Saturday, September 30, 2006

To Tell the Truth

I can't believe it! Someone finally told me the truth today!

I was at the grocery store with my kids. There were two strikes going against this shopping trip right off the bat. Not only did I have to take all three kids with me, but it was Saturday morning. That pairing just isn't a winning combination. But it was necessary, so I did it.

Our first task was to select a birthday present for one of Matthew's friends. Matthew's indecision and his incredible inability to stay focused made this task a very long one. Eventually we settled on a Superman doll that comes with Clark Kent clothes, hair and glasses. I'm not sure how excited his friend is going to be, but Matthew sure likes it!

Having spent a good half hour in the toy section, I was ready to move on. The only other thing we needed to do was get a few groceries and make our way home. In theory, this portion of the trip could have been accomplished in 15 minutes or less. But we live in reality, not theory(Does anyone know where "Theory" is? Things seem so much easier there. I think I'd like to visit sometime!), and in reality Matthew was insisting that I let him push the grocery cart. Remember, I said this was Saturday morning. The store was crowded. Matthew isn't tall enough to see over the top of the cart. I really didn't want him plowing into other shoppers, so I said, "No." He started making a fuss, I started feeling like I was making a big deal out of nothing, and he said, "Can't you just hold on to the cart with your hand?" That sounded reasonable to me, so I agreed. Even with my hand on the cart, he was a wreckless driver and that idea, which probably would've worked in Theory didn't go over so well in reality.

Then Matthew and Joshua got into an argument in the middle of the store about whether or not Matthew owed Joshua 50 cents for the candy bar Joshua gave him a couple weeks ago. With a little assistance, they reached a resolution and Joshua ran off with Elizabeth to spend that 50 cents. Matthew suddenly became too tired to walk, so I hoisted him up into the cart and we went on our way. Moments later Elizabeth and Joshua returned and Matthew had enough energy to walk again, so I got him down. My mistake. The boys started in on the fighting again, complete with shoving and tripping. Joshua is too big to sit in the cart, and since Matthew seemed to be the instigator I swooped him up and put him back in the cart. Silly me to think that would keep them from bothering each other. It just kept going.

Certainly the fact that I was tired didn't help my attitude about this little trip to the store, but I couldn't help but wonder why I didn't try harder to find a way to come by myself. But I hadn't, and I needed to get through it. Honestly, I began to think, "Who am I to be talking to women about God using the hard times in our lives to transform us? Look at me, so bent out of shape by a simple trip to the store!" He is so gracious, using an otherwise self-condemning thought to remind me to trust Him. So I began to pray - for my own growth in holiness, and for my kids. And for a few minutes, I was peaceful.

Then we got to the check out line, and the, "Can I have...?" questions started flying. But we made it through without adding anything to the cart. Making our way out to the van, we had to stop so everyone could ride the penny horse. It was there standing in the entrance to the store, saying "no" to gumballs and candy, that an older woman finally told me the truth!

As we were waiting for Matthew to finish his ride, two women walked into the store - I'm guessing a woman and her mother, probably in their 50's and 70's. They looked at me kindly and I just smiled my weary smile and admitted, "I'm so tired." The younger of the two said, in a sympathetic tone, "Ah yes, I remember those days." I looked at her and said, "Really? Most women tell me I'm going to miss these days!" She just gave me a knowing smile and repeated, "Oh, no. I remember those days."

I'll probably never see that woman again. Truthfully, I probably wouldn't recognize her if I did see her. But in that brief exchange, God used a total stranger to bring comfort to my weary soul. He sent someone to say, "I understand. You aren't alone. I've been there and made it through, and you will, too." And I put the groceries into the van with a smile on my face, thinking, "Yes, these are difficult days, and I will make it through them, and thank God He's using them to make me into the woman He wants me to be!"

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ice Cream Anyone?

My small group Bible study has been studying the book of Matthew. Last week we covered chapters five and six, so I spent time reading, "If somenone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles." (Matthew 5:39-41) This passage is a familiar one, but not an easy one. I thought, "Are we really supposed to respond like this?"

I was forced to think of the interactions I'd had with my kids, and wrote this in my journal: "This kind of reminds me of my struggle with the kids. If they rip their homework, what do I do? Sing while I tape it up? If they're rude to me and make demands, do I kiss them as I respond? If they beg mercilessly to go to the Children's Gardens, do I take them to get ice cream, too? Yikes! This seems backwards and chaotic and out of control to me. It doesn't seem like good training. But this very passage of scripture seems backwards. I don't want to raise selfish, bratty children, Lord. Please direct me clearly in how I am to raise them. Specifically to these issues I've raised ~ Lord, I want to get this right and I need Your guidance. I am a desperate and broken woman. I need You, Lord!"

