Thursday, October 17, 2013

Shepherding the fruit garden

I'm sure you clicked on this title just because it seemed an odd combination.
I was privileged to attend our women's retreat recently and though her message for the weekend revolved around trusting God, I really took everything as a parenting message.

You see, for the last three years, I have been struggling as a parent. The last time I'd attended my church's women's retreat, I had just lost a pregnancy and was trying again. Through that pregnancy, my older two were at challenging ages. One had just turned 3 and one was 15 months. The younger daughter was a joy and a delight until she began her quest for independence.

It then became a battle for control. Though we'd tried and failed control issues with the older one, the younger approached matters so differently, we didn't see that again we were fighting control issues.

It would take a long time to share what specific things we struggled with/against, but if you read through some of my first posts, you may glean insight if I shared a particular frustration.

My summary is this: I was exhausted, doubting my abilities as a parent, and wondering why the harder I tried, the worse it had seemed to be. Now I had three daughters, ages 2, 4, and 6, and we were still dealing with emotional meltdowns and lack of reasoning until she would come out of it.
Many well-meaning persons had offered their solutions, but just like the infant colic we went through with all three girls, not one thing worked.

I learned two things that I want to share. First, I learned that God wants us to parent like Him, and He's the great shepherd.
Shepherds rarely use their staff to correct the sheep. Sheep are trainable and there are many better ways to guide and correct them. Sheep are motivated by the presence of the shepherd. Parents with more than one child will underestimate the power of walking into a room when they hear perceived conflict or misbehavior. (and sometimes will learn there is no mischief at all, simply delightful sibling play!)
There is peace and not fear. The sheep adore their shepherd and flock to Him. (pun) His authority is from consistency, and they trust Him. They are not motivated by fear of consequence, but of respect and the understanding of protection and safety He has given them.

The second is the fruit garden.
I mentioned my exhaustion. Somewhere in my life, I gained the understanding that God was performance-driven. "If we obey God, He is pleased with us." How can that be true if His love is unconditional? Surely as parents, we fail on this one because our favor IS conditional. "I love you but I don't like what you're doing. Go to your room."
If God asks me to do something and I think to myself, "But I don't want to." Is that a sin? Does He send me away from Him?
The sin is in my heart and action following the command. God is patient, kind, gentle, faithful, loving, peaceful, joyful, good and self-controlled. (Galatians 5:22-23)
If I say "No, I don't want to" but still do what He asks, then "talking back" is perhaps not the same as "defiance". I am expressing my desire to avoid whatever I've been asked to do. Perhaps I am afraid, or I perceive it to be an unpleasant task.

Bottom line, "Am I teaching my children to please me or Him?" Do they fear His wrath or desire His favor? What will motivate better? Loving them or lashing out?

What is my goal? Disciples or Performers?
Even if I was gone, would they be motivated to do what is right? Is God the one they are trying to please? Or me?
I was a compliant child. Most of my friends were too. Our children seem to be less compliant from birth. Our parents cannot comprehend how their obedient children produced children that immediately question and challenge simple directions.

I have passionate children. They have a great ability to focus and are very determined.
Those same qualities in me are what have led to me completing the training to run a half-marathon. I've been running for almost twelve weeks. (See my post on how much I do NOT love running)
Others have been complimenting me on my dedication, and impressed that I've stuck to it.
I'm goal-oriented. These are all positives and to be desired.

To others, however, they believe my children to be stubborn and strong-willed.
"Why don't you control your children?!"
"Because God gave them free will." (statement I have only recently learned to use)
I cannot control how much dinner my child will eat anymore than I can predict when that dinner will exit or if that exit will be timed properly. It's out of my control.

So my focus should not be on controlling my children, but instead motivating them to be in control.
I am trying to model by asking myself if what I'm about to do is loving, peaceful, patient, joyful, kind, gentle, faithful, good, and if I'm exercising self-control.
Then, the focus is on God's fruit in my life. I hold them to the same standard. I'm no longer trying (fruitlessly) to control them.

Stop and think about that last adverb in parenthesis. Are you seeing it? It's taken me three years!

