Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Community is What You Make It I have been very reflective lately – this is such a busy time with Christmas and a recent tragedy on my mind. (Sorry, I’m not ready to discuss it here yet.) In times like this you rely on people close to you to celebrate and also process tough experiences. We have lived in our neighborhood for 7 years and for some reason, it has been incredibly difficult to meet people. Most people on our quiet street are, well, quiet and are not out that much. If they are out it always seems to be on off times from when we are out. The people we have met have been nice, but we have not formed any close friendships – something that has been frustrating to me for a long time. But look at the title of this post – community is what you make it and well, I just didn’t realize how important that was for me here in my quiet corner of the world and for a friend I recently said good bye to. For me – being with family and getting to know the people that are close are very important to me, but I have not made the effort probably in both camps to really foster the community I’ve been craving. My friend, on the other hand, made her mark, built her community and at her memorial a diverse group of people paid their respects. It was something to see and something I will never forget. My 5 year old daughter, Kayla, said last week, “Mommy, Daddy, I want to give a candy cane to everyone on our street for Christmas.” Brilliant! Jerry secured the candy canes and a few days later Kayla and I spent 1 hour and 15 minutes handing out candy canes. We met nearly every one of our neighbors. I can’t believe that she figured out how to solve this 7 year problem I’ve had with such a simple gesture. I believe this is the start of something big – a tradition – a means of reaching out. I’m not really sure what yet. All I know is that I’m in awe of this sweet girl and the impact she is having on me and my idea of what community is. So as the holiday season is ending, keep that sense of community and common goals and purpose alive with your neighbors, friends, and family. Reach out, pay attention, find ways to care and communicate. It could be the start of something big for you also.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Purpose It has been exceptionally windy and cold the last few days – even unusual for our area. One day I was looking out the window watching the trees and snow blow to and fro and my eyes caught a leaf. Now seeing a leaf in December means a brown, crinkled, sad excuse for a piece of vegetation. This leaf had definitely seen better days. But what caught my eye was how it was blowing – in a circle – round and round and up and down. This seemed to go on for minutes – longer than you would expect for something like this. It was as if it was trying to tell me something as I quietly watched and pondered. And then it finally struck me – this leaf was living out its last purpose - to blow around and around and go on its way to most likely, its final destination. And it was as if it was actually enjoying the journey. How simple is that lesson for us? For many years I moved so fast – I multi tasked in the car (not while driving), I felt as though I had to read a certain number of books and do certain activities even while on vacation. I rarely sat down to watch a movie without doing needlepoint or folding laundry or some other task at the same time. I was at a breakneck pace and not going anywhere. I don’t remember where it all changed for me – I know it was definitely a process – a slow one. Ironically at my busiest time, which I believe to be now, I actually make an effort to relax more now than ever before. I’m really starting to enjoy this journey – I’m working hard at seeing the world through my children’s eyes – listening to the creative stories of my 5 year old, the wacky humor of my (almost) 3 year old, the sweet innocence of my 1 year old. I’m no longer moving so fast, I’m no longer striving for treasures that have no value in heaven, I’m no longer stressing about the state of my house (OK, annoyed at times, but definitely not stressed). I’m starting to see that the purpose for which God created for me is what I’m finally starting to live – and it feels so good, so right, and so peaceful at the core of my being. I have more work to do, that is for sure and I will never be perfect, but I’m so thankful that I’ve opened my heart to this possibility – to be the woman that God created me to be.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Winter Wonderland Our first big snow came down last night. I’m not a big fan of winter really, but I love the first snow fall as it always seems to coat everything perfectly in a sparkling white blanket. I marvel at each covered bush, tree, and field. It seems as if I’m in a different world. I also love the soft glow of Christmas lights under the snow. I’m looking out there loving the snow – something that isn’t always true for me. But I’m sure another day will come in the near future where I won’t love the snow. The days will seem darker, the snow – harsher. I’ll look outside and groan and wish for it all to be gone. It’s interesting that the same exact phenomenon can occur and we can react so differently to it. But maybe I won’t do that…maybe I won’t groan. And the only reason that can happen is that somehow I change on the inside. Isn’t that how life is anyway? Things happen and we are tempted to react, to become emotional, to let our feelings rule our lives. But do we really need to do that? James 1:2-3 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Pure joy during trials? Well, that is not an emotional response – it is a faith response. So wherever you are and whatever you are going through, look out your front window and choose a faith response today.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Love Washes Over Me The last couple of weeks have been out of the norm for us. Our daycare is closed temporarily necessitating either Jerry or I to be home with the kids. It has been two years since I have been able to be home with all of the kids for whole days at a time on a regular basis. While this time together has not been 100% easy, I’m very thankful to have it and to relearn who these awesome little people are in my life. So many of my friends and relatives have been sharing their words of gratitude for their families and their situations (even if not ideal) the last couple of days. It has really got me thinking about where I am in the chaos of this time where I’m half at home and half at work and the brilliance of God’s divine wisdom for us. It makes me think of my youngest sister – tiny-less-than-two-weeks-old-baby in her arms – working through these first two survival weeks and yet she is thankful for all stages of parenting. And I remember that stage – just a year ago – so fresh in my mind. The bone crushing fatigue, the irrational moments of truly believing that I cannot go on, the crying, the endless diapers, the questioning of my own sanity. It’s as fresh in my mind as a raw wound and my heart aches. I think of my older children – of sleepless nights, of them puking, bleeding, spitting, and smearing snot on me. I think of those absolutely heart wrenching and heart breaking moments and I am in awe of where I am. In the early days of being a new mom, I remember being angry – not at my child, but at how different things were and how I just couldn’t get a handle on all these changes and constant, new experiences every moment – everyday. It was hard to deal with that anger, but I knew I had to let it go. I think to an exceptionally bad night with my youngest and I remember saying to her as she was screaming and crying, “I don’t care what it takes, but I will not leave you alone tonight – if that means being up all night.” When I felt that I was at the lowest point I could be, an overwhelming wave of love engulfed me and I held on to her tightly. And even though I felt as if every bone in my body would break, I held her nearly all night. As I remember that night, I’m so thankful for how far I have come. This inexplicable love that came over me that night (and countless other times in this journey of parenthood) is nothing that I could manufacture or conjure up or borrow – it was, and still is divine. It has occurred to me many times that this is just but a small glimpse of God’s love for us. How overwhelming it must be for Him to watch us even in our lowest and most flawed states and still feel that intense and never ending love for us. I’m thankful that God has given me this divine love for my children. I pray that you find that quiet moment in your own parenting chaos to welcome His love for you and pass it on to your little ones.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

