Friday, July 27, 2012

A Mother's Heart

I love being a mom.

It's the hardest job I've ever had.  It requires my best, and I fail...a lot.  But I DELIGHT in my boys.  I love, love, love being their mom.

We lost a baby before having Tovi.  That pain and grief left me sensitive to those who can't have kids or have lost theirs.  And because of the damage and subsequent surgery resulting from the combination of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and my pregnancies, I cannot have more kids.  That has left me grateful for the opportunity to have had mine.  Each of my boys is a precious blessing.

Even when one poops his pants, or another lets the cat out, or when my patience runs drier than our recent Mid-Western draught, I am grateful.

I have these moments as a mom that fill my heart with gratitude for this opportunity to raise them.  Many of you know these moments, and as you read mine, your eyes will tear up with the recollection of your own.  Please share!  We, as parents, love bragging on our kids more than virtually anything else.  Here are a few of mine:

This morning, we were preparing to take a picnic lunch to the park, and Tovi was running in and out of the kitchen while I was fixing our lunch.  At one point he ran in, breathless, and gasped, "Mom, I don't know if I'm strong enough."  He was pretending to be one hero or another.  But in that moment, I saw both my little boy and also this vast, challenging, beautiful world he is facing.  He wasn't just a kid madly in love with all things Batman; he was a future man, a man after God's own heart, a man destined for greatness.  So I had a rare stroke of genius.

 Seriously.  This was motherhood gold.  

The boys have been memorizing Ephesians 6:10: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  So when my little boy said, "I don't know if I'm strong enough," I knelt down and said, "Tovi, what does Ephesians 6:10 say?" He quoted it to me, and I continued, "So who makes you strong?"  He thought for a moment (undoubtedly processing that Lord=God...hard concept for a 4 year old to grasp), and then his eyes lit up.  He proclaimed, "GOD!"

"Yes, my dear, God makes you strong!  So you see, you ARE strong enough because God makes you strong!"  He was bursting with this news and sprinted from the room to share this with his little brother and fight off all the invisible foes his oversized imagination could muster.

And then the icing: From his position on the stairs, I heard 2-year-old Oren say, in his adorable little voice, "Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power!"

Yep, moment of gratitude.

Other moments aren't quite as allegorical or philosophical, but they leave me equally grateful for these precious, spirited boys.  A short while after the above account (I was still wrist-deep in the peanut butter jar), Tovi was pretending that bad guys were blowing up the house.  If you've seen the old 1960's Batman series, you know how prevalent cartoonish bombs are in those story lines.  These are the bombs Tovi was imagining.  I told him he'd need to fix our house, and he said, with all sincerity, "But Mom, I don't have any house pieces in these pockets!"

Oh, I should have thought of that.  Of course you don't have any house pieces in your pockets.  We left those in yesterday's shorts.

Tonight, I suspected that announcing, "It's bedtime!" would lead to some resistance, so instead I asked them what time they thought it was and then asked a series of silly, rhetorical questions.

"Is it breakfast time?"

"Is it clip-our-toenails time?"

"Is it wear-a-silly-hat time?"

OK, so silly hats it is! I grabbed my giant black sun hat from the peg above the entry way closet and dropped it on Oren's head, amid giggles and hiccups.

Once Oren chucked the hat to the floor, I asked, "Is it put-on-our-jammies-brush-our-teeth-and-snuggle-Mommy time?"
"Yeah, it's snuggle-Mommy time!"
Bedtime snuggles are the very, very best.

Finally, one more.  My boys are of an age where a kiss from Momma can still fix anything.  Their giant stuffed lion, whom Tovi dubbed Morris after the cat-food mascot (no matter the fact that this lion is, in fact, a lioness), suffered a fatal wound today.  Granted, the wound was imagined.  But for all intents and purposes, Morris was dead.  "Don't worry, I can fix it!" I said.  Tovi looked doubtful, but handed Morris over to me.  I asked where the wound was and planted a magic Mommy kiss on the spot, and Morris roared back to life.  Problem solved.  Oren functions under this same rule of logic.  He screams easily, and it's not a pleasant sound.  Every bump, scrape, stumble, or even hurt feeling leads to this scream, and he will sustain it until he receives his remedy: a kiss from Mommy.  And if I happen to miss the spot, even by millimeters, I must try again.  And again.  But the fact that, with the mere brush of my lips, I can solve the biggest problems in his little life, fills me with love and pleasure.  I delight in being his mom and in the magic of motherhood being enough to cure all ails.

You see, the reason my eyes fill with tears so easily when it comes to my children is that I know how fleeting these days are.  Someday my boys will face problems that can't be solved with a kiss or a snuggle.  Some  hurts will be too big for me to fix.  Someday they'll be out of my grasp, and those sweet, tender bedtime snuggles will be long behind us.  Someday they'll disappoint me.  They'll mess up.  They will suffer broken hearts, wounded pride, lessons in humility.  And I won't be able to rescue them.