Instead, they are not battling Mom or Dad, but the sin nature inside them that the Holy Spirit is trying to prune out. We are unified, each trying to approach the situation as the Shepherd would. We are battling a common enemy, a similar frustration, and the more similar our temperaments, the more we can encourage each other in this battle!

This freedom led to me embracing James 1:2 New Living Translation.  Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.
It's an opportunity? Yes. Now I have found that there is hope for me! This situation may feel long-lasting, but the yoke really is easy and light. All I must do is take care of my spiritual self, and point them to the same never-ending source of life and light, and I will enjoy spending time with them once again as they won't be draining me and I won't be drained.

Putting it together, our children are going to face challenges we compliant-generation children never imagined possible. Romans 12:9 (NIV) Hate what is evil, love what is good.
I believe they will be our warrior generation, with no ability to compromise their faith or values. Our daily struggles and victories are so important right now!

Take heart! You are not alone!

Joy vs. Fear (why I don't like Halloween)

Thank you for taking the time to value my opinion enough to read these posts.
The subject of Halloween can be approached from many angles and I want to clarify that this will be merely my opinion of celebrating joy or celebrating fear. This will not be a lengthy or scholarly discussion about the roots of halloween, the pagan rituals that have evolved into 21st century culture, or anything that poses the "should we celebrate" vs "should we not".

As a child, I enjoyed fantasy. My favorite books and cartoons were brightly colored bears, ponies, and Rainbow Brite and her sprites (and her unicorn, of course!)
One of the few times my mom took a photo of me dressed up to collect candy on Halloween, I was dressed as Shy Violet from Rainbow Brite. She even cut out cardboard glasses and used glue and glitter to decorate them to match the sparkling purple glasses that Violet wore. (little did I know how I would detest the need for glasses when I was older)

It was so much fun to dress up and have people comment favorably on my creative choice, then reward me with sweet treats I normally couldn't have. (because my parents didn't indulge us often)

My children are all girls, ages 6, 4, and 2. Due to our newspaper subscription, they are visually reminded on a weekly if not daily basis that there are costumes for sale, candy bars for sale, and that Halloween is soon approaching. They enjoy dressing up and this year want to be a kitty, a bunny, and the youngest just wants to join in.

What I don't like is that the word Halloween keeps coming up in their conversations, and usually around the same time, they'll begin playing in a manner that is not calm or peaceful. My oldest will chase the second-born or they'll play a version of hide-and-seek that is more akin to monster-seeking-victim. The oldest announces her arrival with a hearty "Rooaaaar!" and her sister echoes with a resounding shriek. The high frequency of her shriek is something I never could produce myself, it's ten times higher than a person's voice should be allowed to squeak.

We had a discussion this evening because the older one continued to "roar" or say "boo" in an attempt to scare, and her sister followed up with that piercing shriek each time, but would begin crying afterward and telling her sister she didn't want to anymore. (and then they would go right back to it!)

I asked the girls, "When we scare each other, are we honoring God?"
"No." "Are we bringing joy to our sisters? Or fear?"
"We're not doing that in our house anymore. This is like the difference between secret and surprise. I love it when you surprise me with something pleasant! You bring me joy!"
So, we started trying to "surprise" each other and say "peek-a-boo" instead of the scary "booooo" that we'd begun with.
The younger two would hide, and the older one would sneak up as quietly as she could, then try to tickle their feet (they were hiding under the couch with their feet out) and say happily "Surprise!"

That led to laughter instead of the awful piercing shriek, which was a delightful change!

What I've tried to explain to our girls is that we don't decorate for Halloween because we don't like things that are dark and scary and we don't celebrate them. If a person wants to hand out candy to children and delights in their creative choices and is happy giving them treats, I love that heart.
If a person delights in scaring children and waits outside their house so they can frighten them by pretending to be a mannequin in the yard, I really dislike that heart.
When it comes to October 31st, I have a joy in my heart because I have a darling nephew who was born that day. I celebrate his life!
Though I won't decorate my home, my goal is to discern the heart rather than pretend that a day is not there just because I don't like part of it. I want to teach my children to celebrate joy and surprise and wonder. Costumes can enhance that lesson, we can minister to other families who don't know that joy, and I don't want to tell my children that the reason we can't do what they perceive as fun is because Jesus wouldn't do it.
They're not old enough to get into the deep discussions that I said I'd avoid in this post.
Age-appropriate discussions aside, I am not trick-or-treating with them just because it's too cold on October 31st to be outdoors! So, we'll most likely be going to a local church carnival/harvest party and let them have fun and be kids and save the grown-up discussions for a little later.