It’s a Different Kind of Warmth This time of year in the upper Midwest we usually welcome the first real snow fall. This is the one that makes a serious effort to fill the sky and attempt, sometimes successfully, to actually cover the ground. Today was that day. As I watched the clumps of fluffy flakes fall, I thought about how cold - on a day like today - makes you want to be warm. It’s a different kind of warmth, though. Not the same kind you welcome on a sunny, summer day. Not the kind that warms your face just enough in the spring, but warmth that you welcome and seek out by what you do. We light a wood burning fire to feel the warmth and smell the smoky wood and hear the crackling pops. We make coffee to feel the warmth in our hands and the sensation of it slowly inching down our throats until we feel it spread throughout our bodies. It’s the warm, thick potato cheese soup that you eat faster and faster until you burn your tongue and suddenly it’s as if your whole body is suddenly on fire and you start to sweat a little bit. It’s the warmth of a single jar candle that has been burning all day. The temperature on the thermostat may be no different, but I’m convinced that candle – maybe just the smell of it – has warmed the house. It’s the warmth of family and friends, close to us – maybe physically close or close in our hearts. It’s this thing we do – we seek warmth, but it’s a different kind. So those of you who don’t like winter (and trust me I can identify) because of the cold, snow, and dark days – take a break from what you see and light a candle, a fire, put on a snuggly blanket, hug your children, snuggle with your spouse and focus on the warmth that you feel – close your eyes – shut out the darkness and choose this different kind of warmth. It will warm and light up your heart.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Three Jewels
I stare at my right hand, ring finger at the 3 little jewels in this band of gold. You can catch me doing this every once in awhile – studying the stones. I love jewelry like any other woman does, but this isn’t why I’m staring…why I’m taking in the colors, the shimmer, the uniqueness of each stone. No, these stones represent my children – this is my mother’s ring. Jerry insisted that I get this ring and of course, I’m all for new jewelry so I agreed. When it came in, I almost didn’t like it – sad but true. The stones didn’t fit together, the white gold made my finger look pasty, I couldn’t get used to the order I had chosen for the stones. I didn’t know what finger to wear it on…blah, blah, blah. (You are probably starting to understand that I’m picky and almost OCD about certain things.) After a few months of wearing it, I decided that the emerald just didn’t look right in the setting – it seemed off center. The jeweler agreed and 4 weeks later (after having to replace the emerald 2 times) I ended up with a ring that fit better, looked better, and actually was worth more. This emerald was now a natural emerald instead of lab created – and it sparkled.
And so I stared more intently…I was in awe of how different the ring was – but was it really? Or was I different? These lifeless stones now meant something to me. Each stone representing a child – so precious, unique and irreplaceable.
A deep emerald with inclusions that months after wearing it – I still discover something new. The emerald is my Kayla – and isn’t that true of her? There are layers to this child that I never stop discovering. She makes me laugh, cry, and just love her more because of the unique, intense little girl that she is.
Amethyst for Zach – my zany one. All boy – loud, fast, and multifaceted. He runs laps one second and then climbs in my arms, kissing me and saying he loves me the next. So what I need.
Citrine for Abby – shiny and bright – this stone stands out from the rest. Not because she is better than the other kids, but because she was the gift I didn’t know I needed in my life. Her laugh is contagious, boisterous and I’ll never forget the complete surprise I felt the first time I heard it. She may be little, but she always makes sure her voice is heard.
These 3 little jewels in this twisted metal – tarnished and scratched – gleaming, sparkling, always catching my eye. Reminding me that the gift of these children God gave me not once, not twice, but three times. I am in awe that he would choose me to parent these children.
Oh - I mess up, I yell, I’m impatient, I will never be perfect – yet God still chose me for them. So I keep looking and marveling over these wonderful gifts. And as I admire I thank you, Father for choosing me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Traditions With the holidays right around the corner, this time of year is ripe with traditions of all kinds. While there are the “biggies” – the turkey at Thanksgiving and the tree for Christmas, there are many small traditions this time of year that just warm my heart. Even though we are in a large metro area, the town next to us has a small town feel to it with a park in the city center. Every year they put up a lit Menorah, lights on the big pine tree, play Christmas music, and put up a near life size nativity set. What is so great about this nativity set is that they have a set of wise men that travel through the park to see baby Jesus. The set went up yesterday and as they are every year, the wise men are set far back in the park away from the nativity set. Every week or so they travel to see the baby Jesus. Our kids love this – we drive past the park every few days to see if the “wise guys” have moved. This is such a simple thing that me makes me happy deep inside.