This "backwards" way of doing things really struck me. It doesn't make sense to a "controller" like me. When my kids speak rudely to me, I don't want to respond. I want to ignore them until they start speaking politely and with respect! But how does that fit in with what Jesus says in this Matthew passage??? And what about the begging to go to the Children's Garden? Well, last week and weekend Joshua was asking over and over, and Sunday I was finally able to say, "Yes." I took my children and our neighbor kids to the Garden. It was almost as though someone had been reading my journal, because after we got to the garden the question came up..."Can we go get ice cream, too?" What could I say?

Ice cream for everyone!!!!!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Happy Birthday

I just put a load of wash into the dryer on my way up to bed, and decided to take a quick detour into my new "office" to tell you about my day today.

It started off like any other day, the alarm sounding at 6:00 a.m., except this time my waking thought was, "Hey! It's my birthday today. Happy Birthday, Me!" The kids reminded each other that today was my special day, and aimed to have excellent behavior. They were even fairly successful. After our family prayer time, my husband and children sang me a lovely rendition of "Happy Birthday." And as they headed out the door, the kids reminded me that after school I would not be allowed to enter the "play room," for they were going to have a surprise for me there. What fun!

With that, it was time to get started on my Friday chores - laundry. All I did was pick up the basket, the empty basket, but it was enough to really mess up my back. I haven't been able to stand straight, walk normal, or sit without pain in my back today. I don't remember asking for a back ache for my birthday! But it was with me all day.

Christine, my editor, called me with Happy Birthday wishes this morning. I got to have lunch with a friend and then spend the afternoon visiting with my grandparents. (Grandma just turned 89 last Saturday, Grandpa is 90 and they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary last month!) Those were "easy on the back" activities and I enjoyed both of them. From my grandparents' house I went to school to pick up the kids, to the movie store to get our "movie night" selection, and back home where my husband was waiting with the finished "surprise" about which the kids were so excited...On one wall of the play room, conveniently located right under the light, there is now a desk with my computer, complete with storage for all my "stuff"! They gave me an office for my birthday!!!! The kids and I have even agreed that I won't put my books, folders and papers on their table, book shelves, or toy box, and they won't cover my desk with their toys. Sounds like a plan.

So then there was dinner and we said "Good-bye" to Dad - He has an overnight activity for work. We popped pop corn, put the movie in the DVD player, and settled down to watch Christopher Reeve save the world in SuperMan IV. Truthfully, I took a little snooze through part of the show. When it was over, Joshua and I opted for an early bed time. Seems like the perfect end to my birthday, right? Oh...It wasn't over!

I was laying in bed with a heating pad on my back, trying to get comfortable when I heard Joshua start coughing. Yes, it was that kind of cough. I got out of bed to have my fears confirmed. He had thrown up. All over the place. So I helped him clean up and sent him downstairs so I could work on the beds and floor. I won't give you the details. Just use your imagination - and double it! I was scrubbing and vaccuuming and changing sheets. And the boys have a large set of bunk beds - there is no way to not use your back when you're changing those sheets.

When I was finished I came downstairs to tell Joshua he could go back to bed. He said he felt better, and I told him that usually when you're sick and throw up, you start to feel better. Well, we made it upstairs and he stopped in the bathroom...and got sick again. I held the bucket for him and he observed that I was probably getting sick of him getting sick. I smiled and told him this was all part of my job as his mom. I remembered aloud that my mom did the same thing for me when I was a kid. That seemed to satisfy him. Then he climbed into bed and I reminded him I love him.

One more trip to the basement to put the sheets and other victims of the sickness into the dryer, a stop into my office to share with you, and now I think I'll go turn that heating pad on again and see if I can get some relief for my back. Ugh, I feel like I'm getting old! Oh, yea, it's my birthday! :)


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Get Well Soon!

Wow, I had a really long day today!