They may even get sick.  Suffer.  Die.  No, I can't save them from everything, no matter how much I love them.  My dear cousin Mary's grief over her precious daughter Myah, gone too soon due to the evil that is childhood cancer, is proof of that.  No matter how much we love our children, we can't save them.

So I will cling to these moments, these brief days, and delight in the imagination, the snuggles, the kisses, the laughter, even the frustration, poopy pants, and doors left ajar.  
I will impress upon my memory the sound of little voices reciting scripture, of giggles turning to hiccups, of breakfast dishes tossed into a sink still above a toddler's head.  
I will cherish every soapy toe, sweaty brow, grubby hand.  
I will kiss each dimple and freckled nose. 
And I will spend a small fortune on rides at the zoo.  
Because I have today.  I pray I have tomorrow.  But someday...I won't.

So today, I am grateful.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An Opportunity for Adventure

Last month, on our way home from vacation, we attended church at Southeast Christian Church.  In the sermon, the preacher talked about a family in the congregation who had lost their home and possessions to a fire.  He said their response to those circumstances surprised him.  Although living out of a hotel room for months on end, the family insisted this was an opportunity for an unexpected adventure.


Most of us get grouchy at stop lights, long check-out lines, or slow internet speeds.  Yet this family faced undeniably difficult circumstances with an attitude the Swiss Family Robinson would admire.

This idea of facing life's challenges as opportunities for adventure really struck a chord with me.  I'm a naturally optimistic person.  If you cut me off in traffic, I'll assume you're in a hurry because you really have to pee.  If you're short with me at the check-out counter, I'll assume you have a lot on your mind.  I'm not easily frazzled, and it takes a lot to get me down.  But I'd never intentionally faced potentially frustrating circumstances as adventures.

I'm raising two imaginative boys, so "adventure" would suit our family well.  Kids are naturally drawn to adventure.  Every dry twig is a sword, every bike helmet turns you into a Power Ranger, and every bathtub is a brave vessel traversing the high seas.

What happens to us that as adults we lose this sense of adventure? Why do we accept our irritation at every hiccup and delay?  Yes, we have places to be and things to do.  But is our frustration, anger, and negativity really helping anything?

My life, like yours, includes its share of challenges.  But since hearing that sermon a month ago, I've been trying out this "opportunity for adventure" idea.  I'd like to share some reflections with you.

Shortly after returning home from that restful vacation, this happened:
 Yes, that's our wonderful, LOADED van smooshed under a tree.  It was a scary experience, but no one was hurt, and that's what you have insurance for, right?  Opportunity for adventure.  But as one dealer put it, people like shopping for cars about as much as they like going to the dentist.  Nathan and I liked the IDEA of looking for a car.  You get to dream a bit, look at features, consider upgrading or cutting costs.  But the reality was that we had a week of church camp, then Nathan had a full load at work, and car shopping with two preschoolers in tow, during nap time, is NOT an easy experience.  We were sweaty, frustrated, frazzled, embarrassed, and to top it off, Nathan and I wereNOT seeing eye-to-eye on anything.  Adventure? Ha! We were lucky to survive!

In the midst of this, I woke up one morning in a terrible funk.  Like a woke-up-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-bed-then-stepped-on-legos-before-unintentionally-roller-skating-down-the-stairs-which-happened-to-be-covered-in-lobsters-and-mouse-traps kind of funk.  It was bad.  Now, I wasn't lying when I said I'm naturally optimistic.  Bad moods like that are not my norm.  And I recognized this particular bad mood right away.  I even posted to Facebook about it, saying that I knew I was responsible for my attitude even when in a bad mood.  But you know how bad moods go.  Nate and I had a very uncomfortable phone conversation, I stewed some more, then we tried to drag those rambunctious punkins of ours car shopping during nap time, again.  Sigh.

The whole time, despite my overly-sensitive emotions and eyebrows pulled so far down over my eyes it was difficult to see, this verse ran through my head, persistently:
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
"Give thanks in all circumstances..."  Yep.  Although this passage fits the idea of "opportunity for adventure" quite well, it DID NOT fit my attitude.  Nothing like memorized scripture to set me straight.

In the end, we DID pick a car:
And it's a lovely vehicle.  It met nearly every wish-list item (and several I didn't know I wanted until I saw this, like a cooler in the glove box?!), seats as many people as our van did, is less of a monthly payment than our van had been, is cooler than a van (yes!), and we were able to agree on it.  The problem, though, is that I lost that sense of adventure, and in doing so, dragged my family down with me.  We could have really enjoyed the whole process and modeled this adventurous attitude for our kids.  Instead, I behaved like a spoiled, grumpy brat.  Oops.

Let's try again!

Nate's gone this week.  In the world of youth ministry, there's a saying: "I'm a youth ministry widow."  Many of my friends know exactly what I mean!  You may not know this, but youth ministers are away from home often.  They work really crazy hours.  And it can be stressful for their families.

