Even if the revealed heart, the once-hidden now spoken truth, is messy, ugly, complicated, and really screwed up, or scary sad and we have no idea what to do with it.

We don't have to have the answers to fix things.

We instead can be honored to come alongside another.  We look to God.  He is entrusting us to be like Him in this person's life. 

And we look inside and know that we are, ALL OF US, broken, marred by sin, capable of the most wretched things that have divided us from ever deserving the grace and love and forgiveness that has been given to us FREELY, costing us nothing.

And so how can we not freely give this same grace to our sister or brother?

Or what about our own child?

Because the ONE place our children should most be able to be honest about who they are and what they are thinking, feeling, hoping, and struggling with or failing is in our homes, well, and in our hearts.

Can we teach our children about grace instead of teaching them to pretend? 

And can we be the safe person in the lives of everyone we know, the one who is able to hear the secrets and not turn away in disgust, but instead be Jesus to them? 
Can we be transparent, and tell our truth?  Can we be real about who we are?

Will we?

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Family

Here we all are...
Me, my sweet, kind, loving, piano playing Colombian husband Alvaro,
my three daughters, four sons,
and three grandchildren
(plus one little grandboy already named Jack, making his appearance in January)
Not pictured: two cream colored poodle/maltipoo doggies
(more brownish than cream when they need a bath)
named Bella and Chaucer, and a leopard gecko named Pepito.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

The REAL reason moms are impatient

So here we were at Cheesecake Factory.   If you notice the center bottom edge of the photo, that is a big puddle of passion tea on the table, knocked over by my cute little pumpkin. He likes messes. He lives to make messes. But that is another story.

Life has been more than a bit challenging lately around our home, and as a result, I've been really examining what makes me upset and why. People often comment that I must be so PATIENT to have all these kids, or that they could never do that, they are too IMPATIENT. And yes, I think that I can say that I am more patient that the average person, at least in some ways. Part of that comes from really believing in the importance of grace and understanding and accepting people, in spite of their failures. But part of that is just being willing to put someone else before myself, even when it does NOT feel good and is not what I really want to do or have the natural impulse to do.  I have learned, or earned, patience, by lots and lots of opportunities to feel the burn and push through it to the other side of love and grace.

What I have figured out is that no matter what is going on, if I am tired, if I am hormonal, if I am hungry, if I am busy, if I am worried, if I am whatever, you can fill in the blank, the only reason I ever get impatient is when I AM NOT GETTING WHAT I WANT.   My kids interrupt me: I wanted to be left alone.   My kids are loud: I wanted quiet.   My baby wakes up: I wanted him to SLEEP so I could do whatever I wanted to do.   My kids need something for school at the last minute: I didn't want to have to get up and go to WalMart or spend more money and I wanted to watch TV and have a "nobody needs anything from me evening" FOR ONCE.   The real reason underlying every single time I feel annoyed and impatient, and I sort of imagine why you do too, is that whatever you and I think you and I want or need is not happening and that really sets us off.

I am certain that sometimes what I want is legitimate and valid and reasonable.  But this does not let me off the hook of being kind or loving.  I am, after all, the grown up.  I am the mommy.  I am supposed to know how to act and how to lay down my life for another, after all this time.  But selfishness dies hard.  It does not want to let go, completely.  This flesh clings to self-service and self-satisfaction, kind of like my baby clings to the star burst fruit chew he discovered in the couch this morning, and was highly upset that I should think he shouldn't be eating it, paper and all, and gently but completely removed it from his tight little fist and clamped mouth.

I remember when I was a much younger mother, driving down the highway with at least four or five kids in the back of the van, asking God to please, please help me learn how to be patient.  It had been a rough morning.  I thought, they were all my kids, after all.  I had given birth to them, brought them into this world, and I desperately wanted something better than the shrieking, freaking out hag who appeared unexpectedly, albeit at rare times, but scared everyone involved, myself included.  But it wasn't the witch who appeared every once in a while that was the genuine problem.  It was the frustrated attitude that in general prevailed throughout my days and nights that was the real issue I wanted help with. 