I've been fighting a cold for the past several days, and when the call came at 7:15 this morning that there was a need for a substitute teacher at school, I probably should've said, "No." But I'm not very good at saying, "No," so I jumped into the shower and was on my way. I spent my day as a seventh grade language arts teacher, trying to share my love of writing with the students, and trying to love the kids for the Lord. At the end of the day my kids came down the the room in which I was subbing, along with our little car pooling buddy, and the five of us headed out to the van to head home. I was nearly falling asleep by this time, my nerves were short, and I didn't want to listen to the kids arguing about who gets to sit where. My mind was focused on getting home and resting.

But resting was not to be part of the agenda. I forgot, Matthew had soccer practice this evening. So I got home with the kids at 4:oo, looked at the schedule and saw practice was from 5-6:30. Oh, when will we eat dinner? What am I going to fix? Where is practice anyway? I'm feeling stress tears coming on! So I called the coach's house to find out the location of practice, and his dear wife offered to pick Matthew up and take him. With a simple kind gesture on her part I had a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. (Thank you, Kathryn!!!)

As I dragged through the afternoon, helping the kids with homework and getting Matthew ready for practice, I noticed Joshua taking on a concern for me. He said, "Mom, are you still feeling sick?" I answered, "Honey, I'm very tired, but I'll be OK." And I pressed on to get dinner ready.

The kids were getting the table set and I noticed Joshua getting out our "Special plate." My birthday isn't until Friday (a typical occasion for use of the Special plate) but Joshua put it at my place. Then I noticed him getting a piece of paper, writing a note, and gathering signatures from the rest of the family. When I sat down to dinner there was an envelope at my plate which Joshua told me to read after we prayed. He said he didn't want me to cry until after prayer time. I said, "Cry?!" He assured me they would be "happy tears." So I waited.

When I was given the OK, I opened the envelope and inside was a note that read, "Get well soon!" with a smiley face and the signatures of all my family. Joshua has such a tender heart. Honestly, for all the times I feel like I'm at my wits' end with him, the times when he displays his tender, caring heart gives me hope. Lord, thank You for this precious boy!

I'm very sleepy! Good night!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

TimeOut for Women!

I got to take a TimeOut today! No, not for bad behavior, and not for a mere five minutes. I spent the entire day in a sanctuary full of women who all needed a TimeOut. If you read Confessions of an Irritable Mother, you'll understand why this event is such a good thing.

Every September since 1997 has found my mother-in-law and I at the TimeOut for Women! conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And every time I've gone, God has met me there. Today was no different. I love that I can be in a room overflowing with women, each one with her own unique needs, and God can be personally present to each one. For that matter, I love that even when I am on an emotional roller coaster (call it PMS, call it being a woman, maybe publishing a book, I don't know...) God understands me perfectly and is able to speak to me right where I am. Though I've been over several ups and downs lately, God knows my heart and He found it and spoke to it today through the wonderful speakers at TimeOut. Kathy Troccoli closed the conference with a concert and a time of sharing her heart. As I approached the altar to pour out my own heart to God, I was full of joy again as I sensed His closeness to me. I didn't want Kathy to stop singing; didn't want the conference to end. I would've loved to have stayed there with those women, basking in the presence of God.

But the conference did end, and I left with a little pink piece of paper upon which I'd written the statements God laid on my heart today:
I want to display God's glory.
I want a river of life flowing out of me.
I want to ooze the life and love of God.
I don't want to hold back the well of God bubbling up inside of me.
I must keep my eyes on Jesus and not worry about what others think.
I want to be who I say I am.

My desire is to please Him and to be an instrument He uses for His glory. If the hard times I have as a mother is what God is going to use to bring that all about, then bring it on! (I can't believe I just said that!!!) Seriously, I recently heard someone say, "You go through what you go through, so you can help other people go through what you went through." Well, I have been invited to do a workshop at the TimeOut conference next year, in which I'll be able to share about my journey and offer hope and encouragement to other women. My calendar is also quite full right now with MOPS groups to whom I'll be speaking from now until May, where I'll also have the opportunity to bring hope to overwhelmed moms. As I consider the statements I took from the conference today in light of the opportunities God is laying before me, I am hopeful He will work them all together for His glory.
Father, I pray You'll use me to speak words of hope and life - to my children, my husband, and the mothers in front of whom You place me. I want Your life and love to flow through me in my words and in my actions. Please help me to be real. I want to be authentic before You and my audiences, not trying to be who I think others expect me to be or who they may want me to be. I only want to be the woman You are shaping. Lord, please make me an instrument You use for Your glory. Amen and amen!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

He loves me

God was speaking again this morning.