Some other simple traditions we love:

  • Enjoying a warm, wood burning fire and watching the parade on Thanksgiving day. That last few years it has snowed the day before Thanksgiving. There is nothing like coming inside from the cold to the warmth of family and friends in front of a fire.
  • Cutting down our Christmas tree on a farm. We always do this the first weekend in December. Some years it has been sunny and 40 degrees. One year it was 20 degrees and a blizzard. We take the kids and they help pick the tree. One year, Kayla ate icicles the whole time.
  • Eating the largest cheese pizza we can find as our Christmas Eve dinner with wine of course. The last few years we’ve had a 24 inch pizza that barely fits on the table. The local pizza place we go to knows us and our tradition which for some reason makes it more special.
  • Arranging a snack and cookie fest on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. This tradition has evolved over the years. It started at my parent’s house where we would cook appetizers and cookies and load up the table. We went to church on Christmas Eve and then we came back and ate and opened presents and stayed up until obnoxious hours of the morning. Nowadays we usually hold the feast on Christmas Day in the afternoon where Jerry’s family (and whoever else is in town from my family) comes over and we graze all day.

What simple traditions are you looking forward to this season?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

One Year Ago One year ago, I was a mama in waiting – waiting the birth of our third child – Abigail Anne. I was tired and frustrated and my heart – oh my heart, was not right. I complained. I was large and slow moving (as you other mamas know about this stage). I would sweat on relatively cool days. I was on a strict diet, frustrated by work and generally just ready for it all to be over. But something started to change at this time – my heart began to soften. Thanksgiving was less than two weeks away – a holiday that was relatively quiet to me growing up had really become one of my favorites as an adult. We started hosting Thanksgiving almost by accident when we first moved into our house. Something about a house full of people, warm and cozy with delicious food was really appealing to me. But not that Thanksgiving – we could not host it because we did not know when Abby would be born. Several months before when we found out we were pregnant with Abby – I remember being shocked and then humbled by God’s plan for us. We weren’t sure about having a 3rd child, but in my heart, I wanted Kayla to have a sister. God intervened and there we were. But my heart wasn’t open. I complained, I was in disbelief. I was happy, but tired from being either pregnant or nursing for the previous two years before. I grumbled, I was discontent. About 10 weeks before Abby was due, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes – my frustration turned to anger. “Why? This shouldn’t be happening”, was all I could think. But then there was Thanksgiving…that quiet day with no extended family – just the 4 of us. We cooked, we napped, we ate…and I began to reflect. I read my pregnancy journal that night. I was shocked at how grumpy I had been all those months. I looked at Jerry and said, “Wow, I really just complained this whole pregnancy.” He looked at me and said, “Yes, you did.” I put the journal away, filled with heaviness. “Forgive me, Father”, I whispered. “Who am I to be discontent with this wonderful gift?” I started shaking almost immediately – the first contraction came minutes later. Two and half hours later, Abby was born – the most beautiful baby I have ever seen. One year ago, gratitude and grace changed me. I’m so thankful for that quiet Thanksgiving, for this sweet, almost 1 year old baby girl, for God who was so bold to give me what I didn’t know I needed to have. It’s never too late – never too late to let His grace wash over you and change you. Move your heart to gratitude these next couple of weeks. Stop the complaining and begin thanking him for something even as simple as the sunshine or the warm coffee in your hand. The softening of your heart will change you forever.