Candy corn, anyone?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Facebook friending, A Cautionary Tale

I’m just curious.
There’s nothing wrong with just looking.
Oh how we justify behaviors that can cause much damage.
Sandy was a young woman in her early thirties. She was happily married, had a loving husband and darling children. She was involved in her church, loved volunteering at her kids’ school, and for all sakes and purposes was somebody that didn’t have a lot of problems.
She kept in touch with friends and family through Facebook, posting photos and looking at photos of her college friends’ kids.
Every once in a while, she’d have idle time and type in names that came to mind to see if she could find photos of old acquaintances.

One day, she thought of an old crush from high school. I wonder what David is up to, she thought. Perhaps he’s married with kids. I haven’t seen him in years.
So, she casually typed in his name and looked through his public profile. He was in a relationship but not married, and no children.
Satisfied for the time being, she left it alone. Somewhere in the following days, she again went to his profile and decided to “just send him a message saying hi.”
A couple days went by, but she did get a response. She was surprised by the excitement and thrill that she felt when noticing the message was from David.
“Hi, Sandy. Wow, it’s been so long! You look great, I really like all the photos of your family. Hope to hear back soon. –David”
Simple correspondence began between the two. At first, it really was innocent and just a series of messages reminiscing about high school and catching up on each others’ lives.
He sent her a friend request, which again provided elation she couldn’t quite comprehend.

In the meantime, life went on as normal for Sandy. She and her husband were quite happy in their marriage and she still was very involved with her children and in her church and in their school.
David was living far away, so Sandy really didn’t think anything was wrong with their communication back and forth. It wasn’t as if they were going to see each other or meet up for lunch behind her husband’s back. Still, it felt so good to have his attention.
She thought back to those high school days when she was shy and socially awkward and wasn’t even sure that David knew her name. Now she was attractive, confident, and had his full attention.
Surely they could have a great long-distance friendship, right? He was, after all, “in a relationship”, so he wouldn’t be pursuing her anymore than she’d be pursuing him.
Sandy’s husband noticed that she seemed happier lately. Her kids also noticed the change. She had an extra spark, an extra burst of energy. She hummed when she was in the kitchen, she smiled more often, she seemed less stressed out.
Everything seemed to be perfect until one day when David sent a message to Sandy letting her know that he and his girlfriend would be traveling to her city and wondered if he could introduce her to Sandy.
Sandy sat staring at her computer.
What was she going to do? How would she explain to her husband that she wanted to see David and meet his girlfriend, when on the inside, she had these conflicted emotions bouncing around? She hadn’t done anything to invite his advances and he wasn’t offering any, yet there she sat, feeling things she hadn’t felt in years.

Although this situation is hypothetical, it is a cautionary tale that can become an easy reality.
As long as we aren’t dealing with something right in front of us, we can put our consciences at the side and engage in dangerous dealings that seem very harmless. Any spouse intending unconditional faithfulness knows it would be a bad idea to meet up with a former crush or flame unless your spouse is present and even then, is still an awkward situation at best.
Why then, do we allow ourselves to email or send messages through Facebook or follow on Twitter these people from our past?
It is more tempting, I think, for people who are currently happy and content, than for unhappy persons, because we feel safe in doing so. “I’m so happy in my present situation that I would never actually do anything.” That lack of caution leads to entrapment. Emotional unfaithfulness can cause even deeper harm and trust issues, sometimes, because the justification says “I didn’t cheat. We didn’t even touch.”
All of these problems are symptoms of a deeper emptiness.
When you look back with your rose-colored glasses to that high-school crush or flame or ex, you remember all the good about that person. You remember all that you wanted and needed at that time and didn’t receive, and this person was idolized. You believed they could provide the fulfillment you were longing for.
Now that you feel whole and complete, you think that your current self can jump into your past and be attractive to that ideal of a person you didn’t have back then. You are trying to fill a void that you never surrendered. That void is an area of your life that still needs filling, though you believe your current situation is content.
The problem lies not in looking at photographs of people online, but in believing that a person from your past can be any different for you than a person in your present life. You have not been a part of his or her life for quite some time and you don’t know them or who they currently are. If you are a Christian, then there will always be only one source of fulfillment. Your longings are real and they do need to be met, but you are searching in the wrong places. The instant gratification of a “like” on your status or a message in your inbox or a tweet@you may bring short-term satisfaction, but like any temporary fix, will leave you empty and needing more.
It is only when we are deeply satisfied within our hearts that we will recognize these temptations for what they are, and handle them properly.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Right between the eyes