We’re starting a new series at church – four weeks about recovery from our hurts, habits and hang-ups – and today was the first sermon. As my pastor pointed out, we all have need of recovery in some way and if we think otherwise, we’re probably in “denial.” And he was quick to point out “denial” isn’t just a river in Egypt.

Anyway, there were post-it notes in our bulletins which we were to use to write down whatever God may lay on our heart as something from which we need to “recover.” We were instructed that at the end of the service we could put our note on the windows in the atrium, along with the hundreds of others (thereby remaining annonymous). So I started thinking, “What, Lord? What do you want to lay on my heart?” And then there was a drama presentation in which people spoke, either out of a state of acceptance or denial, of their “issue.” While the ones in denial sometimes made me laugh (because their issue and denial of it was so obvious!), they also made me do some self-evaluation.

Yes, I have my own “issues” and need for recovery. As I listened to the character on stage getting frustrated and yelling, I recalled the past few days around my house. I wrote down on my post-it note, “I don’t want to be so up-tight and controlling.” (So much for annonimity! Oh well, I’m willing to be open with you in the hopes it will encourage you to know you aren’t alone in your struggles.)

After the sermon we celebrated Communion together. As I held the bread and the cup in my hand and listened to the band, I thought about the times this week I’ve blown it and yelled. I recalled the times I have not been the woman and mother I know He wants me to be. And I sat amazed and thankful that He loves me anyway. Jesus died so I could be forgiven for each time I fail, for each time I let selfish, self-centered me take over and rule my day. With tears in my eyes I thanked Him again for His unfailing love.

Do you realize this love is for you, too? No matter how many times you’ve blown it. No matter how many times you’ve said, “I’m sorry. I’ll never do that again,” and turned around and blown it again. God still loves you. How wonderful is that?!

I pray He’ll speak His love to you through these words today.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

There is still hope

Last night was a terrible night!

I’ve been feeling edgy and irritable for the past few days, with the kids being crazy, disobedient, disrespectful, and generally out of control. Maybe their behavior wasn’t as bad as I was perceiving it…I don’t know, but it hasn’t been good - For sure!

Anyway, last night my husband was gone and the kids were giving me trouble before dinner. Joshua and Elizabeth were fighting in the kitchen and I went in to break things up. Matthew came in and started scrapping too and I reacted without thinking and slapped his hand – which sent him upstairs crying. I followed him up, my own tears flowing as I apologized, told him I was wrong and asked for his forgiveness. I kneeled by his bed as he lay under his covers repeating, “Matthew, I am so sorry. I shouldn’t have slapped you. Please forgive me.” Oh, I hate when I react out of anger!

Wanting to get in the habit of reading nightly, I told Joshua he needed to read me a short story, but he insisted otherwise. When I told him it was going to happen regardless, he “ran away.” (Which always amounts to riding his bike around the block.) We argued during dinner – Matthew didn’t like the chicken, Joshua was still stewing about my requirement that he read – and after dinner we argued more and Joshua “ran away” again.

I was trying to understand, trying to believe that God is refining me, but I just couldn’t see. I ran up to my room crying, closed my door and fell to my knees by my bed as I sobbed, “I don’t see the point, God! I don’t understand! Why does this have to be so hard? I don’t see the point!!!!!”

I felt utterly broken. I hated myself for lashing out at the kids. I didn’t want to lose my composure in front of them and have them see me crying. I was disappointed in myself for not being completely pliable and flowing into God’s will for me. My greatest desire is to please Him, but I was confident I wasn’t presently pleasing.

God has shown me before, and I believe it’s true, He is using my children and my struggles as a mother to make me into the woman He wants me to be. Yet, last night I just couldn’t see it. I tried to remind myself of what is true – God is good. Always. His ways are perfect. All of them. But in the middle of my fire (and it was HOT) I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t embrace it. Lord, forgive me!

Yet, He is not only my Refiner. He is also my Redeemer. In spite of a few more outbursts by Joshua, he eventually calmed down (as did I), and was even helpful in getting ready for bed. We gathered in the boys’ room to pray and I prayed for each of my kids individually, specifically thanking God for the things I love most about each one. I sang to each of them and truly loved them. All the while I was mindful of God’s redeeming power – how He transformed the night from what it had been into a loving, peaceful time.

I still can’t say I understand the point of these intensely hard times. But I know without a doubt God is good, His ways are perfect, and nothing will change those facts.

Thank You, Lord, for hope that never ends, for grace that knows no bounds, and for love that never fails!