Early in Nate's ministry, I DID NOT handle him being away from home well. I whined and put a lot of pressure on him to stay with me. I seriously hindered his ministry. But I have successfully reformed my attitude, and in recent years, I've tried to see the times he's away as opportunities to make really special memories for our boys.  Just like my attitude set the tone for our family while car shopping (FAIL), my attitude when Dad's away will set the tone for our kids.  They can dread Dad being gone, or they can look forward to these new adventures.

But guess what?  It's been raining.  Don't get me wrong; we need the rain! But rainy days when home alone with your kids for nearly 6 full days...eeek!

Opportunity for adventure!

Here's Monday:

About 10:30 AM I resigned myself to the fact that the day would be soggy.  So we donned our costumes (yes, we have super hero costumes on hand in ample supply) and set off for the World War II Victory Museum down the road.  They have an exhibit of Carl Casper's celebrity cars, including a Batmobile, Batman motorcycle with Robin side car, Penguin's giant duck-vehicle-thing, etc.  The boys are still free, and my admission was cheap, so we had a couple hours of fun hanging out in the museum with Batman.  The boys even talked me in to lunch at "Happy Donald's" (McDonald's to those of you who don't combine Happy Meal with Mc Donald's the way my kids do), still in full costume.  It was fun!  A great way to fill a rainy morning :) Adventure=success!

Tuesday, it rained again.  In fact, it rained more than Monday.  And boy, were we feeling it!  That grumpiness was edging in on all three of us, and I knew we had to do SOMETHING!  I didn't really feel like going out again (I'm a little nervous about storms after the whole tree-falling-on-our-van episode), so I set up a couple projects using materials we had around the house.

 We used up some old salt dough, some twigs, yarn, peanut butter, and bird seed.

Bird feeders!

Next, I let the boys explore scissors and glue.  They thought they were playing.  But I knew they were working on fine motor skills and learning to cut with the thumb on top.  They loved it!

Now that I've been trying to see potential frustrations as opportunities for adventure for about a month, I have some conclusions:

1) It takes work.  There are plenty of people in this world who will tell you that all your emotions are justified, that if things make you mad you're allowed to behave accordingly.  But I don't believe that's true.  I believe we are responsible for our attitudes no matter our circumstances. Go re-read that verse I included.  Follow it up with this one:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5)
Or this one:
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing. (Philippians 2:14)
I think the Apostle Paul had it worse than I do.
Yet when the going got tough in my life, my natural inclination was to get grumpy, selfish, short-tempered, impatient, etc.  I had to consciously work at my attitude (seeking forgiveness along the way), spending time praying and seeking the wisdom of God's word.

2) Similarly, approaching frustration as adventure is easier when alone.  I wouldn't have wanted to car shop alone (in fact, Nathan offered to let me do it alone, and I freaked out), but most of our separate grumpiness came from being out of sync with each other.  Apart, we probably would have made it through with better attitudes.  Together, we brought each other down (and the boys with us).  Related to #1, to make this work as a family, we're going to have to work at it AS A FAMILY.  We all have to be on board with CHOOSING to have a good attitude despite our circumstances, to help each other keep those attitudes up, giving grace and space when needed, and setting the tone with a (hopefully) contagious good attitude and excitement.

3) Some adventures are planned, and some we enter unwittingly...maybe even kicking and screaming.  Think Indiana Jones.  He ran head-long into adventure.  His gal-pal, not so much.  But she became part of the adventure whether she liked it or not.  And at some point, she inevitably got caught up in the thrill of the adventure.  I think life works this way too.  Sometimes we get enough notice that a potentially frustrating circumstance is coming that we can plan ahead and actively seek ways to make it an adventure and to be on guard against those bad attitudes.  Other times, we are thrust into the story whether we like it or not.  In those times, I think it's best to let go of our own emotions or agendas and dive right in.  I was thankful to have some rainy-day plans ready to roll this week.  Maybe every family should have some sort of adventure inventory so, when emotions encroach, you don't have to think too much or plan too much to make it a more positive experience.  Be ready to roll with some bad mood busters.

4) I believe this is an important attitude to teach our children.  As parents, we play a huge role in shaping the adults our children will become.  We can shape our kids into adults who gripe and complain at every frustration and challenge, or we can shape them into adults who can find the adventure in even the mundane delays.  Which would be more fun to be around?  Which would more accurately reflect those verses I included?

5) But to do that, to help my children become adventurous, positive adults, I need to keep my own attitude in check.  This is NOT easy.  It takes intentional effort.  Continuous effort.  I have to ask for my family's forgiveness often. I pray for patience (ouch!). I need to take enough time to myself that I can be refreshed and rested enough to be...enough...for my family.  And I need to commit verses to memory that will help guide me when my own emotions threaten to run away with me.

I think seeking the adventure in life is worth it.

What are your thoughts?  Do you have any experiences with adventures to share?  Are you more like Indiana Jones or the gal pal?  What are your favorite bad mood busters?