I look like everybody else. I have what most everybody else has. Right between my eyes, halfway down my face, just above my lips, I have a nose.
Now, for some reason, my nose works very well. Not only does it help me breathe, but the olfactory function has been fine-tuned from childhood!
This has not always served to my advantage.
I can still smell the less-than-pleasant-to-my-8-year-old senses "aroma" of hot boiled brussels sprouts. I can still smell the butter that coated their somewhat bitter leaves, and I remember the smell fading as the heat left the sprouts which never did leave my plate, even after one hour of sitting at my seat.

This story, I am sure, would be different if my mother told it. The perspective of an elementary school student is often skewed and embellished. (p.s. it was fun to search "brussels sprouts child" images!)

Nevertheless, my nose is very sensitive to smells. This heightened after having children and has not left me. I enjoy very pleasant smells, including all baked goods which I am privileged to cook.
I am sensitive to how a person's house smells. I have childhood memories of visiting friends and thinking their house smelled strange, and as an adult, one of my hostessing fears is that my house will smell offensive to guests and they will not know how to tell me.

This weekend, there was an unpleasant smell in our kitchen. I supposed it was the garbage disposal or perhaps some of the dishes in the sink. After running the dishes through the dishwasher and cleaning the disposal, and even after changing the trash can, there was still a residual odor.

The smell was not pronounced, it was more of an afterthought. Was there truly a bad smell or was it my imagination? (my nose has an imagination! It will smell things that simply aren't there.)

With the flurry of events this weekend I didn't give this much thought until today when the dishes had again stacked up. (this is happening more often with our youngest having reached age 2. We used to have maybe two times a week of the dishwasher-now it's almost a guaranteed "every other day" chore)
As I tackled the stack and my sink and counters re-emerged, I also began rinsing out our plastic containers and empty tin cans for the recycling bin. That's when I discovered it.
One tiny can of "tomato puree" that hadn't been thoroughly rinsed had been closed with its lid on, waiting to be rinsed and recycled.
Sadly, a couple busy days of neglect and some semi-warm temperatures provided the perfect environment for organic growth.
I will not detail the contents, just that what was once red was now black, and no amount of rinsing would cleanse this can for the recycle bin.

This can also be true of our Christian life. Something can seem off or not-quite-right. We will address the obvious symptoms, whilst our well-intended efforts in a selfish direction sit like that can. Had we attended to it properly, taken care of it immediately, this could have resulted in good. Even our good deeds, when improperly motivated, can result in blackness within our hearts.

And? The Creator of all has a sense of smell even more vivid than my own. He can smell every thought and idea and I am more than guilty of those unpleasant thoughts than I care to dwell on.
Thankfully, He makes all things new!
Old King James was the version of 1 John 1:9 that I grew up with, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Just like that can of tomato puree, I want to be cleansed and used for good purposes. I may be able to hide that sin inside me for a while, but that smell will leak out a bit at a time until eventually all that darkness spills out and it's ugly and awful! All around me can be cleaned up and all those obvious things I deal with can be wiped out, but truly, our deceitful hearts need to be addressed as soon as possible. 

Had I a little more dedication to saving the world from my tin can in the trash, I could have used soap and a rubber glove (you wanted me to do this bare-handed?) and cleaned the can. My recycling efforts are a bit on the lazy side, and sadly, I did not follow through on the recycled effort.

