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!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Birth Stories, the final installment

And the final birth story:
Fast forward nine and a half years, a difficult divorce, and a blessing from God: a new wonderful husband later, here I was at 43, expecting a surprise baby in later life, after three grandchildren had already arrived via Anna and Matthew’s families.
Because I had a gracious new life with a new husband, I had wanted to try something new this time, and although I loved Donna dearly, I felt that it was important to have everything new: new midwives, a new method, and yet wanted my children to feel part of it, too. We ended up going with a wonderful midwife (Christy Martin) and opted for a water birth in the Gentle Beginnings Birthing Center very close to our home. The pregnancy went smoothly – (thanks in part to my awesome Chiropractor Jim Bob Haggerton at Lifetime Family Wellness-yes, I am shamelessly plugging him and his wife who are truly gifted in the area of healing and pain relief). My two goals for this labor were to make it special for my husband, as this was his first time to experience childbirth, and to NOT TEAR this time.
Labor started nine days before due date, just like my pattern was. This labor started around 6:30 in the morning – I woke up feeling crampy and had a few contractions. We woke up everyone, (the kids and my husband’s parents, who were visiting for the holidays) and drove to the birthing center. My contractions were still light, and didn’t seem to be doing a lot. I sat on the birth ball and slowly felt some things start to happen. At eight, my water broke and my chiropractor adjusted my back and hips, both of which suddenly made my labor leap into action. I climbed into the lovely warm water of the spa-sized tub in the birthing center and labored for the next hour and ten minutes until he was born.
The contractions were never very organized. I would have huge ones and small ones, even during pushing it was not consistent or regular. I clearly remembering at crowning blowing with all my might, and Christy telling me how great I did. Then with the next contraction, she told me the head was going to be out, and I exclaimed, "What??? that wasn't it already???" I actually thought with all that pressure that it MUST be out. I can laugh at that now. Sort of. Haha. I am glad to say that thanks to the great advice I received from my friend Shonda Parker a couple of weeks before labor, and super great coaching from Christy in the moment of need, I DID NOT TEAR, well, much, that is. He was by far my biggest baby, almost nine pounds, and had broad shoulders to boot. It was hard work pushing such a big baby out (for me) and I was so happy to be able to control the birth of his head, it didn’t bother me that I got a small tear from his huge shoulders. But no stitches, oh HURRAY! Leah and Susanna, (our thirteen and nineteen year olds), and Alvaro's mom came in right after the delivery, and Leah cut the cord a while later. While I was delivering the placenta, Alvaro carried our new baby wrapped in warm towels into the next room to meet his very excited brothers and grandparents.
My entire labor was not anything like the others, and yet, I can honestly say it was a GOOD birth and I am so thankful to God for walking with us through the entire process. I wasn’t as peaceful and calm and lovely in labor as I ideally wanted to be, and later Christy told me that she felt that the difficult thing about my birth was the disorganized way my contractions came, because I never knew what to expect next.
I had wanted so much to have a special bonding time with my husband, and I am floored by his love and support during labor. He felt good about our birth and that really means a lot to me. I was amazed later when I saw the birth photos taken by Anne Crowell’s daughter Keri Duckett, and any misgivings I had about how I handled the intensity of labor were washed away with the thankfulness I felt at seeing the birth through someone else’s eyes. She gave us some truly gorgeous photos of the birth that I cherish.
Having all of these babies has shaped me as a woman, as a mother, as a person, as a friend, as a follower of God. Pregnancy and birth has caused me to face fears, pain, my willingness to be vulnerable, honest, and needy. It caused me to seek truth, be able to experience and express raw emotion, and really search out what I believe about God and the fall and redemption, about His faithfulness, about connection with friends and family, and about the humanness and spirituality that is laid bare in childbirth. I would not be who I am without these experiences or these children and the women who helped me birth them.
Oh, and by the way, we named our little boy Alejandro, the Spanish form of Alexander, which means defender of man.