And as I prayed, one of the kids spilled something in the van, another informed me that they forgot the library books, and another asked how long till we were done with our errands (we hadn't even made it to the first one yet) and something in me just snapped.  Into place, I mean.  I felt this huge surge of anger and frustration and incredulous-ness, and in that moment, I realized that God was answering my prayer for patience.  In His wit and wisdom, He was giving me the chance to...practice. 

I suddenly realized that this was going to be learned by painful work.  Practice.  Lots and lots of it.   That is what I did not want to do, and though it is SO MUCH easier now, because of so much practice, it is still a little bit painful.  It hurts to be patient, because we have to DIE TO SELF in order to put someone else first.  And that is what patience is:  it is stopping all those thoughts and emotions dead still, and thinking about the other person - what they are doing, saying, feeling, and needing, at the same moment seeing ourselves clearly, too, really being honest about what I really wanted in the situation and am losing at this very moment, and then doing the right thing - being like God for them.  We choose to be THERE for them, to give them the understanding and acceptance they need, the love and grace and tenderness they crave,  the forgiveness for being a burden and gladly taking their burden on our own shoulders and carrying it.  This all has to happen in an instant.  Because the moment when we choose to love comes in these fleeting seconds before we open our mouths.

Ouch.  It is hard.  I am so glad we do not do this in our strength or wisdom.

I am the first to admit that this will take much failing to get right.  It takes trying, failing, confessing, seeking the Lord, quoting whatever verses you can muster up for your heart, to show you the way in the dark, and listening to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, whispering calmness to us when we are about to blow up. It is refusing to be selfish. It is considering another as more important than ourselves.

When we think we cannot survive one more sleepless night with a restless, teething baby,  or one more spill at the table, realize that actually, yes, we can.  We just have to want to do the hard work of being nice, as one of my friends likes to say. It is truly hard work at first.  But the sweet rewards are that it comes easier the more we do it as a lifestyle.  And we experience peace. And we can have joy after all.   And best of all, we have children who know they are wanted, welcomed, and loved for who they are and that they are not a bother.  Even if they do spill your favorite tea at your favorite restaurant.

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Aromatic Water, or as it's really called, Agua Aromatica!

During our recent trip to Colombia, I had this incredible "something" to drink that I had somehow missed in previous visits. It was so good, I had it several times! And with cooler temps heading our way, I plan to duplicate this at home.

The idea is to put various fruits and herbs in hot water, let it stew or steep a while, at least ten minutes, then serve. The flavors are different depending of course on what you decide to put into the pot. I am not going to give an exact recipe because there really isn't one right way to do it.

Start by slicing whatever fruits you choose. In this pot there are papaya, kiwi, strawberries, plus guanabana, granadilla (relative to passionfruit found in the Andes region of South America), and a couple of various other fruits that we cannot find here in the states. You can add some slices of lime or lemon or orange, too, and almost any other fruit you can imagine. I even found a few grapes in the bottom of one of my cups while we were shopping/dining/indulging ourselves one night in Hacienda Santa Barbara.

Next, add the essential ingredients, fresh herbs. You can use almost anything typically used in both sweet and savory dishes: primarily mint, but also lemon balm, cilantro, bay leaves, spearmint, or even chamomile flowers or other typical plants that are used to make herbal teas. The point is that everything is fresh, though, and the water is barely simmering. It sort of very gently cooks the fruit while it is steeping, and blends the flavors of everything in this unusual sweet-savory combo that is just a little unexpected and yet, very soothing and almost luxurious at the same time, especially when it is chilly outside.

After the water-fruit-herbs concoct for a while, spoon some of the fruit into the bottom of each cup, add a few sprigs of the herbs, and pour the remaining liquid into the cups. Then add a bit of honey and a fresh squeeze of lime or lemon, if you like that sort of thing, and serve with a spoon. You can also choose to just serve the liquid without the fruit, as my father-in-law does. My husband told me his dad eats the cooked fruit himself because his mom just prefers the liquid, which he brings to her in bed EVERY MORNING, lucky woman. Nice way to start the day, right?

By the way, the pot in the picture above is stuffed with fruit, but some of the places we went did not use this much fruit. It does make a beautiful presentation, though, and added to the warm, cozy feeling I got when drinking this!