God, on the other hand, is always willing to make the effort. Sometimes we need a little rinse, sometimes soap, sometimes we need scalding water and a little bleach to clean off the sin. To Him, all sin is the same, and as Christians I think we need that reminder. Our pride is just as ugly as the outward addictions that others struggle against-perhaps even more so. What good is our outward polish if our inside is rotten and moldy and smelly?

For now, we'll just remember to rinse our cans right away before setting them on the counter for recycling. And? I'll also remember to come to God right away, because I don't want to be a stinky can.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Run the race...

Somewhere I have a photograph. I am in the seventh grade, tall and skinny, my cheeks are hollow, and I am running the hardest I have ever run. It is the District Cross Country meet.
I did not want to be there. I'd begun the year as a member of the team, but had quit when our post-school runs exceeded one mile. I joined because my best friend loved running. I loved spending time with her, but my body wasn't built for distances.
The night before the race, I had received a phone call begging me to attend the race so the team would qualify for the event. I was just a necessary body.
When I began the race I sprinted with the pack, then quickly fell behind after a quarter mile and by the half mile point I was walking.
My less-than-stellar attitude led to much mumbling and a grumpy face as I intentionally walked the better half of that course.
As I neared the finish line, my friends began shouting, "Run, Tammy! Run! There's someone behind you!"
I looked back, and yes, there was a girl behind me. Suddenly, I had energy, I had strength, I had motivation, and I had cheerleaders. I sprinted those last hundred yards as if I were an Olympic athlete flying through the chute.

The total distance of the race? 2 miles.
I vowed never to run again.

Fast forward to Winter 2011/12. My sweet husband informs me that he needs exercise, we're getting a treadmill, and we're entering a 5k so we'll use it.
Not excited.
At all.
List of excuses begins.
Still, I love him and he has my best interests at heart.
We purchased expensive running shoes with our tax returns (ouch!), began training, completed the race together, and once I'd had a taste of outdoor running, I began to enjoy how I felt after the runs.

Still, I did not love running. Not at all. It was simply the cheapest exercise option for a family of five on one income.

Fast forward to Summer 2013. I'd been running our 2 mile walking loop for exercise and it was pretty comfortable. Sometimes I would do our 5k loop (just over 3 miles) instead-a decent 30-35 minute workout.

A friend emailed me and another mom, asking if we'd train with her for a HALF-MARATHON.
Yes, I used all capitals.
For you non-runners, a marathon is the greatest endurance test out there. 26.2 miles.
So, a half-marathon is 13.11 miles. (21.0975km)
In comparison, my longest distance runs were 3.11 miles (5km)
That's a difference of Ten MILES. Over four times the amount of running I was accustomed to.

I laughed, I cried, I thought there was a joke in there somewhere.
This sweet, bubbly friend loves to run and has run her entire life. She is fast.
My 10 minute mile record in junior high has yet to be bested. (I am slow)
She graciously encouraged that if we began training on August 5th, we could use a "12 Week Training Plan" and it would conclude with the race on October 26th.

I would have dismissed it entirely, but the other mom friend was enthusiastic in her reply and said "yes".
I couldn't be the wet blanket, the party pooper, left out, etc.

Currently, I am on week 6 of training.

What is the point of this story?

Our life is not meant to be lived in seclusion. We need other people to challenge us, encourage us, motivate us and cheer us on.
Had you asked me in July if I would be able to run six miles without stopping, I would have said "no" and that would have ended the conversation.
Saturday morning, I ran those six miles in 71 minutes, 55 seconds.
Had I not found a training plan that took baby steps, I would have quit five weeks ago. Most of the plans asked you to run six miles on your first Saturday.

A friend ran with me yesterday even though she'd never run more than 3 miles straight. She's a sprinter and usually does 8-9 minute miles. She had to stop at 2.5 and walk for a while as I continued on to the 3 mile point then turned around to complete our race. She was there waiting for me and we ran the last 2.5 miles together. It challenged our bodies and we were really struggling to finish the last mile, but with a friend, you are less likely to quit. We encouraged each other to keep running and not give up.