Birth Stories, Babies four, five, and six

Three more years, (as you can see, my babies seem to come every three years) my fourth baby came very differently. For some reason, I kept thinking that the previous labor had gone so ideally, the way I had hoped and dreamed, that there was no way I could repeat that. And just a couple of days before I went into labor, we had a visiting pastor who came and preached on the fall – focusing a lot on the pain of childbirth being a punishment from God. I couldn’t shake the dread it gave me. So when I woke up that morning at dawn a week before my due date with a light contraction, I felt both excited and anxious. I had another one five minutes later. I called Donna, my midwife, after the third one. She told me I could take a bath but not a shower because she was at another birth. I hung up, and thought, ah, a shower isn’t going to make the baby come faster, and climbed in. Ha. I didn’t end up finishing the shower. I had to get out and make the bed quick and get my husband to call people. I couldn’t talk on the phone. I crawled on the bed but never layed down. I was on my hands and knees for the next 40 minutes, blowing with all my might to keep from pushing the baby out. I was scared and felt totally out of control and thought that God had deserted me. An hour and five minutes after that first contraction, he was born. A dear, sweet midwife I had never met (Margie Spence) walked in after the head was out and delivered the rest of him. One of my oldest and dearest friends (Vivian) who was a childbirth instructor walked in right after her and helped Margie with the delivery. He was born blue and not breathing. The midwife gave him some rubbing, then mouth to mouth just a couple of times. He came to life strongly, wanted to nurse immediately, and was perfect on his second APGAR. My own midwife (Donna) got there about 15 minutes later and delivered the placenta. I remember shuddering, crying later, and thinking I would NEVER have another baby. NEVER. He was the best nurser though and cuddling him slowly washed away the memories and the fear. He was named Benjamin, son of the right hand.

Three and a half years later, enter baby number five. My longest pregnancy. I made it to four days before due date. My longest labor AND first labor to start with my water breaking. It had always exploded on its own or had been broken during pushing in every labor before. Light contractions followed. And didn’t seem to go anywhere. But somewhere along the way after a couple of hours, my body got serious. After I made it through transition and got to push, I worked really hard and the baby just didn’t seem to be moving. When it had seemed like such a long time and I thought the baby should be out by now, my midwife checked me and discovered a lip of the cervix I had been pushing against, so all that effort had done nothing. She helped me by pushing the lip out of the way on the next contraction, and I got my baby out PRONTO. I got up on my hands and knees and roared and heaved and was so exhausted and so relieved to be done with it. It was a girl, with big feet and swollen, stretched out lips from her trip. I remember the midwives saying that with those feet and that mouth she was going to dance and sing for the Lord. Her name is Susanna, which means lilly. She did grow up to be gifted in those areas as the midwives suggested!

Baby number six came (can you guess?) three years later. It was fast, it was fairly easy, but it was a little too early. I had spent 12 hours at Six Flags a couple of days earlier, and just never really recovered. Only a few days into 36th week, I kicked into labor late one evening. I called my friends, folded some laundry, walked around a bit, then labored on the toilet (my favorite place to make it happen faster, even though it is more intense), finally on my side on the bed, listening to classical music. Just a few hours after starting, a very little boy named Joel made his appearance, which means Jehovah is God. He didn't breath right away after being born. Donna told me to speak his name, and when I did, he took his first breath. Being early meant he was a really sleepy baby, one that I had to work hard to get him to nurse enough at the beginning, and another unpleasant result; if he cried he would not be able to breathe, so he turned blue and almost lost consciousness. This lasted for the first whole month of his life. I had to do whatever I could to keep him quiet and happy, but thankfully, he was fairly content to be nursed and held. He did outgrow that!

If you have held on this long, CONGRATULATIONS, you are almost through and THANK YOU, for caring enough to read!

Birth Stories, Babies two and three

Three years later, my second pregnancy was in Austin Tx, and the climate was really different for natural birth. I had joined La Leche League after hearing Dr. Sears on the radio talk about it and learned a lot that made HUGE differences in how I now felt about childbirth. I wanted a homebirth. I took childbirth classes with the midwives we chose (Barb Christman and Melanie VanAkin from All God's Babies), and learned about the effective use of visualization. I ended up going into labor 3 weeks early. I remember feeling a little surprised and annoyed that I couldn’t concentrate on the Cosby show that evening because I felt so funky, and labor kicked in a couple of hours later. I gave birth after 3 1/2 hours of active labor to a 5 lb 12 oz little boy, and screamed several cuss words at the pain like a good Christian shouldn't. But I also employed the techniques we learned in class to imagine the cervix opening, and to let the contractions wash over me like waves of the sea, not fighting them, but letting them take me where they willed, and those two things really worked. I tore because I really fought opening at the very end. I had not experienced that feeling, that ring of fire feeling, with Anna, and wanted to either avoid it or push through it, like FAST, which isn't the best plan if you don't want to tear. And, I am sorry to say that I used my foot to push my midwife away quite fiercely while she was stitching me up, and that still haunts me as one of my less than finer moments. I remember looking at my son and just couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I really had a boy. With a penis and everything to prove it. I kept wondering, how did that happen? Every time I changed his diaper I would think, oh my gosh, it really is a boy! He is Matthew, gift of God. One other byproduct from Austin was learning about circumcision and opted to NOT do that. Yikes!!!! was my general feeling about the subject.