Paul describes Christianity as a race.
I'm beginning to understand.
There are goals that somebody will present to me that are reachable if I'll simply try. They can see something in me I don't see for myself.
I may be intimidated because the experience is new or more difficult than I believe myself capable of achieving.
Still, once you take those small steps and receive encouragement, you start to flower and blossom.
You can see success and you start to tune out the negative thoughts.
"I could never do that" becomes "Maybe I could do that...if..."
"I'm not sure I could, but I'll try..."
"Hey, this is actually not so hard..."
"What? Would you believe that?!!"
"Yes! Oh, I never thought I could have done this but..."

So, if you feel God stretching you, taking you out of your comfort zone, remember that this is not a sprint. It's not about speed, it's about finishing. Some people may run faster than you and some people may walk. You may take some time to encourage somebody slower than you or you may receive encouragement from somebody who's been training for a long time and isn't struggling to complete that next mile that you think is going to kill you.
At the end, if I complete this half-marathon, I will get the same prize as everybody who finishes. A medal. (this is not the actual medal, just a similar Oregon medal for a half marathon)

At the end of this life, we will all receive the prize of eternal life if we "finish" and remain strong in our pursuit of righteousness and submission to God.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."

Having run 6 miles, I have almost completed half the final distance. The training plan just asks me to push it a little more each following week. I keep getting stretched. I have to be disciplined. I have to get up early, run, shower/get ready for the day by 6:30am so my husband can go to work (and I have to get the kids ready for school).
God doesn't ask more of me than is reasonable. I love the feeling of completing something I perceived impossible. I love the elation of looking back at something difficult and realizing that it's over and it did not defeat me. My faith is refined through fire and it gives me the ability to strengthen and encourage others in similar fires.

Godspeed to each of you as we set our eyes on the prize.
Philippians 3:12-14 "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Closer to God

Remember that frustrating teaching Jesus shared about loving our enemies?
Today there was a revealing, an epiphany as I cleaned my kitchen.
*side note*
Something is soothing to me about my empty sink and cleared, germ-free countertops with the gentle (not exactly quiet) whooshing of my dishwasher. The stress that piles up is tucked away and dealt with.
*back to topic*

Why, why would he ask us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?
We all have at least one person in our lives that battles us. Frustrates us. (you're thinking to yourself, "just one?")

Today I realized that God is never closer to us than when we are in trouble. When we are battling something that overwhelms us and seems as though it will never get better, we finally ask for help. Truly, with this outlook, I've realized that the "enemy" is actually a gift from God to drive us from our own strengths into the need for his ever-present help.

My middle daughter is God's biggest blessing to me. Through her, He is drawing me to Himself in a mighty way. There is more spiritually happening in me through our conflicts than in any other method or manner in my almost thirty-two years of life. He has placed her in my life with her specific gifts and strengths to bless me with a depth of relationship that the saints of old could only dream about.

Whether or not I choose to accept his gift...ahh, there is the issue.
Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (Amplified Bible),
"We are hedged in (pressed) on every side [troubled and oppressed in every way], but not cramped or crushed; we suffer embarrassments and are perplexed and unable to find a way out, but not driven to despair;
We are pursued (persecuted and hard driven), but not deserted [to stand alone]; we are struck down to the ground, but never struck out and destroyed;
10 Always carrying about in the body the liability and exposure to the same putting to death that the Lord Jesus suffered, so that the [[a]resurrection] life of Jesus also may be shown forth by and in our bodies."

God has a special purpose for me in this world. In order to get me to the point where I'm usable, He has people in my life that I cannot escape. (for you it may be a fellow employee, a boss, a sibling or parent, or even your spouse) Those conflicts arise repeatedly. 
(Really? Again?! When will this ever end???!!!)
A dear friend of mine recently shared with me how I could best pray on their behalf. "Pray for contentment." This friend has been at a job that has challenged and challenged and challenged. But truly, only God could have softened their heart in a way to yield and ask "not my will, but thine be done."
I am blessed w
ith all my heart to see this transformation and am excited to see what these prayers avail! Will it mean a new job? The end of employment of the negative stressors? Salvation of those not-so-easy co-workers? Or? Will it mean simply that this job will no longer bring these negative thoughts about? Will this friend be content regardless of circumstances? This is a quality we all could pray for.

God wants to change us, not those around us. Though, we selfishly just want everyone else to change, ignoring our own shortcomings.
My daughter will now have a new description in my heart.
Lord, thank you for my middle daughter. You gave her to me to draw her closer to you. Of all the people in my life, she is the one that has brought about the most growth. She will be the one I am drawn to most as she ages and matures!

Rather than focusing on my trials, I'll quote James 1:2-4 (NIV).
"2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

I hope that today you will reconsider your present circumstances and see those blessings around you. You will not only find it easier to deal with those people, but you will see God's hand in the midst of it.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Say What You Mean

It has been a frustrating couple of weeks in my house. It seems to be a pattern that I'm recognizing, now. Two years ago when we welcomed our youngest into our home, her older sisters regressed with the almost-4 year old biting her sister when frustrated or angry. Our current 4 year old is throwing 2 year old fits again. Every summer, mid-July, I think I'll just mark it on the calendar.

Our biggest regression that my husband and I detest is pottytraining regression.
*sigh* Somehow we have a fear in our minds that our children will NEVER outgrow this unpleasant behavior. The fear is unfounded, but presents itself again each time we have a mess to deal with. One child prefers the first type of mess, the other one, well, the other kind, naturally.

In all honesty, we go so long between the accidents (months at a time) that we've developed that position of "we're finally there!" "never again!" "yes! we did it!".

Our daughters are young. We forget that. One is not-quite 6, but will be soon. One just turned 4 and one just turned 2. We expect a lot of them, but it's because they're so capable.

When they are incessantly bickering and hurting each other, it's hot outside, and in general we're sleeping less because the sun's up later, we tend to parent in a louder tone of voice than is preferable for all of us.
This morning I made a pact with my 4 year old. No more yelling in our house. My vocal chords can't take it (I'm singing our National Anthem for a couple events this weekend) and it's hurting all our ears. Mostly though? It's just not working. She is my yeller. In fact, that's what is so silly. We are in some way so much alike that we are constantly butting heads. We're more physical than anyone else in our house. We get frustrated with each other and don't always communicate well. My other two are very verbal and we can usually talk it out.

It led me to think about what we say to others when we are upset. I am intentional about my words with my children, but in the past, I know I have said things that I didn't really mean.
It is much easier to lie to somebody than to state what is actually upsetting you.
If we were to look at what was really upsetting us, this is how it would sound out loud.

"I'm frustrated that you keep making the same mistake!"
"I wish I didn't get so upset by something silly like spilled milk!"
"I wish you would stop fighting with your sister because it makes me think I'm not a good parent!"
"I wish you would keep your clothes clean so we wouldn't have unsanitary messes in your clothes and on the floor!"
"I'm worried that kids won't like you if you keep doing this!"

"I'm yelling at you and your sister to stop because I'm tired and I really don't feel like coming all the way into your room to deal with it!"
"I'm lazy and selfish!" (ouch, right? But, so true.)

In the book of Psalms, there is a short prayer that has become my first sentence in the morning. I've had a couple weeks of not remembering to say it and that is why I'm typing all this today. We're going to remember and make a conscious effort. Is it work? Yes. Is it worthwhile? Yes. In the end will I be less mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically exhausted? I actually think that yes, I will, because I won't be depending on my mere mortal capability to handle the stresses life is throwing at me. I will be asking for help.
"Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my guilt and iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right, persevering, and steadfast spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Your presence and take not Your Holy Spirit from me."
Psalm 51:9-11
The "short" prayer is verse ten, the second line, but I wanted to give you the verses in context. Truly, we need that clean slate each day, don't we? And so do our kids. :)


Friday, July 19, 2013

Many are the plans...

This story began in the fall of 2006. I was a two-ly-wed, madly in love with my husband and thrilled to be working for a non-profit pregnancy center. Through the CBAE (Community Based Abstinence Education) grants Congress had awarded, I was presenting a common-sense program called Stop and Think to junior high and high school health classes in every school in our county.