For my third baby, again three years later, I was determined to prepare beforehand and to glorify the Lord in the process. I lay in bed every night for the last five months of the pregnancy, imaging contractions and how I would go limp, working with my body instead of tensing and fighting against the labor. But most importantly, I thought about how I wanted to have the fruit of the spirit to show through my approach to birthing this baby, so I thought about LOVE, and how I was going to express love the people at my birth, and JOY, how I was joyful about the gift God had given me and I wanted to exude joy in the process, and PEACE, how I wanted to have peace about God ordaining everything that was going to happen, and be peaceful as I walked through the valley of the shadow of labor, and have everyone present experience peace, too. And on through the fruits of the Spirit I went, praying and imagining this to prepare. Every night I did this. We were back in Fort Worth by this time, so I had new midwives: Donna Miller and Anne Crowell. I went into labor one evening after race walking our Labrador for a couple of miles. Not the smartest move when I wasn’t due for another week and a half. However, I labored easily, and sat on the toilet for most of the labor which was the best place to be if you want to OPEN and get the baby moving down faster. I was able to stay on top of the contractions well and prayed, relaxed, released, through all of it. My midwife asked me to move to the bed when she thought I was getting too close to having the baby in the toilet. I remember laying on the bed, and telling God that I couldn’t take much more, so please let the next contractions finish the dilation. And He did. I was amazed at how God was clearly with me through the whole labor and I never felt anxious or out of control. Pushing got a little intense because when my water broke there was some blood in it, so my midwife had me push more aggressively than I had planned. But as my daughter entered the world a few minutes before midnight, I was amazed that it was almost pain-free. What peace, what bliss. And that labor is still to this day the easiest labor I had. This baby was by far the prettiest baby I had ever seen, and everyone who saw her said the same thing, which further enveloped me with bliss. I didn’t realize I was setting myself up for an impossible standard. Her name is Leah Sharon, which means weary and forest. I loved the name Leah and wanted to give her a second name that for me was restful and a refuge when one is weary – thus, the forest, or being in God’s creation which testifies of Him.

Story continues in part three...

Birth Stories, Part One

I am going to birth my blog by writing about the thing that made me a mommy: the birth of my children. Since I have seven of them, that is a long, long story, so I am going to hit the highlights only for the sanity of anyone who really wants to hang till the end.

Having your first baby when you are nineteen and your last at forty three is sort of a weird experience. Really. A lot changes in that span of time. But a lot stays the same, too. What I went through with each of my labors has really shaped me as a woman as well as marked something about where I was emotionally and spiritually at the time.

As I said, I was nineteen and having my first baby. I wanted to have it naturally, and wanted to breastfeed. There was not a load of information available twenty five years ago, nor was it the "in" thing to do at the time where I lived. But I felt determined and stubborn. I went into labor about midnight ten days early with my first baby, and had my little girl four and a half hours later. It was fast and hard and crazy. Nothing I read or studied or learned in Lamaze classes prepared me for the force and strength or the pain of labor. I didn't imagine it correctly beforehand. I didn't think it would BE what is was. And after it was over I didn't know how I could ever do it again. I ended up with an enema, a shave, an IV, delivering flat on my back with my feet in stirrups and received an episiotomy that turned into a third degree tear for a 6 lb 13 oz baby, even though I had not expressly not wanted or needed it AT ALL. I held my baby briefly (about a minute) after she was wrapped up in sterile blankets and I received my extensive stitches, and I didn’t see her again for four hours. They catheterized me in recovery because I couldn’t pee on demand. About 24 hours later, I delivered a large lobe of the placenta, but the OB told me not to worry about it, it was nothing, it was normal. Right. However, I remember looking at my little baby girl later that day, and just being amazed that there had been a BABY inside of me all that time. She was named Anna, which means full of grace. Thankfully, I was able to successfully nurse her, despite all the very wrong information and real discouragement I received from almost everybody, including the nurses at the hospital. There was one woman in my church who was radical for her time and nursed all of her babies past six months. I am so grateful to her for telling me it was okay to nurse whenever the baby wanted. A side note: my episiotomy took almost a year to heal completely. The experience I had in the hospital really gave me the impression that childbirth was all about panic, pain, doctors and nurses being in charge of everything no matter how the mom felt/communicated about it, and again I will mention PAIN. But healing came, as you will see in the next parts of the story.