I thought I had it all figured out. That Christmas, I planned to surprise my husband with my grand scheme. We would save my income for a romantic third anniversary trip to Hawaii that September, at which time it would be the green light to start "trying" to have a family. That would effectively give me one more year at my job, and a spring/summer baby in 2008.
Proverbs 19:21 states: "Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails."
The beginning of December 2006, I discovered with some surprise that God had opened my womb 10 months before I had wanted Him to.  Initially I wasn't excited. All my plans unraveled in front of me. And? My Christmas present of new snowboarding pants that my husband had already purchased taunted me. Yes, my doctor informed me, I could go snowboarding, but I would take the risk of the placenta detaching from the uterine wall. *sigh* Okay, no snowboarding. Grr, and I'd just become confident at my skills.

We'll fast forward to the present, 6 1/2 years and 3 beautiful daughters later, even more in love with my husband than 9 years ago when we married. I have been semi-content as a stay-at-home mom, though I look longingly back at the days of health presentations when my work and the result of my work was quickly visible. (see my post on mowing the lawn)

For the past two years, we've been privileged to enroll our children at a great private school in town. It would be another blog to tell you all the blessings and growth that God has worked through the teachers and staff, but suffice it to say that He has truly placed them there and used everyone that has come into their lives.

I have toyed with the idea, dreamt perhaps is a better word, of teaching at my daughters' school one day. My own mother was able to teach first grade at my private school and it was nice to have her at school if we had a crisis, or just to eat lunch with her.

I pursued a degree in Music Education K-12 with Vocal Emphasis for 3 1/2 years. When I realized my dream of teaching only jr high/high school choir was not a reality and I was sufficiently intimidated at the added responsibility of teaching concert and jazz band, I changed my major to Commercial Music Business.
 After graduation, I married my husband and began teaching private piano and voice lessons that Christmas. Since I did not have a teaching degree, I did not think I would be able to teach without more time spent in college. The cost of a Master's degree is prohibitive with five of us on one income, and I didn't want to pay somebody to raise my children when I thought I would rather do it myself...barely breaking even after a long day at someone else's workplace.

God began to move this Christmas. I saw the Preschool and Kindergarten Christmas program, and thought that our teacher needed an assistant. (especially after the misbehavior of my pre-schooler!) After the spring concert, I mentioned that I'd "like to help her next year" with preschool and kindergarten if she needed it.

She mentioned my name to the school when the part-time Elementary Music Teacher position became available. The school asked if I were interested. Thinking 20 hours a week, I told them that it would be too much time away from my 2 year old and that I didn't think I was qualified without a degree in Education.
I then received messages from two other persons mentioning the position, informing me that it would only be about 8 hours a week and that I had come to mind. I began praying about it that Saturday, and Monday I left a message with the school telling them that I would consider it if the job were truly 8 hours a week. The school called back excitedly, telling me it had been a large item of prayer in their staff meeting that very morning.

The missing piece was the care of my youngest daughter. Too much media exposure has led to some overprotective feelings regarding her safety. And the cost-would it even be covered by my wage?
Again, I prayed and asked others for prayer, and a dear friend who lives on the way to the school came forward offering to watch my daughter.

Today I took home my official contract to read over and sign. The very first line reads as follows:
Believing that God has led in this decision, the School Administration of Hosanna Christian Academy has appointed Tammy Belau as Elementary Music Teacher for the 2013-2014 school year.

Wow. So humbling. This has all happened in basically a week, but God put me at home with my girls before I was ready and He's leading me to work in a school that aligns with my faith again before I was ready or trying to go.
"He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake." Psalm 23:2-3

I will be the teacher for my two other daughters. They are excited. The music teacher is ecstatic (or so I've been told by more than one person). My husband thinks it's a great decision, my parents and sisters are excited for me.

I am on the edge of something new, out of my control, but more and more as I trust God's hand and His leading, I have learned that it is more exciting than it is scary. Because it's not chaos. There is an order, an absolute order, and there is definitely somebody steering all of it. It's just not me.